Thousands took to the streets of several Polish cities Saturday to protest against what they claim is an erosion of democracy under the country’s new Law and Justice (PiS) government.
The main demonstration, under the slogan of “Citizens for Democracy,” began in Warsaw at noon. The turnout far surpassed the expectations of the organizers, with some 50,000 people taking part in the march, according to the city authorities.
Organised by a group called the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, the demonstration protested against the ruling Law and Justice party’s recent amendments to the law on the Constitutional Tribunal.
The protesters, gathered in front of the seat of the Constitutional Tribunal, marched past the Polish Parliament to the Presidential Palace, chanting “We will defend democracy” and “Freedom, equality and democracy.”
The event was attended by members of the opposition from across the spectrum, including previously ruling Civic Platform (PO), Polish Peoples’ Party (PSL), Nowoczesna and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).
“This is not only about the Tribunal, more is at stake than one legal clause or judge,” former labor minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz told the gathered crowds. “We need to take note of the preamble of Poland’s Constitution which points to the interests of all citizens and not the interests of just one party,” he said.
Opponents have accused PiS, which swept to power in general elections in October, of forcing through its own choice of judges to the Constitutional Tribunal in breach of democratic norms. But PiS says that by selecting five new judges it was righting unfair appointments by the previous Civic Platform (PO) government towards the end of its term in power.
Similar protests were held in the eastern city of Lublin, Poznań, mid-western Poland, and Wrocław, in the south-west, among others. On Sunday, another demonstration will be held in the northern city of Gdańsk. (aba)