WARSAW, Poland — A graphic video showing a homophobic young woman morphing into Adolf Hitler is being used to highlight the dangers of hate speech in Poland.
The video was prompted by an “alarming” report showing the extent of hate speech among young Poles, according to the group behind it, the Stefan Batory Foundation, a pro-democracy nongovernmental organization.
The video, posted on YouTube, shows a teenage girl engaged in trivial chatter with her friends, when two men walk into her line of sight.
“They can do whatever they want at home, but walking together like that is too much! I see faggots everywhere! I want to puke when I look at them!”
Gradually, the girl’s blond hair is replaced by the World War II Nazi leader’s dark sweep, her modern clothing becomes a brown shirt and she is shown with Hitler’s mustache.
A male voice is heard asking: “Really? You want to look like that?” and the girl curses with the German expletive “scheisse.”
The Batory Foundation says Poland has a problem with hate speech, with Polish teens particularly exposed to it.
Batory Foundation spokeswoman Agata Szypulska said that the video is just part of a “Stop Hate Speech” campaign that launched on September 14.
“We’re targeting young people aged 15-18, and the reason we did that is because last year, we published the first nationwide report, called “Hate Speech in Poland,” which indicated that young people are more likely to accept hate speech to specific minority groups than adults,” she said.
Recognizing hate speech
The foundation’s 2014 study suggested that nearly two-thirds of young Poles had come into contact with hate speech online, with roughly the same amount encountering verbal hate speech from their peers or on the street.
The study was conducted for the foundation by the CBOS research center and based on sample groups of 653 Poles aged 16 to 18, and 1007 adults.
Many of those surveyed did not even recognize hate speech for what it was, because they felt “everyone” used such terms, the report’s authors said.
“Surprisingly a lot of people accept hate speech and do not see anything inflammatory in it. The research we conducted last year shows that the more we hear hate speech, the less sensitive we become to it and the more we accept it.
“Moreover, our attitude toward the victims themselves — i.e., the minorities — also gets worse,” co-author Michał Bilewicz said.
The minorities most frequently targeted were non-heterosexuals, black people, the Romani, Muslims and Ukrainians, the report said.
“If you look at the numbers, it’s almost 77 percent of youngsters that encounter homophobic hate speech online, and almost 65 percnet encountered homophobic hate speech among their peers,” Szypulska said.
“We focused on homophobia because we saw those numbers and we found them very alarming,” she said.
However, the campaign is aimed at changing young Poles’ attitudes toward all minorities and making them realize that using hate speech “is not cool and won’t make them popular,” Szypulska said.
“The campaign was designed to prevent hate speech, and it doesn’t matter what kind,” she said.
‘Not just words’
Szypulska said that while Polish media reaction to the campaign had been 80% positive, some “extreme right-wing” commentators had argued that detesting homosexuals did not make someone a Hitler and that its message was an exaggeration.
An estimated 6 million Poles were killed during World War II — including around 3 million Polish Jews — as Hitler targeted minorities across Europe.
But Szypulska said the campaign was targeting young people and needed to be strong.
“We also wanted to use a person and symbol that would be recognizable. We wanted to show that hate speech is not just words — that words can lead to actions.”
Hitler’s image was highly recognizable in Poland, she said. “I think in the Polish context, it’s pretty obvious that Hitler harassed and murdered people because of ethnicity and because of things you cannot change.”
Along with the video, the campaign includes blogs and video blogs from people describing their own experiences and stories of hate speech.
At the time of this writing, Szypulska said that the Hitler video had been viewed nearly 176,000 times and the vlogger videos close to half a million times — which she described as “an overwhelming success.”
The campaign ends at the end of September, she said. “It will be just a signal, and then it will be continued by NGOs and others who are interested in preventing hate speech online and in public spaces.”