Poland defends far-right march in Warsaw as ‘expression of patriotic values’

Israel alarmed by march and urges Polish government to react

Poland’s foreign ministry has described Saturday’s march of right-wing extremists through Warsaw as an “expression of patriotic values”.

The demonstration, part of over a dozen events to mark the anniversary of Poland’s independence in 1918, was welcomed by interior minister Mariusz Blaszczak for its “very good atmosphere”.

“We can see the white-red flags in the streets of Warsaw, it was a pretty sight,” said Mr Blaszczak after the march. Quizzed about banners reading “White Europe” or “Pure Blood”, Mr Blaszczak said he had “not seen them personally”.

On Monday, with social media outrage building over the march, the foreign ministry called the event a “great festival of Poles with different views, united in common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland”.

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Among the estimated 60,000 demonstrators were families and a large number of young men waving red, smoking flares. Television cameras capture banners reading “A white Europe of fraternal nations”, and “Death to the Enemies of the Fatherland”.

Despite a long history of suffering under its neighbours, Poland is home to a strong far-right scene. One group, the Radical People’s Front (ONR), has ties to the skinhead scene, and shares a name with a pre-war organisation that persecuted Jews and socialists.

Today’s ultra-nationalist groups are opposed to the EU, Nato, homosexuality, feminism, Muslims and Islam.

German war reparations

Israel said it was alarmed by the march and urged Warsaw to react “quickly and firmly to racist agitation”.

In a parallel development, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the ruling PiS party, used an independence day address to revive the issue of German war reparations to Poland.

“The French were compensated, the Jews were compensated as were many other countries for the losses they suffered . . . but not Poland,” he said.

Poland’s post-war communist leadership renounced the right to reparations in 1953, a position reiterated by Warsaw ahead of EU accession in 2004.

In recent months, however, PiS has revived the debate, embraced by nationalist groups behind poster campaigns in major Polish cities.

Though the issue has been flagged by Mr Kaczynski at regular intervals over the years, his party has never lodged a compensation claim, prompting some to dismiss it as a political strategy for building domestic support.

On Saturday Mr Kaczynski insisted this was “not theatre . . . it’s about our status, our dignity”, but he did not say if or when a claim would be lodged.

Berlin has dismissed all reparations claims on the basis of the 1953 decision by Warsaw, and Germany’s 1990 unification treaty.

Rule of law

Two years after the national conservative PiS party came to office, Polish officials continue to dispute concerns by the European Commission over Warsaw’s adherence to the rule of law.

Last week European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermanns said huge changes to the judicial system in Poland risked a “systemic threat to the rule of law”.

Prime minister Beata Szydlo said on Monday that long-running EU concerns over judicial reform in Poland were “not always assessed objectively”. She accused Mr Timmermanns of “looking at the situation in Poland from the point of view of certain stereotypes”.

The prime minister suggested the commission’s Poland investigation was a manifestation of skewed priorities among Brussels officials that had contributed do the Brexit crisis. EU officials should be working on reform of the EU, citizen security and wages, she said, “rather than looking into the situation in the member states and dealing with issues that fall outside their competences”.

Critics of PiS in Poland accuse the government of working to systematically undermine – or capture – all state institutions not already under their direct control. The state broadcaster has adopted a robust pro-government line, PiS loyalists have been appointed to the courts and the state prosecutor brought into the justice ministry.

Warsaw insists its reforms are legal and about reforming an encrusted system held captive by interest groups.