Numerous churches, landmark buildings and memorials across Poland have been vandalised in the aftermath of the countrywide protests against the Constitutional Court ruling that abolished the right to perform abortions in the case of foetal defects.
While dozens of thousands of demonstrators called for abortion on demand and voiced the opinion “choice, not compulsion”, several aggressive groups committed acts of violence. Anti-clerical slogans appeared on the walls of Polish churches, as well as on the John Paul II memorials, the Ronald Reagan memorial in Warsaw, the 15th Poznań Uhlans Regiment Monument, the Branicki Palace in Białystok, and on many other places of worship, historical landmarks and commemorative sites.
In response, less numerous groups from Christian and nationalist circles, as well as football supporters, gathered in front of the churches’ to protect them from desecration. In some places, for example near the St. Alexander Church in Warsaw, there were clashes between them and the aggressive leftist groups, which also assaulted the police cordons which were separating protesters from those guarding the temples.
‘An attack aimed to destroy Poland’
Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), said on Tuesday that Polish churches must be defended at all costs. He called on all PiS members and supporters to take part in the defence of the Church.
“This is an attack aimed to destroy Poland. It is designed to bring about the triumph of forces which, should they seize power, would end the history of the Polish nation as we know it”, the PiS leader stated.
In his opinion, the Constitutional Court ruling regarding abortion is constitutional, and “could not be different in the light of the Constitution”.
Reactions by conservative circles
“Defend our churches, engage in protecting the sanctity of holy masses, oppose the profanation of religious symbols and desecration of our churches”, Piotr Duda, the chairman of the Solidarity trade union appealed to its members and supporters.
"Do not let the Church, which we have always been able to count on, remain alone today in the face of unprecedented attacks," he wrote.
In the wake of the violent attacks on places of worship, the representatives of the radical right Independence March Association announced that “a new organization for the self-defense of Christians - the National Guard", has been founded.
The organisation’s head, Robert Bąkiewicz, referring to Monday’s incidents, said that the "aggressive left" was trying to spark a revolution in Poland, by attacking churches “only to desecrate and profane them”.
Meanwhile, the Civic Guard run by the clubs of "Gazeta Polska" daily was established on Tuesday as well. The aim of the initiative is to protect churches, monuments and other places threatened by attacks.
Protests against the tightening of the abortion law have been ongoing all over Poland since Thursday - following the Constitutional Court’s ruling, according to which the provision, under the 1993 Act, allowing the admissibility of abortion in the case of a high probability of severe and irreversible defect of the fetus or an incurable disease that threatens its life, is unconstitutional. The court itself is viewed by the opposition as being dominated by the ruling party (PiS) nominees and thus under the influence of its leader, Jarosław Kaczyński.
No end in sight
The statement by Jarosław Kaczyński is a call to ideological, if not actual, arms. Eyebrows will be raised that the Deputy PM, who has under his command all the police and security apparatus, is appealing to the public to go and protect the churches against attack. Some will ask why the police and security forces are not enough to ensure public order.
The demonstrators have been following the tactics used by BLM in America. Instead of organizing big demonstrations in one space, they have been following a dispersed patters and have been blocking roads and attacking church buildings and public monuments. The protests have attracted thousands of young people, among them were many women.
The leaders of the protest, such as Marta Lempart from the “Women’s Strike” movement ,make no secret of the fact that they would like to see the government toppled. At a press conference on Tuesday, the organizers of the protests called not only for abortion on demand but for a radical overhaul of church-state relations that would see the end of the Concordat between the Vatican and Poland, no more religious instruction in schools or any other forms of state funding for churches, and the removal of Christian symbols from public spaces. They also support ‘mariage equality’ (same sex marriage).
The PiS leader has reacted strongly because he sees the situation spiralling out of control. Poland is in the middle of a rapid escalation of the COVID pandemic. There is real concern that the demonstrations taking place will make things worse. Off the record, some PiS politicians are admitting that the timing of the constitutional court decision was not fortuitous.
If it had been hoped that in the middle of the pandemic people would not protest, that expectation has not been realized. The call for defence of churches is directed at those who are fit enough and who do not have to shield from the virus to do so. In ordinary times, one would expect that many congregations would turn out, but the fact that many PiS supporters are older voters makes it unlikely that they will go out and demonstrate for fear of becoming infected with COVID-19.
Mr Kaczynski is counting on enough people taking a determined stance for those attacking churches to back off. He may also be expecting the protesters to turn their anger away from churches and towards state institutions. These are fewer in number and can be protected more easily by the police and security forces.