Monday

10th Aug 2020

Opinion

Polish left a glimmer of hope in fight against illiberal democracy

  • Poland's PiS ruling party's crackdown on the Supreme Court and rule of law has received more attention than its repression of sex education, contraception and abortion (Photo: pis.org.pl)

As we approach the centenary of Poland's independence next month, and ahead of local elections in Poland on Sunday (21 October), left wing MEPs will be in Warsaw to hear from progressive, left forces resisting the far right and standing up for democracy, rule of law and the rights of women and refugees.

Minority rights and women's rights are generally a valuable barometer in gauging the state of fundamental rights in a society.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

For much of the 20th century, Poland had some of the least restrictive abortion laws anywhere in the world.

However, as my MEP colleagues and I visit Warsaw this week ahead of Sunday's local elections, we are much more likely to be hearing about the ruling Law and Justice Party's (PiS) regression, authoritarianism and intolerance from meetings with local feminists and NGOs.

In recent decades, Poland has been failing its women and girls by eroding access to safe and legal abortion through increasingly conservative and sexist policies.

Annually, estimates suggest that up to 150,000 illegal abortions are carried out annually in Poland, with thousands more travelling to neighbouring countries like Slovakia for the procedure.

Meanwhile, women found to have had abortions, and doctors found to have assisted them, face threats by lawmakers to introduce legislation that would land them in jail.

In a damning statement earlier this month, the UN even denounced the Polish government for reaffirming 'stereotypical cultural attitudes' and for caving into the Catholic Church in changing the abortion law to make it practically impossible for women and girls to have safe and legal abortions.

Catholic utopia?

That said, abortion is only one aspect of this crack down on rights, which manifests itself in multiple ways - from the lack of sex education and the inaccessibility of contraceptives, to racism and violence against refugees, to the government's unrelenting purge of the judiciary in order to pursue its own vision of a Catholic utopia.

Dissenting voices in the public media, civil service, cultural and educational spheres, and, of course, the judiciary are being gradually sidelined with the justice minister and attorney general even accusing supreme court judges of standing "on the side of state violence in the service of the ideology of homosexual activists".

Indeed, in a climate of homophobia stoked by the government, LGBTQ people face increasing discrimination and a surge in hate crimes and physical violence.

Indeed, many comparisons are been drawn between what is happening in Poland under the PiS and the so-called 'illiberal democracy' being pushed by Viktor Orban in Hungary.

With a nationalist agenda that leans on authoritarianism, anti-semitism, and Islamophobia, the targets of hate campaigns in both countries have consistently been refugees, minorities and women.

Crucial to the fightback has been ongoing efforts to raise international awareness and pressure. An impressive example of this came in 2016, when the plight of Polish women received worldwide attention and headlines during the Black Protest.

Hundreds of thousands of women donned black clothes and took to the streets to protest attacks on reproductive rights.

This resistance has helped forge a vibrant political alternative to conservative and market-liberal forces in the shape of Razem.

At a time when, whether it is about goings on in Washington DC, Manilla or Budapest, it feels like we are being subjected to endless rolling news coverage of right wing attacks on fundamental freedoms, the feminists of the Polish left are leading a programme for equality, social progress and against racism that inspires hope and has a lot to teach us, wherever we are.

At any point in history, anywhere in the world, courageous women defending their rights should be heard.

In Europe in 2018, it has become a matter of urgent necessity.

Malin Bjork is an MEP from the Swedish Left Party, with the European United Left / Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

Poland to face EU top court on rule of law

The EU commission is expected to refer Poland to the EU's top court over firing supreme court judges, but Warsaw refused to commit on Tuesday that it will implement future EU court rulings.

Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy

It is of utmost concern to the environmental health community that forces within the EU Commission are actively trying to push back against a European Green Deal that is supposed to put people's health at its core.

Letter

An open letter to the EPP on end of Hungary's press freedom

I hate to break it to you, but excuses have run out. You have to look at the images of sobbing journalists in Index's newsroom, and shoulder part of the blame. Your silence, your continued procrastination led to this.

Why EU beats US on green pandemic recovery

The United States recovery focused on a number of important issues, including unemployment benefits and funding for health care providers, but lacked any programs directed towards addressing pollution, renewable energy industries, and clean technology improvements.

News in Brief

  1. Germany breached rights of Madeleine McCann suspect
  2. EU offers trade perks to Lebanon
  3. Germany charges ex-Audi chiefs on emissions cheating
  4. UK quarantines Belgium, as European infections climb
  5. Bulgaria's Borissov mulls resignation
  6. EU prolongs anti-dumping duties on Chinese steel
  7. Swedish economy contracted less during April to June
  8. EU offers help to Lebanon after port explosion

Revealed: fossil-fuel lobbying behind EU hydrogen strategy

As with the German government – which presented its own hydrogen strategy last month – the European Commission and other EU institutions appear to be similarly intoxicated by the false promises of the gas industry.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDANext generation Europe should be green and circular
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNEW REPORT: Eight in ten people are concerned about climate change
  3. UNESDAHow reducing sugar and calories in soft drinks makes the healthier choice the easy choice
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersGreen energy to power Nordic start after Covid-19
  5. European Sustainable Energy WeekThis year’s EU Sustainable Energy Week (EUSEW) will be held digitally!
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic states are fighting to protect gender equality during corona crisis

Latest News

  1. EU wary of violence in Belarus election
  2. Iraqis paid €2,000 each agree to leave Greece
  3. EU's most sustainable islands are Danish 'Sunshine Islands'
  4. Worrying rows over future EU chemicals policy
  5. Rainbow flag protesters charged by Polish police
  6. An open letter to the EPP on end of Hungary's press freedom
  7. Renew Europe has a plan to combat gender-violence
  8. Why EU beats US on green pandemic recovery

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us