Can Europe Make It?

Celebrating the Polish way

Marzena Sadowska
29 April 2014

We celebrate Independence Day (11/11) in different ways: in Poznań, this is named after Saint Martin Street, one of the central streets in the city. The celebration includes a parade, concerts, a small market with local products and, supposedly only on this day, traditional Saint Martin’s croissants are eaten. This is my favourite Independence Day celebration, but it is not the one I pay most attention to because it coincides with the Independence March in Warsaw.

Organised by Polish far-right groups (among them All-Polish Youth and National Radical Camp) under the name of the National Movement, this demonstration took place for the first time in 2010 and has been repeated every year since then. In the beginning, families and older people were noticeably the main group among the participants. Last year though, Human Rights Watch noted that young people dominated the march, many of them carrying national flags, flags with Celtic crosses and symbols of the National Radical Camp. The participants attacked two squats (on streets other than those on the agreed route) with stones and flares, set cars afire, attacked the Russian Embassy and burned down the Rainbow, an artistic installation which they were not supposed to go past.

Every year a large police force is deployed in an attempt to keep order, and yet every single one of these marches ends with the trashing of the city. Every year the march has more participants: in 2011 about 20,000 (according to the organisers), in 2012 the police estimated that no more than 25,000 people took part, but the organisers spoke of around 100,000. In 2013, although at the planned end of the demonstration there was about 10,000 people, the organisers again confirmed 100,000. This year was notable as the invitation was extended to football fan clubs (i.e. to hooligans), which hadn’t happened before. The march was also de-legalised for the first time, but it didn’t affect the behaviour of the participants and the scale of destruction one iota.

In a word, this is the biggest demonstration in Poland, and it is growing. Every year I spend Independence Day following the news from Warsaw as closely as I can. Some of my friends live in Warsaw, and some of them take part in counter-demonstrations, so I have every reason to worry about their safety. In a way, far right movements have stolen this holiday, which should be a day for celebrating our freedom. I’m not the only one glued to computer screens and news feeds. All of the media outlets concentrate on events in Warsaw. There are other celebrations happening there and elsewhere, but everything is trapped in the shadow of the Independence March. In a way I feel like I am robbed of the choice of how to spend the day – I spend it worrying about the safety of my friends and about the shape our capital city will be left in.

Currently, the National Movement is taking part in the European Parliament elections. None of the polls are giving them much of a chance, but they have registered lists of candidates in each electoral district (each list is supported by at least 10,000 signatures from that district’s residents). Their standing in these elections is puzzling, given their very anti-European Union ideas and their emphasis on national sovereignty. On the other hand, they want their share of the money and prestige coming from being MEPs. It seems like their followers are not numerous enough to put them there, though.

It’s hard to predict how successful they are going to be: in all probability, they are not going to have members in the European Parliament just yet. But what about the next European elections? Or the next parliamentary elections in Poland? The National Movement is very active online (and they have very good web PR), but not in mainstream media. I do not think this is going to change soon. It doesn’t look like the nationalist ideas are going to gain much more popularity at the moment.

The crisis is probably coming to an end and we are not under any attack right now, and there aren’t isn’t a big migration movement to Poland. None of the traditional factors feeding the growth of nationalist ideas seem imminent. On the other hand, there will be far right political parties in the new European Parliament. I would be surprised if our National Movement didn’t draw some kind of inspiration from this. 

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