Over the past weeks, a clash between freedom of speech and laws banning hostility against religious beliefs has become evident in Poland. Being a predominantly Catholic country, the actions of Elzbieta Podlesna protesting the anti-LGBT+ stance of the ruling Law and Justice party have caused anger.

The clash was first made evident in February, when Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski signed a 12-point declaration on LGBT+ rights. This declaration included policies designed to protect children who have been thrown out of their home by homophobic parents, as well as plans based on WHO guidelines to bring education focusing on sexuality and tolerance into Warsaw’s schools. This move was greatly criticised by members of the leading conservative party, Law and Justice, one of whom described the declaration as an “attack on the family”. In addition to this, the Roman Catholic Church expressed concern, one bishop writing that the declaration “threatens the constitutional right of parents to raise their child according to their own belief.” A large part of Poland is significantly conservative and religious, so the words of the Church have a strong influence on the population.

In response to these events, the LGBT+ movement in Poland has gained momentum. Last month, 51-year-old human rights activists Elzbieta Podlesna placed posters depicting the 14th-century painting of Mother of God of Czestochowa with LGBT+ rainbows in the halos of Mary and baby Jesus, but not physically damaging the icon. She placed these posters near St Dominik’s church in Plock, which holds the nation’s holiest shrine. She was then detained for several hours and her house was searched on charges of insulting religious feelings and desecration of the icon of Mother of God of Czestochowa. Currently, she is awaiting conviction, and she could face up to two years. Because of this, three-hundred people have staged protests in Warsaw this week, holding pride flags to indicate their support for Podlesna’s actions.

Jaroslav Kaczynski, leader of the Law and Justice party, has declared the Polish LGBT+ movement a foreign influence threatening Poland’s national values. The party considers the movement an indication that liberal values are being forced upon them from outside influences. Activists have been criticised heavily by the government, who have argued that such questioning of the Roman Catholic Church is unpatriotic. Deputy Justice Minister Patryk Jaki argues the posts are part of a campaign set to humiliate the Catholic population. However, European Council president Donald Tusk, native to Poland, has condemned Polish authority’s actions, calling them ‘inconceivable’. Additionally, the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights based in Warsaw has called the treatment of Podlesna ‘hard to understand’.

These events come before both European Elections and general elections in Poland, set to take place next month. However, it seems that Kaczynski’s party will hold its place. Having won the 2015 elections based on the promise that they will protect Poland from the threat of Islam and refugees, it is perhaps unsurprising that they will once again gain majority support on such a right-wing narrative. Although many Poles support civil partnerships, the story differs when it comes to samesex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. Recently, a poll held by Ipsos indicates that 56% of Poles support civil partnerships for same-sex couples, and 41% back marriage rights. Although these are new highs for the country, the political environment seems to indicate a steer back to the right.

This clash of values has accentuated tensions before the upcoming elections. Currently, polls show Kaczynski’s party to be 39% ahead of the opposition coalition, which is being lead by the centrist Civic Platform. Wiosna, the new left-wing party that wants to legalise gay marriage comes last, with 8%.

Further readings:
https://www.economist.com/europe/2019/05/04/polands-ruling-party-confronts-the-lgbt-dictatorship

http://time.com/5585069/poland-lgbt-rainbow-jesus-arrest/

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