Pressured into Fear: Duda’s Reelection Targets Queer Poland

Source: The Economist

Duda vs Queer Pressure 

President Andrzej Duda was born and raised in Krakow, Poland where his upbringing was largely influenced by his parents and grandfather. His parents lived for 40 years under the struggle of communism in Poland where a harsh regime influenced by the Soviet Union characterized most of their lives. Duda’s grandfather fought in the Polish-Soviet War and again in World War II; both battles for Polish sovereignty and fights against a foreign adversary. Growing up, Duda inherited the sentiments of his parents and grandfather: A free Poland—independent and uninterrupted. Duda feels he is carrying the torch in his crusade to rid Poland of foreign influences. To Duda, the most recent threat to Polish sovereignty and way of life is the ‘LGBT ideology.’ Duda believes that queer people are “not people” and are a foreign, imported ideology that is worse than communism. In reference to the ‘LGBT ideology,’ Duda is quoted reflecting on his parents and grandfather: “they didn’t fight for [a free Poland] so that a new ideology would appear that is even more destructive.” 

Duda’s first term as Polish president, in step with his right-wing, populist Law and Justice party (or PiS), sought to stoke fear of queer people in Poland. His stance on LGBTQ+ rights comes as the 21st century has seen a majority of world leaders acknowledge the queer community through various degrees of either accepting and protecting or denouncing and persecuting. Duda has chosen the latter.

Furthermore, additional insight into Duda is that he is a devout Roman Catholic. Debate still surrounds whether the Catholic church at large actually condemns same-sex relations and gender non-conformity, but many interpret that it does, Duda included. To Duda’s advantage, Poland is an extremely Roman Catholic nation. Many Polish Catholics, especially the older, more conservative generations, believe that same-sex relationships are sinful and that they are not to be accepted nor tolerated publicly. The Polish Catholic Church labelled the “LGBT ideology” a “rainbow plague” that is attacking the nation. Many conservative politicians and those associated with PiS, Duda included, lauded this statement.  

Since first being elected President in 2015, Duda’s administration has made numerous blatant attacks against queer people. Duda has banned legal gender changes, taken constitutional action to prevent gay couples from marrying or adopting children, and prohibited LGBTQ+ education in schools. In doing this, Duda is positioning himself to appear as the saviour to the damage he claims queer people will cause to the Polish way of life. In true populist fashion, Duda played into the fears of his constituents and framed himself as the only reasonable option that could ‘save’ Poland. 

Taste the Rainbow, Ban the Rainbow

In 2019, over 90 towns in the southwest of Poland, a predominantly rural area, declared themselves “LGBT-free zones.” While this is mainly symbolic, it intends to project the idea that queer people do not exist in these towns. Pride parades are forbidden, education of LGBTQ+ people and rights are prohibited, and displaying the Pride flag is banned.

Source: PES Group

Scientifically, it’s impossible to ‘ban’ LGBTQ+ people from existing in an area because queer people exist anywhere people exist. Nonetheless, anti-queer sentiments have been codified into ordinance in a large section of Poland. Not only has Duda legitimized these “LGBT-free” zones, but he has also continuously supported their intentions. Unsurprisingly, Duda relied heavily on the turnout of these regions in his 2020 reelection bid. 

These rural towns certainly did not invent LGBTQ+ discrimination, but the establishment of ‘LGBT-free zones’ in Poland is relatively new (though many attribute the idea to the “free of Jews” areas during the Holocaust). 

Once President in 2015, Duda continued to mark the LGBTQ+ community as the public enemy that interfered with the Polish way of life. Duda, along with his party, then effectively attached the “LGBT ideology” to their political opponents. The 2020 election rolled around and Duda’s campaign pledged to defend traditional family values while disparaging and attacking the queer community. 

Poland: 2020

Duda was headed for the first round of the election, due on the 10th of May, 2020, with a second term practically in his grasp. However, Duda, much like the rest of the world, was blindsided by the COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, the Polish Parliament decided to postpone the May 10th election due to safety concerns. The election was then moved to the 28th of June. After the postponement, Civic Coalition (PO) candidate Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska decided to retire her campaign due to falling poll numbers. The Civic Coalition would then nominate Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski to take her place as their nominee. 

Trzaskowski has a significantly more liberal agenda than incumbent Duda as he supports LGBTQ+ rights as well as other minority groups. Trzaskowski represents exhaustion and frustration with a socially conservative ideology that has for decades been the status-quo in Polish politics. 

The Real Race Begins

In February of 2019, as mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski announced his intentions to follow the World Health Organization’s guidelines and include LGBTQ+ health and sex education in the curricula of Warsaw’s public schools. This sparked massive outrage, especially from PiS and a direct denunciation from President Duda. This marked the beginning of the real race before Trzaskowski even announced his candidacy—a battle over Poland’s social fabric. Duda took it upon himself to try and debase this attempt by Trzaskowski to normalize queer topics and educate people on them. 

Now as the 2020 Civic Coalition candidate, Trzaskowski quickly rose in the polls and became a favourite to win the election amongst young people and those in urban areas. This prompted Duda to not only continue his rhetorical attacks on queer people but to significantly increase them as he saw his poll numbers shrink. On June 28th, Trzaskowski  prevented Duda from winning outright in the first round of elections: 

  • Duda: 43.5%
  • Trzaskowski: 30.46%

Duda needed to receive 50% of the vote to claim victory and avoid a second-round but he fell short. Trzaskowski was then within striking distance of the presidency. Some exit polls even predicted that Trzaskowski would win in the election’s second round. On the 12th of July, 2020, Duda claimed victory, but nonetheless, this was a close race that not only displayed a desire for change in Poland but a stark division. In the second round, Duda beat Trzaskowski with a margin barely above one percentage point:

This close election was watched globally and is very telling about the state of Poland, today. Nearly half of Poland displayed that they are tired of the queerphobia that Duda largely campaigned on. Duda’s administration also attacked the mainstream media, strayed relations with the EU, politicized the Polish judiciary and inched towards consolidating power for PiS. These reasons also generated energy behind Duda’s opposition, but the hate-speech disguised as protecting family values was one of the most cited reasons for voters to oppose Duda. Duda remained popular amongst those who agreed with his anti-queer rhetoric in the rural southeast as observable in the overlap between the election map and the “LGBT-free” zones. 

Duda swung this victory by harnessing fear and spreading a false narrative that gay people are paedophiles, want to corrupt the Polish youth and destroy Poland’s culture. His tactics are not unique to Poland, for Vladimir Putin of Russia, Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil, Ali Khamenei of Iran, and countless other leaders have vilified the queer community to bolster their political standing amongst a conservative base that fears what they have been told about the queer community. Trzaskowski represents growing defiance to fear in Poland; defiance that will define Poland’s future as a nation increasingly more accepting of the LGBTQ+ community. Duda represents the fear that so many people in Poland are tired of and a diminishing agenda that nearly half of Poland no longer sees as representative of Polish beliefs. 

Wesley Swan

Team Member of Communications