FAR-RIGHT MEDIA ATTACK ON ROBERT LEWANDOWSKI

A radical-right media outlet has attacked Poland’s top footballer Robert Lewandowski and promoted xenophobic conspiracy theories around the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Warsaw-based anti-racist ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association has noted a recent broadcast on the ‘Idz Pod Prad’ (‘Go Against the Tide’) online television program which targeted Lewandowski. The channel regularly refers to the coronavirus as ‘the Chinese plague’ and promotes a conspiracy theory about its origin. Against scientific evidence, it accuses the Chinese of intentionally producing and spreading the virus. It advocates a military conflict with China and announces, in the words of its head Pawel Chojecki, ‘the war against the Chinese communists is starting to take shape’.

In this context, Robert Lewandowski was attacked for having participated in an advert for a popular Chinese smartphone brand. Chojecki has called for a boycott of Poland’s national team captain by fellow players and media: ‘It is shameful for our leading player, at the moment when a life and death war is underway against the criminals who have the blood of over 100 million people on their hands (…) Mr Lewandowski agrees to be a Europe-wide ambassador for the Chinese communists, it is a shame and a disgrace for the Polish sports, no Polish sportsman should shake hands with Mr Lewandowski and no Polish journalist should pay any attention to his utterances’.

Chojecki failed to mention that already in March this year, the Bayern Munich striker with his wife Anna donated one million Euro to the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.

In the same broadcast on 15 May, Chojecki attacked the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association, Polish President Andrzej Duda, and Pope Francis who was labelled as ‘a heathen who celebrates Maoist Leninist rituals together with the communist comrades from China’.

‘Go Against the Tide’ is known for formerly employing Marian Kowalski, an ex-presidential candidate. Its founder Pawel Chojecki is a longtime political activist on the radical right and a vice-chairman of the 11 November Movement party. He is also the leader of a religious group called the New Covenant Church.

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association has recently published its latest REPORT ‘The Virus of Hate: Brown Book of the Epidemic’. The report documents acts of racism, xenophobia and discrimination which have occurred in the context of the coronavirus in Poland in recent weeks and months. The authors of the report recorded cases of assaults on members of minorities who are unjustly blamed for spreading the virus, as well as numerous examples of hate speech and conspiracy theories about the pandemic spread by the far right. They also noted some instances of xenophobia in the world of sports.

Rafal Pankowski, a co-author of the report of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association and a sociology professor at the Collegium Civitas university, commented: – ‘The global pandemic is also a global crisis of social trust and values amid confusion and anxiety. It is fertile ground for the dangerous growth of xenophobia and conspiracy theories’.

– ‘Examples of hatred are unfortunately coming from the top. In a pandemic, conspiracy theories promoted by public figures: celebrities, artists, politicians, journalists and clergy are particularly alarming’ – adds Jacek Dziegielewski, also a co-author of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association report.

– ‘Companies such as YouTube and Facebook, contrary to their formal announcements, often tolerate such content on their platforms’ – said Dr. Anna Tatar, co-author of the ‘Brown Book’.

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association is an independent anti-racist organization, it has campaigned against racism and xenophobia, for peace, intercultural dialogue and human rights both in Poland and internationally. Since 1996, it has conducted the first anti-racism campaign in Eastern European football, ‘Let’s Kick Racism Out of the Stadiums’ and is a founding member of the Fare network.

‘The Virus of Hate: Brown Book of the Epidemic’ (full report in PDF).

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THE VIRUS OF HATE AND STEVE BANNON’S DECLARATION OF WAR

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association has echoed the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ warning against ‘the tsunami of hate and xenophobia’ sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. The Warsaw-based organization has published its latest REPORT ‘The Virus of Hate: Brown Book of the Epidemic’. The report documents acts of racism, xenophobia and discrimination which have occurred in the context of the coronavirus in Poland in recent weeks and months.

