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19th Sep 2020

Polish party roars back at EU on LGBTI fines

  • 'We had warned that a clash of civilisations was coming,' Tomasz Rzymkowski, an MP from Poland's ruling Law and Justice party, said (Photo: Piotr Pawłowski)

EU protection of LGBTI people in Poland has enraged members of the country's ruling elite, who hit back with apocalyptic rhetoric.

"The Polish government should ... defend Polish governors against the illegal actions of the European Commission," Zbigniew Ziobro, Polish justice minister and prosecutor general, said on Monday (3 August).

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  • EU was funding LGBTI activists despite their 'hooligan' acts, Polish justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro said (Photo: Piotr Drabik)

"LGBTI activists have strong EU financial backing, but despite their hooligan excesses, Miss commissioner Dalli won't spare a thought for taking away their money," Ziobro said on state TV.

Ziobro spoke after EU equality commissioner Helena Dalli, last week, backed moves to halt EU grants for six Polish towns which had declared themselves "LGBTI ideology-free" zones.

The symbolic fines were less than €25,000 each.

But for Ziobro, they were the thin end of a wedge that could see the European Commission, one day, "taking away [Polish] farmers' subsidies or money for road infrastructure because Poland didn't legalise homosexual marriage".

His reference to LGBTI "hooligans" came after incidents between rights activists and police in the Polish capital on Saturday during a march to mark the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, a World War II battle.

Polish far-right supporters also burned rainbow flags on the fringe of the event.

Ziobro comes from a minor coalition partner, the right-wing United Poland party.

But some senior figures in the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party also took to the airwaves to denounce the EU penalties in strident terms.

"The entire territory of Poland should be designated as an LGBTI ideology-free zone, since the Polish constitution clearly identifies a family as a relationship between a man and a woman," Janusz Kowalski, the PiS' deputy minister for state assets, told the Reuters news agency also on Monday.

Kowalski called for a law banning Polish state funds "to pay for any actions and institutions which are aimed at openly promoting LGBTI ideology".

And Przemysław Czarnek, another PiS MP, went further.

"There's no doubt, that LGBTI ideology grew out of ... the same root as Germany's Hitlerian National Socialism, which was responsible for all the evil of World War II," he told Polish media.

"We had warned that a clash of civilisations was coming, indeed a war," Tomasz Rzymkowski, a third PiS deputy, added.

"On one side, the red-and-white civilisation, which developed 1,050 years ago in the shelter of the [Roman Catholic] cross and baptism, and on the other side we have ideological warfare, another attempt to impose Marxism on Polish soil," Rzymkowski said, referring to the red-and-white Polish flag and to communist writer Karl Marx.

The backlash showed Poland's minorities needed more EU protection for Bartosz Staszewski, a member of a pro-LGBTI NGO, the Lublin Pride Association, in Poland.

"We cannot count on our government. We cannot count on our president. The only thing we can count on is the European Union," he told Reuters.

"We feel seen, and we know we're not alone, and that means a lot," said Ola Kaczorek, co-president of the Love Does Not Exclude Association, another Polish pro-LGBTI NGO, referring to the symbolic EU fines.

"We cannot let this [PiS homophobia] happen in the middle of the EU," Marc Angel, a centre-left MEP from Luxembourg, who leads a pro-LGBTI group in the European Parliament, also said.

"Gay rights are human rights," Angel said.

Rule-of-PiS

The pushback on values came the same day the Polish Supreme Court ruled that Polish president Andrzej Duda had been freely re-elected in July.

Duda, a PiS loyalist, won by a whisker after a homophobic campaign marred by allegations of state media abuse.

But for some Polish observers, the electoral verdict, made by a new Supreme Court stuffed with PiS loyalists, was as disturbing as Duda's hate speech.

"I had no doubt what [Monday's] decision would be ... We are not talking here about an independent court, but a party tribunal," Michał Wawrykiewicz, a lawyer from Polish rule-of-law NGO, the Free Courts Initiative, told US newspaper The New York Times.

"The European Court of Justice will rule on 22 September whether the chamber of the Supreme Court fulfils the criteria of an independent court," Wawrykiewicz noted, referring to an ongoing, EU-level case.

"The whole [Duda] electoral procedure from beginning until the end violates the [Polish] constitution," Mirosław Wyrzykowski, a former Polish constitutional court judge, also said.

The EU commission has triggered a separate sanctions procedure and a handful of court cases against Poland over PIS' judicial reforms.

Brussels and Warsaw have also clashed on migration, climate change, and deforestation since PiS got into power in 2015.

Six 'LGBTI-free' Polish cities left out of EU funding

Six Polish cities that declared themselves as "LGBTI-free zones" have been denied funding under the EU's Town Twinning programme for failing to meet the standards of "equal access and non-discrimination".

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