Last week, in Warsaw, 60,000 Poles and foreigners participated in an Independence Day march to mark 99 years of Polish nationhood. It should have been an auspicious occasion. Poland, partitioned by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire in the late 18th century, regained its sovereignty in 1918 and has been independent ever since. Unfortunately, some participants in the parade carried signs with racist slogans, including “White Europe” and “Europe must be white.” Still others shouted, “Jews out” and “Remove Jewry from power.”
According to Jonny Daniels, the founder of From the Depths, a group that commemorates the Holocaust in Poland, a small minority of the marchers used racist language and, in effect, hijacked the event as far as the media was concerned. These disgusting troublemakers managed to tarnish what should have been a celebratory occasion.
Regrettably, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, Poland’s Minister of Interior Mariusz Blaszczak made things infinitely worse by expressing pride in the parade. “It was a beautiful sight,” he was quoted as saying. “We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday.”
One can only wonder whether Blaszczak turned a blind eye to the xenophobia and antisemitism, or whether he implicitly condoned them. Whatever the case may be, his response was not only irresponsible and insensitive but downright embarrassing.
The minister of culture, Piotr Glinski, was more attuned to reality. “We do not support such slogans,” he said, adding that “ethnic and racist terminology” do not define “the concept of the Polish nation.” Glinski, however, neglected to mention the anti-Jewish overtones of the march, an oversight that seemed very strange in light of the fact that some three million Polish Jews perished during the Holocaust.
In a reference to “unfortunate incidents” during the parade, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, speculated that provocateurs had sullied it. “Those who want to harm Poland know how to do it,” he said in a rather weak and ineffectual statement.
The Polish Foreign Ministry took up the slack by strongly condemning racist, antisemitic and xenophobic sentiments. But it fell to Polish President Andrzej Duda to say what was needed in forceful language. Declaring “there is no place in Poland” for antisemitism, pathological nationalism and xenophobia, Duda said it must remain open to all its citizens, whether “German, Jewish, Belarusian, Russian, or whatever.”
Poland is in need of such sensible and conciliatory leaders. It should not allow itself to be defined by blinkered politicians like Blaszczak, and it should most certainly be careful not to release mixed messages concerning important issues.
In the meantime, Polish authorities should identify and prosecute the racists who marred last week’s march. These scoundrels, in the name of racism and antisemitism, caused untold damage by besmirching Poland’s good name.
Poland arose from the trash heap of history nearly a century ago, and now it should not let itself be dragged through the mud by racists who do not have its intrinsic interests at heart.