Welcome to Gdansk. A city famous for birthing Solidarity, which this last week became the symbol of Poland’s increasing disunity. Last Sunday, a person who somehow found his way to the stage of a local charity concert casually stabbed the city’s long running mayor Pawel Adamowicz in the heart leaving him fighting for his life, which he eventually lost.
While the perpetrator was depicted as a madman with a grudge on Platforma Obywatelska (OP, Poland’s less conservative opposition party, of which Pawel was formerly a supporter), which he accused of putting him in jail, few had doubts why this happened. Particularly those familiar with Poland’s sulphurous political situation and the long history of personal attacks against Pawel and other liberal politicians, demonized by far-right media as the nation’s enemies.
The immediate reactions in the murder’s aftermath have been telling about the size of the glowing divisions. While some of us are trying to wrap our heads around how far down the rabbit hole society has slided, for others this unsettling tragedy is a call to arms. While some of us are struggling to comprehend what exactly led to such a blatant public attack on a respected and beloved local leader, other have expressed their regrets that Pawel will not be able to stand trial for the “crime” of opposing the government’s anti-migration policies.
For some it seems this violent showdown marks somewhat of a threshold – maybe the moment to kill off the rest of the liberals has finally arrived. Correspondingly, in the days following the mayor’s death the police have detained more than 10 people calling for a final solution towards various other key liberal-leaning politicians, including the current President of the European Council Donald Tusk.
As expected, Polish state-run propaganda outlets are already assuring us that foreign media merely misrepresented the political significance of the tragedy, they got it all wrong, apparently. Foreign media, they tell us, erroneously attributed the murder to political polarization in Poland. Pawel’s gruesome demise was not the result of increasingly aggressive rhetoric against the liberal views the mayor of Gdansk happened to profess. It was just a random act of a deranged ex-convict who “has never been involved in politics in any shape or form” and who happened to have a personal “grievance” with PO.
Phew, what a relief! Just as we thought something really sickening is happening in Poland we are reassured everything is peachy. The only thing left to complete the idyll is to believe in this bullshit.
In spreading its paper thin arguments, the propaganda machine of the Polish political mainstream is obviously taking us for its target audience. But we are happy not to fall into that box. Make no mistake: Pawel’s murder is as random as Jo Cox’s assassination was and as sending pipe bombs to Trump critics was. Those are not just acts of raving lunatics who missed pills. They are premeditated attacks by people agitated and driven by a targeted extremist agenda, which in all three countries is silently, and sadly, endorsed by the current ruling elites.
Of all PO members Stefan W chose to assassinate a man who in recent years has become something of a symbol of the other Poland – that of fast economic growth, openness to the outside world and welcoming to other cultures, all on display in pockets across the country, such as the port city of Gdansk. The assassination could not have been more emblematic and timely in terms of the far-right’s ambitions for establishing its dominion in Poland.
Yes, Stefan W, Pawel’s murderer, may be mentally unstable. But nobody can convince us that his hollowed mind did not resonate with the filth spread by the country’s growing far-right. Which in Poland, in a very dark and bizarre twist, is siding with the Catholic church, a social actor generally known for protecting, rather than expunging the weak and the different. Stefan W was holding the knife that killed Pawel Adamowicz, but his ill will was firmly rooted in Poland’s undercurrent of nationalism and homophobia.
There is a wealth of literature debating the reasons and the evolution of far-right radicalism. If historical evidence is consulted things can look pretty grim. Xenophobic agenda is invasive, relentless and as wide as the political appetites of the conservative establishment. If the wind starts blowing in this direction there are usually few things that can stop hate waves run their course until the catharsis of the next genocide.
And we do not believe in societies learning their lessons. If they were capable of reconsidering the past, Europeans should stay very far away from the slightest signs of nationalism. Obviously that is not the case.
Cover photo: Dan Vel (flickr); Licence: CC BY 2.0