Why does the UK hate the EU?

New xenophobia after the Brexit election : License to Hate in the UK

The man in the hoodie doesn't wait long. Less than 48 hours later, on the Sunday night after the EU referendum, he rides a bicycle to the door of the Polish cultural center POSK in London-Hammersmith and pulls out his spray can. The security camera in front of the building records how he, hood pulled down over his face, sprayed paint on the glass front. Joanna Mludzinska, the director of the cultural center, watches him the next morning on a screen next to the reception in the entrance hall. "FUCK YOU" is written in smeared yellow on the entrance door of the cultural center. The paint runs across the front, sticks to the glass door and the wall next to it. This has never happened since the center was founded in the 1970s.

But after the referendum, in which the majority of the British voted against the European Union, a new xenophobia seems to be taking hold in the country. In the first four days after the vote alone, True Vision, a police website where people can report racist attacks, saw such acts increase by 57 percent. And many report on Twitter and Facebook of requests to leave the country, of verbal abuse, of violent attacks. The “Stop Hate UK” initiative, which operates a hotline for victims of racist attacks, reported four to five times as many people as usual in the week after the referendum. Even now the number is still twice as high.

Her parents left Poland during World War II

A few days after the attack, Joanna Mludzinska - gray tunic, gray-blonde bob, amber jewelry - is sitting in the foyer of the Polish center. Mludzinska speaks English without an accent. Her parents left Poland during World War II. They looked for safety and found it in Britain. Like many other Poles, her father fought alongside the British against the Nazis. After the war, he and his wife stayed in the kingdom. Mludzinska was born and raised in London, she studied and worked here for the British Council, which, among other things, offers English language courses for foreigners. England is her home country, she has never lived in Poland. She loves the country and until recently she had no reason to believe that it wasn't mutual.

Since the Brexit election, Mludzinska is no longer so sure. Concerned, she tells of a Polish family in Plymouth whose property was firebombed and how one of her friends in Nottingham was insulted on the bus when she spoke Polish to her mother on the phone.

The charge against immigrants is always the same. The immigrants, they say, are taking jobs away from the British, they are depressing wages, or even harder, they are taking advantage of the welfare system and doing nothing for the common good of the British. Such arguments are laughable for Mludzinska. The Poles have a long history in the UK. In the cultural center there is a lot to remind you of that, right next to the reception there is a poster for an exhibition called "Enigma Relay".

It was Poles who cracked early versions of the German Enigma machine during World War II and thus helped the British in their fight against the Nazis. Polish pilots helped them in the Battle of Britain, in which the Royal Airforce defended the island against the Nazi planes. One of the units, Dywizjon 303, was named the second best aviator unit after the war. That is why the Polish Air Force Association has its offices in the center in Hammersmith to this day.

It is a persistent rumor that Poles place a particular burden on the social system

The Poles are the largest group of foreigners in Great Britain, 15 percent of all people with a foreign passport come from there. In the 2001 British census, there were around 60,000 people on the island who were born in Poland. After joining the EU in 2014, the number of Poles in the country was estimated at up to 600,000.

The fact that they are a burden on the social systems has turned out to be a particularly persistent rumor. Most Poles have jobs, so they earn their own money. “Many just do the work that the British don't want to do,” says Joanna Mludzinska quietly. Almost nothing of the yellow color can be seen outside on the facade. They removed the graffiti that same morning. “We didn't want our visitors to have to see that,” she says. The color has only set in the edges of the Polish eagle next to the entrance.

Many Brexit supporters targeted the Polish immigrants. "Breaking Point" was on a poster that Nigel Farage, then head of the right-wing populist Ukip, revealed during the election campaign. The message: Great Britain is full, freedom of movement in the EU has become a danger, the country is on the verge of collapse. But online initiatives that want to help have quickly emerged.

For example, the #safetypin campaign is circulating on Facebook and Twitter. People are asked to attach safety pins to their clothing as a sign that they are "safe", i.e. not racists. The campaign was invented by the Twitter user @cheeahs. On the day of the referendum, she tweeted her idea, which quickly spread on social networks. @cheeas is actually called Allison and is an American who has lived in London for six years.

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