Poland: Mass demonstration in Warsaw against PiS government

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Before the parliamentary elections in autumn, the right-wing populist PiS government is tightening its course in order to stay in power. Hundreds of thousands of supporters of the liberal opposition protested in Warsaw on Sunday.

Warsaw: Hundreds of thousands demonstrate against the Polish PiS government (06/04/2023)

Poland has not been a country of mass demonstrations for years. The organizers can usually be satisfied when they get a few tens of thousands of people onto the streets. This Sunday (June 4th, 2023) there was no longer any sign of this restraint. Hundreds of thousands with Polish and EU flags walked through Warsaw at noon to protest against the policies of the right-wing populist government camp. The Mayor of Warsaw, Rafal Trzaskowski, spoke of half a million participants. The Internet platform Onet counted “at least 300,000” demonstrators.

Tusk: “We're coming to get victory”

At the closing rally on Palace Square in the Polish capital, opposition leader and former Prime Minister Donald Tusk encouraged his supporters. “I will fight with you for a free Poland,” assured the head of the largest opposition party, Civic Platform (PO). “We come to get the win,” emphasized the liberal politician, adding: “Everything is in your hands!” At the same time, he warned against the Law and Justice Party (PiS), which has governed the country since 2015. “For years, Poland has been ruled by people who are taking away our freedom,” Tusk said. “Democracy in Poland will not die because we are shouting against it.”

Huge opposition march in Warsaw (06/04/2023): Ex-Prime Minister Donald Tusk (left) and the former President and union leader Lech Walesa marching in the front row

In front of a cheering crowd, Tusk swore a solemn oath: “We go to the polls to win, to settle accounts, to right human wrongs and in the end to reconcile the Poles. I swear it. You can call it the Tusk Oath .” His speech was repeatedly interrupted by shouts of “Here is Poland, here is Poland!” interrupted.

The liberal politician was demonstratively patriotic. “Poland is in our hearts,” he repeated several times. Government propaganda, but also some right-wing politicians, have been trying for years to discredit Tusk as a “German collaborator” or to accuse him of suspicious contacts with Russian President Vladimir Putin.  

Tusk with Trzaskowski and Walesa < /h2>

The march started near Lazienki Park and went through Warsaw's poshest streets to Castle Square. Tusk and Trzaskowski walked in the front row with legendary labor leader Lech Walesa. In 1980 he led the strike at the Gdańsk shipyard and was President of Poland after the democratic turnaround in the years 1990-1995. “Kaczynski's wheelbarrow is ready,” Walesa said before the protest march began. The PiS accuses the workers' leader of collaborating with the communist militia in the 1970s.

The demonstration in Warsaw is directed against the PiS government and the right-wing populist party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski

Tusk had announced the anti-government demonstration weeks ago. June 4th is a symbolic date in Poland. The first partially free parliamentary elections were held on this day in 1989, which heralded the collapse of the communist system in Poland.

Government tightens course

The latest measures taken by the right-wing populist government camp have worried many Poles and fueled the protests. At the end of May, the government majority in parliament decided to convene a “State Commission to investigate Russian influence on the internal security of the Republic of Poland in the years 2007-2022”. The controversial law was classified by the general public as unconstitutional and directed against Tusk . The PiS accuses Tusk of having made Poland dependent on Russian energy imports during his time as Polish head of government (2007-2014).

In its original version, the special committee was given the power to exclude persons found guilty from all offices associated with the allocation of public funds for up to ten years. The opposition spoke of a “Lex Tusk” and protested against it. The US government and the European Commission expressed concern.

Mass demonstration by the liberal opposition in Warsaw with Polish and EU flags (06/04/2023)

After a wave of outrage, President Andrzej Duda relaxed the law. Last Friday (06/02/2023) he introduced an amendment to Parliament that does not provide for administrative sanctions and legal recourse for the accused. However, his proposal came too late to curb the increased interest in the protest march. The reaction of the PiS to the President's proposal also remains open.

Opposition closes the ranks

The growing pressure from the PiS government had a surprising effect. A section of the opposition, including the centre-right parties Polska 2050 and the Peasant Party PSL, decided at short notice to take part in the march. Both groups were initially skeptical about the project because they feared Tusk would dominate.

Government spokesman Piotr Mueller sharply condemned the protest march. “The leader of the Civic Platform and a former president are trying to overthrow a government that has broken with the policy of opening up to Russia,” Mueller said Demonstrations also took place in other Polish cities and abroad this Sunday.