Published Thursday, 19 July 2012
Bonfires were lit across Northern Ireland on the Eleventh Night. (© Getty)
Polish flags and an election poster for a Polish candidate - the SDLP's Magdalena Wolska - were spotted on bonfires across Belfast last week.
The founder of the Polish Association in Northern Ireland, Maciek Bator, has spoken out on the issue after receiving a number of complaints and requests for action to be taken.
In an open letter, the group branded the flag-burning "acts of racist intimidations aimed at the Polish community" and said the behaviour was "totally appalling and offensive".
As a community, we are against a society where, to affirm one identity, others are denied respect and dignity.
Polish Association Northern Ireland
Concerns have been expressed that such acts could encourage hatred and add to the number of attacks on the Polish community which are already being reported to the PSNI.
"We call on all political and community leaders in Northern Ireland to take urgent action to stop hatred and bigotry," the Polish Association said.
"By not taking any actions and remaining silent, the leaders are effectively endorsing this sort of despicable behaviour."
The open letter added: "The Polish flag is a symbol of freedom, independence, and peace for the 30,000 Polish people living in Northern Ireland and around 80 million across the globe.
"During World War II, Polish soldiers fought in alliances against Nazi forces and provided assistance in the Battle of Britain to help defend the United Kingdom from German invasion.
"A number of Polish aircraft men died in Northern Ireland and are buried in Northern Irish ground."
The SDLP's International Secretary Claire Hanna - a party colleague of Ms Wolska, whose election poster was burned - said the actions showed "a disturbing seam of racism bubbling to the surface".
She added: "What we saw last week is yet another worrying symptom of the fact that we still have people in the North who cannot accept difference.
"All hate crimes, whether it be those seen at the bonfires or the burning of Orange Halls or GAA premises, should be referred to the police so that justice can take its course."
Division did not work in anyone's interests 40 years ago and it will not do so now.
Claire Hanna, SDLP
Alliance MLA Anna Lo described those responsible for the flag-burning as "nothing more than bigots".
She added: "I would urge community leaders to encourage the people involved in the building of these bonfires to ensure that nothing like a flag or an effigy is placed on them.
"Also, the Orange Order has a role to play in ensuring that incidents such as this are not repeated next year.
"This is clearly racist behaviour which is doing the image of Northern Ireland a lot of damage."
Concerns have been also been raised, as in previous years, about the burning of Irish flags and emblems - including effigies or references to people who died during the Troubles.