President Andrzej Duda narrowly won the presidential election in Poland earlier this month with a campaign based on anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, in order to galvanize support from groups of over-60 who possess politically conservative views and live in rural parts of the country. The election result was extremely tight, since the opposition received 48.8% of votes under the efforts of centrist liberal Rafal Trzaskowski. Alternatively, President Donald Trump’s political influence has withered in recent months, largely due to his appalling response to the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. Thus, the political capacity of populism as a strategic tool currently varies in strength in the cases of Poland and the U.S.
Under Duda’s campaign, gay and transgender ways of life were endorsed as an ideological weapon that threatened Polish civil society. Journalist Mark Gevisser argues that, “this plays on deep-rooted anxieties about globalisation and the digital revolution, and the fear of a loss of control that comes with the opening of borders to new ideas and new people.” In this way, LGBTQ+ communities merely functioned as an instrument for President Duda to preserve influence within Poland’s territorial borders and block any external interventionism from other European countries. Clearly, the current situation in post-election Poland is concerning. Historically, awareness and support towards LGBTQ+ communities have been so far limited, that even Trzaskowski, avoided committing to legalizing gay marriage in the run-up to the election. Duda’s triumph illustrates the power of populist rhetoric and the ways it can endanger vulnerable communities that are utilized as scapegoats by state officials to pursue their own national interests.
Nevertheless, there remains hope for LGBTQ+ communities in Poland, particularly when we examine Trump’s weakened position in U.S. domestic politics in recent months. The failed response to both COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter movement under the Trump administration arguably signals the beginning of a rupture in the devout kinds of support the U.S. president previously received from lower socio-economic groups. In the New York Times/Sienna College poll, over 80% of people who had previously voted for Trump in the 2016 election stated that they wouldn’t support him again in the next election.
This then implies that if Duda continues to strengthen his populist political agenda in the coming years, perhaps those that had previously supported his views will reconsider their original position. Since the fall of communism in 1989, Poland has experienced the highest turnout of voters this past election, meaning a greater degree of civilians are far more politically engaged than ever before. Additionally, the high proportion of liberal, left-wing voters will continue to resist conservative approaches in policy making under the Duda administration. With nearly over half of the population leaning towards a more centrist left, there is no reason why these individuals won’t continue to resist Duda’s problematic national interests that he currently pursues. This suggestion can be supported by the recent protests of younger generations in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, which expresses an awareness of global political struggles and the fight for progressive societal change within Poland’s own national borders.
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