Metal culture is a global phenomenon that generally transcends nationalistic borders, and as an American Metalhead I like to stay as informed as possible about global attitudes and trends regarding heavy metal.
For example, I’ve written on the illegal promise of a local government to allow the Roman Orthodox Church in Romania to “approve” what bands are allowed to play in the country. This promise was in direct violation of Romania’s constitution – and the government’s silence is the equivalent of supporting this sort of discrimination. Not OK. And small decisions like this have greater cultural implications – if you allow a non-governmental entity to determine governmental policy (including disbursement of public funds), you’re allowing that non-governmental group to make governmental decisions
This is where a recent political decision from Poland comes into play. Since roughly 2007, religion-based political groups have been petitioning the Polish government to ban a list of musical groups they deem satanic from playing in the country. This list included Polish natives Behemoth.
Around the same time, Behemoth front-man Nergal controversially destroyed a bible onstage during a show, and criminal charges were filed against him (I think it’s safe to say there’s no love lost between Polish religious groups and Behemoth). The ensuing court cases stretched over a number of years (until around 2012 I believe), and the last I checked he was acquitted. No surprise – after all, he’s kind of a big deal in Poland.
Then in 2014, a scheduled show in Poznan, Poland was cancelled due to vague “safety concerns”. Nergal rightfully called out the actions of those in power for what they were – political maneuvering to placate religious fundamentalists while avoiding controversy. Article 73 of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland guarantees freedom of artistic creation and scientific research, as well as free access to cultural goods. The real violation of civil rights was not perpetrated by Behemoth, but by the church against the band and their fans.
Enter 2016 -Bogdan Freytag, chairman of the religious protest group “Faithful Poland”, petitioned Poznan’s Mayor (Jack Jaśkowiak) in the hopes of preventing Behemoth from playing yet again. Considering the incredible amount of legal power these religious groups have wielded against the band, I feel it was a bold move in the right direction for the president of the country to allow the concert to happen. Behemoth seems to think so too.
At this point you might be asking yourself, “Why is this important?” Well, simply put, it sets an example for other countries in Eastern Europe in favor of free speech, even if that speech offends the church. Which (from what I gather) is a concept that hasn’t fully taken hold in the area.
Essentially, Poland has done exactly what Romania should have done. Because if you look closely, there’s a pattern here – religious groups exercising their constitutional rights in a country for the express purpose of denying those same rights to a large segment of the population. It happened in Poland in 2007, and it took almost a decade to undo the damage. That’s why it’s important to put a spotlight on small local governments making seemingly innocuous concessions to religious groups (or any protest groups) – because those decisions set a legal precedent with far reaching legal implications.
So, in the greater scheme of things – Behemoth’s ability to finally play in Poland is a victory for free speech (and metal).