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Polish president sends mixed signals on nationalist march

October 29, 2018
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Poland's President Andrzej Duda addresses the media during a joint news conference with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Bellevue Palace in Berlin, Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s president won’t take part in an Independence Day march in the capital organized by nationalist organizations, his spokesman said Monday in an announcement that follows the leader urging Poles to participate in the controversial event.

Andrzej Duda’s change of mind is the latest mixed message coming from Poland’s conservative ruling authorities toward far-right groups. Authorities have at times appeared to seek the support of those on the far right as their policies have alienated many centrist voters.

Last year, around 60,000 people marched on Nov. 11, some with banners calling for a “white Europe” and “pure blood.” Organizers are hoping for a larger turnout this year to coincide with the centennial of Polish independence.

Last year, Duda condemned expressions of racism at the march, while some officials at the time, including the interior minister, praised what they saw as a show of patriotism.

Duda’s spokesman, Blazej Spychalski, said Monday that the president won’t take part in this year’s march in Warsaw, without giving a reason. The announcement came only days after Duda had asked Poles to join it.

Polish media on Monday reported that Duda’s change of mind resulted from disagreements over conditions for the march. But Robert Bakiewicz, the chairman of the organizational group, tweeted that he had taken part in seven meetings with elected officials regarding the march and that the organizers hadn’t insisted on any conditions that the president’s office objected to.

The organizers of the march, which became an annual ritual a decade ago, include the Radical National Camp, which traces its origins to an anti-Semitic political movement that existed in Poland before World War II, and the National Movement, a far-right party with only one member in parliament.

Rafal Pankowski, who monitors extremism as the head of the Never Again association, said that even though Duda now won’t be participating, he “did much harm already by legitimizing” the march with his initial endorsement.

“It’s incredible to see how mainstream politicians have no problem dealing with extremists,” Pankowski said.

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