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Marta Jarosz
Marta Jarosz ©Ania Liesting

Polish Women

I was protesting on my own on the street, with 7 police cars as followers

Marta Jarosz (43), Psychologist from Poland

“I will never forget the date of October 22, 2020. A shock wave passes through Poland when the Constitutional Court in my country decides that abortion is against the Constitution. A shocking legal decision to which society reacts violently. In the midst of the corona pandemic. We know we have to do something, but protesting raises moral questions. Is it safe? What about health? Aren’t we ensuring a faster spread of the coronavirus? There are currently no vaccines. Despite all doubts, many people take to the streets. Someone has to stand on the barricades. In the beginning it is in our city Julia, a student of a secondary school. Until the police warn her several times. She stops out of fear. I take over her role. During the same period, the government announces a ban on gatherings. I’m ignoring that ban because it’s against our Constitution: we have the right to make our voices heard and protest. The only thing that presents us with a dilemma is the issue of corona: we do not want to endanger the health of participants in protest actions.

30 people come to my first protest. It is November 2020 with an atmosphere befitting November in Poland: cold, grey, rain and snow. Our small market square in Olkusz looks like the decor of a police series, so many police and police cars are present. Police officers in anti-terrorist uniforms summon us to leave. Their attitude is based on pure intimidation. But it does help them. Because few people come to the second protest. And at the third protest, I’m all alone protesting in the street, with seven police cars as followers. I don’t let myself be known and still turn on my big speaker with international protest songs very loud. I paid to play music for two hours, so I will. It’s cold and dark, I feel alone, but I don’t want to give up. I know what I’m fighting for. I was never brave. I’m very shy and it never occurred to me to talk publicly, organize meetings and protests. But this government is forcing me to step out of my comfort zone. I am angry, very angry. What gives the government the right to take away women’s control over their own bodies?

My environment reacts negatively to the protest actions that I organize. My father in particular shows little understanding. We have a difficult family history. I didn’t know that in the 1950’s my uncle was probably murdered by government officials. My father is afraid that the same will happen to me. He doesn’t believe in the protests, he doesn’t believe what I’m fighting for. And he is afraid that I will contract corona and infect him. My colleague psychologist with whom I have a practice is also not thrilled with enthusiasm. But I also gain a very good friend. She supports me and participates as much as possible. She works for a local newspaper, which reports on the protests. Until the newspaper is also ‘warned’ by the police. The newspaper must stop ‘inciting protests’. I also get support from people I don’t know. A megaphone is offered to me from men at a local music store. I receive help from a lawyer. Thanks to her I regain my confidence. There is no lawsuit, I will not be prosecuted. That’s a great relief.

I am regularly asked whether it makes sense what we do. Whether the protests are having an effect. Our ‘gain’ is that we were able to slow down some processes. But we don’t make any profit on content. The government is still doing what it wants. But we can’t sit and watch. We need to do something to not feel so hopeless. I firmly believe in an exchange project of children and young people with ‘free’ European countries. I myself lived in the United States and experienced what it is like to be really free and safe, to be who you want to be. Then I also wish children and young people in Poland. There I saw for the first time that a woman can speak and express herself very honestly. That’s what I miss now in Poland, that you can say what you think. That sex education may be taught in schools and not, as the government wants, to be banned or heavily censored.

I notice that especially girls and young women are afraid and want to emigrate. They are afraid to stay here. If the government doesn’t change, life will be very difficult for a girl, for a woman in Poland. LGBTI+ people think about suicide. It is not possible to live happily here… The mental damage is enormous. Poland is polarizing rapidly. I used to not be interested in politics, now I follow it continuously. I hope the government loses in the next election. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll emigrate.”

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