Taking into consideration the election, as well as all the other current social issues of America, I am sure people are more than excited to hear about even more social issues from beyond the border. Therefore here I am, the international student heroine, to quench your thirst for the foreign political tea that caused massive violent protests and the mobilization of the national army.
Let’s start with some background — my beautiful homeland of Poland is a country where the Roman Catholic church is the dominant religion and the political tastes of its citizens have been continuously skewing more and more towards the right wing for at least the last decade.
With the national-conservative party “Prawo i Sprawiedliwość” — translating to “Law and Justice” — or PiS for short, winning the presidential elections of 2015, their leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, has been continuously working through all the major institutions of the country and slowly replacing their members with people dependent on PiS.
Major scandals broke out including multiple instances of breaking constitutional laws, as well as firing well-known professionals and replacing them with people having no experience whatsoever and offering nothing except an affiliation with the ruling party. The scandals kept piling up while the societal division between the supporters and enemies of PiS kept on deepening.
So, when does it all finally fall apart? The presidential term in Poland lasts five years and with some simple math we arrive at the conclusion of 2020 being an election year for us as well. This July, Andrzej Duda managed to win his second presidential term with a very narrow margin of 51% against 49%; this election marked the highest turnout since 1995, reaching as high as 68%!
With the scare of losing power behind them and with people of PiS having the majority in all the main institutions, Kaczyński has continued enforcing his own policies in order to keep the entire country in his hands. On Oct. 22, 2020 the Constitutional Tribunal ruled that the Polish abortion law, already being one of the strictest abortion laws in Europe, needed to be even more strict. The ruling forbids performing abortions in any case except for two — rape and risk of death the mother. The judges decided that aborting lethally deformed and severely handicapped fetuses is a discrimination based on the state of their health and as such it is unconstitutional — no matter if the child is sure to die at birth or suffer for a couple of years before finally dying in pain later on.
Immediately after the ruling, Poles stormed the streets. What officially started as a women’s strike became a chance for unity of every group facing discrimination in Poland — including underpaid teachers, healthcare workers, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, and political dissidents. The flow of traffic has been stopped by the flood of protesters across the entire country blocking the roads. Banners like “I wish I could abort my government” and “***** ***” — the latter being a code for “jebać PiS,” literally meaning “f––k PiS” — can be found at any of the protests, no matter the location.
The crowds have been present on the streets since the day of the ruling and are still there now, with the biggest gathering to date counting up to 100,000 people on the streets of Warsaw. Back at my home you can hear people chanting about wanting the party to keep their hands off women and desperately urging Kaczyński to leave.
Posters and banners with ***** *** as well as the red lightning bolt (the symbol of the revolution) and other slogans can be found on buildings and in people’s hands. One of our official social media hashtags is #tojestwojna (meaning “this is war”) which does a wonderful job depicting the current mood among Polish society.
PiS did not leave us with no response. Kaczyński gave a speech on Oct. 27 about the protests, addressing the protesters as violent attackers on Christian values and Poland as a nation. He also used the coronavirus pandemic, which is also very serious in Europe, to call us “serious criminals who cause public danger and who need to be stopped.”
He directly encouraged PiS supporters to take a stand against protesters, which has already resulted in frequent attack groups who merge and follow the crowd only to suddenly attack nearby protesters — no matter whether they’re men, women, teenagers or children.
The police who follow the orders of the ruling party are attacking us with gas bombs and physical violence while refusing to follow through with the arrests of the self-proclaimed “protectors of the church values.” About 20,000 soldiers have been distributed onto the streets of Warsaw, officially to help the overwhelmed hospitals in managing the patients. But a lot of people expect them to be used to tame the protests — during Warsaw’s largest protest those exact soldiers could already be seen guarding the churches.
So that’s what it is for now. I myself am following the situation very closely not only because that is my country but also because I am going back there in a matter of days. Meanwhile, if you were wondering what could YOU do to help the Polish women fighting for the rights to their own bodies, this is the paragraph for you.
First and foremost: educate yourself about the situation. Multiple English-language media covered the situation and are accessible online. Spread awareness — one of our hashtags is #tellsomeone. Research the hashtags on social media to find all kinds of information and resources on how to help.
There are also donations you could make to support us – although please be aware that scammers exist. Share the red bolt symbol or other slogans of ours through social media, flyers, banners or posters. For the full list of what to do to help the situation visit the Facebook event site “Solidarity with Polish Women.” And since you have come so far as to read through my article, you are already helping!