More than 200,000 people are estimated to have taken part in a controversial independence-day march through central Warsaw on Sunday, after a last-minute agreement was struck between senior politicians and the event’s far-right organisers.
The March of Independence, organised by nationalist and far-right groups and held annually in the Polish capital on 11 November to commemorate the anniversary of the re-establishment of the country’s independence in 1918, has grown dramatically in scale over the past decade, attracting activists from across Europe.
Last year’s event, which attracted an estimated 60,000 people, received international condemnation for the presence of racist and xenophobic banners and slogans and violence directed at counterprotesters.
There was widespread concern in Poland that the march would overshadow official commemorations of the centenary of the country’s rebirth as an independent state at the end of the first world war. Preparations were thrown into chaos on Wednesday after Warsaw’s outgoing mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, announced she was banning the march due to concerns surrounding security and “aggressive nationalism”.
Hours after Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s announcement Andrzej Duda, Poland’s rightwing president, announced the Polish state would be organising its own march at the same time and along the same route as the nationalist march. But it was unclear what would happen if a court overturned the mayor’s ban, which it did on Thursday evening.
That led to frantic negotiations between the Polish authorities and nationalist organisations, resulting in an agreement in which participants in the state-sanctioned section of the event would march first, followed closely behind by participants in the nationalist march, separated by a cordon of military police.
Lining up in parallel columns, Polish soldiers stood side-by-side with members of the National-Radical Camp (ONR), the successor to a pre-war Polish fascist movement, and representatives of Forza Nuova, an Italian neo-fascist movement, as they were addressed by Duda at the march’s inauguration.
My report from Warsaw for the Guardian can be found here.