Tens of thousands of protesters hit the streets of the Polish capital Warsaw Saturday (24 September) to rally against moves by the rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) government that they say undermine the rule of law.
Warsaw City Hall officials said up to 30,000 people took part in the demonstration organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD).
The protest targeted reforms of the Constitutional Court that the populist PiS government pushed through soon after it swept to power late last year.
The changes to the top court’s decision-making rules, which according to the opposition were intended to paralyse the institution, have notably alarmed the European Union and triggered a string of demonstrations across the country.
Adam Michnik, a leading journalist, leftwing intellectual and former dissident in Poland’s historic anti-communist Solidarity union, warned the PiS it would suffer the consequences of its actions at the ballot box.
“The KOD doesn’t want to overthrow the government… it wants the government of Jarosław Kaczyński to respect the law and the constitution, but if they don’t comply, society will be obliged to remove them from power through democratic elections,” Michnik said.
Although he holds no government office, PiS party leader Kaczynski is widely regarded as the real powerbroker of Prime Minister Beata Szydło’s administration.
“We cannot accept politics that isolate Poland and trigger conflicts with neighbours,” Michnik added.
In late July, the European Commission handed Warsaw a three-month deadline to reverse the changes to the top court or face sanctions for breaching EU norms on the rule of law and democracy.
Without a satisfactory response in three months, the Commission, the European Parliament or a group of 10 member states can propose Poland be stripped of its voting rights in EU institutions if it is guilty of serious and persistent breaches of the rule of law.
Kaczynski has responded by saying the European Commission was acting illegally: “This process is totally outside the EU’s treaties.”