The Wrocław city authority and racism

To summarise, they don’t know what they’re doing.   I don’t mean that in a Jesus sense (he said “they don’t know what they’re doing” meaning something else), rather in a “they are incompetent” sense.

Strong words, I know, but true.  Regarding dealing with racism in Wrocław, they are not competent.

It’s the NOMADA association (who deal with the issues of “integration”) who are saying as much.  You see, to cut a long story short, members of an international firm with coloured skin were attacked in town.  Therefore this was raised by that firm with the Wrocław city authority.  Their only public reaction (well, from one person) was a “hug a negro” initiative.  NOMADA link this to the abuse of human rights of Roma in a camp outside of Wrocław, abuse carried out by municipal authorities as well as by the police.

NOMADA have documented 120 cases of racially-motivated violence and hate speech in recent years.  As the article says, this is daily life we are talking about here.  “Most of them do not ride public transportation after dark, will not go alone to the center in the evenings.”   (See a recent article of mine for more evidence).

All in all, they accuse the Wrocław municipal government of being more concerned with the image of Wrocław than with combatting racism.  They have come up with no policy.  In fact, they are suspicious of those who do have policies.

Now, it is at this point where I’ll point out that the state cannot manage everything.  Tackling racism requires ordinary people to act, to engage in civil courage, to challenge racism when they see it, to stand up openly against racist parades, not staying at home feeling all concerned but feeling powerless.

Additionally, within the realms of a national state, that the municipal state is part of there is the implicit discrimination against those not considered to be “we”, foreigners.  It’s the same of all nation states.  National myths get propagated.  The state cannot be trusted.  Two years ago Rafał Dutkiewicz, the president of Wrocław, together with Gazeta wyborcza attended and supported the anti-fascist protest that takes place each November the 11th.  Last year they didn’t, and the fascist presence was supported by ordinary people, while the anti-fascist presence was smaller.  Poland is such that only a minority of people will act when the state or the media doesn’t.

A strong civil society is one where people are not reliant on the government.  This can have the paradoxical effect of making governments better as they try to respond to the public will.  In Poland, if the government doesn’t go, people will not follow those people like NOMADA, Centrum Reanimacji Kultury and Falanster who are working hard against prejudice.

Only when people who are anti-racist act can anything change.


3 comments on “The Wrocław city authority and racism

  1. Me says:

    I do agree with you, mostly. Yes, the response, or rather its lack is embarrassing, especially if you consider the surprisingly cosmopolitan image of Wrocław the city has been trying to promote over the past few years (“the meeting place”, “the city of four cultures/denominations”, etc). On the other hand, the multiculturalism in its current form is a fairly new phenomenon in Poland, so it’s no wonder anti-discrimination and integration policies are not well developed yet. Poland has traditionally been a country of emigration, rather than immigration, and it hasn’t been until recently that the situation begun to change. Of course in no way does it justify any forms of racist violence or its tolerance by the relevant public servants. I’m just saying that having lived abroad for a while, I saw similar processes happening according to the same patterns of ignorance-conflict-debate-action-policy development/advancement. I think in Poland it is happening in real time, although in a sort of a slow motion.

    I think it’s crucial to have a strong civil society, especially in a neoliberal state, where the financial arguments seem to have the strongest say (would the issue of racism in Wrocław become so vividly discussed if it didn’t first affect employees of a world-famous corporation?). It can sometimes save lives, literally. But I also think the attitude of “the state cannot be trusted” is not really sustainable in the long run, especially in the context of diversity management. We do need the state just as much as we do the third sector. The NGOs and individual citizens cannot be the only ones responsible for building strong intercultural (I think it is this term that should be used rather than “multicultural”) societies. It is just not feasible (see the example of Roma in Wrocław, or anywhere else). In an ideal world, there should be a real cooperation between all sectors within a state. I think Poland is a long way from reaching this point, but where there’s a will, there’s a way! For now, I’d congratulate all the civil society/ individual initiatives undertaken in Wrocław (and I know there are quite a few) to tackle the problem of racism. Let’s just hope the municipality catches up soon!

  2. Thanks for the comment!

    Yes, you’re right, the issue of diversity (I prefer to use that word myself) is one which is only recently being developed in Poland, so we’re on a steep learning curve. It just annoys me that so much attention is put on how “multicultural” we are, or how “tolerant” we are and this finds its voice in business ventures like “Europa na widelcu” (thus proving your business point) which is not about tolerance, but about reducing differences between people to commodities. I understand that the municipality wants to market its brand, in competition with Kraków.

    Actually, I was going to change my “the state cannot be trusted” statement upon reflection. While I am suspicious of state apparatuses I do agree with you that they have a role to play. I should have said “the state alone cannot be relied on”, as I believe that people generally tend to leave things to the state.

    Regarding the term “multiculturalism”, I’ve come across criticism of that from the point of view that it assumes that people have only one identity (say, a national identity) and that people keep that identity, unaffected by other people. Intercultural is more about the relations between different people. I actually prefer the term “transcultural”, in that, when people meet, they transcend one specific identity (say again, their national one) and find connection with another part of them (religion, football fan, class). Intercultural work places an emphasis on differences while transcultural work accepts the differences but works on that which is common, while not thinking that people are “all the same” and then working on living together.

    On my old blog I wrote about how Poland is actually quite diverse, not due to religion (though that is there) but due to the many different ethnic groups (expellees from what is now the Ukraine, Lithuania or Belarus, as well as Kaszubs, Silesians and Lemki), those whose grandparents were born in the place they now live (like in Mała and Wielka Polska), attitudes to religion and sexuality. That the state puts a heavy emphasis on one specific form of Polishness means that the diversity within Poland (irregardless of people with different colours of skin) is not a developed theme. That and the business angle was where I was coming from regarding trust in the state.

  3. […] in the media due to attacks on Google coloured-skinned employees, something that led to, well, incompetence from the Wrocław state.  It was in that month that this blog published an article from an […]

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