The ongoing holy war between heavy metal frontman Nergal and the Catholic authorities in Poland.
It’s a strange fact that otherwise omnipotent Gods are apparently snowflakes when it comes to criticism or caricature. You’d think that an all-powerful and infallible Supreme Being or Holy Prophet would be able to shrug off a bit of blasphemy, but apparently not – they might have millions of devoted, unquestioning followers, but any level of mockery or even the merest act of questioning their commandments – even the ones that contradict the other ones – is considered so beyond the pale that the offender is not only damned in the afterlife but also persecuted in their current existence. How insecure are our religious figures – or at least their self-appointed representatives on Earth – that they need to lash out at anyone who questions them?
Polish heavy metal band Behemoth – and more specifically, their lead singer Adam ‘Nergal’ Darski – are serial offenders, the Charlie Hebdo of Christianity it seems. Like many who take violently against religious, Behemoth seems to be an extreme reaction to an extreme culture. Poland is a deeply Catholic country, having swapped the oppression of Communism for the oppression of religion – and it’s not hard to break their stringent blasphemy laws. Not that Nergal was taking any chances. During a 2007 performance, he declared that the Roman Catholic church was “the most murderous cult on the planet” and tore out pages from the Bible – perhaps nothing that Marilyn Manson hadn’t done already, but in a country where such actions were viewed much in the same was as burning the Quran might be in Islamic nations, it was more than mere provocation – it was an act of defiance against the State. Naturally, the State responded in predictable fashion – in 2010, he was charged with blasphemy, and potentially faced a hefty prison sentence. Article 196 of Poland’s penal code says that “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by publicly insulting an object of religious worship, or a place designated for public religious ceremonies, is liable to pay a fine, have his or her liberty limited, or be deprived of his or her liberty for a period of up to two years.” Both Amnesty International and the European Commission have called for the abolition of the law, which is a clear violation of human rights – but it remains intact.
To the surprise of many, he was acquitted of the crime in 2011, with Judge Krzysztof Wieckowski stating that the actions were “a form of art” after several Christians called as witnesses declared that they had not been hurt by the performance. All very sensible. Too sensible, in fact, for the very religious Polish authorities, and the case was referred to the Gdansk District Court in 2013, which overruled the acquittal and sent the case back for another hearing. This also went nowhere after a lot of huffing and puffing.
You can enjoy his Bible-ripping here:
Meanwhile, in 2007 Behemoth was also sued by the jolly important-sounding Nationwide Defence Committee Against Sects for ‘promoting Satanism’. That case fell apart, but clearly, the band and their anti-Christian antics had been brought to the attention of the authorities and religious fanatics alike.
If you thought that all this religious persecution might make Nergal reconsider his actions, well think again. In 2018, he was back in court, this time because of the tour artwork for the band’s Republic of the Unfaithful, which was said to be insulting to the Polish national coat of arms. I mean, what the fuck? This all centred around the use of a white eagle in the artwork, the birds apparently being under some sort of Polish government copyright. In case you had any doubts about just what had caused the offence, the prosecutors stated that the band artwork “included elements and symbols considered Satanist and anti-Christian, with the aim of conveying content far removed from the historical and state ideology.” Again, the charges were dismissed, then reinstated, then dismissed again. Maybe God is actually on Nergal’s side.
Perhaps motivated by all this, Nergal and the band have continued to be thorns in the sides of the authorities. Hard as it is to imagine in Britain, Behemoth is a big name in Poland – actual stars in a country where metal is not swept under the carpet. As such, the band – and their frontman in particular – hold some sway over youth and get to have their opinions reported, and as you might expect, Nergal has not been especially supportive of the Polish government and has been outspoken in his support of abortion rights – something even more Satanic than his music for many Catholics I imagine. He’s obviously someone who they would love to bring down.
And now, Nergal is in trouble once more, charged with – you guessed it – blasphemy. On February 16th 2021, it was reported that he had been convicted over a social media image that showed an unidentified foot, stamping on a picture of the Virgin Mary. Well – this hardly seems the ultimate statement of blasphemous behaviour, but what do we know? The September 2019 post was seen by ultra-conservative group Ordo Iuris, and the Patriotic Society (Towarzystwo Patriotyczne), who I think we can assume are not of a liberal bent either. Both complained to the authorities that their religious feelings had been hurt.
The full translated prosecution statement reads:
“Adam D. is accused of having on September 25, 2019, acting via the Internet, publicly insulted the object of Christian religious worship in the form of the person of the Mother of God, by placing a photo on the Facebook social network, on its official profile.
“Presenting a damaged picture showing the image of the Mother of God with a shoe-legged figure placed in the place of the indicated figure, which was described by + on the set +, which translated means + on the set +, thus offending the religious feelings of four people. Representatives of Ordo Iuris and the Patriotic Society were informed about Nergal‘s misdemeanour. The Warsaw prosecutor added that during the investigation the victims were interrogated and an expert in the field of religious studies was appointed.
“The opinion clearly concludes that treading with a shoe on the image of the Mother of God is an offence against religious feelings.”
Nergal’s response was, as you might imagine, calm and reasoned.
“Another lawsuit in the process. Reason? In every case the same: offence of RELIGIOUS FEELINGS! Can u imagine this nonsense in XXl century? Poland is mentally soooo fuckin’ behind the civilized Europe that we r literally THE last bastion of so called “blasphemy casus”. Even extremely Catholic Ireland removed this paragraph from constitution lately. It WILL happen in Poland at some point …. and yea, I’m willing to be that stepping stone. FUCK religious fundamentalism in every fuckin hole. And frankly, I’m sure I will win this and EVERY other case. Just wait and see.”
Nergal was found guilty by magistrates and fined 15,000 złoty and court costs of almost 3,500 zloty – just under $5000 in American money. He has, however, refused to accept the judgement and so now the case will go to a full trial. Regardless of the final outcome (and it does seem as though the courts in Poland are reluctant to convict on religious charges, perhaps aware of what a can of worms that might open), I doubt that this will be the last skirmish between Nergal and his religious persecutors.
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