Polish flags, white pride symbols and ski masks were obligatory in the streets of Warsaw on Monday afternoon. Fascists, nationalists and football ultras assembled for what looked like one of the largest far-right demonstrations to ever grace Europe's streets, with an estimated 50,000 to 100,000 people in attendance – up from last year's comparatively meagre 20,000. The police reinforced the Polish capital with thousands of officers, but the nationalists still managed to attack and torch the symbols of everything they hate: gays, lefties and Russians.
The march on November the 11th – like the one last year and the year before that – was a celebration of Polish Independence Day. It's organised by two far-right groups, The National Radical Camp – which takes its name and logo from a fascist, pre-war Polish party – and the All Polish Youth, which describes itself as a nationalist-Catholic organisation and fears that homosexuality might one day destroy the Polish Republic.
If the increasing numbers of neo-Nazis weren't enough to scare anti-fascists, gays, liberals, socialists and basically anyone who isn't a racist homophobe out of the city centre, the march surely was. Whoever planned the route clearly made sure it would touch on nearly everything that gets violent neo-Nazis all riled up.
For instance, the mob had only been marching for a few minutes when dozens of masked participants crashed through the line of stewards and stormed into a side street that houses a former clinic now being squatted by anarchists and anti-fascists. As was expected, the marchers quickly got to hurling pyrotechnics, stones and bottles at the building. The squatters responded by chucking miscellaneous objects at the crowd from the roof of the building. "If we hadn't defended ourselves, we might be dead now," one of the squatters told me the day after.
With the crowd in a boisterous enough mood to attack a bunch of well prepared squatters, I didn't hold out much hope for this rainbow – a monument to LGBT rights made of paper flowers. Since it was erected two years ago, vandals have burned it down four times. The last reconstruction ended only last Friday.
Maybe they'd just walk by and leave it alone, I hoped.
As the flames licked their way up the monument, I wondered if the next reconstruction should maybe involve a slightly less flammable material than paper.
People shouted: "God, honour and fatherland!" as the rainbow burned. Which was a convenient way to remind onlookers than the torching of the monument to tolerance was just as much about nationalism as it was about homophobia.
With the monument burned to ash, the demonstration began to approach the Russian embassy. As Polish nationalists haven't forgiven Russia for the Soviet occupation yet, rioters took the opportunity to dispose of their remaining pyrotechnics and set fire to the porter's lodge.
According to the Russian ambassador to Poland, there has only been one comparable attack on a Russian embassy in recent years – in Libya. The Russian foreign ministry demanded an official apology from the Polish government, and yesterday they got it.
Shortly after the attack on the embassy, the demonstration was officially disbanded by the Warsaw City administration. But I'm guessing – judging by the all the fire and destruction – the marchers went home satisfied.
By the end of the day there were 72 arrested demonstrators and 12 wounded policemen. But more importantly, the march and the increasing numbers it attracts every year demonstrates just how worrying Poland's attitude towards the LGBT community is becoming.