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Europa Reloaded, Episode 5: Poland in revolt against abortion laws

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On 22 October 2020 the Polish Constitutional Tribunal ruled that abortion should not be permitted, even in cases of foetal abnormalities. The verdict sparked protests in every city across the country. In Episode 5 of the Italian podcast, 'Europa Reloaded', we hear from Claudia Torrisi, Giulia Olga Fasoli and Pia, who is involved in the resistance. An English language synopsis follows the audio.

At the end of 2020 the Polish Constitutional Tribunal passed a ruling, that abortion, including in instances where there is evidence of foetal abnormalities, is against the rule of law. The verdict sparked a wave of protest that engulfed major cities, and towns across the country, with feminist movements leading the 'revolt'. The future of Poland is at stake, but so are the rights of its women and citizens.

In this episode of the podcast Europa Reloaded, we spoke with Pia (an activist), Claudia Torrisi (a freelance journalist and gender expert) and Giulia Olga Fasoli (a PhD student at the University of Wroclaw). International readers can scroll down for an English language text summary, or find out more about the topic in this piece by Léa Marchal.

"I decided to take to the streets because when someone sets fire to everything in your home, you have to defend yourself. What we are seeing in Poland right now is a revolution. I have no choice. I have to defend the country I want to live in, and the people I want to live with," explains Pia, before adding: "Personally, I have no choice but to try and stop this government which is brutally attacking women and sending violent groups into the streets to beat up those who are fighting for their fundamental rights… fundamental rights that are the equivalent to living in dignity and freedom".

Claudia Torrisi explains how, even before the Constitutional Tribunal’s ruling, Polish legislation on abortion was, alongside Malta, "one of the most restrictive in Europe." According to Torrisi, the Tribunal's decision - and, more generally, the actions and speeches of the ruling party PiS (Law and Justice) - are part of a more general framework momentum that is fuelling conservative movements in Europe.

Giulia Olga Fasoli emphasises that in terms of extent and scale, the protests (of 2020, but which are still ongoing) are by far the most important since the collapse of the Soviet Union. A new generation, along with young Poles that had previously emigrated but have now returned home are all playing a fundamental role – as is COVID-19. "The protests are reaching even the most remote villages in Poland," says Giulia.

According to Pia, "the protests will not stop. The extreme right-wing government wants to declare a state of emergency in the country, which has triggered many angry gatherings amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Yesterday (in October 2020) 20,000 people were infected. It's clear that they are trying to create other problems to hide the fact that they are unable to handle the situation. But they won't be able to stop people."

Fasoli confirms that the energy you feel in the street is electric and is not going anywhere anytime soon. "I have never seen such determination in Italy. They won't stop," he explains. He also adds that "the real problem in Poland is the influence of the Church on politics."

How long will the protests last?

“Not until the former situation is restored – which, may I add, still won't be enough. What we want is the deregulation of abortion rights. We want people to be treated with dignity. We want sex education at school, a secular state in which the Church has no particular prerogatives. And we want an independent judicial system. We want rights for women and those with disabilities and the establishment of an effective rights guarantor… because currently, nobody represents the rights of citizens."

[Editor's note: on 30 October, following this discussion, new protests and strikes, of a similar scale, were held throughout Poland. The movement is ongoing and there have been several demonstrations already in 2021.]

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Translated from Europa Reloaded (Ep 5): la Polonia in rivolta contro le leggi sull'aborto