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Interview with Piotr Kozak | Poland

Fascinating interview with Piotr Kozak, applicant in Kozak v. Poland, providing an interesting insight into the real life of Polish gay community.

‘Gay inherits from gay.’
(Monika Adamowska, ‘Duży Format’ - Gazeta Wyborcza, 14 marca 2010 r.)

Piotr brought a complaint against Poland at the ECHR for being evicted from the municipal flat, which his deceased partner had been renting. Delivered on March 2nd, 2010, the judgment of the Strasbourg Court affirmed that the State is under obligation to acknowledge various forms of family life.

I was afraid.

Of what? Publicity?

Yes. I was afraid that the press would get involved and they wouldn’t let me live. That everyone would know. Both at work and at home.

You got all the way to Strasbourg and you won - it was obvious it would hit the headlines. It actually hadn’t crossed my mind at that time that it might get to Strasbourg. I simply thought the judge would say it’s this or that way and that I’d finally get a verdict. But instead the case was moved from one court to another.

At the very beginning even in the court you would not say you were a couple, would you? Well, I simply felt embarrassed. At that time, in 1998, you would not say that kind of thing openly, at least not here in Poland. What I mean is, that in Poland people are still against this sort of relationships, even now. I didn’t want to talk about it.

How long had you been together? Since 1987. I met Tadeusz through fellow sailors. They invited me to have vodka together and Tadeusz turned up as well. At that time I was working as waiter in some fancy restaurants in Szczecin. At that moment in ‘Ryska’. He was a taxi driver. And that’s how it all had started but I’d rather leave this topic. We fell for each other immediately and that’s it.
At first we lived at Niedziałkowskiego Street, in the city centre. We had a big flat and later, when we exchanged it, we got a few pennies swapping it. Then we moved here - to a 32m flat where I live up today. It was a single room and a huge kitchen. It wasn’t until recently that I remade it into a small kitchen and two rooms.

So you did not have enough money to live in a big flat, did you? In the communist times one would always find work in restaurant business, either as a waiter or in the kitchen. In the 90s, however, it changed for worse. Restaurants became leased and were kind of different. And I have always worked in elegant places. I was at a loss then.
There were also Germans coming to Szczecin. Well, I should rather say Poles that had emigrated in the 80s. They were drinking, rocking in pubs and discos. When they were left with 20 DM they would say: “it’s your tip”. 20 DM - can you imagine? That was loads of money after all! But Tadeusz would take these 20 DM and would guzzle them. Soon he had to give up taxi driving.
I can’t say I didn’t drink, cause I did and I liked to have fun. I admit we did drink together. But you know some people are susceptible to addictions others aren’t. Tadek was.
I would tell him over and over again: pull yourself together. In vain. Finally he ended up having no job and I had enough of it. I think it was 1993 when I first went to Germany, to do some seasonal work for 3 months. We would live by such jobs eventually.
Whenever I came back from Germany, the flat was in a mess. Everything was neglected and unkept. Debts. Tadeusz invited his vodka-buddies. Whenever I came back I had to settle these debts, the rent and go back to work. He would take things away from the flat and sell them. He was terribly neglected. We started fighting and I even applied for a different flat but in the end it would somehow carry on this way. I mean, I was working in Germany and he was drinking.
The drinking killed him. He died of liver cirrhosis. He was 59 just as I’m now. It happened when I was in Germany. A friend of mine called and said that Tadeusz had died on the April 1st, I could not believe it.

Who buried him? His family buried him somewhere - I was told by a friend. Tadeusz was not in touch with them whatsoever - they came literally out of the blue. I came back to Poland a couple of days after his funeral. They did not even come to collect his things and I didn’t have their telephone number.

You remain so calm while saying this… He was a very intelligent man. Witted, well-lettered and a good mixer. But the truth is that, especially when drunk he caused a lot of suffering to me. You know, sometimes even deep feelings wear off.

Tadeusz collected some antiques. He had like 20 old clocks. He would buy them and then have them renovated. They all hung on these walls. The most interesting one was the table with an octagonal crystal tabletop. Truly beautiful. Once we had a fight over it. I came back home and it was missing so I asked where it was. He replied he had pawned it for 300 PLN. You idiot! Let's go and pick up - I shouted at him. We rushed to this man, but the table had already been gone.
Tadeusz went stupid because of that drinking. He destroyed the flat so when he died I had to renovate everything. I went to ask to succeed Tadeusz as a tenant but I did not say we were a couple. The times were such that the topic was a taboo. I simply said I had been registered as a resident since 1987. First, they said I might try an acquisitive prescription. I started renovating the flat and threw the old heating oven away. I went to the power-house, the gas-works and settled the bills again. To do so I needed a piece of paper saying I was registered as a resident. I got it. It was May 1998. Later this piece of paper would save me.

