Polish city holds first LGBTQ pride parade despite far-right violence

About 1,000 pride marchers walked defiantly through the city center as ultra-nationalist football hooligans and the far right attempted to block the march.

Bialystok, Poland (CNN)A Polish city celebrated its first-ever LGBTQ equality march on Saturday, but it struck a starkly different tone to the joyous and hedonistic affairs associated with pride parades.

Ringed by riot police, around 1,000 pride marchers walked defiantly through the streets of the northeastern city of Bialystok as thousands of nationalist football "ultra" fans, far-right groups and others threw flash bombs, rocks and glass bottles.
As counter-protesters yelled "God, honor and motherland" and "Bialystok free of perverts," the pride marchers chanted "Poland free of fascists" in return. Police said about 4,000 people were involved in demonstrations against the march.
    Bags of flour and other objects were thrown out of Communist-era housing blocks at the pride marchers, who were moving along a 3-kilometer (1.8 mile) route through the city center.
      According to Bialystok's police spokesman, Tomasz Krupa, the violence led to the detention of 20 people, four of whom were suspected of committing crimes, including the use of threats and insults against officers.
      The police kept a protective ring around pride marchers throughout the three-hour march.
      The city of 298,000 people is located in the conservative region of Podlasie, a stronghold for Poland's ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, known by its acronym PiS.
      According to anti-racism groups, Bialystok has become a byword for its strong far-right movements. "Many of the acts of xenophobic aggression have been committed in Podlasie compared to other regions in Poland," Rafal Pankowski, from the anti-extremism group Never Again, told CNN.
        But the hostile atmosphere did not dampen the mood of a multi-generational group of marchers, who described the event as a victory in their fight for more equality -- despite the threats.
        "I am trying to see this in a joyful way, but this march is also sad for me because I did not think it would be as dangerous as it is," Anna Pietrucha, 26, who came from Warsaw to speak at the march, told CNN.
        Saturday's march was one of 24 parades scheduled to take place this year in Poland -- a record number that campaigners say is a reaction to the uptick of homophobic and transphobic language by Poland's Catholic leaders and PiS.
        "We are in the middle of an ongoing wave of hateful propaganda, which is fueled by both the state and the Catholic Church," Hubert Sobecki, co-president of Warsaw-based LGBT+ organization Love Does Not Exclude, told CNN from a cafe in Bialystok.

        Counter protests

        According to officials, there were about 32 protests registered for Saturday, the majority in opposition to the pride march.
        These included a family picnic at Bialystok's Branicki Palace -- organized by Artur Kosicki, the marshal of Podlasie -- and an outdoor prayer vigil next door at the Roman Catholic Bialystok Cathedral.
        Bialystok's Catholic Archbishop Tadeusz Wojda called on congregants to "defend Christian values" by attending the picnic, adding that the LGBTQ march was "an initiative foreign to" the region.
        Ultra-nationalist football hooligans, far right organizations and others took part in counter-protests across the city.