November 28, 2013

Old Poland, New Nationalism

We have grown accustomed to neo-fascists at soccer stadiums, yelling abuse at black players and chanting their anti-Semitic tribal refrain. But now the phenomenon seems less marginal then we liked to think.

This present surge in extreme nationalism began three years ago, on Independence Day 2010, fueled by supporters of Lech Kaczynski, the president of Poland, who died in an air crash earlier that year. On April 10, the president and nearly 100 senior officials were on their way to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn massacre, when Stalin’s secret police, the NKVD, murdered thousands of Polish officers. But as the delegation constituting the entire Polish establishment neared the Russian city of Smolensk, their plane crashed on approach, killing all on board. 

Katyn is a deep wound in the Polish memory. It has festered for decades partly because, in the Communist era, it could not be spoken of in public. In the official Soviet version, the Nazis were blamed for the massacre. 

For the dead president’s supporters, the coincidence of the air crash with what was to have been a historic joint commemoration by Polish and Russian leaders of the Katyn massacre made it a potent symbol. Some of Mr. Kaczynski’s supporters — inflamed by right-wing politicians and Mr. Kaczynski’s identical twin brother, Jaroslaw — began to talk of a “second Katyn.” The country was riven in two: Some called the crash an accident; others believed it was an assassination. 

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