Defend against ‘Islamic invasion’ or help ‘our immigrant brothers’? The refugee debate in Poland’s media

By Daniel Tilles

Daniel Tilles analyses the intense recent debate in the Polish media over Europe’s current refugee crisis. In this Catholic, conservative and ethnically homogeneous country, disagreement has focused in particular on the dissonance between a Christian duty to help the needy and a desire to defend national culture and identity against the perceived threat of Muslim immigration. He examines the views of a range of Polish outlets from across the ideological spectrum, including Rzeczpospolita, Gazeta Wyborcza, Polityka, Newsweek Polska, Fronda and Tygodnik Powszechny.

5616

Refugees at the Hungarian-Serbian border (source: Guardian/Antonio Olmos)

As across all of Europe, media discourse in Poland has been dominated recently by the growing refugee crisis on the continent. This is despite the fact that Poland itself has barely been touched by the issue directly. There has been an increase in the number of illegal immigrants detained in Poland this year (including growing numbers from the Middle East and Africa, in the addition to the usual Ukrainians), but the figures pale into insignificance against the experience of countries, such as Hungary, Italy or Germany, that are along the main migration paths.

Even those refugees who do reach Polish soil are mainly in transit to the West, and it is unlikely that many will settle in Poland. Indeed, when the EU earlier this year pressed Poland to accept a quota of a few thousand refugees, the government strongly resisted. Now, with talk of that quota increasing to 12,000, Poland’s prime minister and president have reiterated their opposition to such ‘dictates’ from Brussels. (A regularly cited excuse is that Poland may at any moment be inundated with refugees from its eastern neighbour Ukraine, should the conflict there intensify).

3de48ba4-7682-4a54-86bc-b541c9d14306

Syrian Christian refugees arrive in Poland earlier this year (source: PAP/Marcin Obara)

Instead, Poland made a ‘voluntary’ commitment in July to accept 2,000 refugees from Syria and Eritrea. (Given the accelerating influx of asylum-seekers since then, the prime minister recently hinted that this number could be increased.) Yet even this tiny figure (equivalent to 0.005% of Poland’s population) has caused great controversy. Much of the concern has focused on the fact that the arrivals will be predominantly Muslim, playing on widespread fear in Poland regarding the supposed ‘Islamisation’ of Europe. (It has been noticeable that a private initiative to bring 50 Syrian Christian families to Poland has met with far less disapproval.) A recent poll suggests that opposition to the acceptance of refugees has increased over the summer, with particular opposition to those from the Middle East and Africa. Another survey indicates that the primary reason for such opposition is fear of ‘religious and moral conflict’.

Below is a summary of how, against this backdrop, the Polish media have reacted to the ongoing refugee crisis.

Opposition to the acceptance of refugees

The refugee issue has certainly offered a reminder of how in Poland – a homogenous (almost 100% white, 92% Catholic), conservative country with little time for political correctness – anti-Muslim sentiment is often expressed in mainstream public discourse in ways that would in Western Europe be regarded as the domain of the far right. A good example of this comes in an opinion piece (or, as the author puts it, an ‘Anti-immigration Manifesto’) published this week by Paweł Lisicki, former editor-in-chief of Rzeczpospolita, Poland’s foremost quality centre-right daily, and current editor of the conservative Do Rzeczy weekly.

In the title of his column, Lisicki declares that Poles should ‘Not love their neighbour more than themselves’. As this suggests, one of the issues he addresses is a conundrum faced by many Poles: given that the Pope, as well as leading Church figures in Poland, have called on their flock to welcome and house refugees, how can Catholics who are hostile towards the new arrivals reconcile this with their religious beliefs.

