Over the centuries, the harbour city of Gdansk was proud to be open for diversity, famous for its tolerance. An example of this tolerance could be the Mennonites, a small branch of Protestants persecuted in the 16th century, who had been allowed to settle in. History shows, that periods of openness contributed to the flourishing of Gdansk, while the times when it was ruled by xenophobia and intolerance brought defeat. Such was, for instance the turn of the 30s and 40s of the 20th century, when Gdansk was ruled by the Nazis. Remembering this history lesson, I decided to take part in the Equality March, which took place on Saturday.
"Love, not war" was the slogan of this year's march. I fully subscribe to the idea. Our city wants to be open to diversity, because diversity is a value in itself. Only in meeting with “the other”, the stranger, we can find wealth. Sharing another culture, embracing what is different, makes us richer.
It was the first time I marched in the Gdansk Equality March, and I realize that my decision might come as a surprise to some. This is only the second case when the mayor of the Polish city participates in a march (the first was Mayor Jacek Jaskowiak from Poznan).
What made me decide to take this step? The simplest answer is that sometimes people change their views. Mine were once very conservative. They evolved some, but regardless of whether we are conservatives or liberals, or maybe socialists, we should remember to respect other people and their right to express their views and beliefs.
By my participation in the march I clearly showed that in Gdansk there is no consent for intolerance and discrimination. Especially now, in times when xenophobic and nationalist demons are starting to appear, we need to express solidarity with the minorities. "Who am I to judge?" Pope Francis asked at the beginning of his pontificate, and I took those words to heart.
Gdansk is the first city in Poland where the Council for Equal Treatment and the Council for Immigrants were set up. Equal rights for the minorities and the Immigration policy raise a lot of emotions in Poland. Unfortunately, the government controlled media eagerly use them to instill fear of diversity. In Gdansk, we clearly see that an open, honest dialogue with the public is the best way to explain fears and not allow the extreme right to occupy public space. After about two years of our very active presence in these areas, the voice of the extreme circles in Gdansk is weaker than in other places in Poland.