I’d like to give a Bravo to the German city of Görlitz for standing up to the propaganda of the far right.
The German city of Görlitz is located on the German/Polish border. Across the Neisse River is Görlitz’s twin city, the Polish city of Zgorzelec. Both Poland and Germany are in the European Union, so citizens of both countries are able to travel freely from one country/city to the other or even to reside across the border. In my observation, German people come to the Polish side for services which are cheaper in Poland for example a haircut while Polish folks visit the shops on the German side which are said to have a better selection and better prices than on the Polish side. I’d be lying if I said that this was only difference between these two cities. When traveling from Zgorzelec to Görlitz, I get the distinct impression that I am leaving a poorer city and entering a more affluent one but having said that, things are getting better on the Polish side.
Recently in Germany while the parties were gearing up for elections the NPD, the far right party, hung their controversial party posters not only in Görlitz, but also in other cities of Germany. The posters said, “Stop the Polish invasion!” and showed two black crows stealing Euros. This poster not only has an offensive message, it also has old-school style graphics harking back to WW2 Nazi propaganda posters. I don’t think it is by accident. Misiu says that when he looks at these posters he is not disgusted. He thinks it is just the act of some ignorant people. I disagree. Not about it being the work of ignorant people, that I agree with but that it is just the work of some ignorant people. The far right in Germany has more support than you’d suppose especially with younger folks who are having trouble finding their place in today’s society and are looking for someone to blame. Let’s not forget that ignorant people with the support of other ignorant people can do a lot of damage.
On a more practical note, how do Polish people who are entering Görlitz to go to work, to take their children to pre-school, or to go shopping feel when they see the main street lined with these posters? I’d certainly want to take my business elsewhere.
Last week Bernd Lange, the mayor of Görlitz, ordered the NPD to take down the posters as they are in violation of the German constitution which states that all people are equal regardless of their nationality. He stated that these posters are “an affront to human dignity”. When the NPD refused, the mayor had the posters removed and charged the NPD for their removal, citing another case in Germany where such posters were said by the court to be a “public danger”. The NPD disagreed and said that the precedent does not apply in this case and have announced plans to take the issue to court. Görlitz officials have expressed their readiness to fight it out in court if that is what it takes.
Even before the politicians acted to remove the posters, some concerned citizens of Görlitz printed their own posters to hang over those of the NPD. Their posters stated something like “Citizens of Görlitz are open to the world, to foreigners and are against the far right”.
To those who think it is no big deal, just some stupid or harmless posters, we have to think about these posters as the beginning of the NPD’s plan. If you suppose that the NPD has a plan with a final destination, what or where is it? Let’s consider the posters a first step on their journey and extrapolate to 10, 50 or 100 steps down the path. We might see a pretty scary picture and wonder (too late) how we got there.
I have sometimes wondered what I would have done, if I had lived in Poland or in Germany during WW2. Would I have stood up for what was right? I suspect I would have kept my mouth shut at the beginning and then when I finally decided to speak up I would have seen that I was too late, that the fascist mechanism was already in place and I hadn’t done anything to stop it, my lack of protest viewed as tacit approval. Of course, that mechanism doesn’t get set up by itself and it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes support to build it often starting with small acts like a few “harmless” posters. I applaud the city of Görlitz, the government officials and the regular people for fighting against the “first steps” of a return to fascism.
PS I remember my first trip to Görlitz. It was with Misiu and it was purely for the fun of a road trip and also for a little shopping. Misiu had been telling me about the great department store in Görlitz. When we got there, my reaction was, “This is it?” The greatness of the department store in Misiu’s mind had come from the comparison of it with what had been available in Poland during PRL. In light of the many brand-spanking new shopping malls in Poland today, it looked pretty pathetic. That didn’t stop me from buying something, however ;)
PS2 Don’t think that Polish people are not afraid of the German invasion. When I bought my house a rumor spread through the village that a German lady had bought the house- that German lady being me. This part of Poland had been Germany before WW2 and my house was built by Germans and I am foreign so I guess I can understand the confusion. As we were enjoying the yard of our new house for the first time, our new neighbor came to the fence and said, “Hey, fess up. Are you German or what?”