If you live in Poland, of course you’ve heard about the massive, country-wide pro-choice protests that have been happening since the 23rd of October.
If you’re not in Poland, here’s the deal: on Thursday, 22 of October 2020, Poland’s constitutional tribunal court ruled that abortion due to birth defects is unconstitutional. These type of abortions account for 98 percent of all the procedures performed here, and so this means that Poland has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe, as abortion is now basically illegal, except in cases of rape or if the mother’s health is threatened.
I’m going to be very clear: This is about politics, and the church deciding when the state gets to own women’s bodies. The judge who issued that Oct 22 ruling? She was appointed by Andrezj Duda, Poland’s president and member of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS for short, Poland’s right-wing ruling party. The party is called “Peace” because I’s sound like E’s in Polish. PiS is “Truth and Justice” in English, which isn’t at all a fashy sounding name. The court is allegedly independent, except that the judge I mentioned… is a close associate of Jaroslaw Kaczyński, the head of PiS.
In this vid, I’m going to take a look at the massive protests in Poland over the last two weeks, which are said to be the largest since the fall of communism in 1989. I’m also going to teach you how to swear in Polish, and to try and explain the reasons for these protests.
But first, I have some questions.
If PiS cares so much about life, why is NFZ, Poland’s national healthcare system, so fucked up? Anyone who lives in Poland knows how long the waits can be to receive treatments, only made worse by COVID.
If PiS cares so much about children’s lives, why did public schools reopen in Poland this fall, only to start going online weeks later as COVID cases spiked?
You know, it’s not like PiS tried to pass a similar law four years ago, and was met with a nation-wide protest called czarny protest— the women’s strike— that was ultimately successful in convincing the ruling party to back down. Oh wait! That is totally a thing that happened.
To make things more interesting, the state-funded TV stations are spreading baldfaced lies about leftist extremists destroying Poland, and how the symbols the pro-choice protesters use— like the red lightning bolt— are Nazi symbols.
When they say the left is destroying Poland, do they mean that the Left has control of the Polish government and media, and has allowed religion, aka Catholicism, to be taught in public schools, and now the government is threatening to stop any speech that they disagree with?
Except that’s not the left, that’s PiS.
And don’t talk about the “No true Scotsman” argument that all Poles are Catholic and if you’re not Catholic the exact same way the government is Catholic, therefore you are not a real Pole. I do mean the exact same way as the government. It’s not like the Archbishop of Krakow publicly walked back his statements about LGBT people after the pope recently voiced support for same sex unions!
Sure, let’s just pretend the people who lived in Poland before Catholicism came here don’t count, and let’s handwave away the long history of Jewish people in Poland, and while we’re at it, Poland’s and Ukraine’s shared heritage… and that Ukrainians aren’t Catholic either.
I’m not going to deny how important faith is to many Poles. However, faith is something separate from the church hierarchy. Remember this.
Some background. All Polish people know how important a figure John Paul II is. Born Karol Józef Wojtyła, his role as a spiritual leader to important figures in Poland’s protests, such as Lech Wałęsa, is credited with giving Poles the courage to start protesting against the Soviet regime in the 70s and 80s.
To me, Poland has let John Paul II’s role in encouraging peaceful anti-Soviet protests, which led to the eventual fall of Communism, turn the Catholic Church into a more important figure than either Jesus or God for many Poles. Which brings me to PiS, which is super friendly with the Catholic Church.
This isn’t about morals, this is a political party trying to consolidate its power by pretending to be moral. And maaaaybe the Catholic Church isn’t the best one to talk about morals?
It’s not like the Catholic Church has ever had a different opinion about abortion over the centuries!
hang on, I’m getting a message. Huh. Says here the church changed its position on abortion over the centuries, as well as changing when a fetus gets a soul.
Or, that the Church didn’t take much of an interest in birth control, until the number of shrinking size of Catholic families led the Pope to oppose abortion.
Shockingly, I’m getting another message.
It is not like the Catholic Church has ever weaponized grief about stillbirth! DING
hang on, I’m getting another message. Oh yeah, indulgences for stillbirths and unbaptized infants.
