Thousands of people gathered in Warsaw on Sunday for an opposition rally, two weeks before an election that the liberal Civic Platform (PO) claims will decide Poland’s future in the European Union and democratic standing.
Opinion surveys indicate that the nationalist Law and Justice (PiS) government will win the election, but will struggle to build a majority due to growing living costs and concerns about the weakening of democratic checks and balances.
The opposition is hoping Sunday’s march becomes the biggest in decades and galvanises voters to participate in the election.
“Big change is coming. This is a sign of Poland’s rebirth,” PO leader Donald Tusk told crowds gathered in a central Warsaw square, many people waving Polish and EU flags.
Tusk, a former European Council president, has said PiS could aim to take Poland out of the EU, something the party denies, and has framed the election as crucial for minority and women’s rights.
PiS, in power since 2015, has campaigned on a pledge to keep migrants out of Poland, saying that was key for national security, and to continue funnelling money towards families and the elderly.
“I want to be free, be in the EU, I want to have a say, I want to have free courts,” said Hanna Chaciewicz, a 59-year-old dentist from Otwock, a town outside of Warsaw.
PiS denies western criticism that it has subverted democratic norms and says its reforms of the judiciary are aimed at making the country fairer and free of vestiges of communism, while its changes to public media rid it of foreign influence.
But it has yet to gain access to billions of euros in EU COVID recovery funds which Brussels has withheld over the Polish court reforms.
“Everybody is investing in jobs, in fighting the climate catastrophy. And we have been denied this money because someone has decided to destroy democracy in Poland,” Warsaw mayor Rafal Trzaskowski told those at the rally.