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Political and Social Aspects of the Nationalist Populism in Poland Nationalism in Poland

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In the years 2005-2007 in Poland there was a period of governmental coalition between 3 parties: conservative Law and Justice (PIS), social-conservative-agrarian Self-Defense (Samoobrona) and ultra-catholic League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin – LPR).

Member of «National Radical Camp» (Obóz NarodowoRadykalny, ONR) Rzeszów, Poland, 1.
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Bild: Member of «National Radical Camp» (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR) - Rzeszów, Poland, 1. May 2014. / Silar (CC BY-SA 3.0 unported - cropped)

19. November 2014

19. Nov. 2014

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It was also the second period (after 1989-1997) of an increasing wave of extreme right-wing tendencies in Polish politics. Governmental changes in 2007 were associated with the end of aforementioned coalition. However, the problem of nationalism, rather than decreasing, since 2011 has begun to increase significantly. Nowadays one can talk about the revival of nationalist and neo-fascist attitudes – especially before local elections scheduled for November 2014.

In the first part of this study there are identified the key players on the extreme right-wing political scene in Poland. Moreover, the ideological foundations of Polish nationalism / neo-fascism and populist trends are indicated. Then there is described a fast growing international network, which includes Polish new groups of Autonomous Nationalists. At the end there is given short summary of anti-fascist activities in Poland.

Ideological Sources of Polish Nationalism and Neo-fascism

Neo-fascist groups in Poland relate to the idea of national-radicalism (NR). This is a radical fraction of Polish nationalism, which spun off in the 30’s of XX century. The groups associated with the NR ideology use of the symbol of “Sword in Hand”. Elements of NR (historical) ideology are: a) recognition of God as the highest value, and the good of the nation as the highest goal of a man b) Catholic fundamentalism c) rejection of liberal democracy and capitalism d) rejection of Marxism e) Anti-Semitism. New key elements of NR and nationalist populist politics nowadays are: anticommunism, homophobia, anti-LGBT campaigns, anti-gypsy campaigns, support for pro-life movement, rejection of Polish membership in the European Union and NATO. NR postulates catholic corporatism, as well as the nationalization of strategic economical sectors in Poland.

Far Right Organizations and Parties in Poland

Nowadays in Poland on the political scene, we can distinguish four major nationalist groups. There are also hundreds of smaller groups/associations in different cities and regions in Poland. Most important are following organizations.

Bild: Activists of «All polish youth» (Młodzież Wszechpolska) on March of Independence in Warsaw, 2011. / Adam Kliczek, http://zatrzymujeczas.pl (CC BY-SA 3.0 cropped)

All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska – MW) is an organization of polish youth nationalists that has been operating in Poland since 1989. It was inspired by the pre-WW II Academic Association “Polish Youth” – the largest academic organization in 20s and 30s. Members of the organization in 20s advocated economic boycott of Jews and limit their access to higher education. They organized street militias that were persecuting Jews and were attacking their shops and stalls. The organization in 2005 was considered as a youth base of LPR and after the elections several young activists of MW (22-23 year old) became members of the LPR party in the parliament or began to work in the official media.

National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo Radykalny – ONR) is a national-radical organization founded in 1993, referring to the pre-war fascist group of the same name. In the 30s ONR acted as illegal political group and was composed of MW members. In 30s ONR activists took part in numerous attacks on political opponents mainly communists and citizens of Jewish origin. Contemporary ONR refers to the tradition of ONR for example they celebrate of “March for Myslenice” anniversary – the biggest anti-Jewish riots of the interwar period.

National Rebirth of Poland (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski – NOP) is the Polish national-radical and nationalist political party. It refers to the tradition of pre-war ONR. NOP exists since 1981 when they began anti-communist activities. In 1992 NOP was registered as a party. In 90’s NOP was quite active, however it did not take any prominent place on the political scene. It should be emphasized that NOP is the first organization that has built strong international relationships – including the NPD and the Golden Dawn. NOP registered in Poland signs with a celtic cross and homophobic sign “zakaz pedałowania” (gays are forbidden).

Bild: Members of ONR on a march in Krakow, 14. April 2007. / Efka de (CC BY-SA 3.0 unported)

National Movement (Ruch Narodowy – RN)

Establishment of the RN based on the process of rebranding. This means changing the perception of the radical nationalism by using new elements of its communication channels, which usually involves a change of name, image and logo. Therefore RN has developed ideological formula flexible enough to gather around him all the extreme right and its surroundings. It is based on the coalition of dozens of organizations (MW, ONR and some small neoliberal-conservative groups). In such solution, first it has to become the social movement and finally transform into a political party and enter parliament (trampoline for leaders). The scheme of their new functioning was as follows. First, there was organized openly fascist, annual 11-November march “March of Independence” (2010). The next step was the registration of the Association “March of Independence” (2011). Finally, the association was transformed into a group “National Movement” (2012) .

