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Highlanders in Poland’s “winter capital” of Zakopane are rebelling against lockdown, with hundreds of businesses vowing to reopen in defiance of government restrictions.

Sebastian Pitoń, who has emerged as leader of the Górlaskie Veto — Highlanders’ Veto — movement, was previously best known as an architect whose Tolkienesque designs were the subject of a Snopes article, as some people had doubted that viral images of his beautiful if eccentric traditional buildings were real. 

Now, he cuts an exotic figure in the international media, holding press conferences in the traditional dress of Poland’s southern highlanders as ad hoc spokesman of some 200 businesses which have promised to “end this madness”.

Pitoń, who believes the lockdowns are “destroy[ing] Poland and Polishness” and will “destroy the middle class, small and medium-sized enterprises and kill several hundred people a day” if they continue, says the entrepreneurs he represents “are this determined because they realise they won’t survive another month – so they have no choice.”

Zakopane is heavily reliant on tourism, and in particular on the skiing season, so has been hit hard by restrictions designed to combat the Wuhan virus pandemic.

“This is our last chance to veto this government policy, which is ruining us,” Pitoń has said — and, perhaps slightly cheekily, invited Polish president Andrzej Duda to come down to the Tatra mountains for a skiing trip himself, saying he could become a modern-day Casimir — a legendary Polish ruler remembered as “the Restorer” for returning from exile to reunite much of his realm a thousand years ago.

While Poland moved quickly to ban travel from coronavirus hotspots in the early stages of the pandemic and was an early adopter of masking rules, its lockdowns have not been as stringent as in some countries, and the national-conservative government has announced 1 billion złoty (£196 million) in state assistance for highlanders impacted by closures — but Pitoń has dismissed the funding as “scraps” and akin to bribing the public with their own money.

“I hope our action… will make all of central Europe get off this crazy train which is heading for destruction,” the lockdown rebel said.

Follow Jack Montgomery on Twitter: @JackBMontgomery
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