Polish women counter Nazis on the streets
Women are playing an essential part in fighting for civil rights in Poland, contributing to a shift in the country’s political agenda.
On 15 August 2017, activists from the All-Polish Women Strike (PWS) group attempted to block a march by far-right extremists in Warsaw. They joined other protesters, some carrying white roses – a symbol used by anti-fascists – to launch a mass sit-in and were
forcibly moved by police. Many held up photos of Heather Heyer, who was killed during a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, US.
‘The idea was that the women activists were to be in the first row,’ said Marta Lempart, the woman behind the initial PWS mass protest last October which contributed to the scrapping of Poland’s abortion ban. The use of women in the frontline, she said, was used to confuse police by using ‘patriarchal stereotypes against the rightwing powers’ while ‘showing that women are a comparable power’.
‘All of the protesters were removed by the police to make way for the fascist march and at least half of them were held illegally until the march passed. Others went on to do the sitting again, further along the route, with more people joining them.’
Before the blockade, PWS had written a letter to Warsaw’s city mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz demanding that she forbid the march. The PWS saw the march as promoting fascism, which is illegal in Poland. ‘Yet,’ said Lempart, ‘she did nothing about it.’
The PWS is fighting more than reproductive rights and fascism. Civil-rights demonstrations in Poland came to a head in July 2017, when the ruling Law and Justice Party attempted to put the judicial system under political control – threatening the independence of the courts. With some of the leaders of the 1989 revolutions against communist rule on their side, the PWS held a 17-hour demonstration outside the Senate during the vote. Two of the three bills were vetoed by President Andrzej Duda.
‘Pressure really works,’ said Lempart. However, she added that the state of civil rights in Poland still remains critical: ‘Women’s rights are limited; centres for domestic violence victims have lost financing and the morning-after pill is banned. Neo-Nazi symbols and marches are encouraged, and the national media displays a communist-style propaganda.’