Poland’s opposition claims almost a quarter of a million people protested in Warsaw on Saturday against what they see as the government’s alienation from the EU and flouting of democratic rules.
Although police put the turnout figure much lower, this was the biggest of a wave of anti-government protests since the ruling eurosceptic Law and Justice party began tightening control over the country’s public broadcaster and highest court, following its landslide election victory last October.
Critics say that moves such as changing the Constitutional Court’s rules – imposing the need for a two-third majority among judges for a ruling to be valid – limit its power to examine government legislation. Recent media laws give a government minister the right to hire and fire the public broadcaster’s management.
The reforms have attracted international criticism and prompted a European Union inquiry. The 47-member Council of Europe has said the changes to Poland’s highest court endanger the rule of law, democracy and human rights.
The latest rally, which its supporters claimed drew at least 200,000 people, was organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy and most opposition parties including the biggest one – the Civic Platform.
“We are here together today to say we will not allow the nightmare of authoritarian rule. We will not tolerate the violation of democracy, the violation of the rule of law, the violation of the Constitution. We won’t accept it,” said Civic Platform leader Grzegorz Schetyna.
More than 240 000 people at pro European demonstration in #Warsaw 🇪🇺🇵🇱
EPP</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/Platforma_org">Platforma_org
Kom_Obr_Dem</a> <a href="https://t.co/I1wIgXR2fI">pic.twitter.com/I1wIgXR2fI</a></p>— EDS (edsnet) 7 May 2016
Police said only 45,000 anti-government demonstrators turned out.
The rally brought three counter-demonstrations organised by religious, conservative and nationalist groups, attracting much smaller numbers – an estimated 3,000-4,000 people.
Under the slogans “Poland has courage” and against “the dictatorship of Brussels”, they called on the government not to give in to what they describe as cliques who can’t come to terms with losing privileges they enjoyed under the previous administration.
Law and Justice leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski rejected claims that his party was opposed to the EU, and denied that there was any danger to democracy and human rights in Poland.
Radio Poland’s account of the day’s events described the pro and anti-government demonstrations as a test of strength amid a bitter political conflict that has divided the country.