Tag Archives: Poland

On Free Speech, Silence, And Backward Messages

Blasphemy

Sometime over the holidays, I dreamed that I started blogging here regularly again, but focusing only on music. In a way, it makes a kind of sense; I’m not a gamer or an occultist, but I do love, listen to and write about music in a dedicated way. When I woke up, I remembered that of all the topics this blog has covered, music has been among the least controversial, at least here in North America.

In the wake of the horrific attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices in Paris this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about places in the world where blasphemy — or “offending religious sentiment” — trumps freedom of speech. I’ve written about such places in the past for Backward Messages, particularly Poland, where Behemoth singer Nergal was put on trial for tearing up a Bible onstage, and maybe also a teensy weensy bit for being an outspoken Satanist celebrity. In the end, free speech won out in Nergal’s case, as it did in 2011 when the U.S. Supreme Court decided that barring minors from purchasing violent video games was a violation of the First Amendment rights of the video-game makers. Free speech often wins in the west, which is, I think, part of the reason that moral panics over art and entertainment eventually blow over.

In the fall of 2012, when I was at the end of a long and difficult road shopping The Columbine Effect to agents and publishers, I met with an editor in New York who loved the book, but felt like she would be more likely to be able to convince her colleagues to publish it if there were some current event that it could be tied to. There had been a kind of lull in school shootings. Two months later, after she turned me down, Sandy Hook happened, and the press exploded with coverage arguing that media influences largely don’t influence such killings. In the years that followed, it’s become clear that Adam Lanza was a deeply troubled and disturbed young man whose mother protected him from getting the help he needed (and also taught him to use firearms). As the reporting turned away from gaming and other supposed influences, it turned toward mental-health issues in the most dedicated way I’ve seen regarding any of these incidents.

That’s not to say we’ve solved the problem of school shootings. We haven’t by any means. But we are less inclined to scapegoat important and necessary sources of media. And while haven’t eradicated poor reporting on gaming, the occult, heavy metal or other pastimes — that reporting still ranges from the goofball to the dangerous — there have been bright spots. Satanists managed to demonstrate the actual meaning of religious tolerance last year, and the press covered the situation deftly; that was heartening to see.

While the tenor of the writing has shifted, that’s not to say there isn’t still plenty I could write about here. Personally, though, I’ve run out of things to say — at least for now. That’s why this blog has been quiet for more than six months and it’s why it will remain quiet, at least until the next moral panic comes along and I have something new to write about. It’s happened at regular intervals since at least the 1950s, and it’s likely to happen again. Until then, I feel like my message has mostly gotten through.

Polish metaller faces jail over Bible-tearing


Behemoth frontman Nergal, AKA Adam Darski, has been found guilty in Poland’s Supreme Court of “offending religious sentiment” over a Bible-tearing performance. He could go to jail for 2 years.

In 2007, Polish blackened death-metal band Behemoth took the stage in Gdynia, Poland, and did the exact same stage show they’d done everywhere else on tour. But that show included a moment in which frontman Nergal, also known as Adam Darski, tore up a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

Ryszard Nowak, head of the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects, took him to court. The crime? “Offending religious sentiment,” a law that remains on the books in Poland although some legislators would like to see it repealed. Darski prevailed when the judge found that his Bible-destruction was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style. But it didn’t end there; Catholics saw him booted from his role as a judge on The Voice of Poland, due to his “provocative behaviour, showing a lack of respect not only for religious beliefs, but also for illnesses and the disabled” in another performance in which he pretended to heal someone in a wheelchair.

The case against Darski went all the way to Poland’s Supreme Court where, late last month, a judge found him guilty of “offending religious sentiment,” a crime that can carry up to two years in jail:

The Supreme Court was asked to rule on legal arguments
thrown up by the musician’s trial in a lower court on charges of
offending religious feelings.

It said a crime was committed even if the accused, who uses
the stage name Nergal, did not act with the “direct intention”
of offending those feelings, a court spokeswoman said.

That interpretation closed off an argument used by lawyers
for Darski, who said he had not committed a crime because he did
not intend to offend anyone.

Both sides held their ground: “(The decision) is negative and restricts the freedom of speech,” Jacek Potulski, a lawyer for Darski, told Reuters. He said he was not giving up. “We are still arguing that we were dealing with art, which allows more critical and radical statements,” the lawyer said.

“The Supreme Court said clearly that there are limits for artists which cannot be crossed,” Nowak told Polish television.

Here’s Darski’s own take:

After emerging from court, Darski himself said that on the one hand “one should respect the court’s verdict.” However, he also claimed that his country’s mentality “is immature, trying to gag people,” and that he was in court for “the good cause”, namely the right to “freedom of speech.”

