Poland celebrated its 99th anniversary of independence on November 11. The official ceremony proceeded peacefully, attended by Polish President Andrzej Duda and European Council President, Donald Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland.
But another gathering drew tens of thousands of people and made newspaper headlines worldwide. This gathering was attended by Europe’s far right. They marched just outside the city centre carrying signs saying “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” and “White Europe”.
As reported by The Washington Post, about 60,000 people chanted and marched through Warsaw in an annual gathering of Europe’s far-right movements, which have by now grown to dwarf the official version of Poland’s Independence Day.
November 11 marks Poland’s celebration of its freedom from imperial rule in 1918. That freedom was interrupted over the following century by brutal occupations, first by Nazis, then communists.
In 2010, a group called All-Polish Youth, which the AP reported is named after a radical anti-Semitic group from the 1930s, began hosting a competing November 11 celebration in Warsaw.
It began as a small thing, Politico reported. No more than a few hundred people showed up to the march in 2010, though the numbers soon grew into the thousands.
There was some violence, the AP reported, when nationalists pushed and kicked a group of women holding a banner that said “Stop Fascism.” But that was the only such report. A heavy police force kept the small assembly of counterprotesters separated from the far-right march.
In a separate report, the Guardian noted that among the far-right leaders attending the march was the former English Defence League leader Stephen Lennon, better known as Tommy Robinson, and Roberto Fiore from Italy. It also attracted a considerable number of supporters of Poland’s governing conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.
TVP, which reflects the conservative government’s line, called it a “great march of patriots”, and in its broadcasts described the event as one that drew mostly ordinary Poles expressing their love of Poland, not extremists.
“It was a beautiful sight,” said Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak. “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”