FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2017 file photo, Polish President Andrzej Duda, left, hands new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki the document of his appointment as head of government at a ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. Duda and Morawiecki will be among Polish government officials who will take part in a yearly march organized by nationalist groups on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)

Polish leaders to walk with nationalists on Independence Day

November 10, 2018 - 12:28 pm

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish government and the organizers of a yearly march organized by nationalist groups have agreed to hold a joint march on the 100th anniversary of Poland's rebirth as a state on Sunday.

The announcement late Friday means President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and other state officials will march in the capital with groups whose Nov. 11 march last year included racist banners and white supremacist symbols.

Michal Dworczyk, the head of Morawiecki's chancellery, tweeted that both sides reached an agreement, adding: "Poland won. On Nov. 11 there will be a great communal march to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Independence!"

The deal was also announced by the top march organizer, Robert Bakiewicz. He is a leader of the National Radical Camp, which traces its roots to an anti-Semitic movement of the 1930s.

The development underscores how the ruling Law and Justice party has at times sought to embrace the same base that supports far-right groups. It's a source of controversy in Poland, where many are furious at how radical nationalists came to dominate the Independence Day holiday.

Critics accuse the governing authorities of pandering to the nationalists.

Duda said he wants the participants to walk "under white-and-red flags, under our national colors, under the motto of a free and independent Poland."

The president told Poland's Nasz Dziennik newspaper he wants all the participating groups to leave their individual emblems and banners expressing their particular point of view behind.

Earlier this year, Bakiewicz led a protest in front of Duda's palace during which he called Jews a "fifth column," an expression implying disloyalty to Poland.

Protesters at that rally in February carried a banner that urged Duda, who isn't Jewish, to "Take off your yarmulke" and sign a Holocaust speech bill that was the source of a diplomatic dispute with Israel.

Last year's march in Warsaw was cited in a recent European Parliament resolution that called for member states to act decisively against far-right extremism. It noted the presence at that march of xenophobic banners with slogans such as "white Europe of brotherly nations," and flags depicting the "falanga," a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s.

The announcement of the joint march comes after chaotic days of preparations before the centennial of Poland's independence, which was regained at the end of World War I in 1918 when the three empires — Russia, Austria and Germany — that had ruled Poland for more than a century collapsed in defeat.

The march by the nationalists had become a ritual in the past decade that many Poles criticized as a misguided way of displaying patriotism.

Duda's office and parliamentary officials with the ruling party held talks with march organizers over several months in hopes of reaching an agreement on a joint march. But the discussions broke down because the nationalists refused a demand to have no banners.

On Wednesday, the Warsaw mayor banned the event and state officials quickly announced plans for their own, but the next day a court struck down the ban, saying it violated the constitutional right to freedom of assembly.

The new talks between state officials and the nationalists took place Friday amid confusion over whether there would be two marches or one.

Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, a hero of the anti-communist Solidarity movement of the 1980s, strongly criticized the authorities for what he described as pandering to "bandits" and "fascists."

Law and Justice party spokeswoman Beata Mazurek appealed to all participants to be a "guardian" of order at the march and to report any "provocative behavior" to the police.

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