On the 11th of November, Warsaw saw Independence Day celebrations take the dual form of an Independence March and the blockade of that march. Conflict was in the air throughout the day.
On the 11th of November, Warsaw saw Independence day celebrations take the dual form of an Independence March and the blockade of that march. Conflict was in the air throughout the day. After hours of preparation and peaceful beginnings, things seemed ripe to get out of hand. Fortunately, scarcely anybody got seriously hurt and by the time nationalist militants broke loose to traverse the streets of the capital after the march, most protesters were lucky to get to places of safety.
The participants of the Independence March comprised the usual easily identifiable quasi-fascist mix of nationalists and hooligans, almost all of whom were young males hiding faces beneath scarfs and balaclavas. On top of that, a bunch of populist rightist intellectuals, their ideas compatible with the movement's mysoginist and racist tendencies. Amounting to several thousand in number (from 6 to 20, depending on the media outlet consulted), they gathered on Plac Konstytucji (Constitution Square). Masses of others - especially hools arriving from outside Warsaw - approached the blocking groups from the opposite direction, incoming from Pałac Kultury (Palace of Culture). Armed in white and red flags, baseball clubs, sticks and petards, they were ready for urban combat and determined to make it happen.
The opposition consisted of a variety of leftists of different stripes, liberals, Antifa, and ordinary families with children. Together they represented a barely co-ordinated attempt at a counter-nationalist blockade. Around 2000 people, all in all. Some were ready to mask their faces out of concern for being photographed by nationalists who relish in creating Internet databases of their hated leftist enemies. During the preparations to the event, a couple of inner divisions had been effected, and it was not very obvious whether Kolorowa Niepodległa (the Colorful Independent), the mild-tempered yet vocal fraction attracting many celebrities and bystanders, would be part of the blockade. In any case, Kolorowa took pains not to step out of watered-down liberal message of promoting tolerance and nonviolence. Political radicalism, present among socialists and anarchists scattered around the place, was scrupulously avoided on Kolorowa's platform which created an atmosphere resembling a neighborhood family fare. The protesters seemed uncomfortable at the though of being part of this awkward coalition. A truly colorful variety.
Much thanks, counter-intultively to anarchist antipathy towards them, need to be given to the police. It was thanks to the efforts of the police squads - which far outnumbered both the blockers and the quasi-fascists - that the blockade was not crushed. Were it not for the police, only our remains would have been left of us to be picked off the street. On the other hand, we were lucky the police were not given orders that would have been unfavorable to the majority of the protesters. There is nothing inherent in the institution of police that is sympathetic towards the left. In fact, the opposite may well be true. But, as fulfilling orders is usually a matter of paramount importance, this time our demise was spared. In faltering Western liberal democracies, societies tend to become increasingly policed by the state. State security forces will not protect radicals. To think otherwise would be a grave error of judgement. As radicals we ultimately aim at abolishing the social injustice perpetrated by both capital and the state administrative apparatus. Colonized by capital, the state is the ultimate guarantor of the status quo. Yet, this is where we are today, fated to rely on the forces wish to oppose.
This dependence on the state to defend the protesters itself clearly attests to the weakness of the anti-fascists coalition. Granted, individual physical prowess has not been given primary importance in the left tradition, as it has with fascism. We are too busy fighting off social crises and educating ourselves to spend whole days in the gym. But surely our lack of preparedness to retaliate against forces which do not respond well to reasoned argument is telling of our lack of consciousness, the efforts of scattered Antifa notwithstanding.
Repeated slogans stressing that the protest was peaceful came repeatedly from Kolorowa's platform and the crowd itself. And it was. Despite immensely confused media coverage, it was the nationalists who engaged their improvised weapons to attack the police. While we were bored on our side, having only the Samba Rhythms Of Resistance to cheer us up and raise our suspiciously low blood-pressure, we observed a regular riot down the street at Plac Konstytucji.
To sticks, paint bombs, fire-crackers flying in the air, the police responded by using their shields, batons and a water cannon. The nationalists were finally getting the thrill they had been looking for. Having destroyed cars, including police and TV station vans, ripped sett from the pavement to throw at the police, about 210 people were arrested. Warsaw municipal agencies have estimated the damage in Plac Konstytucji to amount to over 140, 000 zł (almost $ 50,000). An unspecified but reportedly high percentage were drunk. I should know, I traveled with a bunch of boozing nationalists on the train to Warsaw the night before to attend the blockade. According to Minister of Justice Krzysztof Kwiatkowski, many of the arrested are said to be foreign rightists. They came to support their Polish counterparts in a mind-boggling act of internationalist (!) solidarity.
Aside from the nationalists, about 100 Antifa members from Germany are said to have been arrested pro forma, despite not having engaged in offensive action, beyond the central site of the march. Apparently, they were simply found mobilizing a block or two from Marszałkowska street. And Marszałkowska was the only place where it was legal to block the march. The immediate rationale of the blockade had been to prevent the march from reaching the statue via that particular street. To this end, it was a success. Unable to cross there, however, the quasi-fascists took a route around and ultimately reached their designated destination, the statue of Roman Dmowski, a popular early 20th-century Polish nationalist (and an object of much mythologizing and sentiment on the far right). There, with police presence being less focused, the nationalists were more free to roam the streets. By then, Antifa members had been arrested, to be released a day or two later with no charges against them.
Being in the crowd after the blockade had been pronounced a victory felt positively weird. "We won", it could be heard from Kolorowa's platform at some point. That announcement was accompanied by warnings of how dangerous it was to try and return home, and that it was safer to stay in the street under the watchful eye of the police for the time being. It turned out to be true. As could have been expected, the end of the official march was only a beginning of the aggro. Haunting the streets of the capital throughout the evening, nationalists and hooligans were looking for ways to vent their frustration. By then most of the protesters had found safety indoors. However, a few hours later I got news about groups of protesters being beaten by rightist thugs on the subway. How about that, Victory...
The police were still out in the streets, reportedly anxious to avoid direct confrontation with the thugs. About 40 police officers got slightly injured throughout the day, and a couple were put in hospital with more serious injuries.
On a more careful analysis, the day's events should stimulate reflection on the increasing prevalence of reactionary ideas among Poles. It should also help observers realize that the liberal consensus is decidedly insufficient to combat the far right, always prone to express implicit racist, sexist, provincial sentiment implicit in the larger society. The major goal of the radical left, the anti-capitalist left, the only true left, should be to awaken from their slumber those segments of society which might otherwise be easily mobilized towards conservative and fascist politics and ideology. Conservatism has many faces, and only one of them is liberal. It guards the interests of privileged elites with the help of ill-educated, hateful masses. The others, fueled by fear, are even uglier and ever ready to reveal themselves through increasingly more daring exhibitions of violence against all those outside the narrow purview of the fascist mind.
In turn, it is essential to remember and to stress that "fascism is but one of the faces of capitalism", as one of the banners on the blockade pronounced. For a few hundred years, capitalism has been showed down the throats of societies across the globe. It has created cavernous social divisions and drawn strength from the muscle of the working class. It could also rely on the support of the frustrated middle class, simultaneously aspiring to its riches and fearful of falling into poverty common among workers and peasants. It is the state and the capitalist system that needed the concept of "nation" to be crystallized and spread. It is capitalism that comfortably mingled with nazi and fascist regimes before and during WWII. And it is capitalism, this immensely resilient and naturalized system of oppression, that creates the social pathology which enables fascist sentiment today. The quasi-fascists remain blind to the real, material roots of their oppression. They forget that it is capitalism which eliminates and has always eliminated boundaries to drown out its insatiable hunger to the detriment of the people involved.