The reports of the death of Polish democracy, to paraphrase the oft told line of the eminent American writer, satirist, and political critic Mark Twain, have been greatly exaggerated.
Contrary to the alarmist media reports emanating from the media mandarins of the mainstream Western press, most Poles on the ground, constituting a silent majority as clearly indicated by the recent Presidential and Parliamentary elections, want to reassure those in the West that in Poland today the threats to democracy being “spun” by the global media complex are grossly mischaracterized and even wholly manufactured.
Democracy in Poland is the healthiest it has ever been in the post-1989, modern era.
The mainstream Western press apparatus however, taking its cues from the Polish mainstream press and those connected to the last government – freshly ejected from office due to its brazen, systemic corruption and its agenda of deeper EU integration – continues to criticise the recently and democratically elected new government and to deliver egregiously incomplete accounts of the actions on the ground; well parsed to ensure no inconvenient truths make it to the Western reader.
This active “spin” is meant to obfuscate the truth about the last eight years as well as to “poison the well” for those elected with the largest democratic mandate in modern Polish history, the former opposition party, Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc– PiS).
Undeniably, this is the first government elected in the post-Communist period with a unilateral imprimatur to govern without coalition partners, but that rarely gets disclosed in recent printed “analysis” as that would undermine the “fascist coup” narrative being vociferously peddled by media, foreign and domestic, and unelected EU apparatchiks who are seeing widespread European rejection of their policies and control.
The propagandist treatment the new government is receiving is occurring at an unceasing and even increasing pace and is being orchestrated by those who cannot claim objectivity as they have been personally, professionally, and financially connected for many years to those who have just been ejected from government. No one in Poland denies that a free people are endowed with the right to public protest. This is self-evident in a modern democracy.
But Western press accounts strongly suggest that this is being violated in Poland today and censorship abounds under the new regime. This is an outright lie as both pro- and anti-government protests have occurred unencumbered by the state the last several weeks.
It is important to set the record straight that during the last eight years in Poland these democratic ideals were NOT upheld and that the right to protest (especially against Brussels’ unwanted refugee quotas in the months leading into the October election), to express oneself freely without fear of reprisal (critics of the government were routinely threatened with defamation suits- this author included), and other civil liberties modern democracies take for granted were routinely abrogated.
It was during the ruling years of the Civic Platform and the Polish People’s Party (PO-PSL) coalition that these generally accepted democratic standards were frequently violated. For the record, here are some examples of what transpired in clear breach of democratic norms during the PO-PSL ruling coalition years:
- Independent journalists were repeatedly harassed by the security agencies. The staff of, among others, Gazeta Polska Codziennie (GPC) had their homes searched. In May 2011, during a pre-dawn raid, the agents of the Internal Security Agency entered the private residential apartment of an Internet user who operated a satirical website lampooning then President, Bronisław Komorowski.
- Independent journalists were dismissed from their posts when they pushed for a transparent investigation into the Smolensk crash of April 2010 which saw 96 deaths including many of the high ranking politicians of the ruling party including President Lech Kaczynski and his wife Maria. Tomasz Sakiewicz and Anita Gargas, among others, lost their jobs in the public media. Cezary Gmyz was dismissed from the editorial staff of Rzeczpospolita (a daily paper partially owned by the state) for publishing information indicating that there were traces of TNT found on the wreck of the plane that crashed in Smolensk. This information was later confirmed by the prosecutors leading the investigation.
- In June 2014, agents of the Internal Security Agency raided the headquarters of the news weekly “Wprost” after the magazine published the transcripts of recorded conversations held by some of the highest level PO politicians in Warsaw’s most exclusive restaurants (dining at taxpayer expense). During this raid the agents attempted to confiscate computers and data storage devices belonging to the journalists. The so called “tapes scandal” (“afera tasmowa”) that had erupted upon publication of the content of these tapes, provided evidence of many scandalous and criminal behaviours, including the revelation that state-owned companies were actively subsidising those media platforms that were writing in favor of the ruling government as a point of policy. It was only the large scale mainstream media outlets, sympathetic to the ruling coalition government and by design NOT covering the government’s corruption scandals, who were the recipients of lucrative advertising contracts from Poland’s largest companies (many of these advertisers being state-owned enterprises with large discretionary budgets overseen by political appointees). For this reason the independent media (GPC being a prime example thereof) regardless of readership or audience, was crowded out of commercial advertising opportunities by government fiat.
