From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject Poland: Revolution in Times of the Pandemic
Date November 29, 2020 1:05 AM
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[ While the protests are set to drown in a rising wave of the
pandemic, we are witnessing a profound mentality shift in Poland. ]
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POLAND: REVOLUTION IN TIMES OF THE PANDEMIC  
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Agata Czarnacka
November 20, 2020
transform! europe
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_ While the protests are set to drown in a rising wave of the
pandemic, we are witnessing a profound mentality shift in Poland. _

Protests in Poland by Gavin Rae/transform! europe, Gavin
Rae/transform! europe

 

Poland is a largely Catholic country, which is  transforming into a
secular society, based on human rights and gender equality. The
general obedience and indifference to even the most outrageous actions
of the government has now been replaced by a more conscious civil
participation. A society that has lay passive under a neo-liberal
spell is now taking a giant step towards a more democratic state.

PANDEMIC AND PROTESTS

Poland stands on the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe. Hospitals
are overflowing and in many places doctors have started triage as
ventilators become scarce. Non-Covid patients need to wait for
treatment, leading to October's general death rate being the highest
since World War Two. Poland now has the 15th largest number of
infections in the world, over 750,000 cases. However, it still remains
on 23rd place with regards the number of deaths – almost 11,000 (19
November), due to the effectiveness of the spring lockdown. However,
this lockdown was brought to an abrupt end before the  president
elections in July and the government has been unwilling to shut down
the economy again, even as the infection numbers are soaring.  

In this bleak context, Poland is living through one of the most
energetic periods in its post-war existence. Since 22 October,
protestors have gathered almost every day to express their
dissatisfaction on a wide range of issues: from the abortion ban to
the illegitimacy of the government, with the omni-relevant "Get The
Fuck Out" becoming the unofficial slogan of the movement. At its peak,
there were more than 800,000 people on the streets, in a record
breaking 534 cities and towns around the entire country. The 'Black
Protests' from 2016
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which were the first to mobilise so many people in so many places, now
look almost modest in comparison.

On the streets, teenagers have demonstrated alongside veterans from
the Solidarity movement, with women protesting arm in arm with men. In
some places, the protests even seemed to be competing for attendance.
For instance, in Szczecin, in the North-West of Poland, the organizers
scheduled an old-fashioned picket in the afternoon and a rave in the
evening, only to face outrage from some of the attendants due to the
events overlapping.

The protest's' focus has shifted. The Constitutional Court's ruling on
the subject of pregnancy termination in case of fetus malformation
sparked the protests on Thursday, 22 October. However, it quickly
became obvious that the government's hard right course over the last
five years had generated enough latent anger to fuel the protests for
weeks. The All-Poland Women's Strike, a semi-formal association of
women's protest organisers from various regions, has established 13
main areas of concern. Women's and LGBTQ+ rights are at the top of the
list, followed by declarations on laicity, the rule of law,
repairing  institutions, climate action, labour rights, education
reform, freedom of the media and proactivity in fighting the pandemic.
The Strike also denounced the looming threat of neo-fascism in public
life, as well as a deep crisis in psychiatric care.

POLAND: A STATE MADE OF CARDBOARD

A running joke, dating back before the PiS election victory in 2015,
is that Poland is a cardboard state, which only looks real from afar.
The pandemic has proven that this joke is bitterly true. The
government seem to have spent all its reserves on implementing the
spring lockdown. Back then, with scheduled presidential elections and
the conservative incumbent expected to win his second term, the ruling
party did not introduce a state of emergency for sanitary reasons as
it would have affected the election dates and dampened Duda's chances
for re-election. Now, the main argument against introducing emergency
measures seems to be the state budget. However, appearances needed to
be maintained. Tightening the abortion ban, was a surefire way to
spark unrest, and was probably used as a means to divert attention
away from the government's failings and to lay the blame for an ever
increasing infection rate on feminists.

