WARSAW (Reuters) - Polish President Andrzej Duda said on Monday there was no place in Poland for xenophobia, anti-Semitism and “sick nationalism”, denouncing hate speech at a nationalist march in Warsaw in comments later echoed by ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski.
Jewish groups have called on the Polish authorities to condemn the message of banners with slogans such as “pure blood, clear mind” or “Europe will be white or uninhabited” that some nationalists carried at a march on Nov. 11 - the anniversary of Polish independence from Russia, Austria and Germany at the end of World War One.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators attended a march through Warsaw organised by far-right groups on Saturday, carrying flares and Polish flags, many chanting anti-migrant slogans.
The Independence March has become an annual event in recent years, separate from official ceremonies to mark the holiday, and has attracted many people apart from far-right sympathisers.
The government of the right-wing Law and Justice Party (PiS) condemned the racist banners, but not the march itself. PiS won election in 2015 partly thanks to support from younger voters, who have increasingly embraced right-wing views in recent years.
“Extremely bad incidents have taken place,” Kaczynski said, calling the banners a marginal phenomenon and “disgraceful rubbish”. “Polish tradition - the one we invoke - has nothing to do with anti-Semitism, we are as far as possible from that, nothing to do with racism.”
He also said that tens of thousands of “decent” people had come to the march to express their attachment to Poland.
The PiS government refused to take in migrants mostly from the Middle East and North Africa under an EU relocation deal, arguing that it could put public safety at risk. The party enjoys the steady support of more than a third of Poles.
Poland was for generations home to one of Europe’s biggest Jewish communities, until nearly all perished in Nazi death camps during German occupation in World War Two.
The American Jewish Committee (AJC) lobby group urged Polish authorities on Monday to speak out against the far-right, saying it threatened “the core values of Poland and its standing abroad”.
Duda responded to the banners by saying: “There is no place or permission or in our country for xenophobia, there is no permission for sick nationalism, there is no place for anti-Semitism ... Such attitudes mean an exclusion from our society.”
Deputy Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said marches to celebrate Independence Day were important and should not be marred by “absolutely unacceptable” banners. The PiS spokeswoman said no one with such banners should have taken part in the march.
Reporting by Marcin Goettig; Additional reporting by Pawel Sobczak and Pawel Goraj; Editing by Kevin Liffey