Note: this is the script for this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZCWC98Hhhk&t=313s
By now, we’ve all seen the photos from Black Lives Matter protests, calling for the end of racism, sparked After the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police on the 25 of May, 2020.
In this video, I want to highlight the Black voices and the Polish activists that I’ve seen organizing in the past few weeks. I was originally going to use the song “Who’s Next” of TikTok fame for this part, but there’s too many cities now. As of this video on 15 June, Poland’s had 15 BLM protests in 12 different cities: Warsaw, Kraków, Gdańsk, Poznań, Wrocław, Grudziądz, Szczecin, Białystok, Katowice, Zielona Gora and Toruń and Bydgoszcz. Please keep in mind, this is not an exhaustive list– and there are more planned, like the one in Koszalin this Saturday, 13 June. I was originally going to use the song “Who’s Next” of TikTok fame for this part, but there’s too many cities now.
Some of these are huge marches, such as in Warsaw and Krakow. Some of these are smaller vigils. But, I think it’s really important to take a look at what’s happening in Poland. While marches with thousands of people are impressive, small-scale demonstrations are just as important. Similar to the number of BLM events organized in rural areas in the southern US, I think these protests show a shift in thinking, especially among young people.
In this video, I want to go over the timeline of the different Black Lives Matter marches, vigils and demonstrations throughout Poland. Also, I did organize a few of these events, in Wroclaw and Krakow, and I’ll make sure to say which ones I was involved with.
However, these events were largely organized separately from one another. The main kind of “help” between the groups was tips on how to make sure the event was legal and who to speak to about a wireless microphone and speakers.
Before we jump into the protests, I want to give a little background on race in Poland– and why these protests are happening here. While Poland doesn’t have the same history with colonialism and slavery, like other Western European countries did, that doesn’t mean Poland doesn’t have issues with racism, both past and current. The country has had serious issues with nationalism for several years now, as far-right groups have taken over Poland’s Independence Day parades on the 11 of November. The nationalists are encouraged, in part, by the conservative, right-wing ruling party, PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, or Peace and Justice in English.) PiS has been openly hostile to immigrants, especially during the refugee crisis. To me, this has allowed casual racism to flourish in Poland.
On a more general level, I think Polish society has been struggling with issues of identity around this issue. While Poland is largely white, there are Black Polish people. And I’ve seen a lot of reflection across Polish social media– for example, the word “murzyn.” It’s a word that refers to Black people, and it’s been criticized a lot recently for being pejorative and insulting.
I admit, I flinched when I saw this photo from a protest taken in Warsaw on the 4 of June, which reads “Don’t call me murzyn.” To me, the word reminds me of Poland’s racist past– like the poem “Murzynek Bambo,” a 1935 poem about an African child which ends with the child afraid to take a bath, because he’ll “wash the black off;” or the cake “Cycki Murzynki,” a vulgar name which refers to a Black’s woman’s breasts. (I cover a lot of these things in my video on Olga Tokarczuk’s dreadlocks.) I don’t care if this word has its roots in the Spanish word “Moor.” Given how it’s used, I don’t think anyone can actually say there aren’t insulting connotations to this word.
Trying to argue that these things, like the poem, are just products of their time doesn’t hold up. They reflect their time, sure– and that time was racist against Black people. If you’re still not convinced, here’s five Black women discussing, in Polish, why they don’t like to be called “murzyn.”
Racism isn’t just an American issue– it’s a problem that a lot of countries have, including Poland.
Ok, with the background out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff– the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in Poland.
The first BLM event in Poland was the 31 of May, in front of the US Embassy in Warsaw.
Hosted by Przychodnia Skłot, a lefty nonprofit, the idea was to leave candles and flowers as a tribute to George Floyd. The candles are the kind used for graves, especially on All Saint’s Day, and burn for about 48 hours.
However, there was a slight disagreement if flowers could be left there– police asked people not to leave anything at the embassy, but later, Georgette Mosbacher, the United States ambassador to Poland, said it was a misunderstanding and that flowers could be left.
This was just the first of several events in Warsaw. This event caught my attention, and I organized a similar one in front of the US Consulate General in Krakow on the 31 of May. A similar idea, leaving flowers, posters and candles. About 20 people came over the course of a few hours, and I figured I would have a similar turnout to an event I organized in Wroclaw the next day, on the 1 June.
I was wrong. When I walked into Plac Solny, there were around 100 people gathered, some with flowers, some with banners. I hadn’t realized how much the issue of racism would catch people’s attention here. The police did ask me some questions, and with some help from fellow activist Anka Zwyrolka, I explained that I hadn’t expected so many people– and luckily, the police allowed us to go forward.
I was very moved to see so many people there. I stayed at the site until almost midnight, and people continually left flowers. It was very peaceful. And that was the smaller event in Wroclaw. A larger one took place a week later.
Likely inspired by Warsaw, soon, people organized events in other Polish cities. Some were by non-profits; some were just organized by young people.
On Wednesday the 3 of June, in Grudziądz, a medium-sized city in northern Poland, had a demonstration called “Każdy inny, wszyscy tacy sami” which means “everyone is the same.” It was organized by Mateusz Orzechowski and Grudziądz Przeciw Nienawiści, a nonprofit whose name means Grudziądz Against Hatred. Around 60 people took part in the silent demonstration, in memory of Floyd.
