Black Friday protests in Poland take over the streets

Yesterday saw one of the largest protests in Polish contemporary history. Tens of thousands took to the streets to oppose the recent government plans to ban abortion all together: even in case of threat to mother or fetus lives, or if the pregnancy is a result of rape. In Warsaw, about 55 thousand people took part in protests, with smaller demonstrations in a number of other Polish cities and abroad.

Protest in London

In London, 150 people descended on the Polish Embassy, and plastered the front doors with large printed letters spelling out #CZARNYPIATEK [Black Friday: a name given to yesterdays protests]. Speakers talked of the Catholic Church’s interference in both politics and women’s rights, and of the insidiousness of the attempt to push the proposed bill through parliament. Coat hangers were waved in the air by the crowd, dedicated to the bishops who won’t succeed in suppressing women, and chants were recited between speakers. Cries of “my body, my choice!” and “keep your rosaries off my ovaries!” echoed out along Regent St, and a usually patriotic song “Rota” was hijacked and rewritten as an anti-church pro-choice anthem. Supporters from other local women’s rights groups attended and there was an air of both anger and energy from the crowd. There were a handful of placards, and a couple of “czarny piatek” flags, although there were a couple of Razem [Polish left party] flags too, and unfortunately some politicians were thanked and invited to speak. Mostly though, there was a sense of hatred directed toward the conservative government and the Catholic Church. There was only one instance of police presence, when two officers asked people to step back off the road. All in all the protest lasted just under 2 hours before people dispersed.

In Poland, it is estimated that roughly 35% participants in protests were men, and 30-40 year old and younger women dominated. However, there was also a significant presence from older generations. Some men decided to participate in protests by forming a group called “Radical Househusbands” and providing assistance to women: be it looking after children, or providing food for a day.

The demos were not of the polite kind. The Warsaw demonstration – as well as those in Poznan, Krakow, Toruń, Katowice and other cities – was radical, fierce, sometimes violent. From women’s rights slogans, the demonstration has progressed towards wider, and strongly political demand of government resignation. The crowd was pissed off. One of the participants in Warsaw commented for Freedom News that “the mood was revolutionary”,  with another declaring that if nothing changes, “next time we will smash up this city”. The demonstration quickly turned into anti- government protest. There were also strong anti- Catholic Church sentiments. The Church, hand in hand with the state authorities, violates rights of women to decide on their bodies. It is also guilty of trying to enforce their religious beliefs on the Polish society.

The message to the government was clear: Church and political authorities will not be allowed to make such drastic interference with women’s rights as the proposed anti- abortion law. People favor a secular state, free from Catholic ideology.

The protests were largely misrepresented by the state- controlled media, who described  the participants as “feminists wanting to murder unborn babies” during their main news show last night. Polish TV, quite blatantly, opted to support the counter demonstrations, which gathered, in much smaller numbers, on the same day under the name “White Friday. Those were described as “protectors of unborn children”.

After succesful protests from a couple of years ago, when the government attempted to tough up already strict abortion laws but was forced to back up due to wide discontent in Polish society, Polish women are convinced that they can not rely on a parliamentary opposition to protect their basic rights. The entire of Polish parliament is right-wing at the moment, with the ruling party the most extreme of them all. There is no force in Polish mainstream politics which would be willing to protect basic women’s rights, or basic human rights for that matter. Hence, a wide grassroots movement able to enforce its aims is needed. Yesterday, this grassroots movement showed their force on the streets.

zb, with contribution from mpc