Publikujemy tekst wystąpienia Tomasza Piątka, wygłoszonego dziś w Oslo na Zjeździe Związku Pisarzy i Tłumaczy Norwegii.
Tłumaczenie tego wystąpienia na język polski znajdziecie tutaj
Is there climate for critical writing in Poland? There was.
I feel deeply honored and grateful for your invitation. When I was a child, the bookshelves of my parents’ apartment were full of books by Scandinavian writers. One the first books that impressed me deeply as a kid was ‘Markens Groede’, ‘Growth of the Soil’ by Knut Hamsun. When I was bigger, I got to know about Hamsun’s political choices. I told myself: OK, also the bad guys can achieve beauty. However, I believed and I still believe that the highest challenge for a writer is to join aesthetical values with ethical ones in his or her writing.
It means that a writer is supposed to confront reality with criticism. What it means, to be a critical writer in Poland?
In the years 1989-2015, most of the Polish media were subject to extreme commercialization. The book readership was reduced significantly. The schools and universities weren’t focused on teaching ways of critical thinking. Frequently, mainstream media presented a tendency to ignore or ridicule any critique of Neo-Liberal political-economical orthodoxy. Also, the ideological hegemony of the Roman Catholic Church was an obstacle to develop a Polish culture of critical thinking.
However, during this period these factors didn’t kill a free critical debate in Poland. They even stimulated it as every hegemony is a mother of rebellion. Thanks to a few less commercialized but still well-selling and influential newspapers, this rebellion had a positive, constructive impact on Polish public debate. I’m hinting mostly to the daily newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” and the weekly news magazine “Polityka”.
Founded by heroes of anti-Communist opposition, “Gazeta Wyborcza” became a lab of free thinking for all streams of Democratic writers in Poland – from Liberal-Conservative to leftwing ones. After 2010, their debate exploded with new fresh strength. This was the moment in which Polish intellectuals started to question all Polish political, economic and religious dogmas.
Unfortunately, there were countertendencies caused by technological and economic factors, especially the rise of social media. The social media turned out to be a breeding ground for professional producers of catchy, attractive and evasive content including lies.
The newspapers and book industry heavily weakened as they started to lose readers because of their evasion to social media. Many newspapers had to fire most of their workers, from investigative reporters to proof-readers. So, many readers abandoned the truth for lies – and the truth-seekers started to lose capacity of seeking and presenting the truth.
Also writing a good fiction became a challenge. The literary markets always preferred easy fiction over good one and now this preference is stronger than ever.
The economical tendencies often generate political ones. The internet “lies factories” became a tool of hate-mongering politicians. Quickly, Polish extreme right wingers started to use it for spreading their xenophobe and homophobe sentiments. They had a surprising help from the biggest internet lie factory in the world: The Kremlin.
Obviously, after many investigations we know that Putin’s regime is helping all anti-democratic tendencies in the Western world. But I have to say ‘surprising’ as Polish rightwing movements until 2013 were anti-Russian in a very violent way. However, around 2014 the Polish right-wingers understood that their old enemy is becoming a friend. After that year, they started to shift from anti-Russian rhetoric to anti-Western, anti-Ukrainian and Islamophobic policies.
The years 2014-2015 were marked by fake news campaigns about two alleged dangers coming to overthrow Poland. The first one was “the gay danger” or “the gender ideology danger” – allegedly coming to Poland from the West. The second one was “Islamic danger”, allegedly bringing terrorism and even epidemic diseases to Poland from the South with Western help.
Because of these campaigns, the extreme right wing won the parliamentary elections in 2015. It was a surprise as very few observers expected the socio-psychological upside-down that was coming. Suddenly, grotesque and publicly despised lies had millions of followers. These followers voted for the extreme right Law & Justice Party which is ruling Poland now.
When Law & Justice came to power it did everything to strengthen the newly acquired position of “lies as the new truth”. First of all, the ruling party took over the prosecutor offices and started to take over the courts, breaching one of the fundamental democratic principles of the independency of the judiciary.
The result is that today, when a journalist is exposing the ruling party scandals he risks being investigated and prosecuted. I’m thinking about investigative reporter Wojciech Czuchnowski and other friends from Gazeta Wyborcza who recently received more than twenty law suits and criminal complaints from the ruling party or its people. I’m thinking also about Radosław Gruca from Fakt newspaper sued for almost one million euros by a Polish-Russian gangster tied to the ruling party. I’m thinking about my publisher Marcin Celiński – an excellent political essayist, by the way – who is receiving almost as much suits for what I’m writing as I’m receiving myself.
To evaluate these cases, we must remember that exaggerated, so called “freezing” civil suits are a political threat as well. Especially when judges suffer from political pressure – and in Poland, they do. Even if most of them still bravely resist the rightwing Minister of Justice. He uses to punish them with degradation if their verdicts are against the will of ruling party.
In the opposite direction, when a journalist or an opposition politician is threatened or insulted by right-wingers he’s not protected by the prosecutor’s office. In such cases the prosecutors chose to defend “freedom of speech” – as they understand it.
