Our study of hate speech in Poland was concluded in autumn 2003 with a thick volume: Sergiusz Kowalski & Magdalena Tulli, Instead of a Trial. Report on Hate Speech, W.A.B. Publishing House, Warsaw 2003, pp 548. This naturally didn’t mean that hate speech was more widespread in Poland than elsewhere – simply we knew better our country and the language. Now a few words about our work. It has two parts. The larger part is a complete annotated documentation of hate speech in 5 Polish mainstream rightwing newspapers from January to December 2001 – altogether 630 entries and over 2 000 citations. What follows is the analysis: we try to reconstruct and interpret the language of hate speech and its meanings, its narratives and discourse: the script patterns, interpretative tools, argumentative strategies, etc.

The central dimension of hate speech is ours vs. alien. It organises the social, psychological, and moral world of its users, their sense and order of history, the whole collective worldview. We investigate the pictures of aliens: Jewish, Ukrainian, Byelorussian, Lithuanian, German; or European; or libertine, homosexual, feminist, Buddhist, and so on. What’s important, hate speech – as an instrument of social communication and the manifestation of an ideology – does not deal with real people but rather with their ideological representations; we, the Poles, and they, various aliens, are equally mythologized, unreal, almost fairytale creatures from outer space.

And a short comment about the contents. Of the 630 articles we analysed, in 71 percent the subject were Jews, or ‘Jews’. For other ethnic groups this proportion varied from 1.9 to 5.2 percent; feminism and women’s rights have been criticised (attention here means criticism) in 5.8 percent articles. This overrepresentation in hate speech of symbolic Jews should be weighed against the real, tiny, size of the Jewish community that remains in Poland after the Holocaust. Jews, so few on the streets, crowd the collective mind of the Polish nationalists. There is an incomprehensible, paradoxical gap between the commonness and intensity of the Jewish stereotype and the scarcity of those whom it might apply to.

Anti-Semites must either find enough Jews or become jobless. In the pre-war Poland they had where to stay and what to do in the society: they exploited real, also economic, frustrations of the not-so-happy Polish majority. In Poland reborn after 1989 they had also had to appeal to a collective sense of wrong that must be redressed. Unfortunately, the major pre-war Jewish guilt – presumably the Jews had been depriving the Poles of their social space, a symbolic Lebensraum – was no longer there. The dead Jews, and especially those burnt in Auschwitz-Birkenau, cannot take anybody’s Lebensraum away, at least literally. So now, we are told, the Jews push their way within the symbolic space – by denying Poles and their sufferings due attention and compassion of the world.

The dead do not suffice so the Jews are invented and multiplied beyond imagination. The Jewry, a convenient cognitive instrument, is then portrayed as a major threat of unknown size, the element hostile to the Polish State, its cultural, political and economic interests, a fifth column: indefinite, numerous, powerful. Yet as a virtual being Jews are unable to respond; in this sense anti-Semitism is a part of the intra-Polish discourse rather than an attitude towards the really existing Jewish minority.


Of several discursive strategies we analysed one, pretty popular among hate speech users, seems particularly interesting: we called it contest in suffering. Let me quote from the chapter ‘Symmetries and Asymmetries’ to explain what it is:

What matters first of all in accountancy is, as we know: credit, debit, and balance. The authors we analyse provide the bookkeeping for the Polish nation they claim to represent against the rest of the world. The account should contain the whole history, from its remote origins till the present, and even the future it contains, because the moves of the enemy are always foreseen and included in the books. The national bookkeeper keeps assessing each event, detached from its historical and social context, as gain or loss […]. He is also an egocentric who in all circumstances sees first of all our endangered interest: we are the most important; we, our collective image, and our right collective to immaculate past.

Polish national account is in perfect shape. The debit side is practically empty since Poles owe nothing to others; and their credit is good: full of the benefits conferred on others and many suffered harms. Unfortunately from time to time crooks turn up – stubborn Jews, Ukrainians, heretics, gay, lesbians and those with earrings, divorcees and many others – saying they deserve something. Again and again reality intrudes offhandedly into the national bookkeeping of good and evil. Of course the creditors are sent away empty-handed. Still they managed to throw anti-Polish doubts and slander here and there – especially the Jews and their supporters. That’s why the world is shown the books which testify who owes, what, and to whom.

Efforts to achieve a good balance of gains and losses, we call it a contest in suffering or who-is-more-harmed, consist in counting: multiplying, dividing, adding, or subtracting our and their corpses and moneys.

The roles of main contenders are given to Poles and their Jewish rivals (replaced now and then by other close aliens, especially from the East.) And the battlefield is the history or, more precisely, World War II and Poland under German and Soviet occupation, with necessary excursions into the pre-war and post-war times. (In order to show that before the war Poles were not anti-Semites while Jews were communists and capitalists, both conspiring against Polish interests; and after the war Jews became responsible for all atrocities of Stalinism.)

