Thousands join far-right march on Poland's Independence Day

WARSAW, Poland – Tens of thousands in Warsaw marched peacefully on Friday in the annual Independence Day march organized by Polish nationalist groups that featured anti-Ukrainian and anti-European slogans.

The march is controversial because it was led by far-right groups and has involved violence and white nationalists in recent years. But many people, including some with young children, are also marching, seeing the event as a way to show patriotism.

Warsaw Mayor Rafal Tszaszkowski, a liberal who opposes the event, told a news conference that he was relieved the march had avoided the violence of past years, but was still troubled by the anti-Ukrainian and anti-European messages.

Many people carried the red-and-white flag of Poland, while several held banners of the far-right National Radical camp depicting the phalanx, a far-right symbol dating from the 1930s, on a stylized hand with a sword.

Some demonstrators chanted anti-LGBT slogans, including “Stop rainbow propaganda,” according to Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper.

This year, the Independence March was held under the slogans “Poland as a nation state” and “Strong nation. Greater Poland.”

A large number of police officers were deployed and kept a group of anti-fascist counter-protesters separated from the marchers to avoid clashes.

One activist holding an LGBT flag, Dominik Gasiorowski, said a police officer grabbed him and removed him, along with others who chanted that they had the right to demonstrate. They were told that their gathering was illegal.

Elsewhere in Warsaw, there was an anti-fascist gathering that included people in colorful clothes beating drums.

Read more: Polish “Ministry of Remembrance” distorts history

The Independence Day holiday commemorates the restoration of Poland’s national sovereignty in 1918, at the end of World War I and after 123 years of foreign rule. Events were held across Poland to mark the day, including a public singing of the national anthem and a ceremony led by President Andrzej Duda at the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.

“The reality of recent years made us suddenly realize what it means to have and not have a free, sovereign state, what it means to have and not have independence,” Duda said, referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Duda was joined by Gitanas Nauseda, the president of Lithuania, which, like Poland, is a strong ally of Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky sent a touching Independence Day greeting to Poland in a short video, expressing his gratitude for Poland’s help after the Russian invasion.

“Ukrainians will remember how you received us, how you help us. Your country is our sister,” Zelensky said.

Poles rallied to the cause of Ukraine, and Poland welcomed large numbers of refugees. But there are also ongoing tensions over the Polish-Ukrainian ethnic conflict, in which 100,000 Poles were killed by Ukrainians during World War II.

Some far-right groups are trying to keep this tension alive. Posters at Friday’s march read “Stop the Ukrainization of Poland.”

Some participants also shouted angry slogans against Russian President Vladimir Putin.

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