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Resources, City Spotlights Dąbrowa Górnicza

City Spotlight: Dąbrowa Górnicza, Poland

Dąbrowa Górnicza is a medium-sized city of more than 120,000 residents, forming part of the larger Katowice urban area in Silesian Voivodship in southern Poland. Like in other cities across Poland, the hate and extremist threat landscape primarily consists of antisemitic, anti-minority and anti-LGBTQ+ movements. Despite having limited dedicated resources to respond, Mayor Marcin Bazylak and the Dąbrowa Górnicza local government have taken substantive steps to minimise the impact of these movements and avoid escalations to violence.

Dąbrowa Górnicza first engaged Strong Cities in late 2022 and was one of several cities consulted as part of an exercise to understand the prevention needs and priorities of Polish cities. Since then, city officials have taken part in numerous Strong Cities activities, including a workshop in Oslo (Norway) in May 2023 on city-led responses to hate- and extremist-motivated violence and the Fourth Global Summit in New York City in September 2023.

What is the local government concerned about?

The city has experienced a number of hate and extremist-motivated incidents in the past few years. The local government considers the 2018 protest led by nationalist ‘hate preacher’ Jacek Mieldlar to be the most alarming as it exposed the scale of neo-Nazi groups and sympathisers that operate and/or live in the city. Protesters chanted racist and antisemitic slogans, made Holocaust-denying remarks and incited hatred towards non-Poles. The situation almost escalated into violence after one of Mieldlar’s supporters tried to seize a counter-protester’s banner, which provided the City with a legal basis for dissolving Mieldlar’s gathering.

Most recently – reflecting the persistence of antisemitic sentiment in Dąbrowa Górnicza – far-right groups demolished an old Jewish cemetery. The City also faces ongoing challenges with public displays of racist slogans, graffitied onto walls and other infrastructure. With the influx of Ukrainian refugees that have arrived into Poland since 2022, these slogans include and increasingly exhibit anti-migrant and anti-Ukrainian sentiment. Slogans read, for example, “Polish people don’t want Ukrainians here”.

In addition to these issues, Dąbrowa Górnicza officials have pointed to anti-LGBTQ+ activity as a persistent and prominent issue, which remains difficult to address because of what they perceive to be a ‘normalisation’ of this type of hatred throughout the country.

How is the local government responding?

To strengthen the City’s response to these issues, Mayor Marcin Bazylak established Poland’s first city-led multi-actor local prevention network focused on strengthening social cohesion, inclusivity, tolerance and community resilience to radicalisation. With support from the Institute of Social Safety, the network received training to enhance its capacities to operate self-sufficiently and effectively. The body is composed of 14 members that represent various city departments including police, schools and other local public institutions, as well as civil society and cultural institutions. It meets at least quarterly, and more frequently if needed, to discuss threats that are fuelling or can exacerbate extremism, hate and polarisation. During these meetings, members review the progress of ongoing efforts to respond to these threats and plan the development and launch of new initiatives. Decisions are taken by consensus and the group is required to submit formal progress reports to the City Council on a bi-annual basis, while also holding frequent informal meetings to keep the Mayor informed of their work.

Among the local network’s key activities are school-based projects to address anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment, for which it engages representatives of the LGBTQ+ community to better understand their needs and enhance trust. The network has also partnered with NGO Tęczówka Association to produce educational material to reduce stigma around sexual orientation and gender. The impact of this work is perhaps best reflected in Dąbrowa Górnicza being listed by the Ranking of LGBTQI+ Friendly Schools Initiative as the Polish municipality with the most LGBTQ+ friendly schools. The network’s in-school programming also includes raising teachers’ awareness of hate, extremism and prevention, giving them the capacity to proactively identify potential cases of radicalisation amongst their students. Outside of schools, the network organised a “Festival of Empathy”, which brought residents of different backgrounds together to meet and learn about each other’s cultures.

The network has enabled greater communication, coordination, information sharing and trust between involved local government departments and – by involving community-based organisations – has enhanced trust between such organisations and the local government. Members of the network report that these newly developed relationships enabled them to respond to the influx of Ukrainian refugees more efficiently than they would have otherwise: they note how they were able to leverage the network’s experience with coordinating different actors to quickly and effectively provide humanitarian, administrative and other assistance. The network could also leverage its relationships with and access to community-based actors to support the social integration of refugees. 

In addition to mandating the formation of the local prevention network, the Mayor of Dąbrowa Górnicza has exhibited leadership in prevention through publicly taking a stand against hate. For instance, following the far-right protest in 2018, several counter-protesters were summoned by the local court for allegedly disturbing public peace and safety. The Mayor attended each court hearing to demonstrate solidarity with the counter-protestors and their right to protest peacefully against hate.

What’s next?

In consultation with Strong Cities, representatives of the local network outlined a number of capacity-building needs that it will seek to address, including with support from Strong Cities. This includes training on secondary prevention,[1] better knowledge and tools to engage youth more effectively as partners in prevention, and developing a local action plan to give it a strategy against which it can hold itself accountable. Finally, it requires help in developing a robust modus operandi, including a detailed description of roles and responsibilities for each of the members.

Outside of the needs of the network, the Mayor shared with Strong Cities that there have been very few opportunities for him to learn how he – as a city leader – can most effectively engage in prevention. While he has been able to engage with other mayors on this issue through the Association of Polish Cities as a part of its human rights commission, he noted that learnings have not been substantive. Strong Cities offers the Mayor with a platform and resources, such as its Guide for Mayors, through which he can better understand what mayor leadership in prevention can look like. Further, according to the Mayor, practitioners across the city need training on primary prevention and awareness-raising on threats of hate and extremism.[2] Additionally, he believes more needs to be done in schools to train teachers to promote civic education and inter-cultural dialogue. Beyond addressing these capacity gaps, the City would like to invest in better understanding the scale of hate- and related threats and – through the local prevention network – seeks to better engage and build trust with communities

[1] Secondary prevention relates to the identification of individuals that are at greater risk of radicalising. It includes addressing their grievances and needs to divert them from involvement in extremist activities.

[2] Primary prevention measures are aimed at strengthening resilience in society at large to make individuals less prone to hate and (violent) extremism. Unlike secondary prevention, primary prevention does not focus on a specific individual or group, instead delivering population-wide measures.

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