Follow the big issues that shape Polish politics and society by signing up to our weekly newsletter “News from Poland: Democracy at Stake”. It allows you to stay up to speed on developments concerning the ongoing assault on democratic institutions, rule of law and human rights in Poland.
- If we want to win, we must be like knights. I am speaking especially to the (football) fans, because you are the ones who respect the rules. It is you who can lift this nation out of the rubble today and protect us from nihilism, which is coming from the West,' said Robert Bąkiewicz, head of the Independence March Association, in his opening speech. - You must take responsibility for your homeland and your nation. I call on you to do so. Otherwise, we will lose this war.
The Independence March was supposed be motorised
First, the nationalists planned to organise this year's march as usual. However, the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, opposed it and banned the event. His decision was upheld by the court, citing the negative recommendation of the sanitary services. At that time Bąkiewicz announced that this year's march would have a unique formula. Its participants were supposed to drive through the city in a cavalcade of cars and motorbikes.
A convoy was to drive along Jerusalem Avenue, one of the main streets of Warsaw, through the Poniatowski Bridge and onto the other side of the Vistula, before turning back to the city centre. However, not all participants agreed to the idea. Football fan groups announced that they would march anyway and that many would join them. In the end, it happened just as they had announced. After Bąkiewicz's speech, thousands of pedestrians formed a wide march towards the Poniatowski Bridge.
Even before Bąkiewicz spoke, the crowd chanted aggressively: "Fuck Antifa", and firecrackers were exploding around.
During the march, near the de Gaulle roundabout, in front of the Empik store, there was a clash between the masked participants and the police. Part of the crowd and the bystanders started to escape, while the aggressors were throwing firecrackers, flares, bottles and stones at the police officers. The police responded with tear gas. Our reporters saw wounded among both the uniformed forces and the far-right rioters.
Journalists and bystanders harmed by the police
In its official report, police informed that groups of hooligans attacked police officers who were protecting other participants. Additional police reinforcements were sent to intervene. Direct coercive measures were used to restore legal order". Later on, the police admitted that in "individual cases", officers also used smooth bore guns.
Aggressive crowds continued to roll towards the Vistula, throwing firecrackers down between passers-by. Someone from the march threw a flare into the flat adjacent to the bridge. A picture of the apartment in flames became viral. It turned out that the arsonist missed. He aimed at the flat above, which had symbols of the Women's strike and a rainbow flag on its balcony. - Not this flat - the participants of the march screamed on the recording posted on Twitter, after one of them commented that “let that whore burn”.
The most aggressive ones who had previously attacked the police, quickly moved to the other side of the Vistula. While they were reaching the National Stadium, the organisers announced with the megaphone that the march would end up in front of the Stadium. However, there again a clash between the police and aggressive marching groups broke out.
It was at that time that the use of police force became chaotic and indiscriminate, during a clash near Warsaw National Stadium train station. After far-right rioters started to throw rocks at the police, the officers used batons and smooth bore guns not only against them, but also against bystanders, people who just happened to be at the place of the confrontation, as well as several journalists. Renata Kim from Newsweek was hit with a baton while wearing a reflective "media" vest, while our reporter Dominik Łowicki was brutally beaten numerous times and teared gassed despite shouting that he is a member of the press corps. A photoreporter from the right-wing Tygodnik Solidarności Tomas Gutry (pictured above) was struck by a police rubber bullet in the head, just below his eye. Two more reporters - Przemysław Stefaniak and Adam Tuchliński - were also assaulted.
Several dozen aggressors were detained during the clashes
According to the nationalists who organised the march, police was to blame for the clashes, as they behaved "in a provocative manner".
- These comments are not true, lies are circulating around social media. We had to deal with brutality, destruction of property, as well as assault against police officers - we were attacked with stones. It was not a peaceful assembly' said the spokesman of Warsaw police Sylwester Marczak, at a press conference this afternoon.
He informed that the first arrests had already taken place in the area of Anders Street (which is a few kilometres away from where the march was officially taking place). He reported that a group of pseudo-fans attacked policemen with stones and that they were detained there. - Further aggressive behaviour was seen at the de Gaulle'a roundabout where stones and flares were thrown at the officers, spokesman told.
Asked by journalists to comment on the claims of nationalists who argued that on de Gaulle roundabout they were only defending themselves from the attacks carried out by 'Antifa', a spokesman for the Warsaw police answered: - It was the policemen who were attacked. I have no information about the march participants being attacked. At the moment, I deny the claim that any other groups participated in the march. On de Gaulle roundabout and in front of the National Stadium, the police had to face attacks.”
Every day, 400 journalists at Gazeta Wyborcza write verified, fact-checked stories about the coronavirus pandemic for you.
They are on the front lines in 25 Polish cities. They work on the ground, reporting from hospitals and airports.
We have decided to open online access to our news stories and special guides focused on the issue of public health, for free.
The access to information should be equal for all.