World in View: Can Poland overcome its reactionary history?

January 7, 2024

by Eugene Walker

After eight years of ultra-nationalist, reactionary rule, Poland’s Law and Justice Party (Polish: Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) was defeated in parliamentary elections. More than 74% of the electorate voted, a new record. Will a more liberal, representative government be able to reverse the near dictatorial rule of the extreme right? Two areas of Poland’s recent practice will be key: women’s rights, particularly the right to abortion, and LGBTQ+ rights.


Andrzej Duda (PiS), Poland president until 2025. Photo: Piotr Drabik, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

PiS carried on a witch hunt against women and doctors in relation to abortion. The ultra-strict abortion law, the worst in the European Union, does not criminalize abortion per se, but goes after anyone who provides or assists in obtaining one. Family members, friends, doctors can all be charged. A number of women have died when doctors decided they could not terminate dangerous pregnancies because of restrictions in the law. Women have been subject to invasive searches when suspected of having an abortion. The new government under Premier Donald Tusk promises to introduce a law granting the right to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. But passage is by no means assured.

Under PiS, hate speech against LGBTQ+ people was allowed and fighting against so-called “LGBTQ+ ideology” was encouraged. This included municipalities setting up “LGBTQ-free zones.” The new government has pledged to introduce legislation to allow for same-sex civil unions. There are other areas where PiS continues its reign—judicial appointments, and control of the main state television news channel. As well, the president of the country until 2025, Andrzej Duda, is still aligned with PiS.

While the defeat of PiS is to be welcomed, Poland’s future direction is by no means assured. We are far from the kind of radical transformation that the Solidarność (Solidarity) movement initially represented in challenging Poland’s state-capitalist rule in the 1980s.

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