Showing Basic Decency, And Other Reasons to Take to the Streets in Poland And Beyond
White wine in Warsaw
“The Poland that will emerge from this will be completely different to the one before,” said the stranger at the table next to mine, pouring wine from the carafe into my empty glass. “The one we knew will be gone forever.”
It was midnight and I had come in from the protest nearby. For the past week, tens of thousands of people across Poland had been protesting against a new law that would enable the right-wing government to sack the Supreme Court’s judges. Night after night, they had gathered outside the parliament, the presidential palace and the Supreme Court in Warsaw, the capital. Candles raised, they had sung the national anthem. The city was thrumming.
The stranger was twice my age, from a town in the east. I did not feel like talking. But I listened, curious to hear his take on the protests. Being a journalist, I’m used to listening.
Earlier that evening, I had stopped by the protest outside the house of Jarosław Kaczyński, the ruling party’s divisive leader. Protesters holding candles lit up the dark side-street. Dozens of policemen stood around, waiting. There was some confusion as to which house belongs to Kaczyński. Another correspondent, who had arrived earlier, had caught a glimpse of a cat inside one of the windows; possibly Kaczyński’s, who is known for his affinity for cats. In that spirit, one protester had brought along a pink cat balloon.
Back at the bar, the stranger was still talking politics. At some point, I excused myself, leaving my half-drunk glass behind. Walking home, I reflected on what he had said. One quote had stuck in my head: “People just want to show their decency, even though the protests can change little.”
He was wrong, it turned out. A day later, to everyone’s surprise, the Polish president announced that he would veto the law on the Supreme Court. It was a victory for the protesters, but only a partial one. Other controversial changes to the court system will be implemented. Poland’s judiciary remains at risk.
The following night, a fellow correspondent and I chanced upon an outdoor concert near the Palace of Culture, the Stalinist skyscraper that dominates the Warsaw skyline. Two violins, a cello, and a piano; later, a clarinet joined it. Under the colonnade, friends laughed and listened. A Pyrenean mountain dog wandered between our legs. It felt like summer. The situation in Poland remains fraught; it is unclear what will happen next. Still, this seems like a good place to stop.