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POLAND is haunted by CLERICAL FUNDAMENTALISM similarly like SLOVAKIA.

(Letter source: Polish Humanist Association web site http://free.ngo.pl/humanizm/theng.htm)

Warsaw, 15 March 2001

LETTER TO THE EUROPEAN UNION

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THE OUTLINE OF PROBLEMS REGARDING FREEDOM OF CONSCIENCE AND BELIEF, HUMAN RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS, THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE AND EQUALITY IN TODAYS POLAND

We represent this part of Polish society which particularly favours the integration of Poland with the European Union, since - in our perception - it will not only serve the economic interests of our country but will also help Poland to come up to the well-developed democracies in respect of widely understood political culture: respect for individual freedoms, equality of all citizens, tolerance of pluralistic views and ways of life and the separation of Church and State. To our knowledge, the countries which seek membership of the European Union are required to meet certain conditions defining the minimal standards of modern democracy. Such requirements accelerate the process of advancement of civilisation in the candidate countries. In our opinion, however, the said conditions are not sufficiently clearly presented to these countries. It also seems that the image of contemporary Poland as perceived in the West is at odds with reality. What seems to go unnoticed is the fact that since the early 1990s, Poland has been heading towards a religious state and, despite four years of Social Democratic rule when this process slowed down, is now close to this model of the state.

This situation cannot be explained by traditional Polish religiosity: the process we are referring to has been progressing against the will of a majority of our society. It is, however, supported by the new, so-called post-Solidarity political elite, which eagerly satisfies political ambitions of the Catholic Church in return for its full political backing. Such political agitation, which abuses the political naivety of uneducated people, commonly takes place during religious gatherings and in the increasingly growing number of the media controlled by the Church. In 1997, this led to the electoral victory of the ultra-conservative coalition called the Electoral Action "Solidarity". Soon after their coming to power the newly elected authorities rewarded the Church by adopting several laws to its advantage and assuring the clergy that the future governmental policies would satisfy their economic, ideological and political aspirations in Poland and abroad. One should remember, that according to the present Pope, Poland should become a source of inspiration for the so called "re-evangelisation of Europe", which would in reality lead to the Catholic Church regaining the status of the only repository of truth as regards worldview and social morality. Regardless of whether this vision with respect to Europe is realistic or not, Poland itself is being ardently adjusted to the requirements of such a scenario - its role in it subjugated to the interests of the Polish Catholic clergy and their political allies.

One of the important consequences of these aspirations is the large body of legislation which turns some aspects of the Catholic ideology into national laws and reinforces the position of the Church in social life. The first piece of such legislation legalised religious instruction in public schools (initially introduced against the law) and ensured that catechism teachers are paid by the state which, however, has no say whatsoever as regards the content of such instruction. Another example of such legislative acts is the law enforcing respect for "Christian values" in television and radio programmes, which resulted in a practical ban on anything that has not been accepted by the Church.

In 1996, at the demand of the Church, whose representatives took part in the work of the Constitutional Committee on equal terms with the members of parliament, the provision on the separation of Church and State was replaced with an enigmatic wording providing for their "mutual impartiality". Another constitutional provision obliged the government and the parliament to regulate the relations with the Church in an international law concluded with the Vatican, the so-called Concordat. The Concordat was finally ratified in 1998, in a manner and version which was the source of a heated controversy. This agreement sanctioned and extended privileges thus far obtained by the Church and in some cases provided for additional prerogatives. Numerous provisions of the Concordat violate constitutional guarantees of freedom and equality before the law. Moreover, since the agreement devolves certain powers to the Church it should, according to the Constitution, be adopted by a two-thirds majority of votes - it was, however, ratified by a simple majority of votes in both chambers of the Parliament.

