Saturday 22 September 2012

Archive Article: Warsaw’s Gay-Friendly Clubs under Threat

Originally published by the now-defunct WiK English Edition, part of Poland’s reputed Wprost publishing house, in July 2007

Le Madame Owners Face New Battle

A line has very firmly been drawn under the Le Madame affair. In late June, Warsaw city centre mayor, Artur Brodowski, announced that a tender to lease the 3,000 square meter former nightclub and cultural centre was imminent. Two bidders – previous neighbour to Le Madame, Galeria Ona, and an unnamed newsagent - were reported to be the contenders.

The converted warehouse, therefore, will never again host uber-tolerant parties in its labyrinthine midst. That Old Town Mecca for those who were victims of the nasty ‘face control’ regimes that exist in other clubs in the city is truly no more.

“We’re not going to enter this tender,” former Le Madame owner Krystian Legierski told Gazeta Wyborcza. “Because we wouldn’t win anyway. The city didn’t throw us out to let us back in again.”

The saga gripping Le Madame in late March gained national media attention. Around 200 protestors occupied what was one of Warsaw’s most vibrant artistic hubs, to repel bailiffs who were determined to wrestle the club from the owners’ control. The city said it had several reasons to do so, which only fuelled suspicion that the Law and Justice (PiS)-led council was operating according to a well-publicised homophobic agenda.

Visitors to Le Madame could only have been impressed by its diversity and welcoming atmosphere. Dubbed as simply a ‘gay club’ by many during the March controversy, Le Madame was, in fact, nothing of the sort. Straight men and women used it as an opportunity to “go on the pull” when in and around the Old Town. Le Madame was anyway much more than a club, hosting as it did numerous other cultural and political events.

There are still plenty of heterosexual people flocking to another Old Town venue, Tomba Tomba, though strictly speaking that is a bone fide gay club, albeit with a ‘straight-friendly’ attitude. Stepping into the Jacuzzi in the basement of the club you are treated to an ‘Equality Parade’ of relaxation. Gay people and straights mingle among the bubbles in the manner nature intended. But this inclusiveness is still not enough to ward off the local council, according to Legierski, who is also co-owner of Tomba Tomba.

Recent visitors to the club will have been surprised to find that they have been required to add their names to a list before entering. But this is no ruse on the part of management, insists Legierski.

Krystian Legierski
 “They won’t give us permission to sell alcohol,” he told WiK. “This means that we cannot advertise Tomba Tomba as being open to everyone – only members - and we’re not able to earn enough money to keep the place to the standard we’d like.”

Few visitors to the place would complain about “standards” in a place where cleanliness and order stand shoulder to shoulder with hedonism. But according to Legierski, the council has got it in for Tomba Tomba simply because it is run by gays.

“They are waiting to see if we do anything illegal so they can send in the police,” he said. “They want to show that gay people are always engaged in illegal activity.”

Recent comments by League of Polish Families’ MP Wojciech Wierzejski have stepped up the tension between ‘gay rights’ sympathisers and the current government, and that has meant trouble for Tomba Tomba, the owners say. The former ‘All Polish Youth’ leader has linked gay people to pedophilia and drug dealing.

“What was really interesting was that on one of the very days he made those remarks, the police came around to check up on us,” said Ela Solanowska, Legierski’s fellow co-owner at the club.

The authorities’ behaviour is bordering almost on the farcical. They are insisting that whichever tenant takes up the space vacated by Le Madame, it must be a ‘cultural’ organization, in other words something akin to the ousted club. But the difficulty they are facing with the tender is whether any one of the bidders will be big enough to fill the space.

“If we were to divide the place we would have to install [new] water and electricity,” city centre mayor Artur Brodowski told Gazeta Wyborcza, before adding that the new occupants, whoever they might be, would be free to sublet the premises.

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