Tens of thousands of people today took part in the annual Independence March in Warsaw. The event, which is organised by nationalist groups but attended by both mainstream conservatives as well as more radical elements, passed peacefully, unlike in some previous years.
This year’s march took place under the slogan “Poland is not yet lost”, the famous opening line of the Polish national anthem. Organisers and participants placed a particular emphasis on anti-EU rhetoric.
Poland’s annual Independence March has begun in Warsaw.
The event – which is organised by nationalist groups and draws tens of thousands of participants – is this year being held under the slogan „Poland is not yet lost”.
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“We see a threat from the West; we see that the EU is pursuing federalisation more and more aggressively,” Bartosz Malewski, head of the Independence March Association, told the crowd as they gathered at Warsaw’s Dmowski Roundabout.
“This means the liquidation of nation-states and the loss of sovereignty,” he declared. “We say a resounding ‘no’ to these attempts.”
Figures from Confederation (Konfederacja), a far-right group that won 18 seats in parliament at last month’s election, were prominent at the march.
One of their delegations held up signs calling for “Polexit” from the EU and condemning the “USraelisation of Poland’s national interest” – a reference to the United States and Israel.
— Michał Specjalski (@MSpecjalski) November 11, 2023
In one of the most radical sections of the march, participants held a banner saying “Defend White Europe”, waved flags with Celtic crosses (a symbol of white nationalism), and sang “There will be a bat in a leftist face”.
As in previous years, far-right groups and leaders from abroad were also present at the march. Among them was Paul Golding, leader of Britain First, who posted images of himself in Warsaw today with Dominik Tarczyński, an MEP from Poland’s ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Golding has been imprisoned in Britain for his anti-Muslim activities. He was also convicted in 2020 under anti-terrorism laws for refusing to allow the police access to his phone after returning from a visit to Moscow, where he had been invited to the Russian parliament.
Poland, a patriotic European nation.
No diversity. pic.twitter.com/ylhGINULeu
— Paul Golding (@GoldingBF) November 11, 2023
Unlike in previous years, the organisers of the march have so far not released an estimate of attendance. However, Warsaw’s mayor Rafał Trzaskowski – a member of the opposition Civic Platform (PO) party and an opponent of the march – announced during the event that city hall estimated attendance to be 40,000.
Onet, a leading news website, estimated attendance of 70,000 and 90,000 based on the length of the column of marchers. Last year’s march also saw a similar number of participants.
Trzaskowski noted that, apart from the illegal use of pyrotechnics by participants – many of whom, as in previous years, waved flares despite warnings from organisers that this was not permitted – police did not report any incidents during the march.
“This year is different. The atmosphere is different – peaceful!” Bogusia, 60, told Notes from Poland. She has attended the march for the last four years to sell flags, scarves and other patriotic paraphernalia.
Rysiek, a 55-year-old who attended with his daughter, said that this year was the first time he had come. “I wanted to see the march with my own eyes because opinions on it vary,” he told us. “But overall I think it is a positive and uplifting celebration, especially when one sees so many white and red [national] colours.”
Jan Kazimierczak, 34 – who attended with his daughter, sister and nephew, all dressed in historical costumes – said he wanted to “manifest our cultural identity” and “honour our hard-won independence”.
It is worth enjoying the Polish flag, just as Americans enjoy their own cultural identity,” he said. “We should be proud that we are Poles, that we have a free homeland and that we are one.”
Natalia, a 21-year-old student attending with her aunt, Alicja, 40, said that, while EU membership brings some benefits – especially financial ones as well as helping Poland “open up to the world” – it also has many drawbacks.
“This power from Europe, which tries to influence Poland, very much limits us as Poles,” she told Notes from Poland.
“We have a different culture, consciousness and needs. These European influences take away our ability to decide what is important for the Polish people. This was the case with the pandemic and vaccinations.”
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Main image credit: Adam Stepien / Agencja Wyborcza.pl. All other images copyright of Agata Pyka.
Agata Pyka is an assistant editor at Notes from Poland. She is a journalist and a political communication student at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in Polish and European politics as well as investigative journalism and has previously written for Euractiv and The European Correspondent.