The state of votes
The Independence March is a Powerful Symbol of Polish Freedom
Perception is reality. The narrative on the Independence March in Poland
Nicholas Siekierski | 2018. January 08. 00:00
The recent Independence March (Marsz Niepodległości) on November 11, Poland’s Independence Day, generated much controversy in Western media. The hysterical coverage was not representative of the “facts on the ground” however. Poles peacefully manifested their love for their country on its independence day.
The recent Independence March (Marsz Niepodległości) on November 11, Poland’s Independence Day, generated much controversy in Western media. Headlines from outlets, such as CNN and The New York Times, blared that “60,000 fascists” marched in Warsaw. A young Fulbright scholar from New York hid in his bathroom, fearing to even look out of his window, telling readers of The Forward, that “I came [to Poland] to prove that true anti-Semitism is over. It isn’t.”
The hysterical coverage was not representative of the “facts on the ground” however. The story that was omitted was that roughly sixty thousand Poles, including families with children and seniors, peacefully manifested their love for their country on its independence day. I took part in the march for the second year in a row, not as a supporter of any political faction, but as a Pole. I couldn’t have felt prouder to walk across the Poniatowski Bridge, where my grandfather faced off against the Nazis as a defender of Warsaw in September 1939. The slur of “fascist” against the marchers would be absurd if it weren’t so mendacious.
Most of the years since November 11, 1918, were not independent ones for the Polish people. Just twenty-one years separated Poland’s rebirth on the map of Europe, to its re-subjugation at the hands of the Nazis and Soviets. After World War II, the victorious USSR continued its control until 1989. For most of the 20th century, Poles could not publicly manifest their affection for their country and fly its colors. It has taken over twenty years for free Poles to begin expressing their pride publicly and on a mass scale. The Independence March is one of the largest, regular demonstrations of patriotism in modern Poland and it is a healthy sign that Poles are enthusiastic about peacefully demonstrating their identity as patriots, Christians and defenders of their nation.
Although the March has been organized by several nationalist groups since its inception, the cross-section of people who have gravitated towards the event is far broader and more diverse than simply the membership of a political faction, support for which hovers around one percent only! Since Law and Justice (PiS), a center-right party, won the 2015 elections and took control of the government, the dynamic of the March has also changed. No longer is it an adversarial display, aimed towards the center-left coalition of the Civic Platform (PO) and Polish People’s Party (PSL), which governed from 2007–15, and has been associated by many with the post-communist ruling class. For the first time since its inception, the March has been at least tacitly supported by the government, which recognizes that the marchers represent its electoral base. In previous years the event has been marred by violence, which to some extent resulted from a heavy and aggressive police presence, as well as the actions of a tiny minority of violent individuals, some of whom are suspected of acting as provocateurs to intentionally discredit it.
If the reported anti-Semitic signs and slogans at the most recent March were genuine, their display should be condemned. The accusations of bigotry against all of the marchers however are not only false, but intentionally defamatory. In one example of fake news, a picture of a sign promoting violence against Muslims, purportedly taken at the March, was shared on social media. It turned out that the photo was taken two years ago, in a different city, and its author is unknown.
Poland finds itself in the midst of an information war aimed against it. The government, NGOs, civic groups and common citizens, need to recognize this and not only respond quickly and forcefully, but take the initiative to shape the narrative about Poland, in English, rather than leaving it to hostile media outlets.
The March is not only a powerful symbol of freedom for Poles, but for patriots across the West who are concerned about the direction in which their societies are heading. As the British activist and journalist Tommy Robinson, who attended the March, commented in a recent interview, such a display of patriotism and national pride would be impossible in England today, both because of government opposition and hostility from Islamists and far-left movements like Antifa.
Poles should not back down from the March, and recognize that the attacks against them come with the territory in today’s geopolitical environment. National pride is anathema to transnational elites who strive to create a borderless world governed by undemocratic bureaucracies. Leadership means doing what is right, not what is popular and fashionable. Poland, raise your flags high.
Anna Gwizdek | 2018. May 16. 00:00
The March of Independence constitutes a part of Poland’s Independence Day celebrations. However, calling it a national celebration of freedom is exaggerated. The image it carries and leaves behind is not that of a nation that enjoys its regained independence, but of an anti-EU, anti-Islam and anti-refugee manifestation.