- In December 2014, two journalists (Tomasz Gzela of the Polish Press Agency and Jan Pawlicki of Telewizja Republika) were arrested. They were covering the protest held at the headquarters of the National Electoral Commission after the local elections. For a week after the election the Commission would not certify the results of the elections which agitated many Poles and a material contingent decided to protest by occupying the premises of the Commission in a demand for electoral transparency and oversight. The journalists were arrested even though they possessed press passes and were doing their job. All this was going on against the backdrop of the highest level PO politicians such as the then-President (Komorowski) and the Mayor of Warsaw (Hanna Gronkiewicz Waltz) making on-the-record public comments that it was an act of treason to question electoral processes and opacity. Likewise, the head of the supposedly apolitical (and mandatorily independent) Constitutional Tribunal (Andrzej Rzeplinski), despite having no legal right to do so, also publically stated that there were no grounds to question the results of the election and went on television to push this pro PO-PSL narrative. The protests themselves earned almost no mention on the largest national news programs, all publicly funded and staffed by the government’s appointees. To this very day the results of these last local elections remain firmly in doubt in the minds of most Poles on the ground. The shining example of this pertains to PSL having received well more votes than expected (by a factor of 10) in a region (Gdynia) where they have had little historical support yet after a week of silence from the Commission managed to gain just enough votes in aggregate to enable them to remain the junior governing partner and preserve PO’s ruling coalition. In addition there remain almost two thousand formal protests lodged in local courts still without disposition.
- During the last eight years the previous government kept journalists and citizens under surveillance as a routine practice. In 2014, the secret service applied to access 2,177,000 telephone bills. This is a Europe-leading level of prying into ordinary citizens’ every-day lives. Not only was the government approaching mobile providers about phone records but also IP addresses, citizen search histories and habits, and sensitive personal information likely well beyond the scope of any legal authorization. The District Public Prosecutor’s Office in Warsaw is currently spearheading an investigation into the wiretapping of independent journalists. In all likelihood, the secret service had no court warrant to do so.
- In May 2015, after the Presidential election was lost by President Bronisław Komorowski, the PO-PSL coalition violated the constitution and appointed new members of the Constitutional Tribunal before the justices’ terms were up. The politicians of the departing coalition wanted to appropriate the Tribunal by limiting the right of the new ruling party to elect judges of their choice. Today, after the reforms implemented by the democratically elected Law and Justice Party, the judges elected by the Civic Platform still constitute the majority. They occupy 9 of 15 seats in the Constitutional Tribunal though as terms of the remaining justices (one time 9 year terms) roll off the new government will be able to appoint new judges and establish a majority on the bench. This is fitting given the electoral mandate received by the ruling party and the widespread acceptance that the Tribunal in its current form has been a de facto rubber stamp on the previous government’s lawlessness. (The Tribunal was formed in 1986 and has been a heretofore unreformed apparatus dating back to communist times with many of the judges being former Communist Party members….hardly founts of jurisprudence by modern democratic standards.)
These are just a few glaring examples of the way in which the last government subverted democracy to its will to engage in an attempted looting of the country (and in many ways having succeeded).
Similar violations of civil liberties became the norm but they went unreported by a pliant media that was directly and indirectly on the previous government’s payroll.
The number of corruption scandals that occurred under this PO-PSL coalition government was staggering. These encompassed every sort of corrupt behaviour from accepting bribes (one minster openly received his payoffs in the form of expensive watches and when caught was merely dismissed from his post as opposed to jailed), to patronage jobs and contracts going to friends and family members, to bogus un-bid non-competitive contract procurement, to self-dealing and the awarding of undeserved bonuses and expanded pensions, to preferential tax treatment for allies and supporters (including foreign multi-national corporations paying zero Polish income tax on domestically generated revenues), and even the nationalisation of the private sector managed segment of the pension system (rubber stamped as “constitutional” as one of the last acts by the controversial and often illegitimate-acting Constitutional Tribunal at the recent end-of-term of the PO-PSL ruling coalition).
Under this last government’s nose a pyramid scheme (“Amber Gold”) flourished and many thousands of Poles were cheated out of their savings while the politically connected and PO-affiliated and appointed head of the National Bank (Marek Belka) said nothing despite having been fully aware of the scheme (as revealed in the “tapes scandal”).
Yet, with all of these acts regularly occurring, the media complex could not be bothered to report on any of this “in-plain-daylight”, institutionalised cronyism. On October 25th this year the public said enough is enough and in a democratic election, with not a single allegation of any irregularities, rebuked and removed the PO-PSL coalition from power.
Democracy in modern Poland is the healthiest it has been in its quarter century history and without doubt it is certainly stronger than it was compared to the last eight years under the previous ruling coalition government.
The people have finally purged, through democratic elections, the post-communist machine that was never held to account or reformed after 1989. After 26 years of the legacy corrupt system’s culture of self-interested and fraudulent behavior, and a spoils-system “business-as-usual” government having flourished, the people emphatically said “No more!”
Finally, real reform is now beginning to be delivered even as the bleating of the global media cabal attempts to create an undermining cacophony of earth-scorching propaganda. Despite this, Poles on the ground are optimistic and know what is being presented by the domestic Polish “news” platforms, bought and paid for by the previous government, and their friends at CNN, the New York Times, and the Washington Post is not to be considered credible.
As Poles know perfectly well, the death of Polish democracy has been greatly exaggerated.
The author received research assistance on this column from the editorial staff of Gazeta Polska Codziennie