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17th Aug 2019

MEPs keen to investigate Polish anti-gay law

  • Warsaw: liberal traditions, but drifting into intolerance (Photo: Wikipedia.org)

The European Parliament is poised to investigate the legality of draft restrictions against discussion of homosexuality in Polish schools, if a bill is formally proposed. But a leading NGO has already expressed concern over civil liberties in Poland.

Warsaw is planning to ban discussions on homosexuality in schools and educational institutions across the deeply orthodox Roman Catholic country, with teachers set to be fired, fined or imprisoned if they violate the rules. Openly gay teachers would also be in line to lose their jobs.

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The European Parliament's committee on civil liberties discussed the Polish ideas on Tuesday (20 March) and decided to launch a study into the compatibility of such legislation with EU rules, if the bill is ever officially submitted to the Polish lower house.

"The disturbing proposals to outlaw discussion of homosexuality raise serious concerns about the commitment to fundamental rights in Poland," said Dutch green MEP Kathalijne Buitenweg in a statement after the meeting.

"It is shocking that the government of a modern European country would even consider such draconian legislation. The promotion of gay hatred is the antithesis of EU anti-discrimination rules and the Polish government must publicly reject this approach," she added.

The committee would like the EU parliament's legal services to probe any Polish bill on two grounds, firstly to see if it is compatible with European anti-discrimination norms and secondly to see if it violates European norms on freedom of expression.

Ms Buitenweg and other MEPs are also preparing oral questions to the European Commission and the German EU presidency for the 10-11 April plenary session in Strasbourg.

The Polish proposal

Poland's education minister Roman Giertych - the leader of the League of Polish Families party which originated the proposal - said last week the measures would aim to "prohibit the promotion of homosexuality and other deviance."

"One must limit homosexual propaganda, so that children won't have an improper view of the family," he added, according to press reports, even sketching out hopes to roll out a similar ban across the EU in future. His proposal has been fast-tracked and could become law by the end of the month.

The rightist League of Polish Families is a fringe party which joined the government team together with the Kaczynski twins' Law and Justice party largely as an accident of opportunistic coalition-building following inconclusive elections in late 2005.

But president Lech Kaczynski and prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, while trumpeting about Poland's liberal traditions during visits to Brussels, are also devout Roman Catholics and have a keen eye for populist moves designed to please conservative voters at home.

"There is no discrimination against homosexuals in Poland," government spokesman Jan Dziedziczak told Polish daily Rzeczpospolita on Tuesday. "But promotion of homosexuality in schools is another matter. There is no mandate for that," he added.

'Dark undercurrent'

The green Dutch MEP, Ms Buitenweg - herself an antithesis to the current Polish government - went on to say that "there is a dark undercurrent in Polish politics and society at present, which seeks to promote discrimination of minorities and the disregard of civil rights" touching upon wider concerns over Poland's political drift.

A similar note was struck by a recent open letter from US activists Human Rights Watch which stated that the law "would violate freedom of speech and impede free access to information" putting youngsters at risk of HIV infection through ignorance. "Schools should be training grounds for tolerance, not bastions of repression and discrimination," the strongly-worded letter added.

Last month, the League of Polish Families also gave voice to anti-Semitic tendencies in its ranks, with party member and MEP Maciej Giertych - who also happens to be Roman Giertych's father - publishing a booklet saying Jews are biologically different from gentiles and create their own ghettos.

Neither his son nor the Polish government made any effort to distance themselves from his views, despite an outcry in Brussels.

The Polish education minister also has wildly unrealistic views on abortion, proposing in recent weeks that Poland should push for abortion to be made illegal across the EU in a statement that went too far even for prime minister Kaczynski, who made him publicly retract his words.

Abortion is illegal in Poland except on medical grounds, but even this is hard to secure: the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg awarded €25,000 damages on Tuesday to Polish woman Alicja Tysiac, who was declined a legal abortion even though the birth made her all-but-lose her eyesight.

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