Analysis: part of ruling block wants cultural counter-revolution

By Chris Mularczyk

Solidarity Poland, part of the ruling block, wants to ban “promoting LGBT ideology” and the teaching of gender studies in Poland’s universities. Their proposal is part of the discussions between the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) and its partners within the ruling block: Solidarity Poland and the Agreement party.

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The call for the ban was made by environment minister Michał Woś in an interview for Radio Plus. He is a member of the justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro’s Solidarity Poland party which since the summer’s presidential election has been arguing for the ruling block to take a much more determined stance against what it sees as an attempt to introduce a “cultural revolution” in Poland. Mr Woś argued that PiS should implement “a prohibition on the promotion of LGBT ideology and on the conduct of gender studies at universities”. He believes that it is important to stop “programmes which corrupt the young in schools” and which are based on a “LGBT ideology” which have been imported from the West.

PiS have been signalling on the issue

The move comes in the wake of PiS having made strong statements on LGBT related issues during recent election campaigns. Party leader Jarosław Kaczyński has said that “imported LGBT… threatens our identity, our nation, its continued existence, and therefore the Polish state”. The education minister Dariusz Piątkowski has defended a public education official who said that LGBT was a greater threat to kids than the COVID-19 virus.

However, PiS have, so far, made no legislative moves on LGBT issues during their five year spell in government. Some local authorities controlled by PiS have passed resolutions declaring themselves “LGBT ideology free zones”. Apart from drawing the ire of both LGBT activists and the EC and EP these are not impactful in legal terms and are largely symbolic in nature. In August minister Ziobro compensated local authorities which lost EU local authorities twinning programme funding as a result of declaring themselves “LGBT ideology free zones” from justice ministry funds.

During his campaign for re-election President Andrzej Duda signed a “Charter for the family” which made a commitment to “defend children from LGBT ideology” which in one speech he claimed was as dangerous as communism. He also called for a ban on propagating LGBT ideology in public institutions and for additional protection for the traditional family via specifically outlawing same sex adoption in the Polish constitution.

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Minister Ziobro’s party offensive on cultural issues

Over the summer minister Ziobro and his party have pressed to begin the process of withdrawing Poland from the Istanbul Council of Europe convention on preventing violence against women because of that Convention’s clauses which assert that gender is a social rather than biological phenomenon and that the traditional daily model leads to domestic violence.

Another initiative came from minister Woś, the Environment Minister tipped to lose his government position in the planned government reshuffle, as a result of the mooted merger of his ministry of the environment with the ministry of climate change. He proposed legislation that would make NGOs declare any foreign funding they receive in a separate register.

But these initiatives have not been well received by PM Mateusz Morawiecki and the ruling PiS. Instead of seeking to withdraw from the Istanbul Convention the PM kicked the issue into touch by sending it to the Constitutional Court for consideration whether Poland’s participation in the Convention is compatible with the country’s constitution. Meanwhile Deputy PM and Culture Minister Piotr Gliński stated that the NGO law proposed by minister Woś was not government policy nor an initiative of his ministry, the department responsible for drafting NGO related legislation.

When he was Deputy PM and higher education minister, Jarosław Gowin, the leader of the Agreement party, refused to take any action to stop the teaching of gender studies in Polish universities. He argued that universities must be free to study all ideologies and points of view.

PM Morawiecki, and Mr Gowin (who is expected to return to the government in the autumn as Deputy PM) may argue within the government that Poland might not wish to follow in the footsteps of Hungary, Romania and Russia in outlawing promotion of “LGBT ideology” or the teaching of gender studies. Legal bans would be a nightmare to define, they would also undoubtedly involve encroachment on the right of free speech.

These, together with fears of drawing more criticism from international bodies, may have been the reason why PM Morawiecki was reported to be against including gender and LGBT issues in the legislative and government programme being put together by the PiS block for the next three years. However, cultural conservatism is a key element in PiS’s political platform, therefore reference to it and measures to defend traditional values are virtually certain to find their way into the programme that is eventually agreed.

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The devil lies in the detail

Advocates of banning LGBT ideology in schools have to remember that Poland’s constitution gives parents the right to bring up their children in accordance with their beliefs and values. This works both ways. It means that some parents may wish their children to be exposed to information about LGBT issues while others clearly will not.

Banning “gender studies” in universities would not be enforceable without limiting academic enquiry. The proponents of the ban have to explain how they would implement it. For example, would political science, psychology and sociology courses be forbidden from tackling issues relating to gender? Since gender and LGBT have become important cultural and political issues on the global stage would that not affect the standing of Polish universities in the world in these important social science disciplines?

Thinkers and activists of the political right have argued that “LGBT ideology” is part of a set of ideas referred to as “cultural marxism”. Indeed, some on the left have argued that cultural hegemony is paramount to win the battle of ideas and that combating “patriarchy, traditional family, religion and the existence of the nation state” have become a better way of challenging capitalism then supporting the working class which has become fragmented and come under the influence of the political right. This means that any study of new left and marxist movements and ideas must entail looking at LGBT and gender issues too.

Polish legislation bans the propagation of totalitarian ideologies such as communism and fascism. But it does not ban their study or for the ideas to be discussed. Admittedly the line between discussion and propagation is a very difficult one to draw.

PiS has argued that it wants to be a party of freedom and justice. It also argues that it does not want the kinds of limits on free speech that have occurred in the west as a result of the drive for “political correctness”. Certainly there have been instances of severe intolerance on the part of trans rights campaigners and anti-racist campaigners with pressure to cancel, prosecute and fire from their jobs individuals whose views the supposedly progressive campaigners disagree. It is debatable whether a counter-strike which blanket bans discussion of LGBT and gender matters in public institutions and universities is the right response.

Poland’s constitution clearly defines marriage as being between a man and woman. Adoption of children by same sex couples is not legal. Parents have the right to determine what values and beliefs their children are taught. The ruling PiS now has to decide if legislation is needed to strengthen that or whether such legislation would not complicate matters and encroach on other freedoms that Poles cherish.