The Polish government won a narrow electoral victory this month and is considering withdrawing a treaty aimed at curbing domestic violence and protecting women’s rights, ignorant of criticism from EU leaders, the country’s justice minister Filed paperwork to begin Monday. process.
The move comes exactly one week after EU leaders succumbed to pressure from Poland and Hungary, seeking funding in the block’s long-term budget on issues related to the rule of law. In later days, both Warsaw and Budapest have pushed ahead with an agenda that critics say compromises judicial independence, media freedom, and gay rights.
Poland’s plan to pull out of the domestic abuse treaty may however face stiff resistance. The mere suggestion that the government wanted to withdraw prompted thousands of protesters to take to the streets over the weekend and lead the Council of Europe, a human rights organization with 47 member states, to raise alarm over the possibility.
The treaty, known as the Istanbul Convention, aims to combat violence against women in Europe. Considered for more than a decade, the treaty has been caught in a maelstrom of dissolution and populist rhetoric, considered a threat to national sovereignty and twisted by conspiracy theories and smear campaigns.
The convention is targeted by far-flung and nationalist leaders in East and Central Europe and has become a totem in the fight that they portray as a very liberal influence of Western culture. Although the treaty does not address gay rights issues, opponents have claimed that the treaty promotes “LGBT ideology” and is a threat to Christian morality.
Opposition to the treaty has stalled in several European countries, including Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Latvia and Slovakia. Russia, also a member of the Council of Europe, has not signed it.
When the previous Polish government ratified the treaty in 2012, Zbigniew Ziobro, then a member of the opposition and now Polish justice minister, called it “an invention, a feminist construct aimed at justifying homosexual ideology.”
Although the government has insisted that no final decision has been made yet, a lawmaker from United Poland, Mr. Zeebro, a more conservative member of the governing coalition, held a news conference on Monday in which he said The process of withdrawal has started.
Mr Ziobro also said that he believed that Poland “had a higher level of protection than women at the conference,” and added that the treaty had “a second part, which concerns ideology and women and Harms the interests of the family. “
The leaders of 27 EU member states agreed to take hundreds of billions of euros in common debt, a week after Mr Geobro’s mounting attacks on the treaty. To convince Poland and Hungary to back the deal, European leaders watered down the language making the funding conditional on the rule-of-law benchmark.
Returning from Brussels, where the budget was negotiated, Poland’s Prime Minister Matusz Morawiecki said his country had not achieved a breakthrough. “We’re coming back as great winners,” he said.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban strikes a similar winning note. His government is controlling the news media of the country in such a way that critics misinterpret the freedom of the press.
Hungary signed the Istanbul Convention in 2014 but never ratified the treaty. The most recent attempt to obtain legislative approval came at the height of the coronavirus epidemic in May and failed.
David Vig, director of Amnesty International in Hungary, said the decision was “extremely dangerous at a time when domestic violence incidents in Hungary have doubled since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown.”
The attack on the treaty in Poland has been turned into a widespread culture war – a fight over values that was one of the closest presidential contenders, since the first election was partially held in 1989 in the former communist country.
Strong statements against gays and lesbians were at the heart of President Andries Duda’s re-election campaign. He said that “LGBT ideology” was more dangerous than Communist doctrine.
Mr. Duda won extensively for support from influential members of the Catholic clergy. But the government has stepped forward in its efforts to define it as “traditional values”, rather than trying to fix the crack of the bitter campaign.
On Friday, thousands of women, some dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Outside the headquarters of an Orthodox Catholic group, there were demonstrations outside Orado Iuris in Warsaw.
The protesters captured the habits of Polish women killed by their partners and husbands.
Marta Lempert, one of the leaders of the Polish women’s strike, said, “This government has been showing laughter in the face of victims of gender violence for years, which has already led to a nationwide government effort to harass Europe’s most people.” There was a protest. ” Restrictive Abortion Laws.
Europe Council Secretary-General Marija Pijinkovic Burek said in a statement on Sunday that Poland’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention would be “highly regrettable and a major step in protecting women against violence in Europe.”
While it does not take legal force in any country, the signing of the treaty is expected to bring laws that criminalize psychological and physical violence against women, including sexual violence, rape, robbery, forced marriage and forced abortions Are included. The documents confirming states are also committed to prevent and prosecute crimes against women; To launch educational campaigns about the subject; And follow a monitoring process, assessing the implementation of the conference.
In Slovakia, which has signed but not ratified it, the treaty has been targeted by several groups on the right, including the neo-fascist Kotlebists – People’s Party Our Slovakia. During the proposal for national elections this year, hundreds of people gathered in the capital Bratislava to pray against the “evil” from the capital Istanbul.
In Bulgaria, the treaty has faced uphill conflicts from across the political spectrum, with critics claiming that it would force the country to legalize same-sex marriages and what they refer to as the “third gender”.
The Bulgarian Constitutional Court found in 2018 that the convention defined the term “gender” as inconsistent with Bulgarian law. The judges argued that by defining gender as a social construct, the treaty blurred the lines between the sexes.
The court found that if society loses the ability to differentiate between a woman and a man, then the formal formal cessation of violence against women will occur.
Advocates have condemned political efforts to sabotage the treaty.
“Simply, the Istanbul Convention aims to prevent and combat violence against women,” said Radoslav Stoyanov, an expert on the legal program of the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights organization based in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. “However,” he said, “the public debate somehow missed the original intent of the treaty.”
In Poland, the withdrawal from the treaty will probably have little practical effect because the government has not used it to pursue more laws protecting women. Last year, lawmakers proposed defining domestic violence when spouses were beaten more than once, although that plan was abandoned after an uphill struggle.
According to the Women’s Rights Center in Warsaw, an organization working to prevent attacks against women, domestic violence in Poland is widespread and low. The Center estimates that about 800,000 women are killed every year in Poland, with 400 to 500 deaths each year associated with domestic violence, beatings and suicides, which are likely to make sense. .
“The ruling party politicians know that violence against women is an everyday reality in Poland,” said Natalia Broniarskieck, an activist at the group Abortion Without Borders, adding “what is the most brutal time they are coming back.” The issue during an epidemic, when the situation of victims of violence has worsened, as they were locked up with their kidnappers. “
The reporting was contributed by Monica Pronczuk from Brussels; Anatole Magdijarz from Warsaw; Kit Gillette from Bucharest, Romania; Boriana Dzambazova from Sofia, Bulgaria; And Miroslava German Sirotnikova from Bratislava, Slovakia.