Mayor’s killing in Poland sparks anger against hate speech

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poles on Wednesday heatedly condemned the power of hate speech to trigger real-life violence after the slaying of a popular liberal mayor, with many calling for stronger actions against those who threaten others.

Not only did the killer, an ex-convict, take the life of the 53-year-old Gdansk Mayor, Pawel Adamowicz, but he stabbed him during a popular fundraising concert by the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, which raises money for life-saving medical equipment.

Both the mayor and the organisation are prominent symbols of openness and tolerance, leaving many Poles to interpret the attack as a double blow to those values.

Investigators are checking to see if the assailant, who was recently released from prison, has psychiatric problems. He stabbed Adamowicz three times in the heart and abdomen and told the crowd on Sunday evening that it was revenge against Civic Platform, the now-opposition party that was in power when he was imprisoned for bank robberies.

The brutal killing took place as Poland is more bitterly divided than at any time since it threw off communism 30 years ago, with massive amounts of hate speech and even death threats against prominent figures.

Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz. – AP

“Stop hate speech,” the major daily Rzeczpospolita wrote on Wednesday in a front-page appeal, citing a “brutalisation of public debate” and “a wave of hatred that spills both from traditional media and the Internet.”

“I have no doubt that this wave emboldened the murderer of Pawel Adamowicz to act,” wrote editor Boguslaw Chrabota. “Even today, with the entire country in mourning … Internet trolls are congratulating the murderer, making him into a national hero, demanding a repeat of such acts.”

Other city mayors who, like Adamowicz, have also received death threats appealed on Wednesday to justice officials to more effectively prosecute such activity.

Adamowicz was a longtime member of the Civic Platform party but left it in 2015. He died on Monday, leaving a wife and two daughters, aged eight and 15.

“Hatred killed Pawel. A hatred that was insane, a hatred that was well-organised,” Grzegorz Schetyna, the head of the Civic Platform, said on Wednesday during a session of Parliament that began with a moment of silence and prayers for Adamowicz.

Poland’s ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, was not present at the session, a gesture that critics denounced as a sign of disrespect. Kaczynski’s spokeswoman said his absence was just a “coincidence”.

The charity that Adamowicz supported is Poland’s largest nonprofit organisation and has become a model of civic engagement and humanitarianism in its 27 years.

Founder Jerzy Owsiak is also a prominent liberal voice who has sparred verbally with members of the country’s right-wing ruling party, Law and Justice.

Just last week, state television, TVP, which is government controlled, ran an animation that depicted Owsiak in a defamatory manner. The broadcaster apologised after an outcry, while the head of the news programme has been indefinitely suspended.