Editorial: Polish women’s revolutionary moment

November 29, 2020

From the November-December 2020 issue of News & Letters

by Terry Moon

While what is happening in Poland may not be a revolution, it most certainly is revolutionary. Women are leading a movement that is not only protesting the Catholic Church’s inhuman attack on women’s freedom, but is as well mounting a deep challenge to the fascist-leaning Polish government.

For over two weeks, beginning on Oct. 23, 100,000 protesters, most of them women and a great many in their teens and early 20s, marched in cities throughout Poland including Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Szczecin, Lodz, and others.


Women protesting anti-abortion law blockade a road in Kraków, Poland, Oct. 26, 2020. Photo: Franciszek Vetulani.

They chanted “I think, I feel, I decide!” protesting a Constitutional Tribunal court ruling making it unconstitutional to terminate a pregnancy where “prenatal tests or other medical indications indicate a high probability of severe and irreversible fetal impairment or an incurable life-threatening disease.

The inhumanity of such a law is clear from the words of ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who revealed his fanatical position in 2016: “We will strive to ensure that even pregnancies which are very difficult, when a child is sure to die, is severely deformed, end with the mother giving birth so the child can be baptized, buried, and have a name.” That cruel attempt at controlling women’s lives led to one of the largest demonstrations in Polish history. The demonstrations this past month were larger still.

So militant, determined, and thoughtful are the women’s protests that they threaten the government because they represent the peoples’ anger and disgust at how the PiS has been moving Poland towards fascism—the illegal stacking of the Constitutional Tribunal court with party hacks being just one example.

Poland’s leaders recognize a revolutionary moment when it appears. That is why—under the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic—they pulled out all their tricks, calling this freedom movement “Left-wing fascism.

Kaczynski screamed at opposition lawmakers, “You are destroying Poland. You are exposing a lot of people to death, you are criminal!”


Not satisfied with siccing the police on women protesters, he called on his followers to defend churches “at any cost.” Thus, on Oct. 29 the neo-fascist All-Polish Youth attacked women in Wroclaw, Poznan and Bialystok. Fellow fascist Robert Bakiewicz said his followers would form a “Catholic self-defense” force, a “national guard” to confront what he dubbed “neo-Bolshevik revolutionaries.” He continued, “If necessary, we will crush them to dust and destroy this revolution.”

The results were that women protesters were kicked, beaten, thrown down stairs and stomped on. Police fired tear gas into crowds; thugs had knives and clubs; and in Warsaw a car plowed into two women protesters, sending one to the hospital.

On Oct. 30, after seven days of protests and fearing that the situation would get out of control, Poland’s right-wing President, Andrzej Duda, proposed allowing abortions if the fetus would die before or after birth, but for no other “incurable life-threatening disease.” Such a ridiculous compromise changed nothing.


The President’s feeble proposal made the women stronger. They had already staged a nationwide strike on Oct. 28, where up to 400,000 people protested in over 400 cities across Poland. They continued to defy the ban on public gatherings and marched on the Parliament; they blocked traffic in 50 cities; vandalized church buildings; staged sit-ins at cathedrals with coat hangers to remind all of what happens to women when abortions are illegal; marched down church aisles dressed as handmaids in red cloaks; and interrupted masses.

Grupa Stonewall, an LGBTQ+ group, posted a video of a protest at a church in Poznan, chanting “We’ve had enough!” Women hung posters on church walls and fences, labeling them as “Women’s Hell,” and picturing crucified pregnant women.

As protest participant Emma Herdzik said: “Now it’s not really just about abortion, it’s a protest about the loss of humanity”; while 19-year-old student Julka Wojciechowska said: “I am so furious! They have no right to decide about my life, about my personal decisions, about my future. They don’t understand young people. They don’t understand the world now, but they are trying to regulate our lives. We will never allow that.”


As of Nov. 11, 2020, so unstoppable were the women that they forced the government to indefinitely postpone implementing the law. The demonstrations lasted for two weeks—with over a million in the streets each night—creating the largest outpouring of people since the collapse of Communism in 1989.

Marta Lempart, a member of “the grassroots women’s movement Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (OSK, or All-Polish Women’s Strike)” said, “I think it is a whole backlash against a patriarchal culture, against the patriarchal state, against the fundamentalist religious state, against the state that treats women really badly.” OSK is also demanding expanded rights for LGBTQ+ people as well as women, universal healthcare, the separation of church and state and the independence of the judiciary. And 38-year-old Maria Kowalczyk put it succinctly to The Guardian: “Society has had enough. Forcing a mother to give birth to a baby without an organ is simply insane.”

No one, least of all Polish women, are fooled into thinking that the government’s step back on imposing the draconian abortion law is permanent. Women know the law—which was halted by not publishing it in an official journal—could be changed at a moment’s notice. As of Nov. 19, the protests are still taking place, as Agata Czarnacka reports in Transform! Europe: “The protests are now less numerous but more ferocious and are organized in unexpected places like Otwock, a conservative town near Warsaw, or Zakopane, a tourist destination in the mountains which is known for having exceptionally high rates of domestic violence. This may be a revolution comparable to May 1968 in the West, in which Poland never took part.”

What these protests reveal is a society led by women ready to challenge a theocratic fanatical government that aims to rule the people’s bodies and lives. The idea of revolution and freedom is not far behind.

—Terry Moon

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