Death in Gdańsk

The assassination of Paweł Adamowicz, the Christian-Democratic Mayor of Gdańsk, is another act of political terror in contemporary Europe. Three years ago, in similar circumstances, a British politician Jo Cox was killed by a supporter of the extreme right just before the referendum on Brexit. She had also been a victim of hateful attacks by fascists and the extreme right before her death. In Poland, however, in the campaign of hatred against the Mayor of Gdańsk, who held this office by the will of the inhabitants for twenty-one years, the tone was set by the public media, appropriated after the 2015 elections by the ruling party, and by the propaganda centers of nationalists and the extreme right, which supported the government.

Under the rule of Law and Justice, pro-government media has become an instrument of hate campaigns targeted not only at political competitors of the opposition Christian Democratic (Civic Platform, Polish Peasants’ Party), liberal (Nowoczesna) or socialist (Democratic Left Alliance, Razem) parties, but also at ordinary citizens who are not supporters of the aggressive, integral nationalism, represented by the ruling camp. The nationalist right has long since broken all the principles of political culture and ordinary decency, not to mention the constitution of Poland. These are obvious facts for Poles and foreign observers, even for those who initially, deceived by the conservative rhetoric of the Law and Justice party, sympathized with its “national revolution” and justified massive purges in the media and public institutions.

After three years of systematic destruction of rule of law and the government’s consent to the defamation of people who think differently, such persons as the murderer of the Gdańsk Mayor, are turning now, on the eve of European and parliamentary elections in Poland, from hate speech to criminal acts. This twenty-seven-year-old criminal, like Islamic fanatics in Western European countries, became a political radical in prison, where until December of last year he had served a five-year sentence for brutal bank robberies. The only TV he could watch in prison was the public television, completely subordinated to the ruling party, with its news programs consisting of lies and hateful propaganda. The slogans which the murderer shouted out shortly after the crime he committed in front of the participants of Poland’s largest charity event were relatively innocent in comparison to those that circulate in the public space with the consent of the authorities. The ruling party’s deliberate policy is that when hate crimes are reported, prosecutors routinely drop the charges, even in such obvious cases as the list of “political death certificates” of opponents of the government, which also included Mayor Adamowicz. The list was published by an extreme nationalist group known for organising the so-called Independence March, attracting thousands of right-wing extremists from all over Europe to Warsaw. At the end of last year, the twenty-eight-year-old leader of this grouping became Deputy Minister of Digitalization in the Law and Justice government. This is just one of many examples of close cooperation between the Law and Justice party and nationalist circles.

Paweł Adamowicz died on Sunday of the Baptism of the Lord, which in the Catholic Church ends the Christmas period. “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death?,” wrote St. Paul in his Letter to the Romans (6:3-4). The death of the Mayor of Gdańsk has shaken people of good will, regardless of their political convictions, but it takes faith in miracles to believe that it can in any way contribute to goodwill. His death is, above all, an irreparable loss for his family and friends, the inhabitants of Gdańsk, Poles and Europeans. Adamowicz, a young dissident under Communism, was fascinated by the figure of Václav Havel; it was on his initiative that soon after the death of the Czech President an important street in Gdańsk was named after him. Adamowicz supported the idea of establishing the European Solidarity Centre from its very beginning, and this world-famous museum of Solidarity and dissident movements from Eastern Europe was significantly co-financed from the city’s budget. He was also a patron of the most important Polish intellectual periodicals, New Eastern Europe and Przegląd Polityczny.

I had the honour to meet him a few years ago, when in the presence of His Excellency the President of the European Council Donald Tusk, I received the New Europe Ambassador Award in Gdańsk for the first Polish biography of Václav Havel. Donald Tusk devoted his speech to the refugee crisis, which soon afterwards changed the fate of Poland and Europe. Mayor Adamowicz was one of those local government officials who actively opposed the growing xenophobia. In today’s Poland, it is the city mayors, often holding power against the interests of political parties (like Paweł Adamowicz, who defeated his competitors from both Law and Justice and the Civic Platform in the local government elections of 2018) who save the face of public authorities. It is they, with the strong support of the citizens and their own convictions, who have the courage to act not politically, but decently. It is thanks to them that another Poland and another Europe are still possible. We cannot leave them on their own.

Aleksander Kaczorowski

Aleksander Kaczorowski is an editor-in-chief of Aspen Review Central Europe, a Polish bohemist, journalist and author. His recent books include biographies of Václav Havel, Bohumil Hrabal, Ota Pavel and Isaac Babel. He won the Václav Burian Prize for cultural contribution to the Central European dialogue (2016).

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