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Woman – enemy of the state

Kasia
©@lotnabrygada, Twitter  |   Babcia Kasia

Protests by women and youth in Poland have been going on for three months now. At that time, the police intensified their actions against the demonstrators, sending to the streets uniformed officers who fight the most dangerous criminals in the country. The government, on the other hand, prepared a law forcing demonstrators to accept criminal fines. Effects: broken hands and legs, unlawful arrests, overburdened, ineffective courts and even greater rage in society.

She took part in over 100 demonstrations against the rule of the far right-wing Law and Justice party (PIS), which has been in power in Poland since 2015. Before the Covid-19 pandemic broke out, she was earning some extra money to her retirement, but in March 2020 she lost her part-time job and decided to devote herself entirely to street demonstrations. In summer she was seen every day in front of the Presidential Palace, but even now she is there regularly - stands alone with a banner "Andrzej Duda, where did you hide, coward?" (The President of Poland, Mr. Andrzej Duda fell silent when mass protests by women began) or "Skis more important than women" or "America sent the jester to the trash, it's time for Duda." She participates in every mass protest: climate marches, assemblies to defend the independence of the judiciary or supporting the rights of LGBT community, and recently, women's protests as part of the great, nationwide Women's Strike. She was repeatedly knocked to the ground by officers, and arrested several times. Always because of the same charge, article 222 of the Penal Code - violation of the corporeality of a policeman. Mrs. Katarzyna Augustynek is known as Grandma Kasia (Babcia Kasia). She is a tiny 62-year-old woman. Babcia Kasia remembers well what communism was and does not want to return to the times when the state decided for people what was good and what was bad for them. She's not alone. Polish women who fight for their rights have become an uncomfortable and difficult opponent for the government on the Vistula River.

Backdoor solution

On October 22nd 2020 a Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw ruled that abortions for fetal abnormalities violate the country’s Constitution, effectively imposing a near-total ban in a nation that already has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. In the ruling, the tribunal’s president, Julia Przyłębska, said that allowing abortions in cases of fetal abnormality legalized “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child, thus denying it the respect and protection of human dignity.” Because the Polish Constitution guarantees a right to life, she added, terminating a pregnancy based on the health of the fetus amounted to “a directly forbidden form of discrimination.” Before Constitutional Tribunal verdict abortion was allowed in Poland only if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest, if the woman’s life was in danger, or if the fetus was affected by severe congenital defects. The tribunal decision, which cannot be appealed, eliminated the last of these three conditions from the list. In practice, the overwhelming majority of legal abortions — 1,074 of 1,100 performed in 2019 — resulted from fetal abnormalities and those numbers reflect the restrictions already in effect.

Opposition politicians, such as the mayor of Warsaw and the candidate for the president of the country in last year's elections, Mr. Rafał Trzaskowski, claim that the decision to tighten the abortion law was used by the government as a smokescreen that would cover up their inefficiency in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. Which is probably partly true, but it should be remembered that as early as 2016, the parliament proposed a law prohibiting abortions in almost all circumstances. Thus, the government wanted to fulfill the silent promise it made to the Catholic Church in return for helping PIS to win the elections (priests actively participated in the election campaign, often speaking from the church pulpit as to which party to vote for if someone still wanted to call themselves a true Catholic) . It was then that the women managed to stop the act - they came out dressed in black and with umbrellas on the streets of many cities in Poland, which was then called the Black Protest. The government's concession angered many of the church hierarchs, who intensified their cooperation with ultra-conservative groups in the government. This rapprochement, which strengthened the position of the party's far-right, nationalistic factions, motivated Mr. Jarosław Kaczyński (the de facto leader of the government, although he is only a leader of PIS party and a deputy prime minister) to look for the possibility of introducing changes to the abortion law through the backdoor. Thats why government decided to hand over the issue to the constitutional tribunal for adjudication. They knew what will happen. Fourteen of its 15 judges were appointed by the governing party, and head of the tribunal, Mrs. Przyłębska, is a longtime friend of Mr. Kaczynski. On October 22nd, Poles learned that abortion law was in breach of the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, in force since 1997. Marches, protests, and acts of civil disobedience have continued ever since. The government has since delayed implementing the decision (which is inconsistent with the Constitution), yet the protests go on.

