More than 100,000 Poles demonstrated on Sunday in support of European Union membership after a court ruling that parts of EU law are incompatible with the constitution raised concerns the country could eventually leave the bloc.
Politicians across Europe voiced dismay at the ruling by Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal on Thursday, which they saw as undercutting the legal pillar on which the 27-nation EU stands.
According to the organisers, protests took place in over 100 towns and cities across Poland and several cities abroad, with 80,000-100,000 people gathering in the capital Warsaw alone, waving Polish and EU flags and shouting “We are staying”.
Donald Tusk, a former head of the European Council and now leader of the main opposition party Civic Platform, said the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party’s policies were jeopardising Poland’s future in Europe.
“We know why they want to leave (the EU) … so that they can violate democratic rules with impunity,” he said, speaking in front of Warsaw’s Royal Castle, surrounded by thousands of protesters flanked by police vans flashing their lights.
PiS says it has no plans for a “Polexit”.
But right-wing populist governments in Poland and Hungary have found themselves increasingly at odds with the European Commission over issues ranging from LGBT rights to judicial independence.
“Just as Brexit suddenly became a fact, something no-one expected, the same thing can happen here,” said Janusz Kuczynski, 59, standing in a street in Warsaw’s historic district leading up to the Royal Castle.
Welcoming the court ruling on Thursday, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said each member state must be treated with respect and the EU should not be only “a grouping of those who are equal and more equal”.
State-run TVP broadcaster, which critics say focuses heavily on presenting the government’s point of view, ran a news ticker that read “protest against the Polish constitution” during its coverage of Sunday’s events.
Speakers at the demonstrations included politicians from across the opposition, artists and activists.
“This is our Europe and nobody is going to take us out of it,” said Wanda Traczyk-Stawska, a 94-year old veteran of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against Nazi German occupiers.
Reporting by Kacper Pempel and Anna Wlodarczak-Semczuk; Editing by Frances Kerry