Elections Poland

Huge crowd in Warsaw protests ruling party ahead of autumn election

| 2023-06-05 4 min read

Huge crowd in Warsaw protests ruling party ahead of autumn election

Reading Time: 4 minutes

A massive mobilisation of Polish opposition voters and leaders estimated at up to half a million people took to the streets of Warsaw to protest the country’s nationalist government on Sunday, 4 June, Gazeta Wyborcza reported.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) party is currently seven percentage points ahead in the polls, but a law passed last week that is seen as trying to block opponents from standing has galvanised opposition support.

With an election due in the autumn, the controversial new law allows a government commission to ban people from public office if it deems them to have been agents of Russian influence.

The law has become known as the “lex Tusk”, as it is seen as in particular targeting one-time prime minister Donald Tusk, who is now chairman of the opposition group Civic Platform (KO).

Polish President Andrzej Duda last week signed the act on the establishment of the so-called Committee for Russian Influence. After outraged claims that the law was a pretext to launch a political witch-hunt, Duda had suggested amendments within days, however.

Tusk, Walesa, praise size of opposition march

Media estimates on the size of Sundays’s opposition march varied from 100-500,000, as hundreds of coaches from all over Poland arrived into Warsaw. For its part, Warsaw City Hall reported that up to half a million people were on the streets. 

Speaking at Na Rozdrozu Square in Warsaw, the starting point of the march, Tusk said, “we are half a million here, it’s a record”, and expressed hopes that the demonstration would inspire opposition voters with faith in victory.

In a fiery speech Tusk, who served as Poland’s PM from 2007-14, and recently returned to domestic politics, said “we are here today so that the whole of Poland, the whole of Europe, the whole world.

“Everyone can see how strong we are, how many of us are ready, like 30, 40 years ago, to fight for freedom and democracy,” he added.

“Their great hope was our hopelessness, their strength was our powerlessness. That is over!” he said. Tusk said he would not quote some of the stronger placards, adding that “I also see those with a sense of humour – that will be our weapon, because we are governed by gloomy men who hate women and young people.

“I want to make a solemn oath. We are going to these elections to win, hold the guilty to account, repair human wrongs and reconcile Polish families. And I vow to you: victory, settlement of evil, reparation of wrongs and reconciliation,” Tusk concluded.

Former Polish president and key 1989 regime-change figure Lech Walesa, also speaking at Na Rozdrozu Square, said “I suspect that I will never have as many listeners as today in my life,” Gazeta Wyborcza added.

PiS politicians, media dismiss ‘march of boors’

Governing PiS initially tried to discourage participation in the march, which they dismissed as a “march of boors” and a “march of hate”. PiS said it would be held under “hateful slogans”. 

Over the weekend, Gazeta Wyborcza wrote, “the PiS media machine exaggerated the emotional statements of actor Andrzej Seweryn and opposition activist Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, who used profanity”. 

State news programme “Wiadomosci” offered this as proof that the opposition is saturated with hatred, Gazeta Wyborcza added. “There is a party demonstration in Warsaw led by Donald Tusk. Pathological celebrities who use profanity take part in it,” one presenter said. Reports also concentrated on the provincial, conservative, First National Parade of Country Housewives, the daily noted.

PiS MP and journalist Jaroslaw Sellin tweeted that “the intrusive propaganda of the total media, celebrities and the mobilization of opposition parties’ structures came to nothing. 

“The march had a worse turnout than the (annual, ultranationalist) Independence March, he claimed. “Democracy under the rule of PiS is doing well. Despite the confrontational attitude of the participants… passed the exam. 

“I wish (them) a safe return home and calmer mood. Tomorrow at work, in a shop or on the street you will meet those whom you denied civil rights today. Despite our differences, Poland is our common home. Let’s respect each other,” he wrote.

Smaller parties may decide autumn election

UK daily The Guardian wrote that as “polls suggest that neither PiS nor Tusk’s Civic Platform are likely to gain enough votes to form a government alone, so the election outcome could hinge on how smaller parties fare and who is able to form a workable coalition”.

The march was also attended by “New Left” activists, including MEP Robert Biedron and journalist Szymon Holownia. “We are here to listen to everything you want to shout when you go to this march – that you do not agree with what is going on, that you hope that Poland can be a free, democratic, peaceful country again,” Holownia said at a press conference before the march.

“We are here to restore trust in our country. As citizens, we cannot be afraid of our own country, Adam Bodnar, former ombudsman, wrote. Echoing PiS politician Sellin, he added that “Politics should unite us, not divide us.”

Warsaw’s liberal mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said “when the authorities try to destroy democracy, politicise all independent institutions, in practice take us out of the EU or place us on its margins, then, especially, we must talk about freedom. 

“This election is about freedom from people who want to indoctrinate schools, trample women’s rights, and attack all minorities. We’ve had enough! We’ve had enough!” he said in a raised voice, after which the crowd chanted this slogan, Gazeta Wyborcza added.