Russia’s intelligence community plays an important role in the international anti-LGBTI movement. Throughout the years, Polish think-tanks, linked to the current government, were prone to support and interact with Russia’s homophobic ideology. Russia outsourced their homophobia to Polish NGOs to recreate the narrative in Poland’s political debate.
Last week, political scientist Rémy Bonny revealed close connections between Hungarian government officials and Russian intelligence operatives over LGBTI-issues. This week, Bonny focusses on an even less obvious relationship: Polish-Russian connections over LGBTI-issues.
November 2018, in an interview in Gazeta Wyborcza about the 100th anniversary of the Polish independence, president Andrzej Duda says he is considering the introduction of an anti-gay propaganda law. In 2013, the Russian Duma (parliament) made this type of legislation infamous. In the years to follow, the law would outlaw the whole LGBTI-community in Russia. People have been tortured and murdered and persecutors are still walking free in the former USSR. ‘Disbelief’ was the word that came to mind to most of the LGBTI-community members in Poland. PiS (the ruling party) was never supportive to the LGBTI-community, but that a government of one of the biggest member states of the European Union publicly declared that they wanted to outlaw a specific group from society was something new.
The comments of President Duda turned out to be the predecessor of an election campaign fuelled by hatred towards the LGBTI-community in 2019. Multiple high-ranking politicians, in particular party leader Jarosław Kaczyński, declared war at the LGBTI-movement.
This election war was backed by the broad religious conservative NGO scenery in Poland. The two main organisations behind this were Ordo Iuris and the Piotr Skargi Institute.
The two organisations have close connections to high-ranking Russian officials and oligarchs.
Ordo Iuris was founded in 2013 by two leaders of the Piotr Skargi Institute. The organisation became world-famous after its involvement in the plans to ban abortion in Poland in 2016.
Through the international anti-LGBTI network, and in particular through the World Congress of Families, the Kremlin established structural contacts with both organisations. Ordo Iuris even serves as one of the ‘patrons’ of the World Congress of Families (WCF). As the Polish academic Jacek Kucharczyk notes in a report for the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), the World Congress of Families is “one of the key instruments of Kremlin efforts to promote conservative ideas globally”.
The president of Ordo Iuris Jerzy Kwasniewski is in direct contact through Facebook with Igor Beloborodov. As the research published on this website revealed last week, Beloborodov serves as one of the main liaisons for the Russians their plan to change the narrative on LGBTI-rights in Central Europe. He is the Head of the Demographic Unit of the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies (RISS). RISS received a notorious status after being accused of drawing the plans for the 2016 presidential election interference of the Russians in the United States of America. The organisation was founded by all-time Putin friend and former KGB and FSB spy Leonid Reshetnikov.
A simple search on the content of the website of Ordo Iuris digs up several blog posts that are obviously solely posted to serve the Kremlin’s interest. The most recent one is about a Russian family that fled from Sweden to Poland after the Swedish authorities wanted to place their children in a (Muslim) foster family. Another example dates back to November 2016. Then, Ordo Iuris condemned the acceptance of a case by the European Court of Human Rights to investigate the Russian anti-gay propaganda law. Both have little to nothing to do with domestic Polish affairs, but still Ordo Iuris finds it necessary to stand up for Russia.
Together with the Piotr Skargi Institute, Ordo Iuris is one of the five Polish organisations that signed a 2013 worldwide statement to support the Russian anti-gay propaganda law.
Piotr Skargi Institute
In contrast to Ordo Iuris, the Piotr Skargi Institute already exists a lot longer. It is founded on the ideas of a Polish Jesuit leader who fought against the Reformation within the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
As mentioned above, they also signed the plead in support of the Russian Federation to introduce an anti-gay propaganda law. On their website, at least 13 blog posts solely dealt with supporting Russian conservative family policies. One of these blog posts also mentions quotes of the RISS-operative Igor Beloborodov.
