Anti-Semitism becomes issue in Polish election

November 14, 1990|By Kay Withers | Kay Withers,Special to The Sun

WARSAW, Poland -- The Polish media reported at length yesterday, though two weeks after the event, anti-Semitic exchanges that marred a rally in the presidential election campaign.

The Warsaw daily Gazeta Wyborcza, which supports Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki's candidacy in the election Nov. 25, printed a detailed account of a campaign meeting he held last month in Plock, his birthplace, at which voters argued over his ethnic origin.

The state-run television network followed up by broadcasting substantial excerpts from the meeting.

It may have been the widest coverage given so far to the anti-Semitic overtones that have marred Poland's first popular presidential election campaign.

The rally began, wrote Gazeta's reporter, Grzegorz Gorny, with an elderly man shrieking into a microphone that Poland's problems were "the fault of Jewish ministers."

Some supporters of the leading contender for the presidency, Solidarity chief Lech Walesa, have suggested that the prime minister and many of his ministers are of Jewish origin.

In Plock, one woman leaped to Mr. Mazowiecki's defense by reading a 1938 report of his father's funeral, citing the number of Roman Catholic organizations present in the cemetery and the name of the bishop who officiated.

"The premier," Gazeta wrote, "looked as if he wished to sink beneath the earth."

A man spoke of the rumors going the rounds. "People are saying that Mazowiecki is a Jew!" he said. "That [government spokeswoman Malgorzata] Niezabitowska is a Jew! That [the previous Communist government spokesman Jerzy] Urban is a Jew because he has such big ears.

Before long [Catholic primate Cardinal Jozef] Glemp will be a Jew, too, because he has those same ears."

Poland's powerful Catholic Church decried anti-Semitic outbursts as "morally dishonest," Gazeta quoted Bishop Alojzy Orszulik as saying. The paper added, however, that Bishop Orszulik had "seen the Mazowiecki family tree dating back to the 15th century."

Campaign managers for Mr. Mazowiecki, Poland's first postwar Catholic premier, minimized the incident. "It is just people's normal curiosity," said a spokesman, Marek Strzala. "I think also in America there would be such questions about a candidate's origins."

Mr. Strzala admitted that there was "a small but noisy group of anti-Semites," but he said they had been more active at the beginning of the election campaign.

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