The authors of the report recorded cases of assaults on members of minorities who are unjustly blamed for spreading the virus, as well as numerous examples of hate speech and conspiracy theories about the pandemic spread by the far right.

The descriptions collected on over 30 pages include the following events:

– On 1 March, during mass in the St. Michael Archangel church in Wroclaw Fr. Leonard Wilczynski, belonging to the Salesian order, stated in his homily that the COVID-19 pandemic is ‘God’s punishment for living in the sin of homosexuality’. He also added that the Chinese ‘are dirty, eat bats and dead fetuses’.

– On 25 March in Sosnowiec three men attacked a female of Chinese descent – a scientific worker of the Silesian University. The victim said: ‘They surrounded me, I was so afraid – even now I am trembling. They kept shouting «virus» and «China»’. She also added: ‘I do not feel safe here as a woman of Chinese descent’.

– On 8 April in Szprotawa local media reported that a security guard of the local supermarket refused a Ukrainian man entrance to the store on the grounds of his nationality. One witness to the event reported: ‘When the young man wanted to enter the store, the security guard asked him if he was Polish or Ukrainian. When he replied that he was Ukrainian, he was told that he could not go inside’. The employee’s xenophobic behaviour stemmed from the false belief that all persons of Ukrainian origin in the town were carriers of COVID-19.

– On 8 April, Radio Wnet in Warsaw presented its listeners with a special programme introducing a conspiracy theory pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, advocated by well-known British extremist, David Icke. According to Icke, the responsibility for the pandemic rests with a secret global group, described as a ‘cult’, with which ‘madmen from Silicon Valley’, the World Health Organization, the British heir to the throne Prince Charles, and entrepreneur Bill Gates are connected.

– In the second half of April in Poznan, in the middle of the night, unknown perpetrators smashed the windows of a flat occupied by a Filipino man, who has been living in Poland for ten years. A report about it was broadcast on 23 April on the television channel, TVN24, and that night, there was a second attack on the flat, with stones once again being thrown. According to the victim, both attacks were associated with the COVID-19 epidemic and hostility towards people of Asian origin. ‘Some Filipinos experience incidents of people shouting «corona!» after them on the streets. One of the Filipinos was spat in the face and called «Chinese». We are very afraid’ – he said.

– On April 25 Grzegorz Braun, a Member of Parliament representing the Confederation party, shared his views on the pandemic in an interview on YouTube: ‘Jew-communists are trying to use the coronavirus to get rid of Trump […]. Bill Gates is heading for a situation in which each person on this globe will need to legitimise  his or her existence with a certificate of kosher standard’. On 6 May, during a speech in the Polish Parliament, Braun made threats of death by hanging to the Minister of Health, Lukasz Szumowski, in reaction to sanitary measures introduced in the preceding weeks in connection with COVID-19. On 8 May in Warsaw Braun together with Piotr Rybak (who had been convicted for publicly burning an effigy of a Jew in Wroclaw in 2015) participated in skirmishes with the police during a protest against sanitary restrictions imposed to combat the epidemic.

– On 9 May, TVP Info, a Polish state-run television channel, broadcast a thirty-minute conversation with Steve Bannon, an idol of the international alt-right movement and former advisor to Donald Trump. Bannon presented an ideological conspiracy theory on the COVID-19 pandemic, using military rhetoric. He stated: ‘This is really a serious matter, and I think that every leader in every country in the world should listen when the commander in chief of the US Armed Forces [the President] says that we have been attacked just like at Pearl Harbour and this time the Chinese are responsible. […] The real dark days are ahead, […] now they are turning to a kinetic type of war. […] This was like an order of assassination. The death of each person, each nurse, each doctor can be blamed on the Chinese Communist Party’.  He also added a confrontation with China was inevitable and said: ‘This is our goal, our destiny’.

According to the research carried out in April 2020 by the Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw, as many as 45 percent of Poles believe in conspiracy theories alleging that ‘some foreign forces or countries intentionally spread the coronavirus’ and only 42 percent recognize its natural origin confirmed by scientific knowledge.

