This week, the popular right-wing Polish magazine wSieci ran a cover that has offended a lot of people. Reason being: It features an image of a woman being grabbed at by numerous hairy arms, and the words: "The Islamic Rape of Europe."
The photograph—which, minus the hands, looks a lot like a stock image for "woman who's just remembered she left the iron on"—is a comment on the sexual attacks on German women in Cologne that took place on New Year's Eve. There were 58 counts of sexual assault that night, and even though only three arrested suspects were recent refugees, the subsequent message from Europe's right-wing media was clear: Refugees are a threat to the safety of women in the EU.
Since the migrant crisis began, Poland has stuck to a very strict line on immigration. Most recently, at the EU summit currently taking place in Brussels, Poland—along with the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary—has called for Europe's borders to be sealed off in order to block the main route used by refugees.
Considering the uproar over the cover so far seems to have come mostly from outside of Poland, and because I don't speak Polish and therefore cannot gauge the reaction on Twitter, I decided to give our friend and VICE Poland editor Maciek Piasecki a call to see what his fellow countrymen think of the cover.
VICE: What was your initial reaction to the cover?
Maciek Piasecki: I'm becoming increasingly desensitized to this kind of cover because the right-wing media does this kind of thing all the time. It portrays people it doesn't like with a gun to their face.
Is the majority of Polish media right wing?
Yeah, I think so. Some of the more eccentric left-wing magazines have been closing down in recent years. There has been an increase in magazines like wSieci—they call themselves "rebellious magazines." They came about during the time of the centralist-neoliberal government in Poland and were openly against the government, but right now, they are really pro-government because the government is now conservative.
Friends of the ruling party, for example, own thePolish Journal, so it's a bit like the Hungarian situation, where friends of the party in power also own the media. But these magazines still call themselves "rebellious," even though they're basically party media.
Do you think the message on the cover is something that resonates with more of the Polish population than not?
There aren't many Syrian refugees here in Poland—people get their information from these kinds of magazines or really biased social media pages. The topic of Islamic refugees attacking European women has been the source of this discourse for the past few months, especially after Cologne. The cover story is definitely playing on this sentiment. Also, it's not exclusively about attacks on women; it's also about what the EU is covering up, [with the magazine] pretending it's uncovering some conspiracy theories.
What do you think about the cover aesthetically?
I think we should have more art classes in Poland.
Does Poland have an issue with the EU in general? Or just immigration?
The ruling party is not eurosceptic; it has never openly opposed the EU. The lives of many Poles have improved through being in the EU. But the immigration quota is something that is definitely a concern of Poland. I don't think many people want to stop in Poland anyway, and it's the Poles who want to leave Poland. Everyone is trying to run away. Poles are really happy to emigrate, but they clearly don't see that people would like to come here too.
Do you think the cover will have much of an impact in Poland?
I don't think so; I think it's just part of the rhetoric. On the whole, it is quite dangerous, as I think Polish people are coming to think that it's normal to publish such things, which is worrying.
Has there been much of a backlash against it? Are people offended?
People are offended, but only those aware of the racial issues, not the majority of the public. I don't think the editor of the magazine would say the publication was racist; it's just under the skin. The old EU countries are definitely more politically correct. In Poland, you don't get people with different shades of skin—everyone is pretty ethnically uniform. There aren't many in Poland who could be hurt by the image because they don't see these perpetrators as part of their community—that's the issue.
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