Following a controversial court ruling imposing a near-total abortion ban, the women’s strike continues in Poland, with artists and filmmakers joining the fray.
Despite record numbers of COVID-19 cases, protests continue all over Poland in the wake of the constitutional court’s Oct. 22 ruling, which deemed a law allowing the abortion of deformed fetuses, even with life-threatening defects, to be “unconstitutional”. Poland, a heavily Roman Catholic country, already has some of the most restrictive laws on abortion in Europe. Abortions are legal only if there is a threat to the mother’s life, or in cases of rape.
“It’s a clear signal that the state is being handed over to religious fundamentalists,” Agnieszka Holland tells Variety.
The acclaimed director, who recently celebrated the Polish premiere of “Charlatan”, which was also chosen as the Czech Oscar submission, is a longtime critic of the right-wing government. “We have to get rid of them. ‘Get the f— out!’ The question is when it will happen, because they have already shown that they can’t rule or even manage. Still, it turned out that young people are immune to their brainwashing tactics. They are in Europe, and the government is somewhere near Iran.”
“Get the f— out!” has become a slogan of the women’s strike — led by Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet (OSK), a women’s rights social movement — which shows no sign of slowing even though the government has now delayed the ruling’s implementation.
A rank of artists and celebrities have publicly expressed their support and joined tens of thousands of protesters on the streets, while the likes of Juliette Binoche, Patti Smith and Miley Cyrus have voiced their concern on social media and shared the movement’s rallying sign of the red lighting bolt.
“Our community, or at least the people I know, agree with the protests. Just like me, they join the demonstrations or express their support on social media. [They also create] memes that harshly and unequivocally judge this verdict and the whole rather nasty narrative of the right — the way it treats civil liberties, women’s rights and LGBTQ+ in particular,” actor Andrzej Chyra said.
Recently seen in the Venice sleeper hit “Never Gonna Snow Again,” directed by Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert, Chyra said he hopes his involvement, as well as other recognizable faces on the street, will strengthen the determination of the protesters.
“Most of them are young people. When they finally understood that the actions of PiS [Law and Justice] and the state institutions controlled by Jarosław Kaczyński’s party could turn their lives into hell, they were furious. Slogans such as ‘Get the f— out!’ or ‘F— PiS’ are the best proof of this. F— the hypocrisy of the power: that’s the meaning behind all that,” Chyra says, adding that he sees Donald Trump’s re-election loss as a much-needed injection of optimism and hope.
“It shows that it’s possible to overcome populism, xenophobia, homophobia, racism and fascism also in Poland, and this time around, women are determined. They don’t want to be forced to suffer or risk death at the whim of the government and the Church.”
Agreeing that the protests have now transformed into a wider social movement critical of the current government, Ola Jankowska, readying her debut feature “Anatomy,” noted there is a frightening “unspoken permission” for the radical right to use violence against the protesters.
“I have never felt as concerned about my safety in this country before. My mother says it starts reminding her of the demonstrations from the Soviet times,” she says.
“We were walking the streets and protesting, knowing we could be beaten up or sprayed with gas by fascist thugs who were everywhere — and still people didn’t bail,” notes Jankowska. “It’s not quite clear what could be legally done now about abortion laws, as the only legal option seems to be the change of the constitution, but there is a perceptible change in how some people who were moderate or even conservative in their views are starting to see things in a different light.”
While some in Poland have called the protesters “vulgar,” Holland argues that such powerful reactions didn’t come out of thin air.
“The language of these protests stems from the fact that nobody listened to women before and when someone turns off your sound, you have to shout louder. People are furious because they are fed up with being treated like an object and not a subject. This is a revolutionary change that will never go away,” she says.
Holland argues that the demonstrations already mark an essential step forward in the “mentality and worldview” of a new generation of Polish people.
“Will it change something politically or lead to the collapse of the current government? I don’t know. Will the authorities withdraw from this restrictive law? I don’t know that, either. But we seem to be realizing where we are: in Europe, not in some fundamentalist country. It’s only a matter of time until it translates into political or systemic changes.”