Hero priest touts 'poison and hate'

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The Independent Online
ONCE, HE was a democratic hero. Henryk Jankowski, priest at St Brygida's church in Gdansk, was Lech Walesa's priest. He famously conducted masses inside the Gdansk shipyards during the sit-in strikes that gave birth to Solidarity, eastern Europe's first, free, trade union, in 1980.

Nine years later, Fr Jankowski conducted a semi-official anointment service for the first Solidarity prime minister, Tadeusz Mazowiecki. It was a moving occasion, marking the triumphant culmination of everything for which Poles had fought and died.

A clutch of huge wooden crosses which shipyard workers carried during the epic strikes of the 1980s still hang on the walls of St Brygida's, harking back to its historic role as Solidarity's parish church.

Fr Jankowski provides a reminder, however, that the enemy of totalitarianism does not always become a lovable democrat. Now that the battles against an unelected one-party regime are over, he has found a different threat to Poland: the Jews.

"I am not an anti-Semite; I am a Polonophile," he says. Some may find the distinction hard to identify. St Brygida's has been offering books for sale with titles such as Pray for Us - Henry Jankowski and the Jewish Problem in Poland and the World.

Nor is Fr Jankowski alone in his desire to have a face-off with international Jewry. A former pro-democracy activist, Kazimierz Switon, last year erected a large cross just outside the gates of Auschwitz - a deliberate provocation intended to belittle the wartime fate of Jews. A Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja, broadcasting on behalf of a "healthy Poland", regularly carries programmes that are anti-Semitic in tone. A typical theme in right-wing Polish papers is that of Jews attempting to reclaim their families' lost property. "Hungry for one-third of Poland", a recent headline read

Anti-Semitism in Poland is not new. In the Communist era, the regime harnessed anti-Jewish feeling under the name of "anti-Zionism", culminating in the notorious forced emigration of many Polish Jews in 1968. A headline in the Communist Party daily once asked, with reference to a leading opposition activist: "Does Blumsztajn sound like a Polish name?"

Polish anti-Semites emphasise the alleged number of Jews in the Stalin- era secret police; they rarely mention that Jews were over-represented among the brave Poles who were regularly jailed on behalf of democracy.

The unashamed anti-Semitism expressed by public figures is on a scale that has not been seen before. But, judging by the events of recent weeks, Fr Jankowski may be on a losing wicket. The Roman Catholic church was long keen to avoid the subject of anti-Semitism altogether. Partly because of Fr Jankowski's perceived offensiveness, that has finally changed.

He has received a stern letter from the Bishop of Gdansk which began by forbidding him to sell books in his church, complaining that they were "full of poison and hatred".

Fr Jankowski is indignant at what he regards as an assault on his freedom of speech. He blames his misfortunes on Adam Michnik, the partly Jewish editor-in-chief of the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, saying Mr Michnik wants a "return to totalitarianism". Fr Jankowski and his supporters regard Gazeta as a "kosher paper". Uncomfortably for him, the liberal newspaper - which began life as Solidarity's official paper, 10 years ago - remains Poland's biggest-selling newspaper.

As Gazeta itself has pointed out, the issue is partly generational. Fr Jankowski's congregation consists above all of older Poles. In the words of Stanislaw Musial, Jesuit priest and winner of the first Polish Pulitzer prize: "We [Poles] have a taboo. We always want to be a nation which has been hurt, but not one which has hurt anybody else."

Things are changing, however - and not just in Gdansk. Younger Poles are interested in things Jewish as never before. In Krakow, in south-eastern Poland, the once-neglected Jewish district of Kazimierz has seen a new lease of life. Partly, the interest was boosted by the arrival of Steven Spielberg and the filming of Schindler's List in Kazimierz.

But the renewed interest in Poland's Jewish history is more than just Hollywood-inspired tourism. A Jewish festival is held every summer, drawing large crowds of non-Jewish Poles. Konstanty Gebert, who two years ago launched a new Polish-Jewish monthly, Midrasz, says: "The Jewish community in Poland is being reborn in front of our very eyes."

No more heroes, Sunday Review