An important element of RN ideology is commemoration of a far right, nationalist and anti-communist movement which has formed since the 20’s in Poland. Therefore the group emphasize historical militarism and “war” with the leftist organizations. In 2014 RN announced that they are taking part in the European Parliament elections. They gathered 1.4 % of votes (around 100 000 of people). In October 2014 leaders of the RN announced transformation into political party but this not yet happened. Such move is related to Polish local elections (announced for 16 November 2014). RN has developed its sections in all provinces of Poland and from 2012 are trying to build a electorate for the 2014 and 2015 elections.

March of Independence

The turning point for the Polish nationalists was the year 2006 when on one of the city squares in the centre of Warsaw was built a statue of Roman Dmowski (Polish nationalist ideologist in 20’s). A year later, first nationalist march took place, organized by the ONR. It gathered a few hundred people, mostly members of the neo-fascist groups and nazi-boneheads (Combat 18). Since then an anti-fascist movement had organized blockades of these marches. The year 2010 is a period of change in tactics of the extreme right, which asked for support to the conservative media elites associated with large daily paper “Rzeczpospolita”. The march was supposed to be a patriotic event with a honour committee of many prominent figures. It was organized by ONR and MW. Too radical slogans were forbidden, sandstone uniforms of ONR were no longer visible, neo-nazis symbolism was hidden.

Bild: Independence Day in Warsaw 2013. / Wistula (CC BY-SA 3.0 unported)

That year antifascist movement created the anti-fascist coalition directed against the extreme right (11 of November Coalition), which brought together both left-wing and liberal groups. However riots between anti-fascists and the extreme right wing in the streets of Warsaw allowed the media to make a disastrous narration to this situation. Nationalists had been presented as victims and that allowed them to built their position in next years. Far right leaders were eagerly invited to the media and gained more and more reverberation, especially among moderate conservative people. March in 2011 and subsequent years already collected tens of thousands sympathizers of the conservative media, political parties and supporters of all polish football clubs. In 2012, a large part of the conservative right distanced itself from the RN what caused the radicalization of the march. In 2012 and 2013 marches become more and more violent. In addition to the clashes with riot police, neo-nazi hooligans burned rainbow monument and fiercely attacked a squat.

Militarism

Building the identity of the extreme right in Poland is based on honoring the memory of the anti-communist underground, mainly the National Armed Forces (Narodowe Siły Zbrojne – NSZ) militia formed during the WW II by Polish nationalists. This formation was a part of the “Cursed Soldiers” (Żołnierze Wyklęci) which is the common name of the post-WW II Polish anti-communist guerilla groups. There are several associations that promotes commemoration of the NSZ, including support for youth groups, reenactment groups, there are special issues of journals about this topic, there are organized demonstrations and meetings, and there are textiles (t-shirts, blouses, hats) connected with NSZ. Even polish neo-fascist informal groups are changing their image form “nazi bonehead” to so-called “patriotic”.

March of Independence Guard

March of Independence Guard (Straż Marszu Niepodległosci – SMN) is a paramilitary organization established in the RN framework in 2012. SMN implicitly provide protective service to march, but in reality it is an organization with all year round activities. It is modeled on Hungarian Magyar Garda and Greek Golden Dawn. According to official reports there are 600-800 members, who are trained, among others, by former Polish military intelligence agents, soldiers of the Foreign Legion and the GROM (antiterrorist) special forces.

International Contacts of Polish Nationalists

NOP is a member of the International Third Position and cooperates internationally with other organizations within the European National Front. During the celebration of the NOP 30th anniversary in 2011 there appeared nationalists from various groups from all around the world, including Roberto Fiore, Stefan Jacobsson, José Luis Vázquez, Kris Roman and Robert Lane. The words of solidarity were sent from prominent international activists as Yahia Gouasmi and David Duke.

International contacts of RN intensified after trips of Polish nationalists of MW / ONR to Hungary Magyar Sziget Festival in 2010 and 2011. The festival was attended with dozens of Polish nationalists from all major cities. They strengthened contacts with members of Jobbik, which allowed the development of a strategy related to the establishment of the RN. RN officially cooperates with the Alliance of European National Movements (AENM), and tries to establish cooperation with the European National Front.

