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Post Far-Right Demonstrations in Warsaw
Created by John Eipper on 11/14/17 8:21 AM

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Far-Right Demonstrations in Warsaw (Henry Levin, USA, 11/14/17 8:21 am)

Perhaps John E and Aldona can comment on the march in Poland last Sunday and the evidence on rising anti-Semitism.

There are few Jews in Poland, so the anger and hatred towards Jews is as mysterious as it is in Spain, where there are only about 60,000 Jews out of a population of about 40 million. Since you have been on the optimistic side and have been less accepting of the horror stories of Polish collaboration with Nazis against Jews in the Second World War, I wanted to get your perspective.

Frankly, as a secular Jew, I find the present situation frightening and expect that the right may dominate in the next election in Poland, further exacerbating the demonization of the "other" which includes the Jews. You are the optimist, so please assuage my concern.

JE comments:  It's hard to put a happy spin on Poland's sharp turn towards xenophobia and ultra-nationalism.  I think I mentioned this summer on WAIS that I witnessed verbal harassment and a thrown bottle from two drunken skinheads against a mixed-race couple in Warsaw's Old Town.  If there is any silver lining in Sunday's demonstrations, it could be described as relatively small (60,000), when larger crowds routinely demonstrate against the ruling far-right PiS party's policies.

I was waiting to meet our WAISer in Warsaw, Tom Hashimoto, when I saw the racist event.  Tom, what is your perspective on Sunday's events?

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  • Poland's PiS Party: Far-Right or Conservative? (Nigel Jones, UK 11/15/17 1:54 AM)
    Far be it for me to question the wisdom and knowledge of our esteemed editor John Eipper on matters Polish, but when he calls the current Law and Justice party government "far right" (November 14), I really must call him out.

    The word he is really looking for is "conservative."  (Not even Wikipedia calls the PiS "far right," which has become a catch-all term of abuse by left-liberals for any political group not of their persuasion.)

    What left-liberals like John cannot seem to get their heads around is that increasing numbers of Europeans--a majority in Central and Eastern countries of the continent--are revolting against mass Islamic immigration and resisting the suicidal efforts of the EU to foist it upon them.

    Informed by their own history of successfully turning back previous Islamic invasions, the peoples of Poland, Hungary, Austria and the Czech republic have democratically elected conservative parties pledged to resist the demographic disaster overwhelming western Europe. There is nothing "far-right" about this: it merely indicates the desire of a majority of these people to preserve their identity, culture, values, laws, independence and freedom. Things no American would consider surrendering for a single second.

    JE comments:  Radical right?  I define "conservative" in, well, conservative terms, and for Europe, I think of Christian Democracy.  Poland's PiS has been stirring things up on immigration, the judiciary, gender equality, and (of great significance for Nigel Jones's fellow historians) it has branded any deviation from the official martyrological "truth" of WWII a punishable act of "humiliation of the Polish nation."


    Tom Hashimoto (next) has written from Warsaw on Sunday's demonstrations.

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  • Far-Right Demonstrations in Warsaw (Tom Hashimoto, UK 11/15/17 2:17 AM)
    Please forgive me for a rather long reply to Henry Levin (14 November). I am simply trying to be as politically neutral as possible.

    Perhaps I am not the best person to describe this weekend's events in Warsaw, as I am too lenient towards those "ignorants" due to my profession as an educator. I simply believe those who cast the so-called "racist" slogans probably cannot conjugate verbs or use correct noun declensions in their native language. In this sense, trying to connect their claims with the historical facts, or trying to read between the lines to see the religious significance is, to me, to give too much credit to those ignorants.

    At the same time, we, self-proclaimed liberals and progressives have to take a deep breath and ask the following question: What if there are some sources of frustration those people tried to communicate (despite in a politically incorrect manner)? Income inequality? Rapid internationalisation (thereby Anglicisation) of cities? Uncertainty? Distrust in foreign governments (especially in relation to Russia)?

    Let me start with somewhat positive side other than the size of attendance, which John already pointed out. First, many Polish journalists who work for international media outlets raised their alarms. Even though they seem to be heavily biased against the current government, it is calming to know that those journalists who are originally from Poland are still feeling a sense of duty to report both the positive and negative side of their native land.

