The Changing Face of Hate in Poland: From Antisemitism to Anti-Muslim Racism

Faith Matters launches a ground-breaking paper looking at worrying levels of far-right anti-Muslim racism in Poland and anti-Muslim activism in the UK in Polish Communities
 
The full report can be downloaded HERE. 
 
Faith Matters is proud to launch a new briefing paper to outline some of the key dynamics and drivers of far-right narratives between the UK and Polish far-right.
 
The new report, titled ‘From antisemitism to anti-Muslim racism: the evolving face of the far-right in Poland’, highlights how extremist groups like Britain First have continued to sow division by exploiting the religious sentiments of Poles in Britain to further their anti-Muslim agenda. This includes failed attempts to bring over antisemitic and anti-Muslim speakers, and the leadership of Britain First, namely its deputy leader, Jayda Fransen, has travelled to Poland to engage with such individuals like the antisemitic former priest Jacek Międlar.  
 
Faith Matters intends to use this report as a springboard to engage with Polish communities in Britain to start an interfaith dialogue that includes Christian, Muslim, and Jewish voices that will seek to counter the exclusionary and dehumanising narratives of the far-right with a dialogue that will not only seek to address more painful aspects of Polish history but also celebrate the contributions of its Muslim minorities.  
 
By identifying key voices both in Britain and Poland, the report will seek to expose their views, in the hope of marginalising their voice, and empowering Poles to challenge attitudes online, in the home, or in community spaces.  
 
It took the combined efforts of voices within the Polish community to translate materials from the far-right politician Marian Kowalski which Faith Matters passed to authorities to prevent him speaking at a restaurant in London. Our concern remains that some will seek to use community spaces to push anti-Muslim or other hateful narratives away from media scrutiny.  
 
Other, more extreme neo-Nazi groups, like the National Rebirth of Poland (NOP), coordinated activities with both National Action and the National Front to do ‘whites-only’ foodbanks in Scotland and London. The NOP has also targeted NHS centres in small anti-abortion protests.  
 
Steve Rose, the author of the report, said: “It’s clear that Britain First continues to exploit the religious sentiments of Poles to push an extremist narrative which mythologises a Christian Europe in opposition to very dehumanising anti-Muslim narratives which tap into wider anxieties towards cultural and national identity.  
 
This report seeks to challenge that, and highlight that antisemitism remains a key driver of far-right ideology, with anti-Muslim racism seeking further division in a country where Muslims have accounted for less than 1% of the population.  
 
What’s clear is that many Poles want to challenge this form of politics and this project will help provide a collaborative partnership to help build dialogue and see the contributions of Muslims historically and in Poland today.  
 
Additional research in this field of work will expand beyond the scope of this report and encourage more forms of counter-speech online and through community events in the months ahead.”
 
Fiyaz Mughal OBE, Founder and Director of Faith Matters said:  
 
“We have been seeing far right extremist groups like Britain First actively tout key activists in Polish communities in Poland and the UK. Yet, during the national Brexit referendum, these very groups were promoting hate against Eastern European communities. This shows the cynical posturing of these far-right extremist groups in the vain hope that they will gain support.”
 
KEY FINDINGS OF THE REPORT 
 
Key findings of the report, which will be accessible on the Faith Matters web-site, state that:
  • A chronology of Islamophobic incidents in Poland demonstrates how some have exploited international events to attack Islamic institutions, including an attack on a mosque in Poznań, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks in Paris in January 2015,
  • Polling of European countries in 2016 found that negative views of minorities and refugees were commonplace. Negative views of Muslims were widespread in Italy (69%), Hungary (72%), and Poland (69%). It is perhaps unsurprising that almost a quarter of Poles interviewed expressed negative opinions towards Jewish communities. Ideological leanings to the right were indicators of increased unfavourability towards Muslims.
  • Anti-refugee sentiment remains stubbornly high in Poland, even though the country has hardly taken in refugees post the Syria civil war. For example, just over half of Poles polled who expressed favourable views of Muslims had agreed that refugees pose a threat, though this jumps to 81% amongst the Poles who expressed unfavourable views of Muslims. Outside of Hungary, Poles expressed the most concern (71%) that refugees will increase the risk of domestic terrorism. Almost of a third of Poles agreed that Muslims in their country support ISIS, as a similar number declined to answer this question. As with other countries, Poles also overwhelmingly agreed that refugees were ‘drains’ on the welfare system.
  • Perhaps these factors help explain how many Europeans uniformly overstate the size of their respective Muslim populations. In Poland, researchers found that on average, Poles believed that of every 100 people, seven are Muslim. The reality is that this figure is under 0.1%.
  • Regarding population shifts, Poles believed that Muslims would make up 13% of the population in 2020. Pędziwiatr (2016) attributes this perception gap to the misinformation presented in sections of Polish press and by certain public figures. 
  • Social researchers, Gawlewicz and Narkowicz (2015), highlight how the rich Islamic history of the region is ignored, demonstrating how this panic is a modern problem, and reflective the political shifts in Poland in recent years. Some of the key social agitators, highlighted in the Faith Matters report are based in the UK and Poland.
  • The history of the Polish Muslim Tatars is completely overlooked by social commentators who promote anti-Muslim hate, as though hundreds of years of engagement with Muslims that have shaped and made up a part of Poland’s history, simply do not exist.
KEY PURVEYORS OF ANTI-MUSLIM BIGOTRY
 
The report lists these to be:
 
Miriam Shadad: Miriam Shadad was behind the attempted settlement of fifty Christian Syrian refugees in Poland in 2015, but most would leave Poland within months. She made various anti-Muslim remarks when interviewed in the Financial Times which included the claim that many who practice Islam are ‘criminals’.
 
