10 min read

Fighting Poland's Far-Right

The Global Project Against Hate and Extremism came across my radar when they asked Facebook to remove information about Poland's annual independence day march, a nationalist event organized by the far-right that often attracts violent extremists.

I spoke with the organization's co-founder Wendy Via about the organization's work fighting hate and extremism in Poland and internationally.  

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Cristina: Tell me more about the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism. When were you founded and how many countries do you work in?

Wendy: Founded in 2020, the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism is a nonprofit organization devoted to building a diverse global community by exposing and countering racism, bigotry, and hate, and promoting human rights that are central to flourishing, multicultural societies and democracies. We believe that white supremacy, hate, and far- right extremist movements are existential threats to societies and democracies around the globe.

Far-right extremist and hate movements are growing across the globe and have become interconnected in a way that we’ve never seen before. GPAHE addresses the gap in efforts to stop transnational hate and far-right extremism movements, particularly U.S.-based activity that is exported to other countries and across borders.

GPAHE is U.S.-based, but our work to expose hateful transnational networks, hold tech accountable, and influence policies has a global impact. We work with allies across the world including in Poland, the United Kingdom, Germany, India, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Hungary, and others.

Cristina: What was the response from Facebook and Twitter when you asked them to take down references to the Polish nationalist independence day march? Did the companies acknowledge your concerns?

Wendy: We also reached out to PayPal, who did the right thing and blocked the account of the Independence March Association, which was using the PayPal platform to fundraise.

While our contacts at both Facebook and Twitter acknowledged our concern, neither company took any action.

In its email back to our partner, Rafal Pankowski with the ‘NEVER AGAIN’ Association in Poland, Facebook said they reviewed the page in question, and said, “the page as a whole does not violate our community standards.”

This was the response despite the march being well-known as traditionally violent, and a hotbed for antisemitic, white nationalist, and anti-LGBTQ hate and Facebook’s so-called commitment to not allow its platform to be used for potentially violent events.

Facebook also gave instructions to our partner on additional work they could do to get Facebook to investigate further, which is part of a troubling pattern in which victims of online hate or civil society groups are tasked with the undue burden of investigating violative and hateful material instead of the companies doing it themselves.

And in light of the recent Facebook document leaks exposing the lack of resources devoted to content moderation in non-English languages, this is yet another example of hateful and potentially violence-inspiring content remaining on the platform.

Cristina: What happened when nationalist the march took place in Poland in November?

Wendy: The annual Polish Independence Day march, well known as one of the largest far-right gatherings in the world, often descends into violent clashes.

This year, there was even greater potential for violence because the Polish courts banned the march, instead giving permission to a women’s demonstration to use the planned route. The organizers of the far-right march, with tacit support from the ruling party, ignored the ban. Out of fear for their safety and large-scale violence, the organizers of the women’s demonstration cancelled. Government officials eventually stepped in, sanctioning the march, and providing a large police presence.

Even after the Polish courts banned the march, Facebook maintained the event page, with more than 257,000 followers, promoting and fundraising for the event.

Cristina: What can you tell me about Poland's far-right? How prevalent of a force are they? How do they organize and recruit?

Wendy: The far-right isn’t a single group. It’s more of a movement comprised of multiple groups that range from street neo-Nazism to those with influence who push punishing and discriminating societal policies.

For example, the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, despite being less than a decade old, has rapidly developed into a critical node in Eastern Europe for far-right conservatism, has deep ties to the ruling party, and is an incredibly powerful player in Polish politics. Ordo Iuris also has links to the even more extreme-right Confederation Liberty and Independence Party in Poland and supported the Independence Day March.

It’s also important to note the international network of far-right groups, and the influence that U.S.- based organizations have in Poland. For instance, U.S.-based Alliance Defending Freedom played a role in upending abortion rights in Poland, and the group has also been influential in limiting LGBTQ+ freedom in Poland.

Furthermore, the connections between Ordo Iuris and ADF are undeniable, highlighting the international network of far-right actors working together to infringe on peoples’ freedoms.