Rafal Pankowski, a co-author of the report of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association and a sociology professor at the Collegium Civitas university, commented: – ‘The global pandemic is also a global crisis of social trust and values amid confusion and anxiety. It is fertile ground for the dangerous growth of xenophobia and conspiracy theories. For the first time in Polish history we are dealing with such a wave of hatred against people of Asian origin, but the antisemitic stereotypes are also present, together with hostility and contempt for various other groups – for example Roma, Africans, Ukrainians, Americans, Russians, as well as Muslims, refugees, LGBT people, environmentalists, vegans, and others’.

– ‘Unfortunately, the media are also involved in promoting conspiracy theories about the coronavirus, often inviting people with extreme views as experts. These «experts» are also gaining popularity on the web, where antisemitic and xenophobic content is distributed on a massive scale. Companies such as YouTube and Facebook, contrary to their formal announcements, often tolerate such content on their platforms’ – said Dr. Anna Tatar, co-author of the ‘Brown Book’.

– ‘Examples of hatred are unfortunately coming from the top. In a pandemic, conspiracy theories promoted by public figures: celebrities, artists, politicians, journalists and clergy are particularly alarming’ – adds Jacek Dziegielewski, also a co-author of the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association report.

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association is an independent organization established in Warsaw in 1996. It has campaigned against racism, antisemitism, and xenophobia, both in Poland and internationally. Among others, it is a member of the International Network against Cyber Hate (INACH), which brings together organizations from twenty countries fighting hatred and discrimination on the Internet. Together with partners from Estonia, Slovakia, Romania and Spain, it conducts research on hate speech as part of the Opcode: Open Code for Hate-Free Communication project.

‘The Virus of Hate: Brown Book of the Epidemic’ (full report in PDF): https://bit.ly/2Z4EO20

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HUMAN RIGHTS AWARD FOR ‘NEVER AGAIN’ CO-FOUNDER

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association’s co-founder Rafal Pankowski received this year’s Paul Ehrlich-Gunther K. Schwerin Human Rights Award.

The Award was established in 1998 by the US-based Anti-Defamation League to honour those who have fought antisemitism throughout Europe. The award was presented by the ADL’s Director of European Affairs Andrew Srulevitch during his visit to Poland on 6 February 2019.

In the preceding months, Rafal Pankowski had been subjected to numerous public attacks for his work in documenting and countering antisemitism and xenophobia. Several days before the handing of the award, government-controlled TV labelled the Warsaw-born researcher as ‘a horrible person’, ‘belonging to the worst sort of Poles’ who ‘lives from a hatred of his own fatherland’. In response, the Polish Human Rights Commissioner Adam Bodnar initiated a formal complaint to the National Council of Radio and Television in protest against the hateful language used on air.

In 2018, Rafal Pankowski (who is also a Sociology Professor at Warsaw’s Collegium Civitas) authored the widely discussed article detailing the resurgence of antisemitic discourse in Polish media and politics, published by the Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs. Over the years he has cooperated with numerous think tanks and academic institutions including, among others, Chatham House (London), the Institute of Human Sciences (Vienna), and the Centre for European Studies at Chulalongkorn University (Bangkok).

He was recently included in the annual ‘J100’ list announced by editors of The Algemeiner, a New York-based Jewish weekly. The list recognizes one hundred people who made positive contribution to the life of the Jewish communities in the last year and, besides political figures, it has included actress Sharon Stone, the UK’s Prince William and Indian conductor Zubin Mehta, among others. The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ co-founder was commended for his role in opposing antisemitism and racism.

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association is an independent organization established in Warsaw in 1996. ‘NEVER AGAIN’ has campaigned against racism, antisemitism and xenophobia, for peace, intercultural dialogue and human rights both in Poland and internationally.

