After years of silence, Poland’s leadership might finally be trying to distance itself from the country’s radical far right.
Polish President Andrzej Duda on Monday condemned the “sick nationalism” displayed over the weekend at a far-right Independence Day rally in Warsaw, where 60,000 marchers carried banners bearing slogans like “Pray for an Islamic Holocaust” and “Europe will be white or uninhabited.”
“There is no place or permission in our country for xenophobia, there is no permission for sick nationalism, there is no place for anti-Semitism,” Duda said in the first major condemnation of the march by the country’s leadership. “Such attitudes mean an exclusion from our society.”
Polish far-right experts said the annual event prompted a greater backlash this year, due to the more overt racism on display and greater international scrutiny of the event. Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee, called on Polish authorities to act against the growing far-right movements in the country and said they threatened “the core values of Poland and its standing abroad,” while Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called the rally “a dangerous march of extreme and racist elements.”
The backlash appears to have prompted a shift in position from Poland’s conservative government, which has previously shied away from any condemning the event. State media described the rally as a “great march of patriots,” rather than an extremist event, while Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said it was a “beautiful sight.”
Acknowledging the controversy on Monday, Jaroslaw Kaczynski – leader of the governing Law and Justice Party and widely considered the country’s most powerful political figure – said that “extremely bad incidents” had occurred at the march and called the racist banners “disgraceful rubbish.”
Still, Kaczynski held that they reflected a fringe sentiment at the march, which he characterized as a patriotic event for tens of thousands of “decent” Poles.
Poland’s far-right has thrived under the conservative Law and Justice government that came to power in 2015 on a platform that refused to accept refugees into the country. Law and Justice swept into office on the back of support from many young Poles, who have adopted increasingly right-wing politics in recent years.