Nergal: An Unlikely Symbol For Free Speech In Poland?

A Polish heavy metal singer, who has been convicted for offending religious sentiment laws, has launched a legal defence fund with which to appeal against the conviction of artists under blasphemy laws.

Adam Darski, best known for fronting the Polish metal group Behemoth under the name Nergal, is hoping a crowdfunding campaign will help artists who have been accused of blasphemy under Poland’s strict religious freedom laws. In response to the conviction, he tweeted to say that “For over a decade I have been persecuted and prosecuted at the hands of the Polish legal system. The time for capitulation is over and I ask you to join me in the ‘Ordo Blasfemia!’” The fundraising page is introduced by a video of Darski, who accuses Polish politicians of “numerous attempts to permanently destroy my career on the basis that I have harmed ‘religious feelings.’” He describes the charges as “absurd” and claims that numerous Polish artists have been forced to pay significant defence costs against charges, which are intended “to censor anyone who does not conform to the archaic religious laws of our country.” At the time of writing, the GoFundMe page has raised over £30,000 in nine days: well over its target of £20,000.

Darski himself is no stranger to courting blasphemous controversy. While this most recent conviction is regarding an image he posted in September 2019, of him stepping on an image of the Virgin Mary, the previous 13 years have seen a host of charges levelled against the singer. Both on and off stage, Darski has ripped up a Bible, set fire to crosses, and written songs praising the murderers of Poland’s patron saint, Bishop Adalbert. According to Polish state broadcaster TVP Info, the most recent conviction came after two conservative groups, Ordo Iuris and the Patriotic Society, said that Nergal’s photo had “offended four people.” A religious studies expert reportedly told prosecutors that “treading with a shoe on the image of the Mother of God is an offence against religious feelings,” according to the Warsaw district prosecutor’s spokeswoman, Aleksandra Skrzyniarz. The judge has ordered Darski to pay a fine of €3,340 (£2,800); however, the singer’s appeal likely means that the case will proceed to a full trial. If convicted, the singer faces a potential two-year prison sentence.

The case comes during another high-profile trial, in which three activists, who allegedly put up posters and stickers depicting the “Black Madonna” – an icon venerated by Polish Catholics – with a halo of LGBT rainbows, are being tried for the same blasphemy offence. The verdict for that case is due in early March.

Poland’s increasingly strict rules regarding religion and symbolism – which have expanded to include a near-total ban on abortions, and ‘LGBT-free zones’ – are endemic of the conservative backlash of the past few years. These actions have formed a part of an increasingly bitter “culture war” in Poland, which has seen many contending that “LGBT ideology” has no place in modern Poland. The prevention of such “chaotic” ideologizing has grown to encompass the topics of blasphemy and abortion, and is largely funded by conservative religious organizations. Clearly, both sides are spoiling for a fight; it seems unlikely that the conservative government will take any concrete action to restore the rights of these individuals without concerted pressure from the EU. While the EU did make the rare move of punishing six towns practising gay exclusion zones by stripping their funding for European twin-township programmes, this had little positive effect – particularly once the Polish government stepped in to provide triple the funding for each town. The EU therefore must take stronger action against the Polish government as a whole, in order to prevent further erosion of rights in the nation.

Henry Whitelaw