In the week before and after the referendum, over 3,000 hate crimes were reported to the police, an annual increase of more than 42%. Politicians fuel the fears and prejudices by spreading the populist idea that the country’s economic and social problems could be solved by ‘taking back control’ of its borders. These prejudices are spilling over into increased outright racism and hatred.
Poles are the largest immigrant group in Britain and Polish is the second most commonly spoken language in the country. Despite talk of immigrants coming to claim social benefits, Poles living in the UK are significantly more likely to work and pay taxes than their British counterparts are. One may have thought that all of this, coupled with the fact that the vast majority are also white and Christian, would have shielded them from such racism. But the Poles and other eastern Europeans living in Britain are now coming to realise that such xenophobia is not confined to those with a different skin colour or religion.
Many are now looking to the far right for solutions and see immigrants and refugees as the source of their troubles. Le Pen in France, the AfD in Germany, Hofer in Austria, Golden Dawn in Greece and of course Trump and his fellow Republicans in the USA are just a few examples. Conservative governments are being establish in countries in many of the Eastern European countries such as Hungary and Poland using the refugee crisis as a means to retain or gain political power.
Poland has also experienced its own surge in racist attacks, which grew by around 40% in 2015. The Law and Justice Party (PiS) leader, Jarosław Kaczyński, had claimed that refugees were ‘spreading diseases’ and that they would seek to impose Sharia law if they were allowed into the country. The PiS government announced that it would not fulfil its agreement with the EU to take in 7,000 refugees. The propaganda spread by the right has had its effect. Between the middle of 2015 and the beginning of 2016, those who believed the Polish government should help refugees declined from 72% to 39%. There has been a wave of Islamophobic propaganda in the media that has spread an irrational fear amongst a population of which only 0.1% is defined as being Muslim. There has been growing activity of far right organisations, such as the National Racial Camp (ONR), that lays claim to the traditions of the pre-war far right organisation under the same name. The Polish nationalists claim that they are defending a white and Christian Poland. They believe that they are holding out against the move towards multi-culturalism and are defending not only their own country but European civilisation as a whole. There have even been attempts to set up a Polish division of English Defence League, and in Poland a Polish Defence League was created based on this EDL model.