Relations of Nationalist Groups within Polish Society

RN has taken various steps to consolidate a group of neo-fascist and nationalist in Poland. It can be observed that the nationalists are building alliances with groups of influence in Poland, which are based on military contacts. Good example is a support that was given to RN by the Pro-Militia Association and New Screen (Nowy Ekran) publishing agency. This organizations are founded by former communist army officers and former officers of Military Information Services (WSI).

By 2012, the mainstream media had supported RN moderately. Nowadays a number of newspapers associated with the conservative right wing openly advocate the RN side. From the moment when the nationalists became interesting topic and march of independence gathers tens of thousands of people, media invite representatives of RN to controversial debates in different TV stations in Poland. RN in 2012-2014 developed their own media (newspapers), and nowadays promotes their views through extremely popular social networking channels.

Relations with business RN started with the campaign based on slogan “swój do swego po swoje”. It is addressed to Polish private company owners and promotes the ideas of national economic solidarity. However, the slogan is a reference to the pre-WW II slogan, when nationalists urged citizens to boycott Jewish stores. Currently RN supports various businessmen. One example is Marek Jakubiak, owner of several breweries that is loosely associated with RN. He is well known for his homophobic and nationalist (anti-Ukrainian) views.

Relations with Catholic Church

Very important for nationalists are relations with Catholic Church. Articles written by NOP members appear in the catholic national weekly “Sunday” (sold in churches every sunday). There are also organized pilgrimages of football fans to Jasna Gora, which are connected with the nationalist message from priest’s pulpit, people form ONR and MW give speeches, and there are hallowed scarves with anti-Communist symbols and nationalist slogans.

RN has found an ally in Tadeusz Rydzyk – catholic priest and founder of the radio station Radio Maryja, TV station Trwam, and the School of Social and Media Culture. This media conglomerate has a huge impact on public opinion in Poland. From very beginning it is accompanied by controversy because of it’s ultra-catholic and conservative message.

Bild: Tadeusz Rydzyk (left), founder of Radio Maryja and TV Trwam. / Piotr Drabik (CC BY 2.0)

Since the beginning of building “extreme force” on the right, the RN tried to begin cooperation with the trade union “Solidarnosc” (Solidarity). It is worth nothing that this trade union is divided into separate sections in various Polish regions and unionists often favor the conservative organizations. Such right-wing tendencies are associated both with the historical support of the “Solidarity” by the Catholic Church and the Government of the United States in the 70s and 80s, as well as the political struggle and neoliberal reforms in the 90’s in Poland. So far, there were several demonstrations organized by Polish ultranationalists, which were supported by the local branches of the “Solidarnosc”.

An important issue are contacts established with “Polonia”. “Polonia” is common name of Poles that for decades are living abroad. Some of Polonia groups have strong antisemitic, racist and nationalist views. RN have support groups build around the Polish community in UK (group “Patriae Fidelis” created by recent wave of polish immigrants) and in US / Canada / South American countries (older immigrant groups, gathered around millionaire Kobylański).

Autonomous Nationalists

The group of Polish Autonomus Nationalists has a very modern and radical ideology which attracts the extreme wings of the national movement. The AN came to Poland In 2010. The tactics was introduced to Poland by former NOP activists. The AN quickly became popular among radical nationalists from football fan and subculture groups. It took a few years for the groups whose activity was restricted to publishing stickers and writing reports from demonstrations to disappear. Only few stronger groups remained. Those worth mentioning are the following: Autonomous Nationalists from Warsaw, National Front of Częstochowa, Initiative 14 from Toruń, National Radom, Autonomous Nationalists Wielkopolska from Posen.

The AN introduced to Polish political scene a new quality of visual identification – namely, modern attractive graphic design on stickers and banners, well edited video reports from demonstrations. But the AN did not go any further, though. Their public image is still attractive, but they cannot go beyond any other forms of activity than demonstrations. They organize a few throughout the year, e.g. the 1st May demonstration – this year in was Work in Poland for The Poles. At the moment it is the biggest independent 1 May demonstration in Poland. An interesting form of activity of AN has appeared during the past two years. It is an attempt to reach the public by setting associations and fund-raising organizations, supporting youth national initiatives, like the release of CDs and hip-hop clips.

The AN have never had one ideological line. What unites them is opposition to unspecified capitalism and the left wing movement. Recently, they have been using more and more often the symbol of Strasser brothers – a sword and a hammer. They have used it even more often than traditional Polish nationalist emblem – the Phalanx. Their policy is to use symbols rather than to present any political programme. Their political role-model is Marian Reutt, a pre-war activist of The Extreme National Movement – The Phalanx. Inspired by Italian fascism, he also criticized capitalism and communism.

