​Tens of thousands of nationalists marched in a demonstration organized by far-right groups in Warsaw on Saturday, as Poles celebrated their country's Independence Day.

The far-right march was one of many events marking Poland's rebirth as a nation in 1918 after being wiped off the map for 123 years. Earlier in the day, President Andrzej Duda presided over state ceremonies also attended by European Union president Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister.

But the march has become the largest Independence Day event in recent years, overshadowing official state observances and other patriotic events. Some participants expressed sympathy for xenophobic or white supremacist ideas, with one banner reading, "White Europe of brotherly nations." A participant who was interviewed on state broadcaster TVP said he was taking part "to remove Jewry from power."

Participants marched under the slogan "We want God," words from an old Polish religious song that U.S. President Donald Trump quoted during a visit to Warsaw earlier this year. Speakers talked of standing against liberals and defending Christian values.

Many carried the national white and red flag. Others set off flares and firecrackers, filling the air with red smoke. Some held banners for the National Radical Camp, a Polish nationalist group active in the 1930s and known for anti-Semitic actions.


Polish President Andrzej Duda attends a ceremony commemorating Independence Day at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Warsaw on Saturday. (Pawel Supernak/EPA-EFE)

March attracts far-right leaders from elsewhere

Police estimated 60,000 people took part.

The march has become one of the largest such demonstrations in Europe, and on Saturday it drew far-right leaders from elsewhere in Europe, including Tommy Robinson from Britain and Roberto Fiore from Italy.

State broadcaster TVP, which reflects the conservative government's line, called it a "great march of patriots," and in its broadcasts described the event as one that drew mostly regular Poles expressing their love of Poland, not extremists.

"It was a beautiful sight," Interior Minister Mariusz Blaszczak said. "We are proud that so many Poles have decided to take part in a celebration connected to the Independence Day holiday."

A smaller counter-protest by an anti-fascist movement also took place. Organizers were keeping the two groups apart to prevent violence.

Independence Day marks Poland regaining its sovereignty at the end of the First World War after being partitioned and ruled since the late 18th century by Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Duda oversaw ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, walking past a military guard before the raising of the flags and cannon salutes. After delivering a speech he took part in a wreath-laying ceremony, praying and crossing himself at the monument to all unknown soldiers killed fighting for the country.

Tusk, who attended at Duda's invitation, also paid his respects at the monument.

Ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski noted that Poland has not always been fully independent since 1918, a reference to Germany's occupation during the Second World War and the decades spent under Moscow's direction during the Cold War.

Still, he said: "The Polish state was internationally recognized the whole time and that is a great achievement."