A divided Poland took to the streets on Saturday to celebrate its National Independence Day. Tens of thousands of people across the country took part in the celebrations.
And as they do every year, the organizers of the nationalist march Marsz Niepodleglosci (“Independence March” in Polish) paraded in Warsaw. This time they were awarded exclusive use of the city’s main roads, since the event was deemed to be “recurring.” A year has passed since the approval of the law on public order that guarantees priority for permits given to recurring events. The Marsz Niepodleglosci has stolen the spotlight every Nov. 11, and will continue to do so for at least the next four years, according to the law on public demonstrations, thanks to the activism of the Nationalist Radical Camp, a quasi-fascist organization that on Saturday invited to the Polish capital a sample of the burgeoning variety of European far-right extremism.
At least 50,000 protesters took part in the march, under the slogan “We want God,” the three words with which Pope Wojtyla was welcomed in Warsaw in 1979 and which Donald Trump echoed during his trip to Poland in July: “That day, every communist in Warsaw must have known that their oppressive system would soon come crashing down,” the U.S. president said.
“We want to remind everyone that Poland remains the bastion of faith and religiosity in Europe,” said Robert Bakiewicz, one of the organizers of the Marsz Niepodleglosci. Present at the event were also Roberto Fiore of Forza Nuova and Laszlo Toroczka, leader of Jobbik, the Hungarian xenophobic party that outflanks even Viktor Orbán’s Fidesz to the right. Missing among them was the American white supremacist Richard B. Spencer. “Roman salutes” were seen aplenty, which Radical Camp militants use casually even at the pub, to order five beers.
Fortunately, by the end of the day there had been no clashes between the Radical Camp and participants in the counter-marches organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy and the Anti-Fascist Coalition (Antifa).
“The Polish government prefers to defend the fascists and let them march in the heart of Warsaw,” Antifa said in a statement. The group brings together different organizations, including the “National Women’s Strike,” a network born during “Black Monday,” which last year brought thousands of women into the streets against the introduction of even more stringent restrictions on abortion.
Donald Tusk was also present in Warsaw on Saturday, taking part in the national independence celebrations at the invitation of Polish President Andrzej Duda, a member of the populist right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS). It was the first time that the president of the European Council, whose reelection in Brussels last March was openly opposed by the PiS, accepted Duda’s invitation. An initiative that sounded like a mere formality to many commentators, but which certainly did not impress the hardline members of the group founded by the Kaczynski brothers. “Tusk has nothing more to do in Brussels, and that is why he’s coming back to Poland,” PiS member of parliament Marek Suski commented sarcastically.
It is better to be alone than in bad company, and that must be why the head of the party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, left Warsaw to everyone else as he travelled instead to the Wawel Castle in Krakow. Every month, the PiS leader goes there to place flowers at the crypt where his brother Lech lies, dead seven years ago in the Smolensk plane crash. That event is constantly exploited by PiS on the domestic stage as grist for the mill of conspiracy theories and to emphasize the submissive attitude of the previous government toward Russia in the investigations of the incident, which claimed the life of 95 people.
Every year, on Nov. 11, Poland finds itself divided. Like before, but worse.
Subscribe To Our Newsletter
Your weekly briefing of progressive news.