Warsaw in the center of Europe’s ultra-conservative networks

Mahulena Kopecká
Illustration: Lenka Matoušková (investigace.cz)
Mahulena Kopecká
Illustration: Lenka Matoušková (investigace.cz)

International conservative organizations spend considerable money, time and energy in Europe, and for a reason. Sometimes their efforts to push their conservative agenda into the legislation of European states are successful, and Poland is a good example of their success. That was thanks to the effort of the Ordo Iuris movement, which is also one of the partners of the Czech organization Alliance for the Family.

The Polish Catholic think-tank Ordo Iuris (OI) was founded in 2012 at a conference where one of the patrons was an American organization called Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), which was also listed as a partner on the first website of this Polish group.

Ordo Iuris aims to defend “family and traditional values” through research, advocacy, and litigation. According to Balkan Insight, this organization has been trying to limit the rights of LGBTQ+ people and access to abortion for several years, all so as to ostensibly defend the “traditional, natural family.” OI also runs a private law school, Collegium Intermarium, where various personalities give lectures, including former Czech president Václav Klaus a few years ago.

The organization has long supported the agenda of the Polish party Law and Justice (PiS), which, until recently, was in power. OI said it was not affiliated with PiS, but adding that there were “many like-minded individuals” in the party. According to Balkan Insight journalist Claudia Ciobana, OI helped the Polish government create a narrative of “resistance to the West,” which Warsaw then used in its confrontation with the European Union. When a large number of Polish municipalities decided to declare themselves “LGBT ideology-free zones,” it was OI that helped create “pro-family” documents and materials for these declarations.

God, nation and family

Ordo Iuris cooperates with the Czech organization Alliance for the Family on several levels. Both organizations came together to form the Alliance for the Common Good (ACG) in 2021. ACG unites “pro-life” groups from Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary. 

ACG was founded three years ago in Poland with the aim of protecting “our inherent self-worth, granted to us by our Creator, and unalienable rights”. The mission is said to be to defend society and individuals from totalitarian ideologies. “Together, we strive to make Europe a space of freedom and security guided by our true European values: God, the Nation and the Family,” says ACG’s website.

Karolina Pawłowska (now Dobrowolska), at the time Director of the Centre of International Law at Ordo Iuris, speaking in the video of the Alliance of the Common Good. Source: Alliance of the Common Good Youtube.

Karolina Pawłowska (now Dobrowolska), at the time Director of the Centre of International Law at Ordo Iuris, speaking in the video of the Alliance of the Common Good. Source: Alliance of the Common Good Youtube.

The president of the Alliance for the Family, Jana Jochová, as well as its vice-president, Jan Gregor, were also members of the organizing committee for a virtual conference that was initiated by, among others, Ordo Iuris, which supports the so-called “Geneva Declaration on Consensus to Support Women’s Health and Strengthen the Family.” The “declaration” is in fact a statement questioning the right to abortion. The document was signed in October 2022 by a total of 34 countries, including Belarus and Poland. Magdalena Machulová from the Alliance for the Family also spoke at this conference.

OI representatives then came to Prague in November 2022, when the Alliance organized the Europe for Family conference.

The Alliance for the Family, along with another Czech organization, Traditional Family, signed a petition against the Istanbul Convention called “Stop Gender. Stand For Family,” which was initiated by the Polish Ordo Iuris. According to the petition, the Istanbul Convention is an “extremely ideological document“.

Lobbyists and the Polish government

Academics Agnieszka Graff and Elzbieta Korolczuk describe how conservative movements and right-wing parties are interlinked across Europe in their book, Anti-Gender Politics in the Populist Movement. Poland is one important example in their work. It is in Poland that, according to the authors, “anti-gender activism helped populists to power” when Law and Justice won the 2015 elections. After these elections, Graff and Korolczuk say, anti-gender actors „gained substantial access to money, political institutions and decision-making processes“.

Ordo Iuris is very involved in Polish politics. The think tank’s founder, Aleksander Stępkowski, works as a judge of the Polish Supreme Court. Moreover, Polish online news site OKO.press drew attention to the fact that the former deputy chairman of the Ordo Iuris, Tymotesz Zych, was on the board of directors of the National Freedom Institute, which is a state body that finances non-governmental organizations. When Ordo Iuris opened its university, Collegium Intermarium, in May 2021, then-Polish Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński and Minister of Education Przemysław Czarnek attended the event.

On the Polish Ministry of Justice’s website, there is a list of NGOs “supporting human rights.”

On that list, there is a link to the aforementioned ADF International. Former ADF lobbyist Alice Neffe previously worked in the office of the Polish Government Commissioner for Equality. Rozalia Kielmans-Ratyńska from Ordo Iuris had previously also held a similar position there. ADF and Ordo Iuris also played an important role in shaping the Law and Justice government’s decision to tighten access to abortion in Poland years ago.

In October 2020, the Polish Constitutional Court ruled that the existing law allowing termination of pregnancy for damaged fetuses was “incompatible” with the Polish constitution. The court’s decision overturned one of the few legal grounds for abortion in Poland. The decision sparked protests across the country. 

