Surrounded by fields of roses and lavender in tranquil eastern Poland, some residents of the village of Konskowola feel the European Union may be trying to blackmail them, according to Reuters.
Like about a hundred other municipalities across rural Poland, the local council has declared Konskowola to be free of “LGBT ideology”, reflecting a backlash against gay rights throughout the conservative, largely Catholic nation.
This has raised eyebrows in Brussels, with the European Commission signalling to regional authorities, including Konskowola, that it may curb EU aid to areas that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.
Some residents, such as Radoslaw Gabriel Barzenc, the Konskowola council head, are angry over what they see as unjustified interference by Europe’s liberal west in the town’s beliefs.
“The restrictions could be implemented because people have an opinion. Isn’t this discrimination? Is this what European tolerance is about? I don’t think so,” he told Reuters.
“I cannot imagine we would yield to blackmail.”
Gay rights have become a hot-button issue in Poland since the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power five years ago pledging to defend traditional family values.
In the run-up to last Sunday’s presidential election, the incumbent Andrzej Duda, allied with PiS, pledged to ensure gay couples would not be able to adopt children and to prevent education about gay rights in public schools.
He won a second five-year term with a margin of 51% against a liberal challenger, amid mounting polarisation in Poland over the role religious values should play in public life.
PiS and Duda have long disagreed with Europe over Warsaw’s adherence to democratic norms, and the issue was on the agenda at a European Union summit which started in Brussels on Friday.
Some want to freeze payouts for EU countries said to be undermining democratic values, such as Poland, although Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, a right-wing ally of Warsaw’s conservative government, has threatened a veto.
On the eve of the summit, Xavier Bettel, Luxembourg’s gay prime minister, expressed outrage.
“If we accept that you condemn a sexual minority, tomorrow it will be religion, the day after it will be race,” he told Reuters.
A Polish rights organisation has also petitioned the European anti-fraud office OLAF to investigate whether EU funds disbursed in Poland are being misused by “LGBT-free” communities. OLAF declined to comment.