The Warsaw crowd came early on Monday morning to the Kinoteka cinema inside the forbidding Stalinist-Palace of Culture. They were here, popcorn in hand, for a live-stream of the greatest show in town, playing out down the road in the Sejm parliament: the end of the eight-year reign of the right-wing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.
“It’s like a circus, people are having fun, laughing loudly. It is a celebration of democracy and the big changes that are going to happen,” said Bartek Kielbowicz, a 38-year-old Warsaw artist, who designed the posters for the special screening.
The brainchild of influencer and Instagram meme comedian Michal Marszal, the screening reflects a growing interest in politics in Poland before and after October’s historic general election.
“The response was phenomenal, a total of almost 1,000 people came, including many young people,” said Marszal. “Some even ran away from school, I hope the teachers will forgive them.”
Monday was a drama in three acts, beginning at 10am with the so-called exposé of acting PiS prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki. Though supposed be laying out his stall for his majority-less government, Morawiecki was already looking in the rear-view mirror, insisting PiS had “proven that Poland is not condemned to poverty and backwardness”.
That triggered hoots and jeers in the Kinoteka cinema, repeated after the PiS government was voted out in the afternoon. A hard-core in the Kinoteka hung on for the evening parliamentary vote for Donald Tusk.
After bare-knuckle election campaign focused on migration and welfare, Tusk has promised to end a polarising tone and often hate-filled language towards political opponents, the EU, migrants, LGBTQ people – and women.
That message chimed with younger, urban Poles in the Kinoteka for whom the last years under PiS have been, as Bartek calls it, a “living nightmare”.
While the political debate in the last years has focused on the conservative government’s rows with Brussels over problematic judicial reforms and withheld EU funding, ordinary Poles were feeling the squeeze on very private matters.
As a young father, Bartek says he and his partner spent her pregnancy wracked with anxiety after PiS legislated to effectively outlaw abortion. That had a chilling effect on doctors and hospital staff, many of whom were so scared of intervening in cases of complications that many women died in hospital.
“PiS have managed to destroy Poland’s reputation abroad and, just how bad things are at home, we will see when the new government gets in,” said Bartek. “At the moment there is a real hope for change. Of course there will be problems ahead, the new government has so many parties there will be divisions, but I think for sure it will be better than what he had in last eight years.”