Warsaw - The past days following the Nationalist riots of November 11, 2012 have been a time of solemn reflection for those of us in Poland and our friends watching around the world. We have awoken to a new reality, not in a hyperbolic or theoretical sense, but to a practical new reality of fascist terror on the streets of our cities, escalating exponentially. With burned out apartments, hospitalized anti-fascists, murders, mass nationalist marches through our cities, and now the formation of nationalist militias, and a call to overthrow the republic, we’re asking ourselves, just as our grandparents asked 80 years ago, ‘how could this be happening in our times?’
The fall of the “communist” dictatorships in the 1990’s led to a breeding ground for new political ideologies arising in former one-party states. Where once history was given to the people through Stalinist propaganda, the war over historical truth has returned, and nationalists have done everything in their power to re-envision history to their own sinister benefit. Today we see the trend all across the forgotten side of Europe. In Dresden, the nationalists organize marches to commemorate the victims of Allied bombings; In Hungary, pre-war nationalists (and Nazi allies) are glorified as the true defenders of freedom; In Ukraine, monuments are erected for the terrorist organization UPA and their leaders granted ‘national hero’ status. We are living in extremely uncertain times, and the black and white narrative offered up by the nationalists is resonating with a generation suffering the realities of the modern economy.
In Poland the nationalists have spent the last 20 years co-opting soccer fan clubs in an attempt to take-over working class culture and identity. This is a tactic we’ve seen all over Europe, and the BBC’s documentary criticizing fascist violence in Polish and Ukrainian soccer came as a shock to those outside the region considering a holiday trip to the EURO 2012 tournament. But nationalist culture and ideas are no longer just found around football stadiums, they are creeping more and more into everyday life, into mainstream media, in church sermons, even on university campuses.
The radical nationalists have traded in military garb and football club politics, for suits-and-ties and coalition building. Establishing alliances across the right, including with major media publications, they have gone from Nov. 11 marches of 300 nazi-skinheads in 2009 to 20,000 ‘patriots’ in 2012 ready to ‘overthrow the system’. But we are not only talking about propaganda and marches, we are also confronting a new era of organized and coordinated violence unseen in years. Their strategy being two-fold, to clean up the public image of extreme politics (claiming the narrative of eternal victims, ‘true patriots’ condemned by an oppressive system), while at the same time, creating a culture of violence just below the surface of their organizing. Their strategy culminating this November 11.
We have sat by in horror as gangs of nationalists terrorized Polish cities, and street fighting that accompanied the main march was simply written off by nationalists and their mass of conspiratorial sympathizers as, “provoked by undercover police.” The completely incompetent Polish media began to echo ONR’s claims, matching the long, pitiful history of ‘National victimhood’ which now seems to be the major myth of November 11. Last year’s fairytale of ‘foreign antifascists coming to fight Polish patriots and demolish Warsaw’ has been replaced by a new paranoid theory of ‘undercover police in ski-masks provoking riots in Warsaw.’ The reality remains to be recognized by the mass of society, Polish nationalist violence is spiking and Polish antifascists, immigrants, and LGBT are experiencing it firsthand.
A short summary of the coordinated Nationalist violence in 2012
The wave of violence has not only occurred in recent days, over the past year we’ve seen one murder and dozens if not hundreds of attacks around the country. Easter night in Białystok: A gang of nationalists screaming they would ‘cleanse the city of leftists and faggots’ murdered one student and stabbed several others. Stalking the streets for hours, the police failed to intervene. In Poznań, a children’s art festival hosted by the Rozbrat squat was attacked by groups of men with stones. Opole, a small Kurdish restaurant is attacked by thugs with bats and knives, police ignore repeated complaints from the workers about nationalist threats. In Piła, 2 youths beaten for hanging up posters to a punk concert by 5 men, calling them dirty faggots. In Warsaw, repeated attacks following workers solidarity demonstrations on local labor activists; Attacks on the LGBT-friendly bar “Brave New World” during nationalist marches; Threats against left-wing activists following public demonstrations. In Lublin, an attack on the cultural center Tektura Collective and weeks later on ‘Free Tibet’ demonstrators in the town square. In Sopot, a young man attacked waiting for his train home for ‘wearing colorful pants’ accused of being gay and beaten. In Wrocław, attacks on the equality march by the nationalist “March of Balaclavas”, on the CRK anarchist community center, the local synagogue, etc. A Cuban-Polish soccer player threatened and his motorcycle vandalized with the words “white power” and “KKK.” Attacks on cemeteries, synagogues, monuments, symbols of multiculturalism, cafes, social centers, squats, the list goes on, all in the last 11 months, in towns across the country. And then there is what has happened on November 11.
