by Luca Peluzzi
Tens of thousands of people marched in Warsaw on Saturday 11 November to celebrate Polish Independence Day. Although the demonstration marks the day Poland gained its sovereignty after World War I, in recent years it has become an opportunity for radical nationalist groups to take to the streets to call for a ‘White Europe’ and ‘Clean Blood’. The images coming from the demonstration were shocking: a crowd of 60,000 people, including neo-fascists in balaclavas, marching in a haze of red smoke from firecrackers.
The rally’s images are dramatic if you think that they are coming from a country where millions of people died in concentration camps in World War II. However, many of the demonstrators told the local and international media that they don’t identify themselves with the nationalist groups, and that they were only attending the event to celebrate the national day. Independence Day marks Poland regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being divided and ruled since the late 18th century by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Beyond the big march in Warsaw, many events took place during the day and saw participation by the big political figures. Both President Andrzej Duda and European Union president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, officiated state ceremonies.
The march was overshadowed by all other events, however the streets were full of flags, red smoke and people chanting far-right slogans as “White Europe of Brotherly Nations,” “Europe will be white or uninhabited,” “Clear blood, sober mind,” and “No to Islam.” All three main sponsors of the march belong to the Polish far-right movement: the All Poland Youth, National Movement and National Radical Camp. They all embrace catholic-nationalist philosophy, Neo-Nazi ideas, anti-globalization sentiments and Euroscepticism. But politicians and Polish media failed to acknowledge the extremist messages carried out at the march. Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak refused to admit that there were racist slogans at the march, saying to a reporter present at the demonstration that “It’s only your opinion, because you behave like a political activist.” Even the state broadcaster TVP, which reflects the conservative government’s line, attempted to downplay the controversial chants, saying that the demonstration was a “great march of patriots”. Its programmerss portrayed the event as one that showed many regular Poles expressing their love of Poland, not extremists.
The march has gained large support across Europe, and far-right leaders from elsewhere in Europe, among them Tommy Robinson from Britain and Roberto Fiore from Italy, who gathered in Warsaw to join the demonstration. Even the US white supremacist Richard Spencer intended to join the day and deliver a speech, but the Polish Government said he wasn’t welcomed in the country. What many commentators have highlighted is that the far-right rise in many countries is poorly correlated with economic reasons as Europe’s economy is growing faster than at any time since the 2008 crisis. Poland itself has an employment rate of 4.6%, a record low. What worries people instead seems to be social change, and in the case of Poland the affirmation of a Christian supremacist ideology is the way many people are trying to fight these changes.