The Irish Times view on the killing of Pawel Adamowicz: a culture war’s first fatality

The mayor of Gdansk was loved by liberals and loathed by conservatives

Pawel Adamowicz, the 53-year-old mayor of Gdansk, Poland, who was loved by liberals and loathed by conservatives, died on Tuesday from stabbing injuries sustained at a charity concert two days earlier. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Pawel Adamowicz, the 53-year-old mayor of Gdansk, Poland, who was loved by liberals and loathed by conservatives, died on Tuesday from stabbing injuries sustained at a charity concert two days earlier. Photograph: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

 

On a sunny day in August 2010, Mayor Pawel Adamowicz beamed with pride as he renamed a room in Gdansk City Hall after Free State diplomat Seán Lester.

The Antrim native was a League of Nations observer there from 1934-1937, warning Geneva – and the world – that the Nazi takeover of the free city was an overture to later horrors. Today a very different Gdansk buries Adamowicz, the first fatality of his polarised homeland’s culture war.

The 53-year-old, loved by liberals and loathed by conservatives, died on Tuesday from stabbing injuries sustained at a charity concert two days earlier. A 27-year-old local man, with a history of mental illness and violent attacks, has been charged with the killing. The dead mayor’s friends – including fellow Solidarity veteran Donald Tusk, the European Council president – attribute the killing to Poland’s slide into hate speech posing as political debate.

For almost four years liberal Poland has been at war with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party over its contentious reforms of courts, media and more. The national conservatives in PiS insist they want to root out cronyism, not undermine the rule of law. But vocal critics of their policies find themselves on hit lists. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, chairman of PiS and Poland’s de facto leader, warns darkly of the “wrong kind of Poles”.

TVP public television, now a government propaganda outfit, made clear Adamowicz was the “wrong kind”: a crook, a political puppet of foreign powers, a decadent defender of immigrants’ and homosexuals’ rights. A far-right group went even further last year, issuing a dozen mayors including Adamowicz with a political “death certificate” for supporting refugee rights.

Recently, that group learned it would face no charges over a stunt dubbed a “freedom of expression” by the state prosecutor, now a wing of the justice ministry thanks to PiS reforms.

Poland’s ruling party has never condoned violent attacks, but incitement takes many forms. And some Poles attending today’s funeral Mass will have more on their conscience than others.

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