60 Thousand Imaginary Fascists in Warsaw

The annual ‘Independence March’ held on Polish Independence Day – November 11 – is the embodiment of the Polish spirit – independent, strong-minded, individualistic, unpredictable. The spirit that drove the Poles to wage a hopeless fight against the Nazis and Soviets in 1939. The same spirit that will not politely yield to whatever EU decision is made in Brussels or Berlin. For which – as usual – they may finally be severely punished. Unfair labeling, distortion, and disinformation in the international media do not bode well for Poland.

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By Maria Juczewska l November 28, 2017

According to the international media, 60 thousand fascists appeared in the streets of Warsaw on Polish Independence Day in the ‘Independence March’ on November 11th. This date, marking the armistice ending the First World War, is commemorated in the UK as Remembrance Day, with the iconic poppy; in the USA as Veterans Day, (previously Armistice Day); and concurrently celebrated as the anniversary of the restoration of Poland’s national sovereignty.

It is impossible to understand Poland if one tries to apply the clichés from his own country formed by his own historical experience. The Polish experience is not the one of the Anglo-Saxon world. No ideology that expects people to become uniform, manageable, disciplined, and obedient could appeal to the feisty Polish spirit. Poland had no Oswald Mosley, no Mitford sisters, no fascist union. Thus, the characterization of the annual ‘Independence March’ in Warsaw as ‘fascist’ is as gross a distortion of reality as calling America’s Veterans Day parades ‘fascist’ marches.

In celebrating national sovereignty, Polish Independence Day marks the end of 123 years of partitions. The partitions ended the existence of a multi-ethnic polity that lasted between 1385 and 1795. Known as the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth for the majority of that time period, the polity was a unique political entity widely known for its system of noble democracy, inclusiveness and religious tolerance for all denominations. It achieved the zenith of its power in the 16th and 17th centuries. Finally, the Commonwealth was undermined by internal weaknesses and subversion of the surrounding powers and partitioned between Austria, Prussia, and Russia at the end of the 18th century.

With Poland no longer appearing on the map of Europe, nationalism became a tool that allowed the Poles to preserve their national identity and eventually regain independence in the 20th century.

Long centuries of coexistence in a multi-ethnic federal state shaped the identity of people inhabiting the areas of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Poland has always been inclusive and directed towards co-existence and multiculturalism. The main criterion for being Polish thus became the willingness to serve Poland, understood as a community of people accepting the spiritual heritage of the Polish nation (literature, art, customs, politics) as their own. Anybody could become Polish, if they chose to serve the honorable cause.

As a result, nationalism in Poland of the 1920s and the 1930s was never based on the criterion of bloodline put forward by Nazism or social class proposed by communism. The majority of nationalist Polish organizations had a strong Christian element, which prevented them from becoming totalitarian. Although anti-Semitism was present in the political life of Poland in the interwar period, it was related not to race, as such, but to socio-economic factors and the dominance of Jews in certain professions. The fact that many leftist Jews supported Communism did not improve internal relations in Poland either. After all, the Soviet Union was a lethal threat to the existence of the reborn Poland.

However, all those concerns did not matter anymore when the Second World War broke out. Seeing that Jews were facing planned biological extinction under the Nazi German occupation, Poles of all political views, also the nationalists, came to their rescue.

Members of the Polish nationalist organizations were not only providing false identity documents, food stamps or hide outs to their Jewish acquaintances but also organizing larger rescue operations.

For instance, one that allowed for placement of children smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto into orphanages managed by Catholic nuns. It was supervised by Jan Dobraczynski, a writer and a supporter of the Christian nationalist movement in the interwar period.

Another example is Jan Mosdorf, one of the founders of the radically Polish nationalist ONR and a confirmed anti-Semite before the Second World War. Yet, in 1940 he was arrested by the Gestapo and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. While in the camp, he became involved in the creation of an underground support organization, providing additional food rations and other kinds of help to Jewish prisoners. Denounced by a “kapo,” he was executed at the camp for helping Jews in 1943. During the war, in occupied Poland, many “former anti-Semites” sacrificed their lives to help the Jews.

Today in Poland, the youth harken back to the ideals of Polish interwar organizations.

However, it needs to be made absolutely clear that the Polish nationalism of the interwar period had nothing to do with fascism, as the National Socialism of Nazi Germany is presently known.

Poland was the first country that fell prey to the joint aggression of Nazi Germany and Communist Russia in 1939, precisely because it rejected the acceptance of Nazism or Communism. Occupied by two totalitarian powers propelled by socialist ideologies, one national and one international, Poles paid a high price for their refusal to yield to one or the other.

Half of the territory lost, one third of the population killed, and the remaining two thirds trapped behind the Iron Curtain for fifty years. Concentration camps used to exterminate Jews and other minorities, as well as the Poles during the war, were used after the war by the Communists to murder the remaining Polish independence fighters.

For 50 years, every decade, Poles would stand up against the Communist regime in Poland calling for basic civil rights and liberties. The Solidarity movement that greatly contributed to the fall of USSR was partly based on the ideas of the nation and civil duties formed by the Polish nationalists of the interwar period. This is the tradition to which the ‘Independence March’ held on Independence Day refers.

As a result, there is no fascist tradition in Poland that could inspire the young Poles of today.

Nazi German occupation of Poland was such a societal trauma that no ordinary Pole would willingly associate with the ideals of national socialism or venture into the Polish streets in a brown uniform. What Poles celebrate by marching in the streets of Warsaw on Independence Day is their political freedom. Their right to live in liberty in their own country. They commemorate the independence fighters who lost their lives in the first years of Soviet rule involving the planned extermination of the Polish underground. They also contest the political situation in the present-day European Union. A considerable majority of them are regular Polish patriots. Some may have more nationalist leanings. A fraction of them may be radical – but they would comprise a drop in the proverbial bucket among the vast sea of people.

The annual ‘Independence March’ held on Polish Independence Day – November 11 – is the embodiment of the Polish spirit – independent, strong-minded, individualistic, unpredictable. The spirit that drove the Poles to wage a hopeless fight against the Nazis and Soviets in 1939. The same spirit that will not politely yield to whatever EU decision is made in Brussels or Berlin. For which – as usual – they may finally be severely punished. Unfair labeling, distortion, and disinformation in the international media do not bode well for Poland.


Maria Juczewska is an MA candidate in International Affairs at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC where she works for the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies. Ms. Juczewska is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.

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