Hundreds of thousands of people marched through Warsaw on Sunday in a huge demonstration of opposition to the ruling party ahead of October’s general election, recalling Poland’s rejection of Communist Party rule decades before.
The event, organized by the government’s political rivals, aimed to strip Poland’s deeply conservative Law and Justice party of its claim to the legacy of Solidarity, the labor movement that led the fight against a communist system imposed by Moscow after the Second World War.
Large protests have also taken place in Krakow, Szczecin and other major cities controlled by the opposition, which is strong in urban areas but struggling in the countryside.
Law and Justice, which routinely vilifies its enemies as communists and Russian agents, recently pushed legislation through parliament to create a commission to investigate Russian influence and bar individuals from holding office. public for up to 10 years if it turned out that they had succumbed to it.
The opposition denounced the move as a ploy to smear critical ruling party politicians with Russian taint and disqualify them from running in October. Both the United States and the European Union have expressed concern over the law, widely known as “Lex Tusk” because one of its targets is expected to be Donald Tusk, the main opposition party leader.
In a speech to protesters in Warsaw’s Old Town on Sunday, Mr Tusk, the leader of the Civic Platform, accused Law and Justice of rolling back democracy and turning Poland away from Europe, comparing the elections to come to the vote of June 4, 1989 – the first free election in the country since 1945 – which gave a victory to Solidarity and sealed the end of the communist regime.
“Solidarity’s slogan was ‘we will not be divided or destroyed,'” Mr Tusk said, adding that “the great hope” of past and present enemies of democracy “was our despair, their strength was our impotence.”
Referring to the first line of the Polish national anthem, he added: “It’s over. Today, all of us in Poland, we all see, we all hear “Poland has not yet perished”, we are heading towards victory”.
Other speakers included Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa who, after the collapse of communism, became Poland’s first freely elected post-war president, only to be denounced by Law and Justice as a communist-era secret police agent. .
Warsaw City Hall, which is controlled by political enemies of the government, put the turnout at half a million. That was almost certainly an exaggeration but, even taking the inflated numbers into account, Sunday’s march appeared to be the biggest anti-government demonstration since the 1980s street protests in favor of Solidarity.
TVP Info, a state-controlled news channel, reported that only 100,000 people participated at peak and focused its minimal coverage of the march on obscenities expressed by some protesters, a tactic often used by pro-government media. to portray Law’s critics and Justice as crass infidels opposed to the Roman Catholic Church.
As huge crowds gathered on Sunday afternoon, TVP Info led its newscast with a report on the “National Parade of Circles of Peasant Housewives”, a modestly attended event organized by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Law and Justice, in power since 2015, has a big advantage heading into this year’s parliamentary elections due to its tight control of state television and radio and its backing by a nominally large battery of media outlets. independent dependent on state funding. Most opinion polls predict he will win more seats than Civic Platform, but he will fall short of a majority and may struggle to form a stable government.