Poland and its first steps toward authoritarianism: leash for the media

Author : Piotr Andrusieczko

Source : 112 Ukraine

Perspectives of Poland's new laws on media: there is a threat of turning into mouthpiece of the authorities
19:30, 20 January 2016

Piotr Andrusieczko, Gazeta Wyborcza correspondent in Ukraine, exclusively for Evropeiska Pravda.

When right party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość (PiS) or "Law and Justice", led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, won the last year's presidential and parliamentary elections, it became clear that radical changes would take place in Poland. I would even say revolutionary ones. Their goal is reformatting the system established by their opponents, center-right "Civic Platform".

Actions of PiS provoked mass protests. From December to January, a tens of thousands of Poles gathered for demonstrations in many cities all over the county. They created a Committee for the Defense of Democracy. Moreover, some even started to talk about Polish Maidan.

It sould be noted from the very beginning that Maidan will not occur in Poland. At least now. And it does not mean that the overall situation of the closest neighbor of Ukraine is that good.

Anxiety and dishonesty

January 18, Polish President Andrzej Duda came to Brussels. The main point of his visit was to talk with Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, who has been Polish Prime Minister since 2014.

Their meeting illustrates the changes that had happened.

On the one hand, Tusk as a long-term Prime Minister, was an ardent supporter of European integration. On the other hand, the president, backed by the political force which their actions have caused concern in the EU. And it is not only about Polish conflict on a domestic level.

January 13, 2016 the European Commission has promised to start monitoring of the situation in Poland in terms of compliance with European legislation. This mechanism was approved in the EU in March 2014.

The purpose of such monitoring is to determine whether the Member State does not affect the values ​​of the European Union. For example, the principles of democracy.

January 19, European Parliament held a debate devoted to the situation in Poland. Prime Minister Beata Szydło came to Strasbourg. Her speech and her letter, which she addressed to the MEPs, intended to reassure EU officials that everything is all right with Poland’s democracy.

"Unfair voices incorrectly evaluate Poland and the Polish government. And this is not a result of insufficient information. They are voiced by the detractors," she claimed, assuring that freedom of speech in Poland is not in danger, as well as the existence of the Constitutional Tribunal.

"We want to be in Europe, of which we dream," said Beata Szydło, stressing that Poland should solve its political problems without external interrupting. That is that the Commission should not start monitoring the legal situation in Poland.

As it was expected, she failed to convince all of her listeners. Beata Szydło had to dace not even questions, but allegations of destruction of democratic institutions in the country.

“Madam Prime Minister, you can change the laws, but not the values," noted Esteban González Pons, the center-right faction deputy.

The representative of German "Greens" Rebecca Harms, who is responsible of Polish and Ukrainian affairs, warned the Polish ruling majority of "dictatorship". Known for his acute statements chef of the Liberals Guy Verhofstadt asked Shydlo "not pull Poland towards the East direction".

"I know that Kaczynski does not like Putin. I also do not like Putin, my name is even in the blacklist, in which Kaczynski is not mentioned. But this kind of disunity between Poland and Europe could be helpful for Putin,” Belgian politician warned.

Notably, accusing European colleagues about the lack of awareness on the situation in Poland, Beata Shydlo put it mildly, also used some manipulations.

Many were angered with her phrase that "Poland has hosted a million refugees from war-torn Ukraine, when no one wanted to help them".

However, official statistics show that this is not true: of the applicants, citizens of Ukraine who came to Poland after the conflict with Russia, has got the refugee status.


Teraz, kurwa, my

Few time ago in Polish politics dominated a slogan “Teraz, kurwa, my” or "Now, damn, we [are in power]", once expressed by Jaroslaw Kaczynski in an interview with Gazeta Wyborcza in 1997. It means that the winner takes all, puts his people into the offices, neglecting the skills of the candidate, but rather divides the world on “Us” and “Them”.  

The official slogan of the new government is "A good change". Andrzej Duda went to the elections with this slogan in May 2015: he argued that he will guarantee positive changes in Polish politics that the new government will not be as aggressive as the previous one, and that he is president of all the Poles.

However, recent changes that PiS faced after winning, could be described with Kaczynski's words, or with the phrase "now or never". Actually, it comes to changing the system. Moreover, to say goodbye to Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, that is all that was built in Poland by 1989.

Today, certainly, we cannot talk about the end of democracy in Poland and to compare the current government with authoritarian regimes, or even dictatorships.

However, it does not mean that there is no cause for worries. "A good change", offered by a new team, is a rapid change. Their haste cause solid concerns.

“I admit I was wrong. I thought it would take them six months but they managed in six weeks. Stakhanovites!” joked on Twitter one of the key opponents, former Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski.

In the first line of fire came the struggle for Constitutional Tribunal, Polish Constitutional Court. According to many experts and the judges, now there is an attempt to violate its independence. In fact, the new government is trying to subjugate the highest judicial body.

