Poland independence day: Far-right march banned over fears of violence 'This is not how the celebrations should look,' says Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz
One of the extreme right nationalist groups who were planning the annual demonstration to mark the centennial of Poland’s independence vowed to defy the ban.
Tensions have previously run high at the rally, with far-right demonstrators involved in violence with counter protesters.
Polish leaders are planning a more inclusive march for citizens, marking a significant U-turn for the populist government, which has been trying to court far-right voters.
Fascists march in Poland in one of world’s largest far-right gatherings Warsaw authorities had faced the prospect of international criticism over the protest, which has previously drawn tens of thousands to the capital, with some demonstrators carrying white supremacist and Islamophobic banners.
In last year’s march, nationalists burned flares as they marched in large numbers through the streets of Warsaw (AP) She noted that the chief organiser of the Warsaw march is a leader of the National Radical Camp, which is rooted in an antisemitic movement of the 1930s. She said she has asked the government to outlaw it but has been ignored.
Please use the sharing tools found via the share button at the top or side of articles. Copying articles to share with others is a breach of FT.com T&Cs and Copyright Policy. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to buy additional rights. Subscribers may share up to 10 or 20 articles per month using the gift article service. More information can be found at www.ft.com/tour. www.ft.com/content/f7ab4cf8-e385-11e8-8e70-5e22a430c1ad
November 11 is meant to be the day when Poles unite to celebrate their hard-won independence. But this year, the 100th anniversary of that achievement risks being overshadowed by a fight over a nationalist march that has become a magnet for Europe’s far-right.
On Wednesday, the liberal mayor of Warsaw said that she would ban the March of Independence because of concerns over security and “aggressive nationalism”. The parade is organised by two far-right groups and has taken place every year for almost a decade. It has grown to attract tens of thousands of participants, some of whom last year carried white supremacist banners.
Poland’s conservative government responded to the mayor’s ban by arranging its own official march at the same time and along the same route that the nationalist march would have taken. However, on Thursday a court overturned the mayor’s ban, raising fears of clashes between the official and nationalist marches. The army is to be deployed to provide security.
Supporters insist that the march is just a celebration of Polish culture, patriotism and independence. “Independence is not given for perpetuity. Our Polish history has clearly shown that,” said Witold Tumanowicz, one of the organisers, pointing out that Poland vanished from the map for 123 years. “You have to fight for independence almost all the time . . . It’s worth reminding [people] of that.”
While many of the participants have no far-right links, last year’s event included masked, black-clad marchers in an ultra-radical section known as the “Black Bloc”. They brandished banners such as “Europe will be white or deserted” and “Pure blood, sober mind”, while others shouted racist slogans.
Last year’s march also featured far-right figures from across Europe, among them the UK’s Tommy Robinson, as well as others from Hungary, Slovakia, Sweden and Italy.
“There is a paradox which you might call the internationalisation of nationalism,” said Rafal Pankowski, from the Never Again Association, a Polish anti-hate crime group.
Supporters insist that the march is just a celebration of Polish culture, patriotism and independence “There are groups that normally don’t get on, for example Hungarian and Slovak nationalists are traditionally very hostile to each other. But on this day, they all march together. What unites them, I think, is a rejection of liberal democracy and diversity, and their hostility to Muslims that has come to the fore in the last years.”
Poland has very little Muslim immigration and refused to take part in the EU’s scheme for reallocating migrants who arrived on the continent in 2015.
Far-right figures say the political climate in Poland helps attract international participants. “In western states, unfortunately, the media has caused a big part of societies to be ashamed of their patriotism or think that nationalism is something bad,” said Krzysztof Bosak, deputy head of Poland’s National Movement, adding that participants from other countries “feel relieved here in the atmosphere of real freedom where it’s possible to express patriotic feelings”.
Poland’s conservative ruling Law and Justice party, which has long sought to avoid being outflanked on the right, and shares the nationalists’ hostility to migrants, has taken an ambivalent attitude to the march, criticising its excesses but remaining wary of alienating Poles drawn to its symbolism.
Law and Justice had this ambiguous attitude [to the march]. They were basically trying to make sure that people who actually like this type of ideology remain faithful to them as voters
Jacek Kucharczyk, head of the Institute of Public Affairs Last year, president Andrzej Duda condemned the “sick nationalism” and xenophobia on display. However, Mariusz Blaszczak, the then interior minister, described Poland’s red and white colours on Warsaw’s streets as “a beautiful sight”.
Analysts say that this blurred stance has legitimised the far-right. “What we have seen is the mainstreaming of the far-right,” said Jacek Kucharczyk, head of the Institute of Public Affairs, a Polish think-tank. “Law and Justice had this ambiguous attitude [to the march]. They were basically trying to make sure that people who actually like this type of ideology remain faithful to them as voters.”
Ahead of Sunday’s march, Law and Justice has adopted a harder tone. Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister, said on Thursday that the authorities would do everything in their power to crack down on extremism at the official march.
Nonetheless, Warsaw is preparing for the possibility that things get out of hand. Several embassies have issued security alerts warning citizens to avoid crowds. And Poles are holding their breath, oscillating between concerns that the march could provoke more discord, and a faint hope that the state’s takeover could finally break the far-right’s hold over the independence day schedule.
“If the march goes wrong, if there are riots and there’s violence, both sides will accuse each other,” said Wojciech Przybylski, head of Visegrad Insight, a think-tank.
“But if things somehow go smoothly, if out of all this mess they create a precedent, and as of this year the march is taken over by the state, and not run by the far-right . . . there could be a promise of making something out of a very bad situation.”
It is such a shame that some will ruin the pleasure of people. Such a parade should be an enjoyable occasion for the entire family to watch, and with this, a manner of unifying the country with a common cause.
Apparently, the parade from this year was not that bad. The nationalists just burned EU flag, but there were no other major incidents. This picture which is attached to the article is from the last year parade.