WARSAW, Poland (AP) — The Polish president has sharply condemned expressions of xenophobia and racism at a weekend march by nationalists, saying there is no place in the country for anti-Semitism and "sick nationalism."
It was the strongest and first unequivocal condemnation by a representative of the country's conservative leadership of the white supremacist and racist views expressed by some of the 60,000 people who took part in a march on the Independence Day holiday Saturday in Warsaw.
Government members over the past two days had mostly described participants as patriots and played down the nature of the xenophobic messages. Though many families took part in the march, the event was organized by far-right groups and some carried banners with slogans like "White Europe of brotherly nations" or had flags with Celtic crosses, a white supremacist symbol.
There were also anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim slogans and chants. One large banner read "Deus Vult" in Gothic lettering. Latin for "God wills it," it was a cry used during the First Crusade in the 11th century, when a Christian army from Europe slaughtered Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land. In recent years, it has been used by the radical right to show hostility to Islam.
President Andrzej Duda said that "there is no place in Poland" for xenophobia, pathological nationalism and anti-Semitism and that the country must remain a land of open to all who want to come together and work for the good of the nation.
He said it makes no difference if a person's father was "German, Jewish, Belarusian, Russian, or whatever."
Later Monday, the leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said there were "unfortunate incidents" during the march, but he described them as a "marginal problem."
Kaczynski also said he thinks there could have been a "provocation."
"Those who want to harm Poland know how to do it," he said without specifying who might have tried to bait the marchers.
Some Poles would likely interpret the remark as a reference to Russia, which has been accused of interfering in Poland to create instability.
Earlier, the Foreign Ministry had said it strongly condemned racist, anti-Semitic and xenophobic ideas, but insisted the march was largely an expression of patriotic feeling, calling it "a great celebration of Poles, differing in their views, but united around the common values of freedom and loyalty to an independent homeland."
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon called the event "a dangerous march of extreme and racist elements."
"We hope that Polish authorities will act against the organizers," Nahshon said in a statement to The Associated Press. "History teaches us that expressions of racist hate must be dealt with swiftly and decisively."
Agnieszka Markiewicz, director of Warsaw office of the American Jewish Committee, a global Jewish advocacy group, said the holiday "was seriously marred by hateful, far-right throngs that threaten the core values of Poland and its standing abroad."
On Monday, a small group of civic rights activists also protested what they saw as the authorities' failure to respond properly to the behavior of the nationalists. In a really in front of Warsaw city hall they chanted "Warsaw free from fascism!" One man held a banner saying, "Poland, wake up. Fascism is coming." They then proceeded to a police station to protest there too.
Aron Heller in Jerusalem contributed to this report.