Eastern Europeans are responding very differently to the mass migration of Muslims into Europe than are Western Europeans. Westerners who encourage mass, unvetted Muslim immigration insist that they are compassionate, tolerant, and ethical. They insist that Eastern Europeans and anyone else who resists immigration are bigots, xenophobes, without compassion and unethical, if not outright Neo-Nazis. Westerners are stereotyping Eastern Europeans as bigoted thugs whose opinions must be demonized, whose choices must be overruled, whose borders must be penetrated and whose demographics must be altered through coercion.
In this article I focus on three signs at the Warsaw anti-immigration rally of Saturday, September 12, 2015. Full understanding of these protest signs illuminates how many Poles and other Eastern Europeans view the current immigration. These protest signs will help to illuminate why many people, not just Eastern Europeans, oppose this immigration for and against mass Muslim immigration. The press estimates several thousand people took part in an anti-immigration demonstration in Warsaw. An estimated one thousand people marched in favor of immigration.
In August, 2015, Slovakia announced that it would accept only Christian, not Muslim, migrants. Hungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, has been outspoken in his resistance to mass Muslim immigration. “Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims … This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity,” Orban wrote in a commentary for Allgemeine Zeitung.
Western elites have an easy explanation for Eastern European resistance to mass Muslim immigration. Eastern Europeans have long been depicted as primitive, thuggish Neanderthals. Think of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire or the butt of any given Polak joke.
On September 12, 2015, The New York Times published an article by Rick Lyman entitled, “Eastern Bloc’s Resistance to Refugees Highlights Europe’s Cultural and Political Divisions.”
Lyman’s use of the anachronistic term “Eastern Bloc” consigns Eastern Europeans to membership in the long dead Warsaw Pact. The article raised the alarm against allegedly racist and intransigent Eastern Europeans, ghosts of the bad old days of the Cold War, who threaten the bright, new European order with their atavistic bigotry.
The Times acknowledged that mass Muslim immigration to Europe is a problem. The problem is not, however, that a staggering number of defiant illegal migrants committed to a very different culture, acknowledged by security experts to include an unknown number of potential terrorists, had overwhelmed Europe’s ability to respond. No. the problem was Eastern European backwardness.
“The main impediment” to a successful response to mass Muslim migration is Eastern European’s “rising xenophobia.” “Powerful far right movements, nationalism, and racial and religious prejudice” are proof of “stubborn cultural and political divides that persist between East and West.” “Sluggish,” “corrupt” Eastern Europe betrays its “pledge of support” to “European values” like “cultural diversity, protection of minorities, and a rejection of xenophobia,” according to The New York Times. Eastern Europeans are “wary of accepting racial and religious diversity.” In contrast to tolerant and diverse Western Europeans, Eastern Europeans’ “tradition of accepting culturally different refugees is very weak.” Also, Eastern Europeans are whiners who see themselves as victims. They resent others who may have “suffered more than” they have.
Lyman’s very brief, 1,500 word article struck a nerve. By Sunday evening it inspired 1,164 reader comments.
Comments that The New York Times selected as worthy of attention tended to agree with the Times’ assessment: backward, bigoted, bad, old Eastern European Neanderthals were the problem. One of The New York Times highlighted reader comments condemned Poland as a land of “endemic bigotry and intolerance.”
A very different story was to be found among the comments that readers themselves had voted for. In that section, one found voices contesting the Times’ entire narrative.
One reader, Alexandra Ares, wrote,
“Former CIA Joshua Katz said today that the US should not agree to a quota for security reasons; that there must be a very thorough process of vetting; this takes time since many have burned their documents and bought fake passports; that we shouldn’t bump up quotas because of political pressure. Even so Katz said we should expect that some of the Syrians we admit into the US might become terrorists in the long run. If our own CIA experts oppose quotas, why pressure less prepared Eastern Europe to take risks and act against their national interests and capacity of absorption? … Unlike Western Europe, the Eastern bloc suffered hundreds of years of Muslim occupation and persecution of Christians and Jews. In Romania our Independence Day is when we kicked out the Ottoman Empire.”
While writing the book, Bieganski, the Brute Polak Stereotype, I walked a tightrope. My thesis was that the West tends to stereotype Poles and other Eastern Europeans as racist thugs. I had to make this point while acknowledging that there are indeed some real racist thugs in Eastern Europe, as there are anywhere else.
The group hosting the several-thousand-strong, anti-immigration demonstration in Warsaw was the Oboz Narodowo Radykalny or National Radical Camp. The ONR is indeed a far-right organization. The contemporary ONR claims its descent from the pre-war ONR, founded in 1934 and banned by the Polish government. The original ONR supported anti-Jewish boycotts. One of the ONR’s founders, Jan Mosdorf, was imprisoned by Nazis in Auschwitz and was murdered for helping Jews. That the leader of an overtly anti-Semitic group would be murdered by Nazis for helping Jews indicates how difficult it can be for outsiders fully to understand Polish history and politics.
