Theses for the OSCE Conference on anti-Semitism and other forms of Intolerance
Cordoba, 8 & 9 June 2005
“Open Republic”. Association against anti-Semitism and Xenophobia. Poland
I. We want to underline the two-dimensional character of anti-Semitism. Its first aspect is moral, as anti-Semitism violates human personal dignity. The second one is of social and civic importance, as anti-Semitism, when tolerated, is detrimental to democratic functioning of societies. The tolerance of anti-Semitism profoundly interferes with democracy, but let me stress only few points:
Tolerance to anti-Semitism leads to treating real problems in an irrational way, which makes solving these problems difficult or even impossible; in consequence there are no social habits of rational discussion. For example, tolerating anti-Semitism disturbs serious political debate by favoring irrational arguments over rational ones. The most improbable untruths are therefore accepted (like those based on “Protocols of the Elders of Zion”, one of the main sources of prejudice) because they are easy-to-understand, attractive or useful.
This anti-Semitism-induced irrationality of public life makes real political debate impossible or/and completely unnecessary, replacing it with hurling insults at adversaries; it is simply enough to declare that the opposite party program is somehow Jewish or that one of its leaders is a Jew in order to need to argue or criticize.
And finally, it also makes intercultural dialogue (including dialogue with Muslim communities) extremely difficult.
II. We strongly believe that hate speech always comes before violence and terrorism. In Poland, hate-related acts are relatively rare, but many forms of hate speech are flourishing in nationalist and chauvinistic circles. Response of public opinion, justice system and other institutions due to react is very rare and weak. One can easily find anti-Semitic publications in every bookstore, street stall or newsagents, even those owned by the government. I am sorry to say but in Poland we are accustomed to anti-Semitic speech, which seems as inevitable as rainy, frosty or hot weather. Dissemination of hate speech is often justified by the need of publishing (obviously for scientific purposes) of the “historical documents” as anti-Semitic books and other 19th and 20th-century propaganda materials are called. Just recently two alarming facts took place. The new Polish version of Mein Kampf has been published in Wroc³aw. And German road police detained two Polish trucks, which transported copies of German neo-fascist monthly printed in Zielona Góra (Poland). The first event unfortunately didn’t meet with any institutional reaction except on the part of some citizens and NGO’s and the book is still on sale everywhere. The second one resulted in prosecution at the request of German authorities.
III. Attempts to oppose or repress the spreading of hate speech are seen as violating of the saint, fundamental principle of freedom of speech. We are not for preventive censorship. Over the years the democratic opposition in Poland has fought against that and for freedom of speech. However, freedom of speech means for us freedom of seeking truth and liberty rather than spreading hate toward other people. Freedom of speech is not an absolute value and must take place after a supreme value, which is human dignity. For this reason we are convinced that responsibility for content of speech (what is said) should go along with freedom of speech. When it involves law violations, justice system should react immediately and decidedly. We do not propose prison sentences but we believe that significant fines would effectively discourage such violations. Unfortunately, judicial institutions in Poland still do not react sufficiently on such occasions.
IV. We would also like to raise the problems resulting from the opinion that anti-Semitism is a form of racism. No doubt racist factor often is present, but it is not necessary. Many of openly anti-Semitic people in Poland do not use racist language knowing that it is completely discredited. They would rather express their prejudice and hatred in pseudo-political or pseudo-cultural terms. They would write or say, for instance, that there are some honest Jews who are good patriots, but most of them, inside and outside Poland, are ungrateful and always conspire to the detriment of their native country. This is a poisonous and dangerous hate speech, but one cannot prove that it is racist. On the other hand, official statements by various governmental departments will readily condemn all forms of racism, yet they are reluctant to admit that anti-Semitism may be a problem in Poland. Thus, we tend to regard anti-Semitism as a distinct socio-psychological and political phenomenon that cannot be reduced to or defined as racism but should be treated on its own terms.