Poland’s LGBTQ community has plenty of sorrows to drown right now, and while Andrzej Duda’s reelection means another deep sip from a cup already overflowing with sadness, fear and anger, many feel there’s good reason to give some of their country’s most popular beer brands a hard swerve.
Tyskie, Lech and Żubr premium lagers are 3 of the most popular beers in Poland and what most people don’t know is that they are all merged under one beer-making giant, Kompania Piwowarska (KP). It commands 36 percent of the Polish beer market.
KP doesn’t shy away from some of society’s most pressing issues, and is happy to roll up its sleeves and open its wallet in the name of endangered species, the environment, poverty and terminal illness.
In the last year, it’s donated one million zloty to protect wolves and pygmy owls. It’s touted responsible drinking at student events and festivals, helped renovate a hospice, given Christmas presents to needy families and won gongs for sustainable development. It even bagged a Super Ethical Company award for, among other things, “social responsibility and respect towards others”.
But to the plight of a community suffering some of the worst homophobia in Europe, KP seemed to turn a blind eye when politicians, captains of industry and leading lights of the arts world gathered at Warsaw’s National Philharmonic for an annual media knees-up hosted by Poland’s right-wing magazine Gazeta Polska.
KP was one of the event sponsors, and guest of honour on the night was a man who thinks being gay represents a threat to the Polish state. That man was Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
After spewing a vile torrent of Islamophobia in 2015 to help PiS sweep to the biggest victory Poland has seen since the fall of communism, Kaczyński has turned his spite on LGBTQ rights.
In Kaczyński’s view, Muslim refugees are disease carriers who use churches as toilets, and Pride marches are a “harmful” travelling theatre, part of an infectious “rainbow plague” seeping in from the West.
Kaczyński was in fine company. Gazeta Polska is a government-aligned weekly. Last year it was halted by the courts from giving away “LGBTQ-Free Zone” stickers which drew terrifying comparison with Nazi Germany’s Judenfrei (“Free of Jews”) policies.
Activist Krzysztof Tyczyński took to Facebook to call for a boycott of KP’s beers back in February. While his plea gained traction in Polish liberal titles like Wyborcza , although he said “The topic quickly died down, which is why Kompania Piwowarska was not too concerned about this fact,” he said.
“The response has been overwhelming,” she said. “People have expressed outrage and sadness. It seems people don’t really like to find out their favourite drink tastes slightly different. They are willing to change consuming habits, make personal sacrifices, for a common, diverse future.”
The story was picked up last week by numerous media outlets, including Queer Pride so KP responded to Patricia with an apology.
“It was a nice and important gesture,” she commented. But people are not naive. Words are void of meaning without visible measures. KP is a market leader in the Polish brewing industry – such companies have a responsibility to set a positive example.”
KP also played down its role in Gazeta Polska’s rally and issued a contrite apology distancing itself from the magazine’s politics, telling Poland’s Wirtualnemedia its commitment was “exclusively product”.
In a statement, KP’s Corporate Affairs Director Iwona Jacaszek-Pruś said: “We believe that all people are equal, have the same rights regardless of race, religion or sexual orientation, and we are strongly opposed to the exclusion of any groups of people.
“Diversity is an integral part of our culture and we want people to thrive regardless of differences. We regret if supplying our products to the gala event ‘The Man of the Year 2019’ in February 2020 made an impression of supporting the anti-LGBT movement. This was absolutely not our intention and we sincerely apologize for this misunderstanding.
“We believe that beer is for everybody and should connect Poles, rather than divide them. We would like to strongly emphasize that we have always been, are and will be promoting equality and diversity. We apologize to anyone who felt that supplying beer to the gala implied some different views.”
Certainly in the west, there’s a consensus of expectation that brands will have some kind of commitment to sustainability, that they will make statements condemning racism and support LGBT rights. Increasingly, we expect them to demonstrate this rather than simply say it.
And in what might serve as a warning to other beer brands who think getting the beers in for right-wing homophobes is a good look, there are examples of breweries that have basically gone out of busines as a result of brewers or other key individuals behaving like dicks.