Another example of the Church's unconstitutional role in Polish politics and public life is its influence on some verdicts of the Constitutional Tribunal, an institution established in order to independently decide about the conformity of laws with the Constitution. In 1997 we were provided with a striking evidence of such influence: the Tribunal - clearly without any legal grounds - decided that the relatively liberal law on abortion was not in conformity with the Constitution and with the principles of the state governed by the rule of law. This verdict was used by the conservative majority in the parliament to reintroduce the ban on abortion on social grounds.

The above examples of laws and policies adopted to satisfy the aspirations of the clergy show that the Church is treated by Polish authorities as a source of law and at the same time as an institution whose interests are above the law. There are numerous examples of the clergy violating laws with impunity: insults hurled on disobedient MPs, racist and anti-Semitic speeches, and infringements of financial regulations, even though public authorities diligently help to keep them from the knowledge of the general public. Institutions dealing with the administration of justice abstain from prosecuting in such cases and those few prosecutors who try to instigate legal proceedings against clergymen are being punished by their superiors.

State authorities also provide increasingly generous assistance to the ideological expansion of the Catholic Church. They support a large number of religious publishing houses, grant almost unlimited presence of the clergy in the public media, sponsor the Pope's travels, activities of the Papal Theological Academy and theological seminaries. Openly declaring the Catholic identity of Poland and authenticating these declarations by symbolic acts (such as hanging the cross in the parliamentary plenary sittings room or organising a pilgrimage of MPs to the religious centre of Poland in Częstochowa), they contribute to the growth of religious fanaticism in Poland. This phenomenon can be best illustrated by the support granted to Catholic television and radio stations, even if they advocate anti-Semitism, religious fundamentalism, intolerance and xenophobic nationalism.

Members of the state authorities in their public appearances promote the cult of the Pope and demonstrate obsequiousness to him. Celebrations of all historical anniversaries and other state ceremonies include spectacular religious rituals and Church hierarchs are consulted on all important social and political matters.

Educational policy of the government has also in great part been shaped by the Church. Following its recommendations, the minister of education decided to withdraw sexual education from schools. For the same reasons the Parliament rejected a proposal to remove the grades for religious instruction from school certificates (the presence of such grades violates a constitutional guarantee and contributes to discrimination of non-believers, thus exerting psychological pressure to participate in religious instruction). Similarly, the minister of defence has failed to respond to the complaints of soldiers who are forced to practise religion while serving their military duty.

Another important issue is the question of legal and illegal financial privileges of the Church and clergymen. Some of those privileges originate from the so called communist Poland whose authorities tried to buy the support of the Church; a great majority of them, however, have been introduced after the political transformation in Poland.

Despite being a relatively wealthy social group, Polish clergy are encumbered with minimal income taxes, while their real earnings remain unknown. The Church has been granted numerous tax allowances, reductions and exemptions from customs duties for imported goods without proper control of the way such goods are used (many of these goods, particularly cars, are being sold in the open market with huge profits). The most extreme and socially noxious privilege is the Church's right to participate in the so-called "regulatory proceedings" where its claims for the restitution of property rights are decided. Such claims are often made for real property lost long time ago (sometimes centuries ago) and of important public utilities (such as hospitals, schools, student houses etc.). Such property is often returned to the Church by arbitrary decisions, issued either by individual state officials or by the so-called "Property Committee", composed in one half of state officials and in the other half of the representatives of the Episcopate. The committee's decisions are final - they are not subject to appeal to any higher instance, nor are they subject to any form of social control. This way of proceeding is in contradiction to the basic principles of the democratic state and the rule of law. In no other post-communist country is the Church granted property in such a way and on such a grand scale. To our knowledge, for example, in the Czech Republic and in Hungary decisions with respect to each individual claim are made by the parliament.

The Concordat has sanctioned and broadened this practice - incompatible with the Constitution - by giving the Church the opportunity to co-decide about its financial relations with the state; all decisions concerning these relations are made by a joint commission appointed by the parties to this agreement, so no privileges of the Church can be revoked.

