„The Open Republic” was born from anxiety. We have been observing for a long time, the poison of racial, ethnic or religious hatred and disdain infusing our public life and the education of our youth from many different sources. We have watched how long worn-out, discredited, anachronistic stereotypes and prejudices re-emerge among new generations. We are particularly worried that these processes were being met with little resistance on the part of the educated public opinion, which tends to see them as a largely irrelevant element of the political folklore – a margin which at the end of the day must exist in every free country.
We do not share that optimistic view. We can see that in Poland as well as in many other European countries this margin is characterised by dangerous dynamics. The groups and circles which are the incubators of anti-Semitic and nationalistic ideas become more and more visible and self-assured, and our forthcoming election season will doubtlessly invigorate them further.
For the time being, we seem to be getting used to this invasion. The mass distribution of anti-Semitic books and periodicals (through the state-owned distribution channels) does not meet with a decisive reaction from people in the street, bookshop customers, or the reading public. The nationalistic sentiments expressed in some school books also rarely meet with protests. It no longer surprises anyone that racial and religious slurs sometimes come from people and institutions proclaiming an adherence to Christian morality, or occasionally even from those who teach it. Casual witnesses of petty discrimination, or open aggression towards foreigners of a darker skin colour, towards refugees, or towards our fellow-citizens – the Polish Roma community’s members, by-and-large remain passive in the face of such acts.
We should not seek solace in knowing that there exist communities even less tolerant than ours. We must not passively wait until the prejudice will turn truly dangerous and difficult to control. We have founded our association, to combat the worrying symptoms of evil and to save the well-educated Polish middle class from later having only themselves to blame for having been blind, deaf and oblivious to danger. We must test the effectiveness of different approaches towards these worrying trends. We must begin with modest steps which our current modest resources allow.
We must gain and promote a thorough knowledge of the scale, origins and nature of the tendencies we want to confront. We intend to record and to document all instances of racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia – including the acts of verbal and physical violence towards people of a different appearance, language or creed in the media, education and print – as well as in the political propaganda and other areas of public life. We will recognise and react with no less attention to any positive tendencies and praiseworthy attitudes. We will patiently draw the attention of educators, people of the cloth, people in the media, culture and the academia, of the political parties and – if necessary – of the authorities to these issues. We remain internally divided as to the wisdom of taking legal steps against authors and disseminators of content which promotes ethnic, nationalistic, or religious hatred, or those denying the Jewish, or Roma Holocaust. We will certainly take such steps in particularly drastic cases. But above all we want to make people, groups and institutions which tolerate and legitimise these kind of activities, more sensitive towards the issues involved.
We will promote facts regarding the historical, sociological and psychological sources and motivations of prejudice. We will support publications promoting such knowledge and will initiate public discussion on difficult questions. We intend to pay particular attention to school books and curricula. We hope to engage with the Ministry of Education in designing the new secondary school curriculum in a way which will support learning about the multi-ethnic Polish heritage and the upbringing, in the spirit of a friendly interest in the tradition and heritage of our ethnic minorities and in our neighbours. We hope that the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage will also act in this spirit – considering that these values are among the most valuable ingredients of our heritage.
We will be guided by the idea of European integration, seen as an opportunity and not a threat to national and regional cultures. The most important thing seems to us to be encouraging teachers and local authorities to develop their own ideas and initiatives in this field. We understand that initiatives will need time to bear fruit, but without them, it is difficult to imagine a persistent change in the spiritual climate of life in Poland. We expect that the ethnic minorities’ associations in Poland will appreciate these efforts, particularly since their active co-operation may be an important condition of success.
We will also use other means of influence, particularly the Internet (details coming soon). It is also our aim to thoroughly document our association’s public debates for the benefit of the participants as well as of the wider public.
The difficult task of shaping the culture of tolerance in our country calls for the co-operation of many institutions and associations. “The Open Republic” already works with the Helsinki Foundation of Human Rights, the „Never Again” Association and the „Polish Humanitarian Initiative” (PAH). We are ready to co-operate with all bodies who share our ideals.
Our association considers it necessary to join forces and to exchange expertise with similar organisations abroad – the poison of intolerance, xenophobia and antisemitism know no borders. Truthful information in our possession should support the government reporting on observing the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the UN Convention on racial discrimination. We will be also happy to work with the Council of Europe’s Commission Against Racism and Intolerance and with similar European and national bodies.
Our membership consists of scientists, writers, journalists, social workers, clergy and people of all professions, ages and political views – united in understanding the need to prevent anti-Semitism and aggression towards foreigners. We are united by a common need to spread positive models of respect towards human rights and cultural diversity. We are open to all who share these beliefs. Our ability to act and grow will depend on the member’s readiness to sacrifice some of their time and energy toward meeting our goals. The Board and Programme Council will also support the development of local structures, which will be able to undertake their own initiatives within the framework of the “Open Republic’s” statute. The prompt maturing of our organisation, as well as its effectiveness, will depend on the active participation of all its members.
We are realists. We don’t expect that one sunny day all bad emotions will forever disappear from our lives. The historic roots and the satisfaction some people and groups draw from the cultivation and spreading of hatred run too deep. We want, however, to make it absolutely clear for everyone, that certain words, insults and arguments are beyond the pale in a decent company, at a respectable university, or in a quality newspaper. We want to make it clear that a decent bookshop does not stock certain publications. And we also want to bring closer the day when indecent slogans and insults will disappear from our cities’ walls and when everyone regardless of their origin or citizenship – will feel safe and protected by Polish law and by their fellow-citizens at home, in the street, on the bus or in a night club. We believe that our authorities, churches and public opinion will support us and all people of good will in these efforts.
The Board of Directors and Programme Council of the “Open Republic”