Brather, femia comes with territory in the extreme metal world. Since Venom was proclaimed in League with Satan in 1981, antagonizing Christianity has been more or less mandatory for any extreme gang worth its salt, though historically this has tended to result in nothing more than a fulminate from a pulpit.
But not in Poland, where last month Nergal, the frontman of the successful Behemoth quartet, whose album The Satanist broke the US Top 40 in 2014, was convicted of blasphemy after publishing. a photo on social media of him stepping on an image of the Virgin Mary. He appeals, but if the conviction is upheld, he faces at least a fine, possible imprisonment and a criminal record that will make international tours difficult.
“This is my Instagram. This is my kingdom. And I just let myself be myself within my kingdom, ”says Nergal. “It is a supposed painting of the Virgin Mary, because you don’t know if it is the Virgin Mary, right? You see the context, but you don’t know it. And you see the boot. That is all you see. It’s not like there are 10 people around me saying, ‘Hey Nergal, what should we do to get your attention?’ Because I don’t need that attention. “
In fact, Nergal is no stranger to controversy. While critical of Poland’s right-wing administration, he has been accused of being a supporter of the far-right, which he has denied. In 2017, after the Rock am Ring festival was evacuated due to a terrorist threat, he told an interviewer: “The civilized world is at war with radical Islamists, and that is a fact.” In 2018, he was photographed with far-right Polish musician Rob Darken, later saying, “I don’t approve of Rob’s personal ideals and agenda because I don’t know them,” and was criticized last year for posting a picture of a T- T-shirt with the legend “black metal against Antifa”, which later read: “I’m worried about the damages [Antifa] make to the scene. The ideals are fine, but his execution is absolutely incompetent. “Even being accused of blasphemy is not a new experience: In 2010, he was charged in connection with an incident in 2007, in which he smashed a Bible on stage (charges dropped). And this case, he says, is one of the three he is fighting simultaneously; it is only for the one who has been condemned.
Nergal’s case is one of a growing wave of blasphemy prosecutions in Poland, often targeting artists. In recent years, with the right-wing Law and Justice party in power, the number of prosecutions for blasphemy has doubled: 29 accusations were filed in 2020, against 10 in 2016. They are included in article 196 of the country’s penal code, which requires the prosecution of “who offends the religious feelings of other people by publicly insulting an object of religious worship or a place designated for public religious ceremonies ”.
As Nergal points out, the wording is nonsensically vague: “In court I am asking, is there a religious belief thermometer? Because if there is, just give me one and I’ll stick it up my ass and know when I’m reaching the limit. But I don’t know where it is, because you are very sensitive and fragile. If they win all these cases, it will be easier for these people to point to anything and say, ‘You know what? That hurts my religious beliefs. ‘ Plus, it doesn’t require widespread offense – only four people complained about Nergal’s post on Instagram. “Why do you enter my social networks to offend you? They are opportunists, who want to take advantage of my back, because they know that I am an easy target and when they take me to court they make the headlines the next day: I am their favorite scapegoat. “
It’s easy to dismiss this as trivial, but blasphemy laws are important, says Jessica Ní Mhainín, Policy and Campaign Manager at Index on Censorship: “The right to blaspheme, to speak irreverently or against prevailing dogma is a part essential to our freedom of expression. Laws that prohibit offending the religious feelings of another person do not protect freedom of religion, they unduly restrict freedom of expression. “
While many other countries maintain anti-blasphemy laws, only Poland among European nations shows any interest in enforcing them. “The laws against blasphemy are completely incompatible with international conventions on freedom of expression, and human rights experts and organizations around the world continue to call for their repeal,” says Ní Mhainín. “International law covers even expressions that can be considered deeply offensive, including blasphemy.”
Poland’s justice ministry takes a different view, arguing that the European court accepts that freedom of expression may be subject to restrictions and “carries obligations and responsibilities that depend on the circumstances and the manner of expression,” a ministry spokesman said. to The Guardian. via email.
Regarding the specific crime of blasphemy, the ministry adds: “Such statements do not enrich the public debate, nor do they lead to the development of tolerance or respect for human dignity, which are the basis of a democratic and pluralistic society. Therefore, the State may consider it necessary to take measures to repress certain forms of expression. This is especially justified in the case of a deliberate violation of the spirit of tolerance, when, for example, the object of religious worship has been deliberately and maliciously presented in a provocative way ”.
However, this must be framed in a broader context. Mateusz Morawiecki, Prime Minister of Poland, has been outspoken about his desire for a “culture war” to defend Catholic values. In December 2017, he told the Catholic radio station Radio Maryja: “We want to transform Europe, this is my dream, to re-Christianize it. We want Poland to be strong, but also to contain … Christian values. We will defend them in a context of secularization and a deepening consumerism ”.
Poland’s blasphemy laws are important because they are part of a broader attack on human rights. A recent blasphemy case saw LGBTQ + activists accused of giving the image of the Virgin Mary a rainbow halo (they won the case, which Nergal sees as a sign of hope). Law and Justice is committed to fighting the LBGTQ + ideology; and at the beginning of this year, the government applied an almost total ban on abortion. Nergal sees all these things as interrelated.
“You can smell that this is not really about spirituality; it is a very superficial tradition and political power, ”he says. “That’s what Polish Catholicism has always been about. It was simply tradition; it is a facade. It is an elephant with porcelain legs. This case, and the rights of women, and LGBT, have to do with the violation of human rights on many levels. And one of the levels is my department. “
The abortion ban was rejected by most Poles and sparked mass demonstrations earlier this year. The arrest of LGBTQ + activist Margot last year also sparked protests, which saw 48 people arrested in what has been dubbed “Poland’s Stonewall”. Nergal, however, has to be alone – extreme metal singers tend to scare people. A Polish music star who has spoken out about abortion and LGBTQ + rights declined to comment for this article, saying, “The main topic and main character of the article is really controversial.”
The Polish Catholic Church faces deep problems. Has been repeated scandals involving child abuse by priests and subsequent cover-ups. There have been enough people leaving the church that the Statistical Institute of the Catholic Church has announced an investigation at the exits. Interestingly, Google searches for “apostasy” are at an all-time high in Poland.
All of which gives Nergal hope. “It’s amazing to see that Catholic society is disoriented: ‘What the fuck?’ Eventually it will put the church where it belongs, it should be like the Czech Republic, where if you want you can go and practice your things. But that’s where you belong, don’t come into my life with your dirty boots, because I’ve never asked you to. “
It would be easy to paint this as a generational divide: only 9% of young Poles now have a positive view of the Catholic Church. However, it is not that simple, Nergal cautions. “I’d like to think that’s the case, but then we have the dangerous growth of supporters on the right. Many of them call themselves patriots and mix all these dangerous philosophies that are nationalistic and xenophobic, anti-this and anti-that, anti-LGBT, without foreigners ”.
Nergal is now taking the fight to his opponents. He has launched a crowdfunder to raise money for his defense, with any surplus going to social justice campaigns against the state’s imposition of hardline Catholic values. “I’m part of that anti-government tide, that massive wave of people who say, ‘Fuck no. You are not going to make us slaves to your agenda. You’re not going to make it a Catholic state. ‘ We are talking about something bigger than a musician facing a legal problem: if you want to evolve as a country, you must become a secular ”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism