Warsaw Court Nixes City Ban on extreme-right independence in March

A Polish court Thursday overturned a Warsaw City ban on a march of extreme right-wing nationalist groups, justifying the decision on constitutional grounds of freedom of assembly.

The decision of Judge Michal Jakubowski is the latest development of controversial, confusing preparations for an independence day march on Sunday in the Polish capital in honor of the 100 years of independence of the country.

Over the past decade, far-right nationalists have organized marches on the 11th Independence Day in Warsaw, and this year the fears of open demonstrations of extremism and possible skirmishes with counterprotecters threatened to overshadow all other events on the country's 100-year calendar.

FILE – Extreme right-wing protesters are marching during the annual extreme right-wing rally, which coincides with Poland's National Independence Day in Warsaw, Poland, November 11, 2014.

Last year, demonstrators carried xenophobic banners expressing the wish for a "White Europe" that drew international criticism, especially several months after a violent gathering of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Polish government officials had been trying for months to persuade the nationalists to make Warsaw an inclusive affair this March that involved state officials without provocative banners, but the two parties disagreed.

On Wednesday, the Mayor of Warsaw stepped in and forbade the march, called security reasons. The president and prime minister then quickly announced that an inclusive state march would take place instead of Sunday along the same route led by President Andrzej Duda and including the Prime Minister, other top leaders and veterans from the Second World War.

After the ruling of the court it was not immediately clear whether both marches proceeded separately or as one.

Uncertainty about security was increased by a massive dropout by policemen in the past days about pay, prompting the government to ask the Ministry of Defense to help with security Sunday. But late on Thursday, a police union announced that it would end the protest after agreeing on a deal with the Ministry of the Interior.

The ruling of the court in Warsaw follows a similar ruling in Wroclaw about a city ban on a nationalist march there for Sunday.

FILE - Riot police is a cordon for the Russian embassy during the annual extreme right march, which coincides with the National Independence Day of Poland, in Warsaw on November 11, 2013.

FILE – Riot police is a cordon for the Russian embassy during the annual extreme right march, which coincides with the National Independence Day of Poland, in Warsaw on November 11, 2013.

City governments still have the right to appeal against the judgments.

Spokesman for the city of Warsaw, Bartosz Milczarczyk, said: "We respect the court's verdict." He said that officials from the town hall were studying it before deciding whether they wanted to appeal.

Crackdown on extremism

Earlier in the day, before the verdict, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the authorities would do everything they could to prevent any expression of extremism during the march.

"We want the march to be peaceful and not cause tensions," Morawiecki told reporters.

His remarks come amidst other signs that Poland's conservative ruling Party for Justice and Justice is now trying to take a stronger stand against ultra-nationalists after a period in which they were trying to appease them.

Extremists from Hungary and elsewhere have in recent years joined Poland's November 11 march, which is intended to regain Poland's independence at the end of the First World War.

Saying that he expected 200,000 participants on Sunday's inclusive march in Warsaw, Morawiecki acknowledged that it would be difficult to keep them all under control, but said "we will try to eliminate all banners that are extremist."

He also said that there will be no tolerance for foreign neo-fascists or other agitators.

Many other centenary events in the First World War are expected all over the country, the most emotionally being the public singing of the national hymn in hundreds of places in the afternoon.