Beloborodov on the website of the Piotr Skargi Institute: “The last demographic research records the same processes that took place in the Roman Empire during its fall, in the period preceding the invasion of the Barbarians. Like us Today, the Romans focussed on personal well-being, engaged in various pastimes, promoted homosexuality, and considered it unnecessary to give birth and raise children.” (05/04/2011; translated from Polish)
According to the Estonian newspaper Eesti Päevaleht, the president of the organisation Sławomir Olejniczak is “affiliated with an organisation funded by […] Vladimir Yakunin.”(translated from Estonian). Yakunin is the former CEO of Russian Railways, currently chairing a think-tank in Berlin and, of course, an all-time friend of Vladimir Putin. His wife, Natalia Yakunina, is also very active within the World Congress of Families.
Just as Ordo Iuris, the Piotr Skargi Institute is very active within the World Congress of Families. Documents of the World Congress of Families list the organisation as a sponsor to their 2007 conference in Warsaw and as partner to a WCF conference in Sydney in 2013. In a newsletter in 2014, the Piotr Skargi Institute was listed as one of the partners as well.
Links with PiS
During the debate on the prohibition of abortion in 2016, ruling party leader Jarosław Kaczyński publicly declared during interviews that the initiative came from Ordo Iuris. But their services as the intellectual input for PiS already dates back to the founding year of the organisation.
In 2013, Ordo Iuris received a letter by Barbaba Bartuś stating her gratitude for “informing her of the attempt to advance the LGBTI agenda during the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly session and providing her with a copy of the analysis demonstrating the way in which the Yogyakarta Principles are contrary to the Polish Constitution” (Ordo Iuris, 2013). Bartuś serves as the Head of Delegation of Poland to the Parliamentary Asssembly of the OSCE and is member of PiS.
The recent parliamentary initiative to ban any form of sex(uality) education in Polish schools and punish teachers not complying with the new rule with up to 5 years in jail seems to be coming from the Piotr Skargi Institute. The moment the news broke out about the initiative, the organisation immediately launched a well-organised petition in support of the bill.
Anti-Russian Sentiment in Polish Politics
After communism fell, anti-Russian sentiment started to flourish in Polish politics. A 2018 survey of the Pew Research Centre revealed that 89% of Poles have no confidence that Vladimir Putin will do the right thing for world affairs.
The most remarkable feature of that Polish anti-Russian sentiment is obviously PiS-leader Jarosław Kaczyński’s accusations of the Kremlin being behind the death of his brother Polish president Lech Kaczyński in the Smolensk airplane crash.
But as Saint-Petersburg State University Professor Igor Gretsky notes, this sentiment goes beyond these emotional debates: “The Polish has consistently conditioned the improvement of relations with Moscow on the condemnation of Soviet crimes committed against the Poles.” (ridl.io, 2018) Something that Russia, for obvious reasons, will never do.
The recent events, combined with the historical relations, made it impossible for Warsaw to openly support Russian policies in recent decades. That’s why the Russian intelligence needed to find another way to, indirectly, influence Warsaw’s politics.
In contrast, but to some extent also similar to what the Russian Institute of Strategic Studies did in Hungary, they did not directly reach out to policy-makers. They outsourced their own autocratic soft power ability to both international and domestic anti-LGBTI organisations. Both Ordo Iuris and the Piotr Skargi Institute serve as intermediaries to bring the Kremlin’s narrative on LGBTI-rights in Polish politics. At the same time, PiS policy-makers have been active within the networks of the World Congress of Families. Former President Lech Kaczyński was a keynote speaker in 2007 at the World Congress of Families in Warsaw. The former Minister for Labour and Social Policy Elżbieta Rafalska, also a PiS-member, participated in a WCF-related event in Budapest in 2017.
Of course, there still needs to be a domestic ideological base before another country can influence another on LGBTI-issues. Nevertheless, it is crystal clear that Russia has been pushing their homophobic narrative through NGOs close to the government in recent years. It will be the task of the LGBTI-activists and remaining liberals in Poland to prevent further development of this narrative, a narrative that not only endangers LGBTI-rights, but the whole national security of Poland.