Until recently, in Poland protesting was a domain of the older generation – with the sole exception of protest against ACTA, seen as an attack on the freedom of the internet in 2012, the average age of people going out to the streets to protests the government was probably somewhere around 45-50.
With the creation of Committee for the Defence of Democracy, KOD, in 2015, the movement became quickly dominated by the older generation. The activists often complained about the lack of interest in the political matters from the younger generation, suspecting that they don’t remember communism so they don’t understand what’s at stake. Younger ones on the other hand were disgusted by the power struggle at the top of the organisation, the attempt by the opposition politicians to hijack the movement and the lack understanding from the older organisers for the issues facet by the younger generation – on many occasions younger protesters with LGBT flags were removed from the KOD marches.
As a result, the young ones quickly disappeared from KOD marches and so the protests were dominated by the aesthetic known from the Solidarity struggle from 1980’s: sea of Polish flags blowing in the wind, accompanied by guitar songs by wannabe-Jacek Kaczmarski political bards (Jacek Kaczmarski, although he himself refused to admit that, was seen as an official bard of the Solidarity, and his song “Mury”, despite being written as a symbol of distrust in mass movements became kind of hymn of anti-communist struggle in the 80’s)
Still, Kaczmarskesque guitar rasps accompanying pompous lyrics was undigestable by the majority, even in oldest generation, so finally song “Kocham Wolność” (I love freedom) by the band Chłopcy Z Placu Broni (active mostly in late 1980’s and 1990’s) became a hymn of those protests:
The fact that it’s mostly elderly people who protest the government was often used by PiS in their propaganda: government media portrayed them as bitter people, leftover “deposits of communism”, or even “Agents of the communist secret police and their children”, protesting against PiS government, who clears Poland from communists and taking “their privileges” away.
The first breach in this narration was woman’s protest against tightening abortion laws in 2016, and then again in 2018, that forced Kaczyński to back down. But only recent protests related to women’s strike clearly show, that this time it is really the younger generation that has enough of PiS.
It can be heard from the musical score that accompanies the protests. While initially the young people had to do with makeshift adaptation of the dance hit “Call on Me” with the lyrics adapted to express (in vulgar manner) one’s anger against the ruling party:
this was quickly followed by the original compositions. First, there was an anonymous girl, who played ukulele and dissed the government and ruling politicians in the non-less-vulgar manner than the previous dance hit, but soon more professional productions followed. Nearly all musical styles are represented from hip hop:
through angry rock:
to even mainstream pop music:
With almost no exception, the common denominator for all of those songs were slogans “Jebać PiS” – fuck PiS and “Wypierdalać” – get to fuck. While the older generation is often disgusted with its vulgarity, the younger one seems to be telling them: “you tried to be polite, and it got you nowhere, now stand back and let us send those idiots a clear message that even they can understand”
As Justyna Biedrawa sings:
I am going to speak politely, I am going to be nice
when in this country my opinion will matter
Oh, how nice it would be if my opinion mattered
I am usually nice, I usually speak nicely
I take care of my grammar, I don’t swear too much
I am exeptionaly subtle
But today only one word comes to my lips:
Politely saying: Get lost
Leave women alone
I kindly ask you to get to fuck!
The other symbol of those protests are slogans written on the cardboard signs. And here the Polish tradition of protests can be seen, as Poles have a long history in fighting the regime with surrealism. The Orange Alternative was the movement that sparkled in Wrocław in the 1980 when Waldemar Frydrych and Wiesław Cupała came with the idea of painting dwarves on the walls where the militia covered political slogans with white paint. The movement then spread all across the country and surrealistic happenings became their trademark (read more here).
The other famous example took place in Łódź nearly a decade ago, when someone, annoyed with the fact that football hooligans abuse each other’ teams on the walls with anti-Semitic slur, took to the street and proposed a new opening by writing a surrealistic slogans. That caught up, and since there local football fans accuse each others of being silly by doing some absurdly stupid things like “trying to buy bread in furniture shop”, “ordering chips with potatoes”, “selling pate at online auction sites”. “playing the Dumber in Dumb and Dumber”, “thinks that in vitro is a good name for pizzeria”, “expects to be called ‘sir’ since got a job in Lidl” or “heating their house by burning lard”. You can read more on that (in Polish or English) on my blog, or browse collection of such absurd slogans at this Facebook page.
