WARSAW: Half a million protesters packed the streets of central Warsaw on Sunday, Poland’s opposition organisers said, claiming one of the biggest anti-government demonstrations in the 30 years since the end of communism.
Lech Walesa, a former Polish president, Nobel Peace Prize winner and leader of the fight against communism, joined opposition figures at the head of the march ahead of legislative elections in the autumn.
People travelled from across the country after former prime minister Donald Tusk, head of the centrist opposition party Civic Platform (PO), called for the protest against “the high cost of living, swindling and lying, and for democracy, free elections and the EU”.
The leaders of most opposition parties encouraged their supporters to join the march against the nationalist Law and Justice party (PiS) led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, which has been in power for almost eight years. Smaller gatherings also took place in other cities and towns across Poland.
“City Hall estimates (the number of protesters) at 500,000 now,” the organisers’ spokesman Jan Grabiec said.
Decked out in the red and white colours of the nation, demonstrators carried EU flags and placards proclaiming “Enough’s enough”, “No to autvhoritarian Poland” and blaming the ruling PiS party for exorbitant prices.
Once the head of the European Council, Tusk addressed the crowds in Warsaw’s historic old town, saying the opposition’s role was “of comparable importance” to that in the 1980s and the fight against communism. “Democracy dies in silence. From today, there will be no more silence...despite the daily attacks by Kaczynski’s PiS against its very foundations,” Tusk said.
Walesa, who led the Solidarity union in a successful battle against communism, has long been absent from politics. He told the marchers he had been “patiently” waiting for the day when the nationalist party and Kaczynski will be forced out. “Mr Kaczynski, we have come to get you. The day has finally arrived,” Walesa said.
Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2023