The 14th annual Polish Independence March (Marsz Niepodległości), organized by extreme-right groups as a part of the larger celebrations of Poland regaining independence in 1918, is to be held in the center of Warsaw on November 11, 2023, near the Pałac Kultury i Nauki (Palace of Culture and Science). Every year, this event attracts supporters of the most radical far-right groups from around the world, including white nationalists, Identitarians, and neo-Nazis, and this year would appear to be more of the same. During past events, it has been estimated that between 50 and 100 thousand people have attended the march.
Most worrying, organizing for the often violent March is being done on mainstream social media channels,where the organizers spread information about the event with impunity, and invite white supremacists and neo-Nazis from across Europe and North America to join. Official accounts for the event exist on Twitter (31.5k followers), Instagram (10.5k followers), TikTok (3k followers), and Facebook (2.5k followers). On Twitter, the main organizer Robert Bąkiewicz continues to spread news about the event to his more than 43,000 followers, and on Facebook to more than 51,000 followers.
The Polish Independence March is organized by three far-right Polish groups, the National-Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR), the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska, MW), and the National Movement (Ruch Narodowy), all of which are inspired by far-right movements that existed before WWII and were antisemitic and sympathetic to fascist ideas. The ONR, for example, celebrates their roots in the interwar organizations, and holds bigoted opinions about Jews, Muslims, and LGBTQ+ people. In the past, they would perform roman salutes, which landed several ONR activists in court for “propagating Nazism” in 2008, and wore uniforms reminiscent of the Nazi Brown Shirts. They regularly attend anti-LGBTQ+ and anti-immigrant rallies, and their leader, Robert Bąkiewicz, formed a “National Guard” (Straż Narodowa) presumably to physically defend churches during abortion protests.
The most radical of these groups, the white nationalists and neo-Nazis, will likely participate in the “black bloc” section of the March. Previous years have seen far-right organizations from across Europe attend, such as Forza Nuova (Italy), Jobbik (Hungary), and Ľudová strana Naše Slovensko (Slovenia). In 2016, Roberto Fiore, convicted for “armed gang and subversive association” for the group he led, Terza Posizione’s (Third Position), involvement in the bombing of the Bologna railway station in 1980, was allowed to speak at the March.
Posts about the event are also widespread on unmoderated social media sites, such as Telegram, where white supremacist groups proliferate and spread their messages to supporters. These messages have been reposted by groups in countries as far away as France, the United States, and Canada. Prominent groups promoting the march on Telegram include “Ultras Not Reds,” a neo-Nazi football hooligan channel, the international White Lives Matter channel, the far right Polish channel “Autonomiczni Nacjonaliści Puławy,” the “Eastern European Insider,” and “White Eagle Art.” These posts have been spread on the French neo-Nazi channel Ouest Casual (see GPAHE’s extremist profile here), the neo-Nazi AZOV Ukraine supporters channel “Fortress Kyiv,” Counter Intelligence Global, and the Canadian neo-Nazi chat “Empire of Diagolon,” (see GPAHE’s reporting on Diagolon here) as well as by several neo-Nazi Active Club groups; TAC-AZ (Arizona, USA) and Gym XIV (Sweden) (see GPAHE’s reporting on the Active Clubs here). Among Polish far-right groups, the antisemitic, xenophobic party Konfederacja (Confederation) has promoted the event and is expected to attend.
Far from being a “March of Patriots” as the far-right ruling government would like everyone to believe, the marchers are primarily nationalists and extremists, and previous year’s marches demonstrate this. White nationalist and neo-fascist symbols, such as the Celtic Cross and Polish Falange, are commonly displayed during the March. The organizing group National Radical Camp (ONR), in typical neo-fascist fashion, portrays itself as a paramilitary organization with matching uniforms, flags, and armbands. Xenophobic images are also commonly shown at the March, such as images portraying Muslim refugees as a Trojan horse entering Europe.
The Polish Independence March frequently devolves into violence, and physical attacks against journalists, political opponents, minority groups, and the police are commonplace. In 2010, violent clashes erupted after a counter-demonstration of progressive anti-racist and anti-fascist groups attempted to block the path of the procession. In 2013, participants burned the rainbow arch on Saviour Square in the center of Warsaw, which they perceived as a symbol of support for LGBTQ+ people. In defiance of the mayor of Warsaw’s ban of the March in 2020 due to the pandemic, demonstrators engaged in violence with police, and set an apartment with an LGBTQ+ flag on fire. Because of this, many politicians, including the Civic Platform’s Mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski, have called for it to be banned.
Unfortunately, though, the ruling far-right party Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS) has been one of the remaining lifelines keeping the event active. Following the burning of the rainbow arch in 2013, PiS MP Bartosz Kownacki posted of Facebook that “the f****t’s rainbow on Zbawiciela Square is burning,” and complained that the mayor of Warsaw had spent a hundred thousand zloty to “promote f****try” instead of spending the money on the poor. In 2015, President Andrzej Duda praised the organizers of the event in a letter, and in 2018, his government coordinated with the organizers of the March to hold simultaneous demonstrations along the same path for Independence Day. Despite widespread opposition, Robert Bąkiewicz, was awarded state subsidies from the culture ministry, and more recently was nominated by PiS to run for office in the legislative elections for the city of Radom. When the March was threatened by the courts and local authorities, PiS MP Jan Józef Kasprzyk, the head of the Office for Veterans and Victims of Oppression, stepped in to make the event a state event, which exempted it from certain legal restrictions on gathering.
Social media platforms must take action on these accounts and stop providing free advertising for the March, especially given the bigoted platform and past and potential violence. This is not the first time that GPAHE and its allies including the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association have asked the large social media companies to remove such content from their sites, and unfortunately, while PayPal did choose to block their fundraising pages in late December 2021, Facebook and Twitter continue to take no action. The hateful ideologies espoused by these groups and their history of violence are a clear violation of most platforms’ terms of service, and thus they should be removed.