Disappointed, I am. Last year, there I stood by the rynek with about 200 others who were standing up for a Poland where diversity is appreciated against organised fascists who want a Poland with no people of coloured skin, Jewish people, LGBT or Roma. They attacked us with lit flares, and afterwards the local media said that “left and right-wing extremists were fighting each other”, something that was simply untrue.
I thought that this would be a scandal in Wrocław that so few people stood up for diversity, for democracy. I thought that various groups of people would say, “That cannot happen again, we have to do a bigger counterdemo next year”. Seeing as there have been famous examples of racist attacks in Wrocław during that day as well as the recent attack on the CRK and the synagogue, I really did think that people would want to make their opposition to fascism clear. I also thought that, considering as well the riots by the fash in Warsaw last year those average people who were quite happy to march with the fash last year would not march with them this year, that they would go “I don’t want to support that kind of Poland”.
But no. The fash marched last evening with their football fan friends as well as other patriots. They faced no opposition. The openly racist organisation NOP were very present. The crowd chanted “Poland for the Poles!” They even attacked people who were watching with lit flares and fireworks. They didn’t just want to intimidate anti-fascists, but also average people in Wrocław.
Wrocław, the cool, open, tolerant, multicultural city? You are joking.
Well, even if many are like that, they are not prepared to confront others who want a white-only, Jew- and LGBT-free city.
While racism is something faced by people with coloured skin here on a daily basis I don’t believe that the average person here is a rabid and active racist. I am convinced that most people don’t like the NOP and there is also a sizable group of people happy to support things like Fair Trade and “intercultural tolerance”. What they lack are the means to stand up to fascism.
I say fascism, for that it what it is. Note how yesterday a campaign was launched for a “new nationalism” which involves the overthrow of democracy. In the last year Wrocław has seen the aforementioned racist and anti-semitic attacks, an attack on a vegetarian restaurant that was to host an anti-racist concert just a few weeks ago and last night, an attack on a squat with one person being hospitalised. The NOP are getting increasingly active and more connected with football fans.
So, where does this leave us? What do we do, hope for Rafał Dutkiewicz to solve the problem? To wait for the police to do something?
In the “Wrocław anti-discrimination forum” in Falanster last Friday various activists spoke of how the Wrocław state are saying that we are “multicultural” and sponsoring various events; they are however hopeless in combatting those who stand against that. The police meanwhile don’t actually list hate crimes, and work reactively but not proactively to the problem. For example, the attack on the vegetarian restaurant in October that was to have an anti-racist concert was listed simply as the work of “criminals”. In other words, we cannot wait for the state to deal with the problem. I really doubt that racism and anti-semitism will be thematised in the next elections here in Wrocław.
No, we need a Wrocław coalition against fascism, drawing together the NGOs who do excellent work as well as religious bodies and individuals. My monitoring of the best way to combat fascism across the world is when people (not just leaders) and organisations come together and work together.
I raised this during the forum and was told that “there is such a coalition in Warsaw and they have conflicts”. Well yes, coalitions have conflicts. I was involved in a “Stop-the-war” coalition once and left it due to the domination of it by various people. I know though that coalitions against fascism work in places like Dresden against the threat of Nazis and in England against the threat of the EDL. People there are prepared to put differences aside in order to work for the common aim.
The thing is, and here I am writing with great caution and with great respect, is that I have heard from many Polish NGO activists that NGOs in Poland don’t like to work with each other. Yes, you can probably give me examples to the contrary, but I have heard this from many people. That the NGO sector is so small in Poland means that there is more competition for money and therefore people keep their work to themselves, not even informing other NGOs of projects they are doing. I have even heard that NGOs are very cautious about ideas for projects in case someone else uses the idea.
That is in fact my experience. Twice I have gone to a NGO and suggested a project; one totally cut themselves off from contact with me and later used a version of my idea, another refused to work with me as “OUR people can do that”. (Don’t think I’m writing this as some kind of revenge; I’m well over that now.)
Now, I am not arrogant enough (I am arrogant, but not that much) to believe that things in Poland are totally bad and that people should copy what is done in the west. I believe that here people can be very reserved and indifferent to people they don’t know, but as soon as there is a reason for contact (say, a friend of a friend) they can be exceedingly warm. That is my experience and that of many migrants I know. My point is, I can appreciate why people can want to work with people they know, being less trusting especially in a climate where trust is an expensive capital. Capitalism of course tells us that we should compete, not helping with our “competitors”.
I have also heard from many people (and I think this myself) that there is an insularity, a lack of openness towards people they don’t know among various NGOs and left-wing intellectuals in Wrocław. Note also how we talk of Roma or migrants but they are not part of our debates and decision-making. The “Wrocław anti-discrimination forum” was wholly attended by white-skinned, educated people. This is of course not exclusive to Wrocław, left-wing intellectuals or NGOs in Poland, of course.
Please don’t get me wrong, the point of this article isn’t to say that “NGOs in Poland are terrible and selfish”. I am simply trying to understand why a Wrocław coalition against fascism doesn’t exist. Yet. I know that criticism is not always said directly in Poland 🙂 I mean this all in a nice way and appreciative of many things here.
To tell the truth, I can see potential conflicts. I for example am becoming increasingly suspicious of patriotism, believing that patriotism can be a gateway to nationalism and focuses so much attention on just one part of our identities, something that in nation states leads to legalised discrimination. I also believe that capitalism is one of the problems behind racism. I am also aware that many are suspicious of anarchists (the Food Not Bombs thing they do whereby food is given to poor people faced opposition from a local RC priest). I am aware of potential conflicts within an anti-fascist coalition in Wrocław. I know that, and I myself don’t like this word, compromises must be made.
That’s another issue, though. I am told that in Poland compromises are not made in the political sphere. I know that PiS (whose Wrocław branch, by the way, marched with fascists in Warsaw) radicalised the political landscape to this extend. I also know that Poland is a modern democracy and the value of consensual decision-making needs to be developed.
However, this can improve, and the potential gains for a Wrocław coalition against fascism are big: Raising the need to report hate crimes, having better liaisons with the police and government, having more people attending anti-fascist demos and events, making the tolerant majority more visible and empowering people to use civic courage.
I found that the “Wrocław anti-discrimination forum”, as interesting as it was didn’t really focus on what we can do. I also note reactions to yesterday’s events, saying that “something must be done”, or “leaders must do something”, but nothing concrete. I have therefore concrete ideas:
Let’s set up a Wrocław coalition against fascism. This should include those NGOs who work against discrimination; LGBT, Jewish, Roma and migrant communities; those who work for cultural diversity, churches, political parties (Die Linke are pretty involved in Germany, though I don’t really like them), business people and individuals who are concerned, people like you.
Let’s also work towards an atmosphere of openness, being friendly to people who are not our friends. Let’s work on trust. Ultimately, we can wait all day for governments to do things, and even NGOs to do things, but all of us need to behave towards others as we wish to see Wroclaw to be.
Seriously, let’s discuss this. The next 11th of November should be very different. By the way, I don’t have a master plan of what to do, and there are many many people in Wrocław who know more about all this. I just to start a debate.
Just to add, I could very much understand why the Jewish and other communities would not be part of this.