Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Warsaw on Sunday, to voice their anger at the nationalist government, who they say have eroded democratic norms and created fears that the nation veering down the path of autocracy.
According to Warsaw Mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, who belongs to the opposition party that led the march, an estimated 500,000 people took part in Sunday’s rally. Local media, on the other hand, estimated there were at least 300,000 at the march’s culmination.
Large crowds also gathered in Krakow and other cities across the nation of 38 million people, showing frustration with a government that critics accuse of violating the constitution and eroding fundamental rights in Poland, a country long hailed as a model of peaceful and democratic change.
Former President Lech Walesa, the leader of the Solidarity movement that played a historic role in toppling communism in Poland, marched alongside the leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, former Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk.
The crowd marched from the office of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and past the seat of President Andrzej Duda, ending at the historic Royal Castle, where Tusk hailed the huge turnout and pledged to fight to win an autumn election and undo what he described as profound harm and division inflicted on the nation.
“We are going to these elections to win and to right human wrongs. I promise you victory, a settlement of evil, compensation for human wrongs and reconciliation among Poles,” Tusk told the crowd.
The government spokesman, Piotr Mueller, accused Tusk and Walesa of “trying to overthrow the government.”
Supporters of the march have warned that the election might be the nation’s last chance to stop the erosion of democracy under the ruling party, Law and Justice, amid growing fears that the fall election might not be fair.
In power since 2015, Law and Justice have found a popular formula, combining higher social spending with socially conservative policies and support for the church in the mostly Catholic nation.
However, critics have warned for years that the party is reversing many of the achievements made since Poland emerged from communist rule in 1989.