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The Polish society is expressing very strong sentiments against the flux of immigrants coming to Europe in the past few months. First of all, people are opposing the fact that the country is assigned a certain quota of asylum seekers to host, as an order from the EU. Their argument being, ‘What is hospitality if it is not voluntary?’. The second factor is a deep fear of foreign culture, religion and set of values. The fire is fueled by media images of refugees throwing away water, demolishing buses, and also documentaries from countries that already have significant Muslim minorities – France, the UK, Sweden. We get bombarded by statistics of rising rapes, crime, minorities not complying with the respective country’s regulations and police not doing anything about it. Fears that are fueled mostly by right-wing, nationalistic and Catholic organizations. Yes, Catholicism in Poland is not as good-hearted and welcoming as Pope Francis would want it to be, but this is another issue.
I can understand the fear. Yet, I am convinced we need to help people fleeing from the war zone and rescue them the same way as Polish people were given help in the past centuries. I am as much concerned what effect it might have on the way we live. Both a positive and a negative one.
I am convinced we need to help people fleeing from the war zone and rescue them the same way as Polish people were given help in the past centuries.
Nevertheless, my experience from the anti-immigrant rally in Warsaw last Saturday was truly disgusting and fearsome as well. I went there to see in my own eyes what the social perception of the immigrant crisis was and catch a better grip on the current Polish society. However, what I witnessed seemed like a scene from another century.
The phobias of people are a great ground for rising nationalism, racism and aggression. Being among a 10-thousand crowd shouting “Whole Poland – only white”, “Poland says NO to Muslim savages”, and “Poland only for the Poles” shows how xenophobic, how closed a society we might be in times of trial.
The phobias of people are a great ground for rising nationalism, racism and aggression.
It is horrifying to see how all these low instincts of human nature still creep down below the surface, just waiting to get into a big crowd to be anonymously shouted out.
I understand all the concerns and worries. But I cannot accept fanaticism as a response to them, I cannot accept racism and purity of nation, religion or colour of skin as an answer to those concerns. It just shows what a long way as a society we have to walk yet. It just makes me ashamed of hearing this kind of words on the streets of the Polish capital. And after the rally had gone away, on the big empty square where it gathered remained just a lonely figure of a Muslim in bloody clothes, brought there by the organizers.
I understand all the concerns and worries. But I cannot accept fanaticism as a response to them, I cannot accept racism and purity of nation, religion or colour of skin as an answer to those concerns.
To be fair, on the same day there were also pro-refugees rallies. But the scale of attendance shows the real attitude. In Gdańsk for example – the pro-refugee rally gathered 100 people, while the anti-refugee one was attended by 3000 people. 30 against 1 person being welcoming. In Warsaw, there was a similar proportion – 300 people supporting refugees, and around 10,000 against.
After the protest had ended in the capital, one of the participants attacked a falafel restaurant run by a Libyan man, ignoring the fact that the owner has now Polish citizenship, speaks Polish and is Christian. This episode is a clear example of how fear can lead people to target random individuals in a terrorist manner. Following the attack, however, something beautiful happened on Sunday. Citizens gathered to show support to the owner: the queue for falafels was longer than in front of the busiest restaurants in Warsaw.
All we need is a call for a discussion among people, and among politicians. How, if at all, we want and we will accept refugees. And how to calm the fears, because if the fire is not put out, it just grows bigger. I just hope that the discussion will take place without nationalistic “Whole Poland – only white” shouts in the background.
I just hope that the discussion will take place without nationalistic “Whole Poland – only white” shouts in the background.
[Cover photo: © Krzysiek Filipiuk]
Polish traveller and photographer who chose Bulgaria as his place of living. Vividly interested in ideas of societies balancing freedom of the individual and solidarity of the community. He graduated Business and Marketing and is working as a trainer, but keeps his artistic side alive, and continues writing and photographing for his Old Long Road blog.