Tens of thousands of people carried far-right symbols, religious slogans on banners and made racist chants during a march in Poland yesterday.
An estimated 60,000 people turned out in Warsaw for the march, with many chanting ‘clean blood’, ‘pure Poland’ and ‘white Poland’ and carrying posters with the words: ‘white Europe of brotherly nations’.
Far-right leaders from elsewhere in Europe – including former English Defence League leader Tommy Robinson – were also said to have been at the event, organised to coincide with Poland’s independence day. Many of the marchers were young men, some with their faces covered or with beer bottles in hand, throwing red smoke bombs. There were also many families and older people in attendance.
Speakers spread messages about ‘standing against liberals’ and ‘defending Christian values’ during the march. Some also carried banners depicting a falanga, a fascist symbol dating to the 1930s. Poland’s interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak called the event a ‘beautiful sight’.
‘We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday,’ he said. The day marks the country regaining independence 123 years after it was carved up by Tsarist Russia, Prussia, and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Kamil Staszalek, 30, said he was there to ‘honour the memory of those who fought for Poland’s freedom’. ‘I’d say some people here do have extreme views, maybe even 30 percent of those marching, but 70 percent are simply walking peacefully, without shouting any fascist slogans,’ he told the AFP.
But many argued the day had been ‘hijacked’ by racist groups, with an ‘anti-fascist’ counter-protest attracting around 2,000 people. Pawel, 21, from the southern city of Rzeszow said he joined the march because ‘religion is important in our country and we don’t want Islamisation of Europe or especially Poland’.
Andy Eddles, a British language teacher who has been living in Poland for 27 years, joined the counter-protest, saying he was ‘shocked that they’re allowed to demonstrate on this day’. ‘It’s 50,000 to 100,000 mostly football hooligans hijacking patriotism,’ the 50-year-old said. ‘For me it’s important to support the anti-fascist coalition, and to support fellow democrats, who are under pressure in Poland today.’
An official ceremony was hosted elsewhere in Warsaw by President Andrzej Duda. All living former Polish presidents attended, as well as European Union president Donald Tusk. ‘Independence Day has always been and will continue to be a celebration of all Poles and not just one party,’ Mr Tusk said. ‘No politician in Poland has ever had nor will ever have a monopoly on patriotism.’