Thousands of people joined a march organized by nationalist groups in Warsaw, the Polish capital, in what organizers described as the “largest patriotic demonstration in Europe”.

Participants carried Poland’s white and red flag, flares and Celtic crosses as they marched along a route from the city center to the national stadium on Saturday.

The event, held annually as Poland celebrates Independence Day, came less than a month after the pro-European opposition won a majority in parliamentary elections.

While many patriotic events take place each year in this country of 38 million people, the annual independence march has come to dominate media coverage as it has at times been marred by xenophobic slogans and violence.

The event has in the past attracted far-right supporters from other European countries, including Hungary and Italy. Among the participants this year was Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, a small far-right party in the United Kingdom.

Football fans were numerous among the demonstrators, some holding banners with far-right slogans. Anti-abortion groups were also present at the event, where Christian symbols were on display.

Police evicted climate protesters who lined up along the march route.

A participant in the Polish Independence Day march organized by nationalist groups holds a crucifix in Warsaw, Poland, November 11, 2023. (Wojtek Radwanski / AFP)
A participant in the Polish Independence Day march organized by nationalist groups holds a crucifix in Warsaw, Poland, November 11, 2023 (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

Decline in participation rate

This year’s event brought together some 40,000 people and took place peacefully, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski said.

This occurred as nationalist forces saw their worldview rejected by voters. In October’s elections, voters turned out in large numbers to centrist, moderate conservative and left-wing parties after eight years of rule by a conservative nationalist party at odds with the European Union.

In recent years, the annual Independence March has attracted up to 250,000 participants.

The lower turnout is the result of internal divisions among the rally’s leaders, as well as a spectacular electoral defeat suffered last month by the far-right Confederation Party, traditionally allied with the event.

The party won only 18 seats out of the 460 seats in the Sejm, the Polish parliament. Meanwhile, the Law and Justice Party (PiS), the ruling right-wing nationalist party whose leaders have joined the march in the past, won the most votes but fell short of a parliamentary majority.

Many on the political right believe that the election results, in which the coalition of the liberal Civic Platform, the conservative Third Way party and the left-wing Lewica party emerged victorious, will lead to a gradual erosion of the independence of the country.

“We can expect – with a high probability – a modification of the EU treaties, which will affect the sovereignty and independence of Poland in the international arena, and in particular within (the European Union)” , declared Bartosz Malewski, president of the March for Independence association. told reporters in October.

“This slogan also expresses our position on the need to emphasize sovereignty and the threat to sovereignty. »

Other participants in the march agreed.

Grzegorz Cwik of the nationalist Niklot association told Al Jazeera he feared “the federalization of the European Union, the reduction of military spending and the dismantling of social programs.”

The country’s opposition parties signed a coalition deal on Friday, paving the way for the formation of a new government after winning a majority of votes last month. But they will have to wait.

President Andrzej Duda gave PiS, which received more votes than any other party in the elections, the first chance to form a government.

Donald Tusk, the opposition coalition’s candidate for next prime minister, called for national unity in a message on X, emphasizing that this holiday belongs to all Poles.

“If someone uses the word nation to divide and sow hatred, they are acting against the nation,” said Tusk, who did not participate in the march. “Today, our nation celebrates its independence. The whole nation, all of Poland.

Independence Day celebrates the restoration of national sovereignty to Poland in 1918, at the end of World War I and after 123 years of rule by Prussia, Austria and Russia.

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