More information:

Rafal Pankowski, ‘The Resurgence of Antisemitic Discourse in Poland’, ‘Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs’, July 2018: http://bit.ly/2Typpl2

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A NEW REPORT ON VIOLENCE AGAINST MUSLIMS

The ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association has published a REPORT part of its ‘Brown Book’ monitoring activity – on incidents targeting Muslims in Poland in 2017-2018. The association calls for the condemnation of xenophobic violence and for solidarity with those who experience it.

Former Gdansk mayor the late Pawel Adamowicz was viciously criticized for his efforts to support refugees and to create a migration policy based on respect for diversity. Two weeks before his death, the public prosecutor discontinued proceedings regardingdeath certificates’ that the ultra-nationalist All-Polish Youth addressed to Adamowicz and ten other city mayors for signing a declaration of cooperation aimed at the integration of migrants in Polish cities. On 20 January, Muslims joined in prayer at the ecumenical funeral mass to mourn the assassination of the Gdansk mayor.

Examples of events documented in the ‘Brown Book’ include, amongst many others, the following incidents:

A group of men assaulted a Pakistani citizen. According to the victim, They shouted, <Osama, Osama!>. Then they asked if I was a Muslim.’ As a result of the incident he had a broken nose, broken teeth, as well as head and chest injuries. (Ozorkow, 3 January 2017)

Two unidentified individuals beat up a student from Saudi Arabia. The attacked man received several fist blows to his face. (Zakopane, 8 January 2017)

Three men attacked Pakistani workers of a restaurant. They shouted abusive words, like ‘dirtbags and ‘terrorists’. Moreover, one of the assailants forced his way behind the counter, hit one of the Pakistanis and pushed him onto a hot grill. The two remaining perpetrators beat up the owner of the facility as well as another employee. (Swidwin, 8 April 2017)

Four men took part in an assault on a kebab shop. They verbally abused one of the employees, a Bangladeshi citizen, with words including ‘you turban and ‘you nigger’ and spat on him. The perpetrators also threw chairs at the remaining employees and demolished the interior of the shop. (Lodz, 17 April 2017)

An unidentified man spat at a girl who wore a hijab. The teenage victim was participating in an educational excursion for young people from Germany. (Lublin, 21 June 2017)

A man and an accompanying woman assaulted a Chechen woman dressed in traditional Muslim garb. The assailant shouted at her, ‘You fucking Muslim!’, ‘To the gas chamber!’ and ‘Fuck off from here! He pushed her down to the ground and kicked her head and the rest of her body. (Warsaw, 7 September 2017)

Unknown perpetrators devastated a mosque. Surveillance cameras recorded two masked men breaking a few dozen window panes in the building by throwing stones and lumps of concrete. (Warsaw, 27 November 2017)

An unidentified man attacked a student from Saudi Arabia; he punched him in the face and shouted: ‘If you are to explode, do it where you came from! (Lodz, 8 January 2018)

In a kebab shop an assailant aimed a firearm at three Moroccan citizens and shouted that they are to ‘get the fuck out of Poland’ and that ‘Poland is for Poles’. (Gniezno, 12 February 2018)

An owner of a similar shop, an Egyptian national, was beaten by three men with a metal stick. (Warsaw, 13 May 2018)

Another Egyptian victim, belonging to the Coptic Catholic Church, made the following statement: ‘They were very aggressive. They said I was an Islamist and an Arab. When I showed them the cross I was wearing and said I was a Christian, one of the men spat on [my cross] and attacked me with his fists.’ (Krasnystaw, 31 August 2018)

In a bus two Turkish passengers were attacked by five apparent fans of football club Legia Warsaw. One of the victims, a dual citizen of Turkey and Poland, said, ‘They began to call us names, <Dirtbags, get the fuck out of here>. They were getting more and more aggressive. They sang a racist song (…) One of them severely head-butted me in the face.’ (Warsaw, 15 December 2018)

At a railway station, a group of a dozen or so men attacked three Arab students. The assailants hit one of them on the back of the head and pushed him down to the ground, forced the second onto the tracks just before the departure of the train, and beat the third until he lost consciousness. (Katowice, 22 December 2018)

– ‘This carefree show of hatred towards Muslims or people perceived as Muslims often stems from the rhetoric used by politicians, celebrities and other public figures in the media. They use negative stereotypes and derogatory expressions and this, in an unavoidable manner, facilitates xenophobic attitudes towards representatives of various minorities’, said Dr Anna Tatar, the author of the report.