Lisicki deals with the issue rather bluntly, arguing that the Pope has ‘lost connection with reality’. By advocating a ‘massive influx of Muslim families into Catholic parishes’, Francis is accelerating ‘the collapse of already heavily weakened Christianity in the West’. Even worse, he is undermining the efforts of those who still have ‘the courage to defend Europe’s borders from the invasion of Islamic immigrants’ (Lisicki singles out Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for particular praise in this regard).

stop_islamizacji_plakat_550

Anti-Muslim propaganda (source: niemeczetom.pl)

To resolve the moral question of assisting those in need, Lisicki claims that the people arriving in Europe are not refugees ‘escaping from the threat of death and persecution’, but simply migrants seeking ‘a more comfortable life’. This therefore obviates any humanitarian responsibility on the part of Europeans to take them in. In actual fact, the moral duty of politicians should be to care for the ‘wellbeing of their own community, state and nation’. In this regard, as the experience of France and Germany has shown, accepting Muslim migrants – who are unwilling to assimilate and are ‘brought up in a tradition that endorses violence against infidels’ – leads only to conflict and unrest, and creates ‘breeding grounds for terrorists’. Opening Europe’s borders to mass Muslim migration would, therefore, be ‘a declaration of surrender’ and even ‘gives the impression of suicide’ (echoes here of Enoch Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech).

Lisicki finishes by accusing those who support the acceptance of refugees of ulterior motives: the Germans are ‘suffering from an incurable guilt complex over the Holocaust’, while Europe’s political elites, out of touch with ordinary people, are attempting to build ‘new, multicultural and non-Western societies’.

While Lisicki express his views more stridently than some, such sentiment is widespread on the religious, conservative right wing of the Polish media. Writing in the quarterly magazine and online news site Fronda, a Catholic priest, Jacek Jan Pawłowicz, likewise rejects any Christian duty to help those arriving in Europe by defining them as economic immigrants rather than refugees. In same publication, Janusz Wojciechowski argues that, because the migrants want to get to Germany, it would actually be unethical to ‘imprison’ them in Poland. The ultra-conservative Catholic magazine Polonia Christiana claims that ‘a Christian must love everyone, but not equally’; he should look after his own nation before helping outsiders. (At the time of writing, the main story on Polonia Christiana’s homepage is an article from its current issue headlined: ‘Immigration. The Rape of Society’.)

The more mainstream Catholic weekly Gość Niedzielny has greater sympathy towards genuine refugees, but one of its writers, Agata Puścikowska, still expresses fear that many of those arriving are ‘crowds of aggressive young men’ whom it would be ‘naive’ to think can be safely and successfully integrated into Polish society. Indeed, many outlets, such as nationalist-conservative Gazeta Polska, have been keen to advertise violent behaviour by the refugees, in particular apparent instances of ingratitude towards attempts to provide them humanitarian aid. Another common refrain is that Europe should not be expected to help when wealthy Muslim countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are doing so little.

Support for the acceptance of refugees

However, closer to the political centre ground of the Polish press, as well as on its left and liberal side, one finds far greater receptiveness to refugees. This is sometimes for purely pragmatic reasons. Lisicki’s former employer, Rzeczpospolita, on Tuesday published a column by its chief foreign affairs writer, Jerzy Haszczyński, suggesting that Poland’s reluctance to accept refugees is damaging the country’s image abroad, which in turn will negatively impact on its foreign-policy goals. If Poland shows a lack of solidarity with its EU partners during the current crisis, they will be less likely to lend their support on issues that are important to Poland, such as the establishment of permanent NATO bases in the East.

A columnist in the left-liberal Polityka weekly, Ziemowit Szczerek, similarly argues that Poland, always ‘so keen to evoke the ghosts of betrayal by the West in 1939, so strongly demanding Western support against the aggressive policies of Russia, so keen to talk about solidarity, has an obligation itself to show solidarity to the West…[by] responsibly taking on part of the European burden’. He does not deny that integrating Muslims into Polish life may be hard, but the refugees are already flooding into Europe and must be dealt with somehow: ‘The problem does not disappear if you close your eyes.’

