The largest right-wing gathering in Europe has been cancelled this year by the mayor of the Polish capital Warsaw due to the coronavirus pandemic, but participants have promised to still attend.
The Independence March, which takes place on November 11, has in the past attracted up to 100,000 people from Poland and abroad.
This year, however, the atmosphere around the controversial event, which traditionally takes place amid anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic and anti-LGBTQ slogans, has been particularly tense.
Over the past few weeks, hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to Poland’s streets calling for abortion rights in what has been the biggest demonstrations since the fall of communism.
They are protesting the pro-government Constitutional Tribunal’s efforts to ban abortions, even in cases of fetal defects.
Some protesters, disgruntled with the Tribunal’s decision, have stormed churches and buildings occupied by the Catholic Church’s elite. They have voiced their anger with the governing Law and Justice party and the influence the Catholic Church has had on Polish politics.
In response, the Independence March Association, the main organiser of the November 11 event, formed units to protect the churches from angry demonstrators. Some clashes took place.
‘Our civilisation, our rules’
Last week, organisers from the Independence March published a poster advertising this year’s event, which showed a knight cutting through a rainbow and red star with a sword – a reference to the Polish nationalists’ fight against the LGBTQ community and the left.
The main slogan this year is: “Our civilisation, our rules!” Soon after the poster was published, Warsaw’s mayor, Rafał Trzaskowski, stated in a news conference that due to the pandemic, he will not allow for the organisation of the Independence March.
People on internet forums reacted quickly to the ban, accusing the mayor of hypocrisy, as he had joined the women’s protests just a few days earlier.
Robert Winnicki from far-right the Konfederacja party stated the march will take place regardless of the ban.
Participants’ safety a ‘priority’
On November 9, the Independence March Association issued a statement inviting participants to arrive by cars and motorcycles to minimise the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.
“As every year, we are inviting all patriots to come to Warsaw to celebrate this unique date together at the Independence March. This year, putting the safety of the participants as a priority, especially the veterans who join us each year, we have decided to change the formula of the event,” the statement read.
“We think that patriotism to a large extent means responsibility for other people and our community. We detach ourselves from any attempts to destabilise and anarchise the political and social life of the country, which over the past weeks have been made by the left-wing and liberal groups.”
Sources told Al Jazeera the hardline nationalist black bloc, known for controversial slogans such as “Europe will be white or deserted”, will not take part in the march this year.
Women’s Strike, the main organiser of the recent protests for abortion rights, have called on their supporters to join a “Quarantine from nationalism” day on November 11 and refrain from any confrontations with the Independence March.
“The Independence Day this year is special, not only because of the pandemic but also because of the ongoing protests in favour of women’s rights to legal abortion, which have turned into protests calling for the government’s resignation,” Marta Lempart, the founder of the Polish Women’s Strike, said in a statement.
“We’re not planning to clash with the nationalists on November 11. On that day, we are organising a ‘Quarantine from Nationalism’ and won’t go to the streets. We’ll be clearing the internet from hateful content and talking to each other within the framework of ‘National hours of talks about Poland’.”