Divided Poland marks independence day

Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski promises to restore full sovereignty from EU

Poland marked the anniversary of its independence in 1918 with a promise from ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to restore his country’s full sovereignty from the European Union.

Amid anti-government demonstrations, and Independence Day marches attracting flare-carrying far-right nationalists, Mr Kaczynski said Warsaw was ready for a “tough battle” with those who have questioned the legality of his year-old government’s reforms of state media and the judiciary.

“We want to make Poland a truly sovereign nation, whose actions – taken in its own interest – are accepted by others,” said Mr Kaczynski, head of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), who holds no formal role in government.

“We must fight this tough battle and we will, against our partners in the EU and other partners, such as in Nato, as well as domestic ones who still think in old-fashioned and harmful ways.”

Rival marches

Police in Warsaw expected about 100,000 people to take part in rival marches in the capital. The main independence day march marks the restoration of Polish sovereignty in 1918 after 123 years of partition and foreign rule. But independence day marches in recent years have turned violent and attracted openly far-right marchers.

Last year’s demonstration saw about 70,000 people march under the slogan “Poland for the Poles, Poles for Poland” – a nod to Warsaw’s resistance to accept refugees.

On Friday, some marchers carried banners depicting the falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s, showing a stylised hand with a sword. One huge banner read “God, Honour, Fatherland,” a patriotic slogan. Other banners read: “Death to the enemies of the Fatherland” and “To be a Pole, to be a Catholic is a privilege and honour.”

Elsewhere in the city, left-wing activists held a what they call “anti-fascist” march.

Anti-government protests

A third march was organised by the Committee for the Defence of Democracy, behind a series of anti-government protests in the last 12 months. They are critical of PiS reforms of the judiciary, which have drawn the ire of the European Commission and the Council of Europe, the continent’s highest human rights body.

The commission has threatened Warsaw with sanctions unless it implements the recommendations to reverse reforms it says have curtailed the independence of the constitutional tribunal, Poland’s highest legal body, and effectively suspended its oversight of government law-making.

After a year-long stand-off, however, the Polish government has refused to back down in the row over the tribunal’s operations and a stand-off over judicial appointments.

In a letter this week Poland said it saw “no legal possibility” to implement the recommendations from Brussels because, in Warsaw’s view, they were based on a misunderstanding about the tribunal’s role in guarding the rule of law in Poland

Any move to impose sanctions on Poland would require unanimity among other EU members, but Hungary has signalled it is unwilling to support such a move.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin