Racism is NOT a Polish Problem

June 8, 2012
Spanish Monkey Chants

‘Spanish’ Monkey Chants

The European Championships are upon us and the journalists of Europe (and the world) are focused on the two host countries of Poland and Ukraine. It all began with the BBC’s Panorama suggesting (and in fact showing) that racism is rife in Ukraine and Poland. I won’t deny it. Yes, it is. More recently, the Netherlands team complained of racial abuse and monkey chants during their training session at Kraków’s Stadion Miejski. This too cannot be denied and must be weeded out. However (there’s always a ‘however’), I am loathe to sit back and watch Poland and Ukraine become the pariahs of Europe just because the anti-racism/PC bandwagon has become particularly en vogue in certain circles. Fighting racism should always be on the agenda but it should not be the agenda. I am no apologist and will never condone racism in any form having been the subject of racism for much of my life, but please, let’s put things into context.

Chinese Human Rights Overlooked

Chinese Human Rights Overlooked

It is also interesting that the politicians of Europe in their infinite wisdom have all decided to gang up on Ukraine and have refused to travel to Europe’s second largest country  in outrage at the treatment of Yulia Tymoshenko. Interesting decision. Politicians are often the first to admit that politics and sport should not mix. FIFA and UEFA themselves uphold regulations that do not allow governments to intervene in local federations. Odd that there were no similar boycotts of the Beijing Olympics and politicians of the West flocked to China blindly ignorant of the human rights violations that were taking place. But back to racism as this is what concerns us most. There is racism in Poland. This cannot be denied. By the same token, there have been even more grave manifestations of racism in other European countries recently. In the UK this included the Bradford and Oldham riots of 2001, the death of an Indian sailor in Scotland in 2009 as well as the London riot in the summer of 2011 which was believed to have been started by (institutionalised  police) racism.

Casting the First Stone

Casting the First Stone

In France, this included the outrageous racism displayed towards Romani people when they were forcibly deported from France in 2010. More recently, the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party of Greece gained 21 seats (!) in the last Greek parliamentary elections. The party spokesman Ilias Kasidiaris is wanted for assaulting a female politician (live on TV). As we can see, this is not a Polish problem but a deep-seated European problem compounded by the economic crisis. Hardship, poverty and ignorance fan the flames of racism, fascism and intolerance. Poland had over fifty years of communist seclusion and racial homogeneity. Hardly an excuse but it means that foreigners are still a novelty. It will take time but everyone needs to join in and help. It wasn’t that long ago – I can recall football matches that I went to in the 1990s in England – where monkey chants were a regular occurrence rather than an abhorrent exception. Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Any takers?


Poland Has a Cross to Bear

August 18, 2010

Shit Hits the Plaque

Shit Hits the Plaque

Things have really reached boiling point and one could colloquially add that the shit really has hit the fan in Poland. A ‘faecal’ assailant soiled the plaque commemorating the death of President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other passengers in the Smolensk air tragedy. A 71-year-old threw a strategically aimed pot of poo at the memorial tablet in central Warsaw. He was arrested by police and taken away. This follows several months of  squabbling over what should happen to the cross that was temporarily erected outside the Presidential Palace by scouts in memory of the victims of the Smolensk tragedy.

José & Jarek - Feel the Love

José Luis Zapatero & Jarek Kaczyński - Feel the Love

It all started when President Bronisław Komorowski announced that the temporary wooden cross should be transferred to a more appropriate place, specifically Saint Anne’s Church, not far from the Presidential Palace. The cross is of course a religious symbol and not a symbol of state and it is inappropriate to leave it outside the Presidential Palace. His comments kicked off a storm with Jarosław Kaczyński claiming Komorowski was anti-catholic and a proponent of the evil of what he termed ‘Zapaterism’.

Crucifixion Anyone?

Crucifixion Anyone?

The odd thing is that no one, apart from Jarosław Kaczyński, seems to know what evil deed it is that Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero has done. With a lack of decent policies, sound ideas and competent opinions, Kaczyński has been using the cross as a political makeweight. In fact, he has said that the policies of Law & Justice (PiS) will now revolve around the Smolensk tragedy. Kaczyński is literally crucifying his own party and followers in pursuit of his own personal mission. His personal loss seems to have clouded his judgement and the cross has begun to symbolise his hurt rather than the mission of Christ and his followers. Those so-called ‘defenders’ of the cross are to Catholics what hooligans are to regular football fans.

Christian or Fascist?

Christian or Fascist?