What do you think? In a country where laws against blasphemy rub shoulders with freedom of speech, which should prevail? Should people go to jail for these kinds of performances? Or should religious groups just look the other way?

Polish Catholics launch new exorcism magazine


Poland’s Father Aleksander Posacki with the debut issue of a new magazine devoted to exorcisms, called Egzorcysta.

This week, a brand-new magazine launched in Poland: Egzorcysta, a magazine all about exorcisms and spiritual warfare from a Catholic perspective. Poland is one of the most Catholic countries in Europe, with nearly 90% of the population belonging to the Catholic Church, and 50-60% observing the faith regularly.

But Poland has been a Catholic stronghold for a long time. Why the sudden increase in interest in exorcisms? Here’s what Father Aleksander Posacki, one of the magazine’s contributors, said:

“The rise in the number of exorcists from four to more than 120 over the course of 15 years in Poland is telling.

“It’s indirectly due to changes in the system: capitalism [which Poland adopted in 1989] creates more opportunities to do business in the area of occultism. Fortune telling has even been categorised as employment for taxation.”

Egzorcysta‘s chief editor, Artur Winiarczyk, added: “We are living in a time that is a veritable tornado of occultism, esotericism, divination, magic, energy healing and many other phenomena that suck people in.”

Unfortunately, what seems to be “sucking people in” is the exorcists themselves, who first convince people that their troubles (which could range from a bad string of luck to a serious mental illness) are the result of demonic possession — and then convince them that an exorcism will solve their problems.

This new magazine gives pro-exorcism Catholics an even wider platform to sell these claims — and to define the conversation around the practices of minority faiths and occult workers, whom Winiarczyk is suggesting could be causing people to become demonically possessed. For example, one article in the new issue calls New-Age practices “the spiritual vacuum cleaner.”

Of course, any religious organization has the right to publish what it likes, and promote ideas that are in line with its beliefs. That’s how they maintain a following. But when that comes at the expense of other, legitimate faiths and practices, that threatens Polish people’s right to freedom of religion.

It places a special burden on young people who might be questioning and exploring their faith — particularly those with more conservative, Catholic parents. If a teen is exploring paganism, the occult, or new-age ideas, and the parent believes they’re “possessed,” what then? And how does an exorcism resolve anything?

Polish Catholics oppose “Demon” energy drink — and bone-marrow donation?


Polish Catholic extremists say Demon — and Darski — are promoting evil.

Polarizing singer Adam Darski, also known as Behemoth frontman Nergal, is back in the news. This time, it’s because he has elected to become the face of the Demon energy drink in Poland. As usual, his Catholic foes are not amused.

According to a Polish website called “Satanism Shall Not Pass:”

Demon … was “promoting evil, atrocities and the destruction of human souls.” Franciszek Kucharczak, editor of the Gosc Niedzielny, a respected religious magazine warned: “We have to fight against evil. We cannot keep quiet and let young people be absorbed into destructive ideals.”

… it’s a beverage. It contains water, sugar, caffeine, and vitamins. Not “evil,” whatever that means.

At any rate, Darski explained that he’s not a huge fan of energy drinks in general, but that he wanted to support Demon, in part, because the company gives money to the DKMS foundation. That’s the foundation that helped Darski find a bone-marrow donor for his leukemia treatment in 2010.

Darski is a big enough celebrity — especially in Poland — that his promotion of both this product and of the DKMS foundation could bring in more funding, and more bone-marrow donors, to save people’s lives. That seems the opposite of “evil, atrocities and the destruction of human souls.”

Now, if I thought Poland’s conservative Catholics were this savvy, I would suspect them of heightening the publicity around the Demon energy drink in order to save adults and children with leukemia. But I’m not sure that’s the case. More likely, they’re grandstanding over something that has little to do with real problems facing the Catholic Church today — and trying to get in the way of a product whose proceeds may help people survive bone cancer.

As an aside, the Telegraph article also claims that Darski/Nergal has left Behemoth. Not so; they are getting ready to rehearse for their next album.

“Satanic” singer booted from Polish reality TV show


Adam Darski, who performs as Nergal with the Polish metal band Behemoth, tears pages from a Bible. Photo by Flickr user mithrandir3.

Last month, I championed Polish metal singer Nergal, AKA Adam Darski, for appearing on a popular reality television show despite pressure from Polish Catholics that he be removed. Unfortunately, TVP, the broadcaster which airs Polish television show The Voice of Poland, yanked Darski from the program last week.

