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Poland abolishes anti-racism body despite rising hatred

Opposition blasts ‘shameful’ move as government explains council was ‘inefficient’ and will be replaced with other institutions

Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo arrives at a European Union Summit held at the EU Council building in Brussels, on March 18, 2016.  (AFP/Thierry Charlier)
Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo arrives at a European Union Summit held at the EU Council building in Brussels, on March 18, 2016. (AFP/Thierry Charlier)

Poland’s right-wing government on Wednesday dissolved a state council designed to combat racism in a move condemned by the centrist opposition and the EU member’s ombudsman amid a spike in racially motivated attacks.

“The council proved to be rather inefficient,” government spokesperson Rafal Bochenek told reporters in Warsaw Wednesday, adding that other “more efficient” civic institutions would assume its responsibilities.

The council was set up three years ago by the previous Civic Platform liberal adminstration, the arch-rivals of the current Law and Justice (PiS) government that won October’s general election in a campaign dominated by anti-refugee rhetoric and welfare promises.

“It’s shameful. The council is absolutely necessary amid the increasing number of racially motivated attacks and rising xenophobia,” Poland’s Ombudsman Adam Bodnar told AFP Wednesday.

Last year, state prosecutors launched 1,500 probes into cases of alleged discrimination and racially motivated hate crimes compared to 60 such cases in 2009.

Notably, prosecutors in the southern city of Wroclaw are investigating an anti-Semitic act that saw members of a far right group burn an effigy meant to represent a Jew, triggering a wave of condemnation across Poland.

Bodnar said he sees a “direct link” between Europe’s worst migration crisis since World War II and the rise in hate crime.

“The fears spread by certain political parties about refugees are feeding into racist comments on the Internet, and this has not been firmly condemned” by public figures, Bodnar added.

Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS) won last October’s general election on promises that it would refuse to accept refugees arriving in the EU.

PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski scored political capital on the campaign trail by playing up fears linked to the migrant crisis.

He claimed refugees were bringing “cholera to the Greek islands, dysentery to Vienna, various types of parasites” in comments that critics said recalled the Nazi era.

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