The ‘Brown Book’ gathers examples of such public rhetoric which contains prejudice against Muslims or direct calls for violence towards them. The monitoring activity noted words by the regional curator of education Barbara Nowak when she told the King Jan Sobieski Secondary School students, ‘The patron of your school was a wonderful king who managed to save the whole of Europe from Islam. You must follow his example (Krakow, 11 September 2018). In turn, Wojciech Cejrowski (right-wing author and commentator) posted an appeal on Twitter (19 October) to send in photographs of Muslims living in Poland. In response, Internet users began, without asking for permission, to take photographs of women with hijabs and Arab men and to publish them with derogatory commentaries: e.g. ‘Muslim savages’; ‘more and more of them can be seen in Poland, they should be chased away while it’s still possible because the plague spreads quickly’.

For many years, xenophobic commentaries can be heard in broadcasts aired by the nationalist Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja. The ‘Brown Book’ for 2018 contains, amongst others, the words uttered by Tadeusz Rydzyk, director of the Torun-based station, who in a programme on the subject of ‘mixed marriages’ said, ‘I look, for instance, at Polish women who see some man and they like him because he has a darker skin… and then with this Arab, it’s like <go join the harem, go there>. So, it’s like that, this is dramatic. (11 December). This statement failed to trigger any response from the National Broadcasting Council or from Church authorities.

In 2018, following an intervention by the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association, the Allegro online e-commerce platform removed T-shirts showing slogans and symbols derogatory to the Muslim faith such as ‘Stop Islam and a drawing of a mosque crossed out.

In Poland there are, according to various estimates, between 15 and 25 thousand Muslims which accounts for less than 0.1% of the total population.

NEVER AGAIN’ Association is an independent anti-racist organization, founded by the late Marcin Kornak (1968-2014) to monitor incidents of a xenophobic nature. It also conducts educational campaigns such as ‘Music Against Racism’ and ‘Let’s Kick Racism out of Stadiums’.

The ‘Brown Book’ is a monitoring activity, carried out by ‘NEVER AGAIN’, of racist, xenophobic and antisemitic incidents since the mid-1990s.

NEVER AGAIN’s ‘Brown Book’ documentation of selected Islamophobic incidents from 2017 and 2018:  READ PDF 

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“NEVER AGAIN” TARGETED FOR SPEAKING OUT AGAINST ANTISEMITISM

The “NEVER AGAIN” Association spoke out against the current wave of antisemitism in Poland and it became a target of a hostile campaign by a Polish official.

Since late January, Poland has witnessed a series of outrageous statements in media and politics in connection with debates around the so-called “history law” prohibiting defamation of “the Polish state and nation”.

For example, Beata Mazurek, the Polish Parliament’s deputy Speaker and spokesperson of the ruling party tweeted the words: “From now on it will be difficult to look at Jews with sympathy and friendship”. Jacek Zalek, a deputy chairman of the ruling party faction in the Parliament, said in a televised interview: if the Poles are held responsible for the 1941 Jedwabne pogrom “than one might conclude that if the Jewish police was responsible for leading Jews to the gas chambers, than the Jews themselves created the Holocaust for themselves.” Kornel Morawiecki MP said in a recent interview: “Do you know who chased the Jews away to the Warsaw Ghetto? The Germans, you think? No. The Jews themselves went because they were told that there would be an enclave, that they would not have to deal with those nasty Poles.” The “NEVER AGAIN” Association has documented dozens of similar comments made in the last weeks.

