Koalicja Ateistyczna: An Encounter with Polish Atheists

Jaque Parisien, 2014-07-25

Koalicja Ateistyczna
(Click to see the photo full size)

During a recent trip to Europe, I had the pleasure of meeting four members of Koalicja Ateistyczna or Atheist Coalition, a sister organization of ours on Polish soil, located in Warsaw. I was introduced to Marek Łukaszewicz, president of KA, Darek Kedziora, vice-president, Nina Sankari, vice-president and Krzysztof Mlynarczyk.

I prepared a few questions with the goal of getting to know the Coalition and its particular context. How is it similar to ours? In what ways does it differ? It is in a spirit of friendship that I summarize here the answers which our Polish friends, through Nina Sankari, have provided me.

  1. What is the proportion of religious believers in Poland compared to non-believers? According to Church statistics, 97% of Poles are believers. However, according to a different, independent survey, the number of non-believers would be around 40%.
  2. When and how did the coalition originate? Originally there was The Polish Association of Rationalists, “Racjonalista.pl” but disagreements within the association led to it splitting into factions, and finally to its collapse. It was after these internal problems that members decided to found the Coalition in order to join forces under one banner with the hope of increasing the number of members. According to our colleagues, several ex-rationalists have joined the Coalition and it has become the most credible and most active atheist organization in Poland. We have fifty members in good standing. Officially, the Coalition exists since February 2014. If you wish to know more, you can read the Declaration of the Polish Atheist Coalition by going to: www.internationalfreethought.org/spip.php?article360
Atheist Parade (Marek Łukaszewicz holding the Atheist Bible)

Atheist Parade (Marek Łukaszewicz holding the Atheist Bible)
(Click to see the photo full size)
  1. What kinds of activities do you organize to get your voice heard? Several events are organized by the Coalition. Among the most recent is the atheist parade, a sort of parody of a religious procession where participants are disguised as monks and carry a holy book stating the non-existence of God (see photo). More recently, we have opposed the cancellation of the performance of “Golgotha Picnic” by Rodrigo Garcia, after a massive protest and a petition launched by Catholic authorities alleging the blasphemous character of the play. (www.lemonde.fr/culture/article/2014/06/24/golgota-picnic-annule-en-pologne-face-a-une-mobilisation-massive_4441789_3246.html)
  2. Do you have adequate financial resources? The lifeblood of any battle is money. Yes, we have financial resources, but given our particular situation and the relatively modest number of members, they are insufficient. We are currently exploring various options for financial support, from wealthy patrons – openly atheist of course – or through the sale of symbolic objects such as t-shirts, mugs and similar material. But increasing our membership probably remains the best solution, since not only our finances would be better off, but the strength and impact of the Coalition would be enhanced.
  3. Overall, how does the population react to your demands? Reactions? They are varied, especially the opinions of those who react. Our fans are excited, they support and encourage us. Most have anticlerical feelings because they are tired of being held down by the Church. We saw that sentiment during the “Atheist’s Days” when they joined us in large numbers (300 not including our members) for the Atheist’s March. But there are also very hostile reactions from fundamentalists. They asked City Council to ban our march. A member of parliament from the Catholic right, Professor Krystyna Pawlowicz, said in a newspaper article that Atheists do not have the right to organize a march using the same streets as the Easter procession (which must take this path as it is an historical reconstruction) and she would gladly exile us to promote atheism in Belarus, that is to say, she would gladly deny Poles the right to be anything other than Catholic.
  4. Do you have links with other European or even American atheist organizations? Our association is very “young” so it has formal links with the International Association of Free Thought and with the National Federation of Free Thought (France). We will in the coming weeks, apply to join Atheist Alliance International (AAI). We have, on the other hand, informal relations with Atheist Ireland (Michael Nugent), One Law for All and the Council of Ex-Muslims (Maryam Namazie), London Humanists, in short with all those who are my personal contacts, but I have not yet had time to formalize these. Nevertheless, in this regard we have a great desire to work with you, Canadian Atheist Freethinkers. Perhaps we could start by exchanging logos to put on our official websites? Regarding collaboration with Polish organizations for Atheist’s Days, we organized a round-table discussion with associations interested in cooperation on issues of secularism, freethought, atheism, rationalism, etc. This included feminist organizations, the world of art or popular education, so in total almost twenty organizations. The second round table (which I will have the honour to moderate) will be held during Secular Days in Krakow on 27-29 September 2014.

What did I learn from this wonderful evening spent in the company of our Polish atheist friends? A very good first impression! In fact, I recommend that we strengthen our relatioins with the Coalition, as their determination and dynamism can only benefit us.

Indeed, I felt as if I were among you, dear AFT members, and it was only the language which reminded me that I was not in Montreal or Gatineau. For example, the number of members is similar to ours; their financial situation as well. Their vision of atheism matches ours perfectly as they take a more activist and unequivocal approach as do we. They criticize agnosticism as lukewarm, even insipid. Like us they have no interest in the dubious idea that religious beliefs should be given deferential treatment. Finally, our Polish friends make a clear distinction, as do we, between religious beliefs and religious believers, the latter being the victims who are “infected” with the former, which does not however imply – and I think you will agree – that we should avoid a good debate with them or never exercise restraint in the use of our arsenal of arguments.

However, Poland reminds me of Quebec in the 1950s. Collusion between the Catholic Church and the state is obvious. Catholicism clings to its privileges, intervenes in political affairs and obviously defends its privileges tooth and nail by crying “blasphemy” whenever necessary, as evidenced by the withdrawal of the play Golgotha Picnic. Furthermore, few public figures in the worlds of politics or business dare to declare themselves openly as atheists for fear of electoral or economic retaliation. The situation is much more challenging than ours and militant islamism is completely absent from the Polish landscape. This is, I think, what distinguishes their situation from ours.

To conclude, please allow me to formulate this important historical reminder. Here in Quebec, Catholicism may no longer exercise the great power over our daily lives is that it had to concede since the 1960s. But never forget what it was like when our own Catholic church was married to political power. We can only hope for the advent of a “quiet” revolution in Poland in the near future and closer ties among associations such as ours everywhere in the world.


Nina Sankari, myself and Krzysztof Mlynarczyk
Nina Sankari, myself and Krzysztof Mlynarczyk
(Click to see the photo full size)

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