The Law of covert surveillance was adopted, its main points were formulated by the previous government. But then PiS, while being in opposition, criticized the initiative of the then ruling forces, and now the police and security services have received more control over the actions of citizens in the Internet.

It is also about changing the election law.

Consequently, the argument which seemed to make the political opponents silent, that the new government of Poland won the Democratic race, and please do not touch it, is not convincing.

Ukraine knows the falsity of this argument. In 2010, Viktor Yanukovych won the democratic elections, and one of his first decisions was the submission of the Constitutional Court by which he introduced amendments to the Constitution.

Don’t you say that such comparisons are inappropriate? Possibly. Nevertheless, at least the fact that journalists, politicians and activists who have criticized the Polish government abroad, now are treated as informers. And this opinion comes from the official post-election videos of "Law and Justice": "Everyone has the right for independent thought, but the problems begin when the party that lost, and loyal journalists pour their regrets abroad".

"This is a habit be an abroad rat against Poland... In Poland there is a fatal tradition of national betrayal. Actually, it is happening now. It's in the genes of some people, the worst sort of Poles," said Jaroslaw Kaczynski in a December interview for the TV channel "Repubblica".

Fourth power at gunpoint

One of the key issues of the debate in the European Parliament is forced changes in public, that is social media.

PiS has been talking about the need of permutations for a long time. The so-called "Good change" was to include public media too. According to PiS, this should make them a counterweight to private newspapers, radio and television, where investors come from abroad.

Another aspect of change in the public media, which offered PiS, was to reduce level of politisation of media, formed by the predecessors.

How do these changes look like in practice?

The first result of reforms in the public media is widespread change of leadership in television and radio, as well as change of the journalists themselves.

Although, we should not idealize "predecessors" of PiS. Indeed, cleansing in public media also took place under the previous regimes.

However, the main concern is the systemic reforms that, according to critics, can lead to the actual submission of public media authorities. In December 2015 the Sejm has voted, and the President has signed amendments to the law on mass media, so-called "small media law".

"Small Law" primarily provides that the State Council for Radio and Television, which under the Constitution has become the guardian of freedom and the public interest in radio and television, now have no impact on the appointment of members of supervisory boards in the media .

In fact, the role of the State Council, which (according to critics of the new changes) previously guaranteed the independence of the media, will be significantly limited. And some of its functions to the adoption of a new "big law" carries Minister of State Treasury of Poland personally. With no collective decisions.

On both sides of barricades

The symbol of the changes became the new head of Polish TV - journalist and politician Jacek Kurski.

After 1989, he frequently changed his party affiliation, but it was always the right side of the political scene. In early 1990 Kurski was associated with the party "Common Ground Center" of Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and later with the party "Law and Justice", with which he regularly went out and came back. During this time he got the reputation "of political Bull Terrier" of Jarosław Kaczyński.

In 2005, during the presidential elections Kurski worked in the campaign of Lech Kaczynski. Then he was forced to leave after the statements on Donald Tusk, who had allegedly served in the Wehrmacht. In addition to reputation of "Bull Terrier", Kurski is also known as a strong opponent of "Civic Platform" and Gazeta Wyborcza.

Interestingly, on the other side of the barricades stands his brother - Yaroslav Kurski, deputy editor of Gazeta Wyborcza. He is not as public as Jacek.

However, the political situation forced Yaroslav Kursk to take part in the latest demonstrations of Committee for the Defense of Democracy. During one of the meetings in January this year he publicly spoke: "Not all the Kurskis are bad", referring to his brother.

What should the national media be?

Meanwhile, the real revolution in the media is ahead. It should happened after the adoption of the so-called "big law" of the media.

The most important mission of "national radio and television," or TVP and Polish Radio will be "cultivating national traditions, patriotic and humanistic values, spiritual needs of listeners and viewers". Even if "preserving objectivism, pluralism, independence and quality".

One more nod is done in the direction of the Church.

The law should provide that national media "respect the Christian system of values, accepting it as a universal fundamental ethical principles".

Another task of the national media will be spreading positions and views of Parliament, president, prime minister and other authorities, as well as pluralistic position representing registered political parties, trade unions and employers' unions "in key public affairs".

The question arises: how would the oppositional forces represented in these media. Or would they just turn into mouthpiece of the authorities?

Previous years, right-wing opposition often complained that there is imbalance in public media. Now, however, there re even more grounds for concern.

First, the main body control of the media will be the newly formed organization - the Council of the national media, which will have the right to dismiss the heads of the national media, to determine their statutes and salary.

The Council consists of five members, who are appointed for six years. Two of them will be personally appointed by a president, and another two by the Sejm, and the last by the Senate.

PiS will be able to control all the members.

Another innovation is new public program council, which should inspire the media to the public objectives of the mission. Candidates could come from universities, NGOs, Catholic and other churches.

There is no doubt in the answer to the question whether such changes on Polish television to maintain their independence, what was promised by the new head Jacek Kurski.

The question is whether the EU would be able to block these dangerous innovations.

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