Poland’s culture clash has been boiling for years but it has exploded with the last Polish parliamentary elections, when the ruling right-wing party Law and Justice (PiS) found a new enemy to target, fighting a supposedly “LGBT ideology”.
The case has been triggered by the declaration in support of LGBTQ+ rights signed up by Warsaw’s liberal mayor Rafał Trzaskowski in February 2019, who announced his intention to integrate LGBTI issues into the Warsaw school sex education curricula. This decision caused a turmoil amongst PiS, with Jarosław Kaczyński calling LGBTQ+ rights a threat to the Polish traditional family and to Christian values. The rhetoric was shared by the Polish Catholic Church, naming the “LGBT ideology” a “rainbow plague”. As a reaction to the Warsaw declaration, conservative local and regional authorities around the country began declaring the regions under their control as free of “LGBT ideology”, a spine-chilling reminder of the Judenfrei (i.e. free of Jews) areas during The Holocaust.
By August 2019 around 30 different LGBT-free zones had been declared and by February 2020 one third of polish local governments officially declared themselves as LGBT-free zones. Almost 100 municipalities, mostly in the conservative South-East region, have already adopted resolutions hardly lobbied by the ultra-conservative institute Ordo Iuris, that have created hostile spaces for members of the LGBTQ+ community, as shown in the so-called “Atlas of Hate” map, compiled by LGBTQ+ activists. Although these resolutions are essentially symbolic, non-binding and unenforceable, they have risen up a bitter culture war, whose impact is of course felt most painfully by the gay, lesbian and transgender Poles who already suffer from bullying and homophobic violence, including attacks on pride parades.
The extent of the impact has been measured earlier this year by the Fundamental Right Agency, which has found that while LGBTQ+ people on the continent generally feel safer than they did five years ago, in Poland two-thirds of gay, lesbian and transgender said intolerance and acts of violence against them had increased, while four in five said they avoid certain places for fear of being assaulted.
In a country still drenched in Catholic tradition and fiercely defensive of its national tradition, where homophobic rhetoric is uttered by Government propaganda and preached in churches, hostilities come from every front.
The urgent Call to action for the European Union
The increasingly anti-LGBT rhetoric in Poland has led to clashes with the European Union, which last July decided to suspend twinning arrangements with Polish towns and to withhold funding to some of the areas that had signed the declarations, which are in violation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The Polish towns have begun losing funding from Norway as well, a non-EU member which contributes millions of euros in development aid.
From this point of view, the appointment of Zbigniew Rau, who takes over Foreign Affairs in late August 2020, will certainly not favour the détente in relations with Western Europe. An ultra-conservative well known for his homotransphobic positions, Rau was one of the strongest supporters of Andrzej Duda in the recent Presidential Elections, characterized by violent anti-LGBT propaganda. This appointment sadly confirms European Parliament’s concerns over the discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and their fundamental rights by public authorities, including hate speech by politicians and elected officials.
In the past months, international pressure on Poland has intensified. In her first State of the Union European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen declared that “LGBT-free zones” are “humanity-free zones” that have no place in the Union. Less than a month ago, fifty ambassadors to Poland have written an open letter querying Warsaw for “[…] an environment of non-discrimination, tolerance and mutual acceptance”. Likewise the LGBTQ+ rights group AllOut, in collaboration with Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (Campaign Against Homophobia), handed the European Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli a 330.000 signatures petition to ask a prompt response against homotransphobic policies. Activist are loudly calling the EU for concrete actions to be implemented, firstly an official infringement procedure under art.7 of the Treaty on European Union.
Despite the will to appear unbending on these issues, pledges are far-reaching and difficult to implement. Even existing measures are not applied consistently, and many Member States still fail to follow EU’s equality policies. Tackling discrimination is a legal and moral obligation for a European Union that makes unity in diversity one of its fundamental pillars. Polish LGBTQ+ people are citizens of the EU, therefore their fundamental rights must be protected.
Eventually, a difference in values between Poland and the European Union as a whole appears obvious. Beyond a few sanctions, the question is how fa such contradiction can continue within the European Union before more substantial and desirable measures are taken.
(To have more content on the gender ideology war and how these policies are shaping Polish society, check it out here)