Marcin Kornak

When the Second World War ended, societies all over the world drew one general conclusion from it: that a similar slaughter can Never Again occur. The wartime experiences were then so fresh that almost everyone must surely have considered it inevitable that the harsh lessons that humanity had been taught by the war would result in lasting collective wisdom—the wisdom of constructing interpersonal and international relations on the basis of rejecting national chauvinism, criminal political ideologies, and racist nonsense. It seemed perfectly realistic then to think of hammering the world’s trauma into a system of global cooperation based on universal solidarity and mutual trust. Today, nothing remains but the fossilized United Nations and the shock of the Second-World-War crimes, which is dwindling from year to year.
When saying “nothing remains,” it should be remembered that the air of disappointment should attach mostly to the fulfillment of postwar plans and expectations. The change from the previous system of confrontation to a system of negotiating that is lame but, at least in Europe, functional, is nevertheless valuable, especially when compared to earlier practice. There have been few historical precedents for the peace that has prevailed in most of Europe over the last sixty years, and so it should not be underrated.
Immediately after the war, problems in attaining the dream of global peace could be expected. After all, the first signs of the coming bipolar reality were already sketched out during the war. Nevertheless, none of the liberators of the concentration camp could have supposed that the ideology that had inspired the builders of those camps would ever begin to re-emerge. Unfortunately, it began to emerge immediately after the war. It is another matter that, in most countries, nationalist chauvinism and racism were never truly and consistently eliminated from public life.
This is, of course, true of Poland as well. It suffices to mention the bloody acts of anti-Semitism in Cracow, Kielce, and the Podhale before the 1940s were out, or the anti-Semitic witch-hunt of 1968. The Polish People’s Republic (PRL) may well have resorted willingly to Endek (National Democrat) ideology, but had certain inhibitions in doing so and masked it with internationalist Newspeak. However, after the watershed year of 1989, a true explosion of nationalism, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia was unleashed. The aggressive neo-fascist sub-culture known as the skinheads had already emerged in the mid-1980s, producing the future leaders of far-right organizations and parties. By the end of the decade, there was also a visible revival among the still-active members of and sympathizers with the pre-war National-Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalna-ONR) amd the closely-associated quasi-fascist street squads and their heirs in the PRL.
The far right is a significant force on the political scene in Poland today. Unfortunately a large part of the public and the political establishment have accepted this state of affairs without any critical reflection, let alone any objections. There is an increasing tendency to close one’s eyes or simply ignore the consequences for public life of the rebirth of a political tendency that bases its support on appeals to chauvinistic phobias, aggressive nationalism, and attempts at excluding minority groups. It takes only a superficial analysis to find reflections of this in the ideological shape of political discourse in Poland today, as for example in the cases of the claims of the Prussian Trust and the Union of the Expelled, or the “war on terrorism.”
One of these consequences is the very notable increase since 1989 in the number of incidents with a racist or xenophobic background, and of crimes committed by neo-fascists. It suffice to mention that monitoring of this kind of incidents by the Never Again Association indicate that at least 35 people have been killed in Poland in cases with a chauvinistic background over the last five years.
Unfortunately, the institutions of the Polish state are still failing to treat these phenomenon with the requisite seriousness. It is hard to arrive at any other conclusion when the official declarations of the state’s officials are compared with the grim realities of everyday life. It is symptomatic that our country has relatively good laws, even at the level of the constitution, in the area of combating neo-fascism and racism—yet the practice based upon these laws is totally inadequate. If state institutions meet the obligations placed upon them by the letter of the law or by international conventions that Poland has ratified, they usually do so in a Potemkin-village sort of way. Whether this happens because of deliberate actions by specific state officials, because of a lackadaisical attitude, or because of ordinary inertia, remains an open question. It remains an incontrovertible fact, however, that the Polish state is not managing to deal with the problems of racism, neo-fascism, or nationalism.
Nevertheless, the civic society whose construction has been—not without setbacks—a goal of the Polish system transformation, possesses tools that would permit it took take over at least some of the tasks that the state apparatus seems incapable of dealing with. One of these tools is the possibility for citizens to assemble voluntarily for the purpose of solving a given problem, or, in other words, creating non-governmental organizations. The existence and activity of a set of organizations of this type is one of the fundamental realities of a democratic society.
After the symbolic year of 1989, there was a true flourishing of the NGO sector, also known as the “third sector,” in Poland. It has gradually become one of the important elements in Polish reality.
The longest-standing Polish NGO dealing with the struggle against neo-fascism, racism, and chauvinism is the Never Again Association. This organization, of which I am co-founder, was called into existence in 1996 by members and supporters of the Anti-Nazi Group (Grupa Anty-Nazistowska – GAN), an informal youth movement. GAN, in turn, arose in 1992 out of a spontaneous public reaction against neo-fascist violence.
The main goal of the Never Again Association is the promotion of opposition to the re-emergence of racism, neo-fascism, and national chauvinism, and the establishment of a public pressure group for the elimination of these tendencies from the domain of generally tolerated attitudes. We observe several basic principles in our work. The first of these is political neutrality—we are anti-fascists because of basic human values rather than narrow political inspiration, and we regard the rejection of political slogans as one of the main reasons for the effectiveness of our work. Second, pluralism—we attract people of very different views and we cooperate with them as long as we share an opposition to chauvinism. The third is an openness to cooperation with other organizations with similar goals. The fourth is respect for and the execution of the existing legal regulations, and the avoidance of violence.
