Poland’s contentious presidential election has finally come to a close, and President Andrzej Duda remains in power.
Given Duda’s divisive campaign, which was described as “homophobic, xenophobic, and anti-Semitic” by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR), LGBTQ communities around Poland face the news with serious concerns about their future.
The good news (at least if there’s hope for the future) is that the election was very close. Warsaw’s Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, the liberal candidate who ran on a pro-EU platform and who has signed a declaration of support for the LGBTQ community in Poland, won 48.97% of the votes in the election’s two-candidate second round of voting. (In the Polish electoral system, if a candidate fails to receive more than half of available votes in the first round, a second round takes place between the top two candidates.)
But a narrow victory for Duda still remains a victory for a socially-conservative agenda in a country largely shaped by its tumultuous twentieth-century history as well as the influence of the Catholic Church.
And the electors’ decision will have far-reaching consequences in a country still trying to find its identity as a democracy after decades behind the Iron Curtain. Some activists worry the move will set a populist tone, echoing Putin’s Russia, for the nation’s young democracy. Others worry about the ramifications for Poland’s membership in the European Union.
Either way, the consequences of a right-wing agenda at this particular historical moment could change the nation’s character. According to Gazeta Wyborcza‘s founding editor Adam Michnik:
Andrzej Duda’s victory will be understood by his voters, and first of all by those in power, as a permission for the kind of politics that Law and Justice has been pursuing for almost five years, and that is a policy of the destruction of the democratic system, of isolating Poland in Europe, of homophobia, of xenophobia, nationalism, and of using the Catholic Church as a tool.
The Law and Justice (PiS) party, led by right-wing ideologue Jarosław Kaczyński, currently holds power in the Senate and the Sejm (parliament). While Duda ran as an unaffiliated Independent, he enjoys the ruling party’s favor. Certainly the two entities share equally homophobic views.
That leaves the LGBTQ community feeling particularly vulnerable: With a hate-mongering party and president in power, half of their country voted against their rights, or at least didn’t care enough about them to make Duda’s hateful rhetoric a deal-breaker. LGBTQ activist Hubert Sobecki, head of Polish advocacy group Love Does Not Exclude (Stowarzyszenie Miłość Nie Wyklucza), describes the human cost of a campaign like Duda’s:
There’s always a price for this kind of narrative, and it’s not the politicians who are paying the price. It is us. It’s been going on for years. It’s a disaster… They call us ‘ideology,’ but it’s not the ideology that is beaten up on the street.
Still, there are reasons to hope. Trzaskowski’s Civic Platform (PO) party has filed an appeal with the Supreme Court, calling for the election to be declared invalid based on two main factors: biased coverage on state television and delayed ballot papers that left voters living abroad without enough time to exercise their franchise.
And just days after the election, a separate Polish court ruled that the municipality of Istebna had violated the Polish constitution by “turning a blind eye to reality” when it declared itself an LGBT-free zone. That ruling could have serious implications for other municipalities.
Plus, the European Union is exercising pressure over the young democracy, threatening sanctions against a country where anti-EU sentiment proves politically unpopular, with most citizens favoring Poland’s continuing membership.
Duda himself has acknowledged that his campaign strategy might have been “too sharp at times,” and he has asked forgiveness. But his sincerity will remain in question until he acts to improve the situation for his LGBTQ constituents — a situation his campaign rhetoric has directly and materially worsened.
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