On Sunday, the main opposition party in Poland filled central Warsaw with a rally to galvanize voters ahead of fiercely-contested parliamentary election due in two weeks.
Donald Tusk is the leader of the Civic Platform, an opposition party and former prime minister. He has pledged to unite the country in his bid to take on the Law and Justice party (PiS), which currently leads the opinion polls.
Tusk said that he believed the crowd to be more than one million people. He claimed that the ruling party led by Jaroslaw Kacynski had used “a textbook of hate” in order to divide Poles over the eight years it was in power.
He promised to “end the Polish-Polish War the day after the election.” Once the aggressor has been chased away there is no need for war.
The elections on October 15, in the EU’s 5th largest member, are significant because the PiS government has been fighting with Brussels. Tusk says that the election on October 15 could be a sign of a move to leave Europe and return Poland back to authoritarianism.
Tusk, and his party, hope that Sunday’s rally can help them to unseat PiS. PiS is seeking its third term and Tusk has been accused of working with Berlin and Brussels, and even Moscow, in order to undermine Polish sovereignty.
Tusk claimed that the rally had met its goal. Tusk’s state-controlled TV, which he claims is the mouthpiece of PiS, reported that up to 100,000 people gathered in Warsaw based on unofficial police sources.
On Sunday, similar rallies in support of the opposition were held in other Polish cities such as Lodz Walbrzych Krakow.
The PiS organized its own rally, with Mateusz Morawiecki as the prime minister. Ryszard Terrorecki, a PiS legislator, posted a picture of the city to social media with the caption “Today, the heart of Poland is in Katowice and not in Warsaw, where empty hearts gather.”
Radoslaw Mikadielko, a student from Warsaw, said that he was there to show his support of Poland’s EU Membership. “This third PiS term may bring us to a moment where they want to remove us from the EU. I’m afraid. “That’s why I am here,” he replied.
Many demonstrators, waving Polish flags and EU flags marched through Warsaw’s main streets, Tusk, president of the European Council from 2014-19, leading the way. Civic Platform used almost 450 busses to bring supporters in.
I expected a lot of young people, but there were also many retirees and older people. Anna Krynska brought her two children. She wanted to share with them the feeling of community that she felt in 1989 when Poles voted for communism to be overthrown.
PiS leads the latest polls with 37-39 percent of respondents intending to vote, while Civic Platform is at 30 percent. Both parties are expected to fail to win a majority in the election, which could lead into tough coalition talks.
The vote comes at a time when the government, who had previously been a staunch ally of Ukraine in the war it waged against Russia, has changed its stance in a dispute about grain imports and threatened to stop the supply.
Robert Fico, a former Slovakian premier who is a Ukraine sceptic, won the parliamentary elections in neighbouring Slovakia at the weekend. He will now try to form a coalition government.
The rally on Sunday was larger than the one in Warsaw, where an estimated 500,000 protested against a law sponsored by the government to investigate pro Russian politicians and ban them from their offices. The critics of the law dubbed it “Lex Tusk” because they believed that opposition leader would be its most prominent target.