Arnout le ClercqSeptember 27, 202222:37

    A new season in Warsaw also means a new Catholic poster campaign. At least in my own street, where after my summer vacation I ran into a placard with a piece of text. It took me a while to decipher, but “marriage”, “church”, “divorce” and “prayer” (indispensable vocabulary for any Polish correspondent) was enough for me.

    According to the poster, half of civil marriages in the United States end in divorce; of church-married couples who attend mass weekly and pray together, only one in a thousand divorces.

    It’s the umpteenth piece of religious advertising I’ve seen since living in Warsaw. The messages range from relatively mellow (statements of Polish Pope John Paul II) to downright morbid (a bloody fetus in a trash can that reads ‘I’m 11 weeks old’). Sometimes the posters are signed – for example by Fundacja Kornice, a Catholic foundation with extreme views – sometimes not.

    The messages agitate against secularization, abortion, divorce and other novelties. This summer the city was covered with a poster of two girls in a meadow and the text ‘Where are these children?’ Next to it was the number of children per family in the fifties, eighties and today (surprise: families are smaller now).

    Opponents of abortion, who have the political wind in their favor in Poland, like to use the declining birth rate to justify their positions. The poster’s creators seemed to have forgotten that Polish abortion law in the 1950s and 1980s was a lot more liberal than it is today.

    I always find such placards in or near cities – I saw the mini-college divorce statistics on a gigantic billboard in a suburb of Warsaw just last week – but never in the countryside.

    Perhaps the campaign is mainly intended to convince Polish urbanites, who have long been drifting away from the fanatically conservative minority in the Catholic country. Or passing foreign journalists like myself (unmarried, childless and unbaptized – brrr).

    I wonder who is listening. Perhaps the visitors of the church at the nearby Plac Zbawiciela, where very conservative Catholics are at home. It will be less spent on visitors to the cafes on the same square and other free areas in the area. Or the posters are mainly intended to show: we are still here.

    A new Catholic poster campaign in Warsaw.Statue Arnout le Clercq

    Because Poland is secularizing at a rapid pace, with young people and cities leading the way. There are politicians and clerics who see the hand of the pernicious West in this erosion of Polish traditions. In reality, many Poles have had enough of the religious meddling. The great political influence of the church is counterproductive.

    Incidentally, the ‘Western’ influence is also not so bad. Poles are creative enough to find their own way outside the rigid leaning towards tradition, with a sense of humor too.

    For example, a bakery recently opened directly opposite the religious poster site that sells pastries in the form of penises and vulvas. Something different than a wafer, or pańska skórka (‘virginskin’): sugary sweet candy from Warsaw and the surrounding area that is traditionally eaten around All Saints’ Day.

    Since then I see young people walking on sticks with genitals all the time in my street. While I read the text about marriage and prayer again, a trio of teenagers with freshly baked dicks beam past the poster.