Far-Right Disrupt Zygmunt Bauman Lecture

zygmuntbauman

Zygmunt Bauman

Up to 100 far-right activists – organised by the National Rebirth of Poland movement (NOP)  and  football hooligans from WKS “Śląsk” – disrupted a public lecture at Wrocław University by the renowned sociologist Zygmunt Bauman.

The demonstrators gathered at the back of the lecture hall and before Bauman could begin his speech they shouted obsenities at him and slogans such as “Nuremberg for Communists”. The demonstrators were removed only after the police and then an anti-terrorist unit intervened. Bauman was then able to deliver his lecture to the packed audience.

The far-right are arguing that intellectuals such as Bauman support totalitarianism and should not be allowed to speak freely at public universities. Bauman was forced out of Poland during the anti-semitic purges in 1968, when a number of prominent intellectuals were expelled from the country, and has resided in England since 1971. After the Nazis had invaded Poland in 1939, his family escaped to the Soviet Union. He served in the Soviet controlled Polish First Army and participated in battles at Kołobrzeg and Berlin. He worked for the Communist government after the war and remained a committed Marxist. However, he became critical of the Communist government, which eventually led to his expulsion from the country.

Bauman had been invited by the Lassalle Centre for Social Thought and the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung in order to mark the 150 anniversary of the formation of the German Social Democratic Party (Ferdinand Lassalle who helped create this movement was from Wrocław). After the far-right demonstrators were removed, Bauman was able to deliver his speech. He reminded the audience how since the election of Gerhard Schröder, the German SPD has lost over 1/3 of its vote and at how European social democracy has capitulated to the programme of the right.

For the far-right Bauman’s political biography means that he should not be speaking at public universities in Poland. This is the latest in a series of attempts by the far-right to break up the lectures of left-wing speakers at universities and intimidate the participants at these meetings.

It is essential that the far-right are not allowed to prevent such meetings from taking place. They wish to demonise the left and remove its voice from the public debate. The large turnout at Bauman’s lecture and the fact that it was able to proceed after the demonstrators were removed was an important victory for all those that believe in free-speech and democracy.

[youtube=http://youtu.be/fUazCx5kaK0]

Pictures of the event

This post was first posted on Beyond the Transition

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  • Peter K.

    Truly disgraceful! These people should be ashamed to treat an old man who had to flee his country twice like that! I feel really sorry for Zygmunt Bauman, who is one of Europe’s greatest thinkers.

  • Kacper Szulecki

    The Text is informative and important as an account of facts, but as an analysis – less so. The last paragraph misses much of the point, and has the activist zeal characteristic for Mr. Rae. Prof. Bauman is – still, and especially in the eyes of the nationalist far-right – not a representative of the left, but of the liberal mainstream. It is not a surprise his lectures drew a crowd – he is a Star in Poland. There was also nothing heroic and nothing of defending the free speech in the fact that the lecture took place in the end. The point is – the nationalists are testing how far they can push, before they provoke a reaction. In Wroclaw – they can go slightly further than elsewhere perhaps.

  • Social Europe Journal

    A quick message to the people who post disgusting stuff about some of our articles and then complain that their ‘free speech’ is impeded by us not publishing their comments. Here is news for you: free speech means you can set up your own website/blog and publish whatever you want (and bear the potential consequences if anybody reads it); it does NOT mean that you can simply come to our journal and we should feel obliged to publish the most despicable or idiotic stuff in the name of free speech. We keep or house in order in the way we see fit and this means not publishing violent, abusive or just outright idiotic comments.

    • faktaorientert

      You hit the naii on the head. The far right version of “free speech” is that all publications should be obliged to publish fascist propaganda.

  • Iroquois of Europe

    I’d say it’s not that simple. Of course the demonstration was thoroughly pathetic. This neither fits universities nor the public sphere. Nevertheless, the problem is that Bauman’s past (or the past of the majority of the CEE intellectual generation actually) is still a matter of ‘silenced’ controversy. One should acknowledge that being ‘a political officer’ in communist army who was given a medal for fighting the national (anti-nazi+anti-communist) resistance isn’t the most noble activity. While this remains to be seen as a secret that shouldn’t be even discussed in public. Any discussion is described as some witch-hunting, etc.
    In my opinion this is wrong. Discussing the past of Bauman, Szymborska or even – to some degree – Miłosz, should and could be as useful as of Heidegger, etc. Without acknowledging the complicated past we won’t be able to understand the totalitarian legacy of Europe. Why are those young guys so radically-aggresive followers of the totalitarian worldview? Who knows – perhaps if we could freely discuss young Bauman’s “Hegel’s bite” we would know more about that?

    • aidan

      Possibly, but we need to keep in mind that any discussion will not automatically be a completely rational, nice debate but may also turn into an avenue for demonisation and mudslinging as these boneheads wanted it to. Also we need to remember that the USSR was totalitarian and nearly everyone was conscripted to the cause, that is what a totalitarian society is where being recruited into this would almost be inescapable. There’s nothing to say you or I would join some heroic resistance against this as opposed to Bauman when we live so far away from those events historically. Also for a Jew to want to fight Fascists within the context of having to flee to totalitarian USSR, it is not that surprising he became an ardent Soviet. Also a lot of the anti-communist heroes that brought down Communism in the 80’s were also former believers in the dream of the USSR who were thoroughly disillusioned as it seems Bauman was too after being forced out by ANOTHER anti-Semitic purge in Czechoslovakia and also he was already becoming critical of the Communist government at this point anyway, 1968 being the time when the USSR crushed an attempted revolution by ”reform communists” not wanting to be centrally controlled by Moscow. The analogy with Heidegger just does not hold water I feel…..

  • The End Project

    I don’t know Bauman’s works very well, obviously just because of the amount of his works/books, although I respect him and I’m happy he is from Poland because I’m Polish as well. At the same time for a very long time I was confused about the issues regarding with his past. There’s many problems he should sort out himself. His activity when he was young combined together with his knowledge, consent, awareness, etc. seem to work strongly against his reputation.
    I can’t say much positive words about the protesters shouting at him during his lecture, but at the same time I am not suprised that it happened.

  • Piotr

    It’s true that acts about Bauman’s past are known, but are not part of a wider debate. The nature of political conflicts here in Poland makes it hard to discuss such matters in a reasonable, objective way. Knee-jerk reactions are common on both parts of the spectrum. Sadly, I don’t think our society is ready for such a discussion – not least because of certain political leaders preying on historical resentment and manipulating historical contexts. But a climate for such discussion make come about rather sooner than later – with a shift on political scene involving a generational change of leadership. Two more brief sidenotes: 1) One should not underestimate the effect of the presidential plane crash in Smolensk and the fact that one of the political leaders turned out to be utterly prepared to use it a political fuel, creating a climate where much more was perceived as allowed and opening way for radicalisms to enter mainsteram discourse. 2) The idiots that disrupted Zygmunt Bauman’s lecture don’t think and don’t discuss. As Kacper Szulecki noted, they are testing how far they can go. In my view, the incident is an indicrect result of destabilising the socio-political discourse after the Smolens crash.