The inequitably strong position of the Catholic Church in Polish politics has had specific adverse consequences for members of sexual minorities. Recent opinion polls show that homosexuals are the least tolerated minority, also among young people. This unfortunate situation is being entrenched by prominent senior officials of the Catholic Church who have made numerous public statements in which they have voiced prejudiced and homophobic opinions by claiming that homosexuality is a moral deficiency and/or disease. The Church shows little interest in the existential conditions of members of sexual minorities, even if they profess belief in God. In 1992, the Episcopate ignored the request for the appointment of a chaplain made by a gay and lesbian ecumenical community. The anathematic social attitudes reinforced or even produced by the Church have their counterpart in the State’s legislation. Due in part to the Church’s influence, the newly adopted Polish constitution, which came into force in 1997, fails to proscribe against discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, even though a stipulation to this effect had been considered in an early draft. Furthermore, while the constitution explicitly defines marriage as the union of man and woman, Polish law fails to provide for any form of legalised partnership between persons of the same sex. The fact that a same-sex union may not be registered under Polish law makes it impossible for same-sex partners to fill joint income tax statements and to benefit from each other’s health insurance and pension schemes. It also makes inheriting property both problematic and subject to high-rate taxation. In practice, same-sex partners are also not allowed to adopt children. Efforts by the homosexual citizens of Poland to influence the course of politics and to win public support for their causes are met with obstacles. In 1998, the Lambda Group in Warsaw was refused permission to hold a gay pride parade; in apparent deference to “family values” as propagated by the Church, the officials responsible declared the city’s streets off-limits because of ”strolling mothers with children.”

Finally, we want to give a more detailed account of a joint Church/government policy toward women's rights, as - according to many - it is most strikingly incompatible with European standards, particularly as regards violence against women. The issue of women's rights will be dealt with by referring to the so-called government family programme, as women and their problems are seen by Polish authorities only in the family context, as wives, minders of the sick and first of all, as reproductive units deprived of individual freedoms and rights.

The above mentioned Government Pro-Family Policy Program has been based on the Pro-Family Policy Program, devised and developed by a group of ultra-catholic experts from The Electoral Action "Solidarity". Explicitly based on the Vatican Family Rights Charter, this document defines the family as a basic social unit and a natural relationship more fundamental than the state or community, with its own inalienable rights. According to the Program, no law may infringe on the inalienable rights of the family, the fundamental unit of Poland.

The real meaning of this vaguely phrased definition emerges when the goals of the program are analysed. Its authors proposed, among other policies, to introduce the institution of separation (the substitute of a divorce based on Canon Law), ban abortion, enforce Canon Law marriages, restrict minority churches, withdraw sexual education from schools, censor the media, as well as grant family benefits and tax deductions to families with children, particularly many children.

The ultra-Catholic model of the family promoted in the Program has no regard for individual rights or freedoms of family members, as it ignores their needs and interests. The family is understood as a monolithic collective whose abstract interests, defined in practice by the Catholic Church, are considered superior to individual interests, particularly those of women.

Public statements made by its main proponents have reinforced the document's language. The most controversial of them was the previous Minister for Family Affairs, Kazimierz Kapera, the former head of the Catholic Families Movement, who was once dismissed from a ministerial position because of his offensive public declarations about the homosexual minority. On numerous occasions, Kapera defined the institution of marriage as an unbreakable bond, which cannot be terminated in any circumstances. In a series of interviews, he expressed the opinion that abortion cannot be allowed, even in the case of a twelve-year old girl rape victim. The minister provoked public outcry over his critique of the campaign against domestic violence by saying that "the problem [of violence against women] has been exaggerated and that such campaigns should not be supported, as they might dissuade young women from marrying".

The Program's formal language and public declarations of ultra-conservative politicians became one of the most visible parts of the governmental policy, particularly with regard to the measures intended to curtail women's rights. The Prime Minister, Jerzy Buzek announced the importance of such pro-family policy in his expose in November 1997. Polish women didn't have to wait long for concrete steps to be taken to put the Program's provisions into practice.

