Poland is set to change course after a turbulent two years under a government whose old-fashioned Catholic values and strident approach to the European Union alienated many younger, urban voters.
Opponents of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski turned out in strength on Sunday, Oct. 21, swelling turnout to a postcommunist record 53.8 percent as they mobilized for a new vision of their country looking to the future instead of a painful past and seeing neighbors as a source of opportunity rather than a threat.
Donald Tusk’s pro-EU and market-friendly Civic Platform party swept to power in Sunday elections with overwhelming support from the young and from better-off western Poland, rejecting Kaczynski’s nationalist and conservative policies that often left their country at odds with the European Union.
“I’m really happy it seems that something can finally be different now,” said Maciek Morus, 32, a Warsaw musician who voted for Civic Platform not because he identified with that party but simply to oust Kaczynski.
“Law and Justice is dogmatic. It was too conservative with its right-wing Catholic views and no sense of humor.”
A leader of Poland’s small gay rights movement was cautiously hopeful.
“For sure it means a change and I hope a change for the better but I wouldn’t be that optimistic because Civic Platform party leaders are not that pleasant toward the gay and lesbian minorities,” said Robert Biedron, the head of the Warsaw-based Campaign Against Homophobia. “I hope they will at least pretend that they are tolerant.”
Biedron said his group lost government funding for anti-discrimination work and other programs and faced constant government investigations.
“The last government accused us of importing transsexuals from Germany and sending them to kindergartens, which is absurd,” Biedron said. “It created an atmosphere of hate. I’ve never seen any transsexuals, by the way, from Germany in Poland. I hope at least this madness will go away.”
In addition to dumping Kaczynski, voters also turned away from his sometime coalition partner, the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families, which vowed at one point to seek legislation to fire teachers who spread what they termed homosexual propaganda in schools and called gays “pedophiles.”
The League of Polish Families party failed to make the 5 percent hurdle to get into parliament.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition October 26, 2007.