WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Thousands of Poles across the country marched Saturday Jan. 23 in freezing temperatures to protest a slew of measures by the country’s new right-wing government that they say are anti-democratic.
The motto of the marches, the most recent of several that have taken place since the nationalist, right-wing Law and Justice party took power in November, was “in defense of your freedom.”
Protesters are furious about government steps that they fear limit checks and balances on the party, which has a majority in parliament and also controls the presidency. Soon after taking power, Law and Justice took steps to curb the power of the Constitutional Tribunal, increased government control over state media and widened the scope for police surveillance.
In Warsaw, an estimated 10,000 people gathered before Prime Minister Beata Szydlo’s office before marching Saturday Jan. 23 to the palace of President Andrzej Duda. Protesters shouted “Democracy!” and many carried Polish and European Union flags.
“We want to keep our democracy and freedom,” Mateusz Kijowski, leader of the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, told the crowd in Warsaw. “In Poland, we now have one center of power. There is no possibility of control, of verification, and this threatens our freedom.”
The European Union recently opened a preliminary assessment of whether Poland’s new laws on the constitutional court and media violate the bloc’s fundamental principle of the rule of law. That could ultimately lead to suspending Polish voting rights in the 28-nation bloc.
One Warsaw protester held up a sign “Happy New Year 1984,” saying she fears life in Poland could begin to resemble the authoritarian state depicted in George Orwell’s novel “1984.”
Adam Mazanik, 40, carried an EU flag as his protest against Szydlo, who has removed EU flags from Polish press briefings. He said he believes the EU flag represents the very best values in Europe, including equality and freedom.
“We are afraid that things could get that bad if we don’t protest now,” said Anna Straszewska, a 42-year-old art historian. “I remember communism. When democracy came I thought we would be part of the West forever. Now I am even afraid this could end up in us leaving the EU.”
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