Eyewitness report from Warsaw
A march by at least 40,000 fascists and their supporters dominated the streets of Warsaw on Poland’s Independence Day and grabbed the news headlines.
The fascists’ march was bigger and broader than in previous years.
It comes just a fortnight after the far right Law and Justice (PiS) party – even more socially conservative than Britain’s UKIP – came to power after a big shift to the right in Poland’s elections. PiS made gains in all the big cities and won all but two regions. Overall they took 37.6% of the vote. The centrist Civic Platform came second on 24.1%.
Every year on 11 November Poland celebrates its Independence Day, with parades and speeches. For Polish people, the day is very significant – it marks the establishment of the modern Polish state after World War One.
It’s a day when lots of people go out to remember family members killed in wartime during Poland’s grim history, in particular, those who died fighting the Nazis and the Soviet Union.
Since the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe in 1989, the parades have been led by mainstream political parties and the Catholic church.
Poland’s fascist organisations have staged breakaways, hijacking the demo and leading thousands away from the main route in Warsaw. They have been very violent – there have been attacks on anarchist squats and a symbolic arch promoting LGBT equality was burned down.
But this year marked a decisive step forward for the fascists – they staged a demonstration of their own.
It was significantly bigger than anything they have been able to mobilise before – the police said the turnout was 25,000, independent media sources estimated the figure at around 40,000. The fascists claimed even more – and, depressingly, we think this is very possible.
The demo also drew in far wider layers of the population than usual. In addition to the organised hardcore fascist parties and football hooligan firms, who usually make up the march we saw large numbers of young people and families. The number of women on the march was striking.
The march was led by members of Poland’s two main hardcore fascist groups – National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny – ONR) and the All-Polish Youth Młodzież Wszechpolska – MW) – under the slogan “Poland for the Poles, Poles for Poland”.
This is a traditional anti-Semitic slogan dating from before World War Two – today it also targets other minorities in Poland.
Other fascist grouplets also brought their banners. Among the banners on display was that of Patriae Fidelis, which claims to be simply an organisation of Polish youth in Britain.
But it is a front organisation. Its leader, Jerzy “George” Byczynski, has spoken at the national conference of the National Movement (Ruch Narodowy), the electoral lash-up between the NRC and MW. Now they are happy to march openly with the fascists.
This was a well choreographed demo, with dramatic flares, sound systems, organised contingents with flags flying and loud chanting.
Marchers chanted nationalist and racist slogans, and there were anti-Muslim flags and banners.
Some openly had flags and face masks with the White Power symbol. Other Nazi and fascist symbols – including the death’s head of the Waffen SS, C18 emblems and swastikas were also on display.
There was a large contingent from Hungary’s Nazi organisation Jobbik. There were also delegations from Sweden, Italy, Ukraine and the Czech Republic.
Last year, police stopped the fascists reaching the national football stadium and rioting broke out. This year there was no riot – there was no attempt to stop the fascists reaching the stadium after they marched over Warsaw’s main bridge.
Afterwards, every news bulletin led with the fascists’ march. The mainstream events were marginalised.
The fascists have succeeded in dominating the day’s events and have successfully pulled in a large number of softer supporters in their wake.
This was one of the biggest demos to be organised by hardcore fascists anywhere in Europe for decades. The march was shocking in its size, strength and impact – and it went unopposed.
In the recent elections, the fascists’ Ruch Narodowy was marginalised as the PiS swept up the far right vote. But the shift to the right in Polish politics has opened up more space for the fascists. This has enabled them to step up their street mobilisation.
The fascists’ huge march is a warning to Europe.
Pictures by Martin Smith and Tash Shifrin