The lightning sign became a symbol all over the world.
photo source: strajkkobiet.eu
Under the hashtag #wypierdalać ( polish: fuck off; go away), the demonstrations organized through the women rights activist group became one of the biggest political movements in Poland’s history. After changes were announced to tighten the already harsh abortion laws in Poland, the people showed their anger again. On November 30th, 2020 during the ” March on Warsaw”, thousands of people protested in the capital alone with signs saying “no women, no kraj”(no women, no country), “the future is now, old man” etc. The red lightning sign was everywhere.
Today, we are interviewing Anna, who is active in the scene and participated in large portions of the Women Protests here, in Berlin.
Hello, thank you for being here. I know that the demonstrations are a very controversial and highly discussed topic right now in Poland. It must not be easy to talk about it publicly. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your reasons for actively participating in the women strike?
My name is Anna (26) and I am currently living in Berlin. I am in the process of finishing my studies. In the last years, I did a lot of learning and analyzing of international relations; I also volunteer in a political organization. Through that kind of work, I became more interested in this topic.
But what drove me initially were books that I read – namely by Margaret Atwood and by an English and Egyptian journalist named Mona Eltahawy. I found her TED Talks and interviews years ago. She is very inspiring and insistent about the stand of women rights in the world. Her views are very similar to one of Margaret Atwood statements, who said, that even though we live in a liberal society and have privilege and rights… it does not have to mean that those rights are carved in stone. She found, that especially a crisis is always a dangerous situation for women rights. I think we can see it very strong in Poland right now and other countries that try to weaken and limit those rights during the corona pandemic.
I see it as very threatening, even though I live in Germany. The fact that we live in a relatively liberal country does not mean it has to stay that way. We have a lot of politicians that are very conservative and have strong traditional views in this regard. I think it is important to show that it does not work anymore that way and that such thinking is outdated, so that is why I was immensely involved in the protests.
I have a question about the statement, that women rights are in danger during a crisis. Can you explain what exactly you mean by that and in what way is it particular to women rights?
I read the book the Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood. For the uninitiated: it is a very dark dystopian book about what could happen if a fundamentalistic regime would gain power in the US. Atwood has a very deep scientific background in religious studies and also researched women studies and rights for years now. In her research, she came to the conclusion, that every time a crisis occurred it was accompanied by a liberal society that failed. After, most of the time a fundamentalist power takes over, which tries to destroy the liberal image and go right back to a more traditional system. Especially women rights tend to be a reoccurring theme during those changes, where there is enormous pressure to be a housewife and a mother in order to strengthen the society, although the causes of the crisis didn’t have anything to do with women in the first place.
So you mean, that the rights are used as a bargaining chip to say: „The liberal way is not working, time to go back to old school! It worked before.“ I would like to ask you more about the protests itself. Could you tell us about your experience with the protests in Berlin?
My experience was mostly positive. I was very amazed by the creativity that the protesters showed during the walks. I participated in other protests like BLM or FFF, but as someone who watched the situation since the Black Friday Protests in 2018, I could really feel the passion, the anger and the overwhelming frustration this time. The protests were organized very well, even in the pandemic. There was enough room between people and the countermeasures were respected by everybody. The one I remember very well was organized at the Denkmal des polnischen Soldaten und deutschen Antifaschisten (Monument for the Polish Soldier and German Antifascist) in Friedrichshain last year. Instead of a protest speech, they organized and performed a stage play. It was very atmospheric and beautiful due to the moon and the overall tone.
So the protests in Berlin were very peaceful, you said you could feel the anger of the people but it did not turn aggressive in any way?
Which I actually worried about, to be honest. I thought I will end in a group of narrow-minded and furious people, that don’t want to hear nobody’s opinion. But after participating a couple of times, I can confidently say that people from all social classes, all genders and various nationalities were present. I find that really cool.
And what pushed you to actively participate in the demonstrations?
I think I finally got angry about the way how this topic is ignored in Germany. There is a – I wouldn’t say anti-women – but a very christian pro-life movement here in Germany, the March for Life ( Marsch für das Leben, Bundesverband Lebensrecht), which is also active in Poland.
