Protestors gathered in several Polish cities on Sunday to voice their frustrations with the nationalist Law and Justice Party (PiS). These protests took place on the 34th anniversary of Poland’s first democratic post-war election, making their pleas for democracy that much more symbolic.
Warsaw, the capital of Poland, saw hundreds of thousands of protestors gathered to express their concerns about the possibility of autocracy. Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, a member of the opposition party, estimated that 500,000 protestors were in Warsaw alone, while the Onet news portal believes the number to be at least 300,000. The Warsaw rally started at Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s office and finished at the Royal Castle. Those in attendance included former Prime Minister Donald Tusk and former President Lech Walesa.
"We are here today so the whole world can see how strong we are and how many of us are ready to fight for democracy and a free Poland," Tusk, who is now the head of the Civic Platform grouping and a former European Union council chief, said in a speech at the end of the march.
Several large anti-government gatherings in Krakow and other major cities in the nation of almost 38 million took place on Sunday. Banners saying “European Union, Yes PiS, No” and “Free European Poland” were seen being carried by protestors. Others held up photos of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the PiS, with the word “shame” written over.
"Democracy dies in silence but you've raised your voice for democracy today, silence is over, we will shout," Tusk said.
The PiS has called the protest “a march of hate”.
Many critics of the government accuse officials of violating the constitution and infringing on their fundamental rights by endorsing homophobia and using state media to further their political agendas. The ruling party has denied the claims, stating instead that their aim is to protect Christian values despite liberal pressure and build a better economy in the process.
Protests came days after President Andrzej Duda signed off on a controversial law that directly targets the opposition.
"I came here to defend democracy because I can't stand how our parliament, the constitutional tribunal are destroyed, the European Union is diminished," one protester told Reuters.
Parliament approved a bill that proposed creating a commission meant to investigate Russian influence in Polish politics on Friday. Those found guilty would face a 10-year ban from holding public office without proper judicial review.
Due to all of the backlash, Duda has said amendments would be made to the law.
“I propose that instead they [the sanctions] should be replaced by a statement by the commission that a person who has been found to have acted under Russian influence does not provide a guarantee that they will properly carry out their activities in the public interest,” the Polish president said in a statement.
Parliament would have to approve the amendments in order for them to be enacted.
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