Warsaw ablaze

Updated: Aug 27, 2019


Photo by Ada Zielinska

11th of November 2018. 315th day of the year. 50 days until we reach 2019, with new goals, new resolutions, and yet another wave of “new year, new me” memes.

11th of November 2018. Children’s Day in Croatia, King’s birthday in Bhutan, Remembrance Day in the United Kingdom. This day means a lot for many nations of the world, but in Poland, where I am from, it is primarily the National Independence Day.


11th of November 1918. Poland regains independence from the German, Russian and Austrian Empires. Before the restoration of our sovereignty, due to the end of the First World War, Poland ceased to exist as a country, incorporated in its occupators terrains for 123 years.


This event sets thousands of people off to celebrate freedom, commemoration of those who fought for the country’s independence, and national values, no wonder why this date became such an important date in the Polish calendar.


Only lately, the national values seem to have become much more nationalist and xenophobic than they were before. Starting on the 11th of November 2008. Nationalist organizations of National Radical Camp (ONR) and All-Polish Youth, supported by other far-right groups, begin a new “tradition” of the March of Independence.


Misleading as the name is, independence is mainly voiced by chanting slogans like “Death to enemies of the homeland” or “The gospel, not the Quran”, and expressed by acts of vandalism. It was especially visible in the March of Independence of 2013, when far-right hooligans burned the LGBTQ+ Rainbow Arch at one of the Warsaw squares. It used to be a symbol of the tolerance, numerously burned to the ground by aforementioned groups, and rebuilt as a form of fighting them. In 2015 the Rainbow was permanently removed.


One of the VICE reports on YouTube depicts March of Independence of 2015, as the “Rise of the Right” and “Europe’s largest nationalist event” (see the full report here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PnC-zSdMSRo&t=332s). It already looked alarming then, but in 2017, 60 000 people took part in it, in a way encouraged by the current conservative government of Poland.


Each year on the 11th of November the capital of Poland is burning in the hellish light of thousand red flares, like the Rainbow once used to burn. Because of those violent marches, the Polish people forget about the joyous occasion that the Independence Day actually represents. As a child, I enjoyed going to Warsaw with my parents on this day, to see military ceremonies and show pride and respect I have for my country. Nowadays, most of the people living in Warsaw avoid going out on this day.


11th of November 2018. One hundred years have passed since the end of the First World War. For one hundred years, Poland has been independent. This picture by Ada Zielińska became a symbol of this year’s Independence Day, and was shown in many prestigious Polish magazines. It depicts two worlds clashing on one picture. The only question there is to ask, is if (and when) one of these worlds, the world of violence, intolerance and xenophobia, will overcome the other, and become the new Polish reality.