(An interview with Polish antifascist and anarcho-syndicalist Jacub Neumann. The German translation of it with some explanations will soon appear in the new paper issue and on the blog of das Grosse Thier. Behold! – liberadio)
* There have been some important changes in the Polish society since 2015 as the PiS come to power. I have some questions on that. Why did such social-democratic or social-liberal forces like Platforma Obywatelska (PO) lost the elections after the crisis? Where is the Solidarność in this mess now?
PO is not and was never neither social-democratic nor social-liberal force. It is typical conservative-liberal party connected strongly with CDU, Partido Popular or Fidesz. They were ruling very long but their power was built on fear. Most of their voters were anti-PiS voters. People who remembered terrible two years of rulling right-wing populist coalition of PiS-LPR-Samoobrona. They lost because they did not care about social cases and were sure that their conservative-liberal agenda is enough to win again. In Poland parties and voters of parties is not the same because people choose some party to vote against another party that they hate.
The political climate changed world-wide during the Ukrainian crisis and escalation of Syrian conflict. The hybrid war helped PiS very much. It should be noted that PiS became even more radical than it used to be anytime and rhetoric against Muslims was very similar to Nazi rhetoric against Jews. After reveals of Cambridge Analitica and Facebook scandal we also know who installed PiS government in Poland using massive propaganda in social medias.
The problem is that the liberal opposition is also right-wing. They do not criticize PiS politics in any position except neoliberal and during the voting of liberalization the abortion law they voted against. They also all voted for official praising the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne, far-right anticommunist and antisemitic guerrilla active during WW2 in opposition to leading anti-German resistance movement which was Armija Krajowa.
Solidarność is not a normal trade union. It is rather national-conservative anticommunist movement that sometimes supports some social cases. The former leader of the union Janusz Śniadek became PiS deputy later, the present one Piotr Duda claimed that under his control the union will be apolitical. But it is more pro-PiS than it ever was. Their cooperation with neofascist movement is separated topic that should be discussed by world-wide level. International trade unions who oppose far-right in their country have nothing against other union in other country that supports far-right government and neofascist organizations. In my opinion if they support such positions they should do such things in their country not legitimize such behaviors in Poland.
* What changes caused by justice and media reforms can be seen already?
The public media are fully controlled by bureaucrats of PiS. Activists of youth-wing, far-right groups and family members of them are employed in public media. It also causes destruction of its quality. They become similar to some hybrid of stalinist propaganda mixed with conspiracy theories and catholic fundamentalism. They of course spread fake news about Sweden being eaten by Muslim immigrants, EU or “total” opposition. Because there is “normal” opposition that supports government: far-right Kukiz’15 party led by former rock singer Paweł Kukiz.
The justice system is vandalized by Zbigniew Ziobro, main lawyer of the party. When PO won their first elections one of their slogan was judging Ziobro. They did not do this so now he is changing whole social justice into his vision. It is difficult to ask what is the legal status of Supreme Court and Constitutional Tribunal. But ordinary people are not afraid of this because they never believed in Poland’s justice system. So as far as PiS do not build concentration camps or arrest big groups of opposition activists they do not find nothing new in this situation.
* The women protests against restriction of their reproductive rights still last. Is there any already any achievements on this topic? What role does the radical left play in this protests? Do the protests still have a wider basis on the grass-root level?
It is difficult to talk about achievements. For sure: we face the fall of the myth of conservative “people” who stay against abortion. Now we see that this case mobilize masses in whole country. Protests are led by feminists and in my opinion this is okay. There is no position of radical left there but social discourse is seen. One year ago when organizers asked PO members to speak they were whistled out by the crowd.
* The PiS seems to be rather hostile toward Putin’s Russia. Is it really so? Is Russia a sort of common enemy or are there pro-russian fractions within the PiS? What it’s position toward Ukraine?
The position toward Ukraine changes. One day Kaczyński goes to Maidan, stands next to Oleh Tiahnybok in front of UPA flags and say “Slava Ukrainu”, next day his party attacks PO as pro-banderist option. Of course they stay against Russia but they are party who stands against everybody. They main enemy is still EU that tries to defend justice system in Poland.