Eight stars movement

Protests broke out all over Poland. At its peak, several hundred thousand people took to the streets in 580 cities, towns and villages - they were the largest protests the country has experienced since the 1989 collapse of communism. On October 26th thousands of protesters came to traffic circles all over Warsaw, bringing the city to a standstill. Bus and taxi-drivers joined in, with illuminated displays on the front of their buses to read “We are with you, girls.” Organizers asked people to disperse after an hour but the demonstration went on for five hours. It should be emphasized that the tightening of the abortion law does not seem to be an inflammatory factor, but a drop of bitterness that poured out the cup. On the banners, next to the slogans directly related to the tribunal's decisions, such as "My body - my choice,” "My uterus is not your playground," "There is no consent to women's hell," there were also those that were an expression of general frustration and dislike for the PIS rule, and their vulgar nature proves that well-mannered approaches have not worked: "Fuck PIS" (in Polish „Jebać PIS” often written with eight stars: ***** ***), "Get the fuck out!" and "I wish I could abort my government." Other popular ones are "This is a war," "We have had enough," "Revolution is a woman," as well as a lot of other funny slogans such as: "You are worse than Polish reggae," "Even mephedrone has a better composition than the government," "Whoever lives in Poland, does not laugh in the circus."

Get the fuck out quick. Photo: Olga Wiechnik

The symbol of the National Women's Strike was the lightning - a sign that can be found on high voltage electrical devices. The one used by the protesters is red. Right-wing media, including public television and radio controlled by the government, have begun to push the idea that the symbol of the women's revolution is a fascist sign and compare it to the emblem of the SS, a Nazi formation built to protect Hitler. Many military units, including the elite units of the Polish Army and combat troops of the Home Army (dominant resistance movement in German-occupied Poland during World War II), had a similar lightning bolt as their sign. Mrs. Aleksandra Jasionowska, graphic artist and creator of the Women's Strike sign, admits that the inspiration was not military associated, she rather thought about the ''warning character of the sign, legible to all people in the world.”



How are these demonstrations different from those we have watched in recent years? First of all, they take place during the pandemic and, at the same time, are the largest since the overthrow of communism. Their participants wear face masks and they are mostly young people (20-, 30-year-olds, but also teenagers) who use the moment to express general disagreement with the course that Poland has taken recently. They demand not only the full right to abortion, but also the separation of church and state, greater environmental protection, accountability of the Church for pedophile crimes, reliable sex education, punishment of perpetrators of domestic violence, equal pay regardless of gender, free judiciary and media, respect for the rights of disabled people and LGBTQIA + community (over the past few years, about a hundred Polish municipalities declared themselves “zones free of LGBT ideology”). The demonstrations have broadened into an expression of anger at a right-wing government but they have also broken a longstanding social taboo against challenging the Catholic Church which has long pressured the government to tighten or eliminate access to abortion. On the one hand, the demonstrations bear the hallmarks of a festival and a party, on the other hand, they were organized very efficiently and often in many places at the same time. People in Warsaw not only demonstrated in front of Mr. Jarosław Kaczyński's house (today it is the best-guarded street in Poland), the constitutional tribunal headquarter or Parliament, but also in front of the Bishop's Palace and in front of many churches, including disrupting Sunday masses. Groups of young women and men confronted priests in some places, and protesters painted graffiti on the walls of churches and cathedrals across the country.

Protest on the street where Jarosław Kaczyński lives. Photo: Olga Wiechnik

In my neighborhood in the center of Warsaw, a white stone commemorating the death of Pope John Paul II was doused with red paint - a once-unthinkable affront to a national hero.

The government has not published the judgment of the constitutional court to date (it should have done so by November 2nd, 2020), but this did not end the protests. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has blamed the protests for the increase in new Covid-19 cases, and appealed to demonstrators to move their rallies online.
Since then, all polls show constant drop in support for the president and the government.

Dangerous like a teenager

After a week of mass protests in all major Polish cities, Mr. Jarosław Kaczyński in a video posted on Facebook urged his conservative supporters to "defend Poland, patriotism and in particular Polish churches." The call by the deputy prime minister and leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, to fight back against the protesters and his description of the opposition as “criminals” seeking to “destroy the Polish nation,” threatened to escalate an already tense moment in the deeply divided nation. “This is the only way we can win this war,” Mr. Kaczynski said, using martial language that critics said served as a call to arms.
Two days later, in Warsaw alone, 100,000 people took to the streets and it was not without violence. Masked and armed with clubs men belonging to ultranationalist groups attacked peaceful protesters, dragged women from the march and beat them with clubs or ran into the crowd, kicking people in the stomach and back. Outside the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, one of Poland's holiest Catholic shrines, police deployed tear gas to separate protesters and nationalists. In Poznan, where protesters staged a sit-in at a cathedral, one protester was badly beaten by nationalists who confronted the group. At a demonstration in Warsaw, a car hit two women participating in the protests. The driver was a 44-year old government security officer from the Internal Security Agency. He was detained by the police, but soon released with no charges against him.
Over time, police officers began to brutally treat women's protests. They have used tear gas more and more, and for many weeks they have been using the tactic of circling people, thus breaking the demonstrations into smaller groups that are called upon to disband, although they are prevented from doing so. People are locked up in the so-called boiler. On November 18th, 2020, during a protest outside the headquarters of public television, the surrounding group was attacked by young men with telescopic batons. Many thought then that they were nationalists. Later it turned out that they were officers from the anti-terrorist department. Police have also included intimidation in their tactics. In smaller towns and cities, the police call on young protest organizers, often people aged 14-17, threatening them with imprisonment. 14-year-old Maciej Rauhut from Krapkowice (south-west Poland) heard that he is facing 8 years in prison for sharing information on social media about the upcoming demonstration. He did not allow himself to be intimidated, but many other teenagers, under family pressure, withdrew from participating in the protests.

