The Independence Day bank holiday on 11 November is an important day in the Polish calendar; it is celebrated with parades and marches across the country.
For over 123 years Poland was partitioned into three by the Russian Empire, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Habsburg Empire. It was the ending of the First World War that saw Józef Pilsudski, the commander of Poland’s armed forces, lead a successful series of struggles for independence. Pilsudski led a series of very authoritarian governments from 1919 to 1922 and later in the 1930s.
Independence Day celebrates the creation of a Polish independent state and its struggles against both the Soviet and Nazi occupations.
The fact is the Independence Day marches do have popular support: some trade unions and community groups back them. But the mix of Polish nationalism and anti–Communist sentiment creates a toxic mix, one that the far right is successfully trying to capitalise on.
In 2012 gangs of far-right thugs went on the rampage after the Warsaw Independence Day demonstration.
I was in Warsaw last November, researching the 1944 uprising against the Nazis. I decided to watch the protest and take some photos on my phone camera.
If, as the old saying goes a picture is worth a thousand words, then hopefully this photo story from Warsaw’s Together for Independence march should be warning enough for all antifascists and antiracists.
One Warsaw paper reported:
At around 3pm, tens of thousands of people moved down Marszalkowska, the capital’s main street. Mainly young with white-and-red flags and scarves, they chanted “Pride, pride, national pride”, “Once a sickle, once a hammer – red rabble” while firecrackers and flares burnt throughout.
Religious groups mingled with groups of football supporters, and old patriots walked alongside masked-up thugs.
From nowhere groups of masked fascists and nationalists assembled behind banners and lorries. They began to lead a sizeable section of the demonstration away from the main march: the police claimed 3,000 and the press 10,000.
The fascists and ultra-right nationalists who led the breakaway march included “Ruch Narodowy” (National Movement), the National Radical Camp, National Revival of Poland and All Polish Youth. They were joined by large groups of football ultras.
It had the appearance of an English Defence League demo – but one where the local church committee had come along as well.
The National Movement was formed after the 2012 Independence March by the National Radical Camp (which has a SA-style uniform and swastika like symbol on a green background) and the All Polish Youth Movement. It is attempt to break into the “mainstream” through forming a Eurofascist party
Much of the National Movement’s propaganda and hatred is directed towards the left and the LGBT community. It is also deeply anti-Semitic and, more and more, is targeting the Roma. One group on the breakaway march were chanting, “Poland for the Polish – no room for the Roma.”
It also finds support amongst some church and “family values” groups that support the National Movement’s attacks on abortion and LGBT rights.
The police were nowhere to be seen as the breakaway march rampaged down the main streets of Warsaw.
The Gazeta newspaper reported:
The protestors attacked the squat and independent cultural centre located there. Breaking the lock on the gate, they set fire to standing in the yards and threw Molotov cocktails and paving stones at the occupants. The squatters, amongst whom there were homeless people who’d been evicted, defended themselves by standing on the roof. Only after several minutes of regular combat did the police manage to push the militants back onto Marszalkowska. Several were injured, including a reporter.
Also on the breakaway march were a large group of fascist Jobbik supporters from Hungary, and a small delegation of French Front National members.
The National Movement is building links with other fascist organisations. Earlier this year it held a joint meeting with Jobbik.
The breakaway marchers then went to Saviour Square, an LGBT friendly area. There a rainbow art installation, intended to symbolize tolerance, was burnt to the ground. It was only rebuilt a few days ago. Fire fighters trying to extinguish it were stoned by the fascists.
The mob then laid siege to the Russian Embassy, stoning it and trying to set fire to it.
Only then did the police break up the fascist gathering.
That evening gangs of Nazi thugs roamed the streets, snarling at passers by and threatening anyone they did not like.
I spoke to one young man standing watching the rampaging mob, thinking he was appalled by this orgy of racist and nationalistic violence. I asked him what he thought.
Chillingly he said, “Poland is fighting back. Next year we will be bigger and stronger.”
Thanks to Thomas T Evans for translating the Polish newspaper articles for me.