Man sets himself ablaze in Warsaw in apparent protest against ruling party

Man sets himself ablaze in Warsaw in apparent protest against ruling party
A man set himself alight in front of Palace of Culture in Warsaw on Thursday in an apparent bid to send a political message to the ruling conservatives. A letter, found at the site, accuses the government of trampling on the constitution and undermining democracy.

The incident took place on Thursday afternoon, with an elderly man pouring a flammable liquid on himself before setting it on fire, wiadomosci.onet.pl reports, citing police.  Firefighters called to the scene put out the fire and the man was taken to the hospital. The man was unconscious by the time the doctors got hold of him and was reported to be in “serious condition.”

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While police have not stated the motive of the man’s actions, a political manifesto with scathing criticism of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and a plea to distribute its contents, was reportedly found at the scene.

Tomasz Sybilski, a city councillor from center-left Democratic Left Alliance, posted a photo of the letter, saying he picked it up at the site.

Witnesses said that the man also brought a speaker, which was playing a popular song by the Polish rock band Chłopcy z Placu Broni.

"Leaflets were strewn around him on the ground and a speaker was broadcasting the song I Love And I Understand Freedom, by a 1990s Polish rock band," eyewitness Piechna-Wieckiewicz, who saw the incident unravelling, said, as cited by AFP.

“This man protested in defense of freedom. He left a letter and a note asking not to save him but to record [the incident] and disseminate [the letter],” Sybilski wrote.

The manifesto has since gone viral and was shared extensively on social media. The author says that he went to the extreme in protesting the government’s wrongdoings as the Polish authorities consistently turn the blind eye on a torrent of criticism, stemming from the opposition and the EU alike.

“Many people wiser and more famous than me, like many Polish and European institutions, have already called out this government for various activities and these calls were invariably ignored and thrown into the mud. Probably, for what I’ve done I will be pelted with mud [as well], but at least I will be in a good company,” the letter reads.

The government's fifteen key transgressions, according to the manifesto, include encroaching on civil liberties, stamping of laws by PiS lawmakers “without discussion and appropriate consultation, often at night”, dismantling of the independent judiciary system with a controversial constitutional court reform despite popular protests. The hostile attitude to migrants cultivated by the government and attempts to stifle dissent on radio and TV, “making them the propaganda arms of the government,” are also on the list.

By pursuing these policies, the government contributes to the “marginalization of Poland’s role on the international arena” and makes the country a subject of ridicule, the author goes on.

In conclusion, the author lays his death at the feet of the ruling party: “They have my blood on their hands.”

A vigil was staged near the Palace of Culture, with several dozen people gathering at the site of the attempted self-immolation. People lit candles and laid flowers at the site, while reading the letter.

Since PiS came to power in the 2015 parliamentary elections, it set course to a wide-ranging overhaul of judicary, drawing sharp criticism from the EU and the opposition. Its reform which gave the government sway over the Supreme Court, was blasted by the European Commission which in July launched a legal action, that could potentially lead to Poland losing its voting rights in the block.

The measure, spearheaded by PiS, was met with mass rallies in defense of the courts and against the government’s attempt to water down the power of the judges.