Saturday, June 03, 2006

Polish heatwave


Get ready for a summer of protest.

The Tolerance Parade, and the counter demonstration by Polish far-rights groups, have received official permission from Warsaw’s local authorities to go ahead on June 10.

The capital’s streets promise to be busy this summer.

Doctors are continuing their strike action for higher pay. Currently earning 70% of the national average wage, medics have had enough. Opinion polls show that 59% believe the government to be the cause of the protracted dispute.

Miners – a group of workers who were part of the labour aristocracy under communism – have seen redundancies and real wage reductions ever since the fall of communism. Whole communities have been decimated as a result of the pit closures. Last year - after some of the most violent protests the capital has ever seen – they managed to secure a pay deal with the previous ex-communist SLD government. Now they want more. The Polish coal industry has increased profitability recently, so the miners want a piece of the pie. But they are not the aristocrats they once were.

The police are also getting restless, as are arms industry employees.

Students, outraged by the appointment of far-rightist Roman Giertych as education secretary, have been taking to the streets in protest and are promising to keep up the demonstrations over the summer months.

And now the centerpiece of the campaign against homophobia next Saturday. Last year, the then mayor of Warsaw and now President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, refused to even grant permission to the Parade, though simultaneously giving his permission for the counter demo to go ahead (Kafka would have loved that!).

So the fact that it will be legal this year is progress, of sorts.

Poland missed out on the civil rights movements that the west experienced in the 1960s. Communism bottled up any social discontent. When democracy came the proverbial can of worms opened. It’s taken some time to fester but reactionary groups have been gaining some strength (both in and outside of the government) and issues such as gay rights have created a fault line between Polish tradition and Polish modernity.

While the miners and doctors protests are primarily about economic resources – and we wish them luck – rights of sexual minorities and the fight against xenophobia are about basic freedoms. Poland is beginning a move towards modernity but rights have to be won, not given.

The weather forecasts predict a cool summer (bugger!) but politically it’s going to be a long hot summer ahead, folks.

5 comments:

roman said...

Thanks for the Bloomberg article reporting on the student protests.
The article's focus, however, was rather narrow in scope as it limited viewpoints to a sociology and art history student who both yearned for a more "liberal" and "modern" Poland. Are the terms liberal and modern complimentary? I wonder how many students majoring in business, science and engineering were protesting. I wonder, also, how widespread these protest were as no estimates were offered to bring significance and the potential impact of these protests.
The fact that the current government coalition favors a more "equal" consideration for opposing viewpoints is a promising sign, indeed.

Aaron Fowles said...

That two permits have been granted worries me. What happens if (and when) the two groups meet at a corner? Who will have the right of way?

Granting permission to the All Poland Youth group, or whatever their name is, could (and I'm only saying could, this is purely an idea) be interpreted as an attempt to repress the Equality Parade, don't you think?

Renegade Eye said...

The day of the two marches simultaneously may be historic.

Will both peaceful and legal?

Eugene said...

I think the decision by the Warsaw government to grant permission simultaneously to two opposing groups is thoroughly fair. In any discussion, protest, meeting, and even forum, diversity of opinion is what makes it all interesting, to see both sides of any given argument. To contribute a single sided view where a majority embraces the same ideas or thoughts only minimizes the merit of the issue in question and renders it worthless. It is an imperative duty that all views be fairly presented and equally scrutinized.

beatroot said...

Roman: I wonder how many students majoring in business, science and engineering were protesting.

Indeed. But, being a veteran of these kind of things I have to say that science students in London were always conspicious by their absense on these sorts of occasions. And yes, it is a minority of students protesting but that's a lot better than the usual state of afairs here when no students protest about anything at all. They just sit and grumble.

Aaron: Last year, when the trogs' march march was legal though the original march was not, the police concerntrated on marching with the illegal march an making sure the skins could not get near it. It worked. So when the two demonstrations go past each other - as they will at some point, there will be lots and lots of cops there. Don't wory about it.

Eugene: I think the decision by the Warsaw government to grant permission simultaneously to two opposing groups is thoroughly fair

I totally agree. Shame then that All-Polish Youth, who are using their democratic rights to protest, would not, if they had their way, allow the Tolerance Parade to take place in the first place. They are not marching for equal rights for everyone to do the same, they are marching to deny people the right to demonstrate.