Hundreds of thousands of Polish people marched through the nation’s capital in protest of the country’s right-wing, populist leadership.
An estimated 500,000 citizens gathered in Warsaw on Sunday to voice their anger at officials who they say are are eroding the rule of law, controlling state media and endorsing homophobia, The Associated Press reported.
The Law and Justice (PiS) party has been in power since 2015 and combines higher social spending with socially conservative policies.
They have also been criticised for a clamp down on abortion rights and current, high-inflation. Critics have warned for years that the party is reversing many of the achievements made since Poland emerged from communist rule in 1989.
It’s reported the crowd chanted “Democracy!” and “Constitution!”
Forty-nine year old Radek Tusinski marched with his wife and two children. A handmade sign reading “I cannot give up freedom” was attached to their baby stroller.
He said he worried about the creeping return of an authoritarian system similar to what he remembers from his childhood. Barbara Dec, 26, and her grandmother travelled seven hours on a bus to protest. She held up a cardboard sign that read, “I am afraid to have children in Poland.”
“Women have lost the right to have an abortion even when the fetus is terminally ill, and some women have died,” she said, adding, “And I am also afraid I couldn’t manage financially.”
Former President Lech Walesa, marched alongside the leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, ex-Prime Minister Donald Tusk.
Tusk had called on Poles to march with him for the sake of the nation’s future.
The rally started at Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki’s office and ended up at the Royal Castle, where Tusk pledged to fight to win an autumn election.
“We are going to these elections to win and to right human wrongs,” he told the crowd, adding, “I promise you victory, a settlement of evil, compensation for human wrongs and reconciliation among Poles.”
Government spokesman, Piotr Mueller, accused Tusk and Walesa of “trying to overthrow the government.”
According to Reuters, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, denies subverting democratic norms and says the party’s aim is to protect traditional Christian values against liberal pressures from the West.
Supporters of the march have warned the election might be the nation’s last chance to stop the erosion of democracy under Law and Justice, amid growing fears that the fall election might not be fair.
The march was held on the 34th anniversary of Poland’s first partly-free election, a major step toward the eventual topple of communism in the country.
Law and Justice sought to discourage participation in the rally with a video spot using Auschwitz as a theme.
This drew criticism from the state museum that preserves the site of the Nazi German death camp.
The protest was seen as a test for Tusk’s Civic Platform, a centrist and pro-European party which has trailed behind Law and Justice in polls.
Large crowds also gathered in Krakow and other cities across the nation.