Polish authorities stopped far short of condemning a massive nationalist rally in the capital Warsaw on Saturday, calling the event, which was marred by anti-Semitic and Islamophobic chants, an expression of patriotism.
Around 60,000 took to the streets of the Polish capital on Saturday to mark the country’s Independence Day. The event, which was organized by far-right groups under the “We want God” slogan, was described as one of the biggest nationalist gatherings in Europe in recent years.
The majority of the marchers had their faces covered as they carried Polish flags, far-right symbols, chanted racist slogans and burnt thousands of red flares. The slogans featured at the rally, included “White Europe of Brotherly Nations,” “Europe will be white or uninhabited,” “No to Islam,” and “Jews out of Poland.”
The banners displayed by the protestors, among others, depicted a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s, and the Celtic cross used by white supremacists. The radicals also reportedlt attacked a much smaller counter-protest, kicking several women, who carried banners reading, “No to fascism.”
However, despite the mayhem in the capital, the Polish leadership hardly found anything negative to say about the gathering. “It was a beautiful sight,” Mariusz Błaszczak, Poland’s Interior Minister, said, as cited by Radio Poland. “We are proud that so many Poles decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”
The country’s Foreign Ministry downplayed the manifestations of racism at the march as “incidental” and said they shouldn’t define the whole event, which was an “expression of patriotic values.” The gathering was “a great celebration of Poles united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland,” the ministry said.
The leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, also said that were only “unfortunate incidents” at the rally, adding that it was nothing but a “marginal problem.” Kaczynski went on to suggest that the racist manifestations were a “provocation.” “Those who want to harm Poland know how to do it,” he said, without specifying who he was talking about.
Israel has condemned Saturday’s events in Warsaw, describing its participants as “dangerous… extreme and racist elements.” “We hope that Polish authorities will act against the organizers. History teaches us that expressions of racist hate must be dealt with swiftly and decisively,” said Emmanuel Nahshon, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman.
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November 11, the date when Poland recovered its sovereignty following the end of World War I, has become an annual day of celebrations that features parades, historical re-enactment and other activities. But in recent years the Polish nationalists have been using the event as an opportunity to make their opinions heard on a wide range of issues, with a similar rally gathering 75,000 people last year.