Or, that the church might be out of step with the actual birth control practices of real Catholics?
oh look. A message. Huh, the average number of Catholic families in some countries is falling. Maybe they’re having less sex and praying more.
I am so tired of men deciding how and when women should be treated like people. Or the arguments about personhood or souls, which belong to philosophers, not in hospitals. I don’t know when a human egg and sperm gets a soul, and neither do you.
But I do know that women have souls. I mean, it’s not like the Church has ever questioned if women have souls!
Don’t dress it up with talk about innocence or souls or tradition. I’m not going down this rabbit hole. The Bible does not say “thou shalt not have abortions or use birth control.” And it doesn’t matter what the Bible says anyway— one, I don’t think an ancient, messy collection of stories and essays that have been translated and retranslated countless times into many languages should be the basis of our understanding about women’s health. I think we’ve made some progress on health and medicine in the past 2000 years! So no, I don’t give a fuck what some men writing in ancient Aramaic centuries ago might’ve thought about about condoms or abortion.
Two, using any religious book, including the Bible, to make healthcare policy is a terrible idea. Separation of Church and State, anyone?
This is not about saving baby’s souls. This is about trying to control women. It always has been.
The proof? Watch how right-wing men react when women get more rights over their bodies, or protest for them. I’ve seen the look in men’s eyes when they get angry about women having abortions. My Trump-supporting father, my example. My abusive ex boyfriend.
These nationalists attacking women in front of a church.
These attacks didn’t happen in isolation. The head of PiS, Kaczyński, directly encouraged it, telling people to “protect churches” after protests reached into churches on Sunday, 24 of October. And this is not the only time nationalists and football hooligans have attacked the women protesting peacefully in the past week.
I’m sorry, I’m a foreigner in this country. Can someone tell me what tradition these men are trying to protect?
You want to accuse me of cherry picking these facts about religion? Conflating the issues of abortion and birth control? Fine. Let’s take a nice, long, scholarly look at how religion affects women’s health. With footnotes, citations. All that jazz.
Midwives, who were traditionally women in Europe for centuries, are the ones who helped ensure healthy deliveries and births. When the church got involved: it asked midwives to report any suspicion of abortion or induced labor. Which leads us to a tangled web of accusations of witchcraft and midwifery.
When the field of medicine became professionalized, with universities and training, women were not allowed to join, of course. And do you think that men wanted to use the long tradition of institutionalized knowledge countless had handed down about safe birthing techniques to help inform their practices? Yeah, right.
For too long, the painful realities of pregnancy have been kept secret, hidden. Fertility issues, miscarriage, stillbirths, infants born with severe birth defects— all of these things have been women have talked about in private, and something men tended blamed women for. Henry VIII, anyone?
The uniqueness of Chrissy Teigen sharing her photos and story about her miscarriage recently highlights this. For too long, pregnancy and birth complications haven’t been something talked about much in society, outside of doctor’s offices and women comforting one another.
This is a complicated subject. Sometimes, pregnancies threaten the women’s health. Sometimes, difficult decisions need to be made to terminate a wanted pregnancy in the third trimester. Sometimes, women don’t want to be pregnant. All of these are valid reasons to have abortions.
This conservation, about abortion, birth control and women’s health needs to stop dealing with religion. Because I haven’t heard any religious argument that takes the issues of women’s health or bodily autonomy seriously. I think that if even one woman dies from the results of the church’s hangups about sex, that is one woman too many.
Don’t pretend that nothing bad happens when the Bible influences doctors. Sure, I bet that nothing bad happens.
DING hang on, I’m getting a message… wait, lots of messages.
Look. Scripture is not health care.
Now, let’s take a look at the good stuff: the protests themselves.
The first protests started on Friday, 23 Oct, the day after the abortion ruling went public. Because of Poland’s restrictions on public gathering, the events— like the one I was in, which was in front of the train station— were technically illegal. When too many people gathered for the standing protest, the police ordered us to leave, and so it turned into a march— people walking from the train station to Ostrów Tumskski, Cathedral Islands in English. Police cars trailed us, playing recordings warning us about the dangers of the pandemic and that our march was technically illegal. When we reached the church, two slogans were chanted: Zapraszamy wypierdalać— which I just love. It means: we invite you to go fuck yourselves. Starting off polite, then getting serious.
