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29 January 2016

Far-Right in Europe - The Escalating Fight for Poland's Future

From Der Speigel.

The new government in Warsaw is transforming Poland into a nationalist, anti-Western and arch-Catholic country. Now, though, a protest movement is forming, made up of leftist activists, journalists and even a former prime minister.

On a cold, damp Saturday afternoon in January, Christmas decorations were still hanging above Nowy Swiat, a main boulevard in Warsaw. The street was empty, but a large crowd had gathered on Warsaw Uprising Square, where the state-owned television station has its headquarters. Several thousand demonstrators were waving the red-and-white Polish flag and chanting their slogan: "Freedom of the Word." They feared that since the Law and Justice Party (PiS) has come to power and enacted a new law enabling the government to replace managers of public media organizations, freedom of expression is being cut back.




Kamil Dabrowa, one of the demonstrators, certainly felt that way. A day earlier, he had still been head of First Polish Radio. Then he was fired. Joanna Erbel, a sociologist with dyed red hair, was also demonstrating. Erbel, who received an award for her involvement in a neighborhood initiative, said: "Democracy is at stake in Poland."

Mateusz Kijowski was attending a simultaneous demonstration in Lodz. With two earrings in his left ear, a full beard and long gray hair tied together with a rubber band, Kijowski is the leader of a new, non-parliamentary opposition movement, which he founded late last year: the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, or KOD. "The freedom of the press is in jeopardy," he said, "and with it, democracy as a whole." Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, the former conservative premier, stayed at home that day, but he usually attends the anti-government demonstrations too.

In total, about 20,000 people simultaneously protested in Warsaw, Lodz, Berlin, London and Prague that Saturday, marking the third major protest campaign since the national conservatives came into power. The protesters included gay and lesbian activists, environmentalists and veterans of the anti-communist movement that existed before the fall of the Berlin Wall, as well as Catholic conservatives and ordinary citizens. They are united by the same fear: that the national conservatives will transform the country to suit their agenda and will curtail freedom in the process.

More at Der Speigel Online.

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