A fine example of the utter blindness of these so-called Christians was their behaviour when the day came to move the cross. Priests from Saint Anne’s came to lead the cross in procession from the Presidential Palace to Saint Anne’s Church. The reaction of these ‘Catholics’ was to scream and shout at the Catholic priests calling them traitors and, of all things, “Jews”. Odd, to say the least. We have reached an impasse and the only real way to resolve it is for the two main protagonists, President Komorowski and Jarosław Kaczyński, to sit down and reach an adequate compromise. Then again pigs might fly…


The Creation of Genocide

September 14, 2009

Re-interpreting Mass Murder

The Great Rafał Lemkin

Rafał Lemkin (better known as Raphael Lemkin) was born in a country that did not exist. In 1900, the year of Lemkin’s birth, Poland had not yet regained its independence, yet Rafał Lemkin considered himself Polish. The village of Bezwodne (not too far from Grodno, now in Belarus), the birthplace of this great man, lay in what was then Imperial Russia. Being both Polish (with no Poland) and Jewish (with Anti-Semitism particularly strong in Imperial Russia), Lemkin knew exactly what it meant to be  part of an ostracised minority. He knew what it meant to be different. He was therefore also acutely aware of the importance and value of freedom.

NY Times Reports... (1915)

NY Times Reports... (1915)

Rafał Lemkin studied linguistics at the Jan Kazimierz University of Lwów. While at Lwów, he became interested and then began researching the Armenian massacre at the hands of the Turks in 1915-1916. He was later to continue his research into similar massacres of this kind with work on the Simele massacre in which the Iraqi government ordered the murder and forced exile of the Assyrians in 1933. Lemkin, through his research, became interested in crime and justice and, through his grounding in linguistics, was disturbed by the lack of definitions of various crimes, particularly those perpetrated by the Turks and the Iraqis.

Nuremberg Trials

Nuremberg Trials

When Hilter began his rampage through Poland killing Jews, Poles and many others in the Nazi death camps, Lemkin saw that the mistakes and atrocities of the past perpetrated on the Armenians and Assyrians were coming back to haunt humanity and in particular him – he was both Jewish and Polish. He felt the need to define these atrocities from a criminal (and linguistic) point of view. In 1943 Lemkin coined the word genocide from the Greek genos (tribe, race) and the Latin –cide (killing) to describe what Hitler and the Nazis were doing. Lemkin’s definition of genocide became a part of international law and one of the legal bases of the Nuremberg Trials against Nazi war criminals.

Katyń - War Crime or Genocide?

Katyń - War Crime or Genocide?

In his own words, Lemkin said, “By ‘genocide’ we mean the destruction of a nation or of an ethnic group… Genocide has two phases: one, destruction of the national pattern of the oppressed group; the other, the imposition of the national pattern of the oppressor”. The word “genocide” has been in the news in recent weeks. Many Polish politicians declare the Katyń massacre of 1940 by the Soviets on Polish military officers and intellectuals to be genocide. The Russians, of course, do not agree. Several days ago, the Deputy Speaker of the House Stefan Niesiołowski hit the headlines by stating that Katyń was a war crime, not genocide.

Legacy of Katyń

Legacy of Katyń

This comment has not only outraged members of the opposition, particularly Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jarosław Kaczyński, but also members of Niesiołowski’s own party Civic Platform (PO). Kaczyński claims that Niesiołowski has gone too far and is being disloyal to his country. The Polish parlimanent wishes to pass a resolution this week regarding the atrocities of WWII. The PiS resolution talks about genocide, rape, murder perpertrated on the Polish nation by two totalitarian governments. PO prefers a milder resolution. However, the question of whether Katyń is “genocide” (as Lemkin defined it) or not still seems unresolved.


If Only…

September 7, 2009

Another Time, Another Warsaw

Another Time, Another Warsaw

… the Second World War would have never taken place. What would have happened? What would Poland be like now? I came across an interesting article by Piotr Gursztyn in Dziennik who probably fancies himself as a writer of alternate history. In it, he paints an interesting picture of a Poland untouched by war but ravaged by a host of other problems. The post below is based loosely on this article. The year is 2009. To the left of Poland we find the German Third Reich, to the right of Poland we find the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Europe is not a happy place, constant bickering, skirmishes and trans-border terrorism is the norm.