    Second, those hatred-driven groups now can travel across the country and gather in Warsaw. Warsaw is not necessarily cheap. So, perhaps, ironically, this weekend's events are a sign of economic progress. Of course, economic development often comes hand-in-hand with income gaps, which contributes to their frustration towards immigrants who seem to have some economic power, known as "they-are-taking-our-jobs."  Here, I heard mixed views about what Ukrainians and Belarusians are experiencing in Poland.

    Also, unfortunately, many people in Poland (and elsewhere) seem to believe that the financial sector is controlled by Jewish-owned enterprises. So, when foreign banks and firms begin pulling out their investments from Poland shortly after the 2007-8 crisis, those believers began to blame the Jewish community. Again, it illustrates the superficial understanding of the world by those who cast anti-Semitic slogans, rather than anti-Semitism itself. If you ask average Poles about Holocaust, they are probably going to reply: "Wait, didn't we also help them escape from Nazis? Besides, we were busy surviving the Russian and German attacks!"  Historical accuracy aside, I honestly do not witness anti-Semitism in Warsaw, at least, other than occasional ignorants' slogans we witnessed in the past weekend.

    Third (I am not sure if this is a "positive" observation, but), as far as I know, those "racists," especially skinheads, do not attend church. I rarely see them in any solemn events. I rather see them at football matches.  (Sorry, sports fans!)  In Warsaw (and perhaps in many other cities too), the masses are attended also by Asians (e.g. Koreans and Southeast Asians), as many of them are quite pious. So, I believe the formula PiS supporters = right-wing = religious (Catholic) = racists only shows the analysts' ill-informedness.

    In any case, please remember that those who were aggressive at this weekend's events probably have no regular jobs, no higher education, no proper ability to speak their native tongue correctly, and no accurate understanding of their Rzeczpospolita (Republic). They picked up any provocative slogans they found on the Internet and just put them on their banners without thinking deep meanings. They are often highly intoxicated and attacking others in groups rather than one-on-one like a medieval knight.

    Yes, we need to address their joblessness and alcoholism. But, smearing their claims over the general population as if history (i.e. WWII) is repeating itself makes Poles believe that nobody cares the reality, and they further withdraw into distrust towards foreigners. So, I think, the best way to begin the conversation is: "I believe the majority in Poland is not like that, but the events in Warsaw this weekend make me wonder how those small group of people are driven by hatred..."

    JE comments:  Tom Hashimoto did not bring up Muslim immigration, which in any case has been insignificant in Poland.  Tom also urges us not to draw too many historical analogies from the recent demonstrations.  (Granted, WAISers are fond of historical analogies.)  But didn't the authoritarian nationalist movements of the 1930s arise from joblessness and despair?  Oops, that's an analogy.

    Tom, what is the present mood in Poland vis-à-vis Russia?

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    • Modern Anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe (Istvan Simon, USA 11/16/17 5:06 AM)
      I like Tom Hashimoto a lot, ever since I met him at a WAIS conference at Stanford. Tom is an amazing awesome friend, a world traveler, and I often enjoy very much reading his posts.

      Nonetheless, Tom's post of 15 November sounds sadly naive when it comes to anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism has nothing to do with the "control of the banking sector" by Jews. First of all, Jews today are not controlling most banks, though they still control a few, like the Rothschilds' bank holdings, and Safra, But most banks are not controlled by Jews, nor are most financial assets in the hands of Jews. Tom acknowledges this in his post, but seems just a tad too sympathetic towards the ill-informed who do not.

      Indeed, the long-gone historical control of banks in Europe by Jews was itself the result of anti-Semitism, because Jews were excluded by the "good Christians" from other sectors of the economy. But because Jews today are no longer excluded from other sectors of the economy, they can be found in every economic activity, from farming to hospitals, universities, engineering companies, software, hardware, restaurants, you name it, Jews are everywhere, The doctors who treat these anti-Semites in hospitals are often Jews, the surgeons that take their inflamed appendices out, their cancerous tumors, etc., are often Jews. Nobel Prize winners are more often than not Jews, a remarkable accomplishment given that the total Jewish population in the world is estimated at less than 20 million souls.