Cristina: What influence does Poland's far-right have on Polish politics?

The far-right in Poland, like elsewhere across the globe, attempts to curtail a free press, interfere with the judiciary, makes false claims that Christianity is under attack, demonizes immigrants and Jews, and attacks LGBTQ people. And, taking a page out of Trump’s playbook, far-right political leaders in Poland have used social media as a way to gain power.

Current president, Andrzej Duda, who was endorsed by Trump, was narrowly reelected in July 2020 after running on a right-wing populist platform rife with antisemitism and anti-LGBTQ policies and rhetoric. His party has tried to make it harder for social media companies to take down misinformation.

Marginalized communities in Poland have been under ferocious attack in recent years. They’re faced with a polarizing social climate and a government that is backsliding on democratic protections, with displays of open disdain for the LGBTQ community, women’s rights, and the Jewish community, among others. This is happening in public venues, on television, and especially on social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.

To name a specific example, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, leader of the governing Law and Justice party, has said Poles will not be forced “to stand under the rainbow flag,” and that homosexuality is a “threat to Polish identity, to our nation, to its existence and thus to the Polish state.”

This vitriolic messaging does cause real world harms. Nearly 100 Polish towns and communities declared themselves to be “LGBT-Free Zones,” although several have since rescinded that label. In a 2019 survey, men under 40 said that the biggest threat to Poland was “the LGBT movement and gender ideology.” Another recent survey revealed that 55 percent of Poles believe that “Jews have too much influence in the world” and 19 percent believed it was a good thing that World War II resulted in there being fewer Jews in Poland.

What I'm writing:

• European leaders are growing frustrated with Germany’s half-hearted response to Russia’s military buildup along the border with Ukraine, and they are casting doubt on Berlin’s willingness to act decisively.

• I interviewed Congressman Ruben Gallego, the co-chair of the House Baltic Caucus, about his recent visit to Ukraine, how he assesses Ukraine's fighting capability, and how much lethal aid should flow to Eastern Europe.

• As the Olympic Games begin this week, lawmakers are calling attention to China’s treatment of Uyghurs in Xinjiang and the entities helping whitewash Beijing’s image. That led to a flurry of hearings, open letters, and several bills aiming to strip the International Olympic Committee of its tax-exempt status.

What I'm reading:

• The U.S. accused Moscow of preparing “a very graphic propaganda video” depicting a fake Ukrainian attack against Russia to “fabricate a pretext for an invasion” of Ukraine, CNN reports.

• Deputy National Security Advisor Jon Finer described Russia’s plan as “extremely elaborate.” Actors would be “playing mourners for people who are killed in an event,” NBC News reports.

• The U.S. formally approved the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Poland, Germany, and Romania, CNN reports.

• Ukraine's Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba called on the EU to finalize its planned sanctions package against Russia and make it public to send the message to Putin that the West is not bluffing, Politico Europe reports.

• Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky signed a decree to increase the size of Ukraine’s armed forces by 100,000 troops over three years and raise soldiers’ salaries, Reuters reports.

• Ukrainian police detained a group of people suspected of preparing mass riots in Ukrainian cities to cause instability, Reuters reports.

• U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson traveled to Ukraine for talks with Zelensky, the BBC reports. The U.K. also announced that it is giving £88m (around $118m) to Ukraine to promote stable governance and energy independence from Russia.

• The U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said Britain would issue sanctions against Russian oligarchs and key supporters of Vladimir Putin if Russia invades Ukraine, the Guardian reports.

• The U.K. Royal Air Force sent fighter jets to respond to four Russian military aircraft approaching the United Kingdom, the Associated Press reports.

• The Prime Ministers of Poland and the Netherlands, and the President of Turkey, will all visit Ukraine this week, the Wall Street Journal reports.

• Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan agreed to expand supplies of a long-range, Turkish-made armed drone to the Ukrainian army, the New York Times reports.

• Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán spent almost five hours with the Russian President, saying during a joint press conference that he agreed with Putin that his demands over NATO and Ukraine were “normal," Politico Europe reports.

• The State Department ordered family members of employees at the U.S. Embassy in Belarus to leave the country. It also warned U.S. citizens against travel to Belarus due to an “increase in unusual and concerning Russian military activity near the border with Ukraine.”

• The White House dispatched a top cybersecurity official to NATO to prepare allies for potential Russian cyberattacks, the New York Times reports.

• A delegation of lawmakers from Lithuania was in D.C. this week to ask Congress for a permanent U.S. troop presence to be stationed in the baltic country, Foreign Policy reports.

• A terror binge by Ramzan Kadyrov, the ruler of Chechnya and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, is growing, and dozens have been kidnapped, Novaya Gazeta reports.

• The European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson will visit Azerbaijan to discuss additional gas supply to the European Union, European Commission spokesman Tim McPhee said during a briefing.

• Polish President Andrzej Duda announced he’s sending a draft law to abolish Poland’s controversial disciplinary chamber for judges to parliament for approval, the Associated Press reports.  

• Poland is building a wall on its borders to keep out illegal migrants, and it will cut through Białowieża Forest, one of Europe's most significant wild areas, Politico Europe reports.

• Portugal’s center-left Socialist Party won a surprise victory and obtained a majority in Parliament after snap elections held last weekend, Reuters reports.

• Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist first minister resigned in protest against the Brexit deal's trade protocol, fueling calls for a snap election, Politico Europe reports.

• Venezuelans taken into custody along the U.S. southern border will be sent to Colombia under a Biden administration plan to address the increasing numbers of migrants arriving in the U.S., the Washington Post reports.

• The Biden administration sees Iran’s nuclear program as being too advanced to restore the key goal of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Wall Street Journal reports.

• A United Nations report found that the Taliban has killed “scores” of former Afghan officials and people who worked with the U.S.-led coalition in the country, Reuters reports.

• Insurgents in the Pakistani province of Balochistan attacked two military bases overnight, killing seven soldiers while losing 13 of their men, Pakistan’s army said. The Baloch Liberation Army group claimed responsibility in a statement sent to a Reuters reporter.

• U.S. special operations forces carried out a combat operation to kill or capture a high-level terrorist in northwest Syria along the Turkish border, the Wall Street Journal reports. U.S. President Joe Biden later released a statement saying the U.S. killed Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the leader of ISIS.

• An online industry specializing in fake passports with visas and travel stamps allows people with links to ISIS in Syria to travel to the U.K., E.U., U.S., and Canada, an investigation by the Guardian revealed.

• Dozens of Turkish warplanes and drones attacked Kurdish militant training camps, shelters, and ammunition storage areas in northern areas of Iraq and Syria, Reuters reports. The airstrikes are part of a Turkish campaign against the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) and the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, both of which Turkey regards as terrorist groups.

• The Turkish strikes killed at least four people, including civilians, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. The U.S.-backed YPG condemned the attacks, ABC News reports.

• Workers at the Expo 2020 in the United Arab Emirates are allegedly working in highly abusive conditions that may amount to forced labor, according to a report by the human rights group Equidem.

• Myanmar's military junta threatened sedition and terrorism charges against anyone who shuts their business or claps or bang pots to mark the first anniversary of the military coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the Guardian reports.

• North Korea is now believed to be capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam with its Hwasong-12 missile, the Associated Press reports.

• Somaliland is offering the U.S. military use of a seaport and airfield overlooking strategic maritime routes in exchange for steps toward recognizing it as a sovereign country, the Wall Street Journal reports. Somaliland President Muse Bihi Abdi plans to visit Washington in March.

• The president of Guinea-Bissau turned to Twitter to tell the world he was “fine” after mutinous soldiers tried to overthrow his government.

• The Biden administration decided to maintain the pandemic Title 42 border policy that authorizes the expulsion of migrants without giving them the opportunity to request asylum, CBS News reports.

What the State Department says:

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