Summary paragraph: According to national prosecutor figures, which religious groups and NGOs said were not comprehensive, prosecutors investigated 582 religiously motivated incidents in 2016. Anti-Muslim incidents almost doubled to 363, compared with the previous year, while anti-Semitic incidents declined by 23 percent, to 160. Jewish groups reported an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the year, without citing figures. In June German Muslim students reported Lublin residents spat on and threatened them, and the Warsaw Muslim Cultural Center cancelled an open house after online threats. A Pew survey found two thirds of respondents held negative views of Muslims, and a Warsaw University study reported a rise in anti-Semitic attitudes. An Independence Day march in Warsaw in November, in which tens of thousands of persons participated, included some Nazi and anti-Semitic symbols and chants, although the main slogan was “We want God.” Participants at a march in April in Warsaw chanted anti-Muslim slogans. Various groups, one of which recorded itself burning an effigy of a Jewish woman in Warsaw, continued to espouse anti-Semitic views. On October 7, up to a million Catholics prayed the rosary for the country and the world along the country’s borders. Some participants cited fear of Islam as among the reasons they joined in the prayers. A Catholic bishop apologized to the Jewish community on the 76th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom, and the Catholic Church again organized a Day of Islam and a Day of Judaism to promote interreligious harmony. Vandals targeted Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant sites.
The national prosecutor’s office reported that during 2016, the most recent period for which data were available, prosecutors investigated 582 religiously motivated incidents. The report cited 363 anti-Muslim incidents, almost double the 192 recorded in 2015, while anti-Semitic incidents decreased by 23 percent, to 160 from 208. Prosecutors investigated 59 incidents against Christians, compared with 52 in 2015. The NGO Never Again and religious groups stated government tracking of religiously motivated incidents was not systematic; police, prosecutors, and the MIA all kept their own sets of numbers, which did not agree with each other.
On June 28, German Muslim students visiting Holocaust memorials in the east of the country told a German radio station they were yelled at, spit on, and threatened by residents of Lublin during their trip.
On June 13, the Muslim Cultural Center in Warsaw canceled an open house after nationalist websites posted hostile comments and threats against it. The open house was part of the nonprofit Civic Education Center’s “Four Corners of Warsaw – Young Tour Guides in a Multicultural Capital” program, in which Warsaw high school students presented information on Islam and the Warsaw mosque to help combat negative stereotypes and prejudices. Organizers decided to cancel the event out of safety concerns for the students, but they promised to organize a similar event at a different time, which would ensure participants’ safety. Also in June the imam of the Poznan mosque received threats via email and social media after several websites posted a manipulated video falsely showing the imam saying, “If Islam wins, Christians will have to pay a ransom.” The Poznan deputy mayor stated he would ask police to enhance security around the mosque.
Members of the Warsaw Jewish Community and the Union of Jewish Communities of Poland described an increase in anti-Semitic incidents during the year, including hostile phone calls to community centers, vandalism of offices, attempted forced entry of community property, and a fake bomb that a tour group’s security team found at a Jewish cemetery in Warsaw.
A coalition of groups widely considered extremist, including National Radical Camp (ONR) and All-Polish Youth – Mlodziez Wszechpolska (MW) – organized an Independence Day march in Warsaw on November 11 under the slogan, “We want God.” While many of the tens of thousands of marchers carried Polish flags without signage, some participants displayed large signs reading, “White Europe of brotherly nations” and “Clean Blood,” and Celtic crosses and banners depicting a far-right symbol from the 1930s. These participant also chanted, “Sieg Heil,” “Pure Poland,” and “Jews out of Poland.” One participant interviewed on TVP television said he was taking part in the demonstration “to remove Jewry from power.” A smaller counterprotest took place at the same time. The two demonstrations were largely peaceful, but there was one report of extremist participants pushing and kicking several women who were holding a “Stop Fascism” banner and chanting antifascist slogans. Police arrested 45 counterprotesters and none of the participants in the main march.