Members of the “NEVER AGAIN” Association have protested against the wave of antisemitism through numerous interventions in Polish and international media. They also took part in several high-level international meetings where they discussed the current situation. The meetings included the Polish-British Belvedere Forum held in London on 19-20 February with the participation of officials and intellectuals, including Professor Norman Davies and the UK Envoy for Holocaust Issues Sir Eric Pickles. “NEVER AGAIN” was also represented at the round-table of the European Council for Tolerance and Reconciliation held in Monaco on 5-6 March with the participation of former British prime minister Tony Blair, Prince Albert of Monaco, and historian Sir Antony Beevor, among others.

On 19-21 March, the “NEVER AGAIN” Association was represented at the Global Forum for Combatting Antisemitism held in Jerusalem with the participation of the President of Bulgaria Roumen Radev, former French prime minister Manuel Valls, the president of the World Jewish Congress Ronald Lauder and numerous other figures. “NEVER AGAIN” co-founder Rafal Pankowski was invited to speak on the Forum’s panel about historical revisionism and antisemitism in Eastern Europe. His presentation consisted mostly of examples of controversial statements made by public figures in the last weeks, with minimum commentary. He pointed to the existence of Polish civil society initiatives against antisemitism as a positive sign and he was subsequently congratulated for his talk by numerous conference participants.

Upon conclusion of the Global Forum, a hostile social media campaign was launched by Andrzej Pawluszek, an adviser to the Polish Prime Minister. Pawluszek was also present at the Forum, but did not take the floor. Instead, he published a number of tweets calling the “NEVER AGAIN” presentation “an incredible scandal”. He alleged “Pankowski did not have much to say, nothing concrete, he just quoted supposedly <antisemitic> statements of politicians.” He also added: “It is sad that a Pole had nothing nice to say about his own country.”

Pawluszek’s smears were retwitted by, among others, Deputy Speaker of the Senate Adam Bielan and Krzysztof Ziemiec, the anchor of the main news programme on state-controlled TV. Rafal Ziemkiewicz, a Polish TV commentator notorious for using antisemitic language who has 155,000 twitter followers, posted his own comment in response: “the problem is the home-made rascal”.

Pawluszek’s campaign was also taken up by Krzysztof Bosak, a deputy leader of the extreme-right Nationalist Movement party (Ruch Narodowy, RN), who has 140,000 followers on twitter. He began his own series of posts by exclaiming: “Warning, another representative of academia defaming Poland”. Bosak’s post was retweeted by, among others, Sebastian Kaleta, a high-ranking official of the Ministry of Justice.

Not surprisingly, the above mentioned posts resulted in a large number of hostile and threatening comments, for example:

“Why can’t we put TNT in the ass of this Pankowski?”

To Pawluszek: “Couldn’t you punch him in the face on our behalf? We would collect money for a possible punishment.”

“Pankowski went there to earn his Judas’ shekels.”

“Disgusting, who employs him?”

“But is this gentleman really Polish? Or maybe he only has Polish documents? It would explain his behaviour!”

“A Pole? He is just a Polish-speaking Jewish mongrel dog.”

“There are full-blooded Poles, but there are also such lice, misfits and shabes goyim who cannot be called Poles.”

“We must identify all those pseudo-Poles and show them to society. Only the truth will set us free.”

Rafal Pankowski, who is a sociology professor at Warsaw’s Collegium Civitas, said: – “I am disappointed Mr Pawluszek did not wish to discuss any issues at the Global Forum in Jerusalem, but resorted to an online campaign. Such behaviour is unworthy of a public official, but it is unfortunately emblematic of the current climate of xenophobia.”

The “NEVER AGAIN” Association is an independent organization established in Warsaw in 1996. The mission of the “NEVER AGAIN” Association is to promote multicultural understanding and to contribute to the development of a democratic civil society in Poland and in the broader region of Central and Eastern Europe. It received personal endorsements from figures such as Jan Karski, Simon Wiesenthal and Barack Obama, among others.

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