Yet another headache is the "Independence March" which is held yearly
on 11 November to commemorate the anniversary of the end of the First
World War and Poland regaining national independence. The march
traditionally gathers the most radical right forces in Poland,
alongside neo-fascist groups from neighbouring countries and
hooligans. It has grown in size over the years and since 2011 has
repeatedly proven to be uncontrollable by the state forces, which have
been unwilling to confront the demonstrators. As a "cyclic gathering",
the March falls into a special legal category which usually translates
into a privileged position. However, it also opens a possiblity for
the local government to ban the gathering for _vis maior_ ("superior
force") reasons. While government's banning of public gatherings would
mean, for the PiS party, declaring war against radical right groups
and alienating the right fringes of the majority, the Warsaw city hall
had no such reservation and banned the Independence March on sanitary
grounds. The March was then announced to be transformed into a
motorcade but despite the organisers' appeals, several thousand
right-wingers appeared on foot and ready for action. The March turned
into a riot and resulted in a couple dozen injured. An stray flare,
aimed at a balcony with a rainbow flag and a large Women's Strike
poster, set fire to a neighbouring flat. Ultimately, these riots have
further exacerbated anti-nationalist sentiment among the population.

THE VICTORY WILL NOT BE LEGAL

The main focus of the protests remains the Constitutional Court ruling
K1/20, banning the possibility of terminating pregnancies with
malformed or otherwise unviable fetuses. Constitutional Court rulings
in the Polish legal system remain irreversible, as the Court itself
serves as the final voice in legislative issues. After its victory in
2015, the Law and Justice (PiS; European affiliation: ECR) government
proceeded to replace as many Constitutional Judges as they could,
invalidating several elections of not-yet sworn in judges and
replacing them with their own candidates in an even more outrageous
way than Republicans in the USA have done through pushing the
candidature of Amy Coney Barrett. Due to the government's efforts and
largely dissatisfying rulings, the Constitutional Court of 2020 is
perceived as a party stronghold and its rulings, as a voice of the
governing party.

The motion to suppress abortion in case of fetal malformation has been
yet another push to tighten up the abortion ban in place since 1993.
The 1993 law, hailed as an 'abortion compromise', allowed for only
three exceptions to the general abortion ban: in cases of pregnancies
resulting from rape or incest, pregnancies causing grave danger to a
woman's life and health and in case of the fetus malformation.

All three exceptions remained mostly disrespected. For one, it is
nearly impossible to obtain proof of rape in time to perform a
pregnancy termination. Secondly, over the years, several women have
died due to delayed or manipulated diagnoses stemming from doctors'
unwillingness to abort. The most well-known cases are Agata Lamczak
who died of untreated intestine inflammation and Alicja Tysiąc who
became blind after doctors refused to recognise the risk and terminate
the pregnancy. The malformation of the fetus remained the most common
cause to abort in Poland, with several hundred procedures performed
annually. However,  access to prenatal testing became increasingly
difficult and the tests were often scheduled too late for the legal
window to abort.

The church spun the motion as 'rescuing the lives of children'' with
non-lethal Down syndrome, although the performed abortions mostly
concerned far more severe cases. As in 2016, 2017 or 2018, Polish
women took the ruling as not only being a matter of concern for maybe
a thousand couples per year, but as an attack on their general right
to dignity and proper health care during pregnancy. As one of the
cardboard placards put it, "It's now scary to fuck" with yet another
adding: "But we will always have anal".

Polish President Andrzej Duda tried to placate the protesters by
proposing a law to reinstate the third exception in a different
wording. His desperate attempts dubbed a 'compromise to a compromise'
satisfied no-one, leaving the demonstrators even more angry and almost
causing a rupture within the conservative majority. For now, the K1/20
ruling remains unpublished and as such it has not yet  become law.
However, hospital lawyers reasonably argue that with the ruling due to
be published at any time, the hospitals need to already start
cancelling scheduled terminations. For now, the only way out of the
unpopular changes will be to change the government and the entire
legal system with it.

For the protest leaders, giving up does not seem to be an option. The
protests are now less numerous but more ferocious and are organised in
unexpected places like Otwock, a conservative town near Warsaw, or
Zakopane, a tourist destination in the mountains which is known for
having exceptionally high rates of domestic violence. This may be a
revolution comparable to May '68 in the West, in which Poland never
took part.

UPDATED: 19 NOVEMBER
on the "Independence March" and on the number of Covid-19 cases and
deaths

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