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May 25, 1997 No 21 (448)

Voice - Opinion

How to Scare the Poles

Traditionally, the best bogy was the Jews. Near the end of communism in Poland, in 1988, a party weekly, Sprawy i Ludzie, brought some terrifying news: "In special cafeterias for believers of Judaism in our country, 70,000 kosher lunches are distributed every day for free. The lunches are free."

Bogies were especially popular in times of revolutions, coups d'etat and political breakthroughs, times when people knew for sure that tomorrow would be different from yesterday, but still had no idea what it would be like or what would happen to them. They were scared, so it was easy to frighten them, and they even sought out scary things themselves.

There's no doubt that today the Poles have reached such a breakthrough moment, and under the touch of a magic wand, various bogies and fears have sprung up everywhere. Some have returned after years in hiding, emerging from a bottle that the communists had corked up; others have been born spontaneously in the new situation; still others have been carefully and meticulously constructed by politicians with the ardor of Dr. Frankenstein.

- What should the Poles fear today?

- Traditionally, good results can be achieved by using Jews as the bogy.

The special charm of Polish anti-Semitism lies in the fact that it can do perfectly well without any Jews.

Juggling anti-Semitic arguments in public life produces shocking effects. It's almost amusing how every third Pole believes that in a country nearly completely devoid of Jews, the Jews still have too much power. Entire masses of people are deeply convinced that they are ruled by Jews and that Jews pose an economic threat to their interests.

This results from the fact that every major political debate in Poland-be it on the constitution, the battle against the postcommunist left wing or privatization-is inevitably directed toward the nonexistent Jews.

On the one hand, Poland's contemporary anti-Semitism has a plebeian character. It is usually the reaction of people who are confused by the new system and looking for someone they can hold responsible for their poverty and their grievances. They don't need real Jews to do that. This kind of anti-Semitism is responsible for the stupid graffiti on walls, hooligan slogans during worker protests and bigotry at the dinner table.

There is, however, anti-Semitism premeditated by politicians: One Solidarity leader makes up stories about President Aleksander Kwalniewski going to see the rabbis. The rightist Gazeta Polska daily shows great devotion in uncovering the non-Aryan ancestors and names of its center-left opponents. The giant Radio Maryja (5 million listeners!) is obsessed with hatred of "Jews, the non-Polish minority."

But none of them has gone as far as the well-known actor and film director Ryszard Filipski, who moved to the countryside because he says he'd rather look at the horses' Slavic mouths than Jewish snouts in the city.

The problem is not the number of active anti-Semites in Poland. The problem is that you can be regarded as a decent, patriotic citizen in Poland and still openly express your anti-Semitic views.

The problem is the lack of an atmosphere of condemnation for such views.

As we know, the anti-Semitic craze can't do the Jews any harm. (Since there are basically few Jews left in Poland for them to torment).

So it's not an issue between Poles and Jews.

It's a Polish issue.

by Slawomir Majman

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