Poland: Independence march of nationalism

Independence March in Warsaw on 11 November 2019. [Maciej Cieślak]

Thousands of Poles took part in a nationalist march through the capital Warsaw on Monday (11 November), chanting “God, Honour, Fatherland”, with the march leaders protesting against same-sex liberties, globalism and abortion.

11 November marks the National Independence Day of Poland and yesterday was the 101st anniversary of regaining sovereignty as the Second Polish Republic, after 123 years under the rule of German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires.

But the holiday has become divisive for many in the country, which has become increasingly polarised since the right-wing Law and Justice party came to power in 2015.

Independence marches were organised all around Poland, with the biggest one in the capital, where as many as 150,000 people took part, according to the organisers. The Warsaw authorities, however, put the figure at around 50,000.

The marches were organised by the association of nationalist organisations including All Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska) and National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny). The official sign of this year’s march displays a raised fist holding a rosary, while the official slogan “Defend the Whole Nation” comes from a religious song.

Families with children walked through the streets, waving smaller and bigger Polish flags, white and red armbands, and nationalist scarfs.

The walkers were guarded by the organisers’ internal security, as well as the police. Despite the police presence, there were illegal symbols on display, like jackets embroidered with ‘Death to Fatherland’s Enemies’ slogan.

Along with frequent firecrackers and flare explosions, some scary incidents took place, like the attack on a Gazeta Wyborcza journalist by masked men, who attempted to destroy her recording equipment (film here) and told her to “get the f.. out to Brussels”. Still, the march was mostly non-violent.

Rather than a display of marginal nationalist fanatics, the march amounted to the mainstreaming of the ultra-conservative, Catholic, patriarchal forces in the country.

The Warsaw march opened with the prayer and the national anthem and its major themes were best summarised by the recurring slogan “God, Honour, Fatherland”, as well as “Tribute to the Heroes”, “Great Catholic Poland”, “Ave, Ave Christus Rex” or “Pride, Pride, the National Pride”.

Another common thread was seen in the strong anti-EU, anti-globalist, and anti-abortion sentiments, as well as anti-Semitism, disguised behind the narration against the American Just Act no. 447 Act concerning potential restitution for wrongfully seized or transferred Holocaust possessions.

The anti-European displays were very common and included the burning of the EU flag – meaningfully alongside the rainbow one, symbolising the LGBTQ+ movement.

“Here, it is Poland, not Brussels, so no one supports sexual pathologies” was a rhymed jingle explaining that some of the participating nationalists see the European Union as the hotbed of moral decay.

The Warsaw Independence march is emblematic for the general situation in the country. It showcases how national symbols, memories, and also holidays have been taken over by conservative nationalist ideologues and activists, which is why ordinary Poles who do not associate themselves with the far-right refrain from taking part or even using national flags.

A major left-wing counter-manifestation organised by an informal anti-fascist group, Antifa, used all possible colourful flags and banners, though there were few Polish flags to be seen. The demonstration, under the slogan ‘For your and our freedom’, was attended by 12,000 people.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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