The other chant I heard has been the national rallying cry: Jebać PiS!
My favorite use of this has been a remix of people chanting this mashed up with the song “Call on Me.”
Ok, a note on Polish swear words, which are numerous. Both Jebać and pierdalać are verbs that mean to fuck. But, jebać is stronger. Pierdole is the noun, just meaning fuck.
Other slogans I’ve heard: Myślę, czuję, decyduję, which means I think, I feel, I decide. And a great one has been: rewolucja jest kobieta, meaning the revolution is a woman.
Back to the protests: They continued over that weekend, building momentum.
After huge demonstrations in different cities on Friday and Saturday, the protesters got more daring: going into churches on Sunday. This is so brave. Direct action like this— to walk into a church and really challenge the people who spread lies and enforce this BS moral code is amazing.
I also think that this type of direct action might’ve been inspired by queer anarchist group Stop Bzdurom, which most notably ripped signs off trucks blaring lies about gays causing pedofilia this summer.
I took part in a city-wide match on Wednesday, 28 Oct. Universities gave students the day off, and offered students free legal advice if they had issues with police, and so many people marching were young students. It started in the afternoon… and just kept going all evening. Multiple marches and demonstrations happening— I was amazed to see how many people, of all ages, taking part— for example, the bike ride demo I was in had a lot of families and young children.
The aim of these marches has been to shut cities down. And they’ve succeeded: look at these amazing pictures of Warsaw from above. Look at all those people!
Taking part in these marches has been incredible. People cheering from balconies, people in their cars honking horns and waving black umbrellas, a symbol of the czarny protest from four years ago. I’ve seen older folks, families with children, foreigners and expats taking part. While it’s been beautiful to hear protest chants led by all women, it’s been so gratifying to see young Polish men holding signs about feminism and carrying clothes hangers. On Wednesday’s march, I saw a man with a rainbow mask and a sign that said „nasz siostry bede bronie” which means, I will defend our sisters.
While the queer anarchist protests from this summer may have paved the way for what’s happening now, these pro-abortion marches have widespread support, from miners, farmers and taxi drivers, to so many small businesses with lighting bolt signs in their windows. Heck, my neighborhood Zabka was playing “Bella ciao” on repeat Wednesday.
What I love about this movement is how DIY it is. The symbol, the red lightning bolt, is easy to draw and print on just about everything— from protest signs, to jackets, to masks, to makeup tutorials on TikTok, to women getting their nails done with this design— this protest has brought out a creative, crafty side.
And it’s still happening. Every day, in cities across this country, people have been organizing— and the movement shows no sign of stopping. If anything, it’s getting bigger— as different groups across Poland pledge their support, as more and more businesses put women’s strike signs in their windows, as people in office buildings open their windows to cheer the protesters on. Opinion polls show public support of PiS is dropping.
In a way, this reminds me of what happened with the Black Lives Matter marches this summer in the United States, as marginalized groups got tired of waiting for society to listen to them.
To me, this looks like a major shift in Polish society— one that is embracing more lefty ideals and breaking with some traditions. The ruling party can claim that this is just the work of some violent leftists, but the pictures are clear. Hundreds of thousands in cities, millions across Poland, support this. And the only violence? From the nationalists that PiS has long supported.
I’m happy that people are finally recognizing PiS for what they are: a group of aging men trying to hang onto power by enforcing outdated tradition. Even their complaints about mass gatherings during a pandemic ring hollow. This past summer, during the presidential campaign, PiS party members talked about COVID like it was almost over. A few weeks ago, I was wearing this face shield in a classroom.
I mean, if PiS really cared about making sure crowds didn’t gather during a pandemic, they would have made an official announcement about All Saint’s Day, one of the biggest holidays here, and the masses of people that gather in cemeteries! They would have made an announcement well in advance, giving everyone time to plan and adapt, and not have everyone rush to the cemetery in a span of just four hours because the party waited until two days before 1 Nov.
You don’t have to be able to real Polish to guess that that’s exactly what happened.
This has been such an exciting time to be in Poland— and I am lucky to have had the chance to take part in these marches. I really hope this leads to real, lasting change.