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-They introduced themselves as a European associationn defending fundamental Polish values- recalls Frédéric Vermylen, the manager of Topos, a coworking space in Brussels. - They said they wanted to lobby the EU institutions. At first, they were just looking for an address and a phone number. Later, they also rented an office and a conference room. As with any new client, we checked their website and found nothing particularly suspicious, so we’ve signed the contract- he says.
At the beginning of April, Mr Vermylen was contacted by members of Solidarity Action Brussels. The organization - founded only a few months ago by four young people from Brussels- aims to defend and promote European values such as human dignity, freedom, democracy, and equality.
- They found out that Ordo Iuris was renting an office from us. They made us aware of who these people are and what they actually stand for– says Mr Vermylen. - I started to dig deeper and saw it myself. I sent them a termination letter. They called me several times and even sent a threatening e-mail. To retaliate against me, they asked their followers to post negative reviews about my company online. Our rating dropped from 4.5 to 2 stars. But I'm fighting to get it rescinded. I warned my colleagues in the industry not to work with this organization- he says.
Since then, Ordo Iuris has been out of Brussels. At least officially.
Ordo Iuris on the radar of the Belgian cult-watching office
"The Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture is an independent legal organization incorporated as a foundation in Poland. It gathers academics and legal practitioners with the aim of promoting a legal culture based on respect for human dignity and rights. Ordo Iuris pursues its objectives by means of research and other academic activities, as well as advocacy and litigation” – we read on the organization’s website.
Kerstine Vanderput, director of CIAOSN, a Belgian institution monitoring harmful sectarian organizations, confirms that she has received letters from citizens concerned about the activities of Ordo Iuris.
- The Polish organization is an offshoot of the international Tradition, Family and Property (TFP) network established in Brazil in 1960 by Plinio Correa De Oliveira- Ms Vanderput explains. - It is an ultraconservative Catholic movement suspected of spreading extreme right-wing ideology. It organizes summer schools in Poland attended, among others, by Dries Van Langehove of the far-right Flemish party Vlaams Belang.
CIAOSN reports that "in 2016, Ordo Iuris came up with a bill that would ban abortion altogether, demanding that Polish women who decide to undergo a pregnancy termination procedure be punished with imprisonment. (...) The Family Rights Charter drafted by Ordo Iuris contains provisions that may directly or indirectly harm or even exclude LGBT people and their families, single-parent families and victims of domestic violence".
Finally, CIAOSN also notes that during the coronavirus pandemic "Ordo Iuris has advocated for a free antibody screening program so that people who have already acquired immunity are not unnecessarily vaccinated. The organization also opposes the use of stem cells from fertilized eggs or early-stage aborted fetuses for the production of vaccines, as this would legitimize abortion".
An unsuccessful run for the European Court of Human Rights
Neil Datta, Secretary General of the European Parliamentary Forum for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, has been dealing with the topic of abortion in European institutions for a decade.
- In some countries, abortion has become a topic of political dispute- he says. - Over the past ten years, resistance to women's rights has only been growing. This is also due to the activity of Ordo Iuris, as this organization is part of a network of some 50 organizations associated with TFP – adds Mr Datta.
Why does Ordo Iuris need an address in Belgium? - Without an office in Brussels, Ordo Iuris will not be able to lobby the European Union- thinks Neil Datta. - Two people are enough to influence the debates, to promote their ideology in the Parliament and the European Commission. The organization already has its representative in the European Economic and Social Committee. I already had a chance to listen to one of the Ordo Iuris activists in a discussion about children. He said that the purpose of daycare centers is to separate children from their families. In a very polite way, he made it clear that a woman's place is at home.
Ordo Iuris means "legal order" in Latin. And it is precisely by way of policies that the organization intends to spread its message.
- Recently, one of its founders, Aleksander Stępkowski, ran for office as a judge at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg – says Bartosz Koska, a member of Solidarity Action Brussels. On April 9, the commission responsible for selecting the judges rejected his candidacy and asked Poland to send an updated list of candidates. Ordo Iuris openly admits that its goal is to create a pan-European network to tilt EU legislation towards its ultra-conservative values.
- The pandemic-induced crisis gives such rhetoric a fertile ground - says Neil Datta.
- People feel that their freedoms are being taken away and want to hear a different discourse, that’s understandable. Those who care about defending freedom and human rights must therefore be vigilant. In Poland, Ordo Iuris is fighting to withdraw the country from the anti-violence convention and wants to encourage other countries to follow suit- says Bartosz Koska.
In his view, even though the organization is not yet officially active in Belgium, it might seek to use the young far-right activists who attend the TFP summer camps to expand its influence.
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