I went to an event at the Wrocław Museum for Contemporary Art last night, called “I am sorry Poland, but I will (not) go to a war via tram. Discussion about patriotism”.
It wasn’t completely that which I expected, but was still interesting (and also existing for me as I am finally beginning to understand discussions in Polish). I had expected that it would deal with the question of whether patriotism is actually a good thing or not, but, as could possibly be expected, the discussion largely focussed on the events of November the 11th. Here follows a brief summary of the discussion.
Those who went with the “march of patriots” should not be stigmatised. They are people who generally speaking face vilification by society, they are young men who feel excluded, who are poor, who feel disconnected. They are those who are not benefiting from the capitalistic system we have in Poland. Effectively, their marches with all the violence and noise attached to it is an expression of their anger, an anger at the vague things they are not happy about. They (here I believe the football fans were meant) want to express this anger against the police, against PO, against whatever it is that gives them an outlet for their anger.
They find in the “march of patriots” and being football fans something positive: A sense of belonging, camaraderie, a way to feel powerful (something that counteracts their repressed feeling of weakness in society). They focus on powerful imagery like violence and focus themselves on fighting, on being tough.
(It is noticeable that the fairly small wave of adverts for the “march of patriots” in Wrocław (most have now been destroyed) were restricted to small parts of Wrocław, largely being visible only in the city centre. I note that there seems to be more of such ads in places like Milicz and Obława. In 2010 I noticed that the great majority of NOP-members went to the train station after their march or waited for coaches. Their violence in Wrocław appears to be restricted to when they are doing some march in town, the attack on Złe mięso being the exception. Of course though, racist attacks are a daily occurence in Wrocław.)
This wasn’t said on the evening but has been said to me, that the coalition between fascists and football fans can change. Next year the football fans can be angry at something else.
When it comes down to it, the fash and their football fan mates find some kind of acceptance among certain members of society, people who are angry and suspicious about capitalism but cannot turn to the left as they believe that everything left is communist; people who believe that the Russians, the Germans and/or the EU are out to harm Poland; people who are suspicious of these “new-fangled” gays and lesbians. (I would add that, that a large part of society in Poland respects the military and therefore the need for violence to solve conflicts, they can also have a respect for the fact that football fans/the fash are fit, clean-shaven and active; they can be wary of their violence while at the same time having a sneaky admiration for it.
The left are unable to help here as there is a poverty of ideas from the left. Young angry people can only fall into nationalism, into old prejudices handed down via the national memory.
Bear in mind also that Poland is traumatised (I will address this in future articles). Many people in Poland were victims in history and this then results in a sense of having to be strong, acting out their trauma passed down through generations. (Interesting to note here that words like “bolshevist” are often banded about by the fash; it’s like they hear of battles of the past and, finding their own lives to be boring want to live out the “heroic” acts of their parents and grandparent’s generations.)
After the discussion it was pointed out to me that the Polish word patriotyzm is not like the English word patriotism. Patriotyzm means a sense of belonging, and this doesn’t just mean to a nationality but also to any place, or even to a group of people, such as ones family. This for me appears much more acceptable than putting one part of an identity (ones “nationality”) above all others.
One speaker did say that most people in Poland are first and foremost connected to their families and then local area. In fact this has been said by anti-fascists in Poland (see above picture), such as through paying taxes, clearing up after your dog, voting, buying tickets and making use of Polish culture (unlike right-wing patriotism with its calls for five beers, praying to Jarosław Kaczyński, only doing things to do with symbols, focussing on a Jewish/Masonic/EU/communist plot or on Smoleńsk). In this article is shown the example of patriotism in Wrocław by the CRK Food Not Bombs action.
Earlier today I was again in Cafe Pestka, and was looking at the others there, all young people, all (presumably) highly educated, looking like young professionals. Occasionally people would walk past (one or two even popped their heads inside) and they would look in, but not come in. They looked different to us. They looked older, or poorer. They could look at the board and instead of “black coffee” would see “Americano” (a word that I myself only understood within the last month). We live in a different world to them. We have different concerns, we do things that mystify them. We know what Fair Trade means, we know how to cook vegetarian food.
It has been pointed out to me that the main divide in Poland (apart from ultra-conservatives and the rest) is that of education. Could it be the case that those who are more likely to be for things like diversity, for change, for ethical consumption are those who are more educated? This seems somewhat elitist and determinist to say, but the fact is that I, who went to uni do not have a single friend here in Poland who hasn’t gone to uni. I don’t know every anti-fascist in Wrocław, but could it be the case that the majority are university-educated? This isn’t to say that everyone who goes to uni ends up anti-fascist, or that all anti-fascists are university educated. I am wondering about a trend. Certainly, I believe that the kind of person who goes to Falanster, Cafe Pestka, Nalanda, Trzy swinki or Machina Organika are more likely to have been in uni.
One of the speakers at the evening (who later turned out to be socialist, which explains why I agreed with a lot what he said) said that we shouldn’t stigmitise those young men who go with the “march of patriots”. If it is indeed true that they are those less likely to focus on intelligence and theoretical issues (such as ethical consumption) and more on belonging to a group and power then we are in fact witnessing here a Polish version of a class conflict. While the money we earn and the lifestyles we lead may not be that different (we probably eat in the same Bar Mleczny) we see life in Poland differently. Therefore, by looking down on them as people may serve to inflame their unconscious sense of inferiority and therefore anger and violence.
Of course, some active fascists are highly educated and we have the likes of fascist-tolerating Rafał Ziemkiewicz who is an intelligent man. It is a mistake to write all of the fash off as idiots. What does this all mean, though?
I would say the following: As I mentioned in my call for a Wrocław coalition against fascism, left-wing intellectuals need to be more open, we need to think about how we portray ourselves and think more about an inclusive Poland. Apart from how we relate to other people this is also a political thing, we need to develop a strong left-wing voice, not just writing all left-wing things off as “communist” but looking clearly at the communist past, learning to differentiate between basic things like Stalinism and trade unions, between Katyń and a national minimum wage, focussing on the fact that us and the fash are actually in the same economic class, if not educational-class. (Here I recommend the Association for Polish Syndicalists. I also plan to write further on a left-wing critique of Stalinism and Real-socialism.)
A clear alternative to the nationalist-capitalist consensus also involves a strong alternative to fascism for young people. Here there is scope for development, as, after all, some of the strongest opposition to communist state rule came from anarchists. In any case, despite the many different political views held by those who don’t like fascists (and I accept that many may find little wrong with capitalism) we need a unified, strong anti-fascist voice.
This means, as was also said, that we cannot just have internet actions like the “Farsz Niepodlegości” but also, as I clumsily said during the evening, confrontation. In other words, those decried as “hipsters” will, if they really want a diversity-positive Poland will have to get their hands dirty and openly confront fascists.
By the way, I recommend this new blog: wolnywroclaw