Another writer for the same newspaper, , criticises Poland’s government for treating the EU as a source from which benefit can be extracted without offering anything in return. In an itemised list, he also challenges some of the ‘stupid’ arguments of the refugee ‘haters’, and indeed Polityka has published a number of articles attempting to counter the ‘stereotypes and deluge of inaccurate information’ that characterise discussion of the refugee issue in Poland.

imigranci-muzulmanie

Cartoon by satirical illustrator Andrzej Milewski, whose work regularly appears in Gazeta Wyborcza. ‘I want to reassure you all. Poland is not threatened by the wave of Muslim immigrants. We are too poor and racist a country, thank God.’ (source: andrzejrysuje.pl)

There is also often genuine humanitarian sympathy expressed for those fleeing to Europe. Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s main quality centre-left daily, yesterday published a rebuttal to Lisicki’s piece, written by a Dominican priest, Tomasz Dostatni. He attacks Lisicki for distorting the Christian faith to make his anti-refugee argument, and accuses him of in fact representing an ‘anti-Christian system of values’: ‘selfishness, laziness, lack of empathy, seeing enemies in all who are different from himself’. In a similar vein, Tygodnik Powczechny, a Catholic weekly, laments the ‘death in us of compassion, solidarity, willingness to help, openness and love for our fellow man’; one of its authors, another priest and former editor of the newspaper, Adam Boniecki, called last month for greater sympathy for ‘our immigrant brothers’. The newspaper has long advocated for a more humanitarian asylum policy, one that ‘does not discriminate against any group of migrants’ given that, as other countries have shown, the idea that Muslims cannot be integrated is a ‘myth’.

159_B489

Polish refugees, Tehran 1943 (source: collections.yadvashem.org)

Finally, one of the loudest voices in the favour of the reception of refugees has been the Polish edition of Newsweek, whose chief home affairs correspondent, Renata Kim, last week expressed her ‘shame’ at Poles for giving in to ‘division and prejudice’ in the face of a humanitarian crisis. This week, the magazine’s editor, Tomasz Lis, has written that he ‘does not understand how we can claim to be Christians’ while abandoning those in need. He also reminds Poles of their own long history of fleeing their homeland during times of trouble. This final point is one that has also been widely made on social media, where a popular meme shows an image of Polish children in Iran during WW2, noting that when 116,000 refugees who had escaped war-torn Poland entered Iran 70 year ago, no one checked their religious faith before allowing them in.

Advertisements

3 comments

  1. emigrant

    I have loved Poles and Poland for over 50 years of my life.

    However, I have never been more saddened in this past half century than by the denial of the scale and seriousness of the current migrant and refugee crisis, and by the lack of empathy and demonizing of non-Europeans and non-Christians by so many Poles.

    Is this the same nation that in its time of need emigrated in mass to the US at the turn of the 19th/20th century and to Western Europe post-2004?

    Is this the same nation that experienced mass destruction of its people and towns and that was demonized by the Nazis as being ‘Untermensch’ during WW2?

    I address the following questions to those Poles who are opposed to welcoming migrants and refugees to Poland.

    Why do you say little or nothing about the fact that over 10 million Syrians – half the Syrian nation – are homeless resulting in some 6 million displaced in their own country and some 4 million refugees outside of Syria?

    Why do you say little or nothing about how you would react if you were bombed out of your home in a war-torn, terrorized country with little prospect of peace?

    Why do you say little or nothing about the Pope’s desire that every parish takes in one refugee family and that the second greatest commandment of the Bible is that ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’?

    Why do you say little or nothing about what your solution to the crisis is, other than ‘we don’t want them here’?

    There are no easy solutions.

    Indeed, I believe that Europe is facing extremely difficult and unstable times comparable to the inter-war period. But the way forward is not that of the inter-war demonizing of those deemed as ‘Other’ and not that of an increasing polarizing between those on the political right and those on the left.

    I consider that my own country’s media in demonizing British Muslims, migrants and refugees is disgraceful. I am ashamed of many Britons but I am also ashamed of many Poles.

  2. Angry Citizen

    You are an idiot if you cannot see what is front of your own nose. It is the leftist appeasers like you that will ultimately destroy Europe and Great Britain.

    You say you are ashamed of Britons, well I am disgusted by people like you. Islam is pure evil, get your head out of the clouds and start learning. Read their un-Godly books, look at their evil history, and look at the life led by the sick perverted warlord that they worship, by comparison to Muhammad (a curse be upon him) Hitler was Ghandi.

    I am not going to waste any more time on you as you are not worth it.

  3. Easy

    Poland’s Christianity was always for show. It was only designed to protect the Polish nation. In today’s world Christianity has outlived its usefulness and should be dumped – the Syrians can have it. And fuck the Pope and his pedophile priests.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s