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Polish Woman Killed On Greek Island: A Textbook Case Of How Racism And Sexism Are Triggered

The death of a 27-year-old hotel worker on the island of Kos, and the arrest of a suspect from Bangladesh, has set off a firestorm back in Poland that mixes anti-immigrant contempt with victim blaming against the murdered woman for "asking for it."

Photo of Anastazja Rubińska

Anastazja Rubińska, 27, first went missing on June 12 on the Greek island of Kos. Here body was recovered six days later

Katarzyna Skiba

KOS — It's the kind of tragic story that, sadly, regularly fills the criminal ledgers of local police precincts around the world.

Anastazja Rubińska, 27, went missing on June 12 on the Greek island of Kos, after she'd gone to get a drink during a day off from the local hotel where she worked. She never made it home alive.

A seasonal tourism worker from the southwestern Polish city of Wrocław, Rubińska had sent a message to her longtime live-in boyfriend, asking him to pick her up because she didn’t feel safe, and shared her location. But soon after, she sent a message that everything instead was under control, that she had drunk too much, and that someone would drive her home.

When she didn't return home by the next morning, the boyfriend alerted the local Greek authorities, who launched an investigation. Police confirmed that Rubińska had last been seen at a bar with a group of five men. One of them, a 32 year-old from Bangladesh, now identified as Salahuddin S., who would later confess that he had sexually assaulted Rubińska. At his home, police say they discovered a shirt with blond hair and blood stains belonging to Rubińska, and noted that the man was covered in scratches.

On June 18th, six days after the victim had gone missing, her body was found, about a kilometer from the residence of Salahuddin S. The presumed cause of her death was asphyxiation, and there were also signs pointing to sexual assault.

The murder was bound to quickly turn into a cause célèbre back in Poland.

Poland reacts

Poland’s Justice Minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, immediately ordered that an investigation be initiated by the Office of the District Prosecutor in Wrocław, the victim's hometown. “We will certainly ask the Greek authorities to provide all information and documentation," Anna Placzek-Grzelak, Press Secretary for the prosecutor’s office, said in a statement. "A very serious crime has been committed and it is therefore our duty to investigate."

Soon after, Poland's Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki demanded that the suspect to be tried in Poland. “I am shocked by the brutal murder of 27-year-old Anastazja,” the Polish Prime Minister tweeted on June 19th, one day after the body had been found. “We will ask Greece to extradite the suspect to stand before a Polish court and receive the highest possible sentence.”

Currently, there is no provision of European Union law which holds that the prosecution can or should be transferred to another state, especially given that the crime was committed and is currently being investigated in Greece. Extradition of the suspect to Poland for judgment is unlikely, if not impossible.

The 32-year old suspect, who had initially admitted to sexually assaulting Rubińska, eventually changed his story.

He now denies having sexual intercourse with her, and claims that she had come to his house to buy hashish.

Greek media reported that in spite of changing his statement, and now denying the crime, Salahuddin S.’s phone search history from the night of Anastazja’s murder included “how to confuse the police”, “how to remove data from a mobile phone”, “how to remove fingerprints from a body”, and “how to make corpses impossible to identify.”

Reporters of Gazeta Wyborcza were on the ground in Kos during the investigation.

Jared Lisack

A Kos story 

In spite of the claims made by Polish politicians, residents of Kos admit that Anastazja’s death was a tragedy, but claim that it is unfair to link the situation to all migrants.

“Citizens of Bangladesh or Pakistan live among us, they have homes and jobs here, they are part of this island” said Dora Angelakopoulou, a resident of the Greek Island, “We have not seen more reports of violence against women related to the influx of people of other nationalities”.

Chrysoula Sapoulidou, another Kos resident, espoused similar views. “This is a terrible act and the perpetrator must be severely punished, that's what we're counting on”. At the same time she warned against “assigning” crimes such as murder and rape to a “specific nationality,” she told Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

Sapoulidou even evoked Polish history in warning against racial and ethnic stereotyping. “I’ve been to Poland," she said. “I’ve seen the German concentration camps built on its land. That alone should be a warning to what this type of thinking can lead to."

According to conversations with Greek journalists and sources close to the local police, Gazeta Wyborcza found that Salahuddin S. also may have been beaten while in custody, which critics say was due to racial and anti-migrant prejudice. “If he was a German citizen and not a Bangladeshi, he would not have been [beaten]”, a Greek journalist told Wyborcza. He predicts that the perpetrator will face a quick trial and be subjected to severe punishment.

Some Greeks, including ERT journalist Alexandros Stratis, are worried that the case might have a ripple effect on anti-migrant sentiment within the country, which is once again facing a critical period. “Using Anastasia's death against migrants is nothing more than Nazism, which ascribes the trait of an individual to the whole nation,” he said in an interview with Wyborcza.

The case has also come as Greece has lived through the worst migrant disaster at sea in memory. On June 14th, an overcrowded ship carrying migrants — many of them from Pakistan — capsized along the Greek coast, killing as many as 600 people in what may be the deadliest such incident on record. Several investigations have pointed the finger at Greek authorities for not doing enough, or even exacerbating the toll.

