New film on Wołyń massacres unites Poles in praise – but reconciliation with Ukraine will be harder


In Poland’s deeply polarised society, it is rare these days for anything to bridge the country’s social, cultural and political divides. However, a new film about the WW2 Wołyń massacres by director Wojciech Smarzowski appears set to achieve this, winning rave reviews across Polish media after its screening at the Gdynia film festival, writes Daniel Tilles. Continue reading

‘The Turkish Lesson’: How valid are comparisons of Poland and Turkey’s ruling parties?


The recent upheaval in Turkey has been seized upon by opponents of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party to accuse it of leading the country in a similar direction. On a political chat show on Sunday, an opposition politician claimed that Poland is currently under a ‘dictatorship’ of the same type as Turkey’s. When pressed further on what was clearly an exaggerated claim, he admitted that ‘there are dictatorships and there are dictatorships’ – the point being that ‘Poland is on the wrong track’. Continue reading

Anti-Polish hate crimes in Britain offer Poland itself a warning of where populist xenophobia leads

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Just like the Brexit campaigners, Poland’s own ruling party has been guilty of stoking resentment of outsiders, with the result that xenophobes have been emboldened and hate crimes have increased. The danger of leading the country in such a direction should be even clearer now that Poles themselves are falling victim to precisely such rhetoric in Britain, writes Daniel Tilles.

Since Friday’s announcement that the UK had voted to leave the EU, there has been a wave of hate crimes against immigrants in Britain. At this early stage, most of the evidence is anecdotal. But what appears absolutely clear is that the Brexit vote – which was motivated in large part by a desire to reduce immigration – has given xenophobes greater confidence to express their views publicly. Continue reading

“Daily Mail” reveals dishonesty of British tabloids’ Polish “benefit tourists” narrative

This recent article contains some pretty brazen duplicity, even by the standards of the Daily Mail.

daily_mail_14_10_2013The newspaper has been at the forefront of a campaign by the British right-wing tabloid press over the last few years to portray immigrants from new EU countries – particularly Poles, who make up the largest group – as ‘benefit tourists’, coming to Britain not to work but to claim social welfare. (The Daily Express and the Sun also deserve special mention, the latter of which rather amusingly had to admit its dishonesty.)

These newspapers did so despite all the evidence that this ‘problem’ barely exists, as only a small fraction of EU immigrants claim benefits, and most of those are also working and paying taxes.

Yet now that David Cameron has responded to this pressure by agreeing a deal with the EU that will allow the government to stop paying benefits to new arrivals, the same Eurosceptic media need a new reason to encourage people to vote to leave the union at next month’s referendum.

So, in a shameless reversal of its previous position, the Daily Mail now points to a new report showing that EU immigrants claim very little in benefits. What the newspaper describes as a ‘revelation’ is in fact no different from the previous research that it has ignored or downplayed because it didn’t fit its narrative at the time. But now such evidence is useful to the Mail, as it demonstrates that Cameron’s EU benefits deal (which the Mail itself demanded in the past) is actually worthless because it will do nothing to reduce immigration (which can, the newspaper now claims, only be achieved by leaving the EU entirely).

This is, of course, precisely the argument that I (and others) have long been making against the ‘benefit tourist’ scaremongering. As I wrote in the blog earlier this year:

‘[The proposed benefit cut for EU immigrants] is unfair: anyone who works, pays taxes and contributes to the British economy should have the same right as others to claim benefits. It is poorly targeted: EU immigrants generally, and Polish immigrants in particular, are more likely to work and less likely to claim benefits than just about any other group in Britain (including – indeed especially – the natives). And it is pointless: there is little chance it will deter future immigrants, which is supposedly its purpose.’

And last year:

‘[This] is, unfortunately, highly indicative of the populist, irrational and superficial way in which British politicians and the media respond to legitimate public concern at mass immigration.’

It’s good to see that the Daily Mail now acknowledges the facts, although this is of course less a genuine change of heart (and certainly not a confession of earlier inaccuracy) than it is a cynical response to current political circumstances.

The Politics of Heroism: The Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II



The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II, Markowa, Poland. Source:

A new museum in the village of Markowa in the east of Poland honors the sacrifice of Poles who lost their lives in the attempt to save their Jewish neighbors from the Holocaust. The Ulma Family Museum of Poles Saving Jews in World War II is housed in the place where Józef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children were murdered along with Saul Goldman, Gołda Grünfeld, Lea Didner and five other children by German gendarmes in 1944. Their tragic story symbolises the fate of hundreds of others who paid the ultimate price for kindness in Nazi-occupied Poland, where aiding Jews was punishable with death. In a recent ceremony, Polish President Andrzej Duda opened the museum in the presence of other politicians, religious leaders, journalists, and guests from Israel. Notes from Poland co-editor Stanley Bill attended the event. He reports on the museum, the ceremony, and Poland’s new politics of history.

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Lech Wałęsa and the Politics of History

Poland Lech Walesa 1980

Lech Wałęsa, 1980. Source: AP.

By Siobhan Doucette

In 1980, a little known electrician from Gdansk was chosen as leader of an independent trades union that within one year had ten million members and within ten years played a decisive role in the overthrow of communism in Eastern Europe. The head of that union, Lech Wałęsa, has this week come under attack amid allegations that he was a paid informant of the communist-era security service (SB).  These charges have been leveled without proper authentication of the supposedly new incriminating documents and within a fractious political climate. Whatever the objective facts of the case turn out to be, history and contemporary politics have become inextricably intertwined.

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Jan Gross and Polish Death Camps: Does Poland’s ‘historical policy’ threaten academic freedom?


While it is completely understandable that Poland wants to stamp out the misleading and offensive phrase ‘Polish death camps’, this should be done through education, not by threatening prison sentences for those who use the term, as the government has proposed. Even more worryingly, the new draft law on this issue – combined with a threat to withdraw a state honour from historian Jan Gross – has the potential to be just the opening salvo in a far broader attempt by the ruling party to impose its historical vision, potentially impinging on academic freedom, argues Daniel Tilles, a British historian based in Kraków.

Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party has long made clear that it wishes the country to pursue – in the words of President Andrzej Duda earlier this week – an ‘aggressive historical policy’, with the dual aim of fostering a greater sense of patriotic pride at home while enhancing the country’s image abroad. Continue reading