What do you think about when you hear the word “rabbit”? Whereas most of us probably recall childhood memories reading Beatrix Potter, Poland has other ideas. They think about how they have one of the lowest fertility rates in the world, they worry about their standing in the world – and they’re now using that age-old phrase, “breed like rabbits,” to urge the Polish population to hop to it (sorry) and get procreating.
The Health Ministry of Poland’s baffling video may evoke childhood memories - of idyllic green pastures and fluffy rabbits in blue jackets - but behind the rose-tinted facade lies a serious nationalist agenda; one that aims to boost Poland’s birth rate by infantalising their (largely Catholic) citizens into multiplying without questioning why.
The video, available to view via YouTube, needs to be seen to be believed: a white rabbit lazes on the grass wearing a retro pair of red sunglasses. Another pokes it’s mottled-head out of a picnic basket as the camera pans to a blonde-haired heterosexual couple holding hands in the dappled sunlight. The accompanying message? “If you ever want to be a parent, follow the example of rabbits.”
This video – and Poland’s rollback of reproductive rights – are inextricably linked, feeding into the Polish government’s fears over their dwindling population numbers
This latest video is just another strategic chess move under the governance of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party; a right-wing populist party that, over a number of years, has cracked down on women’s reproductive rights at an alarming rate. Back in June, the Polish government was widely condemned for reducing women’s access to the morning after pill. And in October last year, I reported from a Polish protest in Westminster for The Pool. Women gathered on the Parliamentary green against the threat of a near-total ban on abortion in Poland: it’s a threat that still lingers a year later.
This video – and Poland’s rollback of reproductive rights – are inextricably linked, feeding into the Polish government’s fears over their dwindling population numbers. In 2015, the Financial Times reported that Poland’s shrinking population was hearlding a labour shortage. According to official European figures, the country’s birth rate was 1.32 children per woman in 2015. To put this in context, the UK’s was 1.81 in the same year; and only Portugal has a lower rate within the EU.
In a statement made to the Associated Press, The Health Ministry said that it was trying to encourage Poles in their reproductive years – between the ages of 18 and 45 – to adopt healthier lifestyles that would boost their reproductive health. They said their attempt “did not offend anyone and was not vulgar.”
Vulgar? Perhaps not. Alarming? Only time will tell.