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Polish presidential election raises major human rights concerns

Laura KrawczykFriday 31 July 2020

Poland’s presidential election has given rise to deep divides and raised major human rights concerns. The mid-year election in July saw President Andrzej Duda win his second term in office with a slim 51.03 per cent majority over his main opponent, Warsaw’s mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. Duda ran on a platform opposing rights for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community in Poland.

The President’s campaign focused on continuing the Law and Justice Party’s (PiS) controversial PLN 500 (£100) per month per child programme as part of a push to uphold the country’s ‘traditional' values. These focus on promoting heterosexual marriage as Poland does not recognise same-sex civil partnerships or marriages or allow LGBT individuals to adopt children.

The elections belittled the LGBT community by downgrading it to an ‘ideology’. Lloyd Vergara is Co-Chair of the IBA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Committee. ’We are strongly opposed to labelling LGBTI advocacies as ideologies that seek to upend the traditional family and the erasure of decent time-honoured values,’ he says. ‘The anti-LGBTI rhetoric employed by the Law and Justice Party capitalises on hate and prejudices to increase its chances in winning the election.’

The anti-LGBTI rhetoric employed by the Law and Justice Party capitalises on hate and prejudices to increase its chances in winning the election

Lloyd Vergara
Co-Chair of the IBA LGBTI Law Committee

The rhetoric claims that the LGBT community encourages perversion and corrupts children with deviant ideas. The terms ‘gay’ and ‘paedophile’ are often used interchangeably by the State-controlled media. During the elections, Duda went as far as stating that the ‘LGBT ideology’ is more dangerous than communism ever was. In a country that still remembers the pains of communism, comparing anything to communism is a low blow to those who wish to unshackle Poland from its past and move it forward.

'This is a common tactic nowadays in politics,’ says Vergara. ‘Politicians now declare that the true and unadulterated national identity of their constituents is defined by their hate and prejudice against LGBTI people. They falsely hark back to a distant past when everything was "normal” but glossing over the fact that the attitudes in the past fostered abuses and inequalities which is precisely why we have discussions on equality and diversity today.’

Polish cities have been losing their international ‘twins’ after declaring themselves as LGBT-free zones, which cover about a third of the country. Not only have these zones not been banned, they are becoming more frequent, contrary to the European Parliament’s 2019 resolution. The country has been governing by its own rules for quite some time and when it is challenged on this by its European neighbours, it threatens to veto progress with its ally Hungary, as was the case in the July European Union Covid Summit.

As a large former-communist State and the largest recipient of European funds, Poland has been set up for success. It gained NATO membership in 1999, followed by EU accession five years later, and attracted the attention of Western countries as a key strategic ally. However, after more than a decade of joining the EU - a process approved by 77.45 per cent of Poles - the country appears to have lost its way.

Poland has used the Covid-19 pandemic to push through controversial legislation earlier in the year regarding abortions. Poland is strongly determined to increase its declining population to the extent that it wanted to take away women’s rights to abort irreversibly disabled foetuses.

In the next few days, Poland is to leave the Istanbul Convention, which aims to prevent violence against women, because, according to Poland’s Minister of Justice Zbigniew Ziobro, the Convention is ‘harmful’ as it requires schools to educate children about gender. The presidential elections have demonstrated fragmentation within Poland’s society as they divided the country 51 to 49, largely between the East and the West. Meanwhile, the government appears to be playing the long game by slowly eroding freedoms as it legislates in the name of the people.

Image: Widz / Shutterstock.com