So Brexit has uncorked the Djinn of racism and we hear of a spike in racist attacks all over the UK. The BBC featured a news report on a neo-Nazi in Leeds who is relieved at being able to take his country back from the Poles. In Huntington, cards were pushed into the houses of Poles saying, NO MORE POLISH VERMIN, while abusive graffiti was sprayed on the Polish Cultural Center in London.
And I suppose it behooves me to say a few appropriate things about this, offer a few dull-as-ditchwater platitudes on the tremendous suffering Poles are facing in England right now, the eye of the hurricane and all that, and I may even call up my good buddy Bono so he can sing his famous line from the Band-Aid song; tonight, thank God it’s them instead of you.
But I won’t.
Because tonight, no thanks to anyone, it is me.
As an Irishman living in Poland, you learn that racism is a vest a lot of people here wear under their shirts, be they hipster plaid or industrious white collar.
The landscape is racist. Most of you are inured to it but I’ve counted three swastikas sprayed on buildings in my neighbourhood. White Power slogans when I go on cycles through the country. How the swastika became popular in Poland is beyond ridiculous. What next? A lung cancer patient becoming a spokesman for a cigarette company?
Children are racist. During a theatrical workshop in a private, international school in Katowice, I witnessed a blonde, blue-eyed twelve year old call his Indian classmate a monkey. And then the blonde Pole laughed so hard he resembled a pig. I’m sure Orwell would have been please at how Animal Farm it all was.
I’ve listened to neighbours on my street complain about a fabled Jewish man who ‘owned too many apartments’. It didn’t matter that this Jew had been dead in the ground for the last fifty years, that he had the temerity to own property was something they weren’t going to forget in a hurry.
Being Caucasian and having a saintly face such as I do is no guarantee you won’t be set upon. I was verbally harassed outside my house for singing in English – does this qualify as a racist attack – the two thugs were park boozers, who looked liked they had died and been dug up again. The only thing worse than these two walking piss-stains and their screaming fury was when I was harassed and threatened by a Warsaw film crew for mistakenly walking down a street they were filming on. No low-life, sunburnt drunks these, but four middle-class, trendy guys well-versed in the English language, with a full compliment of useful phrases, foremost among them being, ”go back to Ireland you fuck”.
They must have picked up such salty words in the Leni Riefenstahl School of Master Race Film.
Friends in Silesia tell me I shouldn’t count that as a racist attack. This is how certain people from Warsaw talk to everyone.
And racism is a casual thing here, part of Poland’s great menu, as normal and accepted as pollution and road traffic fatalities and what is interesting for an outsider, is how closely it links aspects of Poland’s society to that of Russia and the Dark Lord who rules there.
Can you feel it? Because I can, a gathering, murky energy. War in Ukraine. Europe and its union which preserved peace, coming apart. Coalitions forming. There is a generation here who don’t know what war is. They think it’s a Castle Wolfenstein commuter game. Hate is being fed in Poland by the new lords of misrule, mini-Putins, those who bought the country and its soul for a paltry 500 zloty. Hate against the imaginary threat of Jews and anyone with dark skin.
But the time will come when the hate rises, when its appetite increases, when it will call for a real enemy, those who aren’t Polish enough, those who don’t kneel before the cross or those who don’t raise their right arm to salute The Leader.
When that time comes, we will consider the Poles in England as the lucky ones.