Wiedeńscy zboczeńcy – queers (and monsters) between Warszawa and Wien in the 20th century.

Wiedeńscy zboczeńcy – queers (and monsters) between Warszawa and Vienna in the 20th century.

Wed ,8.6.2022, 6:00pm

A lecture in English by Kamil Karczewski

As a historian of queer and sexuality, Kamil Karczewski would like to take the visitors of Queer Museum for a journey through the 20th century that crosses political, national, and sexual borders. He will demonstrate that understanding queer history in Poland is impossible without understanding Vienna.

The journey starts in the belle epoque with a story of a Polish aristocrat who told his doctors in Kraków how he learnt homosexuality from “the highest spheres of Austria” and from his peers in a Jesuit school in Vienna. Then, we will look at a lesbian sexual scandal that luckily for its protagonist took place in Warsaw, not in Vienna, since—Polish newspapers reported— it would have meant serious troubles for the woman as Austrian Penal Code, unlike laws of other countries, criminalised sexual relations between women.

In the beginning of the twentieth century Vienna was often presented as the hotbed of perversion and a haven for sexual perverts. This phantasy about the city was related to a broader motive visible in Polish press throughout the 1920s and 1930s of presenting homosexuality as a “German vice” arriving from the German-speaking area of Europe and destroying the allegedly pure and Catholic Polish soul. These motives are still present in the public discourse in Poland today and exploited by the far-right populists.

We will discuss when and how this phantasy of Vienna started and how it was related to the enormous influence that people such as Sigmund Freund and Richard Krafft-Ebing had on the societies of Central and Eastern Europe.

Finally, we will see how the Viennese homosexual scene in the 1970s and 1980s influenced and invigorated gay activism in Poland at the time. We will discuss what kind of new phantasies some queer people from the country had about Vienna and Austria at the end of the 20th century.

Karczewski lived for four years in Austria after he left Poland in 2012. When he moved to Vienna, he imagined it as a western, lively metropolis with unlimited options for a young gay man. Instead, a Viennese queer person told him upon my arrival: “Remember, people say that New York never sleep; Vienna sleeps always.” This could sometimes seem true. But after several years of studies in the history of sexuality, healso learnt that Goya was right to depict sleep as a state when monsters come forth. Some of these monsters can be beautifully queer.

Kamil Karczewski is a PhD candidate at the Department of History and Civilization at the European University Institute in Florence, Italy. He researches the queer history of interwar Poland in a transnational perspective. In his PhD dissertation “Queer Warsaw: Sex in the Time of Nationalism,” Karczewski focuses on the relations between nationalist ideology and
changing ideas about sexuality in interwar Poland.
Currently, he is also a research fellow at the Institute of European History in Mainz and the Herder Institute in Marburg; 2022–24 Postdoctoral Past & Present Fellow at the Institute of Historical Research (University of London).

This lecture is supported by