Dorothy Cummings McLean
November 17, 2017
LifeSiteNews — Here’s a thought experiment. It’s Fourth of July. You live in Virginia, so you decide to pack your family into the car and go to Washington D.C., for a big parade. All Americans — and people who love America — have been invited to march. Everybody. Maybe about 100,000 people turn out for the Washington parade — maybe 60,000. The numbers will be debated later, but of course it’s just one celebration among thousands of Fourth of July celebrations across the country.
There are men, women, children, teens, priests, nuns and veterans at this parade, most of them holding American flags. There’s also an enormous pro-life contingent there, holding banners demanding that the government abolish Roe v. Wade. Others hold banners praising the heroes of the American Revolution and those who have fallen in battles since to keep America free. Noisy boys light firecrackers, and occasionally parts of the crowd break into song. To the dismay of foreign visitors, several citizens are open-carrying handguns. But it’s fun for all the family — except that there are bands of white supremacists — mostly young men — appearing here and there.
The white supremacists hold up unpleasant, racist signs, hoping to get the attention they crave and — bingo! Journalists snap their photos. These dominate in left-wing, anti-Trump coverage of the Fourth of July celebrations the next day. Not only that, these photos — and photos taken of even worse displays at other parades — appear in newspapers across the world.
“Tens of Thousands of Racist Americans Protest in Capital,” the foreign headlines say. “Americans Cry for Pure Blood Again!”
Worldwide, pundits who speak barely a word of English but have been in touch with conveniently multi-lingual American journalists, hunker down to condemn America and their tolerance for this “far-right-wing rally.” Professional anti-Americans get a lot of airtime.
Sounds pretty ludicrous, doesn’t it? But that is exactly what has been going on in the last week, in these past few days following Poland’s Independence Day.
Out of all the English-language journalists who have been writing about Warsaw’s annual Independence Day March, I know of only one who has accompanied Polish crowds marching in it: me, your humble correspondent.
White supremacists a tiny minority
I was at the Marsz Niepodległości last year, hoping to report on it for Catholic World Report. I spent the night before in the nearby Hotel Polonia Palace, and before the parade I managed to squeeze into the Independence Day Mass at Saint Barbara’s Church. My nerves felt slightly frayed from all the petards being set off. From morning until night, the concrete canyon that is Warsaw’s Jerusalem Avenue echoed and re-echoed with the noise of the explosions so dear to the hearts of young Polish men. The flares gave off red and white smoke, which provided the noisy lads with a patriotic excuse: these are the colours of the Polish flag.
Saint Barbara’s Church was absolutely packed. Somehow people managed to wiggle in and wiggle out with a minimum of disturbance, and the patient crowds listened silently to the long homily — which featured an overview of Polish history — and most stayed even after Mass for the long speeches of thanks. As far as I could tell, everyone but me was Polish. This made me a little nervous, too, but only because I have always lived in much more multicultural cities. When you’re used to multiculturalism, monoculturalism looks strange.
After Mass, I found a Polish friend, and after a quick lunch — during which he rejoiced in the recent election of President Trump — we joined the indescribably long parade. Petards went off every few minutes, making me jump. All around me, families with children, elderly people, teenagers chatted or sang in the cold, sleety weather. I saw a massive Polish flag — possibly the size of an urban back yard — being carried flat by various people, including a priest. And I heard young men chanting, joining in with chants begun by other young men holding microphones. The chants I heard most often were “Bóg, Honor, Ojczyzna!” (God, honor, motherland) and “Cześć I chwała bohaterom” (Reverence and glory to the heroes).
I also saw young people with green flags, and was told only that there were “hard-core” patriots. And I saw many pro-life banners, held by people protesting that abortion is still legal in Poland. And then, to my horror, I saw the white Celtic cross on black background flag of white supremacists the world over, and suddenly wished I was thousands of miles away.
I felt my stomach flip again at an enormous rally after the march when — after speeches by anti-fascist Polish war veterans — an Italian skinhead, Roberto Fiore, addressed the crowd. Later, when I found out who Fiore was, I was shocked by the irony of an Italian neo-Fascist addressing a patriotic Polish crowd. Almost everybody in it was wearing the armband of Poland’s anti-Nazi Home Army.
So, yes, there were white supremacists at the Warsaw Independence Day March in 2016, and nobody is denying that there were white supremacists there in 2017. However, these unpleasant people were, in both years, a tiny percentage of the crowds overall. Speaking to NPR, Artur Rosman of the Notre Dame University’s Church Life Journal estimated them at “a maximum of 1 percent.”
Poles told for years to leave patriotism at home
The crowds I saw were typical of the Polish Independence March, I was told today by Przemysław Sycz. He was at last year’s and this year’s March. His experience tallies with mine that they include “young people, families with children — sometimes very little children — grandparents, priests, religious sisters, veterans of World War II, veterans of the battle against Communism.”
“The Marches have an incredible atmosphere and build the spirit of the nation,” he wrote, “raising pride in the achievements of our ancestors and mobilizing us for sustained work for the good of Poland.”
Sycz thinks the Marches are very important because, from 1990 until recently, Poles have been told to leave their patriotism at home and “in social life to be guided by what is supposed to be the attainment of maximum liberalism.”
