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Poland v. Hate speech

Following the tragic events in Gdańsk ten days ago, Poland undergoes a new debate: how to deal with the hate speech that has spread so massively? It has been part of a wider discussion for years, but the issue was rarely confronted head-on. Now it was catapulted to no. 1 story.

The widow, Magdalena Adamowicz: “my husband was killed by words”. She tells a terrifying story: Nobody wanted to prosecute the hate crimes. This embolden nationalists. They could do whatever they wanted. Carte blanche. The hate wave is up, the aggression is up and Mr. Adamowicz is down. Who attacked him? TV. Somebody was running after the mayor shouting insults. Somebody came to the family’s job threatening the employees to reveal gossip. “My mother had to escape through the back door. Is this public media?”

She asked to be sued by TVP, if they want to. TVP sad: No. They respect her mourning. They threatened everybody else: “do not count on similar understanding of the Polish Television”.

Welcome to Poland.

The Blame Game

Both sides of the political spectrum accuse each other of perpetrating the hate speech. The term even has a Polish term – the hejt. It is mostly expressed on the Internet.

The new undertone is this: in the past the criticism of a hate speech incident would normally come only from the opposing camp. Like in the Plastusie affair (a TV programme on TVP Info aired puppets representing the ex-Warsaw mayor collecting money of the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity just a few days ago). It was criticized by the opponents to the government, but nothing else happened. It is not so easy to look at your own camp to moderate the debate.

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A screen shot of the Plastusie program on TVP Info. The show has been cancelled. 

Jurek Owsiak resigns over the Great Orchestra due to a massive new wave of hejt directed against him. He cries that he is a victim of hate speech and the police does nothing. Instead he is targeted as a perpetrator of hate speech and has been already convicted. A few days later Owsiak reconsiders – after a massive wave of “love” messages from the people who respect him and could not imagine the Orchestra play without its conductor.

A new opinion poll is published according to which 80% of the public perceives to be exposed to the hate speech on the Internet or on the TV.

A local PiS councillor for Kościerzyna is removed from the party after he published his inappropriate comments about late mayor Adamowicz. A vice-director of the Warsaw Museum is suspended for his offensive anti-Jarosław Kaczyński post on Facebook. Yes, both of them are relatively low-profile nationally, but their punishment by PiS and PO is significant, nevertheless.

What seems as a good start, stalls. Only a few politicians, like the head of state Andrzej Duda or the Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski, have admitted to have reacted “emotionally” in the past (Duda), or “when demanding from others, we demand from ourselves” (Trzaskowski via his spokesperson, below). President Duda offered more “modesty” in the future. Most of others have pointed out in the other direction, blaming the “other side”. Andrzej Bielan, PiS/P Senator: “we have TVN24 who is twisted into one direction and we have TVP Info, which is twisted in another direction. This is balance.” For why not, read here.

The problems continue. Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz (portrayed in Plastusie, above), Warsaw’s former mayor, has been given police protection. Someone smashed the window of professor Andrzej Romanowski office in Kraków, who is a historian critical of the Law and Justice policy. Somebody else tried to force the gate to the Presidential Palace in Warsaw. President Duda is in Davos.

The hejt continues. But the ‘love’ (not given any Polish-version as of yet) does not give up. “The last tin of mayor Adamowicz” was an bottom-up initiative of a citizen, who moved by the murder wanted to contribute to the Adamowicz’ tin post-mortem. Patrycja Krzymińska of Borków never imagined how the story would go viral. Her objective was to gather additional 1000 zł (230 Euro) from among friends. What was meant to be a small gesture took a massive proportion. 1000 zł turned into 16 million zł, or 4 million Euro in no time.

What to do?

How to respond? Mayors of three cities offer to organise information campaign against the hate speech in schools. Ultra-conservative NGOs protest against this initiative as they are afraid that the hate speech bashing is in fact a new attempt to promote LGBT among the youth. The issue is divisive, a new opposition to the anti-hate speech campaign arises among the conservatives. Anna Sobecka, MP for PiS, writes to the education minister Anna Zalewska (who’s main problem is the teachers’ strike): “Unfortunately there is no information on who is to deliver the classes, who will define what is the subject of the hate speech and why the to-date classes dedicated to religion, ethics and educational hours were not enough?”.

Paweł Kowal, a former MEP (2009-14) and deputy foreign minister under Law and Justice (2006-7) advocates to increase children awareness of hate speech during their religion classes (see below). Meanwhile, another opinion poll suggests that half of the public would like to see religion taught outside of school (Super Express newspaper). A clear message from the society to the government: the Church is part of the problem, even if it could be a part of the solution.

MP Sobecka might be confused, but there is an urgent need to address the issue. And it is known how to do it. Poland does not need to reinvent the wheel. One of the initiators of teaching prevention against hate speech is Rafał Trzaskowski. In Warsaw the schooling about hate speech prevention is now to be done by the lawyers of the Warsaw’ Bar Council. There is also the 2016 Report on the hate speech in Poland of the Stefan Batory Foundation, and a great website prepared on the issue. There is also the massive Council of Europe that Poland can – and should – reach out to.

TVP affairs

A new cloud on the horizon appears around the activity of the Polish state television (TVP). There is a new outflow of criticism against the TVP. The television has a long history of politically-motivated programming. Following the murder of the Gdańsk mayor, their programs do not change. Every day there is a new reason to be criticised for a lack of balance or for a hate speech incident.

For example, on the day of the Adamowicz funeral, when father Ludwik Wiśniewski was saying important words that “a man who uses hate speech and bases their career on a lie cannot hold higher offices in Poland” the camera was showing Donald Tusk. Entire liberal media and opposition reaction: Manipulation! Father Wiśniewski later explained he meant those words were to be directed at… everybody, not one person: “We have tamed hate. We do politics by throwing mud at other people”.

Then Piotr Owczarski, who used to work for TVP under leadership of the current boss, Jacek Kurski, took the floor in the European Parliament. There was a hearing in the PETI committee. Owczarski: “Working for TVP is like working in North Korea.” He accuses the company for mobbing, could not get his case considered in Poland and wrote to the EP petitions committee. There was a little infighting if the issue would be heard in an open session or not. PiS wanted the EP committee case to be heard privately. The committee decided otherwise and the hearing was probably among the better mediatised events of the 5-year long term of the EP committee. Owczarski says that gay people, independent thinking people are fired from TVP. “Discrimination is massive!” He says that TVP organised a campaign of instigation and hate speech against the late mayor Adamowicz: “For a few months the TVP has been tormenting him publicly. The journalists have been forced to show him only in a negative light”. If you read Polish, the Wirtualne Media has a full story on the Owczarski hearing.

As I wrote before, TVP is politically dependant on the will of Jarosław Kaczyński. All the public can do is pressurize the PiS leader to change his mind about the TVP chairman, Jacek Kurski.

To increase the pressure to remove the TVP hate speech perpetration, the Civic Platform (PO) announced they shall boycott the station until Mr. Kurski is removed from office.

For now, PSL, .N, Biedroń did not join the boycott.

A few days ago media have reported there is a group inside the Law and Justice who advocates change at the top of TVP, too. Last week, president Duda has met with the nominal supervisors of the TVP, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT). Subject of their meeting: the media situation, especially the quality of the public debate, with a special focus on the situations when the free speech border lines are crossed.

About the Author

Piotr Maciej Kaczynski
I talk, I write, I speak, I study, I analyse, I teach, I hike, I run, I travel, I learn, I care. This e-home will be developed gradually. You can find information about me and about my publications and other activities.

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