An estimated 60,000 nationalist protesters turned Poland’s Independence Day celebration into a raucous rally with many wearing masks, burning flares, waving the red and white flag of Poland and screaming, “Death to the enemies of the homeland” and “Catholic Poland, not secular” as they marched down the streets of Warsaw.
Police reported that while the majority of the nationalist protesters came from Poland, a significant number of the attendees were from other parts of Europe.
Independence Day in Poland is a celebration of its re-birth 123 years after the country was divided among the Prussian, Habsburg and Russian empires. Poland was literally erased from the European map.
However, over the last few years Polish Independence Day has taken on a different meaning as it has been associated with nationalist protests, far- right rallies and concerns of an outbreak of violence.
In 2012, clashes between nationalist groups and police left 22 officers wounded and 176 protesters arrested and detained.
The following year, 72 nationalist protesters were detained while 12 police officers ended up hospitalized after far- right groups burned the LGBT Rainbow Arch at one of Poland’s most famous squares and ignited flares right outside the Russian Embassy.
One of the notable nationalist organizations behind the rally is the National Radical Camp. The group had previously undertaken rallies to protest the country’s stand on Islamic immigration, LGBT rights, the European Union and any other issues it considers contrary to traditional Polish Catholic values.
Nationalism has slowly gained acceptance and traction in Poland as it has in other parts of Europe particularly in the United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Germany, France and Austria.
The growth of nationalism is representative of people’s frustration with government’s continued patronage of pro-immigration policies and has consequently fostered a culture of intolerance and xenophobia.
Remi Adekoya, a journalist for the Guardian believes that xenophobia has become more prevalent because political and societal discourse on immigration in Western Europe has changed over the last few years:
“Until then, the likes of the Gazeta Wyborcza (the largest left-liberal newspaper) were successful in persuading regular Poles that in order for Poland to be successful as Western European nations, they needed to shed some of their cultural identity and act more like the French and the British. Poles, generally enamoured with the economic success of the Western model went along.”
However, the Eurozone which had its origins rooted in 2008 happened. Combined with the slew of terrorist attacks and continuous reporting from media of minorities having difficulty adjusting to the immigrant life, Poles began to question the viability of the Western model.
In Central Warsaw, President Andrzej Duda began Independence Day celebrations by laying a wreath in the tomb of the “unknown soldier” and reminded the crowd to never forget the price of freedom and independence.