Poland has problems. An overwhelming influx of refugees isn’t one of them

Let’s stop buying the fiction of Europe’s far-right populists. 

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From the banners Polish nationalist demonstrators held up at a 60,000-strong march this weekend, it would be easy to think the country was overwhelmed with failed multiculturalism. Slogans included “Pure Poland, white Poland” and “Refugees get out”. Others held fascist symbols and demanded an “Islamic holocaust”. 

While Britain's usual right-wing populists kept schtum about the march – which took place the same weekend as Remembrance Sunday and the mourning of soldiers who died in a war against, er, fascists – English Defence League founder Tommy Robinson was there, and described Poland as “Fortress Europe”.

Robinson might want to check his Second World War history – the term was used by both sides to describe Nazi-occupied Europe, but the comments were in keeping with the fabricated claims on the banners he marched alongside. In 2016, just 47 Syrians applied for asylum in Poland, according to the Asylum Information Database (the majority of asylum seekers were Russian or Ukrainian). Ethnic Poles make up 97 per cent of the population, the CIA records, with Silesians, Germans and Ukrainians accounting for most of the rest. A similar proportion speak Polish at home. Nearly nine in ten are Catholic.

The EU is currently taking legal action against Poland for its refusal to take in asylum seekers during the refugee crisis which overwhelmed Europe in 2015.

Indeed, when it comes to politics, Poland is a right-wing populist's dream. The ruling Law and Justice Party obsesses over communists, peddles conspiracy theories, obstructs justice and tries to ban abortion. Chinese factory owners are no doubt quaking in their boots. 

Of course, there are genuine reasons for discontent in Europe. Thanks to its steady economic growth, Poland was long the darling of EU expansion; it is also one of the most economically unequal countries in the bloc. Part of the appeal of the Law and Justice Party was undoubtedly its generous approach to welfare.

But the banner wavers in Poland are part of a far-right extremist movement across the Western world that, like any extremist ideology, relies primarily on fiction and paranoia (see also: Londonistan, and the Brexit myth that Turkey was about to join the EU). They are the latest evidence that far-right rhetoric isn't about responding to reality – it's about what a group of ideological zealots want to turn into reality. We should call them out before they do. 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.