Hundreds of thousands demonstrated in Warsaw on Sunday against Poland’s conservative national government. The organizers spoke of the largest demonstration since the end of communism in 1989. According to the city administration, about half a million people took part in the rally organized by the opposition. Opposition politician and former President of the Council of the European Union Donald Tusk has warned that democracy in Poland is dying.
Participants waved Polish and European Union flags as well as banners reading “Enough, enough” and “No to authoritarian Poland”. Former Polish trade union leader, president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Lech Walesa marched at the head of the parade.
The largest opposition party, Donald Tusk’s Civic Platform, called for the demonstration. Other opposition parties also asked their members to join the rally against Jaroslav Kaczynski’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party. Participants came from all over the country, and smaller rallies also took place in other cities.
Addressing demonstrators in Warsaw’s Old Town, Tusk said the role of the opposition was now “of equal importance” to that of the 1980s anti-communist protests. Tusk said, “Democracy is dying quietly. From today on, it will not be quiet anymore.” “I hope democracy does not die – despite Kaczynski’s daily attacks on its pillars.”
Walisa, who became Poland’s first democratically elected president in 1990, told protesters he was “patiently waiting” for the day Kaczynski and his party would be expelled. “The day has finally come,” Walisa said.
“If that doesn’t change now, we will soon be in conditions like Hungary and Turkey,” one of the protestors, Piotr Mroz, a 62-year-old construction worker, told AFP. “They want to make Poland a country like Russia,” warned student Karolina Siemenska, 22.
At the end of May, Polish President Andrzej Duda agreed to create a controversial commission of inquiry into “Russian influence” in the country. The nine-member panel is set to rule on whether people succumbed to Russian influence between 2007 and 2022 – without the judiciary being involved in such investigations.
If convicted by the commission, those affected face a ten-year ban from public office and access to state funds. Critics see the commission as a massive attack on the rule of law and also as an attempt by PiS to discredit Tusk, who served as prime minister from 2007 to 2014, ahead of parliamentary elections in the fall.
A new parliament will be elected in Poland in the fall. Polls indicate that the Law and Justice Party will win the election with about 30 percent of the vote, but will lose the majority. This could present an opportunity for the opposition.
The demonstration took place on the 34th anniversary of Poland’s first partially free elections on June 4, 1989. In the months that followed, the Iron Curtain fell in Europe.
“Food practitioner. Bacon guru. Infuriatingly humble zombie enthusiast. Total student.”