If you have any appreciation for irony, perhaps you will appreciate this bit of recent news: Richard B. Spencer—white supremacist, alt-right gadfly, racial conspiracy theorist and all-around adult delinquent—was intended to speak at a far-right conference in Warsaw, Poland. Spencer, a self-confessed “white-identitarian,” and his movement have long showered Poland with praise. The alt-right movement views the deeply conservative country as an ideal ethno-state and after Spencer’s previous arrest in Hungary years ago, it’s likely his speech in Poland was to be seen as a victory for his career abroad. However, on Oct. 27, the Polish Foreign Ministry had only one thing to say to Spencer: stay out of our country.
“He should not appear publicly and especially not in Poland,” Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski said.
The country Spencer utilized as a talking point in his parade of hatred has flatly rejected him.
In the aftermath of the Charlottesville Rally, which Spencer helped organize, this poetic justice has been warmly received. A multitude of headlines, such as “Poland’s foreign ministry slams planned visit by U.S. white nationalist,” from Radio Poland, read almost triumphantly. And they ought to. However, for some people, the informal ban will just revive a question that has surrounded the white-nationalist his whole career: does Spencer have the right to freely espouse his racist views? Some say yes, some say no and some answer differently depending on context. University visits, protests and political conferences where Spencer has been present have all come under this question. There are those, even on the liberal side, who hold unequivocally that Spencer always has the right to express his thoughts and nobody has the right to block him. Similar things will be said in criticism of Poland’s informal ban. The reason I’m writing this article is not to argue the issue of Spencer’s rights to free speech in America, but rather to come strongly in defense of the country of my elders. Poland has every right, moral and otherwise, to ban Richard Spencer from even stepping a toe in their country. And those who hold the opposing view should first consider that they need to familiarize themselves with the Polish consciousness.
I was raised Polish Catholic, though I never learned the language, and all throughout my childhood I was surrounded by the culture. As a result, I owe at least a fraction of my mindset to the Polish spirit. It is a culture as complex as any other and oftentimes I feel a connection between my Polish roots and my fears, sympathies, insecurities and gratitudes. I grew up hearing stories of war and strife, abroad in Poland and in America. It taught me a lot about empathy towards others in the face of adversity.
Let’s not make pretenses; Poland is a deeply conservative country and its current government reflects it more than ever. And I must admit as someone of Polish ethnicity, I am deeply saddened by the current political climate of Poland. I am saddened that Poland has consistently declined to accept refugees, that they refuse reproductive rights and marriage equality and that their religious and nationalistic fervor has drowned out their empathy. I grew up my whole life hearing stories of subjugation and oppression under monarchs, Nazis and the Soviet Union. I still contend that Poland has a deep and experienced understanding of subjugation. However, what has resulted is reactionary politics rather than sympathy.
Perhaps, naively, I still have hope. I have hope that someday Poland will come to welcome all humans with the embrace they themselves needed several times throughout their history. This brings us back to Richard Spencer, because I think his rejection is reflective of this possibility. To expect Poland, who suffered tremendously under Nazi oppression, to tolerate a neo-nazi manchild like Spencer is simply ignorant of their cultural consciousness. Poland has every right to make their informal ban as formal as they want. And if Spencer is to step foot in Poland, it should only be so he may be placed in handcuffs and immediately deported as a message to the world, a message that we all have to stand up.