If the organisations of the left do not try and disrupt the Independence Day celebrations, it will certainly be peacefulThese were the words of the President of the committee organising Warsaw's Independence March, before it took place this year on 11 November. Unlike during previous years, the anti-fascist movement did not organise a counter-demonstration or blockade, choosing instead to hold their own demonstration on 9 November. The police also kept their distance and allowed the organisers to run their own security.
As usual this year's march brought together various organisations of the far-right including the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska), the National-Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny) and the National Rebirth of Poland (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski). Alongside them marched groups of football hooligans, wearing balaclavas to cover their faces (many donned with the celtic cross). Perhaps inevitably, this toxic mix resulted in far-right hooligans running riot in Warsaw, leaving a trail of destruction and violence. This included:
- The burning down of the rainbow arch in the centre in Warsaw. This had been commissioned by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute in 2011 to commemorate the Polish Presidency of the EU. It has since been taken by some to be a symbol of the LGBT movement and has been burned down five times.
- A group of protestor broke off from the march and violently attacked a collective squat (Syrena) in the city centre. They were armed with stones, sticks, fireworks and wire cutters. They attempted to break into the grounds of the squat and set part of it alight. The squatters had to defend the building themselves from the roof, with the police failing to intervene and protect them for over twenty minutes. Inside the squat were a number of children aged between 3 and 14 years old
- The demonstration was allowed to stop outside the Russian embassy and surround it from three sides. Fireworks were thrown into the embassy grounds and a security booth set alight. The Russian ambassador has described the situation as being completely unacceptable and noted how the blocking of an embassy is against the Vienna Convention.
- Eventually the police announced that the march should be disbanded. The police had to use rubber bullets, pepper spray and truncheons in order to break up the demonstration. Around 7 police officers were hurt and 67 demonstrators arrested.
These actions have now crossed the limits of what can be considered acceptable . They come on the back of a large rise in the attacks by the far-right (for an overview of this see here). If these actions are allowed to continue it is only a matter of time before someone is seriously injured or killed.
Whilst the organisers of this demonstration have since declared it a success, they should be held responsible for these actions of violence and cover the cost (around 120,000 złoty) of the damage caused during the demonstration. Anyone who participates or supports the Independence March (whether they directly participated in the violence or not) bears some responsibility for these events.
Serious questions also have to be asked about how the government and the police allowed these actions to occur. This is not the first time that violence has erupted on these marches, with PM Donald Tusk almost casually observing that it has 'become a tradition'. Some, including the Green Party, have rightly called for the dismissal of the Chief of Police in Warsaw and the Minister of Internal Affairs, who after taking office claimed he would fight against the extreme right.
On Friday evening at 17.00 a demonstration outside the gates of Warsaw University has been organised against the terror of the Independence Day March and for safe and free streets. Facebook page here