WARSAW, Poland (AP) – Tens of thousands of people took to the city streets of Warsaw on Saturday in a march organised by nationalist groups as Poland celebrated its Independence Day holiday, 105 years after the nation regained its statehood at the end of World War I.
Participants carried Poland’s white-and-red flag and some burned flares as they marched along a route leading from the city centre to the National Stadium.
While many patriotic events take place across the nation of 38 million on November 11, the yearly Independence March has come to dominate news coverage because it has sometimes been marred by xenophobic slogans and violence.
This year’s event was attended by some 40,000 and passed off peacefully, the Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, said.
It came as nationalist forces have seen their worldview rejected by voters. In a national election last month, voters turned out in huge numbers to embrace centrist, moderate conservative and left-wing parties after eight years of rule by a nationalist conservative party that was at odds with the European Union.
The far-right Confederation party, which is ideologically linked to the Independence March, won just 18 seats in the 460-seat Sejm, the Polish parliament. Meanwhile, Law and Justice, the ruling right-wing nationalist party whose leaders joined the march in the past, won the most votes but fell short of a parliamentary majority.
Donald Tusk, the winning coalition’s candidate to be the next prime minister, appealed for national unity in a message on X, stressing that the holiday is one that belongs to all Poles.
“If someone uses the word nation to divide and sow hatred, he is acting against the nation,” said Tusk, who did not join the march. “Today our nation is celebrating independence. The whole nation, all of Poland.”
The Independence Day holiday celebrates the restoration of Poland’s national sovereignty in 1918, at the end of World War I and after 123 years of rule by Prussia, Austria and Russia.
“For us, Poles, this day of November 11 is a day of joy, a day of pride, a day of glory, a day when we remember with emotion that after 123 years of non-existence, our country, Poland, was reborn,” said President Andrzej Duda in a speech at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Duda warned that Russian imperialism once again threatens not just Ukraine but the wider region.
“Russian imperialism will go further: it will want to seize more nations, taking away their freedom and their states,” Duda said.
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy sent Poland a message on X, formerly Twitter, telling Poles: “May your independence be invincible and eternal.”
The march has in the past drawn far-right sympathisers from other European countries, including Hungary and Italy. Among those taking part this year was Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, a small far-right party in the UK.
Football supporters were prominent among the marchers, some holding banners with far-right slogans. One group brought EU and rainbow flags to stomp on, while a rainbow flag was burned. However, many families also took part, and there were no arrests. Police removed climate protesters who placed themselves along the route of the march.