Gay Pride Parade in Polish Eyes

Coming up this very next weekend: Gay Pride Amsterdam! What’s in it for you if you’re not gay? Well, the parade of boats through the city’s canals – actually, basically the Prinsengracht – is the highlight of the whole weekend and attracts 350,000 spectators, or so the above-linked website claims, so it’s something to consider going and watching, as long as you also realize that the “entertainment” on the passing boats verges into outright nudity not infrequently and into sheer camp always. Plus, there will be gay street parties all over the place from Friday to Sunday. Amsterdam is generally a big enough party-place on a summer weekend for one to be able to find a suitable heterosexual vibe somewhere, if that is more your thing – and meanwhile just think of all the sales- and tax-revenue those hundreds of thousands of visitors are bringing to the city!

Granted, there are many in this cosmopolitan town for whom the very idea of homosexuals cavorting in a rather exhibitionist manner on boats floating through town poses something of a cultural shock. For one thing, there are the various Muslim immigrants from Morocco, Turkey, and elsewhere – more about them later. But Gay Pride Amsterdam must also seem rather disconcerting to European immigrants hailing from more conservative countries on the continent. Like the Netherlands’ Polish population, for example, which has been steadily growing here just as it has in the UK and Ireland and elsewhere in Western Europe since the entry of Poland into the EU in on 1 May 2004.

Those Poles already in the Netherlands may have to come to terms with the Gay Pride festival on their own, but in the meantime the spectacle surely has the potential to sell newspapers in the old country to good Polish citizens attracted to the phenomenon with the same “I-can’t-look-but-I-must” fascination that normally applies to car accident scenes on the highway. Reporter Jacek Pawlicki obliges readers of Poland’s top national daily Gazeta Wyborcza with an account entitled All of Amsterdam Sails with the Gays.

Not Everyone Here Is Involved

First of all, it’s hardly true at all that all of Amsterdam is having something to do with this weekend’s festivities – many of us are confident that we will be able to avoid it – but still, in all, the article succeeds in being a fairly factual account of the phenomenon. What you have to assume is Pawlicki’s basic distaste for the whole affair only strains up against the warp and woof of his text in a couple of places. He has a problem, for instance, with the use of the word “pride” in the context of the parade, twice adding “or so it is called” after the use of that noun. And he points out that, among the 70 boats sailing along, there will be one representing gay teenagers “which prompts a response in all of Europe.”

Finally, his article takes pains to point out the extent of official support among municipal and political leaders for the festival. As with the above-mentioned reference to gay teenagers, you get the feeling that this is not just a recitation of relevant facts but rather something with an implied “and can you believe this?!” hovering behind it. This year, for the first time, the parade will feature an actual member of the Dutch cabinet, Ronald Plasterk of the Education Ministry, no less. (Pawlicki gets Plasterk’s first name wrong, calling him “Roland.”) Also for the first time there will be official police representation in the parade – no, not the sort of crowd-control that you would expect the police to routinely perform at such events, but an actual boat in the parade representing the police, together with another, unofficial one from “Pink in Blue” – the organization of homosexuals working in the police ranks. (The article’s one illustration is of an overcrowded boat labeled “Pink Police” – probably yet another unofficial organization along the lines of “Pink in Blue.”)

Oh, and Amsterdam mayor Job Cohen will also take part, but that is nothing new. Of more interest is that, prior to the parade, he will be meeting with representatives of city organizations representing homosexuals from among the Turkish and North African communities in the city. Of course, these people have a particularly tough time with their lifestyle choice, especially back in their native countries, as they find themselves living within a native culture that attaches a great stigma to homosexuality. This fact enables Pawlicki to mention that, in fact, public attacks against homosexuals – verbal, but now increasingly with physical violence – have increased over the last few years, with most of the perpetrators indeed being of Muslim origin, and with a particularly brutal assault occurring last Queen’s Day (30 April, the Dutch national holiday) against a “male model” famous within homosexual circles, Mike Du Pree. That could well be the behind-the-scenes motivation for why the Gay Pride celebrations get so brazen and frenetic, and why there are all these official gestures of support: that Amsterdam is actually afraid of losing its status as a leading tolerant international city for homosexuals, despite itself.

Correction: From further investigation it seems that “Pink in Blue” is actually the Amsterdam Police’s special program devoted to the reporting and investigation of anti-homosexual offenses in the city.

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