They said the language used by Grzegorz Bierecki echoed fascists of the 1930s. He said his comments were misunderstood and refused to apologize. "Horrifying, shameful words evoking Europe's darkest moments and alarming lack of remorse," the AJC, a global Jewish advocacy group, said on Twitter.
Whatever his intention, the language used by Bierecki typified the socially exclusive language increasingly used by politicians across Europe and beyond. Bierecki is also an influential financial backer of several pro-government media outlets that have shaped public discourse in recent years.
Interior Minister Joachim Brudzinski, a member of the ruling Law and Justice party, said on Twitter that the comment was "stupid and irresponsible, giving fuel to our opponents" and added: "I hope there will be reflection and an apology."
Lech Walesa, the anti-communist leader and former president, called Bierecki's words "scandalous" and said parliamentary leaders and other state institutions responsible for guarding civil rights "should take appropriate disciplinary and legal steps."
Bierecki made his comment Wednesday during a ceremony in his eastern Polish constituency of Biala Podlaska on the ninth anniversary of a plane crash that killed the Polish president and 95 others. "We will not stop until we have fully purged Poland of people who are not worthy of belonging to our national community," Bierecki said.
Bierecki said that those who he said deserve exclusion were those who showed disrespect to the memory of the plane crash victims, and refused to apologize. The head of the main opposition party, Grzegorz Schetyna, said: "Poland, to be proud and strong must not — cannot — be 'purged' of anybody. The republic must be a home for all Poles!"
Rafal Pankowski, a sociologist who runs an anti-extremism organization, Never Again, said the use of such language is a global issue but of special relevance in Poland because nationalists have been pushing a narrow definition of Polishness through their influence on the authorities.
Poland was for centuries a multiethnic nation that was home to ethnic Poles, Ukrainians, Jews, Belarusians, and Germans. The genocide of World War II and redrawing of borders after the war left it ethnically homogeneous.
"It's about whether we see the national community as a closed unit based on blood, ethnicity, or religion, in this case Catholicism, as a market of identity. Or do we want to subscribe to another understanding of Polish identity which is in line with the multicultural heritage of Poland?" Pankowski said.
"Bierecki claims the right to say who belongs to the national community and who doesn't, and this is scary," Pankowski said. "The exclusionary idea that labels people as traitors or enemies of the national community is a real concern."