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Eastern Europe has had fewer tensions over Muslim immigration than western Europe, but that could change.
In one sense, Poland’s growing diversity is a return to the past. Before World War II, Poland was a multinational stew, with ethnic Poles making up only about two-thirds of the population. The country had large numbers of Ukrainians, Jews and Germans, as well as a small Muslim minority — Tatars descended from the hordes of Genghis Khan who had terrorized Europe in the Middle Ages.
Several thousand Tatars had settled in Poland and Lithuania in the 14th century, and, despite losing their language, never lost their religion.
World War II left Poland a very different country. The Jews had been mostly murdered by the Germans, and most of the survivors left after the war. Germans were expelled, and by shifting Poland’s borders hundreds of miles to the west, there were no large Ukrainian and Belarusian minorities. After 1945, Poland was almost completely monoethnic — one of the only minorities left were the Tatars, who have two villages in northeastern Poland, each with a small mosque.
New Muslim migrants, like Samir Ismail, have very little in common with the Tatars, who have been well integrated into Polish life for centuries — they even had their own cavalry unit before the war. Ismail and other Muslims formed their own organization in 2003, designed to advocate for the interests of new immigrants, including the need to build themselves a place to worship.
From that time they have been trying to build a mosque in Warsaw with the help of Saudi sponsors. As the project has neared completion, it has begun to arouse the ire of some Polish nationalists, who fear that their country could soon have the same issues with Muslim minorities as countries in western Europe.
“We have the example of other countries where the idea of freedom of religion is abused,” said Slusarczyk.
But Poland’s laws do not allow for any religious discrimination.
“The decision permitting this investment has been taken long ago,” said Tomasz Andryszczyk, a spokesman for the Warsaw city government. “What are we supposed to do? It would be bad if this project ran into any troubles.”