Police in Bialystok, Poland, arrested 20 to 25 protesters who harassed the city's first-ever Pride event Saturday by throwing rocks, bottles, and flash bombs at the participants.
About 1,000 LGBTQ rights supporters marched through the streets of Bialystok, which, with a population of about 300,000, is the largest city in northeastern Poland. About 4,000 others turned out to protest against the march, shouting slogans such as "God, honor, and motherland" and "Bialystok free of perverts" in addition to throwing projectiles, according to CNN. The pride marchers countered with "Poland free of fascists."
Police in riot gear formed a ring around the marchers and eventually detained 20 to 25 of the antigay protesters.
Bialystok is capital of the province of Podlaskie, a particularly conservative part of the generally conservative, heavily Roman Catholic nation. Poland's ruling party, Law and Justice, has strong support in Podlaskie. Its leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said earlier this year that LGBTQ rights are among foreign values that are "a real threat to our identity, to our nation," the news channel Euronews reports.
Far-right activist movements are also widespread in the province. "Many of the acts of xenophobic aggression have been committed in Podlaskie compared to other regions in Poland," Rafal Pankowski of the anti-extremism group Never Again told CNN.
Despite the province's and the nation's general hostility to LGBTQ rights, Poland's interior minister, Elzbieta Witek, expressed support for the police action against the protesters. "Officers ensure security regardless of the ideas, values, and beliefs proclaimed by citizens," she said, according to Euronews. She added, "Any person who breaks the law ... should know they can be held responsible."
The Bialystok Pride marchers remained defiant in the face of homophobia. "I am trying to see this in a joyful way, but this march is also sad for me because I did not think it would be as dangerous as it is," Anna Pietrucha, who traveled from Warsaw to participate, told CNN.
Twenty-four Pride events are scheduled to take place in Poland this year, a record number. This represents reaction to the nation's anti-LGBTQ climate, activists said. Recent evidence of the widespread homophobia and transphobia came when a conservative newsweekly, Gazeta Polska,announced plans to distribute "LGBT-free zone" stickers with one of its issues.