Although Andrzej Duda failed to win the first round of the Polish presidential election, he managed to defeat his liberal challenger, Rafal Trzaskowski, with a very narrow majority on July 12th. Duda’s party, Law and Justice, has dominated Polish politics in the last few years with a culture that discriminates and alienates minorities in the country. Throughout his campaign, Duda has focused on attacking, delegitimizing and discrediting the LGBTQIA community, gaining him even more popularity amongst conservative voters and the Catholic church.
The main opposition party in Poland, Civic Platform, has challenged the results and filed an appeal to the Supreme Court asking for the poll to be invalidated. Across the continent reactions have been mixed; the British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, congratulated Duda on social media and stressed the importance of the relationship with Poland. Because of the narrow margin between Duda and his liberal opponent, some European policymakers such as Dutch liberal MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld, argue that it is “encouraging” that so many young people “mobilized for an open inclusive Poland at the heart of the European Union.” On the other hand, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation (OSCE) in Europe stated that the election campaign and “coverage by the public media was marked by homophobic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”
With the rise of populist parties and policies across all continents, the Polish election ought to be considered in the wider context of discrimination and violence against minorities and the LGBTQIA communities in particular. During the COVID-19 health crisis, many countries, including the UK, have attempted attacks on LGBTQIA rights. In emergencies such as this pandemic, governments often try to gain additional power over their citizens by using safety and security reasons as a disguise. However, it did not begin with the emergence of COVID-19; the popularity of many existing leaders and political parties was based on similar rhetoric to that used by Duda in Poland. Ethnic minorities, including Jewish peoples, and members of the LGBTQIA communities, have all been subject to threats and violence that are encouraged by these public figures.
Amidst all of this, many have stayed silent or downplayed the gravity of the events. Although it is important to note that, as a member of the EU, Poland should be held to the standards that the Union sets for itself, it is equally vital to highlight that this trend does not stop with Duda in Poland or Orbán in Hungary. The complacency towards issues of discrimination and the neglect for the safety and dignity of marginalized groups should be a cause for concern for us all on a global scale. It is not utopian to see our rights and freedoms being scaled back in cases of state-declared crises. Thus, given that we will possibly have to cohabitate with COVID-19 for a while and that situations like the current one are very likely to occur again, should we not be more alarmed? Should we not demand more transparency and inclusivity of our elected representatives and their policies? Should we not be more outraged?
Still, it does not stop at difficult circumstances such as the present one. What we accept and normalize during emergencies will reflect what we accept and normalize in their aftermath. It is time to question the real value of freedom of speech when it is weaponized to lie (Brexit) and discriminate (Duda, Trump, Bolsonaro) and when the violent discourses that emerge from this weaponization remain unchallenged by the good majority.
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