Poland’s Populists Pick a New Top Enemy: Gay People

Growing up in a small city in southern Poland, part of a religious family and conservative community, Maciej Gosniowski was told again and again that something was wrong with him.

“It would be better if I changed myself,” he recalled teachers telling him. “It would be better if I behaved more like a boy. It would make my life easier.”

Mr. Gosniowski was beaten by other students who used homophobic slurs he did not yet understand. He does not want other young people to suffer as he did, so he welcomed the decision by the mayor of Warsaw to introduce a declaration last month aimed at promoting tolerance. But the backlash to the declaration has left him shaken.

Poland’s governing party, Law and Justice, has seized on the declaration and the issue of gay rights in its campaigning for European Union elections in May and for national elections this fall. Where the party once attacked migrants as a threat to the soul of the country, gay people have become its public enemy No. 1 in recent weeks.

Rafal Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw, who issued the tolerance declaration, said that while he had expected a cynical response from the government, he worried about the sort of propaganda state outlets had produced. It was the same kind of bile, he said, that led a man to fatally stab the mayor of Gdansk, Pawel Adamowicz, on live television this year.

It is part of a growing trend across eastern and central Europe, where nationalist and populist parties are increasingly turning to cultural issues — and attacks on gay people — to rally their faithful. Read more via New York Times