Taking on PiS and Civic PlatformCan a young gay mayor change Poland?

By On September 21, 2018

Taking on PiS and Civic PlatformCan a young gay mayor change Poland?

Taking on PiS and Civic PlatformCan a young gay mayor change Poland?

Some hope Robert Biedron is the Polish Macron

print-edition iconPrint edition | Europe

| SLUPSK

SLUPSK, a town of some 100,000 inhabitants near Poland’s Baltic coast, is these days a favourite place to tie the knot. “It has become a Polish Las Vegas,” says Robert Biedron, the mayor, who has married some 140 couples. Yet Mr Biedron, who is openly gay (still a rarity in Polish politics), cannot marry his partner. Unusually for a Polish politician, he is also secular, as well as something of a green.

As the socially conservative Law and Justice (PiS) government continues to chip away at Poland’s institutions, most recently the supreme court, the 42-year-old mayor has emerged as the hope of the Polish liberal left. Yet emulating the success of Emmanuel Macron, who emerged from popular near-obscurity to become France’s president in 2017 at the head of a brand-new party, will be a tall order.

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Still, he has a chance. For all his appeal to Warsaw millennials, Mr Biedron knows small-town Poland well. Now a PiS heartland, the rural south-east where he grew up was not an easy place to be a gay teenage r in the 1990s. In his 20s he founded a pressure group, Campaign Against Homophobia. After a stint in parliament, he ran for mayor of Slupsk as an independent in 2014, winning 57% in the second round.

Mr Biedron has tested out his vision for a Poland in which no one is left behind. From the neo-Gothic town hall of Slupsk, he has slashed debt, increased transparency and banked on sustainable development. Guests are served water from the tap, rather than plastic bottles. Led by Mr Biedron, a dozen Polish mayors have formed a network of “progressive towns”, tackling problems from depopulation to air pollution. In Poland, this amounts to revolutionary stuff.

Although critical of PiS’s illiberalism, Mr Biedron has little sympathy for its arch-rival, the centrist Civic Platform (PO), which governed from 2007 to 2015. In power, PO neglected “everyday democracy”, based around local public services rather than distant institutions like the supreme court, he says. To inc rease popular participation in politics, he recently wrote a book on democracy for children.

As the European Commission considers cutting off money for countries where the rule of law is at risk, ie, Poland and Hungary, Mr Biedron is wary of penalising ordinary people for their government’s misdeeds. Instead, EU cash should go directly to local officials, NGOs and businesses, bypassing Warsaw, he suggests.

With Poland split between PiS’s supporters and critics, Mr Biedron is aware of his own power to divide or unite. At a recent talk in north-eastern Poland, he was greeted by a man wearing a T-shirt with a homophobic slogan (zakaz pedalowania, which translates loosely as “no faggotry”). Rather than call security, Mr Biedron invited him to pose for a photo with him (the man obliged).

Popularity, though, comes with high expectations. Already, polls put Mr Biedron among the top three contenders for the presidency in 2020, after Andrzej Duda, the PiS-a ligned incumbent, and Donald Tusk, who might return to Poland after the end of his term as president of the European Council. Mr Biedron declines to say whether he is planning to run, but this month said that he will not seek re-election in Slupsk and will instead establish his own “progressive” movement ahead of the European Parliament elections next spring. Those, he says, will be a “test” before the general election next autumn, after no left-wing parties made it into parliament in the previous one. He shrugs off criticism in PO circles that this will split the anti-PiS vote and dash any hope of ousting the current government. “They should be cheering us on,” he says.

Source: Google News Poland | Netizen 24 Poland

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