Poland marks centenary of its national rebirth at end of WWI

Poland marks centenary of its national rebirth at end of WWI
Members of radical right-wing groups light up flares during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (Czarek Sokolowski)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland's president, prime minister and other top political figures led an Independence Day march Sunday as part of a day of centenary celebrations, trailed by a huge crowd led by nationalist groups.

More than 250,000 people marched in Warsaw to mark the 100th anniversary of Poland's rebirth as an independent state at the end of World War I, according to police.

President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and the leader of the conservative ruling party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, walked in a crowd fronted by soldiers carrying a huge flag words "For You Poland."

Walking a small distance behind them was another crowd of nationalists and their supporters, many of them burning firecrackers and flares, creating flashes of red light and smoke.

Most in that contingent carried national white-and-red flags, but some held flags of the National Radical Camp, a far-right group and one of the main march organizers. The camp's flag has a falanga, a far-right symbol dating to the 1930s of a stylized hand with a sword.

Members of the Italian Forza Nouva walk in the annual March of Independence organized by Polish far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of the Italian Forza Nouva walk in the annual March of Independence organized by Polish far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Marchers burn flares in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence, in Warsaw, Sunday Nov. 11, 2018. The nation of Poland regained its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence, in Warsaw, Sunday Nov. 11, 2018. The nation of Poland regained its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Members of radical right-wing groups light up flares during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of radical right-wing groups light up flares during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Members of radical right-wing groups wave flags during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of radical right-wing groups wave flags during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Marchers burn flares in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. The nation of Poland regained its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. The nation of Poland regained its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Donald Tusk, ex-Polish prime minister and president of the European Council, lays flowers at a statue of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on the centenary of Polish independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Pilsudski was the Polish leader who led Poland in regaining its lost statehood at the end of World War I after more than a century of rule by foreign powers. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Donald Tusk, ex-Polish prime minister and president of the European Council, lays flowers at a statue of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on the centenary of Polish independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Pilsudski was the Polish leader who led Poland in regaining its lost statehood at the end of World War I after more than a century of rule by foreign powers. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Polish President Andrzej Duda, right, speaks during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, as leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, second left, stands behind. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Polish President Andrzej Duda, right, speaks during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018, as leader of the ruling Law and Justice party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, second left, stands behind. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
European Council President Donald Tusk arrives for the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Tusk joined celebrations in his native Poland on Independence Day, which celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
European Council President Donald Tusk arrives for the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Tusk joined celebrations in his native Poland on Independence Day, which celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Thousands walk in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Thousands walk in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
People gather in a park to watch the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
People gather in a park to watch the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks at the start of a massive march marking 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Poland's president, prime minister and other top leaders led an Independence Day march Sunday that included members of nationalist organizations, the first time Polish state officials have marched with the far-right groups. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Poland's President Andrzej Duda speaks at the start of a massive march marking 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Poland's president, prime minister and other top leaders led an Independence Day march Sunday that included members of nationalist organizations, the first time Polish state officials have marched with the far-right groups. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Members of the Italian Forza Nouva walk in the annual March of Independence organized by Polish far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Members of the Italian Forza Nouva walk in the annual March of Independence organized by Polish far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
European Council President Donald Tusk, center back row, attends the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Tusk joined celebrations in his native Poland on Independence Day, which celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
European Council President Donald Tusk, center back row, attends the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Tusk joined celebrations in his native Poland on Independence Day, which celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
European Council President Donald Tusk, center, attends the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Tusk joined celebrations in his native Poland on Independence Day, which celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
European Council President Donald Tusk, center, attends the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Tusk joined celebrations in his native Poland on Independence Day, which celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Donald Tusk, ex-Polish prime minister and president of the European Council, walks, after laying flowers by the statue of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on the centenary of Polish independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Pilsudski was the Polish leader who led Poland in regaining its lost statehood at the end of World War I after more than a century of rule by foreign powers. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Donald Tusk, ex-Polish prime minister and president of the European Council, walks, after laying flowers by the statue of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on the centenary of Polish independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Pilsudski was the Polish leader who led Poland in regaining its lost statehood at the end of World War I after more than a century of rule by foreign powers. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Donald Tusk, ex-Polish prime minister and president of the European Council, reacts with supporters after laying flowers by the statue of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on the centenary of Polish independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Pilsudski was the Polish leader who led Poland in regaining its lost statehood at the end of World War I after more than a century of rule by foreign powers. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Donald Tusk, ex-Polish prime minister and president of the European Council, reacts with supporters after laying flowers by the statue of Marshal Jozef Pilsudski on the centenary of Polish independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. Pilsudski was the Polish leader who led Poland in regaining its lost statehood at the end of World War I after more than a century of rule by foreign powers. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Thousands walk in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Thousands walk in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Polish Army soldiers salute during the official ceremony marking Poland's Independence Day, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. The Independence Day in Poland celebrates the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Members of right-wing groups light up flares during a march by some thousands of people, hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100-years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of right-wing groups light up flares during a march by some thousands of people, hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100-years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Members of right-wing groups light up flares during a march by some tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100-years since Poland regained independence, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of right-wing groups light up flares during a march by some tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100-years since Poland regained independence, in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares during the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence marking the nation regaining its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Marchers burn flares in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. The nation of Poland regained its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Marchers burn flares in the annual March of Independence organized by far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. The nation of Poland regained its sovereignty at the end of World War I after being wiped off the map for more than a century. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Members of the Italian Forza Nouva walk in the annual March of Independence organized by Polish far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz)
Members of the Italian Forza Nouva walk in the annual March of Independence organized by Polish far right activists to celebrate 100 years of Poland's independence. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz) (AP)
Masked members of radical right-wing groups wave flags during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Masked members of radical right-wing groups wave flags during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Members of radical right-wing groups wave flags during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of radical right-wing groups wave flags during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Members of radical right-wing groups light up flares during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of radical right-wing groups light up flares during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)
Members of radical right-wing groups light up flares during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)
Members of radical right-wing groups light up flares during a march by tens of thousands of people and hosted by President Andrzej Duda that marked 100 years since Poland regained independence in Warsaw, Poland, Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018.(AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski) (AP)

