Polish maverick MP to push for secularism, end Catholic Church privileges

By Reuters Staff
October 11, 2011

(Janusz Palikot from Palikot's Movement Party looks on during news conference in Warsaw October 10, 2011/Kacper Pempel)

An ultra-liberal party that surged from nowhere to third place in Poland’s election plans to shake up the political system with demands for the repeal of restrictions on individual freedoms and an end to the Catholic Church’s privileges. Janusz Palikot, a wealthy former vodka tycoon, has stormed into parliament with 10 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election at the head of a motley crew of political novices that includes Poland’s first transsexual lawmaker, Anna Grodzka.

A tired but jubilant Palikot, a former member of Prime Minister Donald Tusk’s ruling center-right Civic Platform that has won re-election, said on Monday Poland was ripe for change. “We’re fighting a culture of delegalisation. In Poland, you go to jail for insulting the President, for a word, for insulting religious feelings, insulting an official,” the 46-year-old divorcee and father of four told reporters.

“You go to jail for drinking beer and then walking with your bike. You go to jail for smoking a joint. For abortion. This is a nihilist policy which hurts people.”

Palikot’s Movement, as the party is known, has tapped into a rich vein of disaffection, especially among young people, by supporting gay rights, abortion, public funding for in vitro fertilization, legalisation of soft drugs and an end to the Catholic Church’s privileges.

The church is revered by many Poles for its role in helping to end decades of communist rule and it has carved out a powerful role in democratic Poland. But Palikot wants to end tax exemptions for priests and public funding for religion classes in state schools.

Read the full story by Chris Borowski here.

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