Saturday, July 1, saw the continuation of a strange turf war in North London. On one side stand the ultra-nationalist group of Polish immigrants who call themselves Zjednoczeni Emigranci (ZE) Londyn – or Emigrants United London. On the other side, obviously, are anti-fascists, 300 of whom amassed on Tottenham's Markfield Park doing the human equivalent of pissing everywhere to mark your territory. It all kicked off the previous weekend, when 20 or so ZE members attacked a community music festival in the park, generally being pricks and stabbing someone.
Since then, things have gotten kind of weird. ZE have been claiming that it was in fact they who were attacked by anti-fascists, with one of their number stabbed, in some kind of anti-Polish hate crime. The police, meanwhile, have arrested someone who they say is affiliated to neither group, and reckon the attack wasn’t racially motivated.
Anti-fascists weren’t too convinced by this and so called Saturday's rally, keen to put ZE in their place. ZE have reportedly been using the park as a headquarters for some time, so holding a rally in their manor seemed a pretty big provocation. I went to check it out.
When I arrived, some cops were guarding the entrance, asking people what their purpose for coming was and stopping some Spanish punks from joining the demo because they might be mistaken for neo-Nazis. The only people actually getting confused, though, were the police themselves, who chased someone and confronted him for having a flag saying, “Gegen Nazis.” It seemed that the cop thought he was representing some Nazis from a place called Gegen, whereas in fact “gegen” means “against” in German. The graphic on the flag was of a fist smashing up a Swastika – a pretty big clue.
As you can see, for the epicenter of a turf war between neo-Nazis and anti-fascists, it was pretty chill. There was a guy with a megaphone and people taking turns to say things about the community being united against fascism, as a couple of hundred masked "fash-bashers" milled about, waiting for something to happen.
Nothing much happened for some time, with ZE apparently declining to rise to the provocation – a wise move, given that it could only have ended with everyone getting arrested. I spoke to a guy called Greg, from Polish anti-fascist group Division 161, and asked him if he was concerned that Polish ultra-nationalist violence had made it to the UK. “Oh yeah,” he said, “that’s very worrying for me. I was really surprised when I heard about it. It’s scary. I haven’t heard of an anti-fascist or Nazi getting stabbed in Poland.”
Greg’s surprise surprised me. With Polish Independence Day annually turning Warsaw into a fire and blood strewn fascist playground, and a steady stream of violence against the left, LGBT people and immigrants in Poland, I'd assumed a solitary non-lethal stab wouldn't seem like a big deal. “Some people get killed. It’s more violent, but more, like, street fights,” he said.
So, while people have been stabbed in political violence in Poland in the last decade, it's still pretty rare and Polish fascists are still more likely to use their fists than a knife.
A few minutes after I talked to Greg, some masked activists bolted across the park towards a guy taking photos of them on his phone, presuming that he was gathering intelligence for ZE. In seconds, the entire group was marching towards him, arms wide, shouting, “Alterta, alterta, anti-fascista!” and various insults in Polish.
The police managing to collar the guy and arrest him for a public order offense before he was swamped by angry people looking to pulp him.
With that excitement over, people went back to milling around, before mobbing up and going for a march.
They filed through the surrounding streets like an army column marching to a front that had been deserted by their enemies – basically, it was a big, goading “Who are ya?” to ZE.
Somebody chose this moment, surrounded by cops, to start putting stickers up. The police arrested him for criminal damage.
And with that, the march was over, and people filtered away to various pubs. Later on I spoke to an anti-fascist about how he thought the day went. “It was a huge success,” he said, keen to trash-talk ZE. “We humiliated them in their own terms. We took the area they regularly hang out in and they didn’t respond. There were too many anti-fascists in the area for them to do anything. It’s easy for them to attack a music event when there are loads of people that are just out to party but when there’s 300 anti-fascists, it’s a lot harder. Although undoubtedly the police played a role in that.
“It was really key that it was the Polish anti-fascists that led it,” he continued, “because ZE had been making out the reaction to their attacks was an anti-Polish backlash. That’s not the case. We’ve got no problem with normal Poles. It’s just when fascists come over here that there’s an issue.”
Then I asked him what he made of last week’s attack on the festival and the emergence of European fascist violence in the UK. “In Britain, you’ve got lone wolves like David Copeland carrying out bombings. There were a lot of attacks against mosques in the wake of the murder of Lee Rigby. But you don’t really see rampaging fascist mobs any more,” he said. “That’s the kind of thing you associate with the 1980s or 90s before the British far right were sort of beaten off the streets by anti-fascists – which is how the BNP started, because the far right gave up doing anything on the streets. There seems to be a slow shift back onto the streets in the UK. But that kind of thing is much more common in Poland where there's a much larger and more violent extreme right than you’ve got here.”
UK fascist and anti-fascist punch-ups, he told me, tend to happen within certain boundaries. “I’ve been told in the past that there was an unspoken rule that the far right and anti-fascists don’t do ‘home visits’ [attacks on the personal residences of group members] to each other. But I don’t know how true that is because I know people who did do home visits. But semi-regularly, you’ll hear about an anti-fascist death in Eastern Europe. There’s a resurgence of a neo-Nazi far right that’s massively violent.”
The knife in particular, he said, was worrying. “Most of the time when they clash in the UK it’s around demos where there are shitloads of police in the area, so your chances of getting stopped and searched in the vicinity of that event, or it kicking off, are quite high. So it’s like, you’re just nuts if you take a knife with you. It would never really make sense. I know there are a variety of inventive alternatives to illegal weapons that people have used over the years but you’d never take a knife. You’d get fucked.”
While the anti-fascists seemed pretty pleased, it seems unlikely that ZE are going to disappear. Let's hope that things don't escalate to the level they have in Eastern Europe.