Tens of thousands marched in Warsaw on Saturday during a march organized by nationalist groups as Poland celebrated Independence Day, 105 years after the country regained its statehood at the end of World War I.
The participants carried Poland’s white and red flags and some burned flares as they walked from the city centre to the National Stadium.
While many patriotic events take place in the country of 38 million on November 11, the annual Independence March has come to dominate news coverage as xenophobic slogans and violence have sometimes marred it.
Warsaw Mayor Rafał Trzaskowski said this year’s event attracted about 40,000 participants and was peaceful.
The far-right Confederation party, ideologically linked to the Independence March, won only 18 seats in the 460-seat Sejm. Meanwhile, Law and Justice, the ruling right-wing nationalist party whose leaders have joined the March in the past, won the most votes but failed to form a parliamentary majority.
Donald Tusk, the winning coalition’s candidate for the next prime minister, called for national unity in his Independence Day message, emphasizing that the holiday belongs to all Poles.
“If someone uses the word ‘nation’ to divide and sow hatred, they act against the nation. Today, our nation celebrates independence. The whole nation, the whole of Poland,” said Tusk, who did not join the March.
Independence Day marks the restoration of Poland’s national sovereignty in 1918, at the end of World War I and after 123 years of rule by Prussia, Austria and Russia.
“For us, Poles, this day, November 11, is a day of joy, a day of pride, a day of glory, a day when we remember with excitement that after 123 years of non-existence, our country, Poland, has been reborn,” President Andrzej Duda said in a speech at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Duda warned that Russian imperialism once again threatens not only Ukraine but also the wider region.
“Russian imperialism will go further: it will want to capture more nations, taking away their freedom and their states,” Duda said.
Poland has been a vigorous supporter of Ukraine since the start of the Russian full-scale invasion and provided much military aid.
In September and October, relations between Ukraine and Poland became strained just before the Polish elections and were overshadowed by the grain crisis.