There is nothing that causes more mixed emotions in Poland than the National Independence Day. Pride and shame, the feeling of attachment to and disconnection from Polish values, joy and despair. The hundred-year anniversary of Polish independence only intensified the cleavage between the society about its future directions and values.
The Independence March cyclically organised in the street of Warsaw was banned by the liberal local authorities in the capital, however, the decision was ruled out to be unconstitutional almost straightaway. The organisers of the march came from various ultra-nationalistic, xenophobic, antisemitic, racist, homophobic, and Catholic-nationalistic background and were joined by the government officials, with President Duda in the lead, despite their previous feuds with the radical organisations.
It comes as no surprise that there was a lot at stake. The “celebrations” have seen countless incidents of vandalism and ultimate street fights, ending up with setting up a booth at the Russian Embassy on fire in 2013 and burning down a broadcast van of the opposition station TVN24 in 2011. Clashes with police were unavoidable and the attitude towards left groupings also leaves a lot to be desired.
The Law and Justice politicians along with other right-wing groupings were representing the divided nation while the American and Canadian Embassies issued a warning to avoid crowds and not to attract any attention since the previous demonstrations brought about violence and fights with counter-protesters.
With the rise of populism and nationalism across the country, the differences amongst segments of the society are becoming even more striking. The liberal camp pursues further integration with the EU, opposing the Law and Justice policies which are causing a democratic backslide due to the court reforms and overtaking the national TV by the party officials, to name only a few. Such actions have led to the conflicts between the EU and Poland and, in the end, triggered Article 7 to suspect certain rights from Poland.
The traditional and nationalistic camps underline the significant role of faith, tradition, history, and family in the national survival and sovereignty which is jeopardised by the Western liberalism. They strongly oppose the refugee relocation for it puts traditional, national, and religious values at stake. Minorities, especially Muslim, are believed to be of huge danger to the Polish society along with the EU which undermines the country sovereignty by influencing its internal affairs.
There is no doubt that tens of thousands of participants came to celebrate the independence – there was no substantial alternative than the event organised by the radical groupings. The number of demonstrators were equipped with their organisation flags, insignias, balaclavas and flares. Even though the majority of people did not share the ultra-radical values, the nationalistic ideas were overwhelmingly represented by the large chuck. The crowd was clearly heard chanting: “Youth, faith and nationalism.”
The concept of nationalism and faith is not something new amongst the Poles, on the other hand. Due to the tragic experiences throughout the nineteenth century, the country’ survival depended largely on cultivating Poland’s culture and the resistance to political and cultural values from outside. The collapse of the communist rule was incredibly contributed to the strong opposition from the church and its followers. The similar nationalism has become a tool to fight Western liberalism and increasing influence in Poland’s internal affairs.
Such dislike towards the West derives from the belief that, in fact, liberalism does not work there either. It frequently comes from the exaggerated media reporting on terrorist attacks, uncontrolled immigration and economic decline that seem to trouble and plaque Western Europe.
The situation, however, was not as pessimistic as one would consider. There was also, at the same time, an anti-fascist rave in order to show the disapproval of the Independence March and present the alternative values that are not universally held by the Poles. The peaceful demonstration referred to the socialist and antifascist protest traditions in the interwar period.
Poland’s independence celebration overlapped with WW1 commemorations in Germany, France and the UK. Bitterness and letdown amongst the Polish persisted after no foreign official was participating in the celebrations. Whether it was due to simultaneous anniversaries or undermining the significance of Poland’s centenary independence, it remains unclear.