They have their protests mostly in summer. Unfortunately, I’ve been blessed to watch one of them in horror. The organization got so big that they got a lot of cover from official right-winged radio and youth media (Jugendmedien). I found it really frightening that an anti-abortion movement got so much power to just walk around and shout and nobody seems to criticize them.
And as the situation in Poland got worse, I started to participate from the beginning. I mean, I am half Polish. And as I saw what was happening sitting in Berlin during the lockdown, I could not just stay still and say nothing. Even if there is no chance for me to directly change the law I have the right to take a stand for what I believe and say „Hey, it is not right what is currently happening.“
How do you deal with the media and the portrayal of the protests there? I always try to get my news from many sources to get the most possible objective image, but I think we all know that is getting harder these days. How do you deal with the narrative of „crazy women fighting for the right to kill their children“?
Well, in the past, I had often met people that thought like that. For me, it’s a very bold cacography of the actual protests. Such comments are at every demonstration in history, be it Black Lives Matter or Fridays For Future, so I don’t really care about them. What counts are the people on the streets and the people who really invest time to research and discuss the cause and potential solutions to the given problem. I don’t feel personally offended when I read stuff like that.
Because we are mainly talking about Poland, what would you say was the initial cause for the situation? As we could see, the election last year was intense – I would even say the most intense election I could participate in until now – during which the society got sliced in half. What are your thoughts about this social war, which, remind me if I am wrong, was not so intense 10-15 years ago?
I don’t know if I am going too far, but I can remember when PiS ( Prawo I Sprawiedliwość, eng. Law and Justice Party) was first elected in 2015 as the new ruling party. It was during the right-wing rise in Europe with Orbán in Hungary for example. According to one of the researchers in political studies, the problem with the European Union was the extreme obsession with neoliberalism, which, as you said before, caused the polarization of rich and poor to grow bigger and bigger. We can observe it also in Germany – the middle class is disappearing day by day, resources become exclusive to one’s social status etc. And I think the same happened in Poland.
The entry into the EU in 2004 was bounded by hope. Europe started to aid the west part of Poland, which connected with West Europe. But the east side of Poland stayed de facto in the eastern bloc. And PiS came with promises, which they actually kept and which resonated with Polish people who live on the east side of the country. This is where the popularity of PiS in Poland comes from. For most liberal Europeans it is hard to grasp that. But as a voter in a harsh financial and economic situation, I think, that people would feel more connected with PiS than „some liberals that were the cause of your problem in the first place.”
I find it interesting because it’s very similar to what Jonathan said about the last US election. As you said, people try to argue with ideologies, but most people don’t seem to care about those in everyday life. They vote for things that they want for themselves because they have their own personal problems to deal with. It would be great if everybody would be happy, but there has to be a system that works, and even as a somewhat more liberal person, it seems that that’s the current problem with the extreme left-wing now. And, of course, the lack of openness and respectful discussion on both sides.
Absolutely. There is a reason why people are voting the way they do.
But, as I grew up in Szczecin (Stettin), I can just say that people near the border think mostly different than the rest of Poland. It is more west – oriented, people speak 3 languages and are with one foot and their cousin already in Germany. That’s why I cannot talk as a representative of the average Polish citizen.
About the social conflict: I have some family members that are very sensitive to political discussions. Mostly because they could not attend church directly and the next best option for them was Radio Maryja (a religious and socially conservative radio station in Poland, that was part of many controversies). When you talk with them, you have to choose your words wisely, as they tend to be extremely sensitive about some topics.
But the rest of my family is more open; they liked and commented a lot on social media. So I did not experience the extreme split myself, because my social environment is more liberal. It would be interesting to actually have an open conversation with someone more conservative.
Please note that the interview was done on January 2, 2021. For more information on the topic please click on the links provided at the bottom. If you want to tell your story about your Berliner life, reach out to me through the about page. As it is a sensitive issue please stay civil should a discussion occur in the comments.
Disclaimer: The opinions shared in the interview are those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the position of the author.
For more information on the issue go here:
Ogólnopolski Strajk Kobiet All-Poland-Women’s Strike