E&Ms Polish author Julia Zalewska found herself in shock regarding the current measures aimed at restricting abortions in Poland. In her evocative piece, she tries to find words to express what it feels like to turn back the clock on issues women have long fought for – like their right to decide about their own body. Looking beyond Europe, the picture gets even direr: with Amy Coney Barrett’s Supreme Court confirmation many fear that “the door to a world that many anti-abortion-rights activists have been envisioning for decades” has been thrown wide open. 

On 22nd of October, the Constitutional Tribunal in Poland restricted abortion law. It is now impossible to get an abortion even if there are major foetal defects; termination of pregnancy will only be allowed in cases of rape or incest, or if the mother’s health is at risk. Additionally, ‘pro-life’ activist Kaja Godek said in an interview that she’ll now fight for no abortion in case of rape, as it’s not the child’s fault to be conceived by a rapist. It is disgusting, I struggle to find words to comment on such a lack of empathy and thinking.

Hand with arrow | Photo courtesy of the author

For a few days now, there’s been protests all around Poland and even in bigger cities in Europe. I’ve reached the point of inertia – I have no words left to say. I feel powerless and no words are accurate to describe how harmed I am. I’ve attended almost every protest there’d been. Having reached the end of my endurance, I frequently cried out of fury. Now, I’m close to being numb. What else is there left for me to feel, as cruelty against women continues to abound?

In my article ‘Poland: are you still my country?‘ I have written about the persecution of LGBT+ people in the leadup to the presidential elections in Poland. When the government takes no care of its citizens, when the laws make us feel defenseless, when citizens need to protest on the streets in times of a global pandemic and finally, when the catholic church has a growing impact on every aspect of life in Poland – can I call this place mine?

All I can see is fury among the people now. To a certain degree, it is motivating – it makes me feel like when we stand united, we can actually make a change. However, at the same time, agitation leads people to harm others.

I keep returning to the words of Maria Janion, a Polish historian of literature, ideas and imagination and a literary critic specializing in the history of Polish and European romanticism, from her Letter to the Culture Congress in 2016:

„A nation that cannot exist without suffering must inflict suffering on itself. Hence the shocking sadistic fantasies about forcing women to bear half-dead children […]” 

She wrote about Polish messianism and its state-clerical version as our curse. Maria Janion had hopes for a restorative vision of our country, which we can also find in Olga Tokarczuk’s book Księgi Jabubowe (English translation to be published next year). But, as she writes, there is also hope:

„I am convinced that the opening of collective memory, the transformation of mourning into empathy, rejection of “pre-critical consent to the technicization of the humanities” – this is work with children, with young people that must and will take place in these difficult years to come.” (Maria Janion, 2016)

Reading her words again in light of current events, I need time to regain my strength and find (redefine) my identity as a Pole.

Cover Photo: ?? Claudio Schwarz | @purzlbaum on Unsplash, Unsplash licence

  • retro

    Julia lives in Cracow with her beloved boyfriend and flat-faced cat Louis (a she). She’s a Psychology graduate at Jagiellonian University. Julia has a big crush on Truman Capote, on Italy, and on movies from the 60s. She loves long walks by the sea, a good wine & visiting museums (as art is nested deeply in her heart). She can’t imagine her life without jazz music and more alternative sounds like Beach House, the Marias or Men I Trust. She’d rather not share her future plans. Just not to jinx it. You can join her over on Instagram: @indulgeinfeelings.

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