Over the past few years, the march – a commemoration of the reunion of Poland in 1918 after more than a century of partition – has turned into a massive far-right fest, with tens of thousands usually attending. Just two years ago, President Andrzej Duda was still attending the march, depicting it as a patriotic affair. But the look of Warsaw’s streets this year leaves little doubt as to who is in charge on this day.
Because of the pandemic, the organisers initially said the event would be “on wheels”, with people joining in their cars or on motorbikes and maintaining social distancing. Warsaw city hall refused to authorise the march this year – because of the pandemic, gatherings of over five people are prohibited – and even the police had expressed reluctance to deal with this event, with many officers saying they intended to take sick leave.
In the end, thousands marched on foot on Wednesday afternoon. Many were the usual young men dressed in dark clothes – oftentimes sporting racist symbols – who usually attend this march. It was also attended by far-right parliamentarians, including former presidential candidate Krzysztof Bosak, a member of the far-right Confederation alliance.
Tensions rose soon after the march started at 2pm. At the Charles de Gaulle roundabout in the centre of the capital, protesters threw rocks and flares, leaving several demonstrators and police wounded, according to the police.
Straż Marszu Niepodległości i inni uczestnicy jednostkowo nielegalnego pochodu starali się powstrzymać chuliganów. To jednak tylko prowokowało do dalszych zadym @RadioZET_NEWS pic.twitter.com/qogHlNowTr
— Piotr Drabik (@piotrdrabik) November 11, 2020
On the Poniatowski bridge in the centre of Warsaw, what appeared to be members of the far-right threw flares at balconies displaying rainbow flags and ‘Women’s Strike’ banners – the movement behind the recent anti-abortion protests – leading to one apartment catching fire and requiring firemen to intervene.
Participants of the far-right #independencedayMarch in #Warsaw set a house on fire because of a #LGBTQI flag and a #StrajKobiet banner on a balcony. #MarszNiepodegłości #MarszNiepodegłości2020 pic.twitter.com/NF8Z1XRoBC
— democ. (@democ_de) November 11, 2020
There were further clashes with the police near the National Stadium, where the government has recently built a temporary hospital to treat COVID-19 patients. The police said it had to use force to contain the clashes, including using pepper spray. More than 10 people had been arrested by 5pm.