A nationalist demonstration in Poland’s capital city is held every year on November 11, during the National Independence Day. It became a controversial patriotic celebration of the country’s national day. The mayor of Warsaw tried to block it during the Covid-19 pandemic but the minister of Justice has raised the case to the Supreme Court.
On October 29, the Court of Appeal of Poland confirmed a district Court ruling refusing to recognize the “March of Independence” as a cyclical event.
This “Independence Day march” is a demonstration in Poland held every November 11. Initiated by far-right nationalists, it has been formally organized by the March of Independence Association since 2010.
The slogans for the march were “Poland for Poles, Poles for Poland” in 2015, “We want God” in 2017, or “Our civilization, our principles” in 2020. The conservative movement is often controversial and violent, too.
But another point makes it a sensitive protest in Poland. November 11 is the National Independence Day, a Polish national day.
And despite a military parade in the capital, the March of Independence has become the symbol of Poland’s celebration of patriotism.
Moreover, Polish laws make that no other demonstration than the Independence Day march has been allowed to be organized on that same day in Warsaw over the last three years.
But the mayor of Warsaw has been trying to block it.
The Independence Day march with a special status
The March of Independence actually benefited from the status of a “cyclical assembly” in the past years, which has a special treatment. More importantly, a special assembly takes precedence on other public manifestations. For instance, the status restricts another assembly from being organized at the same time in the city.
In order to become a cyclical assembly, the same demonstration needs to be organized by the same entity at least once a year during the last 3 years, or 4 times a year, and celebrate an important event in the history of the Republic of Poland.
For a gathering to be granted this status, higher than the status of usual demonstrations, an approval and permit from the province governor, the voivode, is required.
The March of Independence Association asked for renewing its permit last September. The voivode of Masovia, the province of Warsaw, then granted the special status until 2023.
But the mayor of Warsaw appealed the voivode’s decision. The District Court of Warsaw overturned the renewal of the permit. The Court of Appeal then further confirmed the Court’s ruling.
“If nationalists gather on 11/11, it will be illegal” wrote the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, on Twitter.
In fact, because of the Covid-19 pandemic and until November 30, Poland is currently restricting assemblies to a maximum of 150 people.
“There is no room for the excess of nationalists“, further justified the member of Civic Platform, a center-right political party.
He also called out the right-wing populist party of the President of Poland for letting “our common national holiday to be appropriated by extreme nationalist forces“.
The minister of Justice raises the case up to the Supreme Court
For Konstanty Radziwiłł, voivode of Masovia appointed by the Prime Minister in 2019, being able to demonstrate is part of citizens’ fundamental rights, in spite of other citizens who may disagree about the purpose of the demonstration.
The Court of Warsaw justified its decision by considering that the march didn’t happen in 2020. As a matter of fact, public gathering of more than 5 people was forbidden amid the Covid-19 pandemic. As such, the mayor of Warsaw banned the organization of the march.
But to circumvent the ban, the association decided to go down the streets inside their cars and on motorbikes instead. Although it was illegal, several thousand protestors walked down the streets. Incidents led to the arrest of 306 people.
On November 5, the minister of Justice raised the case up to the Supreme Court of Poland and asked the Court of Appeal of Warsaw to suspend its decision, rejecting the mayor’s jurisdiction for the appeal. Moreover, for the Public Prosecutor General, that the demonstration was banned – given exceptional circumstances – didn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Nationalists still count on demonstrating. The organization registered the march as an ordinary assembly. The slogan for 2021 is “Independence is not for sale“.