People hold pictures of the 'Black Madonna of Czestochowa' with a rainbow-colored halo at a protest in Warsaw. Photograph: Kacper Pempel / Reuters

European elections: sex and religion dominate campaigns in Poland

The campaign in Poland for the European elections ended a war of words about religion, sex and morality after a documentary on clerical abuse raised questions about government ties with the Catholic Church and the ruling party's campaign attempted to portray LGBT rights advocates as a threat to children.

The release of the documentary on YouTube earlier this month, seen more than 20 millions of times and featuring multiple victims confronting their sex offenders, electrified what was already a feverish debate about the role of the powerful Roman Catholic Church in Polish politics and society during to which homosexuality has been regularly compared to pedophilia.

"In the last campaign, the major threat was Muslim migrants. At other times, the enemy is the Jews. Now it's our turn, "said Piotr Godzisz of Lambda, an NGO that monitors hate crimes against the Polish LGBT community.

LGBT rights and the threat to traditional values ​​have been at the heart of the campaign since early March, when Rafał Trzaskowski, the newly elected liberal mayor of Warsaw, has unveiled a series of commitments to uphold minority rights and support sex education for Young.

People hold a large rainbow flag during a protest in support of Elzbieta Podlesna who was arrested for offending religious beliefs. Photo: Kacper Pempel / Reuters

In response, Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the Law and Justice Party (PiS), gave a speech to party activists in which he warned advocates of same-sex marriage and adoption to "keep their hands off our children" , and PiS politicians have accused the European Coalition's opposition of promoting the "sexualization" of young people.

Kaczyński said at a conference hosted by Catholic Action, a lay group that promotes Catholic values, that LGBT rights and "gender theory" were an existential threat.

"These ideologies, philosophies, all these are imported, are not internal Polish mechanisms," said the most powerful political figure of Poland to meet in the central city of Włocławek. "They are a threat to the Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and, therefore, to the Polish state."

Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the party leader of the Law and Justice. Photo: Kacper Pempel / Reuters

Tensions increased again earlier this month after Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, attended an event at the University of Warsaw. The former Polish PM is expected to take part in next year's presidential elections after his term in Brussels ends.

While Tusk, Kaczyński's political arch-rival, made an uncontroversial speech urging that Polish society meet, the speaker before him accused the Catholic Church of abandoning Christ's teachings and losing his moral authority.

Donald Tusk in a pro-European march in Warsaw. Photo: Kacper Pempel / Reuters

The observations were used by PiS as evidence that Tusk was plotting an attack on traditional values. Kaczyński told supporters on a "patriotic picnic" the next day that "he who raises his hand against the church raises his hand against Poland".

Two days later, a prominent feminist activist was detained and her house searched by the police over the production and distribution of images of the Virgin Mary with a halo of the color of the rainbow.

The government denies that the arrest, described by the Warsaw-based Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights as "deliberate targeted repression", was the result of political pressure.

But tensions rose again as a ruling party MP Anna Siarkowska submitted a series of requests to government-controlled prosecutors for the prosecution of liberal journalists who circulated the image.

However, PiS's connection to the church during the campaign may soon appear to be a misstep after the release of Just Do not Tell Anyone, a documentary by brothers Tomasz and Marek Sekielski

The crowdfunding-funded film documents several cases of child sexual abuse by Catholic priests and subsequent inertia or cover-up on behalf of the higher clergy. He presents victims confronting their abusers, and describes a number of cases where priests who have sexually abused children are sent to places where they are entrusted with child care.

With increasing pressure in the church hierarchy, some senior clerics sought to distance themselves from the government. Last week Poland's primate Archbishop Wojciech Polak announced a compensation fund for victims of abuse, saying he "sees no hand raised" against the Church and criticizing the clergy who had openly endorsed the candidates for PiS.

The controversy has encouraged more radical voices to increase homophobic rhetoric. On Monday, a prominent anti-abortion and far right candidate for the European parliament, Kaja Godek, said gays want to be able to adopt children "because they want to molest and rape them."

"To fight pedophilia in church and everywhere, we should, above all, limit the influence of the LGBT lobby," Gadek told Polsat.

A Warsaw march. Photo: Kacper Pempel / Reuters

Although discouraged by the fact that LGBT rights were once again dragged into political turmoil, many Polish activists note that the recent rise in homophobic rhetoric belies more positive social trends. Research shows a remarkable increase in tolerance and empathy toward the LGBT community, and the emergence of a confident new generation of activists in smaller cities.

"Ten years ago, it would be unthinkable to organize a Pride People's march through the streets of my hometown," said Bartosz Staszewski, who last year helped organize the first Pride event in Lublin, a city in the conservative heartland of the South. -Easta Poland.

But while many underlying trends are improving, the overall picture remains bleak, especially for teens. A study by the University of Warsaw last year found that more than two-thirds of those who identify themselves as LGBTI have suffered psychological or physical violence, with 70% of adolescents identifying themselves as LGBTI have had suicidal thoughts.

"We are resilient. As a movement, hatred strengthens us, "Godzisz said. "But for the most vulnerable people - it will kill them."

Source: The Guardian

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