“LGBT-Free” Declarations Repealed In Poland: A Step Forward? Or A Cruel Game?

Last Monday, three Polish regional councils voted not to declare their provinces “LGBT-free zones” following the European Union’s threats to cut up to €126 million in funding to the local governments. This is a change for the Podkarpackie, Lubelskie, and Małopolskie regions, which first passed the resolutions, intended to “protect heterosexual family values,” in 2019. Local authorities perceive the E.U. resolution to declare the whole European Union an “LGBTIQ Freedom Zone” as an attack on “traditional” Catholic values. The regions’ change of response is widely supported by the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, which recently passed a controversial law banning abortion.

Officially, a newly updated resolution claims that there is “[a] special need to protect schools and families and the right of every person to self-determination,” Polish news agency P.A.P. reported. “At the same time, we support the right of parents to raise their children according to their beliefs,” P.A.P. quoted the document.

Poland has been ruled by the ultra-conservative right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party since 2015. Once the most popular party, support for PiS now fluctuates between 30 and 35 percent thanks to its poor handling of the COVID-19 pandemic, the near-total abortion ban, and tensions within the ruling camp. But with the next parliamentary elections set for fall 2023, the party is trying to gain more left-leaning support. Such political maneuvering should not blur the vision of the public, which still anticipates hypocrisy even in more liberal-looking government actions.

“Politicians are playing with us,” Polish LGBT activist Bart Staszewski told the B.B.C. “I mean they don’t want to revoke the whole resolution, they just want to replace it with another one.”

While pressure from the European Commission halts conservative actions’ spread, it may also plant the seeds for more hatred and homophobia. Brussels could single-handedly stop human rights abuse in the E.U. by engaging soft-power tools, like manipulating funds. Although proven effective in the short term, however, such tactics can spark retaliation from right-wing parties who perceive them as intrusive and a breach of authority. E.U. pressure to repeal the “LGBT-free” declarations may become a new agenda for conservative rhetoric to use to demonize the bloc’s humanity-based policies.

Nonetheless, Poland is the worst country for the LGBTIQ community in the E.U., and Hungary’s nationalist government is following the Polish example. In Hungary, a new law passed earlier in July bans the “promotion” of homosexuality and gender change in schools, which limits the academic discussion of LGBTQ themes. Following the European Parliament declaring the E.U. an “LGBTIQ Freedom Zone,” the European Commission had a right to proclaim Poland and Hungary’s alleged violations of LGBTIQ rights illegal.

With conservative backlash spreading across most of the Eastern and Central European countries, it is possible to see a big split on social issues within the E.U. As long as the European Commission has a right to monitor the right-wing parties in those respective Eastern European countries, the governing parties will not always be able to get away with their abusive actions. However, E.U. enforcement might not ensure the protection of the LGBTIQ community’s rights in the long run. The E.U. and its oriented parties in Eastern Europe should use more soft-power tools, such as educational programs, to promote understanding towards LGBTIQ people and reduce hatred of diversity.

Maya Belova