Nov. 11 marks Poland's Independence Day, which commemorates country's the sovereignty after World War I. But this year's celebrations were tinged with hatred after a crowd of thousands of fascists and nationalists in Warsaw far outnumbered those at government events earlier in the day.
The so-called "Independence March" began at 3 p.m. local time and according to the organizers was the biggest "patriotic" gathering of its kind in Europe. Police estimated about 100,000 people took part in the main march. Many of the participants were young nationalists who were protesting against the European Union and Muslims.
The marchers chanted religious slogans like "God, honor, country" but others called out chants like "pure Poland, white Poland" and "white Europe of brotherly nations." Some xenophobic participants carried signs that said "Islam = Terrorism," waved banners condemning same sex marriage and carried signs of the National Radical Camp, an anti-Semitic organization founded after World War II.
Many of them carried Polish flags and threw red smoke bombs.
One demonstrator said "It was important because religion is important in our country and we don't want Islamization, of Europe or especially Poland."
Many marchers also directed invectives at immigrants, refugees, liberals, leftists and media outlets of the United States.
The violent rally's popularity highlights the deepening divide in Poland's society.
"These people are angry, they are frustrated they are blaming Muslims which are not present in Poland almost at all," said Agata Szczesniak, a journalist form Oko Press told Al Jazeera. "They are also blaming liberal European elites for the failures of the state. They are strongly anti-refugee and anti-immigrant, and strongly nationalist."
A resident of Warsaw, who identified herself only as Alexandra, said she was concerned by the huge amount of people attending far-right rallies.
"I'm saddened by the fact that in recent years Independence Day has become an occasion for violent clashes and the promotion of far-right views," she told Al Jazeera. "What is also worrying is that in comparison to previous years, I can see a lot of very young people, who are a fertile ground for the easy solutions offered by the nationalists."
Beata Szydlo, the prime minister of Poland, who also heads the far-right populist Law and Justice Party said in a news conference that the country was "in favor of an EU where Christian traditions are not censorship."
The Independence March often turns violent and ends in clashes between protesters and the police. However, the level of violence has fallen quite a bit since Law and Justice's Szydlo election victory.
Poland has refused to admit immigrants, claiming Muslims are a threat to their security. Less than 1 percent of Poland's population is Muslim.
Banner / Thumbnail : Agencja Gazeta/Adam Stepien via REUTERS