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In last autumn’s electoral campaign, the Law and Justice Party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, PiS) took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to stoke up xenophobia. “Look at Sweden or France: there are areas where sharia rules and patrols see that it’s applied! Do you want that sort of thing here?” asked PiS president Jaroslaw Kaczynski in September. At a meeting the following month he even accused migrants of “spreading cholera and parasites”. Aleksandra Rybinska, a journalist on the pro-PiS weekly W Sieci, says: “Poles travel and they can see what migration leads to. Multiculturalism doesn’t work, so they don’t want it here. The previous government had to accept 7,000 migrants. That was more than enough.”
Aziz W, originally from Tunisia, has lived in Warsaw for six years. He works as a cook, speaks Polish, goes drinking with his Polish friends, but still feels rejected by his adoptive home. “It’s really hard,” he told me. “Sideways glances; youths at the bus stop who say: ‘Go home, Muslim terrorist!’ I’ve been attacked several times.”
Mamadou Diouf was born in Senegal and has lived in Poland for over 30 years. “In 2007, I applied for and received Polish nationality. PiS was in power then. I was afraid they’d expel me.” Diouf runs an Africa-related foundation (Afryka.org), takes part in debates and visits schools. “It’s tough fighting against prejudice,” he says. “The words ‘negro’ and murzyn [moor] are commonly used. Every schoolchild knows old novels and poems that are racist. So I explain that human biology is against homogeneity, that ancient Greece and Rome benefited from contact with their neighbours… Really, how can Poles be fascist, given the country’s history, and the size of the Polish diaspora around the world?”
Poland has no experience of multiculturalism: it’s a country without a colonial past, whose borders have changed throughout history and whose troubled history has led to a conflation of Polishness, ethnicity and Catholicism. Poland has some minorities (Germans, Ukrainian, Jewish and Tatar Muslim), but few immigrants from outside Europe: some Vietnamese traders who arrived in the 1970s; around 5,000 Africans; and now migrants accepted in tiny numbers.
Most Poles want to preserve that homogeneity: only 4% believe their country should take in migrants, according to an opinion poll conducted in January by CBOS. The attacks on Paris and the sexual assaults in Cologne may have strengthened this xenophobia. “Germany is going to become an Islamic republic,” a PiS activist spontaneously told me. Anti-Semitic graffiti, fascist Celtic crosses, often drawn by groups of football supporters, are a frequent sight on walls. “Anti-Semitism already existed, although there have been hardly any Jews here since the Holocaust,” says Marta Tycner, an activist from the leftwing Poland Together (Razem) party. “Now we have xenophobia without immigrants.”