WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Driven by new solidarity, Poles have been buying armloads of chrysanthemums to help out flower vendors who unexpectedly faced bankruptcy when the government ordered all cemeteries locked due to COVID-19 during a traditional memorial weekend.
The first day of November - All Saints' Day - and the day after are among key holidays in this predominantly Catholic nation, when tens of millions of Poles visit the graves of their loved ones. They always bring bunches or pots of chrysanthemums and memorial candles that they buy around the cemetery entrances before carrying them through the throng.
After the government's last-minute announcement Friday that cemeteries were closing at midnight through Monday, city authorities across the nation opened up downtown areas for flower vendors to trade and salvage their livelihoods. Many came to buy the flowers even though they couldn't take them to the family graves. Some left them by the closed cemetery gates.
In Warsaw, many stood in line in a parking lot in front of vans filled with white, yellow, red and purple flowers. They were responding to city authorities’ “Buy a Chrysanthemum” appeal, which spread fast on the Internet after the vendors said they could lose some six months worth of work and planned income.
“This is a very strange time. Nothing is as it should be. It's important to help each other now,” said Henryka Szluka, 65, after she bought potted purple chrysanthemums for 20 zlotys ($5.)
Szluka said Sunday she would try to keep them on the balcony until she can visit the family graves.
People placed the flowers before government and right-wing ruling party offices to show their discontent with the last-minute decision blocking one of the strongest traditions in this predominantly Catholic nation.
Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki argued the cemeteries had to be closed to avoid the usual throngs there as well as on public transport at the time of a sharp spike in daily infections.
To alleviate the vendors' worries, Morawiecki said the government would refund the losses due to the sudden closure of cemeteries.
Poland's government has been facing more than a week of massive nationwide street protests calling for its resignation after a top court ruling further toughened Poland's abortion law, one of Europe's strictest.