The basic idea is to prove that Poles-and-Catholics have suffered no less than Jews, and of course much more than any other nation in the whole recorded history of mankind. The bookkeeper’s moral accountancy rests on a simple, technical principle: once a greater guilt of one party is shown, a possible smaller guilt of the other is erased as if it never existed. If there were Jews in the Stalinist politburo and secret police (indeed, there were; Poles as well), and if they persecuted Poles cruelly (as they did) then anything we the Poles could have done against Jews before is automatically nullified, erased, invalidated.

Being a victim seems quite an attractive role in this part of the world. With their 6 millions dead, the Jews yield the palm of martyrdom, and only anti-Semites dare to question it. But they do – in Poland and elsewhere. And the all-Polish rivalry with Jews in suffering is not exceptional: Polish nationalists apply the same pattern to the Polish-Ukrainian relations, and in the game named who-suffered-more some Hungarians compete with some Slovaks, some Rumanians with some Hungarians, some Czechs with nobody and everybody, and how it is in the Baltic Republics, I simply don’t know. Quite recently some Germans have established The Prussian Trust, a legal action for the restitution of German property in Poland; the Polish Parliament considered it not a laughing matter, and responded with a rarely unanimous resolution calling for war reparations (Poland liberally rejected them after the war, following Stalin’s orders.) And an even more exciting news: two weeks ago Germans in two post-DDR lands voted for neo-Nazis and post-Communists.

On the other hand some Poles regard Polish-Jewish rivalry in suffering exceptional. In the eyes of the radical right, the Jews are a real challenge because of their worldwide recognition as victims – a copyright of uniqueness named the Holocaust. This makes the competition even worse. Everybody heard of the Holocaust, as they heard of Mac Donald’s and Pizza Hut; almost everybody heard about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. But nobody in the world (apart from specialists like Norman Davies, or Timothy Garton Ash, or the advisers to the American presidents just before their visits in Warsaw) have ever heard of anything like the Warsaw Uprising. So if, considering practical results, it is ignorance that feeds hatred or anti-Semitism, then there is no way out because feelings are much more influential and persistent than any knowledge.

Trying to understand Polish anti-Semites (you may of course try to understand your own,) shouldn’t we ask why their rivalry with Jews must be so wild and desperate? Is it because they know they are the losers from the outset? A miserable people they are, the Poles – in 1939 attacked by both powerful neighbours, then for half a century left alone in undeserved humiliation. Who’s guilty? Certainly not the victim, neither the West (for years our only hope), nor the Russian oppressor (blaming the Soviets would involve self-criticism of the Poles for the participation in the system; better to avoid it.) Who else?

Generally, not only a self-victimisation is popular in this corner of Europe – also greatly underestimated yet powerful feeling of injury, a reopened, bleeding wound.


Masters in suffering try to disqualify competitors even before the game starts. What can they do? Of course display their own wounds, more impressive than others. In the article called pathetically ‘We shouldn’t fall on our knees,’ we read:

Jews always spread the idea of their own suppression and victimisation. Indeed, in the past they suffered a lot, but Poles also suffered, and no less than them. The only difference is that Jews have made tradition of their oppression, while mass killings of the Polish nation are kept in silence for obvious reasons.

Or, in another article, ‘The Shoah-Education’:

Poles were […] the first victims of the Nazi and Soviet homicide, and for almost two years the only Nation murdered methodically, according to earlier plans.

True or untrue, what else can be done after such an accomplishment? Well, there are next four steps in denying other nations a victim’s position.

Firstly, a straightforward rejection of facts is possible, as in the so called Holocaust denial, the Auschwitz lüge. In Poland it is very rare: Polish anti-Semites prefer working on facts instead of against facts.

The second step consists in accusing other nations (especially Jews but also Lithuanians and Ukrainians) of crimes against the Polish nation; and those crimes should presumably have erased all their past sufferings together with our own guilt. A multitude of quotations in our book illustrate this point of view. There’s one story worth telling. In his book Neighbours (Sejny 2000) the sociologist and historian Jan Gross described the annihilation of an entire Jewish population, adults and children, humiliated, tortured, herded into a barn and burned alive by townsmen and peasants from nearby villages. This took place in 1941. Neighbours provoked a stormy debate, and interestingly, the radical right answered immediately with similar accusations against Jews: their suddenly revealed partisans exterminated Polish villages, raped wives, burned children, stole property, etc.

Thirdly, there is an argument saying that other nations, especially the Jews, have already profited very much from their victim’s position – much more than they deserved. The ‘exact’ calculations are made how much they have already got, and what they still want from us.

And finally what is heard is: you the Jews, now boasting your misery and torment, should be warned, because we know you are guilty, and it is you who are responsible for the sufferings of other Jews. The last quotation, from a parliamentary speech of a senator from a radical rightwing party:

There was a Judenrat in the Bialystok ghetto – a Jewish organisation engaged in counting Jews and denouncing them to the Nazis. And the Jews from the ghetto took revenge on their countrymen, the traitors from the Judenrat. They cut off their beards, hands, tongues, ears.