Recently, Darski was exonerated of “offending religious feeling” — a charge stemming from a performance in which he tore up a Bible on stage. A Polish judge said the act was a protected form of expression, and that Darski had not broken any laws. He recently earned more scorn for an onstage performance in which he dressed as a priest and “healed” several musicians from another band, all of whom were sitting in wheelchairs.

Following the Oct. 1 “healing,” TVP Chairman Juliusz Braun described the incident as “provocative behaviour, showing a lack of respect not only for religious beliefs, but also for illnesses and the disabled.”

Braun did not wait for another court challenge. Last week his station announced, “Adam Darski, aka Nergal, will not be given his own programme on TVP, nor will he be a juror in a second series of Voice of Poland, even if the network decides to commission one [a second series],” said spokesperson for TVP, Joanna Stempien-Rogalinska. Darski will appear in already-taped episodes, which will continue into December.

Poland has a longstanding tradition of freedom of religion — and is brand-new to freedom of speech — so it’s a shame that Darski’s theatrics would cost him a job. Even though he legally has the right to criticize religious institutions in this way (which has already been proven in court), apparently different rules apply when you’re a television star. What a message to send to Poland’s minority religions, and to the people who practice them in good faith.

Did Darski go too far with his staged “healing?” Should he — or other Thelemites and Satanists — be forbidden from appearing on television?

In Poland, Catholics go to war against Behemoth’s Nergal — for giving Satanism a voice


Catholic leaders in Poland took Nergal to court after he tore up a Bible on stage. Nergal won, but the fight isn’t over.

Catholic leaders in Poland, which has been a stronghold of Catholicism since World War II, have been on the warpath. Their target? Adam Darski, also known as Nergal, frontman for the Polish metal band Behemoth.

In 2007, a group called the All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects circulated to political leaders a list of bands the committee claimed “promote Satanism.” The committee and its leader, Ryszard Nowak, hoped leaders would ban performances by these groups. They didn’t.

That same year, during a performance in the Polish city of Gdynia, Nergal destroyed a Bible and called the Catholic Church “the most murderous cult on the planet.” As he tore up the Bible, he said, “they call it the Holy Book. I call this the book of lies. Fuck the shit, fuck the hypocrisy.”

You can view the act, at roughly the 45-second mark, in this video:

You can’t hear about this without thinking of Sinead O’Connor tearing up a photograph of the Pope on Saturday Night Live in 1992. Even in America, where such acts have been protected for centuries, O’Connor’s move touched off a major controversy that damaged her career permanently.

The All-Polish Committee for Defence against Sects took Nergal to court over the Bible-tearing incident, claiming he “offended religious feeling.” On August 18 of this year, a Polish judge ruled that Nergal’s destruction of a Bible during a show was a form of artistic expression consistent with Behemoth’s style.

In a statement on the band’s web site, Nergal wrote, “I’m so glad to see that intelligence won over religious fanatics in my home country. Tho there’s still so much work to be done to make things right. But I’m sure that I’m on the right path to ultimate freedom! The battle is won, but the war ain’t over. Heil Satan!”

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. Darski is starring in The Voice of Poland, a reality-TV show in which celebrities assist in the search for an outstanding singer. That offended Bishop Wieslaw Mering, head of the diocese of Wlocawek in northern Poland, who urged Polish television to pull the program from the air:

“A blasphemer, Satanist and lover of evil incarnate has the screen of public television at his disposal, and thus he will be able to spread his poisonous teachings more easily,” the bishop declared in a statement. “Non possumus! [This cannot be!].”

The Association of Catholic Journalists has circulated Mering’s statement.

Freedom of speech is a very new protection in Poland; censorship was abolished in 1990, while freedom of speech was officially added to the constitution in 1997. Freedom of religion, however, has been guaranteed by law in Poland since 1573. Of course, the same freedom of speech that protects Nergal’s right to criticize the Catholic Church also protects the Catholic Church’s right to criticize Nergal, his on-stage performances, and his negative views on Catholicism.

This whole situation is a reminder that, to many, Satanism is not a legitimate faith; it is one to be scorned, maligned, and silenced. Fortunately, Nergal is not backing down from the limelight. Particularly in his role on The Voice of Poland, he dresses pretty much like an everyday guy. Such visibility on what is likely to be a widely viewed television program, for someone who is a known Satanist, will hopefully show viewers that Satanists are normal, everyday people.

Readers, do you know any Satanists? What, if anything, have you learned about Satanism from spending time with them? Have your feelings on the faith changed because of it?

EDIT: As of October 17, Adam Darski has been forced to leave Voice of Poland. Read the update here: https://backwardmessages.wordpress.com/2011/10/17/satanic-singer-booted-from-polish-reality-tv-show/