[lg policy] oland’s Tatars Feel Uncertain as Anti-Muslim Sentiment Grows

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Mar 17 15:27:11 UTC 2016

Poland’s Tatars Feel Uncertain as Anti-Muslim Sentiment Grows

Dzenneta and Tamara Bogdanowicz, Polish Muslims, visited the grave of
Tamara’s husband in Kruszyniany, Poland, last week. He died in October
after 58 years of marriage. Credit Ian Willms for The New York Times

KRUSZYNIANY, Poland — Though she is a Polish Muslim, Dzenneta Bogdanowicz
had never felt threatened living in the small village of Kruszyniany a few
miles from the border with Belarus.

That is, until the Paris attacks
in November, when Europe was swept up in the migrant crisis and the
right-wing nationalist Law and Justice party had just won control of Poland
government. As it happened, on the same day as the attacks, Kruszyniany was
celebrating the opening of its first cultural center for Ms. Bogdanowicz’s
community, the Lipka Tatars, a tiny Muslim minority with 600-year-old roots
in Poland.

Xenophobic, threatening comments poured in to Ms. Bogdanowicz’s email
account and cropped up on the comment threads of news articles about the
center. “Poland is for Poles,” not for Tatars, one comment said.
Dzemil Gembicki, caretaker of the Lipka Tatars mosque in Kruszyniany,
locked up on Sunday. Credit Ian Willms for The New York Times

“Usually,” Ms. Bogdanowicz said, “it’s normal and we feel safe,” but “that
day, I did not feel safe.”

These are uncertain times for Poland’s Tatars, a largely overlooked group
who now find themselves navigating between their religion and their
nationality, as Poland’s new nationalist government resists the European
Union’s refugee resettlement mandates
and right-wing Christians take aim at Islam generally.

Yet, even as anti-Muslim sentiment builds in Poland and the Lipka Tatars
occasionally find themselves the target of hatred, the Tatars themselves
largely support the government’s harsh stance against the mainly Muslim
migrants who are pouring in to Europe.

About 30,000 Muslims have entered Poland since the fall of Communism.
Already outnumbered 10 to one, the 3,000 or so Tatars worry that any
further influx of Muslim migrants could threaten their six-century-deep
monopoly on Polish Islam, and with it their identity and tradition of
Inside the 18th-century Lipka Tatar mosque in the village of Kruszyniany.
Credit Ian Willms for The New York Times

“There is a huge group of Muslims that are not Tatars,” said Dzemil
Gembicki, caretaker of the mosque in Kruszyniany. “We want to stick with
our own traditions. We are afraid that the huge group of Muslims from other
places may cause us to lose the traditions of Polish Tatars.”

Tomasz Miskiewicz, the mufti of Poland and a Lipka Tatar, said that “the
situation of Tatar society here in Poland is on the edge.”

“A lot has changed,” he said in an interview in the eastern city of

Lipka Tatars are descended from Turkic people from Central Asia who
migrated to the Baltic region in the 14th century. Those who live in what
is now Poland have historically been centered in the Podlaskie region, a
heavily forested area in the northeast where bison and wolves still roam
and where the countryside is peppered with Orthodox and Catholic churches,
synagogues and mosques. The religious diversity is striking for a country
that is otherwise 94 percent Roman Catholic.

“I am Muslim, I am Tatar, I am Polish,” said Ms. Bogdanowicz, who runs a
Tatar restaurant in Kruszyniany. “It cannot be divided.”
Mass at a Catholic church in Bialystok. Poland is 94 percent Roman Catholic.
Credit Ian Willms for The New York Times

In the years after secular Communism collapsed in Poland, many of the
country’s Tatar families sent their young men abroad to study Islam in
Paris, Sarajevo, Medina or other cities. The idea was that these men, Mr.
Miskiewicz among them, would return to Poland to help rebuild the country’s
Islamic institutions on Polish terms. Wealthy Muslim countries poured
resources into reviving Islam in Eastern Europe, but Poland’s Tatars
largely abstained from those efforts and preferred to manage their
country’s Islamic renaissance themselves.

“We try to keep our tradition, our culture,” said Maciej Szczesnowicz,
president of the Muslim community in the village of Bohoniki. “We have our
own way of thinking and religious traditions.”

The Tatars revived cultural and religious festivals and* restarted the
teaching of their language and of Arabic*. The two remaining centuries-old,
traditionally constructed mosques in Poland, which had survived World War
II and the Communist years, were renovated, and new ones were opened. An
Islamic education center is scheduled to be built in the village of Sokolka
this year, and another is planned for Bialystok in 2017.

“We want to awaken the precious traditions, before they are forgotten,”
said Roza Chazbijewicz, chairwoman of the Tatar cultural foundation in
Poland. “The identity must be kept.”
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The Tatars’ traditional practice of Islam differs from that of many recent
Muslim arrivals in Poland. At the historic Bohoniki mosque, one 70-year-old
Tatar woman talked about the niqab, the veil worn by women from some
conservative Muslim countries that covers the whole face except for the
eyes. “What would I do in all of that — sit around and pray all day?” said
the woman, Eugenia Radkiewicz. “Can you imagine that in Bohoniki?”

While they tend to stay clear of partisan politics, many Polish Tatars echo
the nationalist and antimigrant sentiments of the new Law and Justice
government. The party’s leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has said that
the flood of migrants would bring a host of ills to Europe, including
infectious diseases.

“Poland is not ready for immigrants,” said Mr. Miskiewicz, the mufti.

On the other hand, the brewing Catholic nationalism that has grown
alongside Poland’s antirefugee stance has taken aim at Muslims, at times
including the Tatars, whose uniquely Polish roots are not well known
outside the Podlaskie region. When politicians paint Islam itself as a
threat to Poland, the Tatars say they feel targeted.

“We hear this,” said Ms. Bogdanowicz, the restaurateur. “We don’t know
which way it’s going to go.”

There have been flashes of anti-Tatar violence in recent years as the
migrant crisis has mounted. The mosque in the port city of Gdansk, built by
Tatars in 1991, was firebombed in 2013. In Kruszyniany the following year,
vandals painted anti-Muslim slogans, a pig and a red X on the 18th-century
mosque and vandalized the adjacent cemetery, painting wartime resistance
symbols and covering Islamic religious script on Tatar tombstones.

“It’s hard to say if there are going to be more of these incidents, because
of the situation with the immigrants,” Mr. Miskiewicz said. “On this huge
wave of negative feelings about Islam, all are being thrown into one pot.”

from NYTimes 3/17'16

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