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Black Eyed Peas' rainbow armbands outrage Polish traditionalists

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Photo courtesy of Twitter / @GrzegorzFurgo
Photo courtesy of Twitter / @GrzegorzFurgo

The US band Black Eyed Peas caused an international furor by wearing rainbow armbands in a New Year's Eve appearance on Polish TV.

The band, the headline performers on the "New Year's Eve of Dreams" TV special broadcast live from the Polish ski resort of Zakopane, walked onstage for their set wearing the armbands.

Singer Will.i.am thanked Poles for their "open hearts and minds" for taking Ukrainian women and children into their homes following Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

He then dedicated the band's song "Where Is the Love?" "to those that experience hate throughout the year," explicitly naming the Jewish community, people of African descent, and the LGBTQ community.

The armbands generated an immediate reaction on Polish social media.

"LGBT promotion on TVP2. Disgrace! This isn't New Year's Eve of Dreams, it's New Year's Eve of Degeneracy," said Poland's Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Warchol on Twitter. Warchol is a leader of the right-wing nationalist United Poland Party.

Warchol asked the singer on Twitter why the band had played gigs in countries with much worse LGBTQ records, including Qatar and Saudi Arabia, accusing the musicians of selling their principles for profit.

Will.i.am responded that rather than boycott such countries, it was better to play there, hoping to inspire people to have greater tolerance. As far as the money the band makes from its gigs, Will.i.am replied, "It's called a music career."

Photo courtesy of Rex / Shutterstock  

"We are the Black Eyed Peas. That's P-E-A-S, or you can say the Black Eyed Peace, or P-E-A-C-E, because we are about peace, equality, and harmony. We are not the Black Eyed PiS. We stand for unity, love, tolerance," the singer said, referring to the Polish political party PiS, or Law and Justice Party. PiS is the senior party in the right-wing Polish government, with United Poland as its junior partner.

According to BBC News, the Black Eyed Peas were a last-minute replacement for ex-Spice Girl Melanie C, who pulled out of the booking citing "issues that do not align with the communities I support." The band reportedly received about $1 million for their performance.

The Law and Justice Party, meanwhile, distanced itself from the armband controversy. Asked about the issue on January 2, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he supported "the family" but was against restricting bands' "artistic expression."

Poland also has money on the line. Some 35 billion euros (more than $37 billion) — allocated by the EU to the Polish government for pandemic relief — is being held up over concerns that the right-wing Polish government is interfering with judicial independence to promote its own political agenda.

The United Poland Party is generally anti-EU and has accused PiS of being willing to sell out Polish traditions for money from abroad. The coalition government can't survive without United Poland's votes in Parliament.

"Violence, the destruction of churches, spitting at children and corrupting children... the LGBT flag is a symbol of intolerance and aggression," the United Poland chairman, Zbigniew Ziobro, said on Twitter.

"In this matter, United Poland fundamentally disagrees with Mateusz Morawiecki and PiS. We will never agree to the artistic promotion of LGBT on Polish television."