Polish right targets LGBT, Jewish claims in election fight

by Stanislaw WASZAK
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Hostility to the LGBT community in Poland is such that Gay Pride parades have to held under heavy police protection

Poland's ruling nationalists are ramping up rhetoric against gay people and Jewish compensation claims in an attempt to boost President Andrzej Duda's flagging campaign before this month's election, say experts.

"They fear failure. They are panicking," Stanislaw Mocek, a political expert and head of the Collegium Civitas University in Warsaw, told AFP.

Duda has equated "LGBT ideology" with communism, while public television has attacked his main rival Rafal Trzaskowki for being open to discussing Jewish compensation claims from the Holocaust -- a subject the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party considers closed.

The election was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed due to the pandemic crisis. The first round is now scheduled for June 28.

While a win for Duda would mean five more years of political clout for Law and Justice, Warsaw's centrist mayor Trzaskowski is catching up in the polls.

This is why the right is using homophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric, say analysts.

"Law and Justice thought it would be an easy victory and that's why it's bringing out these old chestnuts... They are having to resort to extraordinary methods," Mocek said.

Gay rights were already a major issue in the parliamentary campaign in October, which was won by Law and Justice, in this predominantly Catholic country where homophobia is still widespread.

Several Polish regions have since adopted resolutions declaring themselves "LGBT ideology-free zones".

Trzaskowski has said he is open to the idea of civil partnerships between same-sex couples -- which is currently not possible under Polish law.

- Shades of anti-Semitism -

The issue of compensating Jews for assets seized during the Holocaust and the communist era is a particularly sensitive one for Poland, where there are multiple legal claims relating to Jews and non-Jews who were dispossessed.

Poland's public television channel TVP on Sunday accused Trzaskowki of acting against the national interest by failing to rule out any discussion on this issue with Jewish international organisations. The channel is widely regarded as following the PiS government's political line.

Trzaskowski has since launched legal action against TVP for the attack, which used terms such as "foreign lobby" and "rich groups" interpreted by some analysts as a clear reference to Jewish people.

"Such sensitive subjects need to be discussed and of course we have to take into account above all the interest of the Polish state but this has to be done in such a way as not to create problems," Trzaskowski told journalists on Tuesday.

Poland is the only country in the region not to have compensated its citizens, including Jews, for assets seized by the Nazis and the communists.

Prior to the Holocaust, Poland was home to Europe's largest Jewish population, with a centuries-old community numbering some 3.2 million, roughly 10 percent of the country's population.

Of the six million Polish citizens who died during World War II, half were Jewish. Poland's Jewish population is now estimated at 40,000 to 50,000.

Poland's right says the issue of compensation is closed and any claims should be addressed to Germany.

Trzaskowski has meanwhile sought to focus his campaign on the government's mixed record in dealing with the coronavirus and the economic crisis it has triggered.

"I think the mood is swinging, the mood is changing," he said, replying in English to a question from AFP at a press conference on Wednesday.

"I feel it every day when I am in the streets of the Polish cities and villages, and I think that's why I will win this election, because people will simply have had enough of the incompetence of this government.?

Hostility to the LGBT community in Poland is such that Gay Pride parades have to held under heavy police protection

Duda, who is running for re-election, has equated 'LGBT' ideology with communism

The challenger Trzaskowski takes a more liberal line on gay rights and is open to the issue of compensation for citizens, including Jews, who had their assets seized during WWII