Eighteen people have been killed by ultra-right-wing groups in Poland since 1989, and though racist crime is on the increase in Poland, the country's hate-crime law has discouraged few perpetrators. A group of politicians and youths want to change that.
Fourteen-year-old Piotr S. is one of the most recent victims. On Oct. 27, he was stabbed to death by a 17-year-old skinhead during a concert in a Kielce student club. A week later, 5,000 Kielce residents took to the streets for a silent march to protest violence and indifference toward it.
In a letter to the government they said, "We demand that those ruling the country fulfill their duties and take active steps. We are all burdened with the responsibility of making Poland a safe country."
Opposition politicians responded to the plea. On Nov. 6, the Freedom Union's (UW) Jacek Kuron and the Polish Socialist Party's Cezary Miezejewski, as well as anti-fascist activists, demanded that Nazi parties such as the Polish National Front, the Polish National Fellowship and Polish National Revival be made illegal.
"Democracy doesn't mean a `yes' to totalitarian groups," Miezejewski says. The least the state authorities can do is prevent those movements and parties from acquiring legal status."
On Nov. 8 (one day before the anniversary of Kristallnacht an anti - Jewish pogrom in Germany in 1938), anti-fascist organizations organized a March Against Racism, Anti-Semitism and Intolerance in Warsaw, Katowice and Lublin. Youths and UW and Labor Union (UP) politicians took part in the rally.
"I think that older people are especially guilty of racism," said marcher Magda, a freshman at Warsaw's Hugo Koll¥taj high school. Tolerance, she says, is the rule with young people: "Only skinheads are racist. They are an exception."
Piotrek, a university journalism student, says he will continue to protest even if protests have little effect. "I like marches because they're so spontaneous," he says. "Young people have the right to protest, but it's a shame that all this energy will just evaporate into thin air."
Kuroä, who took part in the demonstration, says that intolerance has grown in Poland in the last six years and that hate publications-especially ones that target Jews, Gypsies and the homeless-are gaining popularity.
"Hate is growing," he says, "and there are people in Poland who can manipulate this feeling. We can't let others drive us into aggressive behavior."
"Intolerance and racism can't be classified as rightist or leftist," the UP's Ryszard Bugaj adds. "They are like a virus that always needs to be eradicated."
Piotr Marciniak, also from the UP, agrees. Germany watched the 1938 Jewish pogrom with indifference, he says, adding, "I hope Poles won't grow indifferent."
Nationalist slogans are not only a fascist or skinhead weapon. On July 20, 1995, Gdaäsk Prosecutor's Office started an investigation against Father Henryk Jankowski, a Gdansk priest who said in a sermon that the Star of David is inscribed in the symbols of the Swastika and the hammer and sickle. The prosecutor's office dropped the investigation because of the alleged crime's "low detrimen to social interest," but Jewish communities and politicians from around the world still accuse Jankowski of anti-Semitism.
Prosecutors are reluctant to deal with potential hate cases, often refusing to file reports on race crimes.
Ryszard Kucinski, press spokesman at the Warsaw Provincial Prosecutor's Office, says Poland's "anti-Nazi law" is not dead; it is only rarely used. Last year, a Lublin man was charged with selling Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf, and the prosecutor's office in Katowice is conducting an investigation into fascist groups' operations.
Effective punishment is not easy to come by: Cases sometimes languish five years before reaching court. "This is pathetic, but it reflects the current situation in Polish courts," Kucinski says.
Boleslaw Tejkowski, leader of the Polish National Fellowship, is in court, accused of promoting racial strife. In 1992, police found that Fellowship leaflets were circulating in a Warsaw high school. The leaflets appealed to "all Poles to manifest against anti-Polish Jewish reign."
In August, Warsaw Regional Court stopped the trial because of "the act's low detrimental value to social interest." Three months later, Warsaw Provincial Court's Revision Department started another investigation against Tejkowski.
Despite the trials, Tejkowski tried to run for president in 1995. He didn't get enough signatures to make it onto the ballot. He is also preparing for the next parliamentary elections. During Independence Day celebrations in Cracow's Old Town square on Nov. 11, he listened in as some 200 skinheads took an oath to fight "German, Jewish and American occupants, the communist and Solidarity government and anti-Polish anarchism."
Kuciäski says youths using fascist symbols and slogans is not a serious problem: "Subculture groups sometimes use fascist symbols or gestures not to promote such ideas, but out of plain stupidity and a desire to show off. Many of them don't even know what fascism is all about."
Article 81 of the Constitution forbids "the spreading of hatred or contempt, encouraging strife and humiliating a person for national, racial or religious reasons." Article 270 of the Penal Code states that anyone publicly spreading and praising Fascist ideology can face a prison sentence of between six months and five years. Those propagating such slogans in print or other media may be imprisoned for one to 10 years. The draft of the new Penal Code suggests that the ban on spreading Fascism should also include a ban on spreading other totalitarian ideologies.
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