“This has changed thanks to the Independence March, and this most of all frightens today’s European elite and the left-wing liberal media,” Sycz continued. “They fear that for many years already the Independence March has not been just a three-hour event in the streets of Warsaw but the daily work of its participants … in raising patriotic consciousness.”
He blames left-wing Polish media for the fake news about the March that has spread around the world. He wrote that what a few people do in a crowd of tens of thousands shouldn’t “be projected onto all the March participants.”
“I strongly protest that the March is often called fascist, and that its participants are called fascist, and I remind [everyone] that combatants who fought against Nazi Germany in the Second World War take part in the March.”
Artur Rosman told NPR that he was tempted to call the “fairly selective” American and British news coverage of the Independence March “fake news.”
“The ‘Pray for the Islamic Holocaust’ banner that was supposedly flying from a bridge … As sad as I am to say this, there was such a banner, but that was in 2015,” said Rosman. “And I believe that the people behind it were actually prosecuted.”
He pointed out that in the Guardian coverage of the Independence March 2017 story, “the initial coverage that everyone picked up on,” the photograph displayed is of a banner reading “Armia Krajowa” (Poland’s wartime Home Army).
“So ironically enough,” said Rosman, “as they are reporting on the [so-called] ‘biggest fascist rally in all of Europe,’ the people who are pictured are holding up a banner that refers to the largest anti-fascist group in all of Europe during World War II.”
Rosman is not unaware that there are white supremacists in Poland. However, he claims that there are far more of them in Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Russia. Poland is less likely to harbor neo-fascists, he says, because of the wholly anti-fascist history of Poland during World War II.
While talking to the NPR, Rosman was reluctant to go along with the interviewer’s characterization of the Independence March as “far-right.”
“I have a really hard time with the far-right label,” he said. “The far-right has no political representation in Poland.”
The writer also decried media attempts to drive a wedge between President Duda and Jarosław Kaczyński, de facto leader of the country’s ruling “Law and Justice” party: “The distinction doesn’t hold when you actually look at the reality,” Rosman said.
Meanwhile, Duda, Kaczyński, and also Archbishop Gadęcki, president of the Polish Bishops Conference, have all condemned the racist messages of the white supremacist minority. President Duda called them “sick nationalism” and said there was no place in Poland for xenophobia. Kaczyński said the racist banners were “disgraceful rubbish” and “evil” and that “Polish tradition has nothing to do with racism.” Archbishop Gadęcki said that while some of the slogans of the March, like “We Want God” were completely unobjectionable, sentiments like “White Europe” are “ignoble” and racist.
Polish Church and Polish State are united in their condemnations of the ugly sentiments offered by creeps for the delectation of the scandal-hungry press.
Unfortunately, these realities are unlikely to be transmitted by the mainstream media to western readers who, unable to read Polish, depend entirely on English-language sources. For example, Father Thomas Rosica of Salt+Light Television, a sometimes media consultant for the Holy See, recently posted this screed on Facebook:
How quickly Poland forgot about World Youth Day 2016 when the nation welcomed the world. Something is terribly wrong in Polish society and scenes like this do not merely portray a small minority of fanatics amidst a larger group of people celebrating Polish independence. Such scenes send shock waves around the world. Where is the Polish Church in all of this? Where is their voice? Where is their support of Pope Francis’ plea to build bridges and not walls and the Pope’s invitation to welcome strangers?
The Church in Poland, famously, maintains a most conservative interpretation of Amoris Laetitia.
Questions for reflection
Why has the western media decided to focus on a handful of white supremacists marching at this year’s Independence Day parade? It is easy to see why left-wing media outlets like the Gazeta (newspaper) Wyborcza and disgruntled Poles who do piecework for the Guardian want to do so: to embarrass the ruling “Law and Justice” party government. But the reasons English-language media have for swallowing their fantasies of jack-booted Poles are less obvious.
Artur Rosman suggested that Poland is a scapegoat, and that the narrative that Poland is awful makes Americans feel better about their own problems: the disturbing scenes in Charlottesville, for example.
However, I suspect it is because Poland is different, and non-Poles have a hard time understanding why Poland just does not knuckle under to their ideas about modernity and become more like France. The majority of Poles are Catholics, and therefore Poland is still a very Catholic country: one of the only countries of which this can be said. Poland is pro-life, pro-child and pro-family. Poland has lost her borders too many times to give up control over who gets to cross them. Poland remembers foreign attempts to destroy her physically, and she’ll be damned if she’ll let foreigners destroy her spiritually, either.
Dorothy Cummings McLean is a Canadian journalist, essayist, and novelist. She earned an M.A. in English Literature from the University of Toronto and an M.Div./S.T.B. from Toronto’s Regis College. She was a columnist for the Toronto Catholic Register for nine years and regularly contributes to Catholic World Report. Her first book, Seraphic Singles, was published by Novalis (2010) in Canada, Liguori in the USA, and Homo Dei in Poland. Her second, Ceremony of Innocence, was published by Ignatius Press (2013). Dorothy lives near Edinburgh, Scotland with her husband.