There were also a few flags of Forza Nuova, an Italian group whose leader, Roberto Fiore, describes himself as fascist. One of the organizers of the march, Krzysztof Bosak, insisted that Forza Nuova are nationalists who are in touch with the Polish group.

Among the slogans that participants shouted were "USA, empire of evil" and "Poland, white and Catholic." Members of one nationalist group, eurosceptic All-Polish Youth, burned a European Union flag. An EU flag was also burned at another nationalist rally in Wroclaw. The city's mayor dissolved the march by nationalists toward its end, during speeches by far-right leaders.

Over the past decade, nationalist organizations have held Independence Day marches in Warsaw on Nov. 11 that have included racist slogans, flares and in some years, acts of aggression.

Sunday's was by far the largest Independence Day march to date, and it was mostly peaceful. Government spokeswoman Joanna Kopcinska called it "the biggest march of free Poles in a free Poland."

This year, in honor of the centennial, state officials sought to hold one big government-led march for Sunday's ceremonies. At first, negotiations broke down over requests for the radical groups to leave banners at home, but an agreement on a joint march was reached on Friday.

"Let this be our joint march, let it be a march for everyone, a march where everyone wants to be and feels good, marching for Poland," Duda said at the start of the march.

Duda and the government faced criticism from liberal opposition politicians for their willingness to negotiate with nationalists, including some who have made anti-Semitic comments in the past. After some individuals showed up with extremist emblems, the state officials — surrounded by security — appeared to try to keep some distance from the nationalists, marching ahead of them on the same route.

Throughout the day, observances, Masses, marathons and fireworks were held in cities and small towns to commemorate the nation's statehood regained at the end of World War I, after 123 years of foreign rule.

The national flag fluttered from buildings, buses and cars, while dignitaries and regular citizens placed flowers at memorials to the father of Polish independence, Marshal Jozef Pilsudski. The historic Sigismund Bell, reserved only for the most important national events, rang out over Krakow.

March participant Bartlomiej Mazur, 23, who travelled 320 kilometers (200 miles) to the capital, said he wanted to show that "Poland is a strong, proud nation. We have freedom and we have the right to manifest our feelings and our pride in our country."

The ceremonies in Poland coincide with world leaders gathering in Paris on Sunday to mark a century since the armistice of what was then called the Great War.