"We will not be bullied": Polish protestors are under attack from ultra-nationalists

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Konrad Zurawowicz @konradzurawowicz is a pro-choice protestor from Wrocław, one of Poland's most diverse and progressive cities, thanks to it's large student population. However even here, ultra-nationalists are threatening to kill protestors. We spoke with Konrad who was recently threatened by a group of nationalists during a protest on November 1st.

All photos and videos of the protest courtesy of Konrad.

1. What exactly happened on 1st November?

Konrad- Throughout the protest, far-right nationalists attempted to attack protestors, but police and volunteers were successful in preventing them. Unfortunately, at the end, when we gathered at the main square, we realised that the nationalists had circled us. They repeatedly threatened to kill the organisers, but thankfully the police were able to separate us and keep us safe. Protestors, as advised, started to split up into groups of about 15 people and were told to go back home. Afterwards, only a group of 16 people (organisers and volunteers, myself included) were left with the police and nationalists. Since some of us had had our lives threatened, the police offered support in ensuring everyone could arrive home safely. Those who had been threatened were kept inside a formation, while the rest of us walked beside them with pepper spray in our hands in case of attacks. As we began to make our way, the police started approaching and detaining some of the nationalists. We managed to get everyone back home safely, but it was only possible due to their help. However, even now, the organisers have been continuously receiving death threats.

2. Who are the far-right nationalists and what are they motivated by?

K- They are mostly middle-aged Catholic fanatics who discriminate against everyone that is different to them, and often engage in violent behaviour. They believe that there is no space in Poland for people of different sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, race or ethnicity. Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS (the leading party) and the extremely conservative Polish clergy all share similar values and motivate one another to act and behave in a certain way. The far-right nationalists are supported by organisations such as ONR (the National Radical Camp), Ordo Iuris and other fascist organisations. They are exploited by the current government who sees them as tools to oppose the protestors and fight innocent people, instead of using the police or military, as they know they would not get their full support.

3. Were you shocked by the incident or did you expect something like this to happen?

Pro-choice supporters display the lighting bolt now synonymous with the movement.

K- I was expecting attacks to happen because the current ruling party has been fuelling hatred and creating division in society for years; they have been successfully ruining democracy and the notions of freedom. They have discriminated against LGBTQ+ people and have tried to take away the rights of many other marginalised and oppressed people. Now they have decided to take away women’s rights. In June, president Duda explicitly dehumanised LGBTQ+ people so it was no surprise that once the government chose another group to attack, in this case women, protests happened. We are all very much aware that they could potentially lead to bloodshed and so we keep ourselves prepared.

4. Since the speech from PiS leader Kaczyński, has there been an increase in attacks from the far-right? It seems many are using his speech where he called upon people to ‘defend churches’ to justify their actions.

K- Yes, certainly. Kaczyński gave the far-right nationalists a free pass to harass and attack protestors. The day after Kaczyński’s speech, a reporter was attacked in Wrocław. She was pushed to the ground and hit her head on the curb. Nationalists also attacked other women protesting for their rights: kicking them and spraying them with pepper spray. Everyday since, somewhere in the country you hear about another far-right attack. It is certainly correct to say that they have used Kaczyński’s speech to justify their actions, but at the same time that was exactly Kaczyński’s intention. Unfortunately, even though the police managed to catch some of the perpetrators, the government has instructed the prosecutors to let them go free instead of standing trial and being convicted.

5. How much support do they have?

K- They have all the support from the government and the public media, and they are being portrayed as protectors of Polish traditions and Catholicism. The biggest issue is the impunity that the far-right nationalists feel they have and the fact that they are even allowed in the public discourse and politics.

6. Has there been any coverage of the attacks in the media?

K- Not in the public government-funded media, as it has become a propaganda channel for the government. The public media misconstrues images of the protests and only shows the far-right nationalists as saviours of Poland, and they even promote fascist behaviour. However, independent media and foreign observers have covered the attacks.

7. How are the police responding to these attacks?

K- In Wrocław, we have been very lucky in the sense that the police are actually doing their job by protecting the protestors instead of just being weapons of the government, which happens in other cities and towns. Although they do not support the fascist groups in the streets, in places where the police are more dependent on the government and follow direct orders, the situation is completely different as they sometimes use tear gas and other means of physical coercion and outright violence against the protestors.

8. What are protestors doing to protect themselves and are less people joining out of fear?

K- We are keeping together in large groups, we carry pepper spray as means of self-defence and we communicate through various apps. In Wrocław, we are in close contact and cooperation with the police. Additionally, we are organising ourselves, as volunteers and civilian security guards, and we continuously keep an eye out for any potential attackers from the sides of the marches .

I don’t think that less people are joining out of fear, because we all know that we are essentially fighting for democracy in Poland. The only visible change is that we are becoming increasingly more organised. We know what the stakes are and we won’t step back. It is no longer just about reproductive rights, even though the Constitutional Court’s ruling on practically banning abortion is the immediate cause of them. We demand the resignation of the current government. We won’t become another Belarus.

9. Kaczyński claimed that pro-choice protestors have been trained; are there any NGOs or groups training the protestors that you know of, or do you believe his claim to be false?

K- Kaczyński has once again lied and made up a story to fit his propaganda narrative. This is a completely grassroots movement of women and allies. It is all organised by civilians; individuals who are expressing their rage with the incompetency and the harm that the government is doing. The protests started-off as small gatherings but they are growing as more people are encouraged and inspired to join.

10. Has your experience put you off re-joining the protests?

K- Definitely not. If anything, it has motivated me, and others, to fight back even more. Freedom is the highest value and I will never give up on it. It is the duty of us, allies, to support women in the fight for their rights, but it is also my duty as a civilian, since this is our last chance to rebuild and rescue democracy in Poland. We will not be bullied and cower to the government. If we give up now, we lose it all and they will continue to take away more and more rights. In the end, we’ll have to say goodbye to human rights altogether. LGBTQ+ children will keep dying and we’ll let the government and the Catholic Church make hell for women a reality. We cannot speak of humanity, if we allow for women’s rights to be violated.