People take part in a march against Poland's right-wing government in Warsaw

People take part in a march against Poland's right-wing government in Warsaw on June 4, 2023.

(Photo by Jakub Porzycki/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

Hundreds of Thousands Rally Against Poland's Authoritarian Right-Wing Government

"We are now at a crossroads between being an authoritarian and a democratic country," said one activist.

An estimated 500,000 people took to the streets of the capital Warsaw and other Polish cities on Sunday to protest the nation's far-right government, which has assailed reproductive freedoms, attacked the rights of LGBTQ+ people, and cracked down on critical civil society groups and media outlets.

Sunday's march against the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party—which has held power since 2015—was called by former Polish prime minister Donald Tusk, who is leading the Civic Platform opposition party into an expected October general election.

"Here's my pledge to you today: We are going to win this election and hold PiS accountable," Tusk told a crowd gathered in Warsaw.

The Associated Pressreported that "the passage of a contentious law last month seems to have mobilized greater support for Tusk."

The law, signed by right-wing President Andrzej Duda, "allows for the creation of a commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland," AP noted. "Critics argue that it would have unconstitutional powers, including the capacity to exclude officials from public life for a decade. They fear it will be used by the ruling party to remove Tusk and other opponents from public life."

Sylwia Gregorczyk-Abram, a lawyer and rights activist, toldThe Guardian ahead of Sunday's protests that the new measure "is against Tusk but we can all be targeted by this law, because they will not hesitate to use it against anyone."

"It is the culmination of the authoritarian system developed in Poland over the past eight years. We are now at a crossroads between being an authoritarian and a democratic country.”

Described as among the largest political demonstrations in Poland in decades, Sunday's march came amid growing alarm over the Polish government's ongoing assault on basic rights.

As Amnesty International summarized in its 2022 report on the country: "Access to abortion was further limited. Criminal charges were used to curtail freedom of expression. The authorities continued to erode the independence of the judiciary. Freedom of peaceful assembly was restricted. Violations of LGBTI rights persisted. Positive moves were made to accommodate between 1 and 2 million refugees from Ukraine, although official hostility continued towards refugees and migrants who arrived since 2021 via Belarus."

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