Former ruling PiS party holds anti-government protest in Warsaw

A large anti-government protest has taken place in Warsaw organised by the national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which was removed from office last month after eight years in power.

PiS figures claimed 300,000 people attended amid cold winter temperatures. However, city hall, which is controlled by the centrist Civic Platform (PO), the largest party in Poland’s new ruling coalition, announced that it estimated the figure to be 35,000.

A large crowd has gathered in Warsaw for the „Protest of Free Poles” organised by the opposition PiS party „in defence of freedom of speech, freedom of the media and democracy”, which it claims are under threat from the new government

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 11, 2024

Speaking to the crowd, PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński declared that the new government, led by PO leader Donald Tusk, is implementing a “European plan” to “liquidate our homeland as a state” and “subordinate” it.

“We are defending Poland against the return of German imperialism and against this ideological misery,” he continued.

✌️ Prezes PiS J. Kaczyński: Ci najsilniejsi życzą sobie tego, żeby cała Unia Europejska została im bezpośrednio podporządkowana. To groza! Mamy w Polsce stracić wszelkie uprawnienia! Nie ma na to naszej zgody! Chce się przejąć nasze zasoby, które mamy w Banku Narodowym, stąd atak…

— Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (@pisorgpl) January 11, 2024

A particular focus of the march was opposition to the new government’s removal of PiS-appointed managers at public media outlets and the jailing this week of two former PiS government ministers, Mariusz Kamiński and Maciej Wąsik

Participants chanted “God, Honour, Homeland”; “Free Media” and “Constitution”. Many waved white-and-red Polish flags while some carried an image declaring solidarity with the two jailed politicians.

President Andrzej Duda, a PiS ally, also shared a photo of the same image being beamed onto the presidential palace. Shortly before the march, Duda had announced that he would begin pardon proceedings for Kamiński and Wąsik.


— Kancelaria Prezydenta (@prezydentpl) January 11, 2024

Many legal experts expressed doubt about the manner in which Tusk’s government took control of public media, and yesterday a court in Warsaw ruled that it had been done illegitimately.

Meanwhile, PiS argues that Kamiński and Wąsik are “political prisoners” of the new government, claiming that not only are they innocent but that they were already pardoned by Duda in 2015 and therefore should not have been sent to jail. The Supreme Court last year declared that pardon invalid.

“They are in jail for having fought against corruption at high levels of society, and this is not accepted by the current government,” Kaczyński told the crowd.

Kamiński and Wąsik were convicted for abusing their powers during a corruption investigation, including ordering illegal surveillance and the production of fake documents.

President Duda has announced that he will begin new pardon proceedings for the two former PiS government ministers jailed this week.

His office had previously insisted that Duda would not pardon the pair because he believes he already did so in 2015

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) January 11, 2024

“There was supposed to be the rule of law, and there is lawlessness,” said Mateusz Morawiecki, who served as PiS prime minister until last month. “There was supposed to be Europe, and there is Belarus.”

“We want to express our opposition to this government, which uses tyranny and does not take into account the PiS electorate at all and tries to introduce all solutions by force,” a woman taking part in the protest told broadcaster TV Republika.

During its eight years in power, PiS was itself not only accused by the then opposition of violating democratic standards, but also by a range of international institutions and experts.

Under PiS, Poland fell rapidly in various global rankings of rule of law, democracy and media freedom. Many aspects of the party’s overhaul of institutions, especially the judiciary, were deemed unlawful by multiple Polish and European court rulings.

Poland has moved further towards autocracy than any other country in the world over the last decade, according to a global index compiled by academics and other experts

— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) March 11, 2021

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Main image credit: Kuba Atys / Agencja

Alicja Ptak is senior editor at Notes from Poland and a multimedia journalist. She previously worked for Reuters.

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