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Thousands of pro-EU, pro-democracy demonstrators march on Warsaw

A massive demonstration has taken place in the Polish capital to show support for the EU. Poland's conservative government has alienated many on the right and the left, as well as Brussels.

Around 240,000 people marched through Warsaw on Saturday, the same day a smaller, pro-government rally took place.

The rally of nearly a quarter of a million people gathered in the Polish capital to express support for both democracy and the EU, as the country's right-wing government, headed by the Law and Justice Party (PiS), continues to draw criticism for suppressing opposition and alienating Brussels.

Anti-government rally in Warsaw

People march during an anti-government demonstration organized by the main opposition parties in Warsaw

"We are here because we believe in Polish law, Polish freedom and common action in the EU," ex-President Bronislaw Komorowski told demonstrators.

At the same time, anywhere from 1,000 to 2,500 nationalists gathered in the city to protest what they saw as the EU's interference in Polish life.

Hand-picked news

PiS drew strong condemnation earlier this year when its representatives signed into law a bill that allows the government to hand-pick officials in charge of state-run news organizations. Critics - including Reporters Without Borders, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) and the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) - have said the measures curtail free speech.

Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski raised eyebrows across the 28-member bloc when

he said that EU criticism of the bill was hypocritical

.

"In the past eight years there was no pluralism in the public media [in Poland] and no EU Commissioner deplored it," he told German newspaper "Bild."

A giant Polish flag provides a backdrop for demonstrators

A giant Polish flag provides a backdrop for demonstrators

He went on to say that PiS wanted to cure Poland of "some diseases," insisting the country was on its way to becoming a world of "bikers and vegetarians," things that "had nothing more to do with traditional Polish values."

Former presidents speak out

In April, Komorowski and fellow former presidents Lech Walesa and Aleksander Kwasniewski

had a letter published in Polish daily "Gazeta Wyborcza,"

arguing that PiS has "no intention of abandoning this path of demolishing the constitutional order" and "paralyzing the work of the Constitutional Tribunal and all of the judicial authorities."

The three leaders also reiterated their support for both the EU and NATO, saying that under PiS, "we're on our way to becoming a nation of sorrow."

blc/jm (dpa, AFP)

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