First, in November 1997, the Government replaced the Office of the Governmental Plenipotentiary for Women and Family Affairs with the Office of Plenipotentiary for Family Affairs: the office's first move was to suspend the program, "Against Violence: Towards Equal Opportunities," which was previously jointly developed by the former Polish government and the United Nations Development Program

On 22 January 1998, the Plenipotentiary for Family presented the Guidelines for the Governmental Pro-Family Policy. The Guidelines, based principally on the above-outlined pro-family program, were soon followed by the decision to withdraw governmental subsidies on contraceptives, thus making them practically unaffordable for majority of women.

Next, on 21 July 1988, the Council of Ministers adopted a document entitled "Report on the Situation of Polish Families", which is seen by the authors of the pro-family policy as a major contribution to the shaping of governmental policy. The Report, presented as an objective diagnosis, is, in fact, a form of ideological propaganda meant to promote the traditional model of family as a reproductive unit to be maintained against all odds. The Report expresses concern over the growing number of divorces, particularly among 20 to 34 years old, as this age group has the highest reproductive potential. It also claims, by referring to unidentified studies, that some 45% to 70% of young criminal offenders are raised in single-parents families. They do not, however, attempt to explain the causes of the anti-social behaviour of the other 30% to 55% who come from two-parent families. Domestic violence, particularly violence against women and its destructive influence on the emotional development of children, is not considered as playing a role in this context. Violence against women is regarded in the report as an exaggerated problem which should not influence marital decisions of women.

Violence in the family is discussed in a sub-section on children and teenagers and pertains mainly to child beating. Incest or sexual abuse in the family is not discussed at all. In the authors' opinion, the only existing sexual abuse of children occurs in child prostitution, and the abusers are mainly the so-called sex tourists "particularly of German origin." Characteristically, in discussing child prostitution, the report only mentions girls, although it is a well-known fact that the problem concerns male teenagers as well. This one-sidedness further indicates the document is solely ideological propaganda that promotes a stereotyped model of society and the idealised, Catholic model of the family.

The same hidden agenda lurks behind critiques of the press and other media. The report complains that "the picture of reality presented in the media is not complete; it is too negative and may confuse the readers who may even be lead to undermining their system of values." According to the report, the women's press, in dealing with family issues, concentrates too much on pathological phenomena, such as domestic violence or child abuse.

Lastly, we want to comment briefly on the section on the Vatican Family Rights Charter which constitutes an integral part of the report. Although the authors admit that the Charter is not a binding international document, they argue that it may be considered a draft proposal. However, even a basic analysis of the report and the family Charter leads, unavoidably, to the conclusion that the Vatican Family Charter is, in fact, treated as a fundamental law and the real basis for Polish legislation and the governmental family program. Concurrently, the report neglects to mention the 1995 Platform for Action adopted at the UN Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, nor do they refer to the Polish government Program of Action on Behalf of Women 2000.

The next document, the "Pro-family Policy of the State," was adopted by the Council of Ministers on 3 November 1999 and the Prime Minister was authorized to present it in the course of parliamentary works. The new program does not differ considerably from earlier documents, except, perhaps, that it is more focused on demographic and health issues. Its authors are predominantly concerned about the falling number of marriages and births. Their goals are first of all to stop the decline in the number of contracted marriages for the age group 20 - 30, the change of reproductive attitudes in order to increase the number of children and the decrease in the number of divorces. These unfavorable changes are, according to the document, the result of the youth's growing educational and professional aspirations, as well as serious economic problems (e.g. only one third of young married couples live in a separate apartment). Thus, apart from standard conservative propaganda, the report proposes to introduce a number of financial and economic measures (tax deductions, affordable housing programs) in order to encourage young people to marry. The Program also suggests a number of measures aimed at improving the health of the family (it is always the health of the family, not its individual members), including introducing financial punitive measures against those who pursue unhealthy life-styles. The Program remains silent when it comes to domestic violence and it does not offer any remedies. Discussing this subject could distort idealistic vision of a family and create obstacles to the priority goal, i.e. to stop the decline in number of marriages contracted in the age group 20 - 30 and to increase the number of children.

