Demonstrations and counter-demonstrations for both sides of the “refugee” question took place all over Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic on September 12. I spent my Saturday following two marches in Krakow, Poland–my home for almost 20 years. Having participated in many events involving public demonstrations and the clash between Left and Right here, I was not at all surprised by the media’s dishonest representation of what happened. It was an instructive reminder of the power they have to promote their agenda.
What I describe here is a textbook example of how the press makes sure the public gets the “correct” message about news events and comically exaggerates the support of minority–but fashionably liberal–opinions. You think all of Europe has lost its mind and is ready to embrace the hordes coming from Syria and elsewhere? It’s not true at all, but many of those who would love to see that day come are the ones who are paid to write about it.
The Krakow authorities gave permission to both pro- and anti-migrant groups to organize marches on the same day but at different times for public safety reasons. The first march, for the pro-”refugee” crowd, was scheduled for 2:00 pm in Krakow’s main square. I got there about 15 minutes early to gauge the size of the crowd and evaluate the chances for fireworks.
At first glance, it was hard to see anything resembling the beginning of any kind of mass gathering. I knew I was in the right place because I could pick out 15 or 20 people from the crowd around me who would be marching in the counter-demonstration scheduled for 4:30 pm. They were there for the same reason I was: to see what the lefties were up to. This kind of scouting is standard practice when two sides march on the same day. It’s standard for us, anyway; the lefties don’t do it because they’re afraid to be around the other side without police protection.
As for the police, there were six or seven police vans parked along perimeter of the square. There were around 20 officers in pairs, dressed in full body armor and riot gear, with a few prominently displaying shotguns. Officers with dogs stayed in the shade of the vans. This might sound like a lot of police but it’s almost the minimum number for a public demonstration on any issue. For the annual Tolerance Parade–essentially a gay pride march–there are hundreds of police, a number that reflects both the size of the parade and the intensity of emotions on both sides.
After a few minutes, a small group of pro-refugee marchers slowly started to form at the designated spot at the foot of the statue of the poet Adam Mickiewicz in the center of the square. There’s always a large crowd of people at this location, especially on a beautiful Saturday in September, so they didn’t exactly stand out. If you didn’t know that this was the beginning of a “demonstration,” you would never have guessed.
Five minutes before the start time of the event, around 15 or 20 of them were huddled close together with their backs to the crowd. This, together with constant sideways glances to check how far away the nearest police officers were, told me they had stage fright. Meeting the public is different than talking about it on Facebook.
They passed around a few selfie sticks, posed for the news cameras, and gave interviews. A few more participants joined. After they had taken enough selfies and it was finally time to get started, there were no more than 35 or 40 of them. About two thirds were women, and nearly all fit one of a few familiar leftist caricatures: hippie Earth Mothers with dreadlocks, dour and permanently aggrieved feminists, etc. Many of the guys were skinny-jeans hipster types or the unfortunate partners of the hippie chicks. The whole group was rounded out with a few naive fellow-traveller types and a handful of people who appeared to have a Middle Eastern or North African background. I assume they were invited to give the whole thing an air of authenticity.
No liberal demonstration is complete without drums and congas and five or six latecomers rushed in at the last minute to provide a beat for the moral posturing.
With the rhythm section in place, the first speaker stepped up to proclaim solidarity with all refugees. It was hard to hear her garbled voice through the megaphone, but there was no mention of Syria or specifically Syrian refugees. In fact, there were several signs that read “Welcome Afghans!” There were the usual slogans like variations on “No human is illegal” and “I am a citizen of the world,” confusing messages like “No-fly zone in Syria,” along with new twists like “I want an Arab woman as a neighbor” (it rhymes in Polish –“Chcę Arabkę za sąsiadkę”).
Two guys climbed up on the statue to display a particularly large sign. After securing their footing, they held it aloft–upside down. Only a loud and enthusiastic round of sarcastic applause from the counter-demonstrators alerted them to the problem, and they quickly turned it right side up.
Speakers then took turns addressing the crowd although it’s doubtful that anyone not standing directly in front could understand anything they said. I took a leaflet called “Welcome dear refugees!” from a single volunteer they sent into the crowd to distribute their message. This is as much as I can bring myself to type:
All refugees are victims of political and governmental agendas–not excluding those of Poland. It is the most powerful countries that destabilize entire regions, starting from Africa to Donbass. It is the international ties of politics and capital that leech off the agony of entire nations.
You can probably guess the rest: It’s all our fault.
When the speeches were finally finished, the drums started up and, surrounded by police, the marchers went all the way around the square chanting many of the slogans on their signs: “We welcome you!”, “Don’t hate, accommodate!”
Hundreds of people, mostly tourists, were drawn to the drums, signs, and general spectacle. Remember that Krakow’s main square would have been jammed with people even without any demonstrations. It is a major tourist attraction and the warm weather brought thousands of locals out for what was likely one of the last nice weekends of the year. The overwhelming majority of the people who were taking pictures, rubbernecking, and getting closer to see what it was all about had no idea what they were looking at. If you were on vacation somewhere and a noisy parade of drums and whistles passed by with signs in the air, wouldn’t you move in for a closer look?
After about 15 minutes, they made it full circle back to the statue, dragging a long tail of curious onlookers and picture-taking tourists. After more drums and chants about wanting Arab neighbors, the crowd and protesters drifted away.
The other side
The counter-demonstration began about two hours later. The march started outside a church about a 15-minute walk from the main square, well away from the crowds. Although it consisted exclusively of people who were there to join the march instead of curious bystanders, there were about ten times as many participants.
The first march had sound but this one had color: flags, banners and standards related to love of country and patriotic allegiance (the earlier march didn’t have a single flag). Women and families made up a good portion of the marchers, and the procession was led by a smartly dressed woman carrying a large bouquet of flowers in the colors of Poland’s flag. People chanted in unison, “Come with us, with Poles” (this also rhymes in Polish: “Chodzcie z nami, Polakami”).
There were more police than at the earlier march, but that was simply a reflection of the much larger number of people, and did not indicate an elevated perceived risk. The police knew they had to arrange for more officers because this march would have a lot more people.
We marched on a circuitous route through the center of town and finished at the same spot where the earlier march had begun: the statue in the main square. By the time it reached its destination, the long column of marchers had added about half again as many people as it had started with. Also, at least 75 percent of the marchers were wearing something that identified them as active and willing participants: a T-shirt, a scarf, a flag. These weren’t people who just happened to be walking along the same street at the same time.
After another round of megaphone speeches with a very different message than before but delivered in the same barely audible manner, the demonstration ended without incident and the policemen could finally take off tons of black body armor that they’d been wearing all day in the hot sun. Here’s what the demonstration looked like when it finished.
A few hours later, I checked the online versions of several local and national newspapers. I knew what they had been hoping for because of their editorial positions. About two weeks before the marches, when everyone was focused on the mess in Budapest, Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest daily newspaper, disabled the comments on every article even tangentially related to refugees. The explanation they gave–placed where comments would normally be found–was that an “aggressive climate of hate” had been created, and they would no longer help people spread “racist vitriol.” They went so far as to warn anyone who wrote offensive comments about refugees that their IP address would be shared with the public prosecutor for possible charges of incitement to racial hatred.
This ban on comments had unintentionally hilarious consequences. Readers began to write their comments on articles about unrelated subjects. A piece on the financial performance of McDonald’s was flooded with comments such as, “OK, McDonald’s, whatever. Let’s talk about refugees, OK, Gazeta? Do I have your permission to talk or are you going have me arrested? You people make me sicker than McDonald’s does.” Hundreds of such comments can be found on every imaginable topic found on the website now. (If you can read Polish or want to run the pages through a translator, you can see for yourself at www.gazeta.pl).
Every mainstream publication in Poland has the same position as their counterparts in Western media: You are either sympathetic to the refugees or you are a horrible person. That’s why I was looking forward to seeing how the day’s events would be presented. Here’s the first headline I saw, from the biggest paper in Krakow: “I want an Arab woman for a neighbor”
The article went on to tell us all about the “demonstration in support of refugees” but didn’t include one word about the counter-march that was at least ten times bigger. Later that night, around midnight, a separate piece on the counter-demonstration appeared with a sneering tone and close-up pictures of the least photogenic marchers.
Gazeta Krakowska still allows comments on “refugee” stories, and the paper got a flood that must be a new record–with a good 90 percent against letting in foreigners. There are lots of variations of clever replies to the “I want an Arab neighbor” line, such as, “Fine, when are you leaving?”, etc.
At Gazeta Wyborcza, an article began with, “More than a thousand people gathered on Saturday at 2pm in Krakow’s main square to show their support for refugees.”
More than a thousand???
Strictly speaking, there were more than a thousand people there but that is like saying that a thousand people attended a demonstration that I and two friends put on at rush hour in Grand Central Station in New York. Wyborcza left the impression that around twenty times the actual number of people showed up to support the cause. No one without an agenda who was present at the “pro” march would put the real number of participants even in triple digits, much less “more than a thousand.” Since Wyborcza still does not allow comments on stories of this kind, readers could not make corrections.
Polish television coverage was essentially the same, with every story insisting that support for the “pro” side was strong everywhere or at least equal to that of the other side. This comes as a surprise to anyone who was actually there, and social media is full of Poles asking where these allegedly huge groups of “refugee” supporters were.
It’s a good question. They weren’t in Krakow, I can tell you that. But you’d never know if you weren’t there yourself.