Poland: Government heads further to right in new lineup

Pro-LGBT demonstrators hold banner reading “We are humans”, in Warsaw, Poland August 16, 2020. Image: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

(Reuters) – Poland’s ruling nationalists appeared to have taken a turn further to the right on Wednesday, with the appointment of an ultra-conservative education chief in a new cabinet lineup, raising the prospect of new friction with the European Union.

Following weeks of internal rows over jobs and policies, such as women’s and LGBT rights, which threatened to break up the three-party Law and Justice (PiS) coalition, PiS chief, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 71, also joined the government as deputy premier.

PiS says a reshuffle was needed to streamline decision-making, at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has pushed economies around the world into recession.

But critics call it the byproduct of an internal squabble between the ultra-conservative Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, and the more pragmatic Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, both of whom are vying to succeed the ageing Kaczynski.

“I am covinced the government with the new people … will be even better equipped than before to deal with all challenges that await us, both in the internal arena as well as on the global and European arena,” Morawiecki told a news conference.

The education ministry, at the heart of PiS’ efforts to instill more conservative values in public life, will go to Przemyslaw Czarnek, 43, a lecturer at a Catholic university, who has said gay people are “not equal to normal people”.

Speaking on Tuesday, Czarnek said schools should protect children from a moral and sexual revolution driven by ‘LGBT ideology’.

“We will not allow for children to be exposed to an ideology …that’s contrary to values that have been the foundation of the Polish society for centuries,” Czarnek told public TVP broadcaster.

Morawiecki said an additional post without a portfolio would be allocated to the United Poland party, Ziobro’s small coalition grouping, but he did not name a minister to the role.

Media reports earlier said the minister without a portfolio to be responsible for citizens’ affairs and ‘European identity’ would be Michal Wos, 29, Poland’s current environment minister.

Sources have said Morawiecki prefers a more tempered approach to issues such as the rights of LGBT people, a view seen as reflecting a desire to patch up tense relations with Brussels.

A leftist opposition lawmaker, Barbara Nowacka, said however, that Czarnek’s appointment was tantamount [to] a “new culture war”.

“We expect changes in the core curriculum, changes in the autonomy of universities,” Nowacka told Reuters.

“He is a man who would really like that the Catholic region is dominant.”

Nowacka said the entry into government by Kaczynski, who is known to prefer to pull the levers of power backstage, suggests the government was on board with that.

It was not immediately clear whether the changes meant the government would move quickly to finish its contested court reforms, which the European Union says politicise courts and contradict democratic norms.

PiS has long said it would take further steps to overhaul the judiciary, which it says is too ineffective and [steeped] in communist-era mentality, soon after a July presidential election.

The party’s candidate, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, won a new five-year mandate in that vote.

-Alan Charlish and Joanna Plucinska, writing by Justyna Pawlak

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