The Rise of Poland’s Far Right

How Extremism Is Going Mainstream

At the Independence Day march in Warsaw, November 2017.  Agencja Gazeta / Reuters

On November 11, some 60,000 people marched through Warsaw to mark Poland’s Independence Day. The theme was religious: the official slogan of the march was “We want God,” and a church service preceded the event. But this was no simple family outing. Next to parents and children, ultranationalists and fascists carried banners that read “Death to the enemies of the homeland,” “Clean blood,” and “White Europe.” Foreign guests included Roberto Fiore, a self-identified fascist who leads Italy’s New Force party, the Slovak neo-Nazi MP Milan Mazurek, best known for his Holocaust denial, and several members of Hungary’s xenophobic Jobbik party.

The march’s organizers, the All-Polish Youth and the National-Radical Camp, espouse a Catholic fundamentalist ideology and believe that only white Christians belong in Europe. They claim to continue the traditions of eponymous organizations in interwar Poland known for attacking Jews, Germans, and socialists. Today, they target atheists, gays, Jews, Muslims, and liberals.

The overt demonstration of xenophobia and fascism at the Independence Day march sparked shock and condemnation in the West. Four days later, in part driven by the disrespect for European values at the march, the European Parliament voted to launch a process suspending Poland’s voting rights in the EU.

Within Poland, the governing nationalist Law and Justice party (known as PiS) at first hailed the march as patriotic. Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak, a close ally of PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, called the event “a beautiful sight” and claimed he did not see any fascist banners. PiS deputy Dominik Tarczynski tweeted a promise of legal support for participants who had been “defamed” as fascists.

It took two days for PiS to adopt even a modestly critical stance. On November 13, a party spokeswoman said that it was “impossible to control banners of some 60,000 people in a democratic state.” Only President Andrzej Duda, who ran as a PiS candidate in the 2015 election but has since shown increasing independence from the party, directly criticized the marchers’ “xenophobia, nationalism, and anti-Semitism.”

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