Polish Independence Day March Causes Controversy

On Nov. 11 over 200,000 people gathered in Warsaw to celebrate Poland’s 100th year of
independence. However, the day was marred in controversy involving nationalists, far-right organizers and senior politicians.

Independence Day in Poland has historically attracted a notable large group of nationalists, activists and right-wing protesters in Warsaw. After 2017’s celebration was both nationally and internationally condemned for xenophobic signage and chants, Poland’s mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, banned the right-wing nationalists from marching during the 2018 celebration. Citing past incidents, Gronkiewicz-Waltz forbade the marchers on account of “aggressive nationalism” and security concerns. The act began the controversy over Independence Day which, in the weeks leading to the event, marked days of negotiations between politicians and right-wing organizers.

Only a few hours after Gronkiewicz-Waltz forbid the right-wing nationalists from marching, Polish President Andrzej Duda announced that the Polish government would participate in a march at the same time and along the same route which the nationalists had intended to take.

The situation was further complicated when, only hours after the mayor’s original ban, the Supreme Court overturned Gronkiewicz-Waltz’ decision, leaving both the Polish state and the historically extremist nationalist groups marching on the same parade route on the same day.

This decision set off intense negotiations between the two groups, which came to a stand-still when the nationalists and right-wing organizers were refused the right to carry signs. However, top politicians and organizers met again on Friday, Nov. 9, two days before the celebrations, in an attempt to come to an ultimate agreement.

At the end of negotiations, Michal Dworczyk, the head of Prime Minister Morawiecki’s chancellery, released a tweet saying negotiation were at an end and that “Poland won. On Nov. 11 there will be a great communal march to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Independence!” The decision placed high members of the State, including the President, marching in the same parade with historically inflammatory right-wing groups through the center of Poland.

The ultimate event took place on Nov. 11 and saw over 200,000 people attend, the largest ever recorded turn-out rate. Duda began the event, called the March of Independence, by addressing both sides as they stood side-by-side in the center of Warsaw. “I want us to walk under our white-and-red banners together and in an air of joy,” he said, “to give honour to those who fought for Poland, and to be glad that it is free, sovereign and independent.” He then lead both groups in a rendition of the national anthem, resulting in both members of the Polish army singing and chanting side-by-side with members of the National-Radical Camp.

Despite the controversial negotiations and past, the march went on. Marchers with the state came first, bearing the red-and-white colors of Poland on flags overhead. Separated by a barrier of military police, the right-wing protestors and nationalists followed closely behind. Counter Protestors bearing flags that read “Constitution” and a large amount of police to keep the order were also present. Flares, racist chants and white power symbols were reported by attendees, while others recounted sections burning the flag of the European Union.

Despite the large number of protesters and extremists, however, the majority of marchers during the event were ordinary citizens celebrating the country’s 100th anniversary of restoration to Independence.

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