Surprisingly, in our visit to Poland, the first place we visited was the Muslim Mosque and Community Center in Warsaw. It is a very modern building, paid for by Saudi money. We were greeted by a delightful young woman who spoke perfect English. She is Polish and went to London to study, where she had a Muslim boyfriend who introduced her to Islam. Eventually she broke with him, but became fascinated by Islam, converted in London and went to Qatar to study Arabic. Now she is the custodian of the Muslim Center. She answered questions very openly and we had a pleasant visit there. I told her she was a “poster girl” for Islam, in the sense that she is very moderate and integrated into Polish society, certainly not typical of immigrants. There are in fact very few Muslim immigrants in Poland since the Government in 2015 agreed to take 1,000, and eventually reduced that number and ended up taking only 94 (most of the others went to Germany). Fortunately Poland was not on the main route of immigration from Greece and Italy towards Germany, Sweden and the UK.
The first speaker in our lecture series in Warsaw was Boguslaw Winid, from the Office of the President, responsible for foreign policy and security, including immigration. He gave us a summary of the history of Poland, emphasizing that Poland lost its independence in 1795 for 123 years until the end of WWI. It lost it again in 1939 when it was divided between Germany and Russia. After WWII Poland was a communist satellite for 40 years until the collapse of communism. Poland has generally been a country of emigration, not immigration, with 3 million Poles and Jews emigrating mainly to the US before the 1920’s. Now Poland is in the EU there is in principle free movement, and Poland has developed economically with a 4% GDP and only 4% unemployment. There are two main groups of immigrants into Poland, Ukrainians and Vietnamese! The Civic Forum has exploited the massive immigration into western Europe to sow fear among Poles. There was no discussion of Jewish restitution, which the Poles have deliberately avoided.
Greg Lewicki, a political analyst who studied at LSE, referred to Arnold Toynbee’s concept of an internal proletariat, that nowadays is identified with Muslim immigration. He introduced the concept of State Power Index, and noted that the Islamic States are low on that index. He criticized “political correctness” and gave examples. But, Eastern Europe as opposed to Western Europe has not been exposed to this kind of cultural trauma. Poland is a more homogeneous and religious country that Western Europe.
Constantin Gebert is a Jewish Pole, a journalist, whose family survived the Holocaust and remained in Poland. He grew up in Warsaw and considers it his home. He believes as a Jew it is his moral obligation to help immigrants. If he saw a family in a boat he would have no hesitation in helping them to immigrate. But, he accepts that there must be limits to immigration. Immigrants have rights, but they must also accept obligations. Fortunately in Poland it is not relevant, since Poland is not a country of mass immigration. But, the fear is being used politically by the right.
Dariusz Stola is Director of the Polin Museum. He explained how the museum came about as a collaboration between the City of Warsaw, the Polish Ministry of Culture and the Inst. for Jewish Research (YIVO) in Poland and America. Although American Jews provided a lot of the funding, the largest single donor was a Catholic Pole. They also had significant contributions from Germany and Norway, that earmarked funds for education. The Museum is located in an area that was the Jewish part of the city and the Ghetto during WWII. Before WWII, Warsaw was the largest Jewish city in Europe and the Museum is intended to tell the history of the Jews in Poland, not exclusively focusing on the Holocaust, although there is a section that does. Their biggest group of visitors are Polish children who go in school groups, over 450,000 have been, and there is a remarkable interest in things Jewish in Poland. The second largest group of visitors are Israelis. They started a yellow daffodil project proposed by Marek Edelman to remember the Ghetto uprising, and they distributed 200,000 of them. They started a project for children to research the history of Jews in their town and each city must do something, that is on their web-site. They were voted European Museum of the year in 2018.
In a previous blog (May 29) I wrote about the presentation of Gregorz Lindenberg, a sociologist who presented population data, including statistics on immigration and projections of future population growth. His was the most fact-based and in a way the most frightening presentation. If his predictions come true there could be a massive wave of up to 200 million immigrants mainly from Africa invading Europe in the next 50 years. He predicts there will be conflicts between locals and immigrants. I asked if he thought they might resolve the problem with concentration camps.
The last speaker in Warsaw was Adam Bodnar, the Government Ombudsman. He is a human rights lawyer who once worked for the Polish organisation “Never Again!” In his office he was 300 lawyers and he prosecutes many cases of discrimination. Before 2015 the majority of cases of hate speech were against Jews and gays, but after 2015 it is against Muslims. He was prepared to discuss the issue of Jewish restitution. He pointed out that beyond the Bug river in the east people get ca. 20% of the value of the property. But, in the rest of Poland, if you can prove ownership with documentation and you have skillful lawyers you can regain property or get compensation, but it is difficult.