Since 2019, dozens of Polish cities, provinces and regions have signed similar statements and charters. In response, several European cities have ended twinning partnerships with their Polish counterparts.
Last week, the European Commission rejected subsidies for six Polish cities under a twin-town civic program, linking the decision to anti-gay statements.
“Human dignity, freedom, democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of persons belonging to minorities, are fundamental EU values,” said Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli in a statement to POLITICO. “These principles should be applied across all EU funding.”
Such decisions place a real price on the largely symbolic anti-LGBTQ statements, with many international cultural programs and youth exchanges suspended or canceled.
Take Douai – located in French Flanders, where many Poles emigrated to work in the mines between the wars. It has had a dual partnership with Puławy in Eastern Poland since 1996.
In February, Frédéric Chéreau, the mayor of Douai, said he was aware of Puławy’s statement and decided to freeze the partnership.
“Many citizens wrote me letters saying how dismayed they were at Puławy’s decision. I really couldn’t sit and do nothing, ”he told POLITICO.
His immediate decision was to withhold invitations from Puławy’s officials to Douai. But he did not rule out that future exchanges between two high schools would also be suspended.
Mercier, the principal of Douai high school, said he understood the position of the mayor. “It’s unbelievable that a city is a LGBT-free zone,” he said. “It’s crazy, it’s sad.”
But he also emphasized that schools have had a ‘perfect’ partnership for four years. “I hope we will be there to separate the youth exchange and the exchange between two cities,” he said.
The high school principal in Puławy, Marta Gładysz, has similar expectations. “We put a lot of work into this exchange,” she said. “We need to separate youth exchanges from the [municipality’s] explanation, “she said.
In July, the Dutch city of Nieuwegein also broke ties with Puławy.
Similar things are happening with other Polish ‘anti-LGBTQ’ cities. Nogent-sur-Oise in France ended the collaboration with Kraśnik (suspension of the exchange of young footballers) and the German Schwerte withheld partnership with Nowy Sącz (who threatens the tradition of school exchanges).
LGBTQ-free Polish cities
Poland is the most homophobic country in the EU, according to to a Rainbow Europe ranking this year. The issue of the LGBTQ community regularly appears in political and public debates. Recently, it has been used by the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) to mobilize its most conservative support during the country presidential elections.
The trend of cities making anti-gay statements was fueled by a decision last year by Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski to sign a city charter promising support for LGBTQ people.
PiS and conservative organizations said such initiatives would enable activists to “smuggle LGBT ideology to school” and “sexualize children.”
In response to the liberal mayor of Warsaw, many smaller Polish cities – mostly governed by right-wing mayors – protested anti-LGBTQ views. Some endorsed the “Regional Charter of Family Rights” drafted by the right-wing Catholic NGO Ordo Iuris, and others, such as Puławy, made their own statements.
The charter does not explicitly mention LGBTQ, but calls for “protection of marriage, being a union of a man and a woman”, which is already protected by the Polish Constitution, and says that public funds should not be spent on “projects that promote the constitutional identity of marriage. “
The explanation endorsed by Puławy states that the city will strive to “end the ideology promoted by the LGBT subculture.” The City Council will not allow special provisions to assist LGBTQ students and will protect officials, such as teachers, from the pressures of ‘gay propaganda’.
According to the Atlas of Hate project, which collects all statements, the cities and regions that have signed some kind of anti-LGBTQ document cover one third of the Polish territory.
Puławy says that his statement “does not activate specific actions ”against the gay community. “There has been no violence in the city,” said a spokesman.
The mayor also wrote a letter to Douai, stating that Puławy was “the target of the media and the political attack” and that “there is no law that discriminates against people because of their origin, political views or sexual orientation.”
That attitude has painful financial consequences.
Six Polish cities – the Commission did not mention them – do not receive any extra money from a twinning program. Grants range from € 5,000 to € 25,000.
Commissioner Dalli said that the rules of the program are “very clear”. They argue that it should be accessible “to all European citizens without any discrimination based on sex, racial or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age and sexual orientation”.
“It is my responsibility to ensure that EU values are respected in all our work and in all EU funds,” she added. “It is our duty to protect European citizens from discrimination. Doing nothing was not an option and would have made the European Commission complicit.”
Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro called Dalli’s decision was “groundless and illegal” and said that the Commission has a duty to respect the traditions and positions of the Member States. He has asked Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to intervene in Brussels.
In Tuchów, said to be one of six cities not receiving the scholarship, the city’s mayor asked the city council to reconsider its decision against homosexuals.
“You cannot calculate this loss of image. Not only do we lose 18,000 euros, ‘says Mayor Magdalena Marszałek told Polish TVN24 television, adding that she fears that the city’s international partners will “not treat Tuchów seriously”.
“We don’t have an annual meeting of sister cities … we don’t have a meeting, the lectures, the concerts,” she said.
But Andrzej Głaz, head of Tuchów City Council, does not withdraw. “I feel sorry for those EU actions. I’m waiting for someone to wake up, “he said told the NaTemat website. “You can live badly but with dignity,” he added.