Warsaw mayor bans independence march, gov't plans new rally

Remigio Civitarese
Novembre 9, 2018

Warsaw's mayor has banned a march celebrating the 100th anniversary of Polish independence amid mounting fears it will be dominated by neo-fascists and the far-Right.

"We cordially invited Polish women and men, all citizens and all groups to participate in the march", he said.

"History, both Polish history and specifically the history of Warsaw", were part of the reason why she blocked the event, the city's mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, told press on Wednesday.

"I believe, with all responsibility, that this should not be the way to mark one century of the independence of the Polish state, hence my decision to ban the march", Gronkiewicz-Waltz said.

Following the mayor's ban, Polish President Andrzej Duda held talks with Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and they decided that a different, official march organised by the government would take place on Independence Day, a spokesman for the head of state said.

"We do not accept, we do not allow for those [far-right] groups gathering in Poland under any circumstances", Morawiecki said.

Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz said she wanted to put a stop to extremist displays that have appeared during the past decade at far-right marches that have drawn tens of thousands of people on Poland's November 11 Independence Day holiday.

It attracted 60,000 people past year, including neo-Nazis from Italy, the United Kingdom, and further afield, some of whom chanted racist and anti-semitic slogans, carried banners with neo-Nazi symbols, set off smoke bombs, and damaged cars, shrubs, and pavements.

Numerous protesters carried provocative banners and shouted slogans, such as "Pure blood, clear mind" and "Europe will be white or uninhabited".

Gronkiewicz-Waltz, from the opposition Civic Platform party, said on Tuesday that she had twice asked the Polish justice minister to ban ONR, that he had refused to do so, and that he had backed its plans for this year's rally. Authorities have warned that the march may require additional security measures due to the potential for violence.

Although the yearly event is popular with thousands of ordinary, patriotic Poles, including supporters of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, it is partly organised by the far-right National Radical Camp (ONR).

Mass walk-outs by Polish police officers in recent days also raised concerns that clashes between participants and counter-protesters could get out of hand if there were not enough officers to intervene.

Another divisive issue has been a statue being unveiled Saturday of the late President Lech Kaczynski in a central Warsaw square.

Meanwhile, a controversial statue of the late president Lech Kaczynski was installed in a central Warsaw square ahead of its weekend unveiling as part of the centennial celebrations.

Kaczynski, who was killed in a 2010 plane crash in Russian Federation, was the twin brother of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the head of the current ruling party, Law and Justice.

While Poles have universally mourned the deaths of the president and the 95 other people who perished with him they remain divided on how to judge his presidency and whether he deserves such hero status.

Authorities in Warsaw's local government opposed the statue and its central location. It's a clash playing out in the courts even as the 7-meter (23-foot) statue went up. Special tributes to fallen and injured servicemen will also include a Field of Remembrance at Westminster Abbey in London.

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