Shaded has expressed support for Viktor Orbán’s proposed ban on Islam in Hungary. In other media, she said that the Qur’an is a book that calls for ‘hatred and violence’ and that the concept of Jihad is one of force and submission. She appeared on the cover of the Polish weekly magazine Wprost in 2016. She used this interview to call for a ban on Islam in Poland, to praise the Assad regime for its liberal protection of Christians, including her relatives, and to warn that if ‘Europe does not quickly wake up, it will become Islamized.
 
Piotr Ryback: The extremes of an ethno-nationalist fringe in Poland have gained notoriety in recent years, most notably in the actions of Piotr Rybak, of the Wielka Polska Niepodlegla movement. In November 2015, during an anti-Muslim protest in Wroclaw against Poland accepting Syrian refugees, Rybak burned an effigy of an Orthodox Jewish man. During the protest, most of which was captured on video and uploaded to YouTube, Rybak said, ‘we will not bring a single Muslim into Poland, Poland is for Poles.’ He then set fire to the effigy, which featured an EU flag.
 
The National Radical Camp organised the protest and presented Rybak with the effigy to burn, but the courts rejected his claim that the effigy was of Hungarian-American Jewish philanthropist George Soros, finding him guilty of ‘public incitement to hatred on the grounds of religion and nationality to an unspecified group of Jews by burning an effigy’. The prison sentence given to Rybak fell to three months after an appeal.
 
Jacek Miedlar: The notoriety of the disgraced former priest Jacek Międlar grew after he was detained at Stansted Airport to prevent him from attending a Britain First rally in Telford, Shropshire in February 2017. Międlar, 28, is an important fixture in the extreme right-wing political scene in Poland, and in Wrocław in west Poland. Two years earlier, Międlar spoke at the far-right organised nationalist demonstration which marked the anniversary of Poland’s independence after the First World War. Organisers claimed that 50,000 attended but police put the actual figure at 25,000 people.
 
On the Polish Independence Day march on 11 November 2016, Międlar is alleged to have publicly called for hatred against Jews and Ukrainians. During the march, he is alleged to have said, ‘We must be strong in spirit, body, in our mentality and knowledge, because only we will be able to win with the left, with Jewry, and with communism, which is still in our homeland’. Months earlier, prosecutors dropped a hate crime investigation against Międlar, when during his sermon, he described Jews as a ‘cancer’. He is also alleged to have uploaded a photo of Poles performing a Nazi salute during a pogrom in the southern town of Myślenice in 1936 which resulted in non-lethal violence and property damage to Jewish-owned businesses.
 
Marian Kowalski: Marian Kowalski came to prominence in the English-language media in 2015 following a series of counter-protests following his speaking tour in Ireland during his failed presidential campaign in Poland. Hotels in Dublin and Cork cancelled speaking events for Kowalski, who represents the far-right National Movement (Ruch Narodowy).
 
Kowalski’s views towards the building of new mosques in Poland reflects how anti-Muslim racism is often anti-Arab in focus. In a 2016 speech, he is reported to have told a crowd that Arab-funded mosques are ‘breeding grounds’ for terrorists. On Facebook, he shared a meme about how Poland violently dealt with the ‘invasion’ of Islam on 20 May 2017. On Twitter, Kowalski compared Islam to a ‘trojan horse’. On 25 September 2016, he photographed a small rally in Trafalgar Square in London which called for the release of Janusz Waluś, a Polish white supremacist, who, in 1993, murdered the anti-apartheid hero and SACP leader Chris Hani. Waluś was a member of the leading neo-Nazi group in South Africa, the Afrikaner Resistance Movement, who hoped his actions would trigger a race war in the final days of apartheid.
 
Kowalski has also gained a reputation for his provocative stunts which included the burning of a rainbow flag in July 2015 following the U.S. Supreme Court ruling to legalise same same-sex marriage.  
 
Weronika Kania: The self-styled reporter Weronika Kania, who has contributed one hundred posts to the Polish-language anti-Islamisation website NDIE, was active in interviewing members of Britain First before her videos disappeared from YouTube. She spoke at a Britain First rally on 28 July 2017. On Facebook, she briefly updated her cover photo in praise of Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbán in 2015. Recent Facebook posts have promoted Tommy Robinson’s controversial new book and linked to a YouTube concerning the paedophilia and Islam. She has also regularly interviewed Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of Britain First.
 
Piotr Szlachtowicz hosts the online radio show ‘The Nowy Polski Show’. It sponsored an event in Slough which listed Jacek Międlar as a keynote speaker. The event celebrated the underground Polish army which fought in anti-communist resistance movements. Międlar, of course, was denied entry into the UK.
 
Another event promoted by his radio show featured the Polish MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who, in 2015, was suspended from the European Parliament for ten days after performing a Nazi salute. He has also claimed that Hitler ‘probably’ did not know about the Holocaust and the murder of millions of people was not his ‘goal’. Korwin-Mikke used racial the epithet ‘n—–‘ in 2014 and was suspended this year after making sexist remarks in parliament. An interview with Korwin-Mikke was uploaded by Mateusz Jaronski on 18 July 2017. The Twitter feed of the Nowy Polski Show, has, on multiple occasions, posted tweets favourable of the leadership of the far-right political party Britain First.

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