Polish far-right Independence Day march goes ahead despite court ban

Issued on: 11/11/2021 – 12:01

Polish far-right sympathisers are set to march through Warsaw on Thursday in an annual Independence Day gathering after Poland’s nationalist rulers helped challenge a court ban on the event. The march comes as the country faces an unprecedented wave of migration along its border with Belarus.

Critics say in lending a hand to the march – an event marked by occasional violence with demonstrators waving xenophobic banners – Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party is giving overt support to the far-right.

The November 11 march comes as Poland accuses Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of luring migrants to his country and sending them to cross into Poland in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed earlier this year.

The march has become a point of friction between Warsaw city authorities and the liberal opposition on one side against the PiS government and far-right organisers on the other. Critics accuse PiS of fomenting anti-migrant sentiment and homophobia.

Warsaw city authorities challenged the registration of the march in court and won both the first instance case and an appeal. The mayor of the capital said that the march would be unlawful if it were to go ahead.

But on Tuesday, the head of the Office for War Veterans and Victims of Oppression said he had given the march formal status, therefore allowing it to move ahead.

Reporting from Warsaw, FRANCE 24’s Gulliver Cragg explained the situation had turned “potentially explosive” earlier this week. “Then the government basically came to the rescue of the nationalists by using the Office for War Veterans…and that gave it a character of a state ceremony,” said Cragg.

Despite the opposition’s failure to have the march banned, Cragg said leftist activists were celebrating “a moral victory because they’ve basically forced the Polish government to reveal its cards” since the ruling party is “long suspected of being linked with far-right nationalist groups and long suspected of supporting them. It’s now basically had to say officially that it does,” said Cragg.

“PiS has… taken responsibility for whatever happens during the march, every fight, every instance of arson,” a Left opposition group said on Twitter.

A PiS spokeswoman declined to comment on whether the party is endorsing the march and directed questions to the organising veterans’ agency..

Organisers have vowed the march would be held in honour of uniformed officers acting as “protectors of the border”, and would highlight the importance of protecting Poland’s sovereignty against intruders.

Migrants attempt to break border fence

This year’s November 11 march comes as the escalation of the migrant crisis on Poland’s border threatens to draw in Russia and NATO. The EU accused Belarus on Wednesday of mounting a “hybrid attack” by forcing people into Poland, paving the way for new sanctions against Minsk.

The Debate: How far will Belarus-Poland border showdown go?

Migrants stranded inside Belarus threw rocks and branches at Polish border guards and used logs to try to break down a razor wire fence overnight in new attempts to force their way into the EU, said Polish authorities on Thursday.

The migrants, mostly from Iraq and South Asia, were welcomed to Belarus, where officials transported them to the border. Belarus security officials have prevented migrants from returning to Minsk and back to their homes, according to activist groups.

Neighbouring EU state Lithuania, which like Poland has imposed a state of emergency on the border, also reported new attempts to breach the frontier.

In a joint statement on Thursday, the defence ministers of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia said they saw the crisis as “very alarming, and unequivocally condemn the deliberate escalation of the ongoing hybrid attack by the Belarusian regime, which is posing serious threats to European security.”

Poland also faces its worst conflict with the EU in years over accusations that it is subverting the rule of law.

Representatives of other European far-right groups, including the Hungarian Our Homeland Party (Mi Hazank), are expected to take part in the march.

The march comes as Poland faces a fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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