Frustrated business owners are holding ongoing protests in Warsaw, calling for greater support from the government during the crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
What began yesterday as a horn-honking and street-blocking demonstration in cars evolved overnight into a makeshift camp in front of the prime minister’s office. Protesters have been demanding a meeting with the head of government, Mateusz Morawiecki.
Video emerged of clashes with police during the day. Then, overnight, police began further interventions, detaining 37 of the protesters and dismantling their camp. Among those detained was Paweł Tanajno, a minor candidate in this year’s presidential elections and one of the organisers of the protest.
Tak wyglada frustracja przedsiębiorców. Przed chwilą przed Kancelarią Premiera. pic.twitter.com/GxxATbx24t
— Bartłomiej Bublewicz (@bbublewicz) May 7, 2020
The business owners are demanding that the government implement a stronger support package to save jobs and prevent wage reductions, to introduce tax cuts, and to expand social security exemptions. They also want salaries in public administration reduced, and the health minister to resign.
The government has already introduced a series of measures to “unfreeze” the economy from lockdown, as well as to support businesses, workers and the financial sector during the crisis. But the protesters argue it is insufficient, and many fear they are facing bankruptcy.
“The assistance is a fiction,” one protester told RMF24. “The ‘unfreezing’ scheme doesn’t cover my industry at all. We filed the applications [for state support], but we can’t get in touch with the officials, they don’t answer their phones. We’re left with practically nothing.”
The protest was organised through social media by a group called Strajk Przedsiębiorców (Strike of Business Owners), and protesters began to gather yesterday at 4 p.m. in the centre of Warsaw.
First they blocked a busy roundabout with their cars, beeping horns in protest. This was a means of avoiding violating Poland’s current lockdown restrictions (one also recently used by women protesting against a proposed abortion ban).
However, they later began to engage in street protests, walking towards parliament and the prime minister’s office. Participants shouted “layabouts”, “sellouts”, “we will swap Morawiecki for dollars”, and “we are the Poles”, reports Polityka, a news weekly.
Police observing the demonstration pointed out that many were not wearing obligatory face masks. They were also not keeping to social distancing requirements and ignored police commands to obey the law.
Protest przedsiębiorców w Warszawie. Nie wytrzymują już. 😕 pic.twitter.com/3ZS8AQbsbz
— Maciej Maćkowiak 🧐⚽ (@Macko_scaut) May 7, 2020
In the evening the protesters declared that they were “staying the night” and put up tents in front of the prime minister office. Police began to intervene around 1 a.m., reports Gazeta Wyborcza. As a result, 37 participants were arrested and further 150 asked for their identity documents.
“During the nighttime protest all safety rules were broken,” stated the police. “Many of the restrictions imposed to limit the spread of coronavirus were violated, and the behaviour of the protesters can be described as extremely disrespectful.”
W przypadku nocnego protestu mamy do czynienia z bezwzględnym łamaniem wszelkich zasad bezpieczeństwa. Naruszonych jest wiele obostrzeń wprowadzonych celem ograniczenia rozprzestrzeniania się koronawirusa, a zachowanie protestujących należy określić jako skrajnie lekceważące.
— Policja Warszawa (@Policja_KSP) May 8, 2020
The spokesman for Warsaw Police, Sylwester Marczak, explained to Polityka that details of all those arrested and asked for identity documents, have been passed on to the sanitary inspectorate to impose fines for violating lockdown measures.
At the time of writing, further street protests are taking place in Warsaw. Among those present are Janusz Korwin-Mikke and Grzegorz Braun, both MPs and leaders of the far-right Confederation party.
— Roland Zalewski (@Zalewski53) May 8, 2020
Main image credit: Grzegorz Celejewski / Agencja Gazeta
Agnieszka Wądołowska is managing editor of Notes from Poland. She has previously worked for Gazeta.pl and Tokfm.pl and contributed to Gazeta Wyborcza, Wysokie Obcasy, Duży Format, Midrasz and Kultura Liberalna