Did sexuality education become instrumentalised in Polish politics?

To win Polish presidential elections in May 2020, starting an ideological war on education is not beneficial. PiS faces a dilemma.

Professor of political science at the University of Wroclaw, Visiting researcher at the Université libre de Bruxelles, Member of the Polish State Committee for Science and Titles in Science

The draft law to amend the Polish Penal Code aimed to introduce a ban on the “demoralisation and sexuality of children”, and de factoa ban on reliable sexual education, are the cuckoo’s egg of the electoral campaign. Extremist ultra-Catholic circles pushed it to the conservative and national Law and Justice party (PiS) before the parliamentary elections won by the party in October 2019. The next campaign before the Polish presidential elections foreseen in May 2020 is already in full swing. The criminalization of sexual education is therefore far from likely to disappear from the political agenda. 

The proposal to tighten up the law is the result of a citizens’ initiative. This is why it may be taken up by the parliament newly elected in October. When it was proposed a few months ago, public opinion did not react immediately. The fate of earlier citizens’ initiatives, which often landed in parliamentary drawers for a long time, and the summertime period caused few to sound the alarm. However, ultra-Catholic circles used the election campaign period to put pressure on the ruling right-wing party seeking re-election in order to ensure a quick delivery of the introduction of prison sentence for sexual education. 

“The Law and Justice, which fought for record-breaking support in the autumn, faced a dilemma.”

It is common knowledge that during the electoral campaign politicians are more generous than usual, they promise a lot to everyone in the hope of maximizing their electoral support. Organised groups of citizens, lobbyists and trade unions are well aware of this, which is why they multiply their demands in the pre-election period. This draft law in question, however, was more than just a simple pre-election game between the rulers and the rulers. It had all the hallmarks of political blackmail.

The Law and Justice, which fought for record-breaking support in the autumn, faced a dilemma. On the one hand, such an identity project, which in practice forbids reliable sex education at school, is in line with the worldview promoted by the PiS. On the other hand, the party did not want to alienate those voters who consider the criminalisation of sexuality education absurd and dubious. Opinion polls show that the latter group represents the majority of the Poles although the distribution of opinions in the Law and Justice party’s electorate in this matter probably differs from the national average. It would seem that in its electoral interest the PiS should not succumb to ultra-Catholic pressure. This would hold true, if not for the fact that in the election campaign on the right, a small, but extremely radical and nationalist competitor of PiS grew up. Nationalists from the party Confederation approached the issue instrumentally, supported the project and forced the ruling Law and Justice party to act. In a Solomonic judgement, the PiS therefore postponed the beginning of work on the draft law until two days after the elections. Right-wing MPs submitted the draft bill to the parliamentary committee. To further appease the supporters of the criminalisation of sex education, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki declared on 19 November that his government would be intransigent in protecting children from demoralisation and paedophilia.

“the proposal to criminalize sexuality education is not only inconsistent with contemporary knowledge, common sense and the standards of a modern democratic state but is also inconsistent with existing Polish law”

However, politicians of the PiS are aware of the general disagreement regarding the sexuality education ban. What is more, it should be reminded that the state took on the obligation to provide sexuality education in 1993 when one of the most restrictive laws in Europe on the conditions for abortion was adopted (the Act on Family Planning, Protection of Human Foetus and Pregnancy Termination). This law introduced mandatory education of human sex life and the methods of conscious procreation into schools. This means that the proposal to criminalize sexuality education is not only inconsistent with contemporary knowledge, common sense and the standards of a modern democratic state but is also inconsistent with existing Polish law. In the presidential campaign that is just beginning, however, the Law and Justice party cannot afford to lose the support of minority but influential ultra-Catholic activists. They are not only loud, but also own much power such as Tadeusz Rydzyk, a redemptorist who also manages an influential media group in Poland (radio, television and newspaper). This milieu may not be satisfied with the fact that the draft law has been only submitted for further parliamentary work and in the following months they will demand concrete actions in the form of a new law. This, in turn, will arouse legitimate anger among the opponents of the criminalization of sexuality education. For any presidential candidate who wants to win elections in May 2020, starting an ideological war on education is not beneficial. Especially as over 80% of Poles want sexuality education to take place in schools, and more than 50% of votes are needed to win the presidency. Absurd equation of sexuality education with paedophilia and demoralisation of children may release strong electoral emotions to the detriment of the candidate of Law and Justice party, namely Andrzej Duda. This makes it all the more necessary to speak out about the political situation in Poland

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