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Poland's 'revolution that we cannot stop'

Bernard OSSER
·2-min read

For Klementyna Suchanow, one of the leaders of Poland's protest movement, mass demonstrations against a tightening of abortion laws have turned into "a real revolution" against the current government.

Suchanow, an author and editor and one of the organisers of the Women's Strike collective, told AFP in an interview that what had started out as pro-choice protests had grown into something far bigger.

It all started with a Constitutional Court ruling last month that abortions due to birth defects are unconstitutional -- a decision that would impose a near-total ban on terminations.

"It provoked an eruption of anger," said Suchanow, 46, a constant presence at the many demonstrations in the capital alongside fellow co-ordinator Marta Lempart.

Suchanow said that the protests have also been fuelled by a perception of the government's poor handling of the coronavirus pandemic, as a second wave of the virus with a record-high death rate sweeps the country.

"People see that those who govern do not think about our lives, our health, our security but they exploit everything for political gain," she said.

Suchanow said the objectives of the protest movement have widened to issues such as employment, education, culture and the role of Poland's powerful Catholic Church in society.

"People really want a separation between Church and State. They've had enough of the Church getting involved in every aspect of their lives," she said.

A series of sexual abuse scandals and cover-ups involving senior Polish clergymen have added to the sense of frustration and a notion that the Church "operates in a way outside of the legal system".

- 'We are everywhere' -

Suchanow sees the protests as a "revolution of women and young people who are fighting for a country worthy of the 21st century in which they could live normally".

"They want to stop being told how to live. They are re-discovering the meaning of the word freedom," she said.

The demonstrations have brought hundreds of thousands of Poles into the streets, including in towns and rural areas where these kinds of protests are unprecedented.

Although attendance has dwindled, in part due to coronavirus concerns, Suchanow is in no doubt as to the historic impact of the protests.

"It's a revolution that we cannot stop. It's a revolution that has already won because it has already changed Poland and it will bear fruit through the engagement of young people for years to come."

She said it was highly significant that the demonstrations have extended even into traditional bastions for the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

"Women are carrying out a real revolution there... The fact that we are everywhere is the real strength of this revolution," she said.

bo/dt/mas/cdw