‘This government is doing harm to me, my friends, my family,’ Maciej (17) tells me while we walk past the Sejm, the Polish parliament and backdrop to many protests over these past months. The barriers that were put in place in October are still there, a silent reminder of the simmering unrest.
The policemen on duty give us a wary look when Maciej pulls out a cardboard sign that he used on multiple protests. ‘We have enough of the fear,’ it reads. A fear that was particularly strong for Maciej during the 2020 presidential election, when President Duda ran an unabashadely anti-LGBT campaign.
‘Something snapped when I heard the President say that LGBT are not people but an ideology. It felt like he was telling me that I am not human. After hearing him say those words, I grabbed a marker pen and wrote on a tunnel wall: I had a dream that someone took my humanity away.’
The effects of this anti-LGBT rhetoric hit close to home. ‘In my district, not far from my home, I even saw graffiti saying We will kill all LGBT. It made me feel very unsafe and fearful of what it will lead to. I feel a lot of stress about this situation, I feel it every day, it is affecting my mental health.’
But the presidential campaign was also a spark to act. ‘In a way I felt a sort of internalized victim-blaming, like it was my own fault that they were attacking LGBT people. If I would just be quiet and be good enough for them, they would leave me alone. But now I feel like, no, I need to let them know that they do not have my permission to do this.’
It wasn’t just politicians joining the anti-LGBT choir, but also church leaders chiming in, with the Archbishop of Krakow saying a ”rainbow plague” was affecting Poland. Catholic organizations have also been major drivers behind the abortion ban. Maciej thinks the Church is experiencing a backlash. ‘More and more people are turning away from the Church,’ he says. ‘As children, they were taught that God loves everyone, that everyone deserves respect. But now they hear church leaders saying that everyone deserves respect, except for women, gay people, trans people. This is not the God that they were told about – they feel lied to.’
Maciej tells me that he joins the women’s protests because he feels it is important to show solidarity. ‘I feel like I need to protect other people, because I also want them to protect me in the future. I have really felt this solidarity during the protests. I love looking around me, seeing all these different kinds of people, all fighting for each other.’
‘I remember the first week of protests,’ he continues. ‘Warsaw was a city of chaos. People were taking the city into their own hands saying, This is our city, this is our life. We want to choose our own paths.‘
‘For me, it’s very simple. If you don’t want an abortion, don’t get one. If you are against gay marriage, say no when another man proposes to you.’
What was particularly noticeable about this recent wave of protests was the amount of young people that took to the streets. ‘I think we, as young people, are more and more aware of the fact that we can do things to improve our wellbeing. That we should not let other people take our rights away. Maybe it is because we grew up on social media. We have a lot of information available to us.’
Maciej says he considers himself a patriot. ‘If I have someone close to me who is an alcoholic, I wouldn’t just give them more alcohol. I would try to help them. For me, it’s the same with Poland. I love this country and I want to change it for the better.’
For his Wojna Kris Oosting spoke with several protesters and activists about their motivations, experiences and expectations for the future. On this website you find a selection of interviews from the book.