Poland takes from an old playbook to stir fear and keep power: When in doubt, create an enemy

WARSAW – When in doubt, invent an enemy.

This was the strategy of the communists who took over Poles after World War II to stay in power when they scapegoated Jews to prevent Poles from rebelling against their rule. And the conservative Law and Justice party, which has ruled Poland since 2015, is betting on the same game book, experts said.

Led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Law and Justice – also known by the Polish acronym PiS – has found new enemies to shake up its conservative base as he pushes Poland to the right and undermines democratic institutions and justice in a country that was once a beacon of freedom in. was Eastern Europe, the experts said.

Gays, migrants, feminists – all have been demonized by this Polish government, according to Sebastian Rejak of the American Jewish Committee and other analysts who persecute the government.

“Discrimination can start with Jews, but it never ends with Jews,” he said. “If others are targeted, sooner or later Jews will also be targeted. We therefore stand up in defense of other minorities. “

He said law and justice are not made of the same anti-Semitic material as the Communist Party, which purged Poland’s Jews in 1968, but that it draws support from those parts of Polish society that are prejudiced against Jews.

Recently, desperate Muslim migrants trapped on Poland’s border with Belarus have become political pawns in a law-and-justice power game that seeks to bolster its support. Hundreds of migrants hide in forests on the border and struggle with frost. Several have reportedly died.

Poland and the Baltic States as well as the European Commission, claim that Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko created the crisis in revenge for criticism of his authoritarian regime by allowing migrants hoping for Western Europe through Belarus and then across the border to EU neighbors.

A refugee reads a Koran while sitting with others being held by Polish border guards and Belarusian armed forces in Usnarz Gorny, Poland.NurPhoto via Getty Images file

However, critics say Law and Justice also used the crisis to show its conservative Roman Catholic base that it was a “Bulwark of Christianity Defense of the country against Muslims.

In an overt attempt to stir up anti-immigrant sentiment, the Polish Interior Minister announced last month Mariusz Kaminski showed a photo of a man copulate with a cow He claimed it came from a cell phone that was confiscated from a migrant who tried to get to Poland.

TVP, the state-funded television station that critics say acts as a propaganda channel for the ruling party, quickly trumpeted his claim with the headline: “He raped a cow and wanted to go to Poland? Details about migrants at the border.”

This attempt to smear the migrants imploded when It turned out that the photo was not a migrant, but was traced back to a zoophilia porn film widespread on the Internet – and which included a horse and not a cow, numerous News agencies reported.

But Kaminski’s move managed to shock a broad section of Polish society to such an extent that he was seldom reprimanded by the powerful Roman Catholic Church, which marches largely in step with the ruling party.

“The situation with immigrants is not new,” said Sarian Jarosz of Amnesty International, who is monitoring the humanitarian crisis on the border. “In 2015 there was also a crisis in Europe. But then the migrants were far away, not on our border.”

“Even then, the PiS government was building an ‘enemy’ who is out there and wants to come to us and hurt us,” he added.

Mariusz Kaminski.Adam Guz / Gallo Images / Getty Images File

Indeed, the problem facing Syrians fleeing this country’s devastating civil war and flooding into Europe in 2015 is helped bring law and justice to power – Kaczynski had sworn to defend the border against Muslim migrants, whom he called “all sorts of things Parasites and protozoa“and who would impose Sharia or Islamic law and use Catholic churches as” toilets “.

“What they want is power and fear is a great motivator,” said Alexander Storozynski, a Polish-American activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author.

“When you have an enemy, you’re more ready to fight. They make people afraid of ‘the other’. and they use the same tactics as the communists, “said Storozynski, who has met with Kaczynski and other senior judicial and judicial officials over the years.

The other and the enemy

Who is the other one”?

“Anyone who is not a traditional Polish Catholic,” said Storozynski.

NBC News asked the Polish government spokesman for comment. But there was no reaction.

There are also signs that the government’s attempts to demonize the migrants are backfiring. The Gallup polling company, the one Acceptance index for migrants, reported last month a huge surge in public acceptance of the afflicted migrants, most of whom are from the Middle East.

Also, many ordinary Poles have resisted their own government to help and support the migrants.

Kamil Syller, a Polish lawyer who lives near the border, urges people who want to help to show green lights so that migrants know that it is safe to approach their homes for food and shelter.

“We, the inhabitants of the border region, who see human drama and suffering, don’t have to calculate,” he told the country’s leading newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza. “We have to stay human.”

To rally its base of deeply religious voters, Law and Justice has also demonized women protesting abortion restrictions, calling the LGBTQ community the propagator of a foreign “ideology” and promoting “LGBT-free zones”.

To counter the criticism of the European Union for undermining Poland’s judicial system and freedom of the press, the ruling party has tapped the vein of Polish patriotism and paranoia by accusing the EU of trampling on the country’s independence.

“The PiS government is not only looking outwards, but has been consistently building up internal enemies for years: women, gays and lesbians, even doctors and paramedics during a pandemic,” said Jarosz.

Polish gay activist Bartosz Staszewski said Kaczynski and his party used tactics that even the communists did not dare.

“There has been a hate campaign against the LGBT community in Poland since 2019,” he said. “That is unprecedented. That has never happened before, we were not even criticized as openly among the communists as we are now.”

Unlike the United States and other countries, homosexuality has has never been illegal in Poland and recent polls show growing support for gay marriage. But that hasn’t stopped Kaczynski and his allies from using the TVP channel to “falsely equate LGBT circles with pedophiles”.

“I have the impression that a new enemy has now been found, these are refugees who are seeking asylum in our country,” said Staszewski. “Poland treats them worse than the animals, which means that they die of hypothermia and hunger in the forest.”

In his opinion, the government has so far managed to stay in power by capitalizing on the deep resentments of Poles that were left behind when the country’s new capitalist economy began, or who have grown away from the rapid social changes that have taken place. those that followed did not feel anchored anymore Poland shook off its Soviet shackles and joined the European Union.

Meanwhile, anti-Semitism continues in Poland, despite the fact that most of the country’s more than 3 million Jews were wiped out by German occupiers during the Holocaust. 1968 the communists took advantage of this hatred and used it to evict 13,000 Jews from Poland and then to persecute the few who remained.

There has been a revival of the Jewish community since Poland broke out of the Soviet bloc in 1989, and Rejak said the current Polish government “is investing heavily in projects to restore Jewish cultural sites”. But it rarely rejects the bigoted voices on the far right.

“This silence by decision-makers when it comes to demonizing Jews by the radical right can result from fear,” he said. “The fear that if government officials condemned anti-Semitism, some voters would ask the difficult question: ‘Why are you defending the Jews?'”

Ewa Galica reported from Warsaw; Corky Siemaszko from New York City

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