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A conversation with Margrét Adamsdóttir, a former employee of the Polish embassy in Iceland

Aleksander Gurgul: What did the Polish ambassador, Gerard Pokruszyński, tell you after you came back from the Reykjavík Pride Parade?

Margrét Adamsdóttir: I posted some pictures from the Pride Parade on my Instagram profile and shared them via InstaStory. Mr. ambassador asked me to come to his office immediately. I was completely surprised; I didn’t expect it. I thought he wants to talk about some work-related issues. First, he told me that I’ve disappointed him because he expected me to be apolitical- something I agreed to. I answered that the Pride Parade has nothing to do with politics, and besides, I can post anything I please on my private social media profiles. 

Then, I heard that I’ve embarrassed him. Apparently, at an event organized by the local Polish church community he attended, someone approached him and, showing him my pictures, said: “to look at what his secretary is up to”. The ambassador must’ve concluded that my actions have negatively affected his own image, and that working for the embassy requires one to be more careful with posting content on social media.  

I replied that I’m not a diplomat and am in no position to represent either the embassy or the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I’m just a regular, local employee at the embassy. 

How long did you work there?

- I started my job at the embassy on March 1, 2019. The Pride Parade we’re talking about took place in August the same year. I’ve been living in Iceland for 20 years now and have attended such events ever since. 

I’ve never been to a Pride Parade elsewhere than in Reykjavík, but from what I could gather by reading and hearing about such events in other countries, they are often an opportunity for minorities, including sexual minorities, to manifest their identity. The Pride Parade in Iceland is a very family-friendly festival. Throughout the entire winter season, Icelanders have to cope with a lack of sun and, for the most part, sit at home, so when the summertime comes, there is a whole range of family festivals and parties that’s being organized. Beginning with the fisherman’s day festival in May, there’s an event happening practically every single weekend. The Pride Parade takes place towards the end of the summer, and the culture night happening a week after concludes the festival season. The entire city goes out on the street to celebrate these events together. 

I’ve been publishing my pictures from the Parade on Facebook or Instagram all the while throughout my professional career, and not a single employer in Iceland ever thought of pointing it out to me, not to mention commenting on that. That’s exactly why I have so much sympathy for this country, it’s very tolerant. And it shows in all kinds of ways, not only with regards to one’s sexual orientation. Everyone does what she or he thinks is right. Icelanders are the last to judge you. 

What has brought you to Iceland?

- While on vacation, I left Poland to visit my friends. I liked it here so much that I decided to stay, and the point where I was at with my life back then allowed me to do so. I am divorced and have two children. My son just graduated from high school and my daughter goes to elementary school. I’m a single mom.

And how come you started working for the Polish embassy?

-The ambassador was looking for someone who is fluent in Icelandic, English, and Polish. There was of course an official job posting for the position, but candidates born in Iceland had difficulties coping with the complicated Polish bureaucratese. Eventually, Mr. Pokruszyński reached out to me through a mutual friend of ours, asking me to take the job. I graduated in Icelandic philology from the local university and used to travel around the world a lot as a young girl. So, I was a perfect fit for this position.

At first, I was skeptical about the offer because, at that point, I’ve been working for a reputable company in the tourism industry for half a year and had a very good salary. Then came the thought that I would like to do something for my country of origin, something you sometimes simply miss as an ex-pat. Besides, the perspective of working in diplomacy, being surrounded by interesting people, seemed compelling. I treated it as a challenge and the ambassador gave me the impression of being a nice and open-minded person. 

When did your relationship with the ambassador start to worsen?

-It all started after his reaction to my pictures from the Pride Parade. I was completely shocked, it felt like a slap in the face. Already then I told him that I probably shouldn’t work for the embassy. „Right, you probably shouldn’t” – he answered. 

And after that? Can you recall any other incidents that made you feel uncomfortable?

-Yes. Last autumn, the new German ambassador came to the embassy to greet us. After his visit, among the inner circle of the embassy staff, Mr. Prokuszyński referred to him as a „faggot”. I was there, I can vouch for it.

Dietrich Becker, the German ambassador, was never shy about his sexual orientation and was open about the fact that he is living with his Russian partner. We were all very upset about the ambassador using such an undiplomatic language – holding an important office like this, one should be especially careful. Such words should never have left his mouth. We’re not in the Middle Ages! I find it disgraceful that the diplomatic corps have been insulted with such a hideous word. What if one of the ambassadors were black, would Mr. Pokruszyński call him the “n-word”?

I should also add that Ms. ambassador, Margherita Bacigalupo [an Italian woman of origin, employed by the embassy as "Senior Economic and Political Officer"], has repeatedly shouted at me and other employees. She seems to be a very cultured person but appears to be unable of maintaining simple, civilized relationships with other people. I think she would never have gotten a job in such a place if it wasn't for her husband. And besides, I’m not aware of any other diplomatic post in Iceland that hires the partner of an ambassador.

Once, Ms. Margherita called me and started to yell at me. I decided not to listen to it again, and simply hung up. A moment later, I was called to the ambassador's office and found out that I should listen to Mr. Pokruszyński's wife because she "ranks second after him”. "What is he talking about?” – I thought, “it’s the consul general who ranks second at the outpost, not the ambassador’s wife”.

What about other Polish ex-pats in Iceland? Are they equally open-minded and integrated with the local community as you are?

-Yes, absolutely. They are mostly progressive, open, and well-educated people with a university degree. They often initiate Polish ex-pat organizations and are active within their structures.

But there are also people who are less open and less educated. These are rather simple people who look at some Polish ex-pat groups and shout things like "burn the gays". I don't want to pigeonhole anyone here or draw any general conclusions, and I am sorry that this is the case, but I have noticed such a dependence.

Did you quit your job at the embassy?

The three-month notice period expired exactly on September 1. I’m in the process of looking for a new job. It won’t be easy, because the tourism industry on the island was hit pretty hard by the coronavirus crisis. My son is a cook, but his hotel has just been closed. I’m a single mother taking care of a disabled daughter; I know it will be difficult. But I couldn't imagine working at the embassy in an atmosphere like this.

A couple of weeks ago, Jakub Pilch, the consul, had been dismissed at a surprising pace...

- A great person; he helped the Polish ex-pat community in Iceland a lot. My impression was, Mr. ambassador was just looking for an excuse to get rid of him. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything else about this case. 

How will the anti-mobbing commission react to that?

Everything that Margrét Adamsdóttir told us during the interview was included in her complaint about her employer- ambassador Gerard Pokruszyński. She had sent the complaint to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Now, she is waiting for a meeting with the ministry’s anti-mobbing commission. It will be held in the form of a video conference.

„Wyborcza” asked the Polish embassy in Iceland to issue a statement – we’ve been waiting for a response since Monday.

The response we’ve received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was laconic: “We kindly inform you that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs received the correspondence from Ms. Margrét Adamsdóttir. At this point, the Ministry does not provide any additional information”. 

***

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