“Here is Poland, not Ukraine!”, “The Ukrainian is not my brother”, “Stop the Ukrainization of Poland”, “This is not our war” – these are just some of the slogans that were chanted on this year’s Polish national holiday, 11.11 .2022, in the center of Warsaw.
On November 11, 1918, the modern independent Polish state was proclaimed – after 123 years under Prussian, Russian and Austrian occupation.
The day was Poland’s national holiday until the German attack in 1939 – and has been again since 1989. Since then, nationalists have marched across Poland every year on this date. The motto of their “Independence March” 2022 in the Polish capital was: “Strong Nation – Great Poland”.
According to the organizers, 100,000 people took part in the meeting this year – 50,000 fewer than in 2021. Prominent politicians such as Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro from the right-wing Solidarity Poland (SP) party and ex-Defense Minister Antoni Macierewicz from the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) also showed himself at the nationalist demo.
In addition to Ukrainians, LGBT people were also vulgarly insulted in speeches. The demonstrators burned EU and rainbow flags, shouting “Nationalism is our way!”
Anti-Ukrainian slogans dominated Poland’s nationalist marches in 2022, not only in Warsaw. In Wroclaw, the motto of the event on 11.11. quite officially “In Poland the Pole is the landlord”, unofficially an “anti-Ukrainian march” was advertised. One of the organizers was the right-wing extremist ex-priest Jacek Miedlar, who has already been sentenced for racist statements.
For the 2022 march, he is said to have prepared banners comparing Ukraine to a rabid dog and promoting the “ban” of all Ukrainians from Poland. Ultimately, however, Miedlar was unable to take part in the demo because the police arrested him on the way there – because of a potential threat to public order.
Since Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 23, 2022, Poland has taken in 1.7 million refugees from the neighboring country. Konrad Dulkowski is not surprised that parallel to the great solidarity with Ukraine, anti-Ukrainian voices are also being raised.
The head of the NGO “Center for Monitoring Racism and Xenophobia” (OMZRIK) in Warsaw speaks of a “political instrumentalisation” of the refugees from the embattled country who are currently in Poland.
“In difficult times, when prices rise dramatically and many people feel insecure, they look for an enemy or scapegoat to vent their frustrations on,” Dulkowski told DW.
“Unfortunately, this human weakness is exploited by people who want to make political capital out of it. This is reminiscent of the ideology of the Nazis, who also exploited this mechanism.”
Dulkowski has kept a list of anti-Ukrainian incidents since the beginning of the war. “Hundreds of physical and verbal attacks have been reported in recent months,” explains the head of the Warsaw Center for Monitoring Racism and Xenophobia, “and the number is growing every day.”
Most of the time it’s about conflicts between neighbors, demolished cars with Ukrainian license plates, apartment doors and house walls smeared with hate speech.
The head of OMZRIK reports on a Ukrainian woman who was insulted and beaten by a car driver “because children she looked after kicked a ball under his car”. A customer poured milk over a saleswoman from Ukraine and shouted that he hated Ukrainians.
In Warsaw, a Ukrainian woman was beaten by her landlady, in Kraków three women sitting on a park bench were insulted as “dirty Ukrainian sluts” who should leave Poland.
Polish media are also reporting on anti-Ukrainian sentiment. For example, about a note at the entrance to a shop in the small town of Barlinek in West Pomerania, which announces: “Every Ukrainian citizen will be checked after the checkout”. Another shop said in Ukrainian: “We know that all thefts are on your account.”
Dulkowski also explains the “xenophobia in certain parts of Polish society” with the homogeneity of Polish society after 1945. “Most people were brought up to believe that Poland was only inhabited by Poles, only Catholics, only heterosexuals. Minorities were hidden.” The current migration from Ukraine is the first challenge of this kind for Poland.
The anti-Ukrainian slogans, which can be heard not only at nationalist demonstrations but also in everyday life, are having consequences. Anastassija Vysochyna, for example, wonders whether she should leave Poland. In early March 2022, the 31-year-old English teacher fled the Ukrainian city of Dnipro to Lodz in Poland with her nine-year-old son.
In September she celebrated her birthday with a friend in a well-known pizzeria. The children of the two women were also there. When she left the restaurant, she forgot her birthday bouquet.
Noticing this, Anastasija returned to the pizzeria. There was half the bouquet in a vase, the other flowers were in the trash can. “I asked why our belongings were being treated this way,” the young mother told DW.
“Then a waitress attacked me, she pulled my hair. My child was pushed and fell. The waitress asked me to go back to Ukraine if I didn’t like it here.”
Since that time she no longer feels comfortable in Poland, Anastassija continues. “If my mother, who lives here, wouldn’t stop me, I would leave the country.”
Like many other Ukrainians, the teacher from Dnipro has repeatedly tried to find work since arriving in Poland. Now she teaches English online to students in parts of Ukraine where there is no war to make ends meet in Poland.
Most Ukrainian refugees in the EU country work because they receive very little support from the Polish state. This is one of the reasons why, according to surveys, the vast majority of Poles do not see them as a burden, but as a benefit for the country.
Since July 2022, the Center for Monitoring Racism and Xenophobia has reported 170 anti-Ukrainian incidents to the police. Director Konrad Dulkowski reports on several ongoing investigations. In September, a man who insulted Ukrainians on the Internet was fined 650 euros – the highest penalty for anti-Ukrainian actions in Poland to date.
On his NGO’s Twitter account, Dulkowski commented, “This is a warning to those who believe that racist and xenophobic hate speech goes unpunished.”
Author: Monika Sieradzka (Warschau)
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The original of this article “Refugees from Ukraine are not welcome to all Poles” comes from Deutsche Welle.