      Regarding the unemployment of these poor frustrated Poles, it seems odd to this observer that they should blame Jews for the immigration of Ukrainians and Belarusians that supposedly take their jobs. No, Tom, they blame Jews not because they are ill-informed, but because anti-Semitism is unfortunately alive and well in Poland, where with notable exceptions, like the extraordinary human being that Jan Karski was, the Messenger from Poland, who will be revered honored and remembered by Jews forever, or the remarkable Poles who helped save the life of pianist Wladyslaw Szpillman, it has sadly been always part of the culture of Poland for centuries. For an example, one of the greatest Poles of all time, Frederic Chopin, whose music Szpillman played, was an anti-Semite, though probably not one of the most virulent ones.





      So perhaps, given all of the above, I can be forgiven to say that I do not give a damn about the frustrations of the skinhead neo-Nazis who go to the Warsaw rallies. Furthermore, though I think that to try to understand every human being, no matter how despicable, is a worthwhile endeavor, I would also suggest that Tom leave the psychoanalysis of the skinheads to their psychiatrists. As a historian, Tom might not be sufficiently trained for the task.

      JE comments:  There is a huge difference between "giving a damn" and approval of groups that misbehave.  Tom Hashimoto certainly was not doing the latter.  (I do agree with Istvan that Tom is a spectacular fellow, though.)

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  • Why the Rise of Xenophobia in Post-Soviet Eastern Europe? (Paul Levine, Denmark 11/16/17 4:11 AM)
    Henry Levin's questions (14 November) about recent far-right demonstrations in Poland raise questions beyond the Polish borders.

    The subject of Polish anti-Semitism without Jews is well-known. To this we may add anti-Islamism without Muslims.

    It is an old story commemorated in Jan Gross's famous book about the 1941 massacre in the village of Jedwabne.

    This imbecility is not limited to Poland. My friend Todd Gitlin sent me the attached article about events in Hungary.  (See link below.)

    The country's leader Victor Orban recently identified three threats to the nation: assimilation, mixed marriages and adopting foreign languages. When I lived in Budapest in the late 1980s I remember Orban as a student leader of the opposition to the Communist regime and its Russian masters. Now he admires Vladimir Putin and his regime.

    An interesting question is why the new forms of xenophobia have blossomed in many post-communist societies.  We can paraphrase Marx: "Leaders of the (post-communist) world unite, you have nothing to lose but your brains."


    JE comments:  A couple of years ago there was talk of the Polish government bringing a libel suit against Gross (Princeton U).  I don't know if anything came of it.

    Paul Levine characterizes the troubling events in Hungary and Poland in memorable terms:  anti-Semitism without Jews, anti-Islamism without Muslims.  Is the real fear one of globalization?  Hungary, a Magyar enclave surrounded by Slavs, must feel particularly vulnerable.  The Avars felt the same way when Charlemagne came calling in the 8th century.

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  • Warsaw Demonstrations: Beginning of a Massive Hate Movement? (Henry Levin, USA 11/16/17 4:39 AM)
    In response to John E's comments on my post of November 14th, my understanding is that the Nuremberg rallies from 1933 to 1938 started off small and metastasized rapidly.

    Is 60,000 in Warsaw something to be sneered at (as Trump would do), or has the flag of a growing movement been planted into fertile soil? I spent my early years learning about the Holocaust, which was happening in real time. World War II did not end until I was 7. Nightmares and frustration, and my father was a hard-working high school graduate, not connected to finance.

    I don't know and am not an historian. But 60,000 demonstrators for "whites only" is the beginning of a potentially massive hate movement against the "other." And besides Poland, there is Latvia and Lithuania and Hungary, all places in where Jews were obliterated, but still given blame for unwanted changes.

    JE comments:  Yes, 60,000 is nothing to sneer at.  This summer's lethal rally in Charlottesville drew "only" a couple thousand and monopolized the nation's attention.  My family bias towards the Poles is based on the belief (hope?), to channel Churchill's take on the Americans, that they will always do the right thing after they've tried everything else.

    Still, it's important to face the hard truth of Polish anti-Semitism, even while acknowledging that no people, Jewish and Christian alike, suffered more during WWII.

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