Poles take Coren fight to European Court

By Jan Shure, March 5, 2009
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Giles Coren, pursued by Poles

Giles Coren, pursued by Poles

A complaint against The Times and its columnist Giles Coren has been lodged at the European Court of Human Rights by the Federation of Poles in Great Britain.

It is the latest bid by the FPGB to censure the newspaper over a column written by Mr Coren on July 26, headlined: “Two waves of immigration, Poles apart.” The Press Complaints Commission rejected a complaint by the organisation lodged shortly after the article appeared.

In his article, Mr Coren contrasted the immigration of his great-grandfather Harry and other Polish Jews in the early 20th century with the current economic migration by young Poles.

He wrote: “We Corens are here, now, because the ancestors of these Poles now going home used to amuse themselves at Easter by locking Jews in the synagogue and setting fire to it. Harry didn’t leave in the hope of finding a better life. Just a life.

“The option to return was not there for him, for obvious reasons, and by 1945 the Poland he had left did not exist anymore. My sympathy for the plight of the modern Polack is thus limited, and if England is not the land of milk and honey it appeared to them three or four years ago, then, frankly, they can clear off out of it.”

According to Wiktor Moszczynski, spokesman for the FPGB, the complaint to the European Court relates specifically to Mr Coren’s use of the word “Polack”, which he claims has a pejorative meaning.

“In the USA, the word Polack is a term of abuse. Poles here felt very insulted by its use. The complaint is specifically about the use of the word.” He said the PCC had not been able to rule on it because the comment did not refer to an individual, but to a group.

Filip Slipaczek, media officer of the Institute of Polish Jewish Studies, said: “Calling a Pole a Polack is like calling a black person a n*****.”

But Greg Hands, Conservative MP for Hammersmith and Fulham, who put down an early day motion in Parliament in December, signed by 23 MPs, expressing regret at the PCC’s failure to uphold the complaint, did not support the FPGB in its latest move.

“I think Mr Coren’s original article was inflammatory and I think it would be helpful to hear from him an expression of regret. The original outcry was justified, but taking it to the ECHR is not going to help. The Poles in general need to face up to their difficult past.”

Mr Coren said the FPGB were pursuing him because they were “absolutely gutted” that the PCC had rejected their complaint.

“One of the most traumatic things for me was that The Times asked me to find facts to back up their defence against the complaint. I have shelves of stuff about East European antisemitism, which I had collected to use in my novel (Winkler, published in 2005).

“I had to go through it all and find examples of Poles locking Jews in churches and burning them on Easter Day. I couldn’t find that precise example relating to Poland. But I found a case where Jews were locked in a barn on Easter Day and burned. What was I going to say: ‘Sorry, no, my mistake, it was a barn, not a church’?

“To be honest I am flabbergasted that they [the Poles] want to defend their pre-1945 behaviour towards the Jews. They are in denial.

“And just whose human rights are being denied here? I am sure the European Court has more pressing things to do.”

Last updated: 3:48pm, March 10 2009