“Kaczyński has created a cult of personality”
Poles moving away from the Catholic Church

The Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw. (Photo: Katja Lihtenvalner)

Poland is waging a hybrid war these days on its militarised Eastern border, trying in its own words to “defend Europe” against thousands of migrants coming from Belarus.

“Yesterday we prevented the crossing of about 50 individuals and returned them to the border,” Polish police reported today on the passage of migrants trying to reach the European Union via Poland.

At home, on the other hand, the Polish government is facing weeks of protests over its crackdown on women’s rights, 7% inflation, restrictions on critical media, interference with the rule of law and the political monarchism of Kaczynski.

“In Poland, we are seeing a kind of pan-European problem: prospective cities are flourishing, while the countryside is being neglected,” Bartosz Wielinski, deputy editor of Gazeta Wyborcza, the largest daily newspaper in the country, tells us.

The ruling political party “Law and Justice” (PiS), led by former Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczyński, has succeeded in building a kind of cult, a quasi-religion like Donald Trump. “Loyal voters, who make up a fifth of the electorate, blindly believe everything Kaczyński says and brand any criticism as a lie,” Wielinski explains.

Everything shows that Kaczynski’s vision, who is in fact acting as a “sheriff” and wants to detach Poland from Western-European culture and push it into a dark Eastern-European-Visegrad empire ruled by the principles of the Roman Catholic Church, is out of touch with reality ofPolish society.

“Wrapped in scandals, out of touch with reality, the Polish Catholic Church is today in crisis, and the believers are fewer and fewer,” philosopher and political scientist Jacek Koltan of the European Solidarity Centre in Gdańsk tells us.

Today’s Poland would not be a member of the European Union, but Polexit (the term used to describe a hypothetical Polish exit from the EU) is not the wish of Poles.

Abortion banned, women dying

Protests have been taking place in Polish cities for several weeks following the death of 30-year-old Izabela, who lost her life two weeks ago due to septic shock. Doctors waited until the foetus’s heart stopped beating because of a law that forbids them from aborting an otherwise deformed foetus.

Protests are reported weekly from all major Polish cities, with thousands gathering in the Polish capital last week and more protests planned.

The hashtag #anijednejwiecej has spread on social networks.

Warsaw streets hold the messages from anti-abortion march day before. (Katja Lihtenvalner)

“Law and Justice wants to build a religious-fundamentalist system that will push us back to the Middle Ages. These are criminals”, said Olgierde Stankiewicz, organiser of the rally, at today’s protest in Kosciano.

According to Polish media, Izabela was not the only victim of the controversial law, but at least one victim has already died last summer, and activists say there may be more deaths.

“We assure you that the European Parliament is on your side,” German MEP and Green MEP Terry Reintke, a Green MEP, tweeted in support of the Polish women.

The government of Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has also spoken out about the case, pointing the finger at the doctors.

The deeply conservative President Duda, however, expressed his regret at the press conference: “Everybody talks about the death of the mother, but nobody mentions that the child also died.”

“Religion is losing importance, Netflix is to blame”

“Most Poles want nothing to do with religious life,” says Koltan, a political scientist at the European Solidarity Centre. He calls the phenomenon “the metamorphosis of religious life”.

The Polish Catholic Church, Koltan argues, has pointed the finger at Netflix and Facebook for the decline in attendance, especially among young people.

“Europe is being destroyed by a moral crisis of people who see freedom as a debauched life,” Stanislaw Gadecki, the head of the Catholic Church in Poland, said a few months ago. Last year, Gadecki had already caused a stir by saying that the mass protests against the abortion ban were the result of the influence of social networks used by “cultural Marxists” to “promote homosexuality, hedonism and promiscuity”.

The Catholic Church has responded to the popularity of Netflix in Poland by offering its services through a colourful selection of Christian content on the Katoflix platform, which, according to the website, tends to offer content that will “lead people to God”.

Koltan sees several problems that are pushing all Eastern European countries into the reign of “illiberal democracies”, which, apart from Poland, have taken root in Hungary, and tendencies of which are also cultivated in Slovenia.

“Eastern and Central Europe is not being heard enough within the European Union. Its economic inequality vis-à-vis the West is too big, and the formation of the far right seems to be a normal response in such conditions, even if complex”, says a Polish political analyst.

“We have 80 lawsuits”

The offices of Gazeta Viborcza in the Polish capital are quiet these days. For epidemiological reasons, most of the journalists of this influential newspaper are still working from home.

The long-established newspaper has been a thorn in the side of the ruling authorities for several years. After the new Polish government of Prime Minister Morawiecki took power in 2015, one of the first moves was to cancel media subscriptions and advertisements.

Offices of Gazeta Viborcza in its headquarters in Warsaw. (Katja Lihtenvalner)

“In this way, they believed we would go under, but it didn’t happen. We escaped the fate of a failed newspaper through our readers’ subscriptions and ads,” deputy editor Wielinski tells us.

During the pandemic, the government launched a major information campaign worth millions of Polish zloty. Gazeta Viborcza, which has a huge reach among its readership, received nothing even during the Corona aid to some media outlets.

“We chose the media on the basis of credibility analyses,” was the reply of a government spokesman.

In a new repressive move, in February this year the government proposed a special tax on advertisements from which some pro-government media would be excluded. At the time, the Polish media banded together and blacked out their screens for a day, leaving newspaper pages without content.

The government then abandoned the idea, but the pressure on critical media did not end there.

“They saw that they could not legally restrict us, so they took to the courts,” he explains, tells us they have over 80 legal cases against them by various government representatives (from ministers, politicians, entrepreneurs and directors close to the government).

“We win many cases at first instance, but these lawsuits are stressful, time-consuming and, of course, financially burdensome,” explains Wielinski, who sees this as a tactic by the government to make the media’s job more difficult.

The ruling “Law and Justice” party of the conservative Kaczyński has succeeded in turning Poland into an illiberal private bussiness project. In this respect, the economic crisis is by no means grist for the mill of the current Polish Government, because pro-European Poland does not want to leave the European Union, but to remain an integral part of it.

Originally published in Slovenian: Poljska: Migranti bodo odšli, problemi ostali (vecer.com)

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Katja Lihtenvalner

Katja Lihtenvalner

Journalist. Greece, Western Balkans #PoliticalExtremism #HateSpeech #FakeNews Head of Research at RusaalkaFilms Monitored #GDtrial I train #MuayThai