WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Hundreds of students gathered Wednesday in Warsaw and other Polish cities to protest the country’s populist and nationalist government, with a range of demands that includes better ties with the European Union and protecting the environment.
Many denounced an overhaul of the education system, passed recently by parliament, which will eliminate middle schools and return the country to an earlier system of eight years of primary school followed by either high school or vocational school.
The government says the current system isn’t working well and that children will feel more secure remaining longer in primary schools with teachers they have had since a young age. Critics believe the government is using the change as a pretext for introducing a more nationalistic curriculum with more focus on history and less on science.
The ruling Law and Justice party has taken steps since winning power in 2015 to build a stronger and more patriotic nation along the party’s conservative and Catholic lines. It has found itself at odds with the EU and liberal Poles who denounce the changes as anti-democratic.
Ahead of the protests, which also took place in Poznan and Wroclaw, the students issued a manifesto with their demands. They voiced opposition to an erosion of the independence of the judiciary, saying they want to live in a state that respects the constitutional rule of law and does not become isolated internationally.
They also reacted to a rising xenophobic mood that has resulted in more attacks on dark-skinned people, demanding equal treatment “for everyone regardless of gender, race, religion, color or sexual orientation.”
Despite this and several larger street protests in past months, the ruling party remains relatively popular and some student groups said they did not share the opinions of those taking to the streets.