Poland's Independence Day on November 11 was overshadowed by a huge march organised by fascists, demonstrating how extremist rightwing organisations and political parties have been able to pursue their agenda in Poland with virtually no reaction from the country's rightwing government.
An estimated 45,000-60,000 participants – the biggest turnout in years – marched through downtown Warsaw on November 11 to mark the 99th anniversary of Poland regaining independence, with fascist and white supremacist propaganda clearly on display.
The marchers chanted slogans that were – in theory – outlawed in Poland after the destruction and life loss that the country suffered at the hands of the Nazis during the Second World War.
“Death to the enemies of the fatherland,” “White Europe of Brotherly Nations” were among the slogans on display during the march, organised by three leading Polish far-right groups, All Poland Youth, the National Movement and the National-Radical Camp.
“We’re here to remove the Jewry from power in Poland,” one participant told a reporter for the state television TVP. Anti-Islamic and anti-gay messages were also clearly audible or on display. Fascist imagery, such as Celtic crosses, was not uncommon.
The march saw representatives of far-right parties Our Slovakia and Italy’s New Force address the crowd.
“Polish patriots! It may be that the downfall of Europe will be stopped thanks to you. That you did not accept a single migrant is an example to Italy. It’s a step towards a national revolution,” New Force’s Roberto Fiore told the crowd.
The ruling PiS government dodged questions over the fascist tone of the march. “The atmosphere was very good and it was safe. We are proud that so many Poles decided to take part in the Independence Day celebrations,” Home Affairs Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told a press briefing.
When asked about racist and fascist slogans and chants, Blaszczak said their presence was just an “opinion” of a journalist who asked about them.
The official part of the Independence Day, which gathered President Andrzej Duda, top government officials from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party as well as former PMs and presidents, took place earlier and was eclipsed by the Independence March.
In his speech, Duda accentuated that the architects of the independent Poland in 1918 differed – often radically – in their political views but were capable of working together.
The president’s rhetoric came in the context of Poland appearing more divided than ever. The liberal and leftist parts of the Polish society accuse PiS of a ruthless power grab that smacks of authoritarianism. The criticism also concerns PiS’ tolerance of the apparently ever-stronger far right groups.
In contrast to previous years, when the Independence March clashed with counter-demonstrations from leftist groups, police sealed off the streets where the opposing marches took place in order to avert confrontation.
The anti-fascist march under the slogan of “For your freedom and ours” gathered a few thousand people in what was also arguably the biggest such event in recent years.
The Independence Marches, however, are yet to translate into political power for far-right in Poland. The National Movement hardly exceeds 1-2% in the polls, while pollsters typically do not ask about support for the National-Radical Camp.