And a tidal wave of Polish and European flags swept through the streets of central Warsaw on Sunday June 4, under a blazing sun. The crowd responded to the call of Donald Tusk, one of the leaders of the opposition, a few months before the legislative elections in the fall. This 66-year-old man, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2014, and who returned to Polish politics after chairing the European Council, called on April 15 for a march in Warsaw “against inflation, theft and lies and for free elections”.
The leader of the Civic Platform (PO), the main democratic opposition party, could hardly have dreamed of a better way to relaunch his electoral campaign. The town hall of Warsaw estimated the number of demonstrators at nearly 500,000, a figure not reached for more than thirty years, in a country which has lost the habit of massive gatherings of the Solidarnosc years.
Coming from all over the country, young people, retirees and families converged on the capital by their own means, in coaches or specially chartered trains, to express their fed up with the politics of the ultra-conservative PiS party ( Law and Justice), in power since 2015, and accused of restricting the freedoms of Polish citizens.
In any case, this is what Romek Hryncewicz thinks, who left Dobre Miasto on Sunday morning, a small town of 10,000 inhabitants, 240 kilometers north of Warsaw. This psychologist remembers very well the communist era and its hardships. “I was 17 in 1989 when communism fell. Today, we can travel freely within the European Union and the government is threatening to get us out of it”protests this fifties.
“This autumn, we will be dealing with the most important elections since 1989. This government is going beyond all limits and if the PiS wins once again, it is not excluded that it will falsify the next elections because it will have completely appropriated the courts and will not fail to silence the free media that we still have”adds the protester, who is waving a European flag.
“Democracy is in the hot seat”
The opposition may owe part of its success on Sunday to a government initiative. A decried law, which came into force on May 30, creates a commission of inquiry into Russian influence, likely to dismiss from any post involving public funds anyone who has been too close to the Kremlin. The commission was deemed unconstitutional by many jurists and was condemned by Brussels and Washington. The law has been dubbed “lex Tusk” by commentators who see it as a tool to ban liberal Donald Tusk from the post of prime minister, on the grounds that his government had signed gas contracts with Vladimir Putin’s Russia.
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