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13th Aug 2022

High emotions at pro-EU rally in Warsaw

  • Warsaw: A 94-year old WW2 veteran, Wanda Traczyk Stawska, yelled back at hecklers (Photo: Daniel Kulinski)
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Emotions ran high at pro-EU rallies in Poland on Sunday (10 October) in the wake of a landmark, anti-EU court verdict.

About 100,000 people came with EU and Polish flags to an event in Warsaw's old town, where Donald Tusk, a former centre-right prime minister and EU Council president, spoke to the crowd.

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"We're raising the alarm because of the Constitutional Court verdict and the ruling party. We're raising the alarm because of their decision to take Poland out of the EU," he said.

He accused the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) of "raping" Polish and EU laws.

"Why do they [PiS] want to leave the EU? So they can steal [from the state], so that no one can control them," he added.

A pro-PiS counter-rally nearby, which was separated by a police cordon, tried to drown out speakers by heckling them on megaphones, with slogans such as: "Manipulation! I love Poland!".

But a 94-year old WW2-resistance veteran, Wanda Traczyk Stawska, yelled back at them after giving her speech on stage.

"Silence, stupid man! Silence, you utter scumbag! Silence, because I'm a soldier, who remembers how blood was spilt, how my friends died, and I'm here to speak in their name. No one can force us out of our fatherland, which is Poland, but also not out of Europe, because Europe is my mother," she said.

Traczyk Stawska was then filmed walking off alone to confront the hecklers face-to-face.

The protest was peaceful, but some people scuffled with police over use of flares, with the prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki's brother-in-law, Franek Broda, telling press he was arrested after being knocked down and kicked in the head.

Similar demonstrations of a smaller size also took place in 160 other towns, according to independent Polish media.

But the PiS-run state broadcaster, TVP, reacted with disinformation.

It captioned images of Tusk's speech with the slogan: "Demonstration against the Polish constitution". And it filled the airwaves with pro-PiS "experts" describing him as a German lapdog, among other jibes.

The protests came after Poland's Constitutional Court, which PiS has stuffed with yes-men, ruled, last week, that Polish law had primacy over EU law in areas where they clashed.

The move marked a serious escalation in a years-long dispute on judicial reform with EU institutions.

And France and Germany, on Friday, joined the EU Commission in warning that Poland's verdict had shaken the foundations of its EU membership.

"We remind you that membership of the European Union goes hand in hand with a complete and unconditional adherence to common values and rules ... This is not simply a moral commitment. It is also a legal commitment," the French and German foreign ministers said.

But for his part, Hungary's right-wing ruler, prime minister Viktor Orbán backed PiS, highlighting that the EU's rule-of-law problem was bigger than just Poland.

The EU had to "respect member states' sovereignty" Orbán said in a special decree on Saturday. "The primacy of EU law can only apply in those areas where the EU has powers," he added.

Poland joined the EU in 2004 after a referendum in which 14 million people voted Yes.

But under Polish law, PiS could invoke article 50 of the EU treaty on leaving the union by a majority-vote in parliament.

"No new referendum would be needed," Dariusz Mazur, a spokesman for Themis, an association of independent Polish judges, told the onet.pl news website.

"It's downright frightening that just one vote in favour would be enough, in a simple majority, and Poland could find itself [on the way] out of the EU", he added.

Polexit?

Some 88 percent of Poles said they wanted to stay in the EU in a survey in September for Polish daily Gazeta Prawna and radio broadcaster RMF, rising to 94 percent in cities.

And PiS has dismissed talk of a potential 'Polexit' as opposition scare tactics.

But at the same time, it has ignored EU court fines and injunctions, rode roughshod over EU norms on minority rights and free media, and harangued Brussels and Berlin with increasingly ugly rhetoric.

One of PiS' talking points is that Germany's constitutional court has also issued anti-EU rulings and that Poland was the victim of double standards.

But Katarina Barley, a German centre-left MEP and former justice minister, gave the lie to that in remarks to Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

"You can't compare it [the German case] to the Polish tribunal's verdict. German judges in their ruling underlined the primacy of EU law over national law several times. Their verdict specifically concerned regulation of the European Central Bank," Barley said.

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Poland's Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that parts of EU treaties were incompatible with the Polish constitution, in a major escalation of the rule-of-law dispute between Warsaw and Brussels.

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