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City Spotlight: Wroclaw, Poland

Wroclaw is the third largest city in Poland (pop. 674,000 in 2023) and the regional capital of the Lower Silesian Voivodship. Its history dates back 1000 years and is currently a multicultural city boasting a large international student population. While hate groups remain active and continue to mobilise publicly in the city, the local government has taken substantial steps to mitigate the impacts of such groups on the safety and wellbeing of local communities.

The City of Wroclaw has engaged Strong Cities since 2022. It was one of several Polish cities that took part in a Strong Cities exercise to identify the prevention needs and priorities of municipalities across the country. Representatives of the City also took part in a transatlantic dialogue Strong Cities hosted in The Hague (The Netherlands) in November 2022 on safeguarding local democracy, and in Oslo (Norway) in May 2023 on city-led responses to extremist and hate-motivated violence.

What is the local government concerned about?

City officials and other local stakeholders consider the primary threat of hate, extremism and polarisation that can lead to violence to come from far-right hooligan and neo-Nazi groups that spread xenophobic, antisemitic, Islamophobic and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment. The persistence of far-right mobilisation in Wroclaw is reflected in annual far-right marches on/around Poland’s Independence Day, which draw thousands of far-right actors to the city every year, where they publicly espouse hateful views. For example, in 2016 the march was led by a former nationalist priest who incited antisemitism by calling on the “defeat of leftism, Jewishness and communism.” In 2019, the march turned violent when participants refused to disperse and clashed with police after the City tried to close the march down due to antisemitic chanting. Although the marches have been less overtly hateful since then, far-right actors continue to mobilise in Wroclaw on Polish Independence Day (11 November).

Local stakeholders are also concerned about the mainstreaming of anti-migrant – particularly anti-Ukrainian – sentiment, fuelled by mis-/disinformation and conspiracy narratives. Far-right actors have publicly mobilised to espouse their anti-Ukrainian views, at games of the local football club and graffitiing such sentiment throughout the city. The City also faced challenges at the start of 2023 with attempts by malign actors to steal personal information of Ukrainian refugees: leaflets were circulated – under the guise of the national government – to request Ukrainians to register their personal data. Although it remains unclear how the collected data is/was used, local stakeholders reported to Strong Cities that the situation made the new arrivals feel unsafe and targeted. Anti-Muslim and xenophobic rhetoric more broadly also remains rife, exacerbated by crises such as that of the Polish-Belorussian border.

Anti-LGBTQ+ and gender-based violence are also of key concern to the local government and civil society representatives. For example, in 2021, a man was attacked on the streets of Wroclaw on the assumption that he was gay.

City officials shared with Strong Cities that anti-Ukrainian, anti-LGBTQ+ and other hateful (e.g., anti-Muslim, anti-Roma, antisemitic) sentiment takes place in a broader national context where hate-motivated violence and discrimination are becoming increasingly present in political discourse. This also includes gender-based hate and violence, which has increased as a result of a recent new law banning abortion in Poland. 

How is the local government responding?

The City of Wroclaw has taken various measures to address these threats, including establishing integration and social protection bodies and developing dedicated strategies to enhance social cohesion and inter-community dialogue. Further, the local government has committed to dissolving public gatherings where extremist and/or hateful views are espoused, as it did in 2019 when antisemitic chants were part of a far-right march on Independence Day. It is one of the few local governments in Poland that has initiated and won a court case about dissolving a far-right march which was inciting hatred. As a result, far-right groups attending the most recent Independence Day marches showed restraint and were not overtly hateful towards any group.    

The City has always been committed to improving its relationship with law enforcement, which is controlled by national government. This was even when tensions were commonplace because of political differences between the local government and previous national authorities. For example, Mayor Jacek Sutryk and the regional Chief of Police meet regularly to discuss emerging threats and potential joint efforts to respond.

Operationally, the City has integrated all its crisis management and emergency services into a single department called the Wroclaw Safety Council, which has enhanced the response efficiency of law enforcement, firefighters, disaster protection and emergency health services on issues of safety and security.

Further, through its Wroclaw Integration Centre, the City has invested in building relationships with local communities and community-based organisations, partnering with 140+ government and civil society organisations to deliver its services, which include:

The work of the Integration Centre is complemented by that of the Wroclaw Centre for Social Development, a local government unit responsible for building social cohesion (e.g., through inter-cultural dialogues) and more broadly addressing hate, extremism and disinformation. Like the Integration Centre, its work relies on partnerships with other city departments and civil society, as well as decentralised national bodies such as the regional police. For instance, the Centre cooperates with community-based organisations across the city to run centres in 22 neighbourhoods that regularly host community activities and events. Additionally, it has partnered with the regional police to build their capacities on community policing and hate prevention.

The Centre for Social Development additionally led the development and implementation of the City’s first Inter-Cultural Dialogue Strategy (2018-2022), which is being evaluated with support from a local non-governmental organisation. As part of this framework, the Centre developed:

In light of the current threat landscape, the Centre for Social Development is working on a new multi-year strategy that will build on activities already delivered but with an added, more explicit focus on social integration of migrants and marginalised communities.

Finally, the City is involved in a number of city networks through which it can stay abreast of city-led practices against issues of hate and extremism. This includes Strong Cities, the Council of Europe’s Intercultural Cities programme and European Coalition of Cities Against Racism.

What’s next?

Local government representatives and other relevant stakeholders stated that they are interested in the development of a dedicated multi-actor prevention team that unites city departments with community-based actors and law enforcement in joint efforts to address hate, extremism and polarisation. City officials also hope that such a body would enhance national-local cooperation by bringing national police together with local actors on a regular basis. The local government additionally seeks to:

  • train teachers to develop and deliver civic education and awareness-raising programmes in schools.
  • enhance the prevention capacity of police, building on existing efforts by local non-governmental organisations to provide them with guidance on human rights protection and addressing hate speech and crime. City officials shared with Strong Cities that police have not received training on extremism for a number of years, expressing concern about how up-to-date their awareness is of both the threat and good prevention practice.

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