On the 5th of July, Donald Trump made his first official visit to Poland, a country currently ruled by a far-right government. Like the Trump administration, the Polish government of the Law and Justice Party bases itself on xenophobia and bigotry, while posing a constant threat to women’s reproductive rights. The right wing government is an eager supporter of U.S. imperialism in the region, so it bent low to bow in front of the visiting emperor.
Poland’s leaders are in conflict with the European Union while at the same time their deathly afraid of Russian imperialism. As such, the Law and Justice Party has been looking towards the U.S. expanding its military presence in Eastern Europe. This striving to be U.S. imperialism’s best lapdog in the region manifested itself in a deal announced after Trump’s visit – Poland will further ingratiate itself by paying above-market prices for American natural gas.
During the visit the streets of Warsaw, Poland’s capital, were filled with police forces while the area of Trump’s visit was populated with “the enthusiastic people of Warsaw”. In reality these crowds were mostly government supporters bused into the capital by conservative MP’s who were reportedly in competition to fill buses with supporters from their home towns. Outside the police fences, however, hundreds of protesters gathered to chant “Trump not welcome!”
The anti-Trump demonstration was organized by left groups, anti-war, environmental and women’s rights activists. The main mobilization came from Razem party – a new broad left political formation. Women’s rights activists from Razem staged a defiant performance to greet Trump, dressing up in red cloaks imitating the characters of “The Handmaids Tale”, the recent TV adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel of the same name. In this dystopian science fiction story, poor women are reduced to the roles of servants and childbearing vessels.
Given the situation in Poland and last year’s massive women’s strike, it’s no surprise that the struggle against sexism was so prominent during the visit. The Polish government has taken a series of misogynist measures that endanger women’s rights and reproductive rights. For example, they canceled state funding for pro-woman NGO’s (like Women’s Rights Center, an organization helping women who have been victims of violence) under the stupendous pretext that women organizations discriminate by helping only women. Polish health ministry recently banned prescription-free, post-coital contraception, making Poland the only European country to do so. Last year when the government bent to the pressure from fundamentalist anti-abortion groups, and put a total ban of abortion rights to the vote in parliament, a massive protest movement erupted. Tens of thousands marched in cities across Poland during the “Women’s Strike” and forced the government to abandon their plans to ban abortion.
Alongside the dominant issue of women’s rights, a number of other issues were raised in opposition to Trump during the protests. Anti-racist and anti-war messages took aim at the new American president’s xenophobia and military policies. Trump’s rejection of Paris climate agreements came under fire, particularly when Greenpeace activists illuminated Warsaw’s landmark Palace of Culture and Science, with a giant display of the slogan “No Trump, Yes Paris.”
Although this mobilization was not the biggest against a U.S. president (in fact it was far from reaching the heights of the protests against George W. Bush) it does reflect the birth of a new generation of unapologetic fighters for women’s rights. There is still political disorientation on the left, and unfortunately, some of the slogans were borrowed from the U.S. Democratic Party leadership, like focusing on Trump’s alleged relationship with Putin rather than his right wing policies. But the fact that for the first time the mobilizations were spearheaded by a new left party, also shows the potential in this new situation. One of Razem party’s banners declared “Bernie could have won”. This sentiment, which has gone international over the past months, reflects both the openness and the pressing need for a mass left alternative to dangerous reactionary regimes like those in Poland and the U.S., and to the broken system of capitalism.