One day in June some friends dropped in and we drank some vodka. The next morning I heard pounding on the door. I opened and saw a whole crowd of guards and clerks. They showed me a paper saying I needed to leave the flat on March. Fortunately, I had that piece of paper confirming my residential status. But I simply did not recall it that day. I was surprised. They put my belongings and furniture out of the flat straightaway and said they would leave them in some warehouse and when I’d find a new flat I might pick them up.
I asked that they leave them. I wanted to handle it myself and take it somewhere. Some stuff was lost: some perfumes from Germany and even a new plastic galley.

Media gave a detailed account of your protest and a hunger strike in front of your house.

I went to the press and to television, to tell them my story, how I was unfairly kicked out of my house. I didn’t say that Tadeusz and myself we were a couple. If I said so, I guess no one would help me. People would make fun of me, that two faggots lived together, and than I would be kicked out even faster. And the way I did it I got help from labor union “Kontra”. Even “Młodzież Wszechpolska” helped me. They carried banners against my eviction, they wanted to chain themselves to my door handle as a sign of protest. To be honest, they helped me a lot. Probably today they must to kick themselves that they were defending a gay. I was on a hunger strike for almost two weeks, drinking only water. My furniture, cupboards, sofa – everything was outside. At night or during the rainstorm I was putting the sofa inside the stairwell. When the officials came to kick me out, the TV wanted to film the whole situation and suddenly the officials withdrew. Although I was very weak, I didn’t want to go to the hospital. I knew that if I had gone, there would be nothing left to come back to. In the end I went with the journalists to the Housing Department of the Municipal Council. There we reached a compromise, that until the court does not solve the problem I may stay in the flat.
For a long time I did not tell anyone, what the whole thing was about, I mean, that me and Tadeusz, we were a couple. In front of the court I had to admit that fact. In one word I was done for. Even today it is a huge problem to admit that you are gay or lesbian. There is plenty of people who have problem with it. I don’t care who is who. They do. For them I am weird, for me heteros are weird. Still, despite admitting I was gay, I was loosing all my cases in court.

Did your family know? My family is very religious. My mother is a religious fanatic. Father Rydzyk is the holy of the holiest for her. She has had a hard life. Four kids in a tiny flat. My stepfather – a terrible man. Me either, I wans‘t very kind and polite. As a 10-year old boy I ended up in an orphanage. All the orphanages should be closed…many times I was thinking, would I be a homosexual if not for what I experienced from the older boys. But there is no point to think about it anymore…
I wanted to be normal. I even got married, but the marriage broke down very fast. Than I moved to Szczecin.
My mother does not know who I am, and she will never find out. She would not understand that. My brother, sister, brother in law – they all know. They are intelligent people. They would always help me. That conscious was the biggest blessing during all the difficult times.

You and Tadeusz did not think to draw up a will? We often had this conversation that if things come to that I am left with nothing. But he was young. I didn’t expect that he could die. Well-built, healthy man. Only, he was drinking.
One day my attorney called me to say that the case is going to Strasbourg. And we won. My attorney Arkadiusz Byliński called me and said that now the media would probably stalk me. That I have to be ready for this. I didn’t know that the media would bring it all up all with my name…. You are crying….
…… Are you afraid? Sure…. Why didn’t you look for support in the gay community during the trial and now? I didn’t want to come out with my homosexuality. It just happened, without my knowledge. I thought it would not go out in the air. I thought that only me, my attorney and the Housing Department would know about the Strasbourg sentence.
Now, for sure people will comment on this. Intolerant people will attack me. I will be sick of journalists.
My friend Stachu called me after reading the article and said: “You are the bloody boss, let them know, that every person may live the way he wants to”. Stachu and his wife knew for a long time. They are cool, smart people.

Did you have any unpleasant experiences till now? Not yet, but I expect it ….I will have to make fun of it or what? To feel offended… no, it does not make any sense. I think I’ll make fun of it…..
I’d rather not tell where I work. When I was going there after the sentence I was only thinking, what they would come up with? What they are gonna say? Will they ask: “oh, so you did won, you gay?“. Normally I am calm but sometimes people are so cruel. I hope in the couple of weeks they will forget about me.
I am surprised. Finally Europe gives us signs, how the tolerance looks like. The law should change. Maybe I’ve played a part in it? I want them to know, that people can be different. For thousands of years. Good, that it is coming to an end. Twelve years I have been waiting: what would happen to me? I have renovated windows and doors because the gaps between them were so big, that during the winter I was freezing. I only wait with the bathroom. It was not a life, only the trudge with the attorney around the courts. Twelve years of uncertainty can fuck you up.

Translation: Magdalena Krzysztoporska and Joanna Bąk, interns at the Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights, Warsaw Poland.

Published with the consent of Duży Format (special reporters' edition of Gazeta Wyborcza)

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