The long-term goal of this policy is clear: it is an authoritarian model of society in general, and of the family in particular; the model, according to which, the family is an unbreakable bond, superior to the individual dignity and freedom of its members. Such model disregards individual suffering, humiliation, and violations of rights and interest of the family members; what counts is the preservation of each and every family at any price, in the name of the dogmatic beliefs of the fundamentalist minority, regardless of internationally recognised fundamental rights and freedoms. The authors of the program complain in its introduction that international documents lack direct legal protection of the family and that family itself is a notion not uniformly understood in the legislation of various European Union Member States.

Polish government is not trying to disguise its discriminatory attitude to women and its critical opinion about the EU policy promoting gender equality. Recently, at the 45th session of the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the representative of the Polish government refused to endorse the statement by Margareta Winberg, who spoke on behalf of the European Union and the associated States. She said that governments must ensure that women enjoyed all human rights and fundamental freedoms. “We have to remember that women are not born vulnerable, but are made vulnerable by persistent gender-based discrimination”, she stressed. The Union believed that further action to remove discriminatory practices through human rights education, for example, were needed to ensure that every woman and man could fully enjoy all human rights. Polish Minister for Family Affairs, Maria Smereczyńska, has found the language of this statement unacceptable. She argued that Poland should not support the statement, as it contains such terms as "sexual rights" and "sexual orientation" which have not been defined by the United Nations. The true reason, however, is different; the European policy promoting women's human rights and gender equality is abhorred and rejected by the Polish government on ideological and religious grounds.

It is not true (as some foreign commentators seem to believe) that Polish authorities eagerly meet the demands of the Church because Polish reforms and the process of integration with Europe can succeed only on condition that they are supported by the Church, or otherwise they wouldn't gain social support. Polish society approves of the reforms aimed at integration with Europe, but does not approve, as has been confirmed by the findings of sociological studies, of the Church's interference with politics (the majority of the respondents assessed the Church’s political ambitions as excessive) and of its exaggerated financial aspirations. The Church's support is required and bought at the cost of democracy and social interests in Poland exclusively to the advantage of those politicians and political groups who are afraid of losing social support as a result of their incompetence and disregard for basic needs and fundamental rights of the majority of the Polish people.

APPEAL TO THE GOVERNMENTS OF THE MEMBER STATES AND COMMUNITY LEVEL DECISION MAKING BODIES OF THE EUROPEAN UNION

Your Excellencies,

In the first part of our letter we have outlined the situation in Poland, particularly as regards the incompatibility of Polish laws, government policies and practises with the standards of democracy, respect for human rights and individual liberties as recognised in the European Union and other developed democracies.

Speaking on behalf of Polish non-religious minority and other groups discriminated against by laws and practises based on the state ideology and religion, we appeal to all European Union Member States and Community level decision makers, who are involved in the process of the European enlargement to address the issues we are concerned about in the negotiations with the representatives of Polish government and other Polish officials, with particular emphasis given to the issue of gender and worldview based discrimination so blatantly favoured by Polish officials on numerous occasions, domestically and internationally.

Based on our knowledge and experience from the sporadic contacts with Polish authorities, we are of the opinion that the situation in the foreseeable future can only be improved as a result of international pressure, particularly if exerted by EU leaders and negotiators. There is no doubt that Polish ultra-conservative politicians are ready to make substantial concessions on the rough road to full integration; after all, if Poland is to fulfil its mission to re-evangelise Europe, it must join its institutions to effectively influence European laws, programmes and policies.

Yours respectfully,

On behalf of the Polish Humanist Federation and Polish Humanist Association

 

Andrzej Dominiczak

Co-President

Polish Humanist Federation

President

Polish Humanist Association

Halina Postek

Vice-President

Polish Humanist Association

Barbara Stanosz

Secretary

Polish Humanist Federation

 


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