The constitution gives ethnic groups that have been living on the territory of present-day Poland for more than 100 years explicit rights to preserve their own language, customs, and culture. The law recognizes nine “national minorities” (Belarusian, Czech, Lithuanian, German, Armenian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian, and Jewish) and four “ethnic minorities” (Karaim, Lemko, Roma, and Tatar). In addition to the constitutionally provided rights to both national and ethnic minorities, national minorities are exempt from the 5-percent minimum threshold requirement for winning seats in parliament.
The law also contains several provisions against hate crimes and inciting violence based on ethnic origin, but government enforcement efforts were sometimes ineffective. The government, while quick to denounce hate crimes, was frequently unable to find the perpetrators of such incidents. On February 26, the prosecutor general issued new guidelines for prosecuting hate crimes which provide instructions on how to investigate crimes related to public incitement to hatred or publicly insulting a person because of his/her national, ethnic, racial, or religious affiliation. Despite efforts by the prosecutor general to encourage prosecutions, resistance at the local level continued.
A number of xenophobic and racist incidents occurred during the year, and the government and local NGOs reported a noticeable increase in the total number of hate crimes. Civil society representatives partly attributed the rise to better government tracking of hate crime incidents and increased media attention to the problem. Prosecutors investigated 835 hate crime cases in 2013, compared with 473 in 2012. Of these, 252 involved the internet, 218 were racist graffiti on walls or buildings, monuments and graves, 33 involved sports fans or athletes, 15 occurred at demonstrations or assemblies, four involved press and book publications, and five concerned television and radio programs. Information on the remaining 308 hate crimes was unavailable.
On February 21, in its concluding observations on the 20th and 21st periodic reports of the country, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about the persistence of racism and hate speech in sport, and widespread hate speech on the internet. It recommended the government take additional measures to combat hate crimes.
On August 10, 57 local NGOs issued an open letter to the government to highlight the fact that prosecutor’s offices too often decide not to open, or open and then discontinue, investigations into cases involving racial hate speech.
Throughout the year there were new entries on Red Watch, a webpage run by the neo-Nazi group Blood and Honor. It listed “traitors of the race,” politicians, activists, and representatives of left-wing organizations. The entries often included the home addresses and telephone numbers of the persons listed. Authorities stated there was nothing they could do since the site’s servers were located outside the country.
On April 23, the Ministry of the Interior reported on a number of activities undertaken by the government in response to the 2013 spate of hate crime incidents in Bialystok. According to the report, on February 13 the commander in chief of the national police launched the “Police Platform against Hatred” to establish a partnership between the police, NGOs, and other institutions. Authorities believed this would facilitate the exchange of experiences and best practices in preventing and combating hate crimes. The report also noted that, by the end of 2013, all police officers responsible for handling such crimes (approximately 3,150 officers) were trained on how to identify and respond to hate crimes.
On January 28, a trial court sentenced one soccer fan to imprisonment for two years and two months, and six others to imprisonment for one year and 10 months for attacking Mexican sailors on a beach in Gdynia in August 2013. On July 15, the Gdansk appellate court upheld the verdict and refused to suspend the sentences.
On March 18, the Bialystok appellate court overturned a July 2013 decision by the Bialystok local court, which ruled that a border guard officer who posted negative comments about Chechens on the internet was not guilty of inciting hatred on national grounds. The appellate court returned the case to the local court to be tried again.
Societal discrimination against Roma continued to be a problem. The 2011 national census recorded 16,723 Roma, although an official government report on the Romani community estimated that 20,000-25,000 Roma resided in the country.
Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that local officials discriminated against Roma by denying them adequate social services. Romani leaders complained of widespread discrimination in employment, housing, banking, the justice system, the media, and education (also see section 7.d.).
The town of Andrychow remained a focal point of continuing social conflict, with several confrontations between Romani and non-Romani members of the local community occurring throughout the year. On June 6, an attack by a group of youths against a Romani woman and her children led to several other altercations between groups of youths. On June 13, the local government introduced a three-month “zero tolerance” for public violence program which included additional street patrols by police officers to prevent potential violence.
In June, one of the leading daily newspapers in Wroclaw, Gazeta Wroclawska, ran a series of very negative articles about the Romanian Romani community in the city. The articles prompted a large number of negative comments on Gazeta Wroclawska’s website, some of which called for violence against Roma. Some local NGO activists alleged that the newspaper tried to incite Wroclaw’s inhabitants against the Roma.
On September 11, the Gdansk prosecutor’s office initiated an investigation into the August 4 eviction of a 15-member Romani family from Romania who were living on grounds owned by the city. The investigation resulted from a complaint filed by NOMADA, a Wroclaw-based NGO that promotes human rights in the country.
According to the Ministry of Administration and Digitalization, during the 2012-13 school year, the country’s schools enrolled 2,962 of the 3,359 Romani children between the ages of six and 16 who were required to attend school. Romani organizations and the Ministry of Education reported that authorities, particularly in southern provinces, continued to send many Romani children to schools for children with mental disabilities without cause. During the year the government allocated five million zloty ($1.4 million) for programs to support Roma, including for educational programs.
While at the national level approximately 80 percent of Roma were unemployed, levels of unemployment in some regions reached nearly 100 percent.
There were isolated incidents of racially motivated violence, including verbal and physical abuse, directed at persons of African, Asian, or Arab descent. On August 9, six persons beat a 24-year-old medical student from the Congo in a Lodz nightclub. The prosecutor brought charges against a person identified as one of the attackers. On May 20, the Lodz District Court sentenced three persons to prison for attacking three students of African origin at Lodz Technical University in 2011.
The Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities continued to experience petty harassment and discrimination. Extremist groups, while small in number, maintained a public presence in high-profile marches and on the internet, and they disrupted lectures or debates on problems that they opposed.