Poland’s right-wing government finds a new target
Voters being warned of plague of so-called ‘LGBT ideology’ ahead of Sunday polls
People take part in the National Rosary March on Saturday, October 5th, 2019 in Warsaw, where they prayed and sought to appease God for what they call desecrations and insults related to recent lesbian and gay pride parades. Photograph: Wojtek Radwanski/AFP/Getty
A protest outside the Polish Bishop’s Conference on Tuesday in Warsaw at church-state agitation against the LGBT community ahead of Sunday’s general election. Photograph: Derek Scally
There was a full house at Warsaw’s Rejs cinema, where communist officials once viewed films before deciding on a wider release.
They might have struggled with The Queen of Ireland – the 2015 documentary about Rory O’Neill, his drag alter-ego Panti Bliss and Ireland’s marriage equality referendum.
The screening, with O’Neill in attendance, was organised last month by the Irish embassy as part of a human rights conference and comes at a charged time.
When 31 million Poles are called to choose a new government on Sunday, they are expected to re-elect the national conservative Law and Justice (PiS) for a second term with an absolute majority.
Its winning pitch to voters combines left-wing economics, arch-conservative social policies and what critics dub authoritarian ambitions: turning state broadcaster TVP into a government propaganda outfit and packing the judicial system with political loyalists.
Last time around, PiS won the election warning of a threat to Polish society from immigration. This time the threat to Poland is the “plague” of so-called “LGBT ideology”.
This catch-all term can mean everything from gender politics to marriage equality or a broader definition of family.
Jaroslaw Kaczynski, co-founder and chairman of PiS and Poland’s de-facto leader, has termed so-called LGBT ideology a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state”.
“We need to stand against this massive storm of evil,” he said.
Last month, Archbishop Marek Jedraszewski of Krakow, in a pastoral letter to the Catholic faithful, said liberal sexual and family values “reminds us of the totalitarian times of the [communist] Polish People’s Republic”.
For PiS, its robust, take-no-prisoners rhetoric of nationalist pride and scapegoats has been a vote-bringer.
While many Poles admit not knowing what LGBT stands for, others have embraced the campaign as a dog whistle to vent their violent homophobia.
Pride parades around Poland this summer were often angry, violent confrontations between LGBT marchers and extreme nationalists.
On September 28th, the same day Archbishop Jedraszewski warned in Krakow that so-called LGBT was “clearly an offence to God the creator”, police in Lublin arrested a local couple at the city’s Pride parade. They were carrying a rucksack containing a home-made bomb of gas canisters and fireworks. If convicted, the couple face up to eight years in prison.
Lublin native Bartosz Staszewski helped to organise the city’s first pride parade last year. Since then he has sued politicians for equating homosexuals with paedophiles and secured an injunction against a magazine distributing “LGBT-free zone” stickers to its readers.
In recent weeks he passed on detailed threats to police, including one of a man promising to drive a vehicle into the marchers. Staszewski, however, did not know of the improvised bomb episode until after the march.
“I would feel terribly guilty if someone had been hurt and I am horrified at the level of hate we are experiencing,” he said. “Politicians who create this environment of homophobic violence will have blood on their hands when someone gets hurt.”
Critics say PiS politics have created a toxic atmosphere which triggers unstable people to do terrible things.
In January, a mentally ill man in Gdansk fatally stabbed mayor Pawel Adamowicz, whom PiS and government-loyal media had described variously as a Nazi, a communist and “anti-Polish”.
On a rainy Tuesday afternoon, LGBT groups protested outside the Polish Bishops’ Conference at what they see as a co-ordinated church-state campaign against their community.
Protesters held up rainbow flags and signs reading “Jail those who protect paedophiles”, seeing no coincidence in how bishops threw their weight behind the PiS campaign this year as revelations were building of clerical sex abuse and church cover-up.
One speaker told protesters that, hours earlier, Poland’s court of appeal had ordered the Catholic Church to pay 400,000 zloty (€92,000) in damages to a man abused by a priest.
Misha Cherniak of the Faith and Rainbow Foundation said he had moved to Poland from Russia nine years ago and was depressed to see the rise here of familiar state-sponsored homophobia.
“The church here is playing the same little games with the state but, in such games, the church always loses,” he said. “The church should defend people who have no one to defend them.”
Warsaw city councillor Agata Diduszko, also at the protest, described the campaign against so-called LGBT ideology as a “cynical exercise”.
“PiS needs scapegoats to win elections, the church needs PiS to win to preserve their privileges,” she said. “Neither care about the damaging effects of this campaign.”
Reflecting on his Warsaw visit, Rory O’Neill says Poland is a “terrifying example of a country slipping backwards”.
“They are an EU country that signed up to everything, including on human rights,” he told The Irish Times. “You could get depressed, but I see young people who are really brave and determined to put themselves on the line. I find that that quite inspiring. They deserve our support.”