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A country in Central Europe, Poland in 2000 had a population of 38.7 million. Since 1945, its boundaries have been set by the Odra and Nysa rivers in the west, the Baltic Sea in the north, the Bug river in the east, and the Carpathian and Sudeten mountains to the south. Although Poland has a rudimentary gay subculture, the country's predominant attitudes toward homosexuality are negative.


The Polish state is traditionally dated from 966; Warsaw has been the capital since 1611. The Union of Lublin (1569) united the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, resulting in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, which became famous for its tolerance of religious dissidents during the Reformation. It was also celebrated as the protector of the West at the Siege of Vienna in 1683.

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Despite the significant accomplishments of the Polish Enlightenment, including Europe's first written constitution, the country suffered three partitions (1772, 1793, 1795) that divided the Commonwealth among Austria, Prussia, and Russia, erasing the Polish state from Europe's map. Although Napoleon established the Duchy of Warsaw (1807-1813), followed by the Congress Kingdom (1815-1830), there was no truly independent Polish state until 1918. The nineteenth century was marked by a series of national uprisings.

Poland won its independence after World War I, although democratic rule was extinguished by a coup d'état in 1926. World War II began with Nazi Germany's attack on Poland, followed by the country's occupation and partition by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

The German occupation was notable for its brutality; Poland became the site of the Holocaust. In total six million Polish citizens--20 per cent of Poland's population--perished during the occupation. Poland's Jewish community was almost entirely wiped out. Warsaw was left depopulated and completely in ruins.

After World War II, Poland became part of the Communist world until 1989, when democracy was restored. The country is overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and the Church gained widespread respect by serving as an important source of resistance to the Nazis and the Communists. Its prestige was reinforced by the election of the first Polish pope, John Paul II, in 1978.

Homosexuality in Early Polish History

Homosexuality appeared early in Polish history: Boleslaw the Bold (1076 -1079) was accused of by the medieval historian Jan Dlugosz. Dlugosz also condemned Wladyslaw IV (1434-1444), who led a crusade against the Turks and died at the Battle of Varna. Dlugosz attributed the Christian defeat to the king's lying with a man before the decisive battle. (He is the only crusader-king not canonized.)

During the eighteenth century, Poland was affected by the fluid attitude toward sexuality that was favored by the Enlightenment's tolerance and secularism. Poland's last king, Stanislaw Augustus (1764-1795), was said to have slept with the British ambassador in St. Petersburg, where he was employed as the ambassador's secretary. (The young man was also a paramour of Catherine II of Russia.)

Jerzy Marcin Lubomirski, a scion of one of the wealthiest magnate families, was known to contemporaries as a "sexual pervert." A Warsaw newspaper reported the scandal when Lubomirski appeared in women's clothing at a Warsaw masked ball in 1782.

The Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries

The Napoleonic Code was introduced in the Duchy of Warsaw in 1808. The Code was silent on the issue of homosexuality, which meant there was no legal framework for the oppression of homosexuals. However, after 1815, the three occupying powers' own legal codes made homosexual acts illegal.

In 1835, for example, Nicholas I decreed male homosexual acts to be illegal throughout the Russian Empire.

Although not much information exists about lesbianism in the nineteenth century, Narcyza Zmichowska (1819-1876), a writer and founder of the Polish feminist movement, carried on an affair with the daughter of a rich magnate. The affair was used as the source for Zmichowska's novel Poganka (The Pagan Woman) (1846).

After 1918, an independent Poland returned to the Napoleonic tradition and the 1932 criminal code was silent on homosexuality. However, the police used gross indecency laws to harass homosexuals. Nevertheless, inter-war Poland had a thriving gay subculture. Many of Poland's most important cultural figures during this period, including the composer Karol Szymanowski, the poet Boleslaw Lesmian, and the novelists Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz and Maria Dabrowska, were homosexual.

The Communist Era

In 1948, the Communist regime made age 15 the age of consent for all sexual acts, homosexual or heterosexual. However, the powerful influence of the Roman Catholic Church made open homosexuality scandalous in all but a few circles. As in other countries, the Roman Catholic Church traditionally has had a large percentage of gay priests, since the priesthood is one of the few acceptable ways to avoid marriage in a traditional society.

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Poland and neighboring countries in 2004.
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