- Title: Polish "LGBT-free" town weighs risks of losing EU funds
- Date: 17th July 2020
- Summary: WARSAW, POLAND (JUNE 16, 2020) (REUTERS) BARTOSZ STASZEWSKI, LGBT ACTIVIST, REPRESENTATIVE OF RIGHTS GROUP WHICH PETITIONED EUROPEAN ANTI-FRAUD OFFICE OLAF ABOUT EU FUNDS AND HIS LAWYER GRZEGORZ KUKOWKA TALKING TO REPORTER (SOUNBITE) (English) BARTOSZ STASZEWSKI, LGBT ACTIVIST BARTOSZ STASZEWSKI, LGBT ACTIVIST, REPRESENTATIVE OF RIGHTS GROUP WHICH PETITIONED EUROPEAN ANTI-FRAUD OFFICE OLAF ABOUT EU FUNDS SAYING: "I hope that OLAF, the department of European Union will take care of this notification, that they will treat it seriously, as we are treating it seriously, the LGBT-free zones. It should never have happened in Poland. And I think that European Union should take it seriously."
- Embargoed: 31st July 2020 17:50
- Keywords: European Union funds LGBT-free zone Poland
- Location: WARSAW, KONSKOWOLA, TRZEBIESZOW, POLAND
- City: WARSAW, KONSKOWOLA, TRZEBIESZOW, POLAND
- Country: Poland
- Topics: Society/Social Issues
- Reuters ID: LVA002CN765HJ
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:Among fields of roses and lavender dotting the tranquil landscape around the village of Konskowola in eastern Poland, some residents feel the European Union may be blackmailing them.
Just like about a hundred other municipalities across rural Poland, the local council has declared Konskowola to be free of "LGBT ideology", a reflection of a rising backlash against gay rights throughout the conservative, largely Catholic nation.
This has raised eyebrows in Brussels, with the European Commission signalling to regional authorities including those responsible for Konskowola in May that disbursement of EU aid to areas that discriminate on the basis sexual orientation may be curbed.
Some local residents, such as Radoslaw Gabriel Barzenc, the Konskowola council head, are angry over what he sees as unjustified interference by Europe's liberal west in his town's beliefs.
"The restrictions could be implemented because people have an opinion. Isn't this discrimination? Is this what European tolerance is about? I don't think so," he told Reuters.
Gay rights have become a hot-button campaign issue in Poland since the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power five years ago on platform to defend traditional family values.
In the run-up to a presidential election held last Sunday (July 12), the incumbent Andrzej Duda, allied with PiS, pledged to ensure gay couples would not be able to adopt children and to prevent education about gay rights in public schools.
He won a second five-year term with a narrow margin of 51% against a liberal challenger, amid mounting polarisation in Poland over the role religious values should play in public life.
PiS and Duda have long been at loggerheads with Europe over Warsaw's adherence to democratic norms, and the issue was back on the agenda at a summit of European Union leaders which started in Brussels on Friday to discuss the bloc's budget.
Some want to freeze payouts from a coronavirus recovery fund or the long-term budget for countries believed to be undercutting democratic values, such as Poland, although Hunagrian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing nationalist and a ally of Warsaw's conservative government, has threatened a veto.
A Polish rights organisation has also petioned the European anti-fraud office OLAF to investigate whether EU funds disbursed in Poland are not being misused by communities that call themselves "LGBT-free". OLAF declined to comment.
In Konskowola, which is part of Poland's eastern conservative heartland, some 70% of residents voted for Duda, a devout Catholic.
Konskowola authorities say their aim is not to discriminate against any individuals.
In its June 2019 declaration, the council said it opposed any public activity aimed at "promoting the ideology of the LGBT movement", and declared it would protect its school and its families from anything that would contradict Christian values.
But dissent in Konskowola, which has a population of just over 2,000, is brewing.
Mayor Stanislaw Golebiowski says the council should have never taken up the issue and should now reconsider it. He feels too much is at stake.
He hopes to use EU cash to fund some of his 7-9 million euro project to modernise irrigation systems, made more urgent in recent years due to dropping groundwater levels, for the town's prize rose fields and other flowers it grows.
Like thousands of towns and villages across Poland, which joined the EU in 2004 and has received some 36 million euros ($41 million) in aid since, Konskowola has spent the cash on projects to improve the standard of living in a nation ravaged by World War Two and four decades of communism.
Honorata Sadurska, 26, a veterinarian from Konskowola and a lesbian, says she believes homophobic reactions are on the rise.
"It's happened that I was pushed on the bus or that someone has yelled something not nice to me. Is it because of the council's declaration?," she told Reuters.
"I don't know what came first, the chicken or the egg."
(Production Aleksandra Szmigiel, Anna Dabrowska)
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