During the demonstration on November 28th, armed with clubs and gas, the police began chasing a group of protesters. Young people decided to hide on the campus of the Warsaw University of Technology, where the police are not allowed to enter, but this did not prevent them from being brutally attacked by the officers at the university - several people had their arms and legs broken. On December 9th, during another protest, police officer broke an arm of a 19-year-old girl during the arrest (she did not resist). People who go out onto the streets with banners are also given fines - this is another way of “discouraging” protesters from leaving the house. Policemen say that spontaneous gatherings during the epidemic are illegal. It's not true. Persons who are detained after 22h are punished under Article 51 of the Code of Petty Offenses, i.e. for disturbing public order by noise, which is also an abuse by the police. In the event of refusal to accept a ticket, the case is referred to the court, and these massively discontinue the applications for punishment. The activities of the Polish police are to be investigated by the Human Rights Tribunal in Strasbourg. Meanwhile, the government has prepared a law that requires every punished person to accept a fine. If she does not accept, she will get another penalty.

Sisterhood on the rise

Trust in the Catholic Church in Poland is dropping very fast. Nearly 70 percent Poles want to lead religious education out of schools and transfer them to the parishes. Two years ago, 52 percent thought so. The number of people who have a positive opinion of the Catholic Church is falling even faster. In March 2020, 57 percent had good feelings toward the Church. In September it dropped to 49 percent. and today it's only 41 percent. This is an absolute record and the worst result in nearly three decades. For the first time in 27 years, the percentage of negative opinions exceeds the percentage of positive ones. The same is true when the trust in the police is compared - in 2017, the work of officers was assessed positively by over 62 percent. of the society. Today only 44 percent of Poles trust the police.

On November 28th, the police arrested Grandma Kasia who participated in Women's Strike demonstration in the center of Warsaw. This tiny lady (62 years old) was handcuffed with her hands behind her back and thrown into a police car. At the police station in Piaseczno (20 km from the city center) she got the same charge as usual - violation of the policeman's physicality. "As if they couldn't think of something else," she commented. About police violence, she says: “It is debasement and humiliation, because that is their purpose. They don't have to show that they are stronger. They want to show that I am helpless. " When she is finally released, a group of young women stands in front of police headquarter shouting the slogan popular among the participants of the Women's Strike: "You'll never walk alone again."


30th October protest, the largest yet. Photo: Olga Wiechnik

Tags: PIS, abortion, Jarosław Kaczyński, Law and Justice Party, Poland

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  • A Constitutional Tribunal in Warsaw ruled that abortions for fetal abnormalities violate the country’s Constitution, effectively imposing a near-total ban in a nation that already has one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe. In the ruling, the tribunal’s president, Julia Przyłębska, said that allowing abortions in cases of fetal abnormality legalized “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child, thus denying it the respect and protection of human dignity.”
  • The tightening of the abortion law does not seem to be an inflammatory factor, but a drop of bitterness that poured out the cup. The demonstrations have broadened into an expression of anger at a right-wing government but they have also broken a longstanding social taboo against challenging the Catholic Church which has long pressured the government to tighten or eliminate access to abortion.
  • After a week of mass protests in all major Polish cities, Mr. Jarosław Kaczyński in a video posted on Facebook urged his conservative supporters to "defend Poland, patriotism and in particular Polish churches." The call by the deputy prime minister and leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, to fight back against the protesters and his description of the opposition as “criminals” seeking to “destroy the Polish nation,” threatened to escalate an already tense moment in the deeply divided nation.
  • Trust in the Catholic Church in Poland is dropping very fast. Nearly 70 percent Poles want to lead religious education out of schools and transfer them to the parishes. Two years ago, 52 percent thought so. The number of people who have a positive opinion of the Catholic Church is falling even faster. In March 2020, 57 percent had good feelings toward the Church. In September it dropped to 49 percent. and today it's only 41 percent. This is an absolute record and the worst result in nearly three decades. For the first time in 27 years, the percentage of negative opinions exceeds the percentage of positive ones. The same is true when the trust in the police is compared - in 2017, the work of officers was assessed positively by over 62 percent. of the society. Today only 44 percent of Poles trust the police.
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