The same day in Poznań, people gathered in the main square with signs. In addition, this was the first protest that had Polish people laying down, in a visual show of solidarity to Floyd’s final moments. It was Organized by Black Venus Protest, a feminst group.
These memorials and demonstrations were just the beginning, as later on that week, more and more events took place, with increasing numbers of people.
The second demonstration in Warsaw took place on the 4 of June, organized by No Justice No Peace – Poland. I just love their banner. Unlike the vigil, this was a definite protest– people with signs and masks gathering and chanting in front of the US Embassy.
This was a warm-up to six different protests against racism across Poland that weekend.
In Torun, in northern Poland, a group of activists from Bydgoszcz gathered in the main square on Friday, 5 June. While both these protests were on a smaller scale, I think they’re important, as they show this wasn’t just happening in large cities.
This was the same day an event took place in Katowice, an industrial city in the south. This was organized by Nie składamy parasolek and Łańcuch Ludzi Śląsk, a feminist group. Looking at the photos, it’s clear that these events are organized by young people– and by the number of rainbow masks, with the support of the LGBT community.
In Gdansk, a demonstration took place on the 6 June, hosted by Pomorski Protest Przeciwko Rasizmowi, which means “Protest against racism.” It was also organized by Weronika Brylowska and Dagmara Szymańska, and about 500 people came with signs in English and Polish, such as “nie moge oddychac,” which means “I can’t breathe.”
Also in the north, in Szczecin, a demonstration called Sprawiedliwość dla George’a Floyda (Justice for George Floyd) was organized by Razem Szczecin and Młodzi Razem Zachodniopomorskie, youth organizations affiliated with leftist political group Razen. The event began near an overpass that had been defaced by BLM graffiti– and the groups wanted to make clear it wasn’t them by cleaning it up. Around 200 people attended.
Another northern city, Białystok, had a demonstration on the 6 June, organized by Gabriela Przybyłowska. This one really impressed me, as last summer Białystok made international headlines when it saw violent responses to its Pride march in July. That around 140 people gathered for a memorial in the town’s main square is amazing– not to mention brave.
In Wroclaw, a march called Wszyscy różni, wszyscy równi— everyone is equal, everyone is the same— drew around 150 people. We marched from the main square to Park Staromeski, to hear several speakers. I was there to take these photos, and I can attest to the police asking us to spread out and keep our masks on. Honestly, I was okay with that– and I think the crowd was, as well. This event was organized by four young people: Feliks Choma, Aleksandra Bzdyk, Christian Wojtyński and Ron Hubert.
Easily the largest event on Saturday was the third Black Lives Matter event in Warsaw. This one was called “Dość rasizmu i przemocy policji – solidarność z buntem w USA” which means “Enough of racism and police violence– solidarity with the protests in the US.” Organized by Zjednoczeni Przeciw Rasizmowi, a group called United Against Racism, this one also took place at the embassy– and attracted between 2,000 and 3,000 people.
On Sunday, 7 of June In Krakow, over 1,000 people marched around the main square before gathering in Maly Rynek to hear speeches from people of color.
Disclosure: I organized this one, and it came together better than I ever could have imagined– and not without the help of so many volunteers. In particular, Filip Kowalski, Ariana Reid and Marysia Lubomska. Marysia was amazing at organizing the crowd and getting a group of volunteers together. Special thanks to the people at Spoldzielnia Praktyk Wywrotowych for providing sound equipment to make this happen.
To see so many Poles come together, despite the pandemic, and the rain…
Making it happen wasn’t easy: to organize a public demonstration in Poland, you need to fill out a document and give it to the city at least three days before the event takes place.
Also, the police were quite strict in Krakow– we had to divide our march into groups of 150 people. This worked out to our advantage, because it made counting easier– and we had seven groups of at least 150. At the end of the march, we gathered in Maly Rynek. At the end of the video, I’ll share some of the speeches, in English and Polish, from that day. Also, the display of photos from the week before was still at the consulate… with people still adding more.
The thousands in Warsaw and Krakow were not the end.
In Torun, a city north of Poznan, postponed their protest due to rain– but they did hold it in the main square on the 9 of June, organized by Toruńska Brygada Feministyczna.
There are still events happening– there are two this weekend in Krakow, and one in Koszalin. A second demonstration happened in Poznan on 10 June— and a march in Zielona Gora drew around 200 people.
What I’m hopeful for is the momentum of this– to make real, lasting change. Maybe more people having uncomfortable conversations with racist relatives. Maybe people taking long looks at themselves. But the energy I’ve felt from these protests has been so powerful, I think we’ll see some real, positive changes.
I said at the beginning that I want to amplify Black voices and Polish activists– so here are some of the speeches from the march in Krakow, 7 June. They gave me goosebumps and made me think— hopefully, they’ll do the same for you.
Special thanks to:
Anka Zwyrolka and Pawel Demboski in Wroclaw; Ariana Reid, Marysia Lubomska and Filip Kowalski in Krakow; Przychodnia Skłot and Spoldzielnia Praktyk Wywrotowych
Speakers in Krakow: Mikołaj Smoluchowski
Yannick Suh Ambe
Volunteers in Krakow:
BLM protests around the world:
My video on Olga Tokarczuk’s dreadlocks:
On the word murzynem:
Here’s five Black Polish women discussing how they do not want to be called Murzyn: (Polski)
Najnowsze artykuły, dlaczego nie należy używać tego terminu: (Polski)
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