Złoczów, Eastern Poland

Złoczów, Eastern Poland

Chamberlain’s words “peace in our time” could not be further from the truth. Thankfully, the 1930s and 40s passed without incident, although Germany managed to take most of Czechia as well as Danzig. The USSR put pressure on Poland to relinquish its eastern territories to the Ukrainian SSR but their territorial demands were not met, although Poland was forced into a more conciliatory stance regarding the Kresy turning itself into a federative republic and the Lwów, Stanisławów and Tarnopol Provinces into Autonomous Provinces (together with the already Autonomous Province of Silesia).

Kaunas, Capital of Lithuania

Kaunas, Capital of Lithuania

Poland’s third largest city is Lwów, its sixth largest city is Wilno. The Jan Kazimierz University of Lwów is Poland’s most prestigious university pushing the University of  Warsaw and the Jagiellonian University of Kraków into second and third place respectively. Poland’s holiday-makers keep away from the Baltic Coast and the gigantic port in sprawling Gdynia. Poles prefer to travel to the Wilno Lakes (the Mazurian Lakelands are in Germany) or to the wildlands of Czarnohora near the Romanian border.

Stettin, Foreign City

Stettin, Foreign City

International scholars flock to Warsaw, Lwów and Wilno for conferences in mathematics, logic and philosophy which Poland excels in, as well as to make use of the wonderful libraries, archives and academic know-how housed in these three centres of excellence. Poland is one of Europe’s largest countries with a population of 61 million, however, it is a country divided, with little love lost between Poles, Jews, Ukrainians, Belarusians and Germans. Poland is a state where only 60% of the population is Polish.

Königsberg, Prussian Capital

Königsberg, Prussian Capital

Foreign politicians and commentators speak of a ‘powerful Poland’ and ‘Polish pride’, ‘Polish strength’ and ‘Polish power’ yet they also talk of ‘Polish arrogance’, ‘Polish regional hegemony’ and the ‘Polish patchwork’. Patchwork? Poland is a country marked by huge differences. East and west are economically worlds apart. Poland’s successive nationalist governments have done little to help incorporate the minorities. Jews, Ukrainians and Belarusians belong to very different social groups. Poland forever seems to be on the verge of social collapse. The Ukrainian terrorism of the 1950s has subsided, the anti-Jewish violence of the 1960s has stopped but without a long-term vision, the future for Poland does not look bright.


Monkeys, Jews and Poles

June 25, 2009

The Culture of Polish Fandom

The Culture of Fandom

What do monkeys, Jews and Poles have in common? Very little actually but go to any Polish football ground and you’ll hear hundreds of hooligans making disgusting monkey gestures at any black players on the pitch and shouting a whole variety of Jewish insults at the players of the opposing team. With the whole of Europe working towards stamping out racism, Polish football has become somewhat of an anachronism.

Institutional Racism
An unbelievable racism-related story hit the Polish headlines this week. The Prosecutor’s Office in Kraków-Krowodrzy decided to throw out a case filed by the local Jewish community. During the Kraków derby (Cracovia Kraków vs. Wisła Kraków) Cracovia fans made monkey gestures at Wisła’s Brazilian-born Cleber. Wisła fans, on the other, shouted “to the gas chamber” at Cracovia’s Maciej Łuczak as well as “f##king Jews” and the suchlike at Cracovia’s other players and fans. The justification for throwing out this (obvious) case (of racism and anti-Semitism) was the police’s inability to stop these racist and anti-Semitic chants. What is more, Prosecutor Dorota Kuk-Turek astonishingly claimed that these racist and anti-Semitic chants “were not criminal in character”.

Football Phantom

Football Phantom

Historical Reason
It gets better. Kuk-Turek outdid herself by claiming that there are historical reasons for the anti-Semitic chants of the Wisła supporters and said that the antagonisms between the two Kraków teams reach back to 1906 because Wisła had always been traditionally “Catholic” and Cracovia traditionally “Jewish”. She continued, saying that Cracovia’s best players had traditionally been “of Jewish extraction” whereas Wisła had traditionally never taken on “non-Catholic” players. These stereotypes, she claimed, have survived until today.

Criminal Innocence
Seemingly unaware of how ridiculous her reasoning might be to the rest of the civilised world, Kuk-Turek went on in her justification to say that the crime of inflaming racial hatred and racial abuse is premeditated in nature. She was not able to ascertain whether the racist and anti-Semitic chants committed by the hooligans were premeditated or necessarily targeted at a particular race in which case they were not a crime. She also dug herself another hole by ridiculously claiming that the anti-Semitic chants were not targeted at the Jewish nation but rather a particular player of the opposing team. Kuk-Turek’s decision is causing controversy in the media but the questions beg: why is this woman still working in the legal profession? Why isn’t someone doing something about this?


