I do not ever-ever.-want to hear someone say Poland isn’t one of the most racist, antisemitic countries, ever again.
WARSAW—Tens of thousands of Poles marched across downtown Warsaw on Saturday, in an independence-day procession organized by a nationalist youth movement that seeks an ethnically pure Poland with fewer Jews or Muslims.
The largely young crowd shot off roman candles and chanted “fatherland,” carrying banners that read “White Europe,” “Europe Will Be White,” and “Clean Blood.” Some of the marchers flew in from neighboring countries—Slovakia, Spain and Hungary—waving flags and symbols those countries used during their wartime collaboration with Nazi Germany.
“There are of course nationalists and fascists at this march,” said Mateusz, a 27-year-old wrapped in a Polish flag, “I’m fine with it. I’m just happy to be here.”
The march, organized by a group called the National Radical Camp, underscores the increasingly rightward politics of a growing section of Polish youth. The Radical Camp presents itself as the heir to a 1930s fascist movement of the same name, which fought to rid Poland of Jews in the years just before the Holocaust. A second group, All Polish Youth, also named after an anti-Jewish interwar movement, co-organized it.
Officials in the city government said they thought the march reflected poorly on Poland, but they said they had no choice but to approve the demonstration, as it fulfilled the legal requirements: It qualified as a celebration of Polish history. “This is not the type of event I would take my children to,” said Agnieszka Kłąb, spokesperson for the Warsaw City Council.
Police estimated the crowd at 60,000 people.
The Radical Camp has been holding independence-day marches since 2009. Until several years ago, it struggled to attract more than a few hundred people. In the past three years, it has become the largest independence-day occasion in Poland, and one of the largest nationalist marches of its kind anywhere in Europe. Saturday’s was expected to be the largest ever.
“It’s getting more and more vicious,” said Jakub Skrzypek, 25, one of about a dozen counterprotesters standing behind a banner that read “We Are Polish Jews,” and surrounded by police. “We are really in fear.”
The Radical Camp’s followers argue, on their social-media accounts and in their literature, that the influx of Syrian refugees into Europe is part of a conspiracy driven by Jewish financiers, who are working with Communists in the European Union to bring Muslims into Europe, and with them, Shariah law and homosexuality.
The group has regularly held events to mark a 1936 pogrom against Jews. Its symbols were displayed on a banner that appeared over a Warsaw bridge, reading: “Pray for Islamic Holocaust.”
This year, the group said it was adopting a new slogan, a quote from a July speech here by President Donald Trump : “We want God.”
“This march is just an expression of a bigger social phenomenon, which is definitely very troubling, and is the growing acceptance of extreme nationalism and xenophobia among young people in Poland,” said Rafal Pankowski, a political-science professor at private university Collegium Civitas in Warsaw. “It is a contrast: Polish parents and grandparents are paradoxically more liberal than their young.”
Richard Spencer, an American until recently banned from 26 European countries who wants to create a country just for white people in North America, was invited. The Polish government asked him to stay home, and he didn’t show up. Roberto Fiore, an Italian anti-immigration politician who describes himself as a fascist, was scheduled to appear.
Some Poles on Facebook and Twitter said they were staying away from the city center on their country’s independence day, to avoid potential violence. Three previous years’ marches devolved into tear-gas-clouded scuffles with police. Police detained at least 45 people Saturday.
The crowds drawn to Saturday’s march reflect the politics taking hold in the soccer clubs and youth hangouts where Radical Camp recruits. The group holds a staunch nativist standpoint, saying the European Union and Russia represent equal threats to Polish sovereignty. It argues that Polish people should nationalize the assets belonging to foreign corporations and distribute the profits across an ethnically homogenous state.
Similar movements have taken hold—even captured seats in parliament—in Hungary, Slovakia and Czech Republic. Some of these countries are among Europe’s most prospering. Poland is the only country in the EU that didn’t experience a single quarter of economic contraction after the financial crisis.
Still, the fear that Poland is under siege by distant elites has captured the imagination of some here, as has the worry that hordes of immigrants could soon pour over the border. Government-controlled media broadcasts near-nightly reports on crimes committed by Muslims in Europe. On Saturday, Polish state television called the procession a “great march of patriots.
“It’s like this inner need we have,” said Lukasz, a 24-year-old protester. “We want a Poland that will be for Polish people.”