Home Coronavirus/Covid-19 Protests in Poland Over Abortion Law Continue for Sixth Day

Protests in Poland Over Abortion Law Continue for Sixth Day

by World Health Now
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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, even as the nation’s leading politician urged his conservative supporters to “defend Poland.”

The call by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, 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.

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 hangars aloft to symbolize dangerous abortions.

The anger on the streets has been raw, with women saying they feel they have been made pawns in the government’s culture wars.

The church holds a special place in Polish society, in part because of the integral role that many priests, as well as the Polish pope, John Paul II, played in the 1980s in the Solidarity movement and the fight for freedom from communist rule.

For many Poles, the role of the church in politics today feels like a betrayal.

“Now it’s not really just about abortion, it’s a protest about the loss of humanity,” said Emma Herdzik, an actress who has attended protests in Warsaw.

As protests have persisted, the threat of violence has started to loom ever larger, with right-wing extremists rushing to join the fray. And Mr. Kaczynski’s exhortations to his supporters may encourage them further.

Robert Bakiewicz, the leader of an ultranationalist group, had already said his supporters would form a “Catholic self-defense” force, what he called a “national guard,” to confront “neo-Bolshevik revolutionaries.”

“The sword of justice is hanging over them and, if necessary, we will crush them to dust and destroy this revolution,” he told reporters Monday. “If the Polish nation isn’t able to give us this security, we will take action.”

Outside the Jasna Gora Monastery in Czestochowa, one of Poland’s holiest Catholic shrines, police deployed tear gas to separate protesters and nationalists, according to local radio reports. In Poznan, where protesters staged a sit-in at a cathedral, one protester was badly beaten by nationalists who confronted the group, according to the local news website TenPoznan.

At a demonstration in Warsaw on Monday, a car hit two women participating in the protests. Some observers said it looked as if the car was driven into the crowd deliberately. One of the women was treated for injuries in the hospital and later released, according to the police.

On Wednesday, Gazeta Wyborcza, the country’s largest daily newspaper, reported that the driver was a 44-year old government security officer from the Internal Security Agency. He was detained by the police, according to the authorities.

The combustible mix of public unrest and the pandemic added to the uncertainty of the moment and led to a remarkable series of bitter exchanges in Parliament.

Opposition lawmakers carried protest signs as they confronted Law and Justice members, and tried to approach Mr. Kaczynski on Tuesday.

Mr. Kaczynski, who was protected by Parliament’s security unit, denounced the opposition as “Russian agents,” while female Law and Justice lawmakers shielded him with their bodies.

Cezary Tomczyk, the parliamentary leader of the main opposition party, Civic Platform, accused Mr. Kaczynski of issuing a “call to lynching” and condemned what he said was the creation of “militias” loyal to the ruling party.

After they reached Parliament on Wednesday, demonstrators tried blocking an exit, scuffling with the police guarding the building.

“Let’s do a lockdown for our parliamentarians,” said Marta Lempart, one of the Women’s Strike leaders, through a megaphone. “We will do everything not to let them get out.”

“Until the Middle Ages finish in Poland,” added a voice from the crowd.

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