By CHARLOTTE EARL
On the 13th July 2020, the people of Poland awoke to find that Andrzej Duda would be their President for five more years. Endorsed by the right-wing populist Law and Justice party (PiS), Duda succeeded in defeating the current Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, who stood for the liberal Civic Platform party. The results were incredibly close, with Duda winning by just 51 percent of the vote compared to Trzaskowski’s 49 percent. Controversy still lingers over whether the elections were truly free and fair despite the Polish Supreme Court ruling that the election was valid. Yet nothing will change the fact that over the next five years Duda will continue to transform Polish society. Who will be the most affected by these changes? Poland’s LGBT+ community.
According to ILGA-Europe, Poland is the most homophobic country in the EU and is ranked worst amongst all European Union countries for LGBT+ rights. To this day a deeply Catholic country, a significant portion of the Polish population hold strong Christian conservative views on LGBT+ matters. Major Polish cities such as Warsaw and Krakow saw an increase in LGBT+ acceptance in the 1990s and 2000s, driven by a younger, more liberal population. However, Poland’s rural areas remain profoundly conservative and less accepting of the LGBT+ community, and Duda’s alignment with these values helped to secure his reelection back in July.
Back in February 2019, Rafał Trzaskowski signed a declaration supporting LGBT+ rights and announced a series of pro-LGBT+ measures. In response, various conservative provinces, counties, and municipalities of Poland began to declare themselves as official 'LGBT-free zones' which aimed to resist what has often been described by proponents as a Western ‘LGBT ideology’. In these zones, forms of LGBT+ activism such as protest marches are strictly banned as well as any LGBT+ events. Since these declarations, LGBT+ protestors resisting the bans have faced suppression and arrest. The European Union took measures in an attempt to oppose these declarations with the European Parliament voting to officially condemn them. The EU also withdrew funding from a number of cities that had adopted the declarations. Though with the declarations backed by many senior PiS politicians and the vast majority of PiS voters, these 'LGBT-free zones' will most likely continue throughout Duda’s presidency and potentially beyond. To date, an area roughly the size of Hungary, equivalent to a third of the total area of Poland, is officially ‘LGBT-free’.
Duda himself has been instrumental in scaling back and resisting LGBT+ rights in Poland. Earlier this year in June, Duda confirmed his belief in not allowing LGBT+ couples to adopt or marry under any circumstances. He’s announced that any form of LGBT+ teaching in schools will be strictly banned. The ban on LGBT+ couples adopting is currently being drafted, and now that the election is over, Duda will begin formally enacting these changes.
At this point, it is impossible to foresee exactly what the LGBT+ rights situation in Poland will be like in five years’ time. However one can be confident in saying that it won’t be more liberal, and things will only get worse for the LGBT+ community. The 'LGBT-free zones' will be cemented and suppression of protest and activism will likely increase. More might even emerge due to the increased PiS influence which will come about as a result of Duda’s victory.
The continued scaling back of LGBT+ rights isn’t the only major transformation that Poland will see over the course of the next five years. Democracy is also seemingly under threat. Poland’s taxpayer-funded public broadcaster, Polish TV, was criticised during the presidential election campaign for being pro-Duda and fiercely anti-Trzaskowski despite being bound by law to political neutrality. President Duda has publicly supported the government’s desire to assume greater control over Polish institutions such as the public media but also judicial institutions. By the end of Duda’s next term Poland’s institutions may be firmly pro-government. It seems Poland may well be sliding away from democracy.
The next five years might also lead to a true turning point in Polish euroscepticism. Despite being the largest net recipient of EU funding, Poland has always been somewhat of a eurosceptic country and according to Kantar research in 2018, 47% of respondents felt Poland would be better off outside the EU. Duda himself is something of a eurosceptic, once stating that he believed the EU was an "imaginary community from which we don't gain much". With five more years in power, will Duda lead Poland into a Polexit? Whilst this is unlikely, if the last five years of Duda’s presidency have taught us anything, it is that we shouldn’t rule anything out.
IMAGE - Flickr (Andrzej Duda)