WARSAW, Poland — Krzysztof Strzemeski watched with unease as a high school friend voiced support for Poland’s nationalist government on social media, followed by hate-filled extremist posts. But when the liberal mayor of Gdansk was stabbed to death in public in January, he could no longer hold back his anger.
“Congratulations for your perseverance sharing right-wing filth,” the 58-year-old university lecturer wrote to his former classmate. The two haven’t communicated since.
Poland’s political fissures have widened in recent months, pitting conservatives — many of them government supporters — against liberal critics who accuse the ruling party of threatening the country’s hard-won democracy by undermining the independence of the judiciary and the media.
In this toxic atmosphere, there has been an increase in hate speech, political threats and, most stunningly, the assassination of popular Gdansk Mayor Pawel Adamowicz, a critic of the ruling Law and Justice Party’s anti-immigrant policies.
After stabbing Adamowicz during a Jan. 13 charity event, the attacker grabbed a microphone and said that was his revenge against an opposition political party that Adamowicz had once belonged to.
Although there have been suggestions the assailant also had psychological problems, some government critics blamed Poland’s heated political discourse, some of it from state television. Commentators had often vilified Adamowicz for his open acceptance of refugees and gays, and his widow said he had been getting death threats, causing the family to live in fear.
Poles have long spoken of “two tribes” in their central European country. Now, increasingly there is talk of a “Polish-Polish war” — a divide that is greater than at any time since the 1980s, when the Soviet-backed Communist regime tried to crush the Solidarity freedom movement by imposing martial law.