Refugee crisis stokes anti-Muslim fervor in Poland, Eastern Europe

The wave of refugees streaming into Europe from the war-torn Middle East has stoked unabashed hate for Muslims in Poland and other Eastern European nations where many want no part of EU-mandated resettlement quotas.

With 8,000 mostly Muslims streaming in daily from Syria and other conflict zones,  causing the largest immigration emergency since World War II, a split has formed between eastern and western Europe. While Western Europe, led by Germany, has agreed to absorb large numbers, Central and Eastern European nations have rejected EU quotas. Hungary, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, and Bulgaria are adamantly opposed to accepting Muslim refugees.

Poland says it will allow 7,000 refugees over the next two years, a number criticized by experts as too low.

“Taking in 7,000 refugees in a country of 38 million inhabitants is, of course, a joke,” said Jan Grabowski, a professor of history at the University of Ottawa, who writes extensively about Poland.

“Muslim people, especially Arabs, are among the most hated people in Poland.”

— Michal Bilewicz, Center for Research on Prejudice at Warsaw University

Most East European nations are homogeneous and don’t have traditions of accepting culturally different refugees. Recent polls indicate that many East Europeans have never met a Muslim, with their knowledge deriving from media accounts in which Muslims are linked to violence and terrorism.

Poland is 98 percent white and 94 percent Catholic. Muslims constitute 0.1 percent of the population.

“There is very little diversity in this country,” said Michal Bilewicz, associate professor of psychology at the Center for Research on Prejudice at Warsaw University.

According to a new poll conducted by the Center, a majority of Poles oppose absorption of Muslim refugees and disagree with the government’s decision to accept 7,000. Seventy-three percent of respondents expressed negative feelings toward Muslim men and two-thirds said they would feel uncomfortable being among Muslims.

“Muslim people, especially Arabs, are among the most hated people in Poland,” said Bilewicz.

His view was reinforced by Professor Kazimierz Krzysztofek a prominent sociologist in Warsaw. He told that Poles regard Islam as more oppressive than any other culture.

“The individual doesn’t count in their culture,” he said in a phone interview.

Former Polish president Lech Walesa recently claimed that Muslim refugees would keep their customs, such as beheading for punishment.

Poland’s leading newspaper has banned letters about refugees because so many letters are offensive.

Politicians from the Law and Justice Party, the nationalist opposition, hope to capitalize on Polish discontent in the Oct. 25 national election. Polls show Law and Justice with a comfortable lead over the governing Civic Platform Party, which is more centrist.

At a recent debate in the Polish parliament, Law and Justice Chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski whipped up hatred for Muslim immigrants when he claimed Sweden had so many militant Muslims that the nation was afraid to fly its flag because the flag has a cross. He added that Swedish schoolgirls can’t wear short skirts because they fear Muslims will accuse them of immodesty and that Muslim Sharia Law exists in some Swedish areas.

“Do you want the same situation in Poland?” Kaczynski asked fellow members of Parliament.

The centrist Rzeczpospolita countered that Poland’s image abroad will be tarnished if it doesn’t show greater solidarity with the EU and that the nation’s leverage in foreign policy will also be damaged.