Pro-Putin fraction of course exist. Links to Russian special forces of Antoni Macierewicz were revealed and described briefly. Because of this PiS was forced to change Minister of Defense. But his fraction is still in the party and inside of many public institutions. It is difficult task for PiS because it is him who controls 25% of PiS voters who are so called iron voters. Plots say that he is going to create his own party soon.
* Are there any relations between the PiS and radical nationalistic movement like Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, Ruch Narodowy and others?
RN and ONR support PiS government almost openly. If PiS says that they can not invite Richard Spencer to Poland they do not do this. This would not be possible under government of PO when they did everything to escalate riots on 11th November for example. Many of them have job in institutions controlled by PiS. They are like SA and NSDAP in 1930s Germany. PiS activists won’t ever confront liberal oppositionists physically. This is job of them who either attack demonstrations of opposition and never face judge or spread tear gas and acid in theater because of anti-clerical drama that vice-PM Gliński does not like.
* Regarding the opposition: As far as I know there is pretty selfconscious opposition in Poland (like Robert Biedron just for example) that once proclaimed not to accept the governments rule. Is there still something like that, some sort of parallel authorities in some wojewodzstwos?
People choose gay for mayor, lesbian for leader of village community or black guy for MP. I will say more: yearly gay pride is bigger and bigger year after year and there is almost no far-right response on that. 5 years ago all such events were connected with street battles with football hooligans and Nazis.
This is why claims about increasing racism and far-right in Poland is a little more complicated than people in West Europe think. In so called better years the violence against homosexuals was worse and it was impossible for gay to rule a town. I often talk with the younger generation of Antifascists who think that they live in terrible era. For me personally it is a bit easier to confront the far-right now than it used to be when they were “weaker”.
* Does religion play any considerable role in this societal conflicts? What happened to the leftist worker catholicism of the Solidarność movement, is it still present somewhere? Even in the Russian Orthodox church can be seen some kind of dissent to the state. Is there something similar in the Polish Catholic church, or may be other confessions?
Officially Poland is secular country but you probably see the cross in the house of parliament which is a kind of demonstration that Catholic Church is strong player in Poland’s politics. Unfortunately most political parties support the religious character of the country. From the age of 6 to the age of 19 school students are taught religion at school two hours per week. Last time new RODO (General Data Protection Regulatio) law was established in Poland but Catholic Church is not allowed to respect this law and can do with personal data whatever it wants.
So called “worker” catholicism of Solidarność is neither left nor worker. It is normal conservative movement that sometimes works as a mainstream trade union in some companies. It is not same kind of trade union like Ver.di in Germany and their catholicism has nothing in common with Latin America left-wing theology. You have to understand that the First Solidarność was massive workers movement, the Second Solidarność was anti-communist conspiracy operating during Martial Law in Poland and the Third Solidarność was a legalized movement that hardly has anything in common with the Firtst Solidarność. Both man who created logo of this union and the man who invented the name “Solidarity” stay now against their agenda. It is them who are responsible for establishing neoliberal model of our economics in 1990s along with ex-members of Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza. They all became free market followers after 1989.
* How is the common stand of worker unions in the society in this political/economical crisis?
We have two big trade unions. One “left-wing” but very moderated Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych and the right-wing Solidarność. Sometimes the cooperate sometimes not. They surely do some good staff but they often support anti-social politics.
* Some time ago the prominent Hungarian philosopher Agnes Heller suggested to throw over the Orban government together with the Jobbik party. It reminds me of the that antisemitic campaign started by Antoni Macierewicz. Could you elaborate on it some more? How would such a campaign work?
Here some intellectuals call to overthrow the PiS government in Querfront between liberals and leftists. Hungarian option is almost impossible because the neofascist movement openly supports government. Campaign about the Holocaust law was not exactly started by Macierewicz but escalated by right-wing journalists who are strongly connected with him and his political agenda. It started after Macierewicz was overthrown from the seat of vice-PM and Minister of Defense. In my opinion international scandal was some kind of his counter-attack. Now he is very very silent. It seems that his project to build new political party does not work.
* Antisemitism seems to become a topic in the Polish politics recently. There is those restitution law on the one hand, but there is also the prohibition to speak about “Polish concentration camps” on the other. Of course they were German, but what does it mean now for the research on antisemitism in the Polish society?
