10 days have passed since the spark of discontent and social unrest ignited in Poland. During this time, hundreds of thousands of women and young people have taken to the streets of the main cities of the country to protest as they have not done so far against the Government.
They have said enough. They fear losing their rights. Get further away from Europe. They reject the traditional, nationalist and Catholic Poland that has been shaping the ultra-conservative Law and Justice party for years.
For the first time, many Poles openly question the role of the Church to the point of breaking into a Sunday mass to protest against the political influence of the clergy.
Other sectors are also mobilized by the management of the authorities in this second wave of the pandemic. The trigger for everything has been the ruling of the Constitutional Court on October 22 that restricts to the maximum the possibilities of abortion in a country that was already among the most restrictive in Europe in the voluntary interruption of pregnancy.
The ruling establishes that from now on abortion due to fetal malformation will be unconstitutional, which will affect 97% of those practiced in Poland.
“This is one more attack on women’s rights that we are not going to allow,” said a combative Marta Lempart last Friday, the most visible face of the women’s movement leading the protests. Lempart is one of the representatives of the feminist organization Strajk Kobiet (National Women’s Strike, in Polish).
“But this now goes beyond rejecting the abortion ruling. People are very angry. We have lost the rule of law, there is no judicial independence, the LGTBI collective is attackedIn the pandemic we have seen that they play with our health. People increasingly hate Kaczynski [Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Government party] He will be seen this afternoon on the street, ”explained the 41-year-old activist.
Under the slogan “Everyone to Warsaw”, on Friday afternoon thousands of citizens attended the Strajk Kobiet convocation. They were more than 100,000 according to the organizers; 50,000, authorities counted.
Oskar Tokarczuk traveled with his friends from Wroclaw to Warsaw (three and a half hours by bus). He admits that he was somewhat afraid of coming to the capital, many have preferred to demonstrate in his city. But this group of friends did not want to miss the march in Warsaw.
“We believe that if they are taking away women’s rights, they will also take them away from us,” says the 20-year-old dental student. Taped to his forehead, Tokarczuk wears plastic glasses in case the police use pepper spray again against the protesters.
“We have not witnessed such a strong youth movement since the fall of communism,” says Ewa Kulik-Bielinska, director of the Polish think tank Stefan Batory Foundation.
“We live in a liberal democracy where individualism prevails, and young people feel that the veto on abortion is an attack on their personal freedom,” he adds. But there are other elements of anger on the part of Polish society, which has been very fractured for years.
Until now few people questioned the rights of priestsin a country that feels that it owes much to the Catholic Church for its important role in the disintegration of the communist regime. Here the Polish Pope John Paul II is idolized. “But the emergence of cases of pedophilia within the Church and the lack of investigation of these abuses have angered part of society,” explains feminist writer Agnieszka Graff.
The Dominican priest Michal Pac is concerned about this fed up. “In Poland we are experiencing an environment similar to that of before the Spanish Civil War. There is a lot of division.
Both Marta Lempart and Kaczynski exacerbate the spirits even more ”, he says from the monastery of San José, in a neighborhood south of Warsaw. Pac, 43, confesses that the attacks in the last week on some churches scare him. “Although I do not believe that these demonstrations will reach our temple, we are far from the center.”
The priest remembers that the abortion position in the Church is the same as always, but does not agree with the hard line – and sometimes even reactionary – of the Catholic archbishopric in Poland in social debates such as gender equality or the freedoms of the LGTBI collective.
Last Wednesday, Kaczynski, the main architect of the country’s authoritarian drift that has caused a split between the EU and Poland, called in a speech on social networks to “defend the churches.” There is nervousness from the Government because no one expected such a citizen reaction.
Nor does the crisis that the ruling coalition suffered recently, which showed the cracks between a more radical right and a more moderate right, does not help. From September until now, the Law and Justice party (PiS) has had the worst drop in voting intention in six years, according to a survey by the Kantar polling company.
On the other hand, the unease over the management of the pandemic during the second wave grows every day. Yesterday Poland, with 38 million inhabitants, broke a new record for infections (21,897).
If in spring the Slavic country was an example of containment, the relaxation of measures in summer and the lack of foresight has led to a real disaster in health management. This bridge of All Saints Polish cemeteries are closed tight.
The sixth EU economy has also suffered from the coronavirus and the threat of the first recession that the country would have since the fall of communism in 1989 is more than tangible (4.6% according to the IMF). At noon on Friday, some 400 bus drivers blocked traffic in the center of Warsaw in protest at the lack of aid for a sector heavily affected by COVID-19, such as tourism.
“A part of the electorate loyal to PiS such as ranchers and rural people also feel betrayed by Kaczynski and his animal law,” adds analyst Ewa Kulik-Bielinska. This rule, approved in September, prohibits the raising of animals to obtain fur . Poland is the world’s third largest producer of animal skins (mainly mink and foxes) and the second in the EU, after Denmark.
The question is how the government will calm things down. On Friday the President of the Republic, Andrzej Duda, announced that he will present a draft amendment to the abortion law to re-legalize the interruption of pregnancy due to fetal malformations, but only in cases where the death of the child is inevitable.
“I think this will not be enough. In the next few days, the safest thing is that a state of emergency will be declared with the excuse of the pandemic and thus repress the demonstrations ”, predicts Ewa Kulik. “Young people have been slow to wake up. Let’s hope they continue like this, ”said 64-year-old Grzegorz Kowalczyk, as he walked alone through the crowd that walked the streets of Warsaw on Friday asking for freedom.