White nationalist and anti-Muslim sentiment prevail at Poland's Independence Day march

On November 15, the European parliament called upon Polish authorities to condemn what it called a "xenophobic and fascist march" which had taken place in Warsaw four days earlier.

According to police estimates, around 60,000 people from all over Europe and beyond descended upon Poland’s capital city of Warsaw last Saturday to participate in the world’s largest far-right gathering. Its theme this year was “We Want God,” the title of an old Polish song quoted by Donald Trump on his trip to Poland in July. Trump’s speech was allegedly written with the help of an American-based, far-right Polish academic, Marek Chodakiewicz.

The annual far-right marches to celebrate Polish independence first began in the late 2000s and were organized by a fringe right-wing group called National Radical Camp. The first march in 2009 drew 500 demonstrators, but in recent years the events have ballooned. This has coincided with the coming to power of the right-wing Law and Justice Party, which has been stripping away Polish democratic institutions with little opposition since the most recent general election in October of 2015. Though the government did not organize the march, some government figures certainly endorsed it.

Before the event, Ruch Narodowy, the Polish Nationalist Movement along with the All-Polish Youth organized an international right-wing conference that took place at the Polish parliament. Around 100 people from Hungary, Italy, Sweden, Latvia, Estonia, Belgium, Holland and Spain attended the conference. American white nationalist Richard Spencer was due to attend the event, but cancelled after the Polish government made it clear that he would not be welcome in the country, a result of protests by the NEVER AGAIN Association and other groups.

Other white nationalists did attend however, including Daniel Friberg, the European editor of Spencer’s AltRight.com. Laszlo Toroczkai, the vice-chair of Hungary’s far-right party Jobbik, was also in attendance. Toroczkai is the mayor of a small village in Southern Hungary where he made headlines earlier this year for saying that LGBT people and Muslims are not welcome in his town.

The march itself attracted a mix of radical right-wing politicians from Europe as well as Polish far-right activists. Fliers distributed promoting the march read in Polish, “Black Column on the Independence March for blood and nation, against Marxism and liberalism.” One of the first speakers was Roberto Fiore, leader of the openly fascist Italian political party Forza Nuova.

Anti-Muslim sentiment was prevalent throughout the event, with many banners depicting the star and crescent symbol with a red line through it. Other anti-Muslim banners read, “Islam = terror,” and another large banner depicted Islam and a refugee who had a bomb strapped to his stomach as Trojan horses.

There was a relatively strong British contingent at the march this year. Tommy Robinson, an anti-Muslim activist and a former leader of the English Defense League attended the march and was warmly welcomed by the vice-chairman of Ruch Narodowy Krzysztof Bosak who invited the media on hand to interview Robinson about the “Islamization of Britain.” Another English far-right activist, Jack Buckby attended the event and streamed it live on Periscope. Buckby currently works for the right-wing Rebel Media group based in Canada but he has a long history of far-right activism in his native England. Buckby was once a member of the racist British National Party (BNP), which was headed by convicted Holocaust-denier Nick Griffin. Following the murder of UK politician Jo Cox by white nationalist Thomas Mair, Buckby announced that he would run for her open seat on the far-right Liberty GB ticket.

Members of the Polish far-right youth group Patriae Fidelis, which is based in the UK, also traveled to participate in the march. At a parallel march in Wroclaw, Jayda Fransen, deputy director of the anti-Muslim and racist group Britain First, spoke alongside the firebrand anti-Semite ex-priest Jacek Miedlar. Britain First has a long history of anti-Muslim activities in the UK, notably protesting outside of mosques. Fransen and Britain First leader Paul Golding were charged with religious harassment earlier this year.

Accompanying the anti-Muslim banners were more open displays of white nationalism. Many Celtic crosses could be seen in the crowd, a commonly used symbol of white supremacy used around the world. Other banners on display according to numerous news reports read things like “White Europe of Fraternal Nations,” “Europe Will Be White or It Will Be Deserted,” and “Clean Blood” and "All Different All White.” The demonstrators also carried a banner demanding freedom for the jailed Russian neo-Nazi Maxim 'Tesak' Martsinkevich, one of the most notorious violent extremists in that country.

The anti-fascist protesters were vastly outnumbered by the far-right demonstrators, mostly young males from the soccer hooligan milieu.

Despite the blatant displays attacking Muslims and promoting white supremacy, the Polish government-controlled media were clearly impressed with the event and Poland’s interior minister called it “a beautiful sight.” Two days later, in the face of international publicity, Polish President Andrzej Duda eventually condemned racism and xenophobia seen at the march, but the social and political climate of acceptance for radical nationalist activity remains an alarming phenomenon.