Insight Poland

Opinion: “A line has now been crossed in Poland”

On Friday, Warsaw police detained 48 people during an LGBT protest after a court ordered the two-month detention of Margot, an activist accused of vandalising an anti-abortion van and attacking its driver. Police say the protesters damaged vehicles and insulted officers. But critics, including opposition politicians, accuse the police of using excessive and unnecessary force. margot Poland

It has never been easy for me to write and talk about my country.

Disagreeing with most of what the current Polish government stands for, one can easily choose to become indifferent and either emigrate abroad, or immigrate internally into the bubble of like-minded friends, trying to go on with life regardless. Waiting out the storm and hoping for the world to change one day on its own.

I am guilty of doing both. Most of the people I know are guilty of either.

But last Friday, I believe that Poland reached a turning point. While the decay of liberal and democratic institutions in Poland is nothing new and has been going on for quite some time, I believe that a line has now been crossed.

We, in Poland, went to sleep in a troubled democracy and woke up the next day in an authoritarian-like country unafraid of using the full force of the state apparatus to oppress and unjustly prosecute members and allies of the LGBT+ community.

To that, no good people can stay indifferent. margot Poland

Demonstrators trying to prevent the police car from leaving with Margot. Credit: Twitter

Stop the Bullshit

It all began a couple of months ago when a group of activists from the Stop Bzdurom (eng. Stop the Bullshit) collective spray-painted and cut the tires of an anti-abortion van that had freely been roaming the streets of Warsaw, taped up with homophobic comments. During the scuffle, the anti-abortion van driver was pushed around and tackled to the ground (video here).

The Public Prosecution decided to press charges for violent assault and destruction of property against one of the members of the collective – Margot, who identifies as a non-binary person. Under those charges, she could face up to 7 years in prison, which, having seen the video, seems particularly harsh.

Later that day, Margot was dragged from her apartment by plainclothes police officers, who refused to say where they were taking her, and it took some time to find out that she had in fact been taken to the prosecution office for interrogation, and to provide her with a lawyer. margot Poland

The prosecution ordered the two-month detention of Margot while awaiting trial, which in any democratic system, is usually reserved for the most severe of crimes and is in fact rarely imposed. We are talking about cut tires and a light scuffle here.

Thankfully, the court initially denied the prosecution’s request and set Margot free.

At this point, the story could have ended as yet another relatively harmless hiccup in our dysfunctional democracy – unjust and infuriating of course, but at the end smoothened out by the somewhat independent parts of our judiciary.

But then, Friday happened.

Critics, including opposition politicians, accuse the police of using excessive and unnecessary force. Credit: Twitter

A straight up round-up poland margot

After the prosecution appealed the court’s initial decision, a second court, for reasons still unclear, reversed the decision and ordered the two-month detention of Margot for vandalising the anti-abortion van and attacking its driver.

When Margot learned of the decision, she happened to be in the office of the biggest Polish LGBTQ+ NGO – Kampania Przeciw Homofobii (eng. The Campaign Against Homophobia). With the police on the way to arrest her there (quite symbolic, isn’t it), NGOs called for a demonstration of solidarity at the KPH office. Hundreds of people and journalists showed up, including multiple members of parliament from opposition parties.

With demonstrators peacefully standing in front of the KPH office, Margot decided that she wouldn’t just go away quietly but as publicly as she could. She walked up to the police officers through the crowd and surrendered willingly. But the police refused to arrest her. And if we thought they got scared off by the public support and the cameras, we couldn’t have been more wrong.

An unmarked car approached and plainclothes police officers and dragged Margot inside, with demonstrators trying to prevent it from leaving. In response, the police charged the crowd using excessive and unnecessary force.

Dozens of undercover plainclothes officers arrived and together with their colleagues in uniforms began attacking, beating, suffocating and throwing the demonstrators into police cars, shamelessly in front of TV cameras and in the light of day. margot Poland

TV cameras even caught police officers giving each other the order to arrest “three random people from the crowd”. Bystanders and people passing by were also arrested. On Sunday, we learned that even a random tourist passing by was arrested.

On Friday,  in Warsaw, it was enough to be in the wrong place, at wrong time. We witnessed a straight up round-up.

Two opposition MPs are standing in the way of a police van in the middle of the night to prevent it from driving off. Credit: Twitter

We in Poland may not be enough

As the protest slowly moved towards the main police stations, where a second wave of random arrests happened, the police still refused to divulge any information concerning the 48 people who were detained in total.

And while members of parliament together with attorneys were present all night at the stations, trying to get any information, give legal help and council to the detainees, the police started moving the detainees between police stations and even out of Warsaw. On one of the photos you can see two MPs standing in the way of a police van in the middle of the night to prevent it from driving off.

People being dragged out of the police stations to the transport vans were shielded by other police vehicles to make identification impossible, with few of them managing to scream out their last names. Attorneys who requested access to their clients were met by police officers claiming that they were never there.

As of today, we are still unsure about what is going to happen.

We know that the arrested people are being presented with charges which include “the participation in an illegal gathering with an aim of violently assaulting a person or a property”. While they were released on Saturday, they could face up to 3 years in prison.

We know that the Polish Ombudsman and the people from the National Mechanism for the Prevention of Torture visited the police stations. We wait for their conclusions, but preliminary interviews report police brutality, homophobic and transphobic comments by police officers and a lack of ability to contact legal representatives.

We know that the first international institutions have started to speak out, with the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe called upon Poland to “immediately release” Margot.

I will fight this. My friends will fight this. We will not let this go gently into that good night. But I am not sure how much more fight we have in us. I’m asking all of you abroad for support. Let people in your countries hear about this.

We in Poland may not be enough.

By Tymoteusz Kraski

5 comments on “Opinion: “A line has now been crossed in Poland”

  1. Hannah

    Great insight into what’s been going on in Poland. Thanks for this!

  2. Johnny Anon

    Wait a minute. I’m neither pro-abortion nor anti-gay. But in the video we see 7 or 8 people attack the lone driver. We’re supposed to accept that that’s okay, but when the police respond it’s an outrage?

  3. Pingback: Fifty ambassadors "pay tribute" to LGBTI community in Poland - Kafkadesk

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