“We are now at a crossroads between being an authoritarian and a democratic country,” said one activist.
An estimated 500,000 people took to the streets of the capital Warsaw and other Polish cities on Sunday to protest the nation’s far-right government, which has assailed reproductive freedoms, attacked the rights of LGBTQ+ people, and cracked down on critical civil society groups and media outlets.
Sunday’s march against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party—which has held power since 2015—was called by former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who is leading the Civic Platform opposition party into an expected October general election.
“Here’s my pledge to you today: We are going to win this election and hold PiS accountable,” Tusk told a crowd gathered in Warsaw.
The Associated Press reported that “the passage of a contentious law last month seems to have mobilized greater support for Tusk.”
The law, signed by right-wing President Andrzej Duda, “allows for the creation of a commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland,” AP noted. “Critics argue that it would have unconstitutional powers, including the capacity to exclude officials from public life for a decade. They fear it will be used by the ruling party to remove Tusk and other opponents from public life.”
Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram, a lawyer and rights activist, told The Guardian ahead of Sunday’s protests that the new measure “is against Tusk but we can all be targeted by this law, because they will not hesitate to use it against anyone.”
“It is the culmination of the authoritarian system developed in Poland over the past eight years. We are now at a crossroads between being an authoritarian and a democratic country.”
Pierwszym krokiem do zrzucenia niewoli jest być odważnym, aby być wolnym. Pierwszym krokiem do zwycięstwa jest poznać się na własnej sile.— Donald Tusk (@donaldtusk) June 4, 2023
Jesteśmy tutaj dzisiaj, żeby cała Polska, cała Europa, cały świat, żeby wszyscy zobaczyli, jak jesteśmy silni! pic.twitter.com/w4WU01cc9v
Described as among the largest political demonstrations in Poland in decades, Sunday’s march came amid growing alarm over the Polish government’s ongoing assault on basic rights.
As Amnesty International summarized in its 2022 report on the country: “Access to abortion was further limited. Criminal charges were used to curtail freedom of expression. The authorities continued to erode the independence of the judiciary. Freedom of peaceful assembly was restricted. Violations of LGBTI rights persisted. Positive moves were made to accommodate between 1 and 2 million refugees from Ukraine, although official hostility continued towards refugees and migrants who arrived since 2021 via Belarus.”
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