Migration truths

Yet beyond the "true crime" interest, other factors have combined to keep the story at the center of Polish news reports for the past two weeks. Poland is currently clashing with the European Union on the issue of admitting migrants and refugees. One of the more controversial of these reforms is a proposed €22,000 fine for each migrant that EU member states refuse to host. Several Polish leaders, including the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Bartosz Grodecki, who called the EU’s new migration measures “unacceptable”, have come out against the proposed policies.

Poland and Hungary, who have a history of opposition to EU migration laws, were the only two countries to vote against the measure, which passed the European Council on June 8. Over 50% of Poles currently believe that the country should hold a referendum on whether or not to apply the EU’s new migration policies, according to United Surveys for news service Wirtualna Polska.

The anti-migration heat in Poland has also been ramped up by the accelerating border crisis on its border with Belarus, which has been described as an “invasion” and a “hybrid attack”. The increased number of migrants attempting to cross the border during the summer months, threats from Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko promising to provide more visas to migrants who will try to cross the border ahead of the NATO Summit in neighboring Lithuania, and Wagner leader Yevgeny Prigozhin’s presence in Belarus have all caused heightened tensions, and prompted a resurgence of anti-migrant rhetoric.

The tragedy on the Greek Island is a tragedy because illegal migrants landed on this island.

It is amid a climate of such tensions surrounding migration that the murder of Rubińska, allegedly by a 32 year-old Bangladeshi native took place. Since then, the case has been broadcast in Polish politics to stroke anti-migration fears.

“The tragedy on the Greek Island, that touched one of our own, is a tragedy because illegal migrants landed on this island,” declared Joachim Brudziński, of the ruling PiS party, on Polish television network TVP Info. He was not alone in his thinking.

"If it weren't for the madmen who brought millions of Muslim immigrants to Europe, Anastazja Rubińska would be alive today... Stop the madmen!", wrote Robert Bąkiewicz, the founder of the Polish-nationalist group National Guard (Straż Narodowa).

The stoking of fears also elicited a rapid response from the general public, many of whom urged Polish leadership to curb migration immediately. "Please PiS. I am appealing to you,” one online commenter wrote, reported byGazeta Wyborcza, “Not one more refugee to Poland. Not one more Turk, Vietnamese, or Indian. Not one more Anastazja. This is your most important mission.”

But criticism of migrants has not been coming only from the ruling party, or even only from the Polish right-wing. On Friday, centrist opposition leader Donald Tusk spoke at a campaign rally in Poznań, saying “Did you know that last year the government let in or brought over 135,000 foreigners from countries commonly referred to as Muslim to Poland? In the year we handed over power, there were 3,000.”

photo of Anastazja Rubi\u0144ska on a beach

Rubińska, pictured here in southern France, enjoyed to travel and worked in the tourism sector


Fake news and online hate 

But the Rubińska case has its own dynamic in Poland, as widespread coverage has devolved into misinformation, and a stream of online hate towards migrants, opposition leaders, and even the victim herself.

Despite fear-mongering from Polish politicians, and certain Greek residents, Salahuddin S. was not in the country illegally. According to the mayor of Kos, Nikitaras A. Theodosis, he was a legal resident of Greece, who had been living and working in the country for 11 years. He had no prior criminal record.

Some said that “God was punishing her” for her actions.

According to Gazeta Wyborcza, whose reporters were on the ground in Kos during the investigation, the case also lent itself to several other half-truths being reported. They claim that certain media sources reported that Salahuddin S. had already been charged with counts of rape and murder, before that had been announced by the Greek authorities, and that they have not adequately on the fact that there are several other people still being investigated for the alleged kidnapping and death of Rubińska.

The circumstances surrounding the murder have also prompted critics online to say that the victim's own behavior had caused the attack. Comments to the effect of “what type of woman gets intoxicated publicly”, “she was asking for it”, and “it’s her own fault” began to circulate soon after the details surrounding her disappearance and death became public. Some even went so far as to say that “God was punishing her” for her actions.

"A person from Asia"

On June 22, Salahuddin S. was officially charged with the murder of Anastazja Rubińska. Athensvoice.gr reported that this charge was the result of forensic examinations, which included fingerprint analysis, DNA testing, and data from the alleged perpetrator’s cell phone. Investigators are also trying to determine if any others were involved in the kidnapping, death, and assault.

The careful process of the criminal investigation, however, is not stopping anyone — including public officials — from broadcasting their opinions.

“This case needs to be clarified very carefully, especially since we already know, we can say today, that the most likely scenario was a murder at the hands of a person from Asia,” deputy justice minister Michał Woś declared last week on state broadcaster TVP. Woś then referred to the suspect and others from Bangladesh as “so-called refugees, that is, economic migrants.

Those in Poland with such strong opinions may want to remember that Anastazja Rubińska was in Greece for work?

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