The Association attempts to realize these goals by the following methods: public pressure on the political system, state institutions, and public entities; the promotion of positive attitudes and values as well as tolerance and friendly coexistence between peoples and nations; information; educational activity’ monitoring; demonstrations and other forms of active opposition. We also attempt to reach these goals through publications, cooperation with the media, and the mobilization for the struggle against racism of all persons and circles that are active in the social, cultural, and political arena.
An important part of our activity is Never Again magazine, the most serious periodical in Poland dealing and standing in opposition to neo-fascism. Our magazine is highly regarded and eagerly read by a highly diverse readership.
We also carry out campaigns and programs around which we attempt to gather the greatest possible amount of social support. One of these initiatives of ours is the football campaign [football is the sport also known as soccer] Let’s Kick Racism Out of the Stadiums, which is directed mainly to football supporters, but also to players, coaches, club officials, and journalists who cover the sport. Following the model of Western countries, we attempt to propagate an anti-racist attitude among supporters and work to cleanse the stadiums of the fascist symbols that were ubiquitous until not long ago. Another example of our efforts is the musical campaign called Music Against Racism, to which we have attracted performers of a wide range of musical genres, whose work we use as a means of promoting the idea of openness to other nations and races among listeners.
A new campaign that we launched in late 2004 is Delete Racism. The campaign is about cyberspace and its name refers to a key that can be found on every keyboard. The main ways in which this campaign works are through the creation of a Never Again Association website, internet monitoring, and blocking Polish-language neo-fascist sites.
We attempt to encompass the largest possible range of issues within our OTHER programs. One of these is our information program, which includes monitoring, an information service and regular releases to the mass media on all incidents of a nationalist or racist character that occur in Poland, which are also published in Never Again. This program also includes an archive of accounts by witnesses to chauvinistic incidents.
A second program is the Brown Book, a publication that notes various statements that are racist, anti-Semitic, or nationalistically hostile and aggressive in nature. Our monitoring is also part of this effort. Another initiative is the publication of pamphlets, posters, and brochures. We have a program called Equal Chances, as a part of which we carry out informational and educational activity on the subject of the status of and opportunities for disabled people, and monitor instances of discrimination against them. We have also made educational films that are distributed among school and university students.
The Never Again Association cooperates on a day-to-day basis with ethnic minority organizations, nationwide organizations with a similar profile, the Catholic Church and other denominational communities, disabled groups, veterans’ organizations, artists and cultural figures, and other social and political organizations.
The efforts of the Never Again Association are not exclusively the result of our own original ideas. In part, we adapt models that have already been tried by anti-fascist organizations or broader human-rights organizations in western countries. An example of these successful imports is the Rock Against Racism campaign originated and carried out by Tom Robinson, a 1970s rock musician. We have drawn additional inspiration from the work of the UK anti-racist organizations The Anti-Nazi League (whose Anti-Nazi Carnival drew over 100,000 people) and Anti-Fascist Action, which organized the Cable Street Beat in the 1990s.
Other very important sources of inspiration for us in the fight against racism are Searchlight, from the UK, the biggest and oldest anti-fascist periodical (it has been published since the 1960s) and Norsk Folkehjelp, a Norwegian NGO founded by the Norwegian Confederation of Labor Unions (LO) in 1939. We had the chance to cooperate with the latter organization in a joint project involving the sharing of experiences and projects.
Of course, Never Again also draws inspiration from many other sources and it would be hard to list all of them, but failing to refer to one of them would be unthinkable for the image of our work. Namely, we have drawn on the great tradition, over 80 years old, of the Polish and European anti-fascist movement, and the centuries-old treasury of Polish tolerance. We see ourselves as the heirs and the successors of these traditions, and devote space to them in every issue of our magazine.
Many NGOs are active in Poland on a level comparable to that of Never Again. For example, there are organizations engaged a broadly-conceived struggle against chauvinism and xenophobia: Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH), the Helsinki Human Rights Foundation, Amnesty International-Poland, The One World Association, the Open Republic Association Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia, the Gaia Club Cultural-Educational Association, the Campaign Against Homophobia, the Association of Refugees in the Polish Republic, and many minority, social-cultural, denominational, and other organizations.
The free media, one of the main channels for the idea of tolerance and respect for human differences, play an important role in our shared work and make it possible to stay in touch with the public, and this is a sine qua non for the success of all community work.
The non-governmental sector is destined to take upon its shoulders more and more of the tasks for the general good because, by its nature, it is more efficient and, more importantly, better motivated in its work than the bureaucratized and overly formalistic machinery of the state. In an ideal situation, however, the state is favorably supportive of the work of the NGO sector. Only in this situation provides hope for solving many painful social problems. The attainment of such circumstances is one of the main tasks of the anti-racist movement in Poland, and, while the acceptance of our country in the European Union, with its high standards in these areas, will doubtless be helpful, the road to the goal will require a great deal more hard work.

Marcin Kornak is the founder of the Anti-Nazi Group (1992), the co-founder and main coordinator of the Never Again Association (1996), and the initiator and main coordinator of the Music Against Racism and Let’s Kick Racism out of the Stadiums campaigns and The Brown Book, the only register in Poland of racist and xenophobic incidents and crimes. He is the editor-in-chief of NEVER AGAIN magazine, which is dedicated to the problems of racism, neo-fascism, and xenophobia, and is the editor of the anti-racist sports magazine The Stadium. He is a poet and lyricist for rock groups on the independent scene. He has used a wheelchair since the age of 15.

* Published in „PRO MEMORIA” (Information Bulletin of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum and the Auschwitz-Birkenau Death Camp Victims Memorial Foundation), No. 22, January 2005 – special issue on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau Concentration Camp and the city of Oswiecim.