Months ago, I spoke with my cousin Agnieszka (Aga) Guzdek of Krakow, Poland, about and during the successful Coat Hanger Rebellion, in which thousands of black-clad women, men, and children left their work, their homes, and their schools to strike after a bill was introduced to Poland's right-wing parliament that would forbid abortion in almost all circumstances. Under the proposed law, anyone who underwent an abortion — no matter their circumstances — would face imprisonment, as would doctors and nurses involved. But because of the voices and actions of Aga and her fellow protesters, the bill wasn't passed. It was terminated.
Aga works for a successful educational start-up. She's a single mother, a brilliant photographer, and an avid member of protest circles in Poland. Her relation to the protests is purely personal; she's not an organizer, but she does know many of them because she's been working for various nongovernmental organizations in Krakow; it's a small and familiar bunch of people.
We are currently seeing a flurry of vaguely authoritarian executive actions that threaten the rights of the American people and what our constitution stands for, from the order to obliterate Obamacare to the global gag rule on abortion, to the international travel ban and suspension of refugee programs, just to name a few. When the president's men began calling the media "the opposition party," I knew it was time to talk to Aga again.
Although the reproductive protests have abated temporarily after the success of the Coat Hanger Rebellion, Polish citizens are continuing to strike. Poland is experiencing its most severe constitutional crisis since the Communist regime declared martial law in 1981 , and Poland's ruling party is continuing to attempt to make democracy disappear. During the fourth week of Donald Trump's presidency, Aga and I talked about how to communicate with other resistors, who to turn to, where to draw the line, and how to protest better.
Mira Ptacin: Can you give me some context about Poland's government and share any parallels you've been able to draw between the United States and what has happened in Poland?
Agnieszka Guzdek: Poland once aspired to be the 51st state. But as I watch the news lately, it seems that the United States is becoming a second Poland. This makes me feel sad, sorry, and angry. Trump is repeating the steps of Polish government. He's making changes in law quickly and thoughtlessly. This web page summarizes what has happened in Poland recently. I hope that it doesn't happen to the United States.
We've been dealing with a right-wing government for over a year now. The connection between the ruling party and the Catholic Church is closer than ever before. Our Constitutional Tribunal (constitutional court) is the highest law of authority. The current ruling party never accepted nominations to the tribunals done by the previous government, but according to Polish law, it should. Instead, they chose their own judges. Now the rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal are completely secret and cannot even be filmed.
Television stations are manipulating the real facts (for example, showing just part of demonstrations rather than their entirety). Only public television and radio speak the whole truth. Many TV and radio presenters have been fired and replaced by those who obey. The Trump administration calls your media "liars" and "the opposition party" and is attempting to silence them, too. The Polish government has banned media from the parliament, and a single party now controls the executive and legislative branches.
In our education system, we have a new bill for schools that says children will have the same amount of religion (Catholic) and history (the one and only "true history"), more than biology, chemistry, and geography put together. There is no mention about Lech Wałęsa [the former Polish President, who helped bring democracy to the country] in any of the schoolbooks — he was a winner of the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize!