Workshop on the rights of foreigners in Poland - Summary of the meeting

Workshop on the rights of foreigners in Poland

Before even starting his presentation, Inspector Bah sincerely thanked all the students present during this meeting for choosing Poland to complete their studies, and also admitted the fact that these are difficult times for people looking different than an average Pole.

Gerard Bah is a Inspector of the Polish police in Kielce, a city located 170 km away from Warsaw. He is currently a Human Rights Special Adviser to the Police Commissioner, in charge of victims protection. Inspector Bah started his profession as a policeman 25 years ago in Warsaw where he was specialized in crimes against life, health, sexual violence as well as domestic violence. However, nobody used to talk about discrimination. As person of colour himself, with a father from New Guinea, he experienced racism during his life in Poland. Before even starting his presentation, Inspector Bah sincerely thanked all the students present during this meeting for choosing Poland to complete their studies, and also admitted the fact that these are difficult times for people looking different than an average Pole.
First of all, hate crimes result from the three following elements: stereotypes, that reflect the way we think, bias/prejudice, reflecting the way we feel, and finally discrimination, linked to the way we behave. According to Inspector Bah, sociologists say that we cannot live without stereotypes, and people are even unaware of the fact that we all, more or less, relay on them every day. The problem with stereotypes is that they make our emotions negative and lead to discrimination. It is important to know that hate crimes have a very specific character and are particularly hard to understand for Poles, because they do not fear hate crimes themselves. The history of Poland plays an important role in the hostility towards foreign-looking people. Poland had the opportunity to open its borders about 25 years ago, whereas Western European countries have been open to the world and international trade literally since the end of the Second World War. Because of the dictatorship and communist system imposed by the USSR at that time, Poland has been touched by globalization and its effects only very recently. As such, most of the attackers that have been questioned, did not know the minorities they attacked. One should also take into account the fact that it is very easy to shape the mentality of a person who has never travelled or seen foreigners before by the use of media. The most discriminated group in Poland are people from the Middle East and Muslims, for instance in the case of refugees who are stereotyped, as “all the Muslims are terrorists”. Unfortunately, the current refugee crisis is just an excuse for radicalization.

Our concern is the number of hate crimes in Poland that rises with time, with 182 proceedings in 2010, and 1548 proceedings in 2015. Even worse, there is an unidentified “black number” which represents the number of crimes that have never been reported. Hate crimes and hate speech are mostly evident in comments on the Internet, graffiti and symbols drawn on walls, and of course through direct contact with the victims. Simple hate speech charges are often dropped at court, unless the hate speech may have led to actual grave consequences such as physical violence. There is a huge difference between a simple attack, e.g. physical, and a physical attack accompanied by hate speech. Then the situation is treated differently and specialized policemen take care of the investigation. Furthermore, fascist and totalitarian groups and their ideas are forbidden in Poland. Unfortunately, activities of extremist groups do take place in Poland, and their members are not afraid of wearing t-shirts with associated symbols (Celtic cross, HH, sometimes the swastika) in public or claiming their ideas. They call themselves “patriots”, but in reality they are just racist and commit hate crimes. It is also paramount to remember that each policeman is obliged to receive any report. If he suggests to “think” about it, tries to dissuade the victim from filing the report or anything similar, the policeman is breaking the law. A hate crime can be reported at any police station. There is a possibility of dealing with a case through mediation, but also claim financial damages. You can ask for a person of the same sex to assist you (for example if you are a Muslim woman who does not want to remain in a room in the presence of a man). There is a possibility to ask for anonymity and special rights for witnesses. Directive number 9 is specifically dedicated to the protection of minorities, etc. The most important thing that Inspector Bah said is that the police has the obligation and responsibility to protect all the people, no matter if they have the Polish nationality or not, or even more interesting, if they are legally staying in Poland or not. The latter is important information, because many of foreigners staying illegally in Poland are scared to report a crime for fear of deportation, but there is no such possibility because their case must be processed first. Inspector Bah insisted that a policeman should not even ask a victim if he or she is legally in Poland or not. No matter what, the police has the obligation to respect everyone’s dignity.
Zuzanna Szwedo