It was one of one of the country’s largest demonstrations since the 1989 fall of communism. An estimated 500,000 people joined the weekend Warsaw march for democratic rights, while thousands participated elsewhere.
Warsaw’s march was led by former prime minister and European Council president Donald Tusk, head of the centrist opposition party Civic Platform (PO), and Lech Walesa, the shipyard worker who emerged as a leader of the Solidarity movement and became Poland’s president. It encompassed the erosion of democratic norms and independence of the judiciary, the high cost of living, political corruption, and demands for LGBTQ+ and reproductive rights.
The turnout was boosted by opposition to new legislation from the right-wing FiS government – in power since 2015 – setting up a commission to inquire into alleged links between politicians and Moscow. There are fears that the law, dubbed by the opposition “lex Tusk”, will be used to prevent him from standing in next year’s elections.
And on Monday pressure on FiS was further ramped up by a final ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union that a December 2019 reform that prevented judges from questioning the legality of the appointment of other judges violated EU law. The government’s controversial changes also allowed the (now liquidated) Disciplinary Chamber of the Polish Supreme Court to penalise judges for their verdicts.
The confrontation with the European court has cost Poland some €557 million in fines, of which the Commission has docked Warsaw €360 million from its allocation of Covid-recovery funding. Under pressure from Brussels, Poland has reinstated most of the suspended judges in the past few months. But the number of dubiously appointed ones continues to grow.
Although Warsaw has sought to mend fences with fellow member-states, not least, unlike Hungary, in maintaining strong support for Ukraine against Russia, the demonstration and ruling reflect the governing party’s increased vulnerability. Viktor Orban may be set to lose an ally.