Thousands of Poles gathered in the Baltic port city of Gdansk yesterday to bid an emotional farewell to murdered liberal mayor Pawel Adamowicz, whose public stabbing has raised questions about hate speech in politics in the country.
Adamowicz, 53, who was mayor of Gdansk for 20 years, was stabbed in the heart in front of hundreds of people at a charity fundraiser last weekend by an ex-convict wielding a knife.
“It’s as if we have lost a member of our family,” said Gdansk resident Rafal Jankowski.
Around 3,500 people, including President Andrzej Duda and EU Council President Donald Tusk, a longtime friend of Adamowicz, attended the ceremony at St Mary’s Basilica, one of the largest brick churches in the world.
Nobel Peace laureate Lech Walesa, another former president, also attended the ceremony, being held on what Duda has declared a day of national mourning.
Giants screens were set up in several parts of Gdansk to allow people to watch the ceremony and photos of the mayor were displayed in numerous shops, cafes and restaurants in the city.
“I am 24 years old and he was in power for all of my life,” said Tomasz Ceglinski. “Every year, we saw changes in the city: investments, new roads, shopping centres and cultural institutions all thanks to him. It’s my duty to be here.”
The mayor’s 27-year-old attacker, who reportedly has a history of mental illness, had previously been sentenced to more than five years in jail for armed robbery.
Recently released, the man claimed he had been wrongly imprisoned by the previous government – led by the centrist Civic Platform (PO) party, to which Adamowicz once belonged.
For many Poles however, the mayor’s murder was fueled by online hate speech and toxic divisions between the main political parties.
“We must eradicate forever from political life and the public arena, the language of contempt, of humiliation, denigration, lack of respect and dignity towards our loved ones,” Gdansk Archbishop Slawoj Leszek Glodz said in his homily.
Politicians from PO and the ruling conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party have traded barbs for years, as have their supporters online, with critics accusing the government of tacitly condoning the atmosphere of hostility.
“It’s hatred that killed Pawel,” PO leader Grzegorz Schetyna told lawmakers on Wednesday. “A well-organised, crazy hatred directed at a man who with the help of thousands of Gdansk residents was building this great, proud and free city.”
Numerous media outlets have compared Adamowicz’s murder to the 1922 assassination of president Gabriel Narutowicz by a fanatical nationalist at a time of rampant hatred.
Since Adamowicz’s death, police have detained several individuals for uttering or writing threats against other politicians.
Tens of thousands of people have already queued for hours to see the late mayor’s casket, covered in white flowers and the city’s red flag, and to sign a book of condolence at the city’s European Solidarity Centre.
Gdansk, a city of around half a million people, was the cradle of Poland’s anti-communist Solidarity movement in the 1980s.
Adamowicz, mayor of Gdansk for two decades, was backed by the PO party in 2018 municipal polls and won re-election with 64% of the vote.
The capital Warsaw has named Adamowicz an honorary citizen.
The attack on Adamowicz is unusual in Poland, where political violence is rare.
The last attack on a political figure was in 2010, when a man fatally shot an aide at a regional PiS office before stabbing another employee, who survived.
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