The appointment of a well-known radical Right figure, Tomasz Greniuch, to lead the Wrocław branch of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), recently caused outrage in Poland.
The IPN is an important state research institute focusing on Polish history. Among other things, it is responsible for investigating crimes committed against the Polish nation under Nazism and communism.
On 22 February, two weeks after the announcement, Greniuch officially resigned from his new position. But the damage was done: the controversial appointment revealed the overlap between radical Right nationalism and public institutions in the country.
A historian, Greniuch was already head of the IPN’s branch in the small city of Opole, but Wrocław is one of the biggest cities in Poland. He is known as a former far-Right activist and the founder of a regional branch of the prominent radical Right organisation, the National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny, ONR).
He was pictured giving a Nazi salute at various ONR events, including a march in Kraków in 2007 and an anti-semitic event in 2005 to commemorate the 1936 pogrom against Jews in the town of Myślenice (when nationalists led by Adam Doboszyński attacked Jews and their shops and attempted to burn down the synagogue).
Today, Greniuch frames his use of the Nazi salute as a mistake, but only a few years ago – when he was ONR’s spokesperson – he defended the gesture, claiming that it was used by the Ancient Romans and should not be linked only to Adolf Hitler’s politics.
Against this backdrop, Greniuch’s appointment to such a prominent role in IPN became too controversial for many people, including local politicians, the Israeli embassy and, eventually, representatives of the country’s ruling right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS).
Poland’s president, Andrzej Duda, awarded Greniuch the Bronze Cross of Merit in 2018 for scholarship on Poland’s wartime history, but he now concedes that Greniuch was correct to resign. In this particular instance, it was politically profitable for PiS to prevent discussion about Greniuch in the media and avoid exposing Poland to international criticism or potential conflict with Jewish communities.
One example that proves the rule
The case of Tomasz Greniuch illustrates a broader process – it shows how right-wing nationalists can further their careers within the relatively favourable environment of political opportunities created by the PiS government.
This process began many years ago. In 2006, when Lech Kaczyński, the founder of PiS was president of Poland, the minister of education was Roman Giertych, leader of the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR). The same Giertych had in 1989 reactivated another significant nationalist organisation, the All-Polish Youth (Młodzież Wszechpolska, MW) Leading MW activists first rose to political prominence in the early 2000s, and the PiS victory in the 2015 elections again created a space for them in official politics.Print