Antisemitic ultra-nationalist protesters took over the centre of a Polish town on Thursday to mark Poland’s Independence Day.
Hundreds of marchers chanted “Death to the Jews”, “LGBT, paedophiles, Zionists – enemies of Poland” and “death to the enemies of the fatherland” during a far-right march in the city of Kalisz on Thursday evening.
The centrepiece of the demonstration was burning a copy of the Statute of Kalisz, a 13th century book that granted Jews legal rights and protection in medieval Poland. Besides, it has long been regarded as a symbol of the protected status of the Jewish community in Poland, for it included penalties for the desecration of Jewish cemeteries or synagogues.
Far-right activist Piotr Rybak, pledged at the rally to “chase this Polish-speaking mob to Israel, just like we did in 1968”, referring to the antisemitic campaign of ’68 launched by the former Communist Party regime. Another speaker, Wojciech Olszanski, bellowed that “LGBTers, pedophiles, Zionists are the enemies of Poland!”
Numerous politicians and residents of Kalisz expressed disgust over the demonstration and anger at the local authorities for allowing it to go on. Karolina Pawliczak, who represents the city of Kalisz in the parliament tweeted “Coming to Kalisz to burn the Statute of Kalisz — a testimony to the centuries-old tradition of tolerance and openness — amid hateful shouts in the Main Market Square is like spitting in the face of all Kalisz residents”.
Maciej Blachowicz, a Kalisz-based historian said that the burning of the statute brought on the feelings of “shame, disgrace and sadness”, adding that it evokes the burning of books during Kristallnacht in Berlin.
The city’s mayor and its police department issued a joint statement on Friday, claiming that they allowed Thursday’s protest to continue “for reasons of safety and public order”. They claimed that “the dissolution of the assembly could have caused an escalation of aggression among the participants.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has denounced the incident, tweeting on Saturday “The horrific antisemitic incident in Poland reminds every Jew in the world of the strength of hatred that exists in the world,” adding that “The unequivocal condemnation by Polish officials is important and necessary. I welcome their condemnation and expect the Polish government to act uncompromisingly against those who took part in this shocking display of hate”.
Polish President Andrzej Duda strongly condemned the demonstration: “I strongly condemn all acts of antisemitism. The barbarism perpetrated by a group of hooligans in Kalisz runs counter to the values on which the Republic of Poland is based. And in view of the situation on the border and propaganda campaigns against Poland, it is even an act of treason.”