Poland witnessed one of the largest anti-government protests in its history on Sunday, as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to the ruling party’s assault on democratic norms and human rights.
The march, organized by the opposition Civic Platform party and other groups, was held on the 34th anniversary of the first partially free elections in 1989 that paved the way for the end of communism in Poland. The protesters said they wanted to defend the legacy of that historic moment and prevent the country from sliding into autocracy under the Law and Justice (PiS) party.
The PiS, which came to power in 2015, has been accused of undermining the independence of the judiciary, restricting media freedom, attacking the LGBTQ+ community and reproductive rights, and eroding Poland’s ties with the European Union.
The marchers were joined by prominent figures from Poland’s democratic transition, such as former president Lech Wałęsa, the leader of the Solidarity trade union movement that challenged the communist rule, and former prime minister Donald Tusk, who recently returned to national politics after serving as president of the European Council.
Tusk, who now leads the Civic Platform party, told the crowd that he was determined to win the upcoming parliamentary election in autumn and reverse the damage done by PiS. He said the march was the biggest political gathering since Poland regained independence and showed the strength and unity of the opposition.
“We are going to these elections to win and to right human wrongs. I promise you victory, a settlement of evil, compensation for human wrongs and reconciliation among Poles,” Tusk said.
The government spokesman, Piotr Mueller, accused Tusk and Wałęsa of “trying to overthrow the government” and said PiS was defending Poland’s sovereignty and values against foreign interference.
The protest also drew support from other cities across Poland, where people waved Polish or EU flags and chanted slogans such as “Democracy!” and “Constitution!”. Many expressed their frustration with PiS’s policies and their fear for Poland’s future.