Who actually Won the War?

May 27, 2009

GERMAN Nazis

GERMAN Nazis

The events of the last few days have led me to ask the question: “Who actually won World War II?” Noises from the political elite in Germany and an even greater hoohah in Poland have got me thinking about two issues: (1) the necessity for Germany to feel responsible for the Holocaust and the slaughter of so many innocent lives in World War II, and (2) the growing rise of negationism, or rather historical relativism.

German Revisionism
The surprising news that has come out of Germany is that the two political powerhouses, the CDU and CSU, have called for the European Parliament to back a decision to condemn all forms of forced
repatriation. Without such a joint EU declaration, Germany has intimated that it will not agree to further expansion of the European Union. This is all well and good and indeed forced repatriating should be condemned but this issue deflects away from the causes of the last forced exodus in Europe. As we all know, the forced repatriation of millions of European citizens was a direct result of the Nazi attack on Poland in 1945. The CDU and CSU have also added that all laws and rights violated through repatriation need to be reversed. This appears to be a call to give compensation to those Germans who were forced out of Poland after the war, a war the Germans began!

Polish Oversensitiveness
This has caused an almighty explosion of outrage in Poland. The first to respond to Germany’s call was Jarosław Kaczyński who has called upon PM Donald Tusk for his Civic Platform (PO) to leave the the European People’s Party-European Democrats (EPP-ED) political group, the group to which both PO and the CDU and CSU belong in a mark of protest against this German revisionism. He has also called the PO “weak” in the face of German brute force and expansionism. Germany has also stated that it wishes the German language to be stronger within the EU. There’s no getting away from the fact that Jarosław Kaczyński made these statements for political gain but he’s not all that wrong about Germany trying to deflect away from the cause of Europe’s most recent forced bout of repatriations.

European Problems
Yes, Poland is oversensitive. But wouldn’t you be a little touchy if you had experienced what the inhabitants of Poland experienced during the war. Not only was Poland’s Jewish population wiped out but its other citizens also faced humiliation, torture and death at the hands of the German Nazis. Any calls for a re-evaluation of the facts will unsurprisingly cause a stir. Two things need to happen for Europe to take a good look at itself and grow up. Firstly, not only Germany and Poland but ALL of the EU’s member states need to sit down and talk, not only at the ministerial level but at the level of local communities to see how these issues still affect us all today. Secondly, Europe needs to learn the true meaning of solidarity and the meaning of ‘being European’, whatever that means.


Is Poland a Racist Country?

November 18, 2008
Poland's Eaglets

Poland's Eaglets

There’s been a great big hoo-hah in the press recently after Law and Justice (PiS) MP Artur Górski came out with ridiculous comments about Barack Obama’s win spelling the end of the civilisation of the white man. Poland’s other political parties (including ruling Civic Platiform) have called for strict action to be taken against Górski. What added fuel to the flames was PiS head Jarosław Kaczyński making a feeble attempt to defend Górski in the name of free speech.

From Fire to Blaze
Kaczyński overzealous yet absurd defence of Górski may have added fuel to the flames but his recent gaffe has sprayed high-octane petrol on the now raging blaze. PiS are considering reporting Minster of Foreign Affairs Radosław Sikorski to the public prosecutor for telling a racist joke about Barack Obama, the only problem is that Jarosław Kaczyński was caught telling the very same joke, a story told to the press by Wojciech Olejniczak, former head of Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).

Is Rydzyk Typical?
This leads to the question, is Poland a racist country? A great number of Poland’s politicians have become embroiled in this mini-scandal, this scandalette of sorts, but is this a reflection of Polish society in general? Many claim that Polish people are anti-semitic. Yes, there are very public accounts of certain notables making anti-semitic comments, most notably Tadeusz Rydzyk and his Radio Maryja, but does this mirror your average Jan Kowalski?

Bubbling Ignorance
In a post some time ago, we looked at racism in football. But isn’t racism present in football all over Europe? Poland is no different to other EU states, which doesn’t make it a good thing but some would argue that the football culture in, for example, Spain is much more racist than Polish football could ever be. In my own humble opinion, I’d say that Polish people aren’t overtly racist, nor are they overtly anti-semitic, however, there is a great deal of underlying ignorance which often bubbles to the surface in the form of what may appear to be racism. Let’s just hope that Poland’s politicians can keep a lid on it.