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

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By Daniel Tilles

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.

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Anti-Polish cards posted around one English town after the referendum

It’s equally clear that, although the hostility has been directed towards all immigrants (and even non-white natives), one of the primary targets have been Poles,  who are  the largest group of EU immigrants in the UK (and the second largest of any immigrant group, behind only Indians). The Polish embassy in London has stated that it is “shocked and deeply concerned by the recent incidents of xenophobic abuse directed against the Polish community”. David Cameron condemned the “despicable” hate crimes against Poles.

Moreover, although the last few days have seen a particularly intense outpouring of hatred, this is a situation that has been brewing through the whole Brexit debate (and even earlier, as I’ve previously blogged). Before Thursday’s vote, many immigrants were already saying that they have never felt so unwelcome in the UK. British-based Polish journalist Jakub Krupa, for example, wrote of how the “despised but voiceless” Poles had been left “absolutely terrified” after being repeatedly “named and shamed throughout the campaign”.

This wave of anti-Polish sentiment is absolutely shameful, and should be completely condemned. However, one also hope that some Poles may see the parallels to what has been happening in their own country over the last year.

Much of the xenophobic anger that emerged during the Brexit debate was stoked by right-wing politicians and media making claims of international conspiracies against Britain; of the need to “save our sovereignty” and “take back our country” from the creeping reach of the EU; and, above all, of how immigrants (especially Muslims) represent a threat to Britain.

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“Islamic Rape of Europe”: recent cover of mainstream conservative weekly

Precisely the same concerns have been repeatedly expressed by Poland’s ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and the media that support it. The party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, claims that there is an international plot to keep Poland as a “colony of other powers”; that the country needs to protect its sovereignty from EU interference; and that, if Poland allows in Muslim migrants, they would “impose their sensitivities and requirements” in a “very violent and aggressive way”, with Poles “ceasing to be masters of our own country”. Such rhetoric has been regularly repeated by other leading figures in and around the party.

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Polish musician of Angolan descent beaten up by youths telling him to “F**k off to Syria”

Poland has generally been a relatively welcoming place for outsiders, who may attract curiosity, and occasionally cultural insensitivity, but little explicit hostility. However, since PiS’s election victory in November, there has been an increase in attacks on foreigners (or anyone with dark skin) in Poland. The country’s ombudsman for human rights noted in March that there had been a rise in “racial beatings” (we listed a few such incidents on our Facebook page in December), and “an extraordinary wave of hatred on the internet”.

Since October, far-right groups have been increasingly prominent, conducting a number of marches and other events, protesting in particular against migrants, the EU and the LGBT community. A memorial at a Jewish cemetery in north-east Poland has been vandalised four times since it was installed two years ago, including being  sprayed with antisemitic slogans and far-right symbols last month.

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Jewish memorial defaced with far-right symbol and “Off to the gas”

Polish-Nigerian author Remi Adekoya recently wrote that, while in recent years ‘Poles [have been] decidedly more relaxed and friendlier towards outsiders, including nonwhite people[,]…unfortunately, Poland’s current government is working hard to reverse this progress…[and] seems bent on resuscitating the most xenophobic instincts in Poland’.

Just to be clear, PiS is not itself directly responsible for any of these incidents; but it has helped to create an environment in which they are happening more commonly. Regardless of whether one supports the broader policies of the government, its efforts to exploit and exacerbate fear of outsiders can only lead in a dangerous direction.That should be even clearer now that Poles themselves are falling victim to precisely such rhetoric in Britain.

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21 comments

  1. Pingback: Brits' "Solidarity with Poland" Campaign Gathers Pace as #PolesinUK and #BritsinPoland Gain Ground | Inside-poland.com
  2. D.E. Wilczek

    But Kaczyński and Duda like Jews. They like immigrants. This is a lie, this article. Poland is only a little afraid of uncontrolled immigration from Muslim countries. Poland wants to take some amount of Muslim refugees, but doesn’t want to be dictated by Germany/France on how many people from outside EU we have to admit. That’s all. And, there were always some skinheads in Poland on the fringes of society, nobody cares about those twats.

    • Daniel Tilles

      The Muslims, people with dark skin, Jews and LGBT community who are targeted by the far right do ‘care about those twats’. And I don’t think you can say that they’re on the ‘fringes of society’ when you have radical nationalist MPs from Ruch Narodowy in parliament, and tens of thousands attending the Marsz Niepodleglosci organised by RN, ONR, Mlodziez and other far right groups.

    • Smith

      listen and listen well. You polish need to get out of UK very very soon/ British people have nothing in common with you Slavic polish people . We don’t want you in UK. Get out of our land and carry your criminal activity in your own place…

  3. danzamoyski

    Daniel Tilles: You have no right to make such a broad accusation without proper referenced proof. In the following text, after you have supposedly sought to distance the PiS-led government from this non-substantiated increase in violence (you provide no independently verifiable statistics on increased racist attacks), you then seek to blame them anyway, as in the following: “but it (PiS-led government) has helped to create an environment in which they are happening more commonly. ” If you do not provide valid proof of how this “environment” was “helped” to be “created” by “PiS”, then you have NO right to link the PiS-led government to increased incidents of racism in Poland. Therefore, you really must remove the sentence quoted.