I am not a supporter of the ONR. I am a supporter of the expansive Poland that embraces and celebrates Jews and other minorities. I live in the US and I cannot assess to what extent the participants in recent demonstrations were ONR supporters or merely opponents of mass immigration who had no other outlet for their concerns. I have watched raw footage of the demonstrations on YouTube posted by the ONR, who, one would expect, would want to boost their own presence. The vast majority of protestors who carry any sign are carrying Polish flags, not racist signs or the distinctive green flag of the ONR that features an upraised arm wielding a sword. I can report that the content on three of the signs tells me much about the hearts and minds of the Poles who oppose immigration. These signs are not racist. They must be understood.
First, it must be pointed out that those Westerners who support mass, unvetted Muslim immigration to Europe are not models of compassion, ethics, or tolerance. They have utterly cynical and selfish reasons for their support of this immigration.
One reason nations want desperate immigrants: workers to support extensive government welfare programs. On September 8, 2015, the Washington Post‘s Rick Noack attempted to explain why some European countries accepted, and others rejected, mass Muslim migration. In an article entitled “This map helps explain why some European countries reject refugees, and others love them,” Noack employed a demographic map depicting birth rates. Some European nations are aging and losing population; some nations are young and their populations are increasing. The European nations whose populations are aging and shrinking tend to offer generous cradle-to-grave welfare benefits. Someone needs to work and pay into this system for the governments to continue to provide benefits. These European nations want desperate immigrants. Some European nations have steady birthrates, and, by comparison, don’t provide such generous state-mandated welfare. These European nations don’t want unvetted immigration.
Another reason some nations want immigrants: to improve their reputations. Those who embrace the current immigration believe that doing so broadcasts and certifies their status as secular saints. In the Guardian, Jonathan Freedland writes, “Mama Merkel has consigned the ugly German to history … If history can offer a more dramatic turnaround in the perception, and perhaps reality, of a nation, then it’s hard to think of it. Seventy years ago Germany was a byword for tyranny and murderous violence: the land of racial supremacism and unending cruelty … Hitler, the Nazis and the apparatus of the Holocaust remain lodged in the global folk memory … But now it will be remembered too as the place where in 2015 uniformed police greeted a trainload of exhausted Syrian children with soft toys.”
There is a third reason that many Europeans interpret a Muslim immigration as to their benefit. Europe had been a predominantly Christian continent. Unvetted Muslim immigration will inevitably vitiate Europe’s Christian character. Many ideological opponents of Christianity, from New Atheists to Marxist, see that as a good thing. See David Horowitz’s 2006 book, Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left.
Just as it is not true that Western Europeans who embrace unvetted immigration are saints, it is also not true that Eastern Europeans are primitive racist thugs and traitors to “European” ideals. A few signs at Saturday’s rallies speak volumes.
One sign reads “Kosciol Walczacy, Nie Kapitulujacy.” That means: “The Fighting Church, not the Surrendering Church.” This sign is deeply resonant to me as a Catholic and as a Polish-American. My deep understanding of this sign, and my awareness that no Americans or Western Europeans I know would understand this sign without my explaining it to them, reveals a great gulf between how many in the West understand Christianity, and how many Eastern Europeans do.
People in the West have adopted secular, Christophobic interpretations of Christianity. Christians in the West hang their heads in shame and say, “Oh, I am so ashamed to be Christian. The Crusades … the Inquisition … so bad.”
Western Europeans may look at Muslim immigrants and say, “These are the poor, sad victims we colonized. Let’s prove how multicultural and compassionate we are by letting them in.”
None of these approaches to Christian faith resonate for me as an American of Polish and Slovak descent.
The Inquisition? Poland’s significant role during the Inquisition was as a tolerant “state without stakes” who invited in Jews, heretics, and indeed Muslims who had been exiled from other lands.
The Crusades? We were not major players in the Crusades. In fact, there was a Crusade against us, the Wendish or Slavic Crusade. I recently mentioned to a Catholic Facebook friend that images of crusading knights swinging their swords above their heads did not really excite or inspire me. I associate such images with the Teutonic Knights, whom the Poles had to fight for their own survival. I am mindful that Sergei Eisenstein exploited long Slavic memories of being attacked by the Teutonic Knights in his anti-Nazi propaganda film, Alexander Nevsky. Germans have long memories, too, and when they invaded Poland, they dismantled Krakow’s Grunwald memorial to our defeat of the Teutonic Knights.
Colonization? We Eastern Europeans were significantly the colonized, not the colonizers.
A shamefaced, apologetic, hesitant Christianity? This has not been my experience of Christianity during my many visits to Eastern Europe from the 1970s to the 2000s. Rather, I have experienced something deeply beautiful and unforgettably inspirational to me: the fighting church, a church that stands shoulder to shoulder with people defending their home.