November 11 was a day the nationalists are triumphing as a great victory; the beginning of a new national front and the beginning of the end of the Polish republic.
The nationalist seizure of power and formation of Nationalist Militias
“We are now living in a new reality – and hardly anyone seems to realize it,” the Antifascist coalition of November 11 has declared. Besides the nationalist riots which rocked Warsaw for the evening of November 11, a range of attacks took place that day to commemorate “National Independence Day.” The Nationalists have announced a new militant strategy against democracy. ONR (Obóz Narodowo Radykalny, the National Radical Camp) and Młodzież Wszechpolska (All Polish Youth) MW, the groups responsible for organizing the march through Warsaw have now officially united and subsequently called for the overthrow of the Republic and the formation of paramilitary groups into a so-called “National Guard.” The call sounds strikingly similar to Hitler’s Brownshirts who patrolled German cities and broke opposition groups in the 1920’s and 30’s. Mussolini had similar backing with his “Blackshirts” who took over Rome marching street by street routing political enemies. This is the reality we are talking about, fascist militias coming to a town near you.
We will see how this call is heeded by the Brownshirts of ONR and MW, but if November 11 is any indication, they’re already here. In Wrocław on Sunday night, directly following the “Patriots March” a group of one hundred men forcibly entered the Wagenburg social center and began severely beating people into unconsciousness then fleeing the scene. One man was rushed to the hospital just escaping death, he is currently in critical but stable condition following a number of operations. Cars, houses, and the building itself were also smashed and destroyed. On Facebook, the leader of NOP (another major nationalist organization) congratulated the attackers and cheered for more. The four men arrested following the attack have since been released without charges. In Białystok, the apartment of a Chechen family was firebombed. Also in Białystok, the mayor has now openly said he would like to lobby for ONR. In Warsaw the offices of non-profits were attacked, including those of Lambda as well as attacks on individuals around the city and mass media outlets. In Wieluń a cemetery was vandalized with ONR graffiti. In Ostrołęka, tombs of unknown Russian soldiers were destroyed. These are just some of the attacks we are aware of thus far.
This is an obvious campaign of terror across the country, and we are seeing similar campaigns organized in neighboring countries by neo-fascist groups, some of whom attended Sunday’s March in Warsaw, including Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Swedish, and Norwegian nationalists. We remember that Anders Breivik, the nationalist who terrorized Oslo in 2011 killing 77 people, cited Polish nationalists as a great “inspiration.”
Apathetic Public, Incompetent Police
With a wave of violence and calls for the overthrow of the government, you may ask yourself where is Polish society and the state in all of this? As mentioned above, it seems as if history is indeed repeating itself. As had happened in pre-Fascist Italy and Spain, the state is arming itself not to protect against a fascist revolution, but repressing left-wing, anarchist, and antifascist organizations that pose more of a threat to economic peace than any fascist takeover could. Furthermore, a culture of apathy and silence has been built in a society which is struggling more to deal with the questions of poverty and identity than the question of Politics. In a system that creates a surplus population of disillusioned poor, it’s no wonder the state would rather see them fighting for the nation instead of fighting for justice. A measurement of just how little the Polish police and government understand of what is happening can be seen by their approach to November 11: harassing antifascists this past week asking ‘if people were planning on any fighting for November 11?’ Of course the antifascist march passed through Warsaw without a hint of violence, while riots raged through the city center in a nationalist show of force, and yet the police spotlight remains against antifascist activists.
And the media? Nationalist and populist ideas are abound in mainstream discourse, ONR has capitalized on the medias uncritical approach to propagate their rhetoric. Even the president, in a populist photo-op, was seen laying wreaths this Independence Day to the Nationalist icon Roman Dmowski. Civil organizations are now open allies with ONR and MW due in large part to the lack of media scrutiny of them or their extreme politics. And any press that does take an active role in criticism? Labeled communist, elitist or Jewish, and attacked in a right-wing media boycott, “I won’t read, I won’t watch.”
And so with all sides covered, it looks to be open season for a new nationalism to spring forth from the ashes of the failed economic experiments of post-communism. The Nationalists are claiming to have the “third road” neither communist nor capitalist, but as they will find, it will be a road riddled with antifascist blockades.
How much longer can we tolerate the growing threat of a nationalist revolution? With nationalist propaganda thriving, and the clever ‘coalition building’ paying off, the shadow of fascism is steadily creeping over this country. As we have seen in the past 2 years the nationalists “third road” will be one paved in our blood. We cannot wait any longer. It’s now or never.
For the memory of our grandparents who liberated the death camps and brought the fascist monster to it’s knees. Let us never again return to that place! No compromise in the struggle against modern fascism ¡No pasarán!