Revisiting Poland's Massive Pro-Choice Protests

B57C catches up with Konrad Zurawowicz @konradzurawowicz, an activist we interviewed in November 2020. We last spoke with Konrad the day after he had been attacked by a far-right group during a pro-choice demonstration in Wrocław. He tells us how Poland's situation has changed in that time, particularly with the passing of the controversial anti-abortion law on January 28th. Read our first interview with Konrad here.




1. Have you encountered any other incidents with the far-right since 1st November?

Not with the far-right. It appears as though the protestors, with the help of Wrocław’s police, managed to keep nationalists away from our marches and they have since stopped their attacks (at least in Wrocław). However on March 8th, International Women’s Day, the police were the ones who attacked us. They kicked a photographer and attacked protestors with pepper spray. From what I understand, there were changes in the police force with many of them fresh from the police academy.

They were young, unprepared and didn’t know how to engage with peaceful protestors. Police attacks on citizens have become somewhat commonplace in Poland. The government uses the police as a tool to take away freedoms and limit our rights. The police break the law and abuse their power at the behest of the current government.





2. How has the first incident affected you, have you become more cautious about being outspoken?


Honestly, the November 1st incident made me even more involved in activism and the fight for human rights. Of course I'm more careful and I don’t leave the house without pepper spray, but this incident hasn’t discouraged me. On the contrary, it has mobilised me to fight even harder. I was and will be at every protest in Wrocław, and I talk as much as possible about the situation in Poland online. For me, it was my first encounter with violence on such a scale, but it is everyday life for women, the LGBTQ+ community and ethnic minorities in Poland. There is no time for fear or giving up. This is the last moment to do something before the onset of bloodshed and innocent deaths. We don’t have a choice if we want to live in a democratic and free country. We have to stop it now. Jarosław Kaczyński will do everything to intimidate us, deprive us of rights and take away our freedom. It is my duty to oppose the PiS dictatorship.




3. As a young cis male in Poland, have you found that other men your age are actively supportive of the women’s movement?


Young men in Poland actively support women. More and more young men join the protests and are boldly expressing their support online. Of course there are also young men with different views, but they make up a very small percentage in this age group. Just to clarify, it’s not really a women’s movement on its own, as we are fighting for legal and safe abortion, which is an issue for every person with a uterus, not just women. We must be inclusive and intersectional in our advocacy for human rights and remember that this a fight also for transgender, non-binary and other folks who have been at the forefronts of the movement as well. Young people in Poland are acutely aware that the current policies are hurting everyone and they are in very strong opposition to them. Recent studies even reveal that, for the first time in many years, leftist views have come to prevail among young people.




4. How common are discussions about feminism amongst young Polish men, particularly since the passing of the anti-abortion law on January 28th?


I think that the judgment of the (un)Constitutional Court and the passing of the anti-abortion law on January 28th completely changed the attitude of young people towards feminism. Conversations about feminism and women’s rights have become an important part of our lives. It’s no longer seen as radical and we are trying to rid ourselves of negative stereotypes often associated with feminism. I now see a lot of my colleagues reading about feminism and male privilege. We see that feminism is the future. Many people began to notice how the patriarchy hurts us all and how large inequalities exist in our country. Being a feminist and a man is something that no longer must be hidden. I sincerely hope that many women have also felt our male support.



5. Do PiS appeal to young men and is instrumental change possible whilst they are in power?


PiS doesn’t appeal to young men because the younger generation are closer to the European Union and progressive ideas than to an authoritarian religious agenda. Having realised how much power the Catholic Church has in our supposedly secular country, more and more people are leaving the church. PiS policy is based on hatred and contempt towards other people, propagating discrimination towards minorities. Young people want to live differently than previous generations, without prejudice towards others. For the first time in years, young people have become involved in politics and determined to express their opposition to the current government. The PiS-ruling government takes away human rights, breaks the constitution, persecutes us with the hands of the police and finally calls us ‘leftist hooligans’. The change in young people has already happened, but the older generations are less immune to PiS propaganda. Unfortunately, young people need strong allies to overturn PiS, the older generations and the church.


From a legal perspective, it is impossible for any instrumental changes to be implemented whilst PiS is in power, as it requires political will to make changes in the constitution (which is obviously lacking in PiS). We need to abolish PiS altogether and change the power dynamics in order to achieve the deep social and systemic changes we are vigorously fighting for.




6. What responsibilities do you see yourself having within movement?


As an individual, my responsibility is to be the best ally possible and continuously support the movement. I will continue to be present online and create educational content about how harmful PiS, Ordo Iuris and the Catholic Church are.


As a whole, the main agenda of our movement after January 28th is to ensure that every person with a uterus has access to safe and legal abortion on their own terms and without explanation. The actions of activist Laura Kwoczała, who is part of the youth branch of the Green Party, is a good example of trying to achieve this agenda under the rein of PiS. She took it upon herself to contact other countries to ask for their help in getting access to safe abortions for Polish people with uteruses.


Another goal of our movement is to educate the older generations, provide them with alternatives to state-owned media outlets and get them to understand what we are really fighting for.


In the long-term perspective, we’re preparing to gain more seats in the Parliament during the next elections.




7. Have you found yourself in conflict with family members over your participation in the protests?


Yes, I have a deep conflict with my grandmother as she doesn’t understand today’s world, and what tolerance and openness towards other people is. If someone is unable to accept my friends as equally valuable humans, and judges them through the prism of hurtful stereotypes, then our relationship is over. But I’m lucky that the rest of my family supports me in the fight and stands for the same values. We have been fighting for 6 months for basic human rights. Many people who I met at the protests today are like a family, and for that I would like to thank them because we have built an incredible support system.




8. Have the state run media continued to demonise the women’s rights movement, or have they stopped reporting on it since the law passed?


State media continues to demonise, insult and discredit the women’s rights movement. They are trying to blame them for everything, including the spread of Covid-19. They use such narratives to cover up their own ineptitude and incompetency in the fight against the coronavirus, as well as to cover up the scams and scandals of PiS party colleagues. We don’t have state 'media' today, but propaganda worthy of Putin. In order to find information about the protests, you have to use independent media and the Internet because the state media manipulates facts and provides no objective information.




9. Has there been an increase in independent journalists and media since the protests began?


Unfortunately, there has been a decrease in independent journalists and media as the government, under the veil of different state-owned companies, bought around 200 local newspapers. There is only a handful of independent and reliable media sources and I mostly access the news online, via press outlets like OKO.press, dlastudenta.pl or Onet.pl. When it comes to communication during the protests, we rely on live feeds and commentaries done by activists on Instagram or Facebook. This has shown the power of the Internet and how young people cannot trust the major traditional press outlets.




10. Are your biggest concerns for the future of Poland the same as 6 months ago?


My concerns have grown even bigger. 6 months ago, it was still only a judgement of the (un)Constitutional Court, but on January 28th the almost total abortion ban became law. The fundamentalist organisation called Ordo Iuris is gaining more and more power and support from PiS. They are trying to implement new laws that would completely ban abortion, including the cases of pregnancy being the result of rape, laws that would take away protection from women by withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention, as well as banning in-vitro fertilisation procedures. PiS policies are becoming more and more aggressive towards women and the LGBT+ community, and due to the nationalists’ and Church’s support of PiS, my concerns for the future of Poland are growing larger and larger. If we cannot stop and abolish PiS, our revolution will turn into a civil war.



All photographs courtesy of Konrad

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