From the HBO mini-series Burning Bush From the HBO mini-series Burning Bush

Mourning Poland’s Anti-Populist Martyr

A man's fatal self-immolation outside the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw should prompt a period of soul-searching in Poland. Regardless of whether the man was driven by mental illness, deep political despair, or some other cause, his message to the Polish people deserves a proper airing.

WARSAW – Late in the afternoon on October 19, a 54-year-old man outside the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw distributed several dozen copies of a letter addressed to the Polish people. Then he set himself on fire - a protest and sacrifice that called to mind the protests of Buddhist monks against the Vietnam War a half-century ago, and that of the Czech student Jan Palach against the Soviet crushing of the Prague Spring in 1969. 

The text of the letter that was left behind is eminently rational. It carefully enumerates and decries actions taken by Poland’s government that, according to Polish and international courts alike, amount to an attack on the rule of law and liberal democracy.

The letter accuses the government, controlled by the Law and Justice (PiS) party, of restricting civil liberties and undermining the judiciary. Specifically, it condemns the PiS for its discrimination against immigrants, women, LGBT people, Muslims, and others, and for destroying the environment, by supporting coal-based energy, hunting, and logging in Białowieża Forest.