The Israeli foreign ministry issued a statement describing the march as dangerous and “instigated by extremists and racists,” and calling on the Polish government to take action against the organizers. One march participant was quoted in the press as saying he was not a fascist and was marching to honor those who had fought for the country’s freedom. He estimated 30 percent of the marchers had extremist views, while the rest were “walking peacefully, without shouting any fascist slogans.”
Following the march, President Duda stated, “There is no room for … anti-Semitism in our country.” PiS leader Kaczynski said the country’s traditions had nothing to do with anti-Semitism and stated that unfortunate incidents at the march were probably a provocation designed to harm the country’s image. Then-Interior Minister Blaszczak stated he did not see the racist signs and praised the patriotism of marchers who displayed Polish flags, calling it “a beautiful sight.”
Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glinski called for an investigation into whether the far-right signs violated the law. On November 20, the Warsaw prosecutor’s office announced that it was launching an investigation into “public propagation of fascism and calls for hatred” during the march.
On March 24, 12 persons from Poland, Belarus, and Germany killed a sheep and chained themselves together naked to the main gate of the Auschwitz former Nazi death camp. The demonstrators stated it was an anti-war protest. They were charged with insulting a memorial site and killing an animal. On October 17, the Oswiecim local court began a trial of the 12 demonstrators, which continued at year’s end.
On August 21, the Przemysl local court sentenced 20 persons to between four and 10 months of community service for disrupting the June 2016 religious procession of Greek Catholic and Orthodox Church members marching to commemorate Ukrainian soldiers who fought for Poland from 1918 to 1920.
On January 30, the Warsaw North City Center prosecutor’s office indicted one person for disrupting a Catholic Mass during the reading of a letter by the Polish episcopate calling for a total ban on abortion in April 2016.
According to a survey the Center for Social Opinion Research issued in February, anti-Semitic attitudes declined; 26 percent of respondents reported holding negative attitudes towards Jews, compared with 37 percent in 2016. On the other hand, the 2017 Polish Prejudice Survey by the Warsaw University Prejudice Research Center found an increase in anti-Semitic attitudes, with 43 percent reporting they would not accept a Jew as a close family member, compared with 30 percent in 2016; 27 percent reported they did not want Jewish neighbors, compared with 14 percent in 2016.
A Pew Research Center survey released in July found 66 percent of the population had negative views about Muslims, unchanged from the previous year. According to an Ipsos poll in May commissioned by TVP public television, 46 percent of respondents strongly opposed accepting Muslim refugees into the country, while 4 percent strongly supported it. Another 27 percent said Muslim refugees should probably not be admitted, while 19 percent said they probably should be.
In January approximately 50 non-Jews donned kippahs at a restaurant in Warsaw, the Foksal Cafe, to condemn anti-Semitism and demonstrate solidarity with the Jewish community. The event was in response to unsigned social media posts, which also generated online debate, stating that a bartender at the restaurant had ejected two customers for discussing Israel on New Year’s Day. The restaurant’s management said the customers had been ejected for engaging in anti-Christian speech about the Virgin Mary while under the influence of alcohol.
On April 29, several hundred supporters of ONR marched through Warsaw to mark the 83rd anniversary of the group’s founding before WWII. During the march, some participants shouted anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant slogans such as “no Islam, terrorists, Muslims in our country.” According to a member of NGO Never Again, police took no action against the demonstration and forcibly removed a group of counterprotesters who had sat down in front of the ONR marchers.
In October Never Again reported the Kielce district court began proceedings in a criminal defamation case against one of its members, Anna Tatar, editor of the group’s magazine. Organizers of the annual Eagle’s Nest music festival, which Never Again said featured extremist bands, Nazi salutes, and the use of Celtic crosses, alleged Tatar had defamed them in a 2016 interview when she said, “during the Eagle’s Nest festival fascist ideas are promoted, and such events must not take place in Poland.” If convicted, Tatar could face up to one year in prison. At year’s end, the court proceedings were ongoing.