Those things clearly became (knowingly or not) an inspiration to people, who prepare slogans for their protests. “Down with government” accompanied by the Polish flag is simply not enough, young people compete with each other in who will come up with funnier slogan, and best of the best are shared and circulated amongst Poles on social media. Recently during a ZOOM party with friends (oh, those COVID times!), we spent nearly an hour browsing collections of such slogans, sharing them with each other and laughing at the best of them. And, oh boy, there is so much to laugh at. The protesters wish harm to the government and Kaczyński:
“I wish you stepped onto lego brick, you dick!”
“I hope your cat shits in your bed!”
or accuse them of being an embarrassment
“PiS drifts with Fiat Multipla”
“PiS makes tea from the water they earlier boiled dumplings in”
or just idiots
“Bosak watches porn to the end, hoping there will be a wedding”.
There are threats
“Even vegans want to kill that duck” – referring to Kaczyński’s surname derived from that bird
“Women are fragile: not like a flower, more like a bomb”
“Please, stop, I am running out of cardboard”.
Many people try to explain the basics to PiS:
“What Orwell wrote was not a set of instructions”.
“Handmaid’s tale is not a country ruling manual”
Some try to take the government for pity
“I had to use my cat’s favourite cardboard box!” (accompanied with a picture of sad cat)
“Because of you I only eat Pizza, so I have supply of cardboard boxes!”
other use pop culture references
“Now I know why Agnieszka is no longer living here” – referring to a popular song,
“In Smurf’s village the grumpy old man with a cat was also the major danger”
“I don’t like this episode of Black Mirror”
Higher culture is also present:
“To quote Shakespear’s Hamlet, act 5, scene 1, verse 425: NO”
as well as referrals to the classic slogans:
“Liberté, Egalité, Wypierdalajté”
While many people attack the clergy, some protesters make clear what they are on about:
“I have nothing against God, I just don’t like his ground auxillary crew”
Certain simply describe the reality
“The government fucks us so much, that they should get their own category on PornHub”
“Even conspiracy theorists don’t belive the shit PiS is trying to do!”
or try to bribe Kaczyński
“if you quit, I’ll share my Netflix password with you!”.
Others can’t decide if they want to show their disdain to PiS or not, as the guy, who held a small piece of paper, teared off from some notebook with the sign “You don’t even deserve a proper banner!”
Some men can’t refrain from ironically expressing their admiration to Kaczyński’s bravery
“I am afraid to piss my wife, you pissed every woman in the country!”
or demand for him to be awarded
“I demand Oscar for Kaczyński for his role of Jaruzelski!”.
Other ones simply express their unconditional support:
“I am here for my wife and my daughters, and for all women. Ok, even for my mother-in-law!”
There are of course those, who think only of themselves
“When Kaczyński goes to jail, I want his cat!”.
A group of student doctors came with the sign saying “It’s so bad, that medicine students left the library!”. Meanwhile a lonely guy stood at the side with a small sign “Even introverts are here”.
After Kaja Godek, main proponent of abortion ban in Poland and mother of a child with Down syndrom got slagged by the official Moomin Facebook profile for referring to disabled children as Moomins, the Moomins became a recurring characters on the signs (for example threatening to call The Groke for help). There was also a Kaja Godek portrait with the caption “if 2020 was a human being” and the Witcher Geralt with two swords: “One for monsters, second also for Kaja Godek”.
A black woman holding a sign saying “I am too white to live in such dark times” was a big hit on the internet.
Recently more and more of the signs referred to the police brutality. One girl was seen holding the poster saying “I am coming in peace, please don’t beat me”, while others informed “My sons don’t want to be policemen anymore”.
This amount of energy and creativity should make it clear for everyone. As one banner said “When they walked with umbrellas, you laughed. When they held white roses, you ridiculed them. Now they say “Wypierdalać”, get the message yet?”. And despite police beating protesters more and more (recently a 19 year old girls had her hand twisted so hard, that her bone got severely broken and she is in need of a surgery, yet Police refused her access to medical treatment despite the fact, that the ambulance crew was standing just a few metres from the police car she was held in), the energy of the protests is still strong.
Because it’s not about abortion any more. As other slogan said “Now it’s about EVERYTHING”. So far PiS does not seem to be packing their bags, they try to keep up the good face. But it seems, that the clock is ticking. As one banner, referring to Bulgakov’s masterpiece, said: “Annushka has already spilled the oil”.
You can browse collections of those, and many more others, on this instagram profile or that Facebook page. They historical value of them has been recognised by historians as well, as some of them are being preserved by at least two museums.
This piece was published in Britské Listy.
Main Picture: Urszula Hałenda