    • Daniel Tilles

      After PiS’s election victory in October there absolutely was a wave of racist attacks, just like there has been in Britain after the Brexit referendum. Check out the hyperlink in the article to a list we published of some of the attacks that took place in November.

      • mar389

        First of all, the cases were isolated as there was no connection neither between them nor with any political/social movement.
        Secondly, if it were a wave, it would’ve evolved, run throughout the cities and probably risen in power. Has anything like that happened?

        Not at all. The article’s conclusion is invalid.

      • Daniel Tilles

        The attacks in Britain are also isolated. They are not coordinated by or associated with any political party or organisation. And there’s no reason why a wave has to ‘evolve and rise to power’.

        The two cases are remarkably similar: in Poland there was an electoral victory in October for a political party whose programme was based on patriotism, stoking fears about foreigners in general and Muslims in particular, and over the next month there was a wave of Islamophobic attacks; in Britain there was an electoral victory for a political movement whose programme was based on patriotism, stoking fears of foreigners in general and immigrants in particular, and subsequently there has been a wave of xenophobic attacks.

      • mar389

        The acts of violence in the UK are not isolated as the pro-brexit campaign largely based on promises to get rid of the foreigners from the country. Including the ones that had been living there for years. So it is a logical conclusion that the rise of xenophobia after the poll stems directly from that campaign and its result. So there is a clear link between the assaults in GB.

        To confirm the arguments that brexiters used:
        http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/eu-referendum-brexit-immigration-immigrants-campaign-latest-baroness-warsi-a7104426.html

        And when it comes to Poland, no one ever had any issue with current foreigners in the country or launched a full-blown campaign to deport them. In particular this topic has never been a leading motive for the ruling party. What the government in Poland expressed, was the opposition to EU-forced incorporation of muslim refugees and after that the topic was ignored as insignificant. This irrelevance and the fact that such incidents in Poland were rare, proves their isolated nature.

        Therefore you really can’t draw any parallels between the UK and Poland because there is no case in Poland.

      • Daniel Tilles

        Actually, leading Brexit campaigners specifically said that existing EU immigrants would not be thrown out of the country. Rather, they wanted to control the flow of future immigrants. And they didn’t want to ‘get rid of foreigners’ completely; in fact, the likes of Boris Johnson and even Nigel Farage praised the benefits of immigration and said it would continue in future, just in a more controlled manner.

        During the election campaign in Poland PiS and media supportive of them repeatedly raised fears about the threat that Muslims posed Poland and Europe. Then, after the election, there was a sudden and significant increase in Islamophobic attacks (a few of which we listed here: https://www.facebook.com/notesfrompoland/posts/546727882169093). Given that Britain has millions of immigrants and ethnic minorities, whereas Poland has a tiny number (the lowest in the EU), in proportional terms there was a huge number of xenophobic attacks in Poland after the election.

      • mar389

        The fact is that many British people as an effect of the brexit campaign believed that the poll is really about showing red card to the immigrants they have in the UK and after the poll result for some of them it was a natural consequence to communicate “go back home, we’ve voted exit” in the streets, some didn’t refrain from violence.

        Whereas in Poland, during the election campaign, no political party treated immigration as a significant matter in the political game, although every party had to express some clear view on it.

        And the incidents you mentioned were rare in Poland both in the absolute numbers and in the proportional terms.

      • Daniel Tilles

        Yes, and the fact is that some Polish people as an effect of PiS, KORWiN and Kukiz’s election campaigns believed that the poll was really about showing the red card to foreigners trying to control Poland, including by promoting multiculturalism and Muslim immigration, and after the poll result for some of them it was a natural consequence to communicate to anyone with dark skin, “go back home, we’ve voted to take back control of our country”, and some didn’t refrain from violence.

        If you think the migration crisis was not a significant issue during the election campaign, you clearly weren’t living in Poland at the time (or following the campaign closely).

        As I said before, the number of xenophobic incidents was significant. Poland’s human right’s ombudsman – whose job it is to keep track of these things – noted a big increase in xenophobic abuse and attacks after October.

      • mar389

        But you’ve just literally copied my comment and switched some keywords in it in order to distort its meaning – something I would not expect from a cultural person. Other than that, you simply repeated your former statements, this doesn’t bring you in any new arguments to the discussion.

      • Daniel Tilles

        ‘But you’ve just literally copied my comment and switched some keywords’ – yes, that was precisely the point

  4. Pole

    Mass immigration and terrorist attacks led to anti Muslim sentiments in Poland. Poles have the right to feel threatened and worried. Blame ISIS not PiS. Comparing Poles in the UK to Muslim Arabs makes little sense. In Poland there is no catholic terror and civil war based on religious fanaticism. Poles are peaceful hard working people, who assimilate very quickly.

    • Easy

      Yes and Poles do not belong in Britain. They belong in Poland. And why, BTW is supposed to be a good thing ” to assimilate very quickly”?

  5. Mimi K

    Can we please take equally as strong a stand against the deeply mysoginistic attitudes of Muslims as we take against islamophobia? As a Polish Canadian I have happily lived along side of Brits, Indians of various religions, Chinese, Japanese, Congolese, Jamaicans and the list goes on. I am however deeply concerned about my rights and safety when a cultural/religious group feels they can impose their oppressive world view on me. Western women have fought long and hard to gain the rights and freedoms we enjoy in the West. I draw the line at tolerating oppression of women under the auspices of cultural tolerance.

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