Warsaw, Poland—Thousands of white nationalists marched in Warsaw on Saturday to commemorate Polish Independence Day. Police officials estimated that the Saturday march gathered more than 60,000 far-right demonstrators.  They carried banners with slogans such as “Clear blood, sober mind,” “White Europe of Brotherly Nations,” “No to Islam” and “Europe will be white or uninhabited.” They shouted anti-Muslim, anti-gay, and anti-Semitic chants.

Three nationalist groups sponsored the march: the National Movement (RN), the National Radical Camp (ONR), and the All Poland Youth (MW). All three groups have a long past of anti-Semitism dating before the Second World War. Marching alongside them were British and Italian far-right members.

This isn’t the first Independence Day where nationalists have marched in unison, but previous marches had gathered hundreds, not thousands as they did on Saturday.

The most concerning thing, however, is that the nationalists enjoyed the tacit support of government officials.  When the media inquired about the legality of the racist banners, Polish officials didn’t condemn them outright. “There were no incidents. It’s only your opinion, because you behave like a political activist,” said Interior Minister Mariusz Błaszczak.

Meanwhile in Kraków, Jarosław Kaczyński, former Prime Minister and leader of the Law and Justice party (PiS), acknowledged the far-right demonstrators. “Our demands will be met only if there is power behind them. We must aim at the national consolidation and try to convince those who don’t accept us and maybe even hate us,” said Kaczyński.

Thousands of nationalists marched in Warsaw on Poland’s Independence Day holiday, taking part in an event that was organized by far-right groups. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

The European Union was quick to criticize the racist demonstrations.  European Council President Donald Tusk, who is also former Prime Minister of Poland, said that “positively-thinking” Poles aren’t alone in opposing racist groups.

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This isn’t the first time the EU is concerned with what seems as Poland’s anti-democratic shift.  Since 2015, the powerful PiS has sought to bring the Polish judiciary under its control.  It has proposed three controversial articles of legislation:

  1. Replace judges of the Supreme Court with PiS party members.
  2. Bring the National Judiciary Council, an independent group that appoints and promotes judges, under parliamentary control.
  3. Empower the Justice Minister with authority to sack and appoint the judges of the country’s lower courts.

European backlash and internal opposition mean that only the third article has been made into law. The PiS had vowed to persist until all three are in effect.

But such policies are incompatible with Europe’s values of justice and integrity. The EU is facing a dilemma with how to deal with Poland’s illiberal shift. Add to that the problem of Poland’s geopolitical importance regarding Russia–the EU must choose its words and future actions carefully.

Racist marches with the tacit support of leading officials certainly don’t help.

 

Featured image courtesy of AP Images