For obvious reasons the German nationalist movement is in opposition to Polish nationalists. Looking for their models the extreme right wing in Poland could not refer to the German neo-nationalist’s ideas. Consequently, The Czech Autonomous Nationalism became the official source of inspiration for the Poles. Nowadays, however, Poland has become an inspiration for the Czechs, who come to The Independence March. AN have also close relations with the Serb nationalists and they often speak about the freedom of Kosovo. The football fans co-operation has been given the background of Slavonic alliance and defense of the western civilization against the Islam. This is why AN organized demonstrations supporting the Serbs and banners Kosovo Je Srpsko (Kosovo Is Serbian) appeared on Polish stadiums. AN have been looking towards the East more often recently. The Torun Initiative 14 visited Ukraine during the Majdan demonstrations. AN and National Rebirth of Poland (Narodowe Odrodzenie Polski NOP) were the only Polish nationalists group to support Ukraine in its conflict with Russia. The support, however, is limited to verbal declarations. AN do not raise money, collect medicine, they do not fight arm in arm with the Ukrainians against the Russians.

To sum up, within the AN movement there is still disparity between the radical slogans and the lack of any radical action aimed against their enemies or the authorities. No initiative is taken, apart from nazi-rock music scene, where more and more concerts and festivals are organized. It seems possible that AN will come back to the model of sub-culture-political movement.

Anti-fascist Activities in Poland

If we want to speak about the contemporary anti-fascist movement in Poland, its beginnings coincide with the period of democratic changes in 1989. Social polarization, political transformation and economic crisis created favourable conditions for inner conflicts. Skinhead and punk subcultures started developing and then the conflicts between subcultures turned into a full-scale political war. Fascists’ attacks on anarchist demonstrations, street fights, acts of violence. Both, times and the Polish fascism have changed. The last example of old-school nationalism was The League of Polish Families from the years 2005-2007. Since 2010 and the first “March of Independence” Polish anti-fascist movement has become weaker than the right wing. The March of Independence raised the confrontation from the street to the public media level. Many well-known journalists, historians, newspapers started supporting the fascists. The mass character of nationalism and the depreciation of antifascism caused some changes within the antifascist movement. The public image has become more professional. There are a few relatively big groups in Poland, ready to gather a few thousand people for the major demonstrations.

Plan W – Wroclaw, where Plan W operates, is one of extreme right wing bastions. The Nationalists organize a few demonstrations, they boast with very strong representation at football stadiums. There are also violent attacks at squats, immigrants and punk concerts. Faced with the physical dominance of neo-fascists, Plan W does not rely on radical rhetoric to create its image. They organize one of the two biggest anti-fascists demonstrations in Poland – Wrocław for Everyone – which attracts 2-3 thousands of participants. The organizers try to promote their ideas among artists, immigrants, LGBTQ groups.

Squadron 161 is a group of Polish immigrants living in Great Britain. The name of the group is related to Squadron 303, a unit of Polish pilots who took part in the Battle of England during World War Two. Currently, Squadron 161 is one of the strongest anti-fascist groups in London, combining antifascism with anti capitalism and anti communism. They take part in extreme right wing marches’ blockades, they participate in organizing demonstrations, commemorate socialist activists, organize concerts.

Rozbrat Squat and Friends – besides fighting for workers’ rights, the right to a council flat, squatting, cultural activity, anti-fascism is only one of the many examples of the group’s activity in Poznan. Local activists have managed to avoid the trap of empty anti-fascist phrases devoid of deeper analysis. For them, anti fascist activity is not restricted to the confrontation with extreme right wing. Fighting with fascism means fighting with capitalism and the authorities. Poznan was the first one to emphasise the importance of sport promotion in the social movement. In 2013 the first anti fascist tournament of Martial Arts – Freedom Fighters – took place.

161 Crew – All-Poland group which runs a web portal and a Facebook fan page, which are currently the main source of information and articles on anti fascism. 161 Crew was the first one to recognize the importance of creating the public image. They rely on direct message, radical slogans, high-quality graphic design. Thanks to their attractive public image and efficient internet activity their impact is substantial. They provide each group with the opportunity of creating their own professional low budget stickers.

Anti fascist Warsaw together with some other groups took over (from the 11th of November Agreement) the organisation of anti-fascist demonstration in November in Warsaw. They concentrate on the organization of concerts and they paint over the nationalist graffiti in town. In Warsaw there is also some cooperation with All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions, the second largest Trade Union organization in Poland. The Trade Union activists do not send couches to demonstrations, but they let the antifascist activists use their hub to invite journalists to meetings. The first conference on nationalism organized by antifa in Poland took place in All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions headquarters.

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