Op-Ed: Why is Behemoth being sued for The Republic of the Unfaithful art?

UPDATE 16th April: this trial and charges have been dismissed.

Adam Darski, better known as Nergal and front-man of Behemoth, is causing a stir again. And again, in his native Poland. The seemingly innocuous task of showcasing new merchandise has landed the band in legal bother.

Apparently the “The Republic of the Unfaithful” merchandise has fallen foul of laws around the Polish emblem and heraldry. Darski remarked in his Facebook comment, “I worship the reason and I’m a massive fan of logic therefore it is obvious that the eagle that has no crown can not be a Polish emblem.” But for people outside Poland, and potentially some inside the country too, it doesn’t really explain what is going on.

What is going on?

The legal claim centres around the interpretation of Article 137 of the Polish Penal Code. An translation into English reads as follows;

1) Whoever publicly insults, destroys, damages or removes an emblem, banner, standard, flag, ensign or other symbol of the State shall be subject to a fine, the penalty of restriction of liberty or the penalty of deprivation of liberty for up to one year.

2) The same punishment shall be imposed on anyone, who on the territory of the Republic of Poland publicly insults, destroys, damages or removes an emblem, banner, standard, flag, ensign or other symbol of another State, publicly displayed by a mission of this State or upon an order of a Polish authority

The lawsuit is claiming that Darski and by extension, Behemoth, have violated Article 137 of the Penal Code in the artwork for “The Republic of the Unfaithful” used in the tour and on merchandise. It is specifically centred around the use the white eagle, which is part of the Coat of Arms of Poland and therefore protected by the constitution and law in Poland.

Placing the two side-by-side we can see that there is as many similarities as there is differences. Darski explained to a court in Gdańsk today that consultation with heraldic experts found that there was no (or more probable, very little) similarity between the eagle used in Behemoth‘s artwork and the Coat of Arms of Poland.

Isn’t this unusual?

Whilst it may seem odd, a number of countries have laws similar to Poland’s and for similar things. The most obvious would be the Flag Protection Act in the U.S.A. which states the following;

Whoever knowingly mutilates, defaces, physically defiles, burns, maintains on the floor or ground, or tramples upon any flag of the United States shall be fined under this title or imprisoned for not more than one year, or both.

In America, this act was extended nationwide following protests of the Vietnam war. During the protests it was common for the American flag to be burned.

However American’s can claim the First Amendment – freedom of speech – as a 1990 court ruling stated “it is unconstitutional for a government (whether federal, state, or municipality) to prohibit the desecration of a flag.” To quote Wikipedia.

In Denmark you can freely burn or desecrate the country’s national flag, called the “Dannebrog”. However burn or desecrate the national flag of another country, the United Nations or the Council of Europe, will be fined and / or imprisoned for up to two years. This is according to Section 110e of the Danish Penal Code.

Why is it happening?

Namely the court action has come about because of one person; Marek Dudziński. He filed a complaint with the Gdańsk-Śródmieście District Prosecutor’s Office, accusing Behemoth of “a defiled image of the Polish emblem, i.e. a white eagle in a crown on a red background.”

Dudziński goes on to explains in the same article on Fakt 24 (in Polish). “This time, there was a perfect opportunity because: 1) it was done in advertising, not in artistic activity; 2) a concrete, clearly written law was broken.”

He was joined by Ryszard Nowak in the complaint. Nowak is representative of a religious organisation called Ogólnopolski Komitet Obrony przed Sektami. In English the name translates to; National Defense Committee Against Sects or All-Polish Defense Committee against Sects and Violence. Whilst Marek Dudziński‘s fight with Behemoth is fairly recent in mainstream, Nowak and Darski have previously fought it out in court.

The two previous clashed following Darski‘s infamous incident at a 2007 concert in Gdynia, Poland where he ripped apart a bible on-stage. That was deemed to be a violation of Article 196 of the Polish Penal Code, which reads; “Whoever offends the religious feelings of other persons by outraging in public an object of religious worship or a place dedicated to the public celebration of religious rites.” Nowak and others claimed just that before the charges were dropped in 2010.

As detailed in an article by NaTemat.pl, Ryszard Nowak and his organisation has gone after a number of other celebrities for similar charges in Poland.

What happens next?

Adam Darski concluded his Facebook post on the recent issue with the following. “[I] go to do what I do best: piss stupid people off with sincere and honest art and I shall NEVER give up on my freedom to do so.”

In legal terms, they fight!