WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's prime minister said Thursday that authorities will do everything in their power to crack down on any expressions of extremism at a weekend march marking the centennial of Poland's independence.
Mateusz Morawiecki's vow comes a day after the government took over the organization of an annual Independence Day march that in past years saw radical nationalists brandishing racist banners and slogans. Until Wednesday, the event was supposed to be organized by nationalist organizations.
"We want the march to be peaceful and not provoke tensions," Morawiecki told foreign correspondents at his chancellery in Warsaw.
Groups of extremists from Hungary and farther afield have in past years joined the Nov. 11 march, which is meant to mark Poland's regaining of its independence at the end of World War I after more than a century of foreign rule.
Typically the marches feature many flares and firecrackers, and there have been a few cases of violence.
Last year's march in Warsaw was cited in a recent European Parliament resolution that called for member states to act decisively against far-right extremism. It noted that some of the 60,000 demonstrators had "xenophobic banners with slogans such as 'white Europe of brotherly nations,' including some depicting the 'falanga', a fascist symbol from the 1930s."
With security concerns running high, Warsaw's mayor on Wednesday banned the nationalists' march. President Andrzej Duda and Morawiecki followed with plans for an inclusive state march to take place at the same time and along the same route in the capital.
The nationalist organizers are furious and have appealed the ban. On Thursday, a court in Wroclaw overturned a similar ban for a smaller march planned there.
The developments suggest that leaders of Poland's conservative ruling party, Law and Justice, seek to take a firmer stance against ultra-nationalists after a period in which they seemed to be trying to appease them.
That strategy lost them the votes of many centrist, urban voters in recently concluded local elections, even though they fared well in rural regions.
Duda will lead the parade. He will also be joined by Morawiecki, conservative ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and World War II veterans.
Saying he expects between 100,000 and 200,000 participants, Morawiecki acknowledged that it could be hard to control them all, but said "we will try to eliminate all banners which are extremist."
He also said there will be no tolerance for foreign neo-fascists or other agitators reportedly planning to join the march.
"If there are any groups of that kind presenting any signs — swastikas or anything like that — we are going to be very decisive about those people," he said. "It's absolutely excluded and not allowable on Polish soil."
Adding to the security concerns, many police have gone on sick leave in a pay dispute, meaning there are not enough officers to secure all the events taking place.
The Defense Ministry was asked to help organize security and police are being offered extra money if they show up to work.
Many other events are expected across the country on Sunday, with the most emotional expected to be the public singing of the national hymn in hundreds of places.
In another development, the ruling authorities drew criticism from pro-business lawmakers after the president signed a law late Wednesday that makes next Monday a day off work since the national holiday falls on a Sunday. Many in the business community say organizing a last-minute day off would cause disruptions and losses.