Thousands joined a march by nationalist groups in Poland’s capital Warsaw in what organisers described as the “largest patriotic demonstration in Europe”.
Participants carried Poland’s white-and-red flag and some burned flares and held Celtic crosses as they marched along a route leading from the city centre to the National Stadium on Saturday.
The event, held every year as Poland celebrates its Independence Day holiday, took place less than a month after the pro-European opposition secured a majority in parliamentary elections.
While many patriotic events take place across the nation of 38 million each year, the yearly Independence March has come to dominate news coverage because it has sometimes been marred by xenophobic slogans and violence.
The event has, in the past drawn, far-right sympathisers from other European countries, including Hungary and Italy. Among those taking part this year was Paul Golding, the leader of Britain First, a small far-right party in the United Kingdom.
Football supporters were prominent among the marchers, some holding banners with far-right slogans. Anti-abortion rights groups were also present at the event, where Christian symbols were on display.
Police removed climate protesters who placed themselves along the route of the march.
This year’s event was attended by some 40,000 and passed off peacefully, the Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, said.
It came as nationalist forces have seen their worldview rejected by voters. In October’s election, voters turned out in huge numbers to embrace centrist, moderate conservative, and left-wing parties after eight years of rule by a nationalist conservative party that was at odds with the European Union.
In recent years, the annual Independence March has attracted up to 250,000 participants.
The lower turnout was the result of internal splits between leaders of the rally, as well as of a spectacular electoral defeat suffered last month by the far-right Confederation Party, which is traditionally allied with the event.
The party won just 18 seats in the 460-seat Sejm, the Polish parliament. Meanwhile, Law and Justice (PiS), the governing right-wing nationalist party whose leaders joined the march in the past, won the most votes but fell short of a parliamentary majority.
Many on the political right believe that the results of the election, in which the coalition of the liberal Civic Platform, conservative Third Way, and left-wing Lewica came out as winners, will lead to the gradual erosion of the country’s independence.
“We can expect – with a high probability – a change in EU treaties, which will affect Poland’s sovereignty and Poland’s independence in the international arena, and in particular within the [European Union],” Bartosz Malewski, head of the Independence March association, told reporters in October.
“This slogan also expresses our position on the need to emphasise sovereignty and the threat to sovereignty.”
Other march participants agree.
Grzegorz Cwik, from the nationalist Niklot association, told Al Jazeera he fears the “federalisation of the European Union, cuts of military spending, and dismantling of social programmes”.
On Friday, the country’s opposition parties signed a coalition deal, paving the way for them to form a new government after winning the majority of votes last month. But they will have to wait.
President Andrzej Duda has given PiS, which took more votes than any single party in the elections, the first shot at forming a government.
Donald Tusk, the opposition coalition’s candidate to be the next prime minister, appealed for national unity in a message on X, stressing that the holiday is one that belongs to all Poles.
“If someone uses the word nation to divide and sow hatred, he is acting against the nation,” said Tusk, who did not join the march. “Today, our nation is celebrating independence. The whole nation, all of Poland.”
The Independence Day holiday celebrates 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.