Hundreds of thousands of people protested in Warsaw, Poland against the ruling right-wing populist government and for democracy. Organised by the opposition Civic Platform party, most opposition groups also encouraged their supporters to attend.
Organisers estimated half a million people participated in the protest in Warsaw, reportedly making it Poland’s latest protest since communist rule ended. Smaller rallies were also held in other major cities across the country.
In Poland, June 4 marks the country’s transition to democracy and this protest was a also celebration of the 34th anniversary of the country’s first democratic elections in 1989.
Since coming to power in 2015, the Law and Justice (PiS) party has been criticised for weakening democracy, undermining the independent judiciary and media, and attacking LGBTQ+ and women’s rights.
These factors have led to repeated protests against the right-wing government. Months-long protests started in late 2020 after the government banned abortion in almost all cases.
They have also repeatedly come into conflict with the European Union (EU), as far back as 2016, when Brussels launched an inquiry into the rule of law in Poland due to concerns over curbs imposed on Poland’s highest court and state media.
With a large pro-EU population, the government clashes with the EU have also fuelled protests. Sunday’s protest, like many before it, saw a sea of Polish and European flags.
Banners among the crowd called for everything from LBGTQ+ rights to support for trade unions.
What perhaps triggered the size of this protest, more than ones in the past, is the government’s latest step that some have perceived as a threat to democracy. A controversial wide-ranging new law has been passed which would allow a government commission to ban people from public office for up to 10 years if they are believed to have aided Russian influence. It is widely believed that it would be used to target opposition leaders.
Speaking before the rally, the lawyer and rights activist Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram told The Guardian that the government would not hesitate to use the new law 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,” Gregorczyk-Abram added.
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According to The Guardian, Donald Tusk, who leads the Civic Platform, told crowds at the start of the rally:
“The whole of Poland, the whole of Europe and the whole world sees how strong we are and how we are ready to fight for democracy and freedom again, like we did 30, 40 years ago.”
Tusk was Poland’s Prime Minister from 2007 to 2014. After being President of the European Council from 2014 to 2019, he has now returned to Polish politics.
Massive protests in Poland against its right wing dictatorial government- Poland had not witnessed this big protest since the fall of Soviet Union. pic.twitter.com/BZyUZ4b4WN
— Ashok Swain (@ashoswai) June 5, 2023
The day after the rally, the EU’s highest court ruled that a series of judicial reforms in Poland violated EU law. The EU has also threatened to take action against Poland over the new law that could ban people from public office for links to Russia.
Poland’s ruling rightwing government has not taken the pressure of protests lightly. Leading up to the June 4 rally, the party posted on its official Twitter account a video attempting to dissuade people from joining the march that featured the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp. They attempted to link a tweet by a government critic and journalist to the concentration camp.
The real test will come in a few months with parliamentary elections due late this year. They could prove to be decisive in keeping Poland on a democratic path laid out 34 years ago.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Protest in Warsaw against judicial reforms, 2017. Featured Photo Credit: Sakuto.