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Poland: Ruling party targets LGBT community to electrify voters

Warsaw, Poland – Poland’s ruling party has launched an aggressive campaign against the LGBT community after Warsaw’s mayor provided them with what some see as a golden opportunity to electrify its voters and cement its right-wing base.

Last month, Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski signed a declaration of support for the LGBT community, the so-called LGBT+ Declaration, based on World Health Organization guidelines. The document, which includes a set of measures to promote a more inclusive society and safer environment for the LGBT community, was hailed as an “unprecedented milestone” by local rights activists.

But Poland’s Law and Justice (PiS) party seized the opportunity to appeal to its right-wing, conservative voter base. PiS leader and de facto leader of Poland Jaroslaw Kaczynski warned that the declaration was “unbelievable”, presented a “great danger” and amounted to “an attack on the family […] conducted in the worst possible way, because it’s essentially an attack on children”.

Although Warsaw’s mayor quickly hit back at the attack, Kaczynski’s comments were then amplified and echoed by many party loyalists, the Catholic Church or the government-appointed children’s ombudsman, who argued the declaration “imposes an ideology affirmed by only a narrow social group on all parents”.

Former right-wing politician Roman Giertych also warned that Rafal Trzaskowski’s move was a “terrible mistake” that provided the ruling party with a golden opportunity to motivate its troops ahead of key elections: “Ideological subjects dividing the [opposition] are the last hope of PiS to hang on to power”.

As Jan Cienski wrote in Politico, “igniting a culture war over gay rights carries political risks and benefits”: “It helps cement the party’s control over the right wing of Polish politics [and] echoes the party’s successful play on fears of foreigners during the 2015 parliamentary election”. It also presents a significant challenge to the opposition, which remains divided, including since the launch of a new progressive party by openly gay mayor Robert Biedron.

According to a Pew Research Center study, 50% of young Polish adults oppose allowing gay and lesbians to get legally married (compared to 18% in the Czech Republic and 42% in Slovakia, but over 60% in the Baltic countries, Ukraine, Romania and Bulgaria). And according to a recent poll, 56% of Poles are in favor of civil partnerships for same-sex couples, while 41% support marriage rights, an all-time high in Catholic Poland.

These attacks against the LGBT community in Poland come as support for the ruling Law and Justice party appears to be slipping, after several recent political setbacks and corruption scandals. Meanwhile the opposition is gaining ground: for the first time, a poll recently showed PiS losing in the European elections, with 33% against 35% for the European Coalition, a new political group of Polish liberal opposition parties built around the centre-right Civic Platform.

The European elections in May are seen as an important test before the Polish parliamentary elections to be held at the end of the year.