Polish State Officials to Walk With Nationalists on Independence Day

The top march organizer is a leader of the National Radical Camp, which traces its roots to an anti-Semitic movement of the 1930s

Protesters light flares and hold Polish flags during the annual nationalist march in Warsaw to mark Independence Day, November 11, 2015.
Protesters light flares and hold Polish flags during the annual nationalist march in Warsaw to mark Independence Day, November 11, 2015.Credit: \ Kacper Pempel/ REUTERS

The Polish government and the organizers of a yearly march organized by nationalist groups have agreed to hold a joint march on the 100th anniversary of Poland's rebirth as a state on Sunday.

The announcement late Friday means President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other state officials will march in the capital with groups whose November 11 march last year included racist banners and white supremacist symbols.

Michal Dworczyk, the head of Morawiecki's chancellery, tweeted that both sides reached an agreement, adding: "Poland won. On November 11 there will be a great communal march to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Independence!"

The deal was also announced by the top march organizer, Robert Bakiewicz. He is a leader of the National Radical Camp, which traces its roots to an anti-Semitic movement of the 1930s.

The development underscores how the socially conservative ruling Law and Justice party has at times sought to embrace the same base that supports far-right groups. It's a source of controversy in Poland, where many are furious at how radical nationalists in past years have come to dominate the Independence Day holiday. Critics accuse the governing authorities of pandering to the nationalists.

Polish President Andrzej Duda hands new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki the document of his appointment as head of government in Warsaw, 2017.Credit: Czarek Sokolowski,AP

Earlier this year, Bakiewicz led a protest in front of Duda's palace during which he called Jews a "fifth column," an expression implying disloyalty to Poland.

Protesters at that rally in February carried a banner that urged Duda, who isn't Jewish, to "Take off your yarmulke" and sign a Holocaust speech bill that was the source of a diplomatic dispute with Israel.

Last year's march in Warsaw was cited in a recent European Parliament resolution that called for member states to act decisively against far-right extremism. It noted the presence at that march of xenophobic banners with slogans such as "white Europe of brotherly nations," and flags depicting the "falanga," a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.

The announcement of the joint march comes after chaotic days of preparations before the centennial of Poland's independence, which was regained at the end of World War I in 1918 when the three empires — Russia, Austria and Germany — that had ruled Poland for more than a century collapsed in defeat.

The march by the nationalists had become a ritual over the past decade.

Duda's office and parliamentary officials with Law and Justice held months of talks with the march's organizers in hopes of holding a joint march. But they broke down because the nationalists refused a demand to have no banners, which risked being provocative.

On Wednesday, the Warsaw mayor banned the march and state officials quickly announced plans for their own, but the next day a court struck down the ban, saying it violated the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

The new talks between state officials and the nationalists took place Friday amid confusion over whether there would be two marches or one.

Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, a hero of the anti-communist Solidarity movement of the 1980s, strongly criticized the authorities for what he described as pandering to "bandits" and "fascists."

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