Protests in Poland: what’s happening and why you should care

Posted On November 10, 2020

Listen, I get it. Why would you care? But bear with me for just a bit. 

Do you feel frustrated with the current state of your country? All that apathy that comes alongside it?

We, the Polish youth, did as well until the 22nd of October when the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortions for foetal abnormalities violate the country’s Constitution, effectively, imposing a near-total ban in Poland. Before this decision, which cannot now be appealed (!!!), Poland permitted terminations only for:
– foetal abnormalities,
– a threat to a woman’s health,
– or in the case of incest or rape.

Let it not be forgotten that trans and non-binary people can also become pregnant. Additionally, an important factor is that this decision forces women to give birth and go through a huge trauma – psychologically and physically

This decision sparked protests on a scale that hasn’t been seen since the 80s, when Polish citizens were fighting to overthrow communism under a famous union Solidarność, to which at one point 10 million Poles stood for. This was successful and they amanged to gain democracy in 1989. 

Why such a fiery response in a conservative, Catholic country and why should you care?

Patrycja Lisiecka

1. Origins

It is important to note that the court that made the decision is highly politicised and de facto in control of the governing party, violating the tripartite division of power guaranteed by the Polish constitution. Therefore, ironically, it is currently unconstitutional and dependent on the government. To be very specific:
Jarosław Kaczyński, chair of PiS (the governing party), is the person de facto holding power
Julia Przyłębska, Head of the Constitutional Court, put in the position by PiS
Andrzej Duda – useless President who did nothing to stop this from happening. He is known to be a puppet of Jarosław Kaczyński.

75% of Polish citizens do not support this change in the law and in fact have already protested against it. Back in 2016, when the government started to discuss completely outlawing abortion, women went on strike and marched in cities across the country in protest of the legislation, also known as the ‘Black Protest’ (‘Czarny Protest’). This led to politicians distancing themselves from the changes and just three days after the strike, a majority of legislators voted against the legislation. 

Despite this, conservative MPs recently decided to legally challenge the right to abort an irreparably damaged fetus by submitting a case to the Constitutional Court. This is quite cynical to do during a global pandemic and drastically rising number of cases in Poland – meanwhile it was also made so that women could not protest against the ruling. To the governing party’s surprise, massive protests broke just after the ruling was announced on an unprecedented scale.

Fotografia Mikołaj Kiembłowski

2. The Spark

One can argue that the scale of protests is caused by the general dissatisfaction with the undemocratic actions of the governing party – ‘Prawo i Sprawiedliwość’ (Law and Justice), commonly referred to as PiS. The disregard for the public’s opinion and their civic rights is just one of the many aspects. 

Therefore, the Constitutional Court’s decision was just a tipping point for the society that has just had enough. Older generations are having flashbacks to the 80s, as people have been on the streets every day for over a week now. Every day since the 22nd of October, Polish citizens have been out on the streets blocking cities and towns. It is very important to note that the demonstrations are not only happening in big liberal cities such as Warsaw but even in small conservative towns, like Łobez.  

Protestors, despite receiving support from many communities (LGBTQ+ groups, left wing parties, and even some well-known hardcore traditionalists) have to be ready to expect being arrested or pepper sprayed by the police. In a response, many advocates in various cities offered their legal assistance for free; one legal agency created a helpline for people that got into legal problems for protesting.

3. The Media

The Constitutional Court is not the only thing controlled by the right-wing government. They own an even more powerful tool: public television, which is used for spreading government’s propaganda – especially amongst people without access to other more objective TV stations or independent media. It got to the point that news headlines were being made up. The most recent ones call the opposition “liberal fascists” and compare the signature bolt used as a symbol of a woman’s riot to a symbol of SS (‘Schutzstaffel) ᛋᛋ. Public media are directly lying to their audience, for example, it was stated that only a few hundred people were showing up for demonstrations when in fact there were thousands

Biggest protest yet – 30.10.2020, Warsaw

On top of all of this, on the 27th of October, the Vice Prime Minister – Jarosław Kaczyński – released a statement stating that fighting protestants and protecting Catholic values is truly patriotic and disagreeing with the government is not. He permitted conservative and right-wing people to fight for their ‘beliefs’, people who are well known for aggression and violence. His concerns include destroying Poland and upsetting traditional Polish values; that Poland won’t be the same after this movement and that is probably the only statement everyone can agree on. 

Protestors are resisting the government’s misinformation through a skilled usage of social media, which proved to be a powerful tool in organising and documenting the demonstrations.

4. Protests and Demands

Protestors use strong language to express their beliefs. Many people are calling it a civil war – and from the pictures one can see perfectly the current atmosphere in Poland. There are many ways to protest right now and demonstrate disagreement with the government. Many people use social media to spread awareness and contribute if they can’t physically join the movement. 

For now, the situation is very dynamic and protests are still happening every day in many big cities. If people can’t protest, they often wear woman’s riot symbols like a bolt or by simply wearing black. At this point, there are official demands which include the deposition of the whole government. 

5. Why should you care?

Luckily, probably thanks to social media, the word about the situation spread, and now many countries hold their own demonstrations. Not only 80 Polish cities but also around 20 places abroad decided to protest against the Constitutional Court’s sentence. Those foreign places include Germany, Australia, Belgium, The Netherlands, Sweden, Finland, United Kingdom, Italy, and the Czech Republic – even in Malta last Friday. 

Peaceful meeting in solidarity with protesters in Poland, Valletta, 30.10.2020

In a year that has had so much bad news, Poland is showing young people they have the power to fight for what they believe in. There is so many people who are tired of old, corrupt politicians making decisions about our lives – and if we get together, we can change it!

HOW CAN YOU HELP/GET INVOLVED

You can sign an Amnesty International Petition right here: https://amnesty.org.pl/akcje/dostep-do-bezpiecznej-i-legalnej-aborcji-w-polsce-zagrozony/?send=ok&type=d&fbclid=IwAR1GHvqN1pOhcfGsNWwm9bxXlCT5qnNUJefo3TJ5p-zqT7AtRVgMO30qMWU

Feature photo taken from AP News via https://apnews.com/article/virus-outbreak-poland-abortion-europe-warsaw-58202403cac4485ce716bf4f5555340b

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