Police prevented protesters from marching into the Polish capital as demonstrations took place across the country against attempts to curtail abortion rights and recent police violence. Police and protesters played cat and mouse in Warsaw when officials put up barriers that protesters tried to avoid and urged them to regroup elsewhere in the city center.
The demonstrations are part of what has become Poland’s largest protest movement since the fall of communism 30 years ago. A decision by the Polish Constitutional Court on October 22 to ban abortions of fetuses with congenital defects even if the fetus has no chance of survival at birth sparked the protests.
At one point, the protesters gathered on a main thoroughfare, which leaned the traffic. When the drivers honked their horns, the protesters shouted, “We apologize for the inconvenience, we have to overthrow a government.”
The police warned that the demonstration was illegal as it was not registered in advance. It also violated a pandemic ban for large gatherings.
“We have the right to protest,” sang the participants.
Czarek Sokolowski / AP
At one point, officials used tear gas against an opposition lawmaker, Barbara Nowacka, who intervened “in defense of peacefully protesting women,” said Borys Budka, leader of the centrist Civic Platform party in Poland.
The protesters in the capital began their demonstration by symbolically “renaming” a square in the city center to “Women’s Rights Roundabout”. An activist climbed a ladder on a van to hang a new street sign over the official Roman Dmowski Roundabout sign.
Women’s rights activists want the authorities to officially approve the name change. They say it would honor a movement for equality more than Dmowski, a statesman who played a key role in regaining Polish national independence in 1918 but was also an anti-Semite.
Protests were organized in Krakow, Gdansk and other cities on Saturday to celebrate Polish women being given the right to vote 102 years ago. The events were planned under the motto “In the name of mother, daughter, sister”.
A mother with two teenage daughters in Warsaw held a sign that read, “I’m here for my daughters.”
Poland already had one of the most restrictive laws in Europe, negotiated between political and Catholic church leaders in the early 1990s, whose authority was strengthened in the Vatican by a Polish Pope, John Paul II. This 27-year-old law only allows abortions if there are fetal defects, health risks for women, and incest or rape.
In the case of mass protests, the government has failed to implement the court ruling, a tactical victory for the women’s strike, the movement that organized the protests that have brought hundreds of thousands to the streets of hundreds of cities in the past few weeks.
Activists are trying to keep up the pressure while demanding a more liberal abortion law and the resignation of the country’s right-wing government.
Some protesters carried rainbow flags to protest against conservative authorities who have also attacked LGBT people with hostile rhetoric.
Many wore signs with the movement’s logo, the silhouette of a suffragette with a red lightning bolt and the words “Strajk Kobiet” – or women’s strike.
Saturday’s protest included calls for an end to police violence after officials used tear gas and other forms of violence against protesters earlier this month.