LIANE HANSEN, Host:
Poland's new conservative government is looking to restore what ministers call traditional public values. They say it's part of a drive to strengthen ties with the Catholic church but the initiative has sparked criticism from some other members of the European union and raised questions about how Poland's conservative social policies will affect wider European discussions about values. NPR's Rachel Martin reports.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO MARIA)
RACHEL MARTIN: The soft sounds of Radio Maria filter into close to three million households in Poland. The religious radio network is credited with helping to bring the new Polish government into power in last year's election. It's also been criticized by the Vatican for mixing church and politics. Dr. Antoni Zieba helped organize an anti-abortion exhibit at the European Parliament and defended it on Radio Maria.
ANTONI ZIEBA: (Through Translator) The objections to the exhibition by some Left Wing Parliament members makes me very concerned and fearful that a culture of death is deeply engrained in them.
MARTIN: That exhibit illustrates a growing tension between Poland and many countries in the European Union, says Andrzej Manka. He's a member of the League of Polish Families, a political party which is part of Poland's new coalition government. Manka says EU member states differ on issues like abortion, homosexuality and what he calls traditional family structures.
ANDRZEJ MANKA: (Through Translator) Sooner or later one of the cultures will win out. Either we get influenced by Western European values or with time we'll go back to the roots of Europe that are illustrated clearly in Poland.
MARTIN: Last fall President Lech Kaczynski and his Law and Justice Party were elected on a promise to clean up corruption and restore morality to government. The new government eliminated the Women's Ministry and banned gay right's parades around the country. Robert Biedron is president of the country's largest gay rights group. He says some of the new government's rhetoric is out of step with the rest of the EU.
ROBERT BIEDRON: They declared themselves with words which are completely not accepted in European Union having discussion, like calling homosexuality abnormal, like asking isolation of homosexuals, like asking for curing homosexuals.
MARTIN: A growing number of Western European countries are adopting marriage or domestic partnership rights for gays and lesbians. Biedron says he's hoping Poland's membership in the EU will eventually influence Polish attitudes towards homosexuality. But others say Poland has the right and the responsibility to export its cultural and religious values to the rest of a generally secular Europe. Rafal Slofsky(ph) lives in Warsaw and works for a French export company. On a recent evening the proud father of four helped round up the kids for dinner.
Slofsky supports the new government and says the EU could benefit from a strong Polish voice on a whole range of issues.
RAFAL SLOFSKY: But I think it can do a lot of good for Europe, which right now European Union is stagnated both from an economic point of view and from the values. We don't talk enough about the values.
MARTIN: Poland tried to make its values a primary issue in 2003 when it lobbied for a preamble in the draft EU Constitution that would reference Europe's Christian heritage. The measure was never adopted but Slofsky says that's the kind of leadership he admires.
SLOFSKY: That's something I am proud of because first time we have somebody who adds something to European values. Not only to be reactive and take what is given.
KRZYSZTOF BOBINSKI: The government really has to also say look and say, well, what do we really want?
MARTIN: Krzysztof Bobinski is with the Polish Institute of International Affairs. He says there's no reason Poland shouldn't promote its own cultural and religious values within Europe as long as that agenda does not cause friction.
BOBINSKI: Do we want to have a crusade in Western Europe for Christian values or do we turn that down a bit and then try and make friends on the issues that we also care about? So that's a trade-off.
MARTIN: Poland's primary foreign policy objective is to get the EU to agree to economic policies that benefit Eastern European members. The government says it can pursue that agenda without compromising on Poland's drive for a dialogue on cultural values. Rachel Martin, NPR News.
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