The mayor of Warsaw banned radical Polish nationalists from marching on the 100th anniversary of Poland’s independence due to security concerns.
The move prompted Polish leaders to quickly draw up plans for an inclusive march on Sunday that could be embraced by all citizens.
It was a significant about-face for the populist government, which has been trying not to alienate far-right voters but then faced the strong possibility that the main news from Poland on its centennial would have been about extremists or even violence. It seemed the Warsaw mayor, normally a political rival from the opposition centrist Civic Platform, offered them a way out of their predicament.
Mayor Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz said she wanted to put a stop to the extremist displays that have appeared yearly on Poland’s November 11 Independence Day holiday at far-right marches that have drawn tens of thousands to the capital.
At last year’s march, some marchers carried racist and anti-Islamic banners calling for a “White Europe” and displayed white supremacist symbols like the Celtic Cross. There were also cases of violence against counter-protesters.
This year, Poland is celebrating the centenary of its independence, gained in 1918 at the end of World War I.
“This is not how the celebrations should look on the 100th anniversary of regaining our independence,” Gronkiewicz-Waltz told a news conference. “Warsaw has suffered enough because of aggressive nationalism.”
Gronkiewicz-Waltz noted that the chief organizer of the Warsaw far-right march is a leader of the National Radical Camp, which traces its roots to an antisemitic movement of the 1930s. She said she has asked the government to outlaw it but has been ignored.
Many other Poles have resented how the nationalists in recent years have managed to draw so much attention on Independence Day, overshadowing other celebrations.
President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki met after the mayor’s announcement and announced that a march organised by the government would take place in Warsaw on Sunday instead. Presidential spokesman Blazej Spychalski invited all Poles to march with national flags to show that “we are one white-and-red team,” a reference to the flag’s colours.
The government had held failed talks earlier with the far-right nationalists, hoping to make their march a state event, but far-right organisers refused the government demand that marchers could carry flags only, no banners, Morawiecki said.
A similar ban on a far-right Independence Day march was announced by the mayor of the western Polish city of Wroclaw, who cited the risk that participants might incite racial and ethnic hatred.
The bans followed signals that extremists from elsewhere in Europe planned to travel to Warsaw.