People protest the detention of activist Elzbieta Podlesna, who put up posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a halo reminiscent of the LGBT rainbow flag, in Warsaw, on Tuesday. (Kacper Pempel/Reuters)

This week, Polish protesters pounded the streets in response to what some are calling hypocritical political correctness.

Human rights activist Elzbieta Podlesna last month put up posters showing the icon of the Mother of God of Czestochowa — but with LGBTQ rainbow halos around the heads of the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus. Podlesna was temporarily detained, and so protesters in the city of Plock took to the streets on Tuesday holding rainbow flags and posters of the image, and human rights groups criticized the move.

Former prime minister and European Parliament member Jerzy Buzek, on the other hand, criticized the activist, saying such acts “should not take place because they can insult people who are deep believers.” Eighty-six percent of the Polish population identifies as Roman Catholic.

On Wednesday, journalist Dominika Wielowieyska shared the image — in response to which Anna Maria Siarkowska, a right-wing Polish parliamentarian, said she should be prosecuted and punished, according to journalist Bartosz Wielinski.

The rainbow row comes a week after a similar protest in Warsaw when art depicting a young woman apparently thoroughly enjoying herself while eating a banana was removed from the National Museum. A few hundred people responded by eating bananas outside the museum. The Ministry of Culture denied any involvement, suggesting visitors had complained, but in any case, the banana-eating protest was presented as fighting back against censorship.


A few hundred people eat bananas on April 29 near Warsaw's National Museum to protest what they called censorship, after authorities removed an artwork there featuring a young woman eating the fruit. (Czarek Sokolowski/AP)

The battles over art are taking place against the broader context of the ruling party, the conservative Law and Justice, weighing in forcefully on the concept of culture in Poland. Culture Minister Piotr Glinski, for example, fired the director of a World War II museum, arguing that Poland’s suffering and heroism were insufficiently displayed.

But journalists and critics were also quick to note a certain irony in the removal of art over hurt feelings. Law and Justice, had, after all, presented itself as fiercely opposed to any form of political correctness.

In 2016, the Polish interior minister went as far as to say that political correctness was responsible for a terrorist attack in Nice, France. The prime minister at the time, Beata Szydlo, also said Poland was a democratic oasis in a world where political correctness destroyed values.

“In the self-proclaimed land of free speech, unburdened by Western notions of political correctness, the director of Poland’s national museum has been removing works of modern art because a teenager was allegedly traumatised by images of a woman eating a banana,” Christian Davies, the Guardian’s Warsaw correspondent, tweeted in response to those who went bananas over the exhibit.

“Many Poles will proudly tell you their country doesn’t ascribe to western notions of political correctness. But as the arrest of a woman for adding a rainbow to the Virgin Mary shows, those same Poles not only favour a form of political correctness, but want it legally enforced,” Daniel Tilles, a historian and writer, echoed on Wednesday.

Poles have a chance to vote against this form of selective political correctness later this month in European Parliamentary elections, which the opposition leader described as the most important since 1989, when the country held elections that led to its democratic transition.

More likely, however, the opposition will shy away from making it an issue: Left-wing European Parliament candidate Dariusz Rosati suggested using different strategies to avoid provoking parts of society.