Over the last week, news of Poland's massive pro-choice protests have dominated the media. But what exactly is going on and what do the protests mean for Poland's future?
Interview with pro-choice and queer rights activist Julia Schramm- @juliaschramm
1. What are these protests about and why are you supporting them?
Julia- We are protesting because we strongly disagree with the Polish Constitutional Tribunal's decision regarding banning abortion in the case of termination for foetal anomaly. I support protesting against that decision, because I don’t want to be the government's pro-creational aggregate. When injustice becomes law, my duty as a citizen and a woman is to fight against it, even if that means civil disobedience.
2. Who is participating in the protests?
J- There are thousands of participants: from young to old, men and women.
3. These aren’t the first pro-choice protests in Poland, what happened back in 2016 and what has changed since then?
J- In September 2016, there were protests against the rejection by the Polish Parliament of the bill “Save Women”. It was also when the Polish feminist social movement was created, known as Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet.
Since 2016, PiS has gained more power and votes because of the 500+ program; a tax-free benefit of PLN 500 (EUR 110) per month for the second child, and any consecutive children, until they reach the age of 18. The Polish Catholic Church and a religious 'cult' called Ordo Iuris have also gained more power, and they influence law and education. The judiciary system has been staffed with judges that work on behalf of PiS. The protests are way bigger now, and people from all social strata are out on the streets trying to fight for women’s rights. This is a really big deal; usually people had a more conciliatory approach, but Jarosław Kaczyński and his reign over PiS and Poland has deeply parted our country. There is no dialogue anymore, and the only thing that people do is fight and hate each other.
4. Why are the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) implementing these strict abortion rules?
J- PiS is a political party strongly influenced by the Polish Catholic Church. They are against women's rights; against sexual education; anti-LGBTQ+, and are only interested in keeping their power and authority, as well as the church's influence on Polish citizens. Among feminists groups, we surmise that they are planning to transform Poland into an authoritarian, alt-right country.
5. How do these strict rules play a role in the changing socio-political dynamics of Poland and its on-going battle with the EU?
J- It is clear to us that PiS and other alt-right parties want Poland to leave the European Union in order to have complete control over their citizens. It is well known in Poland that European standards are seen as “the enemy's influence to ruin Polish tradition and families.” Without proper education and debunking of the government's propaganda, our democracy will quickly backslide into a dictatorship, which is already happening due to the failed protests regarding the judicial reforms.
6. What has been the reaction from Polish society; are the protests gaining support from across the country?
J- It is hard to say. We have strong and angry statements, which is understandable because of what the government wants to put women and people with a uterus through. On one hand, I’d like to think that most people are supporting it, because many voters supported the so called “abortion compromise” established in 1993 between the ruling party and the government. On the other hand, I understand the mechanism of the TVP (Telewizja Polska- the state TV network) and their propaganda, and I know that they will blame us for the increase of coronavirus infections whilst trying to present us as violent, trained enemies of Poland. I still hope that most people support us in our fight for women's rights.
7. We have seen a heavy response from the police who have clashed with protestors; how violent are the protests and who is perpetuating the violence?
J- Every coin has two sides. It depends; there were multiple different situations. Often, when the police try to arrest someone, the crowd shouts at them and they try to help the arrestee. If people are arrested, they have help from Lewica’s (The Left- political party) MPs as well as independent lawyers. The behaviour of police officers differentiates depending on the city; for example, in Warsaw they are more violent: spraying protesters with pepper spray and it appears they are even cooperating with far-nationalists. But in Krakow they are way calmer, at least for now. But from my point of view, it seems that the police are the perpetrators more often than not, like pushing an old woman so hard that she fell onto the pavement or driving their car into groups of protestors.
8. How are the protests and the protestors being represented in the media, particularly the TVP which has been accused of pro-PiS bias?
J- Women are presented as murderers and trained aggressors who are vulgar and cruel and do not respect the Catholic faith; as well as the cause of the increase of coronavirus infections. Which is quite funny to me, because at the same time TVP claims that only a few hundred people are taking part in the protests, so logically it makes no sense; we have a huge increase in infections and not many people taking part in the protest. That is a quite obvious self-contradiction. There was also a suggestion from TVP that women who speak their mind and protest should wear stones on their necks and walk across the city's main market.
9. What do you hope these protests will achieve?
J- We don’t want to be the government's incubators. We don’t want Poland to become like Gilead in The Handmaid's Tale. We want to overthrow our government and get rid of the current- already minimised- “compromise”. It was never a compromise to begin with; women were not acknowledged in it at all. We want full abortion rights up until the twelfth week; we want sexual education in schools; we want fair courts without any influence from political parties; we want religion and indoctrination out of schools. We are tired of being mistreated in our own home.
10. Who else should we be following?
J- If you are interested in Poland's current situation I highly recommend following: Queerwoy Maj- @queerowymaj Centrum Praw Kobiet- @centrumprawkobiet Grupa Stonewall- @grupastonewall Krytyka Polityczn-@krytykapolityczna Polityka- @tygodnikpolityka Ewa Bujacz- @lewogram Magdalena Buła- @zexcet Oliwia Trybus- @milionoliwka