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EU threatens to withhold funds over LGBTQ ‘free zones’ in Poland

Poland has seen a resurgence in the past three years of rightwing religious ultra-conservative groups in this heavily Catholic country

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Strefa WOLNA (LGBT 'Free Zone') sticker distributed on anti-LGBTQ+ Polish Facebook pages

BRUSSELS – The executive branch of the European Union, the European Commission, sent letters out last week to the governors of five of Poland’s voivodeships, (provinces) warning that pandemic relief funds totaling over 126 million euros ($150 million) will be withheld over anti-LGBTQ measures passed in their jurisdictions.

The EU Commission, which is chiefly responsible for for proposing legislation, enforcing EU laws and directing EU administrative operations, notified the governors and the government of Polish President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki that the coronavirus response investment initiative (CRII) funds from the Recovery assistance for cohesion and the territories of Europe (REACT-EU), would be rescinded over the so-called ‘LGBTQ Free Zones’ established in the five provinces.

Poland has seen a resurgence in the past three years of rightwing religious ultra-conservative groups backed by nationalistic extremists in this heavily Catholic country of 38 million, which have led to passage of measures to restrict pride parades and other LGBTQ+-friendly events from taking place.

Proponents of these measures claim the necessity of the provinces to be “free of LGBTQ ideology” saying this is mandated by average Poles as well as by the anti-LGBTQ+ views of the Catholic Church.

Last month, two separate LGBTQ Equality marches known as marsze równości were held Saturday under a heavy police presence in the southern city of Częstochowa and the Baltic seaside port city of Gdańsk.

Polish media outlet RMF24 reported no major incidents or violence at either march, unlike previous year’s marches where clashes with anti-LGBTQ+ Polish nationalist, far right conservative and catholic protesters had disrupted the marches and there were injuries inflicted. The local governments had increased their police presence to forestall incidents which would have led to violent counter protests.

The 26-year-old head of a regional far-right youth organization in Opole, southwestern Poland, Bartlomiej Czuchnowski, who had traveled to the Częstochowa march to protest told the Associated Press; “This is a clear provocation, because LGBT circles have always been anti-Catholic, anti-Christian, you can even say. So their march in this direction, into the heart of the Polish nation, into the heart of Polish Catholicism, is an open provocation.”

Although several Polish courts have weighed in ruling the measures unconstitutional, little actions have been taken to mitigate them.

In July of 2020, the anti-LGBTQ president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, won re-election. Activists have sharply criticized Duda — head of Poland’s conservative Law and Justice party — over his anti-LGBTQ rhetoric.

Duda in June of last year said LGBTQ “ideology” is more harmful than communism.

Justyna Nakielska of Kampania Przeciw Homofobii, a Polish LGBTQ advocacy group, told the Blade’s International Editor Michael Lavers that Duda has publicly described LGBTQ Poles as “a threat to the family” and said they “want to sexualize children.”

This past June, the leaders of 17 European Union countries had signed a letter that urges the EU to fight anti-LGBTQ discrimination. The EU has also called out the anti-LGBTQ measures taken more recently in Hungry.

ILGA-Europe, a Brussels based advocacy group promoting the interests of lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex people, at the European level, in a statement it sent to the Blade in June after the EU letter was issued, notes that both Hungary and Poland, another EU country in which lawmakers have sought to restrict LGBTQ rights in recent years are at odds with the EU position on LGBTQ+ people.

“For quite some time now, we’ve been informing EU ministers about systematic breaches of EU law committed by Hungary and Poland, which impact on LGBTI rights and the lives of LGBTI people,” says ILGA-Europe.

“This week’s developments seem to suggest that the European Commission and a number of member states finally heard that call. Time to keep up the action and follow through on its values and responsibilities as guardians of EU law, keeping the important commitments made this week.”

The EU Commission and the government of Poland did not respond to requests for comment.

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