Analysis: Independence day parades reveal a fractured sense of Polishness

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AS A RULE a national, or independence, day is supposed to bring people together. However, that rule does not apply to Poland. On Polish independence day, 11 November, warring factions sought to lay claim to national symbols and denounce their opponents claims to these as fraudulent.

Sunday afternoon saw a flurry of marches and a huge official procession followed by 20,000 anti-government protesters tramping through Warsaw. Carrying red and white Polish flags, singing the national anthem and chanting “We are Poland” they made it clear they thought they represented the true Poland and they were the true Poles.

In many ways it’s surprising that Poland has such divisions. Ethnic and national minorities are almost non-existent, and just about everyone is Catholic.

But in the 23 years since the end of Communism, a common Polish identity that unites all has struggled to take root. Many Poles were brought up swaddled in religious conservatism and patriotism, and therefore see any government – and its supporters – that undermines their values as treacherous.

Much like the old Communist regimes, Polish governments, and in particular the current one, are seen by some as alien and unrepresentative of Poland, despite all the post-1989 governments having had a democratic mandate.

To re-enforce this those who regard themselves as “true Poles” have adopted, or expropriated, national symbols. On Sunday’s demonstration, mixed in with the flags, was the anchor symbol of Poland’s wartime Home Army, which symbolises Poland’s heroic struggle for survival against foreign occupation, and is a source of immense pride.

But it is now in danger of become a political tool for people who feel that Poland once again is under threat and that those in power work against the national interest.

Indeed, opinion surveys say around a third of Poles believe in some conspiracy theory surrounding the 2010 Smolensk air disaster, which claimed the lives of president Lech Kaczynski and 95 others. Some, including the late president’s brother and opposition leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, take an even harder view calling the crash “murder” and blaming the government in some way.

On Sunday, Bronislaw Komorowski, Poland’s president and officially an apolitical figure, called for national unity. His words came as an acknowledgement of a problem but not everybody will heed them.