It should be noted that Antisemitism is often topic of Polish politics. It was used during presidental campaign. Andrzej Duda used rhetoric of negation of Jedwabne pogrom to get support of antisemitic voters. He himself is not Antisemite (his wife comes from liberal-Jewish family) he is just cynical. About Polish concentration camps you have to know that many people here believe that in Western countries children and people are taught that camps were Polish and Nazis were “Nazis” not Germans and even Germans rescued Jews like Oscar Schindler. This is basic argument for this childish propaganda of a very brave nation who rescued other nation – Jews. After the war Jews emigrated to Israel or USA so they told their stories out of Poland not in Poland. The history of Polish Antisemisim is well known described by our scholars but not popularized among society.
Everything became weaker because of anniversaries of March ‘68 and Ghetto Uprising (April ‘43) but now antisemitic rhetoric came back on covers of far-right papers. Ministry of Culture also stooped donating “Zagłada Żydów” a historical journal of Holocaust edited by Polish Academy of Science.
* What would you say does the Nazi movement flourish under the rule of the PiS? How are they connected internationally?
Nazi movement flourished before PiS but it is better seen because they are opposed by leading daily newspaper and Antifascist investigators from “Stop Nacjonalizmowi”. They are connected in many levels with German Blood & Honour network, British National Action, regiment Azov, Misathropic Division, Russian Nazi movement, Sweden, Czech Republic, Serbia etc. Not only via Nazi and B&H groups but also modern pagan movement.
* It seems that Polish radical left is kind of self-absorbed (except may be Związek Syndykalistów Polski / Inicjatywa Pracownicza who are well connected with the Freie ArbeiterInnen Union in Germany). Is that appearance deceiving?
Radical left except these two groups hardly exists here. ZSP is actually part of the International Workers Assosiation that divorced with FAU. The IP as far as I see is building international links with FAU, SAC and some other European groups. There are also trotskyist groups that are parts of international tendencies but Antifascists movement is something very different than political movement dominated by Razem party now. Many things are going to change after municipal elections. I think we will soon say goodbye to Razem party after they loose everything in votes.
* Are there any radical leftist groups or organizations which stand up to antisemitism? Do some show solidarity with Israel or is the so called anti-Zionism common ground in the leftist movement?
Almost all left wing groups stand up against Antisemitism in Poland. They do not show any solidarity in Israel because they do not find Israeli governments as our comrades. Showing solidarity with any state would seem same. I heard that in Germany some leftists shout antisemitic slogans with Arab nationalists. Last time some antisemitic provocateur was kicked out from anti-Israel demonstration after he started saying that Jews are responsible for crimes against Palestinians. Same people who protest against Israel in this case stood against far-right anti-Israel demonstration against “defamation of Poland and Polls” (debating about Polish crimes against Jews during the World War).
The problem is that many activists support national-liberation movements without any reflections and spread so called reactionary anti-imperialist position that is anti-American, anti-Western and anti-Israel. Last time I saw that so called New Antisemitic rhetoric spread in English-speaking world had some echo here. I’m sure that if left-wing Jew haters exist in West they exist here too. But I also hear that the Polish left-wing movement is “not enough anti-Zionist as it should be” so I think anti-Zionists do not feel comfortable here. And as I said, local pro-Palestanian activists are mostly active in all actions against antisemitic provocations of the far-right. That is why I think it is better to talk with them, ignoring assholes than taking any action against them.
* I believe antifascists have a lot to do, too. I mean the Independence march 2017 was pretty shattering, wasn’t it? How does the antifascist movement work, are there any particular strategies needed under the PiS? What’s going on there?
Younger generation of Antifascists claim that situation is terrible. But we are a bit better odas Grosse Thierrganized than we used to be 4 years ago. Last time we successfully blocked two Nazi marches. The Independence march is their only success. Everyday except this one single day they are not able to mobilize such crowds. Ruch Narodowy, political party build on Independence March movement is dying and probably we will all forget about them as far as we once forgot about League of Polish Families of Roman Giertych.
Both far-right and Antifascist movement did some progress in last years. It does not mean that movement is weaker or stronger. There are new trends, targets and objects of activism. Independence march looks scary but at 1st May Nazis were not able to break little the counter-demonstration in Warsaw. This time far-right journalists had problems with defending them because they had openly Nazi symbols, not symbols of Polish National-Radical Camp (ONR). Police also stayed rather neutral without any will to defend such morons in their battle against a crow with rainbow flag.