ADF, together with Ordo Iuris, had previously lobbied for changes to this law. In 2016, Ordo Iuris proposed a legislative measure for an almost complete ban on abortion. That proposal was rejected. In December 2019, however, 119 MPs sent another request to the Polish Constitutional Tribunal to tighten the law on abortion. This eventually led to the aforementioned decision of the Constitutional Court in October 2020. “Thanks to the discussion that started in 2016, we now have the decision of the Polish Constitutional Tribunal on eugenic abortions. I think it was very important to start this discussion then,” said Karolina Pawłowska, who was then the director of the International Law Center at the OI.

Post celebrating the tightening of the Polish abortion law. Source: Facebook page of Ordo Iuris

Post celebrating the tightening of the Polish abortion law. Source: Facebook page of Ordo Iuris

Ahead of the 2020 decision, the American ADF submitted an amicus brief to the Polish Constitutional Court. A similar document, signed by international partners, was also submitted by Ordo Iuris. According to journalists from VSquare, the documents were meant to show broad international support for tightening abortion laws in Poland.

Jerzy Kwaśniewski, who heads Ordo Iuris, described the moment the court decided to ban abortion as “a great day.” ADF said the Polish verdict was “cause for celebration.” According to Politico, the OI has been monitoring compliance with the ban ever since. For example, Karolina Pawłowska, who headed the International Law Center at the OI, said she fought so that Ukrainian refugee women in Poland had to prove that they had indeed been raped by Russian soldiers before they were granted permission to have an abortion.

Trump’s lawyer

In the Polish abortion ban case, Jay Sekulow, Trump’s lawyer and senior adviser from the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), also played an important role. ACLJ was created in the 1990s as part of an initiative by right-wing evangelical pastor Pat Robertson.

Meanwhile, AP revealed in 2020 that charities tied to Sekulow—including the ACLJ—had sent more than $65 million to Sekulow, his family, and the companies they own. Sekulow reportedly lives an opulent lifestyle, owning expensive real estate and limousines.

ACLJ mentions Polish partner on their X page. Source: X of ACLJ

ACLJ mentions Polish partner on their X page. Source: X of ACLJ

As previously reported by VSquare, the ACLJ has a branch in Moscow called the Slavic Center for Law and Justice (SLCJ), where Russian President Putin’s lawyer, Vladimir Ryachovsky, also works. The center received at least $3.3 million in 2020 from Jay Sekulow.

In Europe, the ACLJ is active through one of its branches, the European Center for Law and Justice (ECLJ). The ECLJ intervenes in court cases concerning same-sex unions or the right to abortion. According to Open Democracy, the ACLJ sent over $17 million to Europe. US nonprofits are not required to publish the sources of their funding.

A few days before the Polish decision on abortion, the ECLJ submitted a document to the Polish Constitutional Court with legal arguments in favor of banning abortion even in cases of fatal fetal anomalies. According to the Al Jazeera website, the document for the Polish court was partially copied from previous anti-abortion proposals that the ECLJ submitted to the UN Human Rights Working Group in 2017.

“Human Rights Law does not create any right to abortion… Abortion is not a right but a violation of, or a derogation to the right to life,” the document from the organization reads. The document was signed by ECLJ director Grégor Puppinck.

The ECLJ has also been cooperating with the Ordo Iuris since its founding. For example, one of the first entries on the old OI website was a translation of analysis prepared by the ECLJ. The aforementioned Grégor Puppinck works as a docent at OI’s Collegium Intermarium.

The American organization was likely active in the Czech Republic as well. The ACLJ once pointed out on its website that it opposed the legalization of same-sex unions in the Czech Republic. “In Aruba and the Czech Republic, Pat Robertson’s legal organization, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ), helped defeat bills that would have legalized same-sex unions,” their website says in an article with the eye-catching headline, “U.S. evangelicals aim to influence European law”.

Last but not least, the ECLJ managed to obtain consultative status in the Social and Economic Council (ECOSOC) at the United Nations where ADF and Ordo Iuris have consultative status, too. “Receiving consultative status by a relatively young organization and finding oneself among entities such as the ECLJ or the ADF, shows that Ordo Iuris has quickly joined the ranks of the world’s leading organizations that influence the work of the UN’s social affairs agenda,” Ordo Iuris lawyer Karina Bosak said in a 2017 interview for news website rp.pl.

Dutch MEP Sophie in ’t Veld told the online outlet Open Democracy that rather than “engaging in public debate,” these groups “function as a secret army” that uses the language of human rights to gain access to democratic institutions.

This article was originally published in Czech on investigace.cz

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Mahulena Kopecká

Mahulena Kopecká has worked for the Czech Center for Investigative Journalism since 2022. She writes articles on organized crime around the world and covers topics such as religious and ultraconservative movements. Previously, she wrote for a Czech website focused on foreign news Voxpot.cz and worked for the website of the the public radio broadcaster Czech Radio.