Only a few hours after students protested the University’s reluctance to grant undocumented students sanctuary status, Ƚukasz Pawłowski, managing editor at the Polish magazine Kultura Liberalna, described a similarly contentious split on immigration in Polish politics.
Pawłowski discussed the rise of populist anti-immigrant and anti-refugee attitudes in Poland despite the country’s uninterrupted economic growth and relatively homogenous population.
While explaining the sharp rise in disapproval of Arabs among Poles, Pawłowski asked, “Why? Because, obviously, of the refugee crisis … you can see how [the number of refugees] was growing, especially during the warmer months of the year when the refugees from Syria, from Libya, from Iraq were pouring in, and were migrating to Europe”.
He went on to explain how the “masses of people from different cultural backgrounds” led to political and social distress, due to the seemingly unmanageable influx of people.
“Yet, as you can see, Poland was not part of the route [that migrants usually took] … to Germany. So, nobody actually saw migrants coming and using Poland as a route to Western Europe, or staying in Poland,” Pawłowski said.
But the refugee crisis became politicized in the next Polish parliamentary election, Pawłowski explained, and the Polish Law and Justice party won a majority on a populist platform which included anti-refugee policies.
Pawłowski went on to explain how these anti-refugee policies were normalized, through prominent right wing politicians and “particularly the right wing media”.
“According to the right wing media the refugee crisis is not actually a crisis; it is a wave, it is an invasion, it is a new form of war, of Muslims, of terrorists, against Europe, Poland obviously included,” Pawlowski said.
He showed a Polish magazine cover headlined, “They are invaders, not refugees.”
Pawłowski then touched upon the right wing media’s depiction of the migrant crisis as a failure of ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘political correctness’ and ultimately as a symbol of Europe’s ‘suicide’.
“And another … major theme that reappears regularly in the press is [how] German[y] and Europ[e] dictate [Polish policy],” Pawłowski said.
He explained how Polish media outlets foment resentment towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel by making her seem irresponsible for accepting a great number of refugees.
“But again, you may say that they can write whatever they want, they can say whatever they want, but that might not necessarily affect public behavior. And again, the data suggests otherwise,” Pawłowski said, displaying a graphic which showed a sharp rise in hate crimes against Muslims in Poland following the peak of the refugee crisis in the summer of 2015.
“So, you may say that words don’t matter that much, but [in] the end if you are exposed to this kind of narrative constantly, I think it actually affects people’s behavior,” Pawłowski argued.