Poland’s 99th Independence Day was marred by a 60,000 strong far-right demonstration in the nation’s capital of Warsaw which saw participants donning banners that said, ‘clean blood’, ‘white Poland’ and ‘refugees get out’. Many participants carried the Polish red and white flag while others ignited flares that blanketed the area in red smoke and carried banners marked with the falanga, a far-right symbol harking from the 1930’s. The fascist demonstration overshadowed official ceremonies and was the largest Independence Day event in Poland.
The organizers behind the event were the National-Radical Camp, the National Movement and All Polish Youth, radical groups that began as anti-Semitic groups prior to World War I. Speakers at the event cited Christian ideals and a stance against liberals as the reason for their far-right beliefs. Tomasz Doraz of the National-Radical Camp said on stage “Europe and the world is in decay: culturally, politically, economically. We Poles have to be the alternative. There will be a national Poland or none.” Demonstrators marched alongside the government’s official slogan “We Want God”, words from a polish song quoted by USA president Donald Trump on a visit to Poland earlier in the year. The demonstration also drew nationalist campaigners from neighbouring countries such as the UK’s Tommy Robinson. Sadly, the Polish government backed by the nationalist PiS party, did not condemn the march, in fact the interior minister called it a ‘beautiful sight’. Yet, patriotism is not to be confused with fascism.
The Anti-Fascist Coalition, an alliance between the Warsaw Women Strike and Citizens RP, formed a counter-protest under the slogan ‘to your freedom and ours’. Although organizers tried to separate the opposing groups to prevent violence, one incident occurred in which several women chanting anti-fascist slogans were pushed and kicked by nationalists. Yet, organizers of the nationalist demonstration claimed it was a peaceful and patriotic event. The Never Again association states that the number of homophobic, racist or xenophobic incidents in Poland has risen drastically from 20 per month to 20 per week in 2016. This correlates with the anti-liberal, anti-European Union and anti-Islam beliefs held by the Law and Justice Party that hold power in Poland. Thus, Poland refuses to take in refugees, with the government claiming that Muslims are a security threat, hence less than one percent of the Polish population is Muslim.
Poland’s Independence Day marks the nation’s rebirth in 1918 at the end of World War I after being ruled by Russia and the Austro-Hungarian empire. Initially beginning as a small rally with no more than a few hundred participants, the annual nationalist demonstration has grown rapidly from its beginning in 2010. This exemplifies the changing political and social landscape both within government and the Polish people as the far-right’s promises of a perfect Polish nation attract votes.
With the fifth highest number of far-right activists in the world, only behind Germany, Hungary, the Czech Republic and the USA, Poland is sadly becoming a far less inclusive country. This is no surprise considering that in the 2015 election the League of Polish Families, a populist, nationalist party performed well. The Public Opinion Research Centre found that in 2015, 32% of young-people had identified with right-wing ideals, the highest percentage since 1998. Moreover, while 88% of Poles identify as patriots, 52% cannot distinguish between nationalism and patriotism. This suggests confusion between an innocent love for your country and the far more dangerous racism and fascism that has begun to permeate Poland’s society.
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