Last week, right-wing politicians Marian Kowalski and Grzegorz Braun came to Ireland to hold some debates and drum up some diaspora support for their campaigns to become President of Poland. Unfortunately for them they ended up banned from hotels in Dublin and Cork following complaints from anti-fascist organisations.
Braun, a member of Poland's religious right, is strictly against gay rights and abortion – two of Ireland's most pressing political issues. He's famous for making anti-abortion documentaries and socially conservative Catholic ideology. Coming to Ireland was probably a bit of a busman's holiday for him.
Kowalski heads up Ruch Nardowy – "National Movement". He's more of the militaristic type and is both a Eurosceptic and a vehement critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. National Movement is an umbrella grouping of Poland's far-right, which just registered as a political party this month. It's a merger of the All-Polish Youth, famous for their homophobia and anti-Semitism and Swastika burning rallies, the ONR (National Radical Camp), whose members frequently participate in violent attacks on gay people, and a group of conservative nationalists called the Real Politics Union. It's a strange electoral alliance harking back to the brief interwar period of Polish history that saw the rise of fanatical nationalism. The National Movement are openly homophobic and their recruitment videos talk about "fighting against homosexual and feminist propaganda".
I met some National Movement supporters outside a hotel in Dublin while they waited for a new venue after an anti-fascist demonstration erupted forcing them to change hotels. Vlad, a 23-year-old from Suwalki is northern Poland, has been living in Ireland for eight years. He helped organise the debates after attending National Movement meetings in Poland. He felt his organisation had been misrepresented.
"All the arguments against the National Movement in Ireland are wrong because they come from our mainstream media in Poland which is totally biased. We're not fascists. We remember our history in Poland so we are pure enemies to Nazism and Communism. I understand why people want to protest here – I used to be more on left side myself until I did my research and went to some meetings," he said.
Vlad was one of several young Polish who had gathered in front of the hotel while anti-fascist demonstrators shouted "Fascists! Fascists! Out! Out!" and "No Platform!"
When I asked Vlad about the National Movement's dimly veiled anti-Semitism he batted it off, saying the group was just defending Poland from "German propaganda".
Brian O Reilly, a spokesperson for militant group Anti Fascist Action Ireland (AFA), who attended the protest, said the National Movement is not welcome in Ireland. "We have been observing the activity and membership of the group Ruch Nardowy in Ireland and are confident their anti-working class and anti-minority views reflect only a tiny fraction of the over 150,000 Polish people working in Ireland. The AFA guarantee Ruch Nardowy will not operate here with impunity," he said.
Thanks to the protests, the meeting had to move. Vlad and about a dozen of his mates told me the new location of their meeting in a slightly fancier hotel down on Dublin's Quays. The National Movement are usually kitted out in nationalist garb but this was a muted affair, with a lone Polish flag decorating the room. The meeting started with Braun condemning the "attack on freedom of expression" that had happened outside while Kowalski's wife translated.
He said labelling a Polish person a "German national socialist" is "something outrageous" because of how Poland was destroyed by the Nazis in the Second World War. He echoed the words of Vlad saying Polish people couldn't possibly be fascist because every Polish family was in some way affected by fascism. He then went on to tell us that he wasn't a democrat or a fan of the democratic system, but as long as we have democratic laws around he "recommends" we obey them. He ended talking about discrimination and how the Irish saved Latin culture in the dark ages. It was pretty fucking weird.
Kowalski was more interested in talking about Putin and specifically how Ireland had been infiltrated by the "agents of Putin" he also talked about the "dumbing down of Western society" which, he said, left us more vulnerable to the influence of Putin.
The organiser of the event then talked about how his grandfather died in Auschwitz and Braun talked about his family also "suffered under totalitarianism" and that Irish people should ask Polish people to give them lessons on fascism. At that point we were all confused.
After the meeting a group of anti-fascist demonstrators clashed with National Movement supporters, one of whom bizarrely took off his belt and started banging it on the street. Later anti-fascists bricked a window of the hotel.
Pissed off, the two presidential candidates went to Cork in search of votes, but after the protest in Dublin, Cork hotels refused to host the confused motley crew, forcing them to have their last meeting in an empty computer repair shop.