Whichever source’s coverage of the March you choose to watch, it will be hard to miss the images of many controversial symbols, xenophobic slogans and red-smoke bombs. The Independence March today bears little resemblance to an enthusiastic and peaceful holiday. Over the years it has become a platform for expressing far right views, and instead of uniting, it is dividing the already polarized Polish society. The array of hostile behaviours and prejudices, as well as lack of reaction and condemnation of aggressive behaviors and racist slogans contribute to the fact that the March destroys normal, healthy patriotism, replacing it with its false and distorted vision.
It should come as no surprise that large state ceremonies of symbolic importance are exposed in the media, thus constituting an excellent opportunity to promote, or demote, the image of the state abroad. Being interested in a given country or learning a new language, we often reach out to the internet in order to listen to the national anthem or watch the accounts of the course of important
state events, and what we see and hear influences our perception of a given country. The question therefore is: what did the foreigners learn about the Polish Independence Day while watching the accounts of the March? And what conclusions did they draw about Poland?
Of course families with children or information about the holiday itself had been pushed into the background in the face of the anti-refugee slogans, but we only need a basic knowledge of the laws that govern the media to know that shocking coverage sells. People may be of the opinion that this coverage is unfair, or even call it a manipulation, however it is impossible to ignore the fact that what was shown was not made up. It cannot be denied that foreigners living permanently in Poland felt real fear of going out on this day, warning each other on the internet forums. No-one used Photoshop to add the placards with slogans “clean blood”, “white Europe”
or to put a sign showing refugees inside the Trojan horse into the hands of the marchers. They were not imaginary, they were there. And as a democratic, European country we should, instead of taking offence at the bad western media coverage, admit it and learn a lesson from this
experience (especially considering next year’s celebrations will take place on the day’s 100th anniversary).
Let’s think for a while what signal Poland is sending to the world on this particular day. According to some, it is a manifestation of values. But what values do we represent screaming, among many others, “Europe will be white or uninhabited”, “Death to enemies of the homeland”, “Catholic Poland, not secular", Refugees get out!”, "Not red, not rainbow but national Poland"?
Was this march really a march of independence? Was it safe and inclusive for all Polish citizens? Was the main slogan of the March, “We want God”, not by any chance suggesting that the only “true Poles” are the Polish Catholics? Not all citizens of Poland who enjoy its independence are devout Catholics, just as not everyone who took part in the March is subscribing to the slogans of the radicals, but inevitably those at the forefront of the March set the tone.
The fact that many marchers carried and set off flares from the Poniatowski Bridge (although using pyrotechnic materials during public gatherings is forbidden), screamed and painted racist symbols in public space, launched loud firecrackers, drank alcohol in the streets (also prohibited by Polish law) and even set fire to anti-fascist flags raises serious concerns about security during
the event. Is that what we call a safe environment to celebrate in Poland?
The march also exposed the battle of symbols, the inequality of citizens against the law and the authorities’ fear of radical groups (they were not prosecuted by the police for fear of the escalation of their behaviour and because of the tactics of avoiding the crisis situation). That is also the reason why the people wearing such symbols as the Celtic cross (obviously tilted, in case somebody dared to think that it was about the straight one symbolizing white supremacy), as well as Celtic cross in combination with the Nazi flag, or Hitler’s occult symbol of the “Black Sun”, were not held criminally liable. The Celtic cross in combination with the eagle was also
worn by the march guard. While these symbols were tolerated during the march, setting up the banner “Stop Fascism” by a group of women ended up being called names, pushed and kicked. Conclusion? The march was peaceful for those who subscribed to or did not protest
against the slogans of the radicals, but those voicing different opinions did not experience such lenient treatment.
"Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind.", these are Einstein’s words that perfectly illustrate the current situation in Poland. Our country is still a child in its infancy, which despite the establishment of democratic institutions has still not matured to democracy and does not understand its principles. A fully-grown democracy cannot call a racist march a symbol of patriotism.
Raise your flags high? Sure, even up to the sky, but first look around so you don’t stick the end in somebody's eye.
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