On my first visit to my mother’s natal village in Czechoslovakia in the 1970s, I met a Catholic priest who had been tortured by the Communists. In Poland, priests were tortured and murdered by the Nazis. Twenty percent of Polish priests were killed. Polish convents played a key role in saving Jewish children. Polish priests risked and often lost their lives to save Jews. Poles remember Stefan Wyszynski, a cardinal, who had been imprisoned by Communists. Solidarity priest Jerzy Popieluszko was tortured and murdered by the Communists in 1984. I lived in Poland 1988-89 and participated in anti-Communist protests. I witnessed unarmed Catholic priests, with nothing but their courageous presence, protect demonstrators from aggressive riot police.
Poles and other Eastern Europeans have needed a “fighting church” because they have been embattled for so very long. Poles have long seen themselves as the Christ of Nations. We suffer and others benefit. Not so long ago, others acknowledged Eastern Europe’s role in bearing the brunt of unending invasions from the east.
The fourteenth edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica reads: “It is to the Slav colonization of the Russian plains and to the long Slav struggle with nomadic invasions from Asia that Western Europe owes her comparative freedom to develop a certain cultural unity. The role of buffer state was not voluntary, but the debt is nonetheless great, and the heroic struggle of the Slav races against repeated invasions, in hard climactic conditions, should command the respect and admiration of the world.”
Eastern European nations, by necessity, had to take on invaders from the East. While we were fighting, dying, and facing enslavement, Western Europe benefitted from the bulwark we provided.
Poland was repeatedly attacked from the east, often by Muslims, including Turks and Tatars. Poles fought significantly in historic battles against Muslims, including the Battle of Varna, the Battle of Khotyn and the Battle of Vienna. These battles took place in Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Austria. Poles did not travel to Muslim lands to attack Muslims. Muslims traveled into Eastern European for their jihad. Malcolm X famously said of the African American experience, “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock. The rock landed on us.” Eastern Europeans might say, “We didn’t land on the Ummah – the worldwide Muslim population. The Ummah landed on us.”
Poles were among many Slavic people enslaved by Muslims. Between the fifteenth and eighteenth centuries, Muslims from the Crimea enslaved perhaps one million persons from the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth – as many as 20,000 human beings per year. The last major Muslim slave raid on these Slavic people occurred in 1769. Poles enslaved by Muslims did hard labor, or served as sex slaves.
1769 is a long time ago, you say. Poles should get over it. My friend John Guzlowski is the son of two slaves. His parents were enslaved by Nazis, not Muslims, but iconography on protest signs makes clear that Poles see resistance to one totalitarian invader as analogous to resistance to another. ISIS brags of taking Christians as slaves, while the world waits in vain for significant Muslim protest of ISIS atrocities.
Poles are not the only Eastern Europeans whose cultures enshrine unpleasant encounters with Muslims. Serbs once had to give their seven-year-old sons to Muslims for forced conversion – the practice of devsirme. The Slovak poem Turcin Ponican by Samo Chalupka records Turks invading Slovakia. Perhaps my favorite cultural legacy of the constant wars between jihadis and Slavs is the 1880 Ilya Repin painting, “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks to Sultan Mehmed IV of the Ottoman Empire.” More famous, of course, is Vlad the Impaler, a Romanian leader dedicated to protecting Christians against Muslims, who gave his name to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.
There is more to the sign reading “Fighting Church.” During the Nazi occupation, the Polish Resistance called themselves “Polska Walczaca” or “Fighting Poland.” Please note the similarity of vocabulary and construction between the anti-Nazi resistance “Polska Walczaca” and the anti-immigration sign “Kosciol walczaca.” Poles are understanding their stance against mass, unvetted immigration as comparable to their stand against the Nazis and past totalitarian and genocidal invaders.
That understanding is echoed in the visual imagery of the flags many protestors carried: flags with an anchor formed by the letters P and W. This anchor was a symbol of the World War Two resistance.
These Poles, agree or disagree, see their church as a church that resists Western orders to capitulate – to surrender – to Islam. And they are placing their church in the tradition of those who fought the Nazis.
Another image draws in Poland’s long history of resistance: the image of Jan Sobieski and the words “Przyszlismy, ujrzelismy, a bog zwyciezyl.” This quote is attributed to Jan Sobieski. It is his Christian rewrite of Julius Cesar’s famous quote, “Vini, vidi, vici.” Cesar said, “I came; I saw; I conquered.” Sobieski, a true Pole, was mindful of classical history. He was also a devout Christian. He said, “We came; we saw; God conquered,” of his victory against jihadis at Vienna in 1683.
Poles have lived through much more history than many luckier peoples. As such, they are often difficult. They are not, though, especially intolerant, unethical, or lacking in compassion. They merely see the obvious problems with the current mass, unvetted migration. Few realize that Poland has hosted its own Muslim population for hundreds of years without major incident. The mainstream media outlets that are depicting Poles and other Eastern Europeans as intolerant Neanderthals are doing a grave disservice. The readers’ favorite comments at the New York Times site suggests that they are fooling fewer and fewer people.