WARSAW, Poland — Hundreds of Poles staged protests in Warsaw and other cities against racism and anti-Semitism to show they don’t agree with the rising wave of hostility and intolerance in Poland.
Pounding drums, some 1,000 people walked in downtown Warsaw chanting “Freedom, equality, tolerance!” and carrying banners that called for a stop to conflicts like the war in Syria.
Racism and anti-Semitism on Twitter, in graffiti, and in public discourse have been on the rise since Poland’s right-wing government refused to accept Muslim migrants under an EU plan.
That has only increased after Poland recently adopted a new law that banned blaming the Polish nation for the crimes of the Nazis in the Holocaust.
Israel protested the law, which it and Jewish groups said prevents open discussion, and may limit research on thousands of Poles who betrayed Jews to the Nazis or killed Jews.
It has led to a bitter dispute between Israel and Poland, which are holding, so-far, inconclusive talks to try and resolve the issue.
Also Saturday, Several thousand people braved snow and freezing temperatures in Vienna on to protest against what they called rising discrimination and racism in Austria.
Many carried placards condemning the government, which since December has been made up of Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s conservative People’s Party (OeVP) and Vice-Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache’s far right Freedom Party (FPOe).
The government has made a crackdown on immigration one of its main priorities, pledging to speed up and toughen the asylum process and increase deportations.
In last year’s elections, Kurz stood on a platform of regaining control of Austria’s borders after the migrant crisis of 2015-16 saw more than 150,000 people seek asylum in the country of 8.7 million.
However, speakers at the rally, organized by left-wing and anti-racist groups, said the government’s policies risked stigmatizing foreigners, making them scapegoats for social problems.
“I’m here with you today because, 80 years after the Nazis’ takeover of Austria, I don’t want people to be discriminated against once again because of their origins,” Daniela Gruber-Pruner, MP for the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe), told the crowd.
Many also pointed to recent revelations over persistent anti-Semitism in right-wing student fraternities which count prominent FPOe politicians as members.
“There’s the spectre of right-wing extremism today in Europe,” 70-year-old Monika Salzer, founder of the “Omas gegen Rechts” (“Grannies against the Right”) activist group, told AFP.
She added that she was worried Austria could develop into a “guided democracy, in the style of [Hungarian Prime Minister] Viktor Orban.”
She pointed to a recent controversy over raids at Austria’s domestic intelligence agency by a police unit headed by an FPOe official as proof that the FPOe wanted to control state institutions.
The FPOe denies this and says it rejects anti-Semitism and racism.
Organizers put turnout at the rally at 8,000, with police counting 3,400.