In 2020, discrimination against LGBTQ people continued to increase in Poland. Photo: Unsplash

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The EU takes up the fight against Poland's LGBTQ-free zones

As in many other parts of the world, right-wing populism and discrimination against LGBTQ people have grown in Poland. For the past two years, the Polish government has declared a third of Poland's cities as LGBTQ - free zones. Reports from 2020 describe how the zones can both be seen as examples of how democratic institutions weakened during the pandemic, but also as part of a longer process of democratic degradation.

In the think tank and the non-profit association Civil development forums (FOR: s) report Rule of Law in Poland 2020: The Rule of Law crisis in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic Eliza Rutynowska, Marek Tatała and Patryk Wachowiec describe how, during the pandemic, authoritarian forces weakened Poland's democratic institutions by strengthening their own power and justifying restrictions on human rights. The control functions of liberal democracy have been weakened, transparency has deteriorated and anti-democratic laws have been implemented. The government, which consists of the Law and Justice Party and two smaller coalition parties, has also introduced restrictions on rights and freedoms without a legal basis. 

Poland is ranked by ILGA-Europe, an organization for the rights of gays and bisexuals, trans and intersex people, as the worst country in Europe for LGBTQ people - given both the legal and social situation. FOR, which works for democracy, freedom and the rule of law in Poland, believes that the right-wing populist government has contributed to the deteriorating situation by portraying LGBTQ people as enemies of the people. Although the LGBTQ-free zones have no legal significance, the authors of the report describe how these types of symbolic measures increase the risks of discrimination and hate crimes against LGBTQ people.

Rutynowska tells Human Rights Pulse that she does not believe these trends will decrease in 2021, but expects continued discrimination against LGBTQ people and an even more damaged legal system in a year. She emphasizes in particular how the re-election of Polish President Andrzej Duda risks leading to further restrictions on fundamental human rights - where LGBTQ people are particularly vulnerable.

As a result of the negative developments within the EU, especially evident in countries such as Hungary and Poland, the European Parliament has declared the EU a freedom zone for LGBTQ people. The action is a symbolic gesture in order to distance itself from the negative development of specific member states - but according to the report, the measure needs to be supplemented with formal sanctions. In the report Rule of Law in Poland 2020: International and European responses to the crisis The authors of the report highlight the importance of concrete and strong measures to break the negative trend - otherwise there is a risk that the problems will both develop in Poland and spread to the rest of Europe.

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