Polish abortion protest leader takes inspiration from Belarus

WARSAW – As the anti-abortion protests in Poland continue into a second week, their main organizer, Marta Lempart, says she is grateful for a clear role model in the East – the opposition movement of the Belarus.

Tens of thousands of people gathered across Poland, with the biggest protests in Warsaw on Friday, since the Constitutional Court further limited the country’s already restrictive abortion laws, making interruptions due to anomalies illegal fetal.

Hundreds of people marched through the streets and gathered outside universities to keep pressure on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko to step down.

Lempart, a 41-year-old lawyer by training and one of the leaders of Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike), thinks the parallels between the Polish and Belarusian movements are clear: they are led by East Europeans and by women .

With her thick-rimmed dark glasses and blonde hair flecked with gray, she has led daily marches across Poland, giving speeches to the point of losing her voice and encouraging people to take to the streets despite the coronavirus pandemic.

“We see that a lot of things work the same in Poland and Belarus… we are still culturally close. We are in the European Union… but we have this common spirit with many countries east of Poland, ”Lempart told Reuters, wearing a black mask bearing the movement’s characteristic red lightning.

Marta Lampert, leader of the Strajk Kobiet (Women's Strike) movement, in an interview with Reuters, in Warsaw, Poland.
Marta Lampert, leader of the Strajk Kobiet (Women’s Strike) movement, in an interview with Reuters, in Warsaw, Poland.Reuters

“I think it’s a backlash against a patriarchal culture, against patriarchal states against fundamentalist religious states, against states that treat women really badly,” she added.

Unlike Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, Lempart is not new to activism since she has been involved in “black protests” in Poland for women’s rights since 2016.

But she is turning to Tsikhanouskaya for ideas on how to keep the protests going despite an increase in coronavirus cases in Poland.

Strajk Kobiet set up his own “coordinating council” on Sunday, modeled on the Belarusian initiative that brought together activists, economists and former politicians to plan the burgeoning revolution in Belarus.

After the first meeting in Warsaw, Lempart said the group wanted better access to abortion, stronger rights for women and LGBT people, separation of church and state and more support for a system struggling health care, small business and education.

Lempart insists that the purpose of the protests is not to create a political movement, although she hopes for more support from the European Union.

“They should protect us, the Polish citizens… They turn their backs on us and only speak to the Polish government and they should speak to us,” Lempart said.

In the meantime, the goal of the women’s strike is to ensure the protests continue, despite a record daily peak in coronavirus cases in Poland on Saturday of nearly 22,000.

A blockade is scheduled for Monday while a chain of solidarity in small Polish towns is scheduled for Wednesday.

“We will not be afraid,” Lempart said. “People could get tired. It’s our job to help people not get tired.

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