Two major rallies were held in Warsaw. One was by the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party to remember the victims of the 1981 crackdown on Poland’s pro-democracy movement.
The second major rally was an anti-government march called “Stop the Destruction of Poland” organized by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD).
In a move that caused anger among PiS supporters, KOD selected the anniversary of the imposition of martial law as the date for its march, drawing parallels between the communist crackdown of 1981 and the record of the Law and Justice government, which swept to power a year ago.
On 13 December 1981, communist-era strongman General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law to stifle rising opposition, headed by the Solidarity movement. Thousands of opposition activists were jailed and dozens were killed.
At the PiS rally on Tuesday, party leader Jarosław Kaczyński criticised those who “are trying to compare a country in which there is perhaps the most freedom of all European nations with that [communist-era] state where enslavement returned on 13 December with full force.”
He added: “We have to speak about this absurdity, we have to reject it and we have to understand it.”
Law and Justice denies accusations that its reforms have eroded democracy in Poland. Its supporters say it is inappropriate for protests to be held on the date the communists cracked down on the Solidarity movement, the start of a dark chapter in modern Polish history.
‘They fought for freedom’
Referring to the victims of martial law, KOD leader Mateusz Kijowski told marchers on Tuesday: “They fought for freedom, a dignified life, an economy based on healthy market principles. Today, little by little, we have to start fighting for the same things.”
Simultaneous KOD marches against education reform, changes to Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal, and for women’s rights, among other issues, were to take place on Tuesday in more than 50 Polish towns and cities and in nearly 30 locations abroad, Kijowski previously said.
Meanwhile, Andrzej Gwiazda, a co-founder of the pro-democracy Solidarity trade union, said the very existence of KOD was evidence that PiS respects democracy.
He said the committee’s only purpose is “to overthrow the democratically elected government.”