On March 21, a group of Warsaw residents celebrating the first day of spring burned an effigy of what they referred to as “a Jewish woman” and posted a videotape of it online. In the video’s comments section, the group wrote that the puppet “symbolizes what is ugly, cold, and bad.” One of the participants added the comment, “this mug, this big nose, so well-known in Polish history.”
On April 13, the Wroclaw Appellate Court reduced a first-instance court sentence of Piotr Rybak from 10 to three months’ imprisonment. The court had convicted Rybak of public incitement to hatred on religious grounds for burning an effigy of an Orthodox Jew during a 2015 anti-immigrant demonstration in Wroclaw.
The National-Social Congress, an association of groups widely described as extremist, invited a prominent American activist, who described himself as an identitarian and whom CNN called a white nationalist, to speak at a November 10 conference titled, “The Future of Europe; the Vision of the Demise of the West,” on the eve of the country’s Independence Day celebrations. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement on October 26, strongly protesting the visit as promoting intolerance, including anti-Semitic ideas, and stating such ideas contradicted the law. After the MIA Office of Foreigners issued a five-year Schengen zone entry ban on the invitee at the request of the country’s Internal Security Agency and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the invitee cancelled his trip.
Groups such as National Rebirth of Poland and Blood and Honor continued to espouse anti-Semitic views, but authorities did not link any of them to specific incidents of violence or vandalism.
On March 2, Stanislaw Michalkiewicz, a commentator on Radio Maryja, run by a conservative Catholic group, said on his regularly scheduled broadcast that young people were rejecting the “stinky legends” told to them by Jewish communists and looking for their roots and real heroes.
On April 28, the Wroclaw prosecutor’s office discontinued the investigation into ONR Lower Silesia branch chief Justyna Helcyk for inciting hatred against Muslims and racial minorities during her speech at the ONR’s 2015 “In Defense of Christian Europe” demonstration in Wroclaw. Prosecutors decided Helcyk’s speech did not constitute hate speech.
On February 27, the Lublin district court sentenced five men to suspended prison sentences of between six and eight months for public offense and incitement to hatred for hanging anti-Semitic posters around the city of Lublin between 2012 and 2014. One of the convicted men was a former worker of the state museum on the site of the Majdanek German Nazi concentration camp.
On October 7, the Catholic feast of Our Lady of the Rosary and the anniversary of the Christian victory over the Ottoman Turks at the 16th century naval battle of Lepanto, up to a million Catholics recited the rosary and prayed along the country’s international borders “to save Poland and the world.” On its website, the Solo Dios Basta (Only God Suffices) Foundation, a Catholic lay organization that organized the event, attributed the Lepanto victory to the recital of the rosary, “that saved Europe from Islamization.” At a Mass during the event broadcast by Radio Maryja, Archbishop of Krakow Marek Jedraszewski called on believers to pray “for the other European nations to make them understand it is necessary to return to Christian roots … ” Archbishop of Poznan Stanislaw Gadecki told private radio broadcaster RMF, “the key objective of this manifestation is to pray for peace.” According to press reports, organizers stated that the prayers were not directed against any group, but some persons cited fears of Islam among their reasons for participating.
In August private television station Republika TV adapted the “Arbeit macht frei” (“Work sets you free”) sign above the gates of Auschwitz into a parody illustration featuring a “Reparations set you free” slogan for a story about the call by some lawmakers for Germany to make reparations to the country for its losses in WWII. The Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum criticized the broadcast, writing on its Twitter account, “the primitive manipulation of painful symbols shows the moral level and understanding of history by its authors.”
On July 10, Catholic Bishop Rafal Markowski, head of the Polish Bishops’ Conference’s Council for Religious Dialogue and the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Judaism, issued an apology at the ceremony marking the 76th anniversary of the Jedwabne pogrom, in which the town’s Jews were killed by their Catholic neighbors.
In June the Raoul Wallenberg Foundation, an international NGO, recognized the Church of All Saints in Warsaw as a “House of Life” for helping Jews during WWII. In a letter to participants in the ceremony, President Duda described Poles who risked their lives to help Jews as “the nation’s heroes.”
