What’s going on in Poland?
Poland has recently held an election for the country’s presidency. It was a close result, but ultimately it was the incumbent Andrzej Duda who emerged as the winner and held on to power.
In recent days, the ceremony has been held to swear Duda in as president.
At the ceremony, a number of opposition party members of parliament wore rainbow face-masks and dressed in bright colours that formed a rainbow – a clear signal of support to LGBTQ people in Poland.
There have also been public protests.
The arrest of members of anti-homophobia group Stop Bzdurom – as they draped rainbow flags over public monuments in Warsaw – has become a rallying point for Poland’s LGBTQ community. It’s reported that 48 people were detained.
Reuters reports that following the arrests on Friday 7 August, several thousand people took to the streets in protest on Saturday 8 August.
Why is Duda’s election win bad news for Poland’s LGBTQ community?
In the build-up to the election, it was disappointing but not surprising that anti-LGBTQ rhetoric was clearly seen as a vote winner for Duda and his socially-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party. Launching his Family Charter during the campaign, Duda pledged to “defend children from LGBT ideology”.
Duda’s main rival was Rafał Trzaskowski – the mayor of Warsaw who was seen as a more liberal and progressive candidate. Trzaskowski belongs to the centre-right Civic Platform. As mayor of Warsaw, he’s supported LGBTQ equality. He’s the first mayor of Warsaw to attend the city’s LGBTQ Pride celebrations.
Duda’s anti-LGBTQ rhetoric isn’t new. It’s a hot-button issue that resonates with a socially-conservative electorate and aligns with anti-gay pronouncements by the Catholic church. When he talks about defending children from LGBT ideology, Duda is pledging opposition to Marriage Equality and opposition to adoption by same-sex couples. His proposals would also “ban the propagation of LGBT ideology” in schools and public institutions – language that seems to be directly lifted from Russia’s homophobic propaganda laws.
How did we get here?
Municipalities in Poland began passing anti-LGBTQ resolutions at the beginning of 2019. This is linked to a rise in rhetoric by the governing Law and Justice party (PiS) denouncing “LGBT ideology” as an allegedly foreign import threatening the Polish nation and its traditional Christian values.
Balkan Insight reports that religious conservatives in Poland are receiving support from ultra-conservative groups across Europe, such as CitizenGO, and Agenda Europe, as well as the US organisation Alliance Defending Freedom.
Poland remains a very socially-conservative country, with the Catholic Church a big player in shaping public opinion. Religious conservatism is a powerful force in maintaining support for the ruling Law and Justice party.
Poland’s 1997 constitution states that a marriage is between a man and a woman. Civil partnerships between same-sex couples are not legally recognised.
LGBTQ Pride parades in Poland are routinely attacked by far-right activists.
Despite international outrage – and threats from the EU of withdrawal of funding – around 100 municipalities have declared themselves “LGBTQ-free zones”. This equates to about one-third of Poland – an area about the size of Hungary.
The power of rainbow masks
A young queer couple in Poland are seizing the opportunity to combine the threat of Covid-19 with an LGBTQ equality message.
Jakub and David have been handing out hundreds of rainbow face-masks in the cities of Gdańsk, Gdynia, and Sopot. in an effort to fight the coronavirus pandemic and to show solidarity with the LGBTQ community. They borrowed a sewing machine from one of their grandmothers to sew the masks and have been giving them away for free.
“Many LGBT-free zones were created in our country so we were a bit afraid how people would react but they were really touched by our idea…” explains Jakub. “I think they really appreciated that someone cared about their health. It was great to see that rainbow didn’t scare people but will help them stay safe. Polish people call us a plague, so we thought if we help people overcome real plague, they might change their mind. I know it’s naive, but if we can do something good then why not?”