“Tens of thousands of women took to the streets in dozens of Polish cities and towns for a nationwide strike on Wednesday to protest a top court’s decision to ban nearly all abortions,” report Marc Santora, Monika Pronczuk and Anatol Magdziarz in the Oct. 26 New York Times. Since the ultra conservative, right-wing populist Law and Justice party (PiS) was elected to a second leadership term in 2019, it has promoted illiberal and authoritarian policies. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the deputy prime minister and leading politician in Poland, urged his supporters to “defend Poland”; to fight back against the protesters who, in his description of the opposition, are “criminals” seeking to “destroy the Polish nation.”
As the Times writes:
His remarks, made in a speech to Parliament on Wednesday and in a video posted Tuesday night to his supporters on Facebook, came as protests stretched into a sixth straight day and drew in the Roman Catholic Church, with demonstrators interrupting Mass, vandalizing church facades and staging sit-ins at cathedrals as they held coat hangers aloft to symbolize dangerous abortions.
In an email I received on Oct. 29, six days into the protests, Anna Eichler, professor in the New Media Department, Polish-Japanese Academy of Information Technologies in Warsaw, explains: “In a nutshell, the so-called Constitutional Tribunal in Poland deemed pregnancy termination due to lethal defects of a fetus unconstitutional. The clinics already canceled previously accepted procedures. The Polish state doesn’t observe the guidelines of the Istanbul Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence.”
Poland's right-wing politicians call for abolishing the Convention in Poland, “introducing the so-called ‘family protection’ laws which would put the family unity over the rights of the domestic violence victims,” Eichler adds. “Official statistics for 2019—88,032 cases: 65,195 women, 12,161 children, 10,676 men—and human rights organizations point out the invisibility of unreported or unregistered cases and the fact that the government withdraws the funding from NGOs dealing with the problem, while at the same time giving the money to Catholic church organizations to 'cure homosexuality.' LGBTQ+ rights are outrageously broken, to the cheers of the right-wing politicians who incite acts of violence against LGBTQ+ people.”
Anger at the prevailing Law and Justice party rhetoric, that women have to suffer and “it’s their natural state”, is extremely strong in Poland. Eichler cites the all-too-common government refrain: “Look how many things you are allowed to do!”
“Allowed? Really? Who are you to GRANT ME my HUMAN RIGHTS?!”
The primary logo of the movement echoes Eichler's vitriol. "The lighting bolt (and implied thunder): It means we are furious and dangerous women use it to express how angry they are," explains another email corespondent, Ewa Satalecka. "There are also inscriptions like 'We are so pissed off, that we left kitchens!' Finally it is like ancient symbol of Gods or divines. It means anger, war, power."
The protests have continued daily despite government decrees and PiS party intervention. "There are plenty of young people who do not support any of the political actors," Satalecka continues, "but they protest against this old idiots generation. They are every day on the streets and in front of buildings that represent institutions or the private homes of people involved in these political decisions. Protests take place even in Berlin on the front of home of Przyłębski family, where the president of the so-called Constitutional Tribunal stays at the moment with her husband, present Polish ambassador and former [commandant] of communist special forces.
"There are scary moments," she says about the violence against women attacked by nationalist elements. Yet she notes there are also unexpected actions "like football fans protecting and defending women against nationalists aggression."
Recalling the '60s youth culture protests, there are some light moments too: "Young people are dancing polonaise on the streets, singing protest songs—one based on Ciao Bella, ciao or a song by ordinary Poles.”
There are also so many witty cartoon posters that the opposition newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza collected a list of 100 of the best. One underscoring the outpouring of angry, sign-carrying protestors reads: “Stop! I’m running out of cardboard!” Then there is the one below based on the famous Solidarity logo design that translates into "Fuck Off."
(Demonstration photographs and posters are contributed by Ewa Satalecka, Natalia Lajszczak, Alicja Polawska and Eichler. More posters are available here.)