As the world looks on in concern, experts weigh in on the state of Polish nationalism and xenophobia
By CNAAN LIPHSHIZ, TOI
Nationalists march through Warsaw, Nov. 11, 2017. (Jakob Ratz/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images and JTA)
The sight of far-right activists waving racist banners and shouting anti-Semitic slogans during a nationalist march in the capital of Poland over the weekend shocked many around the world.
It was an understandable reaction to witnessing tens of thousands in Warsaw marching near what used to be the largest Jewish ghetto during the Holocaust amid shouts of “Jews out” and “Remove Jewry from power.”
The march, an annual event that began in 2009 with 500 participants on Poland’s national day, Nov. 11, was not necessarily the largest so far. Similar numbers of marchers showed up last year. But it did showcase the rising strength of Polish nationalists who are feeling emboldened by the conservative government in Warsaw — and to some extent by the election of Donald Trump as US president.
Despite its size, the Warsaw gathering was neither unusual nor even particularly toxic compared to similar gatherings in other countries in Central and Eastern Europe. Similar or worse displays have occurred regularly in other post-communist countries — including in Ukraine earlier this year and annually in the Baltic states — where the far right is far more powerful and violent than in Poland.
In the aftermath of the march, JTA posed five questions on the situation to some of Poland’s leading experts on the issue and a former leader of its Jewish community.
Does Poland have a fascism problem?
Despite their growing visibility, ultranationalist Poles have neither the prominence nor acceptance they seem to enjoy in Lithuania, Latvia, Hungary and Ukraine.
Still, their popularity among young people is seen as a worrisome sign, according to Rafal Pankowski, co-founder of the Polish anti-racism group Never Again, who cited a 2013 survey of high school students showing that 44 percent would rather not have Jewish neighbors and more than 60 percent would not want to have a Jewish boyfriend or girlfriend.
In this file photo from Nov. 11, 2016, nationalists burn flares as they march in large numbers through the streets of Warsaw to mark Poland’s Independence Day. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)
“The sociological data shows us that the younger generation is more prone to xenophobia than that of their parents, which is perhaps the most alarming aspect of the phenomenon,” Pankowski said.
Though there were certainly racists at Saturday’s march, there were also “ordinary people, families who just wanted to do a patriotic act, which to them is just to march with the Polish flag,” said Piotr Kadlcik, the former president of the Union of Jewish Religious Communities in Poland.
And while some shouted offensive slogans about Jews, there were no known anti-Semitic banners on display, nor was there rioting or violence.
“In a way this is scary, too, because it shows the far right have their act together and can demonstrate the discipline of a political movement …read more