In May 2015, less than 30 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Andrzej Duda won the presidential election in Poland. A self-proclaimed Christian conservative from the right-wing Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, abbreviated PiS), his election marked a stark turn to far-right politics in a country that had long been hailed as a success story for other newly-emerged Central Eastern European (CEE) countries with regards to democratization and economic development. Duda’s first term came to be associated with reports of increasing censorship of journalists and a decline in LGBTQ+ rights, propelled by the infamous “LGBT-Free zones” spreading across the country, both of which have considerably undermined the quality of democracy in Poland.

His re-election in July 2020 was shortly followed by more attacks on civil liberties, culminating in a judgement of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal formally prohibiting abortion, except in cases where pregnancy is a threat to the woman’s life or health. In the midst of large-scale protests opposing this ban, the Polish Greens expressed their concerns with regards to the trajectory of democracy in Poland under Duda. Urszula Zielińska, member of the Polish Sejm, commented for Global Green News on the current situation and what the Greens are doing to help marginalized communities in Poland.

we base our political platform on four pillars: ecology, social justice, grassroots democracy, and pacifism.

Urszula Zielińska, Member of the Polish Sejm (The Greens)

One of the longest-standing Green movements in CEE, the roots of the Polish Greens trace back to the popular mobilization of the 1980s that opposed Communist authoritarianism in Poland, particularly among ecologists, feminists, LGBTQ+ activists, and pacifists. The founding of the Greens as a political party in 2003 coincided with the accession of Poland to the European Union the following year.

The party follows a progressive, eco-socialist platform that notably advocates for a just transition towards a 100% renewable energy system, universal basic income schemes, a shift away from industrial livestock farming, and the legalization of abortion and same-sex marriage.

With the stakes of the 2020 presidential election at heart, and in light of stringent legislation for smaller parties, the Greens supported Rafał Trzaskowski, current mayor of Warsaw and presidential candidate for the liberal Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, abbreviated PO).

A late runner in the presidential race, Trzaskowski succeeded Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, the intended PO candidate following the November 2019 primary. Kidawa-Błońska was however pressured by her own party to resign her candidacy on May 15, 2020, amid falling poll numbers. Although he was a latecomer to the election, Trzaskowski attracted significant support from voters by building alliances with smaller parties in the Polish Sejm, including the Greens, adopting key points from the Green agenda such as moving away from coal, launching a national program to combat drought, establishing new national parks, and introducing climate education in schools.

Duda as a head of state proved himself to be more of a figurehead than a capable politician.

Urszula Zielińska, Member of the Polish Sejm (The Greens)

Duda won his re-election by a slim margin (51% of the votes), which was “disappointing news” for many across the Polish political spectrum, including Zielińska. The ban on abortion sparked widespread discontent across Poland, and large-scale protests have been held since January demanding that the ban be rescinded.

“As Greens, we have always supported women rights and reproductive rights and demanded that Poland would adopt a permissive adoption legislation like other European countries,” said Zielińska. “It was absolutely obvious for me to join and help to organize the Women on Strike protests following the recent abortion crackdown. As an MP I have parliamentary immunity which I can use to protect protesters and make sure their rights are respected if they are detained by the police. This is what I think all pro-democratic MPs should do – be on the streets with their voters and fight together for their basic rights.”

Other signs of the support for the movement have included a draft bill legalizing abortion spearheaded by progressive MPs, including Zielińska. Realistically, the majority status of PiS in the Sejm, as well as the conservative climate that still plagues the Polish political landscape, make it unlikely that the bill would pass. Regardless, Zielińska hopes that this draft “may be the basis of future liberalization when progressives have the majority in parliament.”

The Green message here is very simple: LGBT+ rights are human rights, period.

Urszula Zielińska, Member of the Polish Sejm (The Greens)

The Greens’ progressive advocacy work has also touched on the issue of LGBTQ+ rights, which have noticeably declined throughout Duda’s first term. Around July 2019, the incumbent PiS administration  began implementing “LGBT-Free Zones” across Poland, rewarding municipal and local governments that are able to proclaim themselves to be “free from LGBTQ ideology”. Notably conservative news outlet Gazeta Polska (Polish Newspaper) moved on to distribute “LGBT-free zone” stickers to their readers, bordering on hate speech and fostering a right-ward shift in popular sentiment.

Zielińska strongly condemns this turn to outward homophobia, highlighting the many steps taken by the Greens since their foundation to support LGBTQ+ rights. “We are the first party in Poland which has written in full LGBT+ rights in its program, including marriage equality, legal gender recognition for transgender people, and outlawing discrimination based on gender identity and expression,” she said. Zielińska also emphasized the Greens’ commitment to empowering Polish LGBTQ+ activists to enter politics, including Warsaw city councillor Krystiain Legierski, who became the first openly gay person elected into a public office in Poland, as well as former MP Anna Grodzka, the first transgender woman in the Polish Sejm.

we will pursue these points – either as an uncompromising opposition or as a part of the future pro-democratic government.

Urszula Zielińska, Member of the Polish Sejm (The Greens)

After a re-election on a slim margin, and in light of large-scale protests opposing Duda’s most conservative policies, Zielińska remains hopeful that effective change will come in the future. Keeping up with the women’s protests, making abortion accessible, safe, and legal, and fighting for full marriage equality and the recognition of LGBTQ+ rights are top priorities for Zielińska and the Polish Greens at the moment.

Concurrently, Zielińska is also working to move forward with a universal basic income, and is personally engaged in legalizing cannabis. “I see huge benefits which cannabis can bring in medicine and for the economy. […] Before that happens, I’m working with other like-minded MPs to relax the current legislation, decriminalizing private use and allowing the cultivation for medicinal purposes.”

The Greens’ commitment to promote progressive values and advocate for the return of safe abortion in the Polish legislation provides a beacon of hope in the overall conservative climate fostered by Duda and PiS since 2015. A move forward in Polish politics cannot be envisioned without supporting the current popular movement and the protection of women’s rights in the constitution.

This interview has been edited for clarity. Follow Urszula Zielińska on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Flickr.com/Bohdan Bobrowski

Robin Vochelet

Robin Vochelet graduated from McGill University with a B.A. First Class Honours in International Development Studies and a minor in Political Science in May 2021. Originally from Strasbourg, France, he has a particular interest in the politics and social movements in the Asia-Pacific region. After graduation, he went on to pursue a Master in International Affairs at the National University of Singapore.

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