WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s president on Friday slammed remarks by a senior European Parliament member who called the tens of thousands of people at a controversial Polish Independence Day march “fascists” and “neo-Nazis.”
President Andrzej Duda termed “absolutely scandalous” and “inadmissible” the remarks made by European Parliament liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt during a Wednesday debate in the chamber.
Ex-Belgian premier Verhofstadt said that “on Saturday 60,000 fascists marched in the streets of Warsaw –- neo-Nazis, white supremacists.”
“I’m not talking about Charlottesville in America, I’m talking about Warsaw, Poland, 300 kilometres (186 miles) more or less from (World War II Nazi German death camps) Auschwitz and Birkenau,” he added.
Organized since 2009 by far-right groups, the Independence Day event attracted a large following this year.
However, many marchers denied membership of or sympathy for extreme right groups, insisting they simply wanted to mark the day.
Aside from avowed members of Poland’s far-right, the event also drew representatives of similar parties from Britain, Hungary, Italy and Slovakia, among others.
Dramatic images of the event showed some marchers holding banners saying “Pure blood” and “Europe will be white,” while others chanted “Pure Poland, white Poland” and “Refugees get out,” triggering outcry both at home and abroad.
Some participants also shouted lines against the county’s tiny Jewish community like “Pure Poland, Jew free Poland,” and “Jews out of Poland,” and “Refugees get out.”
Some 90 percent of Polish Jewry was killed during the Holocaust. Today, the community is said to number under 10,000.
Responding to reports of the chants, Israel’s Foreign Ministry called on the Polish government take action against the groups involved in organizing the march.
“This is a dangerous march instigated by extremists and racists. We hope that the polish government will take action against the organizers,” a statement from the ministry read. “History teaches us that we must act against hatred and racism as quickly and as determinedly as possibly.”
Duda himself had insisted on Monday that “there is no place or consent in our country for xenophobia, there is no place in our country for sick nationalism, there is no place in our country for anti-Semitism.”
The American Jewish Congress (AJC) urged the “Polish government to expressly oppose the hatred fuelled by the Polish extreme right.”
The AJC added that the march “was used to promote the slogans of white supremacists and neo-Nazi rhetoric.”