Poland: Neo-Nazis demonstrate in Warsaw, attack Russian embassy
Celebrations of the Polish independence day on Monday, 11 November were accompanied by clashes between neo-Nazis and riot police in the center of Warsaw. Demonstrators threw firecrackers and rocks at police officers and set cars on fire, while police responded with rubber bullets, tear gas and water cannon.
Police gained the upper hand at the scene after several hours, with Polish television reporting seven people injured and 30 arrested. The Polish media also reported that the Russian embassy, among other buildings, was a target of attack, with bottles, cobblestones and rocks thrown at it and the gate to the embassy eventually going up in flames.
According to the Russian wire service RIA Novosti, the embassy itself was not harmed. For many Polish nationalists, Russia is the embodiment of their erstwhile oppressor.
The Polish Foreign Ministry has already condemned the attack. "There is no excuse for hooligans," a spokesperson for Polish diplomacy told the press.
News server newsru.com reminded readers that this is not the first such riot in Warsaw. In August 2005, Polish nationalists beat up three children of Russian diplomats there, and a couple of days later "revenge" took the form of two Polish diplomats being assaulted and beaten in Moscow.
At the time, relations between Moscow and Warsaw were all but frozen. According to television station TVN 24, the Warsaw town hall eventually dissolved yesterday's march at the request of the police because it had "lost its peaceful character."
The demonstrators, however, continued with their event even after the official dispersal. "A march by ten thousand people cannot be stopped by a cough from the town hall," one organizer told the television cameras.
The organizer also characterized the rioting as a "side effect" and a consequence of the fact that police officers had allegedly not protected the march against attacks by "left-wingers" who allegedly threw bottles at the demonstrators. The demonstrators, however, were the ones who set fire to an arch made of artificial flowers that had been erected over a particular "Bohemian" square in Warsaw favored by artists and students.
The symbol of "diversity and tolerance" - or in the ultra-right view, of "contamination and leftism" - was turned into a blackened metal skeleton by the arson. "We have a lot on our hands with the groups whose aim is solely to unleash clashes and fight their opponents or the police," police spokesperson Mariusz Mrozek told the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.
Reuters estimated the number of right-wingers involved in the marches at several thousand people, while organizers announced 10 000 had participated. The procession began peacefully under the supervision of organizers and a circling police helicopter.
The crowd chanted the traditional slogan "God, honor, country!" and waved the red and white Polish flag. Violence broke out after several dozen young demonstrators wearing football scarves over their faces ran into side streets and began attacking a building that had been taken over by left-wing radicals as a squat.
Before police managed to disperse the rioters, several cars were already on fire. "They set their Fascist dogs on us," complained one resident of the devastated squat.
The clashes on the streets of Warsaw highlighted the dividing lines of Polish society. Many Poles have grown wealthy in recent years, but part of society feels alienated and disciples of traditional values feel marginalized.
"I believe Poland is at risk. The government is incompetent and endangering our homeland," Reuters quoted one demonstrator, a 30-year-old man named Grzegorze, as saying.
Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk apologized to residents of Warsaw for the fact that yesterday's holiday atmosphere did not last. "What happened is unacceptable," he declared, going on to thank police officers for managing to rein in the aggressive demonstrators and not allowing more dramatic events to occur.
Today the Russian Foreign Ministry lodged an exceptionally forceful protest against yesterday's attack on the Russian embassy during the demonstration in Warsaw. "In connection with yesterday's unrest in the neighborhood of the Russian embassy in Warsaw, Polish Ambassdor Wojciech Zajaczkowski was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry," reads a statement published by the Foreign Ministry on its website.
The Russian side told the ambassador it was demanding an official apology from the Polish authorities. Allegedly Russian property on the campus of the embassy was damaged and the functioning of the embassy was blocked for several hours.
"This is an extraordinarily serious violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations," reads a diplomatic protest note cited by the ITAR-TASS press agency. In addition to punishment of those responsible and compensation for the damages caused, Russia is also demanding guarantees from Warsaw that similar incidents will not repeat themselves in the future.
According to Russian diplomats, the attack by Polish extremists destroyed the entrance gate to the embassy campus, a wooden guard station, and three automobiles. The entire area is strewn with bottles, fragments of explosives and firecrackers, and garbage.
The building housing the Russian cultural center and trade representation is allegedly also damaged. Embassy staff managed to get out of the building in time, embassy spokesperson Valerija Perzhinska told the press.
According to the Polish Associated Press, the Polish Foreign Ministry has expressed regret for the incident. "Such behavior against [the Russian] diplomatic mission deserves thorough condemnation and controverts the dignified celebrations of Independence Day," the Polish statement reads.
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