In January Holocaust survivors, politicians, and religious leaders gathered to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day and to commemorate the 72nd anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp.
There were incidents of vandalism targeting property associated with religious sites.
In December the Union of Jewish Communities in Poland reported a Jewish cemetery in the eastern town of Siemiatycze had been desecrated. Construction workers found human remains on a privately owned commercial lot located within the original boundaries of the cemetery and immediately adjacent to the current boundaries of the cemetery. Although the law requires construction activities to cease immediately and the police to be contacted in such circumstances, the dirt and human remains were removed from the site and construction initially continued. An initial review indicated local and regional authorities had not followed correct procedures in approving the construction permit for the site. Local prosecutors opened an investigation, which was continuing at year’s end.
On August 31, Maszewo village police announced an investigation into possible desecration of a burial site after reports a building contractor had bulldozed an old Jewish cemetery in the town and turned up human remains. The land where the cemetery had been located was added to a local register of protected sites prior to its purchase for development, but the owner stated she had not been aware of this designation prior to finding the human remains.
On August 5, unknown perpetrators vandalized a Protestant church with offensive graffiti in the northern town of Biala Piska.
On July 12, unknown perpetrators damaged a religious figure standing outside a Roman Catholic church in Warsaw.
In November unknown attackers smashed approximately a dozen windows at a mosque and Muslim cultural center in Warsaw. Imam Youssef Chadid blamed the attack on a “not very friendly” atmosphere in the country that he said misrepresented Islam. The imam appealed to the government to speak out against attacks on Muslims. Police were investigating the crime at year’s end.
On January 17, the Catholic Church celebrated the 20th annual Day of Judaism, which featured numerous events throughout the country, including meetings, lectures at schools, film screenings, and exhibitions. The main celebrations took place in Kielce and included prayers in front of monuments commemorating Holocaust victims, a theological discussion conducted by Catholic bishops and rabbis, and a religious service in Kielce Cathedral. Former and current Chairman of the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Judaism – Bishops Mieczyslaw Cislo and Rafal Markowski – and Chief Rabbi Schudrich participated in the religious service.
On January 26, the Catholic Church celebrated the 17th annual Day of Islam with the stated purpose of promoting peace among religious groups. The Church hosted an event titled “Christians and Muslims – the Addressees and Tools of God’s Mercy” in Bialystok, which included discussions, readings from the Bible and the Quran, and prayers. Chair of the Polish Episcopate Committee for Dialogue with Non-Christian Religions Bishop Henryk Ciereszko and representatives of the Bialystok Muslim religious community attended the event. On September 24, the Joint Council of Catholics and Muslims organized a conference celebrating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the council, an association made up of lay members of their religions, who described their main role as promoting interreligious dialogue and respect for various religions and cultures.
The Polish Council of Christians and Jews continued to organize annual conferences and ceremonies, including the Day of Judaism in the Catholic Church and “Close Encounters of Christians and Jews” to encourage tolerance and understanding, as did a Catholic and Orthodox Churches bilateral commission.
The Polish Ecumenical Council hosted conferences and interfaith dialogue. For example, on October 29, the Lublin branch of the council co-organized an international ecumenical congress titled Lublin – City of Religious Agreement 2017, which focused around a debate about different Christian traditions and their attitude towards ecumenism. On November 25, the council organized an ecumenical women’s conference in Warsaw, which gathered more than 30 women from eight different Christian churches.
Human Library projects, funded by European Economic Area grants and organized by the Citizens for Democracy Foundation, continued in various cities, including Olsztyn, Krakow, and Lodz. Under the project, a diverse group of volunteers, including representatives of various religious groups, told their stories to individuals who could “borrow” them like books. The stated intent of the project was to foster greater tolerance, including religious tolerance.
On March 27, the Jewish advocacy organization American Jewish Committee held an opening celebration for its new Central European headquarters in Warsaw.
A Central Statistical Office February survey found nearly 95 percent of Poles identified themselves as religious, and half attended religious gatherings on a weekly basis.