The re-election of Andrzej Duda as Polish President should be of great concern to the international community. During his campaign, Duda declared that he would not allow gay couples to marry or adopt, and that he would ban LGBT-inclusive education. In a particularly jaw-dropping speech, he denounced the LGBT ‘foreign ideology’ as ‘more destructive’ than communism. Most of us in the UK would be shocked to learn that such rampant discrimination occurs in the world today. That is, if it were reported properly in our media.
The EU has condemned both Duda’s stance and the “LGBT-free” zones which now exist in Poland. In terms of practical action, it has withdrawn funding from six towns in these zones. Although this sanction may seem like an adequate response on the EU’s part, it seems to have had little effect. A staggering total of 20 more of the aforementioned zones have been created since. This carries the implication that Duda is not fazed by the EU’s current sanctions, and this is worrying. More zones means more LGBT people treated like lepers in their own homeland. More zones means the spread of homophobia and transphobia across Poland.
It’s clear that the EU needs to be stronger in its fight against discrimination in Poland. Indeed, it has been criticised in this department before. In 2007, a Polish minister suggested that LGBT people should face discrimination in employment. This prompted a debate in which the European Parliament’s Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs Committee ‘did not reach a consensus to condemn hate speech’. This led to criticism that the EU had adopted a ‘soft approach’ to homophobia in Poland. To repeat this failure while Duda is in power would be unconscionable.
If the EU does fail, however, could post-Brexit Britain offer hope for Poland? Now that we have left the EU, we do not have to follow suit with the EU’s way of condemning discrimination in Europe. Taking advantage of Brexit, we could take a much more hardline stance, one which the EU would never commit to.
A governmental expression of solidarity with the LGBT community in Poland, a decision to position ourselves on the side of the persecuted would be a strong start. At the very least, the UK Government needs to make it crystal clear that it condemns Duda’s agenda. If it chooses to remain passive, it might as well choose to endorse Duda. Granting asylum to anyone who flees Poland due to persecution could be the next step. ILGA Europe has also provided a series of recommendations for how we could assist the LGBT community in Poland going forward. Post-Brexit Britain should certainly aim to implement these recommendations, especially if the EU fails to do so.
Sadly, it seems that Boris Johnson will turn a blind eye. On Twitter he chose to congratulate Duda on his re-election, and spoke of the ‘friendship’ between the UK and Poland. It seems that our prime minister values this friendship more than he values liberation and equality. Indeed, why would we expect him to stand up for those he once called ‘tank-topped bum boys’? In 2000, the PM even called the teaching of homosexuality in schools an ‘appalling agenda’. This sounds exactly like something Duda would say in 2020.
We can only hope that unlike Duda, Johnson has moved with the times. Otherwise, our departure from the EU could well mean that we are out of the picture when it comes to condemning discrimination in Europe.
Matthew Staton is a student and member of the North Staffordshire Green Party.