By 10am the streets around the Palace of Culture and Science, the vast brick edifice that towers over central Warsaw, had already begun to throng with red and white flags. Most of the crowd wore Polish flag armbands, the young girls had red and white flowers in their hair, the young boys’ scarfs and hats were proudly adorned with the Polish eagle.
Ostensibly, it looked like any other national celebration, with patriotic families and friends gathering to commemorate the centenary of the restoration of the country’s sovereignty in 1918. Yet look a little closer and a more sinister picture emerges. Some wore scarfs emblazoned with the white supremacist version of the Celtic Cross, while some streaming out of the metro station sported Odal Rune and Nazi SS Black Sun tattoos on their arms and faces, sometimes partly obscured by skull face masks and balaclavas.
The crowds began to gather in earnest from around midday at the Dmowski Roundabout. As patriotic songs blared out across the closed roads, groups huddled around a green gazebo, the roof of which bore the green crooked arm and sword logo of the National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo Radykalny – ONR). The trestle tables were loaded with badges, stickers, t-shirts, bandannas reading ‘Goodnight Left Side’, with an image of one man stamping on the other, and a selection of books including what looked like a self-published Polish language version of Norman Finkelstein’s The Holocaust Industry. The men taking the money wore balaclavas, combat trousers, bomber jackets and black Dr Martens boots.
The National Radical Camp is a fascist group named after an antisemitic organisation from the 1930s of the same name. They are well known for being the organiser of numerous marches in Myślenice, a town in southern Poland, to mark the anniversary of the anti-Jewish riots in that city in 1936.
Joining them as co-organisers of this demonstration were All-Polish Youth, a virulently homophobic far-right youth organisation whose motto is ‘Youth Faith Nationalism’. They erected their own gazebo adjacent to that of the ONR and raised their own triangular flags – a sword on a green background – and began to distribute stickers and leaflets.
As the two o’clock start time grew nearer, ever larger groups of balaclava-clad men gathered and the first of countless red flares was lit. The city echoed with the sound of exploding bangers, making all but the most seasoned demonstrators jump and flinch. What started as a trickle became a flood as people burst out of every tributary road, alleyway and metro station.
The police presence was inconceivably small with just the odd group of officers scattered around, albeit with pump action shotguns and strings of cartridges down their arms. This demonstration was marshaled by the far-right organisers themselves. The roads along the route were lined by All-Polish Youth activists, faces covered, red electrical tape around their arms, some wearing military style helmets and protective glasses.
The ONR had a flatbed lorry with a PA system over which call and response was demanded of the crowd, while someone pounded a bass drum to keep the chants in time. Then, the Polish national anthem boomed over the loudspeaker and the crowd, by this time tens of thousands strong, exploded into rapturous song with thousands of red flares lighting up the grey November sky. People shot flares high into the sky or let off fireworks that exploded over the heads of the crowd. The march was about to begin.
The week prior to the march had been an uncertain and tumultuous one for the organisers. Just days before it was due to take place the mayor of Warsaw, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, banned the demonstration, citing the likelihood of violence and hate speech. Just hours later Poland’s President, Andrzej Duda of the radical right Law and Justice party, announced that the Polish state would organise its own demonstration at the same time and along the same route as the demonstration planned by the fascists. Negotiations ensued and a deal was struck between the Polish authorities and the far right, meaning the President and a small state contingent would march first, closely followed by the main demonstration organised by the fascists.
As the march was about to start, Duda climbed onto the back of a green military-style jeep, took the microphone and addressed the enormous crowd before him, now easily over 200,000. As he looked out he would have seen the massed flags of the fascist ONR, the green flags of the All-Polish Youth, a large contingent of flags of the Italian fascist group Forza Nuova and a sea of skinheads in bomber jackets. This didn’t stop him.
So large was the crowd it took three hours for the demonstrators to all file past the start point. By the time they had, the city was cloaked in darkness, illuminated only by the mass of red pyrotechnics.
The event attracted the far right from all over the world. Flights from the UK carried groups of British racists to Warsaw including a group of around 15 nazi skinheads, proudly wearing KKK t-shirts, braces and boots who left from Stansted airport on Saturday morning, ready for a secret Nazi gig in Poland that evening. A small group of British Generation Identity activists including Sam Sibbons flew out for the weekend.
Other Brits in Poland for the event were Stephen Yaxley Lennon’s (AKA Tommy Robinson) former team members Lucy Brown and Caolan Robertson, who appeared to be working alongside the racist alt-right Canadian YouTuber Stefan Molyneux and the American alt-light ‘citizen journalist’ Jack Posobiec. Lennon himself had been due to speak at the event but cancelled several days before. Despite that, several British vloggers with ‘Free Tommy’ high visibility jackets were on the demonstration. British activists James Goddard and Tracy Blackwell were also in attendance.
The march streamed down towards the Poniatowski Bridge, stretched over the expansive Vistula river and past the National stadium. Hundreds of bangers were dropped over the edge and down into the archways, exploding with mighty bangs that reverberated up through the floor. The intensity of the flares and smoke bombs covered you in ash and burnt your eyes.
Once over the bridge they flooded into the park behind the stadium, creating a terrifying spectacle. As far as the eye could see, hundreds of thousands of people waving flags, countless flares illuminating the space like daylight.
At the centre was a large stage from which two priests led prayers, followed by more political speeches. To the left and right on a banked verge were the huddled fascist flags of the All-Polish Youth and the National Radical Camp, presenting an image reminiscent of Nuremberg in the 1930s. Masked men ceremonially burnt the flag of the European Union flag.
It is of course important to state that many of those on the march were not neo-nazis or fascists, and were merely there to celebrate the independence of their country. Yet the presence of the extreme far right was so ubiquitous that no one could pretend they did not know who was running the event. Despite this, they were happy to march alongside them, listen to their speeches and join in their chants. The President himself marched just meters ahead of fascist flags, no doubt in earshot of the ONR drummer.
Apart from some small running battles between attendees and stewards to the right of the stage, the day passed in relative peace. Yet that did not make the day’s events any less terrifying. The numbers were bigger than expected, dwarfing that of last year, and the nonchalance with which fascists were treated – and the willingness of the President to strike a deal with them – only confirms what trouble Poland is currently in.
The night finished with a firework display and more singing as the crowds slowly dispersed. Back at the Palace of Culture and Science in central Warsaw, the streets had already been cleaned and traffic once again bustled through the streets.
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