Directed by Piotr Domalewski, ‘Operation Hyacinth’ is a Polish crime-drama film that follows a militia officer as he investigates the murders of members of the gay community in Communist Warsaw. The story is set in the 1980s when LGBTQ+ citizens of the country had to be wary of both the Communist government and the Catholic Church. Robert (Tomasz Zietek) is a bright and brilliant police officer working for a regime that doesn’t particularly appreciate those qualities. His father, Edward (Marek Kalita), a high-ranking officer in the secret police, wants Robert to keep his head down and follow orders.
However, as the murders continue to happen, Robert finds a pattern. In his search for truth and justice, Robert makes important discoveries about himself and his sexual identity. If you are wondering whether ‘Operation Hyacinth’ is inspired by real-life events, we got you covered.
Is Operation Hyacinth Based on a True Story?
No, ‘Operation Hycinth’ is not based on a true story. Both Robert and his specific circumstances are fictional. However, the title of the film refers to a very real campaign reportedly launched on the orders of General Czesław Kiszczak, the then Minister of Internal Affairs of Poland, on November 15, 1985, and carried out by Milicja Obywatelska (Citizen’s Militia or Simply, MO). The objective of this campaign was to build a national database on the members of the LGBTQ community and their associates and acquaintances.
The official reasons that the regime gave included a more proficient way of fighting the spread of the HIV virus, dealing with prostitution, and monitoring the LGBTQ criminal gangs. The reality was much more sinister. Since the 1970s, the Polish Security Apparatus had reportedly recruited both gay and straight men to use them to entrap gay intellectuals, authors, and artists. The authorities then reportedly blackmailed the latter group of men, forcing them to spy on their colleagues with what was considered to be anti-government views.
With Operation Hyacinth, the regime collected information on about 11,000 people. Files with the title Karta Homoseksualisty were created on the arrested individuals. Some were even coaxed into putting their signatures on a statement, mentioning their sexual orientation, that they had multiple adult partners, and that they were not interested in minors.
The clandestine program ended in 1987. However, the documentation continued until the following year. These documents came to be known as Różowe kartoteki (pink card index or pink files). Interestingly, Operation Hyacinth had almost the opposite effect from what the authorities intended. Since 1932, same-sex relationships between consenting adults (age 15 or older) have been legal in Poland. However, in the Cold War era, neither the Catholic Church nor the Polish Communist regime was particularly open-minded about human sexuality.
The LGBTQ community of the 1980s’ Poland harbored a healthy sense of suspicion against their government. So when the campaign began and arrests started to happen, most of its members correctly thought it would be best for them to go underground. Many of them left Poland altogether. The operation garnered widespread criticism from the international media, and the regime vehemently maintained that there was never such a campaign as Operation Hyacinth back in the day.
In September 2007, LGBTQ activists appealed to the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) to launch an inquiry into what was claimed to be a “communist crime” and General Kiszczak’s involvement in it. However, the IPN eventually declined the request. Evidently, ‘Operation Hyacinth’ heavily draws from real-life events but is ultimately a fictional story.
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