Making hate-culture socially (un)acceptable
Krzysztof Kałużny, London School of Economics
In October 2019, Olga Tokarczuk was announced a winner of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature joining the company of Szymborska and Miłosz among others. However, the historic day mirrored what started in 2014 after the publishing of one of her opus magnum ‘Księgi Jakubowe’ (The Books of Jacob) for which Tokarczuk received an enormous wave of hate: from accusations of anti-Polonism to actual death threats. She was on the firing line of not only some ultranationalist groups but also people, who have probably never heard about her works let alone read them, that just wickedly enjoy hating for the sole purpose of hatred. Apparently, people never seem to learn from history forgetting how fine the line between hostility and real violence is.
Where is hate derived from?
Origins of hate may be explained by complex psychological expertise, but hatred seems to be easily spread, like a highly flammable substance. So, the natural question arises - what or who adds fuel to the fire? After the Law and Justice party (PiS) had formed a majority government in 2015, one of the most dramatic and visible changes was in Poland’s only public TV broadcaster - TVP - and its daily news program. Having become under the government’s control, the news started to provide the viewers with only one, very narrow-minded opinion that suited the political agenda of PiS. Trying to convey their right-wing populist anti-immigration message, they started presenting refugees and immigrants as male-only groups who were described as a threat to the Polish culture, society and the Church.
When Europe was tormented by terrorist attacks, the Polish Television would manipulatively blame immigrants who came to Europe even though there was no official statement issued that would confirm who was responsible for these acts of violence. In a report broadcasted on 20th December 2016, it was said that immigrants are ‘culturally alien and not integrating well.’ To support this thesis the video of a man kicking a woman in Berlin underground station was shown, however, two days earlier the police announced that the man was, in fact, a Bulgarian.
This despicable distortion of facts was not a hate speech itself but has reaped the harvest as the number of hate crimes raised from 1169 in 2015 to 1708 two years later. Is there any correlation with what media is presenting? According to the data of the General Police Headquarters of Poland, there is a clear pattern that the target of hate ‘shifted’ from the Roma and the Jews to the Arabs and the Muslims. Unfortunately, the bashing not only did help Law and Justice gain more votes but turned people against others on a sheer basis of ethnicity or religion.
‘Enemies of the state’
What the Polish government has been doing since they won the elections is pursuing a policy of fear to create an illusion of being a guardian of its citizens and the last stronghold of Christian Europe. Therefore, they’ve been looking for a scapegoat to feed their viewers via public TV with a constant feeling of what they project as danger. Most recently, a group that was in the spotlight of the government was non-heteronormative people, whose struggle for rights was denigrated to ‘gender and LGBT ideology’ in the media. Just four days before the parliamentary election in 2019 and half an hour before football match Poland vs Latvia to reach a peak of viewers, TVP published a material named ‘The Invasion’ once again altering the reality by presenting footage of pride marches outside of Poland and concluding that the main goal of LGBT movement is to legalise paedophilia. The ‘evidence’ used was, in fact, fake news from the Amsterdam pride where an individual was giving away ‘paedopride’ leaflets during the gathering before he was detained by the local police.
Moreover, the anti-LGBT sentiment was incited by public figures. This includes Krystyna Pawłowicz, a Law and Justice politician, who repeatedly stated her at least controversial views on Radio Maryja, a Catholic radio station, saying that the non-heteronormative are ‘deviants who should be medically treated’ and ‘vessels of deviltry, evil, hatred, the worst vileness imaginable.’ She was joined by archbishop Marek Jędraszewski who referred to LGBT people as a ‘rainbow plague’ just a couple of days after an infamous attack on a first Pride march in Białystok, north-eastern Poland. It was probably the most brutal aftermath of anti-LGBT propaganda as dozens of marchers were injured by the far-right, extremist football fans and hooligans as the police failed to ensure safety [Read more in the 2nd issue]. The eyewitnesses went as far as using a pogrom comparison describing the atmosphere of the city.
Society fights back
With a lack of reactions from the government side, the actions had to be taken by the courageous citizens who are willing to stand up to hate. It is worth mentioning a non-profit non-government organisation named Centre of Monitoring Racist and Xenophobic Behaviour that tries to make haters face legal repercussions of their comments written on the Internet, especially social media. By publishing hate speech by politicians and public figures on its Facebook page, the centre draws public attention and spreads awareness of the omnipresence of hate in our day-to-day lives. Apart from that, it also sends its volunteers to public events (e.g. marches, pride events, Independence Day), which may attract the extremists to spread hatred, to gather evidence of their actions, slogans, hate speech to persecute them.
What shouldn’t be overlooked is the citizens’ actions undertaken by the individuals to oppose hate, like tens of Poles who tried to block a march of nationalists organised by All-Polish Youth and National Radical Camp (both with a long history of fascism, antisemitism and homophobia) in Warsaw in 2017. Scandalously, their bravery was punished as the police filed a lawsuit against them for obstructing legal gathering. They were cleared of all charges by the court arguing that if state organs cannot control the extreme grouping, the citizens have a right to oppose them.
What can be done about hate culture?
Even though it was supposed to be a main subject of the article, it turned out to be virtually impossible to present solutions, especially without the proper introduction of the problem, and let’s face it, the issue is massively complex and deeply rooted. What should be prioritised when approaching this growing concern is law and education. First and foremost, we need stricter law to protect all types of minorities in Poland as they’re currently too prone to hate because haters don’t face consequences. The problem is illustrated by the report of ILGA-Europe, which examines how human rights of LGBTQ are respected at the national level, showed that Poland is the second worst EU country for LGBT people. Nevertheless, law enforcement is not enough, the educational system has to teach children respect to every human being and introduce them to possible results of intolerance - from hatred to violence. Only then we can try to achieve a hate-free generation which sounds quite utopic right now. But let’s start with ourselves - let’s react. These are only small changes, superficially negligible but they can make all the difference.