US President Donald Trump is facing criticism for hosting Poland’s president at the White House days before his visitor faces a tougher than expected fight for re-election.
Trump and Polish President Andrzej Duda are scheduled to meet on Wednesday. Duda is competing for a second five-year term in Poland’s presidential election this weekend.
Duda recently attracted international attention for promising to protect Polish families from what he called an “LGBT ideology” more dangerous than communism. Critics said by welcoming him Trump is giving support to those looking to discriminate against LGBTQ people and other minorities.
The meeting is scheduled to take place four days before the first round of Poland’s presidential election. The visit, announced last week after Trump said he planned to remove thousands of US troops from Germany, is expected to include discussions on defence and economic issues.
It is believed that some of the US troops could be transferred to Poland, a NATO member on the alliance’s eastern flank. Poland is one of Europe’s most enthusiastically pro-American countries and the visit could give Duda a boost as he seeks leading up to the election.
Public television in Poland, which is controlled by the governing Law and Justice party that backs Duda, has pushed a similar message about the LGBTQ rights movement, which many conservatives in mostly Catholic Poland see as a foreign import and a threat to their culture.
The populist Law and Justice party embraced the same messages critical of the LGBTQ rights movement before the parliamentary election it won last year. Several municipalities in Poland have declared themselves “LGBT free”.
Public television has also been using anti-Semitic tropes in a series of reports meant to undermine Duda’s main presidential rival, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski.
“We are concerned that the White House visit is sending a signal of political support for a candidate whose campaign has engaged in homophobic and antisemitic rhetoric,” said Zselyke Csaky, research director for Europe and Eurasia at Freedom House. a US-based organization. “The scapegoating of minority groups is a dangerous strategy and should be condemned, not supported by the president of the United States.”
The Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ rights advocacy group in Washington, DC, also criticised Duda’s visit to the White House so close to Sunday’s election.
It said Duda’s use of anti-LGBTQ rhetoric is “vile, manipulative and dangerous”, and that Trump was showing he is “no friend” to the gay rights community.
US Congressman Eliot Engel, a Democrat who is the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called Trump’s invitation to Duda an example of Trump’s “infatuation with leaders who have demonstrated autocratic tendencies”.
“President Duda and his party promote horrifying homophobic and anti-LGBTQ stereotypes and policies that run counter to the human rights and values that America should strive to uphold,” Eliot said in a statement last week.
Duda is the frontrunner in a field of 11 candidates, but his support has been falling lately as the coronavirus pandemic hit Poland’s economy.
Polls suggest he will win about 40 percent of the votes, below a 50 percent threshold for outright victory. That would trigger a runoff on July 12, which is likely to pit him against Trzaskowski, who has been gaining popularity. Polls show them tied for support in a second round.
One of Duda’s challengers in the presidential race, nonaligned Szymon Holownia, said Duda must see his visit to Washington as a potential “game-changer” in the race if he is suspending campaigning to go there during the crucial week before the election.
He said he saw it as nothing more than a “propaganda event”.
Before taking off for Washington, DC, from Krakow on Tuesday, Duda said his fifth meeting with Trump would focus on “fundamental” issues such as Poland’s military and energy security, telecommunications and cybersecurity and economic cooperation.
Duda pointed to Microsoft’s announcement last month of a planned $1bn investment for a data processing centre in Poland as an example of growing cooperation in the IT sector.