Hundreds of thousands of people marched through central Warsaw to protest the ultra-nationalist government led by PiS, ahead of parliamentary elections in the autumn in which the opposition led by Donald Tusk hopes to take power, The Guardian reports.
Poland’s Law and Justice Party (PiS) came to power in 2015 and has since engaged in vigorous efforts to erode democracy, institutions and an independent judiciary. In addition to attacks on democratic institutions, PiS has led a concerted attack against women’s reproductive rights and the LGBT community.
“There are a million of us here. It’s a record,” said Donald Tusk, former prime minister of the Polish government and former president of the European Council. Tusk is the leader of the Civic Platform, the main opposition party hoping to take power in the autumn.
The Polish politician said Sunday’s march was the biggest protest since the end of the communist period.
There is no official confirmation of the size of the protest, but the Warsaw municipality estimated that around 500,000 people took to the streets.
The central boulevards of the Polish capital were packed with protesters, and the subway network was overwhelmed as people tried to get to the center.
People came with flags of Poland and the European Union.
“All of Poland, all of Europe and all of the world see how strong we are and how ready we are to fight for democracy and freedom again, as we did 30-40 years ago,” Tusk told the crowd in the street.
Tusk gave up his European career and returned to national politics
Tusk was the prime minister of Poland’s government for two terms between 2007 and 2014. He returned to national politics after serving a five-year term as president of the European Council. In 2019, he was replaced there by Charles Michel.
The march was organized to mark the anniversary of the 1989 election, won by an organization linked to the Solidarity trade union movement, a turning point in the collapse of the communist regime in Poland.
Although organized by Tusk’s Civic Platform, the march brought many other opposition organizations to the streets, and banners in the crowd carried slogans ranging from those for the rights of the trans community to those calling for better representation of trade unionists.
“34 years ago we were all together and there was a sense of community. We need to buy back this sense of community and turn our anger into power,” said Rafal Trzaskowski, the liberal mayor of Warsaw.
Lech Walesa, who became the leader of the Solidarity movement in the 90s and was elected the first president of democratic Poland, was also present at the protests. He is also a fierce critic of PiS.
Despite the massive opposition movement in the Polish capital, polls show that neither the opposition nor PiS will be able to form a government on their own, so the election is likely to be determined by how small parties manage to mobilize.
The opposition has recently been invigorated especially by the adoption of a controversial law on the removal of Russian influence. After a week of domestic and international criticism, including from Washington, President Andrzej Duda said he would modify the project.
The law would have given the government the power to prosecute people for alleged acts of “support for Russia” and use it as a political cudgel for opposition politicians.
The law was nicknamed “Lex Tusk”, as it was believed that its real target was the very leader of the opposition.
“The law is against Tusk, but we can all become her target because they will not hesitate to use her in any way. It is the culmination of the authoritarian system that has been consolidated in Poland over the past four years.
We are now at a turning point between a democratic country and an authoritarian one,” says Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram, a lawyer and activist from Poland, who participated in the march.
Editor: Adrian Dumitru