Charity events are supposed to be gathering moments for people who support good causes. Despite possible differences, including partisan affiliation, those who attend usually share a common goal. On Sunday, 13 January 2019, thousands of people gathered in Gdansk, Poland, for the Great Orchestra of Christmas charity event, to raise funds to buy medical equipment for children. Just before the conclusion of the event, Gdansk Mayor Paweł Adamowicz was stabbed while speaking to the crowd. Policemen arrested the assailant and rushed the mayor to the nearest hospital, where he died from his wounds after five hours of surgery.
This tragic event shall be analyzed in different layers. Despite the words of Poland’s political leaders, most of whom are members of the ultraconservative Law and Justice Party (PiS), condemning the act, this violent action follows from PiS’s tactics, which have created a new political climate in Poland. The PiS is pushing to reform the country with its anti-liberal agenda. Since they took power in 2015, PiS has tried to take over Poland’s judiciary, public prosecutor’s office, independent civil service, and its public service broadcasters. The PiS’s agenda, a serious breach of the democratic rule of law, has led the European Commission to begin the procedure to suspend Poland’s voting rights in the European Council through Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union.
To win popular support, the PiS uses the same strategies many other European populists parties, such as Matteo Salvini’s League in Italy or Viktor Orban’s Fidesz in Hungary, employ. PiS is openly anti-immigration, anti-LGBT rights and, to an extent, Eurosceptic. Their primary political tactic is to attack political opponents who do not share their views, often without any regard for the effect of their violent and inflammatory language. PiS also controls the public media, blaming its opponents for the climate of hatred in Poland.
In Poland’s polarized political context, Adamowicz was a problematic figure for PiS. He was elected mayor in 1998 and ran on an independent platform that promoted liberal values. He supported immigration into Poland, supported LGBT rights, and was often a vocal critic of the PiS. These stances made him a target for far-right groups and for the members of the PiS. In October 2018, Adamowicz’s name was featured in a PiS video that denounced him as one of the initiators of the United Nations’ Global Compact for Migration which, according to PiS, would bring Muslims to Poland, destroying the Polish way of life. In response to this video, and to the fearmongering campaign against him by the PiS, a Polish youth nationalist group issued a “political death certificate” for him.
Adamowicz’s murder merits a moment of reflection. Although Adamowicz’s assassination was not blatantly politically motivated, it is clearly one of the consequences of today’s political climate in Europe. Too many party leaders exploit violent rhetoric to reach the masses. It is not unthinkable that some words might be misinterpreted by people and used as a justification for tragic action like the one just happened in Gdansk.
The ability to tone down the political debate, avoiding fear mongering and violent rhetoric, is symbolic of civilization. In politics, there are opponents, not just enemies, and it should be the leaders on the first line to promote intelligent dialogue instead of fomenting fear and anger. There is a concrete difference between strongly condemning a political view and releasing a “political death certificate,” as it happened in this particular case. The difference between these two is exactly what people need to move forward.
In Europe, and all over the world, there is an imperious need for change in the political narrative. There must be a prohibition on the use of rhetoric violence, not just condemnation of it after a tragedy occurs. This change must happen because it is the best option that we all have to move toward a better society. If we fail to tone down the way we express our difference of opinion, we will move toward a more violent world.