Trump Slogan Turned on Head in Poland's Pro-Democracy RallyBy
Civic Platform says Poland is drifting toward authoritarianism
More than 90,000 took part in protest, municipality estimates
Poland’s biggest opposition group rallied thousands of supporters in Warsaw on Saturday to protest what it sees as the government’s efforts to restrict democracy and distance the European Union member from Brussels.
Buoyed by growing popularity, the Civic Platform wants to be a viable alternative to the ruling Law & Justice party, which is accused by EU leaders of “persistently” undermining the rule of law. Red baseball caps with “Make Law & Justice Small Again” -- a play on Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” -- were among props in evidence along with banners saying “Rule of Law.” Crowd estimates ranged from more than 90,000 by the municipality of Warsaw to 12,000 reported by the state-run police.
EU officials have repeatedly censured Law & Justice for backsliding on democratic standards. The government rejected the bloc’s recommendations to reverse curbs on the Constitutional Court. It also took direct control of the public media and drafted laws giving politicians more control over the judiciary. Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna said the moves risk eroding freedoms and encouraging authoritarian rule and appealed for unity of the opposition.
“Standing as one is the only way to win in next elections," Schetyna said Saturday, standing with leaders of other opposition groups as the march reached its destination in central Warsaw. “All those that are now breaking the law will be made accountable when we win.”
Prime Minister Beata Szydo’s cabinet has increasingly clashed with her counterparts in the EU as she pledges to pursue national interests, return Poland to its traditional Catholic roots and to pull the country away from the “European mainstream.”
Schetyna has accused Szydo of plotting to exit the EU, seeking to use Poles’ overwhelming support for membership in the bloc as a rallying cry against her government. Recent surveys suggest he’s gaining support against a cabinet that has rolled out unprecedented social spending at the cost of bulging public debt and a credit downgrade from S&P Global Ratings.
“There’s no question of freedom being in danger in Poland,” Law & Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski said in northwestern city of Szczecin minutes before the march began. “Freedom means to live in a country that is growing and adding jobs and we are taking care of that.”
For the first time since it won elections in 2015, backing for Law & Justice dropped below that of the Civic Platform last month, according to a Kantar Millward Brown opinion poll. The April 24-25 survey of 1,001 adults showed the ruling party slipping to 29 percent, with the opposition group at 31 percent. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.