Extremists Next Door: Fighting Intolerance in Small-Town Poland

"I'm not afraid, because I know I'm doing the right thing," she said. "What I often wonder about, though, is how people will react if they see I get attacked? Will people defend me?"

The 43-year-old single mother and bank employee is one of a new breed of activists in Poland: ordinary folk — many of them women — fed up with growing intolerance and what they see as a barrage of assaults on civil liberties. 

The difference is that they are increasingly mobilising outside the big urban centres, bringing a spirit of direct action to towns and villages long considered populist bastions or fertile ground for the radical right.

Activists say extremism has been on the rise in Poland over the past decade, lately given oxygen by the ultraconservative and nationalist policies of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), which came to power in 2015 railing against refugees.

Kuzio-Podrucka's own journey from self-confessed "couch activist" to street protester is typical of many who have rallied across Poland in recent years, whether demonstrating against PiS' demonisation of the LGBT community, expressing solidarity with striking teachers or standing up for reproductive rights.

In April 2016, Kuzio-Podrucka was at work when images from a local march against refugees started popping up on her social media feed. 

Organised by a football fan group and two political parties — the anti-establishment Kukiz '15 and the far-right National Rebirth of Poland — the demonstration called on Polish authorities to reject immigration.

"Poland for the Poles," the marchers chanted. "All Poland sings with us: go to hell, refugees!" Banners read: "Today an immigrant, tomorrow a terrorist" and "God, honour, fatherland."

The demonstrators started from a...

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