Ideas Authoritarianism on the rise in Poland
From the poster of the "Strike 88" film.

There is no freedom without solidarity

After a new attack from radical nationalists against a LGBT+ march, and as the inequivocable signs of authoritarianism grow every day in Poland – but not only – at the expense of minorities and “traitors”, opposition newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza’s journalists call for supporters of democracy to stand up, and defend its core principles.

Published on 6 August 2019 at 17:28
From the poster of the "Strike 88" film.

We need to show solidarity, or else no one will stand in protest when they come after you, after me, after us. 

We observed the nationalist marches, during which bullies with flares and celtic crosses were kicking young girls in the heads. We saw Catholic Church faithfuls screaming "f**k off!". We heard the representatives of the Church thanking them for their "patriotic demeanor and defense of Catholic values". We witnessed the prolonged indifference of prosecutors and police when it comes to pursuing the aggressors. We are thus convinced that there is no other choice today but to stand on the right side of this divide.

To stand with those who are beaten, not those who beat them.

Authoritarian states flourish not when bad people do bad things, but when good people allow it. 

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Authoritarian power requires ever new enemies. It stirred up resentment against refugees, street protesters, women participating in “black protests" to defend their reproductive rights, Germans, Jews, Ukrainians, the elites and the NGOs "steered by Soros", young doctors, people with disabilities, schoolteachers and their pupils, the "gender ideology", and The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, Poland’s largest charity fundraiser, with particular vitriol left for its founder, Jerzy Owsiak. It continued to verbally abuse the late mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz, who stood for many of the values that authoritarian power cannot stand, and who was murdered while raising funds for The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. 

Today, the authoritarian power viciously attacks the LGBT+ community. Tomorrow it will find yet another scapegoat. As always, it will target some embattled minority, one which already suffers from exclusion and stigmatization. Supported by fanatics within the clergy, the authoritarian power prides itself in representing the majority - "healthy", "heterosexual", "conceived naturally, not with IVF", "Catholic", "patriotic", "authentic, regular Poles". The historical analogies are chilling. 

It always starts with a state sponsored rise in permissiveness with respect to symbolic violence, which first turns towards verbal abuse, before reaching its logical conclusion – physical violence. Authoritarianism sows the wind and reaps the whirlwind, and then cynically denies any responsibility for the abuse it inspired and orchestrated.

Wyborcza’s original credo

Gazeta Wyborcza returns to its original credo. Many of us who belong to the generation of Wyborcza’s founders remember chanting it during the protests which took place after the introduction of martial law in Poland in December 1981. This landed some of us in prison or in internment camps. It was worth it, but now it is all in the past.

There is much more to showcasing real solidarity than just declaring it. We have always tried to live up to it. Together with our readers we organized support for the victims of the Great Flood of 1997 in Poland, we delivered humanitarian aid to Sarajevo when it was under siege, and we went to Maidan to stand with Ukrainians fighting for democracy. 

Together, we advocated for women’s dignity with our "giving birth in humane conditions" initiative. Together, we marched in "black protests" in favor of women’s reproductive rights. Together, we stood up for those suffering from economic exclusion, for those dying because of air pollution, for tenants being forced out of their homes under murky circumstances, for victims of sexual violence. We always were and continue to be standing in solidarity with people with disabilities. 

Together with our readers, every year we raise funds for The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, Poland’s largest charity fundraiser that supports the Polish healthcare system, with particular focus on equipping paediatric wards with life-saving, cutting-edge devices. Together, we took to the streets to defend the Polish constitution, the freedom of our judiciary, our rights and the human dignity. We stood with the brave women who were beaten by nationalist militias during the Independence Day march. 

Today, we stand with the violently attacked participants of the Equality March in Białystok and with the members of the LGBT+ community. We will always be with those who are abused and humiliated, as well as with those whose fundamental rights are being denied. 

Our world is not going in the right direction, which makes it imperative for us to stand in solidarity with future victims of the myopia and egotism endemic to this moment. We need to raise the alarm about the fast-approaching climate disaster and the impending environmental collapse. We need to fight for a sustainable planet – one that is free of plastic and that relies fully on renewable energy. 

We do not know who started the chant "There is no freedom without solidarity" in Gdańsk in August 1980. Whoever that person was, it would be hard for her or him to fathom that this credo would become so heavy with meaning and importance, and so central to addressing the challenges we are facing in the 21st century. 

Free and in solidarity

The freedom of some cannot impede on the freedom of others. Freedom of the majority cannot translate into the tyranny against the minority. This is especially important when the majority enjoys the support of the state, while the minority is left on its own because most citizens feel completely powerless. 

The credo "There is no freedom without solidarity" binds us. The world as we knew it - stable, safe, predictable – will irrevocably collapse in front of our eyes if we turn inwards to our narrow interests focused solely on buying, consuming and digesting. This will open the floodgates to populists and political charlatans alike. 

If we do not stand in solidarity, our freedom will be taken away from us by false prophets who despise it.  All of us, to the extent of our abilities, have to voice our protest against evil. 

Hiding in our comfort zones, shielding ourselves with the belief that "this does not concern us", is but an implicit consent to the abuse that surrounds us. It turns us into passive participants in the act of violence. We promise that we will never be silent or indifferent, because silence and indifference can cost the lives of others. No one should ever be left alone. 

We are going back to where we started: "There is no freedom without solidarity".

First they came…
First they came for the Communists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Communist
Then they came for the Socialists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Socialist
Then they came for the trade unionists
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a trade unionist
Then they came for the Jews
And I did not speak out
Because I was not a Jew
Then they came for me
And there was no one left
To speak out for me

Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) – a German Lutheran pastor; this poem was written in Dachau camp in 1942.

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