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Lecture exposes reasons behind Poland refugee crisis and implied social issues in Poland

Lukasz Pawlowski

 Using images and provocative quotes the right-wing Polish media, encouraged by the current Polish government, conveys an anti-immigrant sentiment towards refugees from the Middle East and Africa who are seeking a new life in Europe. Lukasz Pawlowski, an award-winning journalist and an Einaudi Chair Visiting Scholar, addressed the rationale and resulting social issues stemming from this phenomenon in his lecture “No country for what men? A refugee crisis and the right-wing turn in Poland” on March 2nd, in Physical Sciences Building room 401.

Pawlowski examined the reasons behind the hostility towards refugees. One of the main reasons is that misrepresented media coverage shapes public opinion. The cultural crisis caused by the inflow of refugee is inflamed by the involvement of government controlled media, which vilifies refugees, through overgeneralization and omission. The stereotype of Muslims is magnified, together with labels as terrorists, patriarchists, and virus carriers. With the support of the Polish government, racist comments and images are published on the cover pages of mainstream magazines. Through manipulation of the wording of journals and magazine articles, the Polish government overestimates the danger posed by refugee communities, misleadingly establishing a cause-and-effect relationship between incoming refugees and the insecurity of the country.

Another critical factor cited by Pawlowski for the stigmatization of refugees is the fear of war. Located in central Europe, Poland has a legacy of historical trauma from both the first and the second world wars. Poland’s history, especially with respect to its interactions with its neighbors, makes the Polish government particularly cautious when it comes to foreign involvement within the country’s borders. The rising population of immigrants is portrayed by many right-wing media outlets as a breach of Poland’s sovereignty, and the authority of the European Union to dictate policy.  Anxiety concerning German involvement in Polish affairs is especially prominent, particularly amongst right-wing constitutencies within Poland.

Finally, Pawlowski explained that a third reason driving anti-immigrant sentiment is the failure of multi-culturalism. The demography of Poland is homogenous, with over ninety-eight percent of population being white Europeans, and over ninety percent of population being Christian. Historically, Poland had no prior experience with large waves of immigrants, which can help to account for the distress caused by current refugee issues. The dominance of the right-wing party Law & Justice Party further ensures that the Polish public is regularly bombarded with messages concerning the threat that refugee populations pose to traditional Polish society.

Pawlowski’s lecture on Polish politics was followed by an engaging discussion with students and faculty. Most of the discussion focused on current anti-immigrant sentiment in Europe and how governments have responded. CIES, with a mission to promote awareness of European affairs, has focused much of its activities in recent years on intellectual engagement with the European refugee crisis. Later this semester there will be two additional events addressing this topic.

On March 24th, CIES’ visiting scholar, Azat Gundogan, and Professor Lisel Hintz (Barnard College) will hold a Turkish Politics Roundtable on the impact of the refugee crisis in 120 Physical Sciences Building. On April 20th, Professor Tiziana Caponio (Collegio Carlo Alberto), a recognized expert on European immigration patterns, will give a lecture on her latest research in 701 Clark Hall.