As Poland celebrated its Independence Day on Saturday, thousands of nationalists, far-right activists demonstrated demanding “White Europe”. The speakers in the rally voiced against liberals and talked about defending Christian values.
The day witnessed a huge demonstration in Warsaw under the banners “White Europe of brotherly nations”, “We Want God”. President Andrzej Duda attended the ceremonies in the presence of European Union president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.
The march which experts termed as one of the largest such gatherings of far-right activists in Europe in recent years was attended by leaders from Europe, including Tommy Robinson from Britain and Roberto Fiore from Italy. The demonstrators carried the national white and red flag as others set off flares and firecrackers, filling the air with red smoke. Some also carried banners depicting a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.
According to police, an estimated 60,000 people took part in the rally which consisted of young men, some with their faces covered or with beer bottles in hand, but families and older Poles also participated.
State broadcaster 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 regular Poles expressing their love of Poland, not extremists. “It was a beautiful sight,” Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said. “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday,” he said.
A smaller counter-protest by an anti-Fascist movement also took place. Organizers kept the two groups apart to prevent violence. However, there was one incident in which the nationalists pushed and kicked several women who chanted anti-Fascism slogans and had a banner saying “Stop Fascism.” Independence Day marks Poland regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being partitioned and ruled since the late 18th century by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Duda oversaw ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, walking past a military guard before the raising of the flags and cannon salutes. After delivering a speech he took part in a wreath-laying ceremony, kneeling and crossing himself at the monument to all unknown soldiers killed fighting for the country. Tusk, who attended at Duda’s invitation, also paid his respects at the monument.
Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski noted that Poland has not always been fully independent since 1918, a reference to Germany’s occupation during World War II and the decades spent under Moscow’s direction during the Cold War. Still, he said, “The Polish state was internationally recognized the whole time and that is a great achievement.”
– AP inputs