WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s president, prime minister. and other top leaders led an Independence Day march Sunday that included members of nationalist organizations, the first time Polish state officials have marched with the far-right groups.
Some 200,000 people marched in Warsaw to mark the 100th anniversary of Poland’s rebirth as an independent state at the end of World War I, according to an initial estimate by police.
Over the past decade, nationalist organizations have held Independence Day marches on November 11 which have included racist slogans, flares and in some years, acts of aggression.
Officials sought to hold one big government-led march for Sunday’s centennial ceremonies, but negotiations broke down over requests for the groups to leave banners at home. An agreement on a joint march was reached in recent days.
President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the powerful leader of the conservative ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, marched in a group led by soldiers with a large flag bearing the words “For You Poland.”
Walking a small distance behind them were the nationalists, many of them burning flares, creating flashes of red light and smoke. Many in that contingent carried national flags, but a handful of other emblems were observed.
Those included the flag of the National Radical Camp, a far-right group that was one of the main march organizers. The camp’s flag has a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s of a stylized hand with a sword.
There were also a few flags of Forza Nuova, an Italian group whose leader, Roberto Fiore, describes himself as fascist.
As the Polish president spoke at the start of the march, he was at times obscured by the heavy smoke from the flares.
Throughout the day, solemn ceremonies and Masses were held in cities and small towns to commemorate the nation’s regained statehood after 123 years of foreign rule.