Poland: Researching Queer Archives from the Former Eastern Bloc

In 2005, Karol Radziszewski, a young graduate from Warsaw’s Academy of Fine Arts, began DIK FagazineIn Radziszewski’s words, the fanzine is “the first art magazine from Eastern Europe devoted entirely to the subject of masculinity and homosexuality in the broad context of culture and art, with particular focus on the region.”

DIK Fagazine gradually evolved from a publication addressing current events in Poland to a platform exploring queer archives from former Soviet Union countries. Radziszewski wanted to prove that queer culture already existed in the region during the socialist era.

But Radziszewski’s goal was anything but easy to achieve. Male homosexuality was made a crime in the USSR in the 1930s, and that law only changed after the dissolution of the Union in 1993. Alarming levels of homophobia still persist in numerous countries of the former Soviet Bloc. When DIK’s interviewees talk about their lives and their experiences as gay men, they virtually expose themselves.

Beyond Poland, Radziszewski looked at the different queer scenes in Romania, Estonia, Latvia, Serbia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary, mainly during the 1980s, and traced and compared cruising areas, gay nude beaches, zines portraying the lives of gay men, and the first reactions to the beginnings of the AIDS epidemic. 

With few exceptions, many of the dynamics and experiences described proved to be similar, including a lack of organized community, similar cruising areas, and nonexistent or very few clubs and bars that catered exclusively to a homosexual clientele.

Over the years, DIK Fagazine has established itself as an extraordinary source of information about male gay communities in Eastern Europe. Published in an edition of 500 copies for each issue, and designed by Martin Falck, the zine’s aesthetic recalls amateur publications, those very ones that were clandestinely circulating during the Soviet era. Pictures are mainly black and white, and archival images mix with contemporary photographs.

In 2015 Radziszewski also established the Queer Archives Institute (QAI), with the aim of better organizing the material collected during the editing of DIK Fagazine. Over the past two years documents from the QAI have been displayed in Brazil, Belarus, Ukraine, Croatia, the Netherlands, and Poland. A selection from the archives is currently on view at Centrala, in Birmingham, England. I reached out to Radziszewski, who shared his work with DIK Fagazine, QAI, and queer archives. Read the intervia via Hyperallergic