The tragic cherry on top of the cake were the events in the little town of Ełk in the north of Poland which marked the New Year with a racist rampage which started with two petards thrown into a döner shop and ended with a deadly stabbing. What had started as a bar quarrel was followed by death and massive riots throughout the town. And not only this.
In the early evening hours of December 31st 2016 a young man from Ełk enters a popular döner place Prince Kebab. He ordered food to go and patiently waited for the meals to be prepared. The staff is very kind to him, just as he is toward them. The place was full, many people were expecting their food, but even despite the heavy load of work the people preparing and packing/serving the meals were very kind and absolutely calm.
Among the many clients there was a small group of visibly drunk men. Being unhappy with the waiting time longer than usual. Not being able to refrain from demonstrating their frustration and impatience one of them starts shouting at the staff: “Give me the fucking food, you slut! And don’t you dare spitting into it or I’ll smash your face with it!” or “Fall on your kneed you dirty beige slut when you’re talking to your masters!”. These were some of the phrases used by the leader of this group by the name of Daniel, a longstanding local petty-criminal with a serious past record.
Of course, typically for Poland, no one reacts. The other clients behave as if they cannot hear the offences, the staff is trying to ignore them and continuous being nice towards those waiting in line and the newly coming. An eyewitness reported on Facebook that one person from the staff almost lost his nerves and had to go out for a short while, took a few deep breaths and came back after a short moment. Obviously, the atmosphere was getting dense. However, after they had received their food the thugs left the place.
The same group of drunk men came back with a couple of other friends, also intoxicated with alcohol around 10 pm. This time they are aggressive and offensive from the start. They approach the catering premise shouting vulgar racist slogans and simply invade it moments later. This provokes reactions from the side of the staff, a shout out start which quickly evolves into physical confrontation. One of the Polish drunks takes two bottles of Coca-Cola and leaves the place refusing to pay for them. He is chased by one of the employees, a brutal fight emerges right outside the premise during which someone throws two petards inside the Kebab. Other people from the staff rage to defend themselves and their colleague. After a short while the 21-years old leader of the gang Daniel R. lies dead on the ground. The police arrest everybody who participated in the incident.
On the 1st of January the news of the killing spread in Ełk. On that day, around noon, aggressive groups of mainly young people spontaneously gather outside the döner place. All ostentatiously hungry for revenge. As the crowd gets larger the racist slogans get shouted out more and more vocally and melodically. It started with “Fuck you, Arabs!” and then went on “We’ll hang you all, you goat-fuckers!”, “Clean Poland from Muslim shit!” and so on.
At one moment a few of the people gathered started throwing stones and thunderflashes. After most windows are already broken and the mob is about to actually enter and completely devastate the place a riot police unit from Olsztyn (a larger town in the vicinity of Ełk) arrives and starts to push back the attackers. This results in clashes between the citizens and the police unseen in this place.
The police are attacked with stones, street signs, metal bars, empty bottles and, according to some accounts, Molotov cocktails. After hours long street battle involving tear gas, rubber bullets and severe baton usage on the part of the police the situation gets under their control. Thirty people are arrested on the spot, many later on.
The police inform the media that the detained will be charged with property damage and public order disruption. Not a word about racial hatred, even despite the fact that throughout the investigation it was revealed that the local patriotic activists regularly molested the staff of the Kebab Prince. A few hours later an Algerian man working there and his colleague from Tunisia are charged with murder. Another two northern Africans are released. A few hours later the apartment of one of the charged is set on fire. Heavily armored police unit remains on the crime scene and protects the Kebab from potential further attacks. Clashes in front of the premise, although with less intensity, do occur for the next couple of days.
One has to clearly state this incident is neither new nor unexpected. Surely, it is not isolated occurrence. During the last weeks of 2016 similar incidents of bar brawls escalating to physical confrontation and deadly stabbing took place not only in Warsaw, but in at least two other locations including the sea side city of Sopot. Nonetheless, what happened in Ełk is exceptional. First of all it was the first incident of the kind where a Polish person was among the victims. It ignited enormous wave of right-wing violence. In the social media the hatred is so massive and disgusting and was elevated to levels of obscurity and vulgarity unheard of until the recent New Year’s Eve. Most comments made by random internauts regarding this incident are undoubtedly punishable even by the poor Polish legal standards. At the same time nationalist organizations continue to urge revenge. It goes without saying one cannot condone the killing which was the most drastic result in the final aftermath, but at the same time the anxiety and frustration that led to it have to be taken into consideration and those responsible for feeding them have to face justice just as well.
It certainly is very easy for any sane person to see the clear and obvious relation of these attacks to the politics of Law & Justice, to the numerous racist slurs of Jarosław Kaczyński spoken in moments of clear islamophobic delirium and to the clear antirefugee stance of the government. What however seems to be the most important factor determining the major shift to the right in the popular culture is the warm and cozy approach of the new ruling class to all kinds of obscure and dismal right-wing extremists sects who do nothing else but preach violence. This is a very dangerous process of systematic confluence of official institutions of the state with various groups or criminal gangs composed of radical far-right hooligans that until now were to be found only in certain sectors of the soccer stadiums or in secret meeting spots of Blood & Honor members. The question however here is what can you expect if the Polish Minister of Interior’s reaction to the drama in Ełk was a claim that the attitude of people trying to actually lynch the supposed perpetrator and conduct a pogrom is “perfectly understandable”.