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Europe

Former Polish Skinhead Appointed to High Public Post

The former editor of a Polish neo-Nazi magazine has been appointed as deputy chairman of Poland's public TV network, sending shockwaves through the new EU member country.

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Piotr Farfal has had a stellar career. The 28-year-old Pole is a lawyer. He is also a far-right political activist, a card-carrying right-wing extremist and former editor-in-chief of the Polish skinhead magazine Front, which openly supports anti-Semitism and right-wing extremist violence.

And now he has been appointed as deputy chairman of the board of Poland's state-run public television. People are wondering how this could have happened -- even in a country such as Poland that is going through dramatic social and political change.

Farfal, however, has powerful friends in high places. Among them is the leader of the right-wing League of Polish Families, Roman Giertych, who is also Poland's deputy prime minister and education minister in the country's new government. It was Giertych that got Farfal his appointment.

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Farfal says he doesn't understand all the fuss.

"Of course, you can make a scandal out of it today," he said. "You can say he's 28 years old and responsible for his actions when he was 16. Okay, but where are the limits of absurdity? I was a snotty-nosed kid, who let his name be used. So, I ask again, where are the limits to absurdity?"

Youthful ignorance?

But the question is whether it was really just youthful ignorance. People are wondering if that is a suitable explanation for articles such as "Why be a Skinhead," which appeared with his byline in the April 1995 issue of Front magazine. "We do not accept cowards, collaborators or Jews," he wrote in the article. "We are the future!"

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In other European countries, the author of such diatribes would find himself investigated by state prosecutors and security services. In Poland, he gets appointed to a top post on state television, said Marcin Kornak, a civil rights activist.

"Sixty years ago, people with these kinds of views murdered seven million people in our country," he said. "This person, therefore, has no right whatsoever to hold such an important post in this society as deputy chairman of Polish television."

Growing rightwing sentiment in Poland

Recently, the European Parliament in Strasbourg passed a resolution condemning the growing signs of racism and anti-Semitism in Poland and elsewhere. The accusations were vehemently denied by Poland's new governing coalition of populist and nationalist conservatives, The Law and Justice Party and the League of Polish Families, who are themselves often viewed as xenophobic and ultraconservative. President Lech Kaczynski, elected last fall, strongly opposes abortion and gay marriage.

But the pressure is mounting against Farfal. The chairman of the culture committee in the Polish parliament, Pawel Kowal, has left no doubt that he will put Farfal's appointment on the agenda of Polish television's supervisory board and the country's national media council.

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