Citizenship & Identity Featured Story 

In Print: “White Flight”

By Jennifer Wilson


 

When United Kingdom-based far-right activist Tommy Robinson posted a video on Twitter of a white nationalist demonstration he was attending in Warsaw, one exasperated user chimed in, stating: “One minute we’re being [asked] to support Poland the next minute their [sic] taking our jobs, I’m confused.” Indeed, anyone who recalls the anti-Polish sentiment that British white nationalists espoused in the run-up to Brexit (crystallized in the myth of the “job-stealing” Eastern-European migrant) will feel perplexed by the dueling narratives about Polish racial identity that are now playing out in Europe. While there are many nationalities thought of today as “white” that were at one point racialized as non-white (Italians, the Irish, etc.), today’s Poles are pulling off an exceptional feat. They have the distinction of being white in Warsaw, but not white if they fly just 2.5 hours west to London. As sociologists József Böröcz and Mahua Sarkar have explained it: “Whiteness is inherently unstable, heterogeneous, and impure. So is ‘Eastern Europe.’”

The march Robinson attended in Warsaw took place last year on Nov. 11, Polish Independence Day. That afternoon, a crowd of 60,000 protestors marched through the streets of Warsaw chanting “Pure Poland, white Poland.” Others carried signs that read “White Europe of brotherly nations” and “Europe will be white or uninhabited.” The far-right march was just one event associated with the day’s many celebrations, but it was nonetheless the focus of international media attention. It was a source of alarm particularly for the journalists, activists, and concerned citizens who have been anxiously tracking the xenophobia and white nationalism that has increasingly become a central node in Eastern-European politics.

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Jennifer Wilson is a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Russian and East European Studies at the University of Pennsylvania.

[Photo courtesy of Piotr Drabik]

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