Also, the government stopped to advertise in independent media. Even worse, the government prohibited the public offices – even courts – to buy independent newspapers like “Gazeta Wyborcza”. The petrol stations owned by the state substantially limited sales and exposition of the independent press.
Public institutions like The Polish Books Institute, which are supposed to promote the bravest Polish authors now support extreme rightwing or Fundamentalist Roman Catholic fiction writers. These writers use fiction as a tool for spreading xenophobe and a macho-patriarchal vision of the world.
The ruling party has also taken over the public media outlets, transforming them into huge lie factories. The public TV financed by Polish taxpayers (including me) is spreading fake news and bias even more shameful than what we find on the internet.
The public prime-time information TV show is full of North-Korean style propaganda. The public TV is insulting independent journalists and democratic politicians calling them – literally – traitors, madmen and even worse. I could quote thousands of examples, but I give you only few of them.
All those who denounced the ruling party’s efforts to control the judiciary were called “defenders of the pedophiles” by the public TV.
The public TV repeatedly attacks the “Gazeta Wyborcza” founder and hero of the anti-Communist opposition, Adam Michnik, with anti-Semitic hints to his family roots.
The journalist of the public TV station Cezary Gmyz publicly offended the Chairman of the Polish Supreme Court, calling her a “slut”. He’s still a journalist there.
So, you can ask why anybody wants to work in public TV. As I said before, the normal media are weakened by internet and the social media revolution. The public media and the right-wing government-friendly media are heavily financed by the state. The public TV is one of few places where a young journalist or wannabe journalist can earn good money.
But it’s a contract with the devil. Recently, journalist Piotr Owczarski testified in The European Parliament about the workers’ conditions in Polish public TV. Its journalists are hired with fictional business-to-business contracts. If they don’t bring a fresh new lie in time, the can lose the daily paycheck.
During official meetings the editors-in-chief brief their workers saying: “Now we throw fucking bombs against the mayor of Warsaw” (the city of Warsaw is ruled by a liberal politician and the quote is exact).
The bosses of public TV intercept the social media activities of their workers. Why? To discover gay people among them in order to fire them.
Just to finish, I will say few words about my case. I published two books about the Polish minister of defense Antoni Macierewicz in the years 2015-2018. He’s a very curious figure. He propagates anti-Russian conspiracy theories but his performance as minister of defense undermined the military security of the Polish eastern borders.
I tried to explain this paradox. I had to do a huge research about all his business or political partners. What I found was astonishing. The supposedly anti-Russian minister was helped and sponsored for years by a secretive Polish millionaire Robert Luśnia connected to Polish Communist secret services in the past with indirect ties to Russian military intelligence GRU as well. Also, the minister Antoni Macierewicz co-worked with American lobbyist Al D’Amato who works for Kremlin-linked mafia and businesses. In 2007, when Antoni Macierewicz was chief of Polish military counterintelligence he granted an access to Polish army secret to Mr Jacek Kotas who worked as chairman for companies founded with Russian mafia money. Also, the minister’s deputy and protegee, his vice-minister of defense Bartosz Kownacki, had an interesting past. Few years ago, Mr Kownacki publicly praised Putin and coworked with Mateusz Piskorski – a Polish pro-Kremlin politician now in jail as suspect of espionage for Russia.
There were more people linked to Russian secret services promoted by Antoni Macierewicz during his political career. So, I decided to dig more in his past. He presents himself as a hero of anti-Communist opposition. But after a detailed research in archives of the Polish Communist secret services, I discovered that he was then under protection of so-called Office of Studies. It was one of the most pro-Kremlin units of Communist Poland’s secret services.
When I published my first book, the minister Antoni Macierewicz didn’t dare to file a civil law suit against me or charge me for defamation. Instead he reported me as a terrorist to a military prosecutor. This absurd accusation was dropped by the prosecutor only after Macierewicz was dismissed as Minister of Defense in 2018.
At the same time, I was sued and denounced by Polish-Russian gangsters that I described in my book. Also, I was the target of a huge hate campaign in government and government friendly media.
They didn’t try to pursue a critical approach to my book. Instead they lied about its content and even more frequently, about my person.
I was attacked because of my disease: they wrote I’m an alcoholic and a drug addict without adding that I have been clean for years.
I was attacked because of my religion. I’m a Protestant so they wrote that I hate the minister of defense because he’s Catholic.
The public TV said that I used to live in Pruszków; a small town in Poland famous for its mafia – so the public TV hinted I’m not a victim of mafia but a member of it. The truth is I never lived in the city of Pruszków, even for one day.
The public TV organized a “debate” about my book, but without inviting me. All participants were right-wingers and tried to ridicule my book. One of them was a youtuber sponsored by the Polish-Russian gangsters who sued me. One of the participants – the only woman invited – pronounced a sentence worthy to remember: “I didn’t read this book, but I know it’s absurd”.Now I am involved in twelve legal processes in Polish courts. I was sued by gangsters, but also, I had to sue the gangster-like ‘journalists’ who published the most brazen lies about my book.
At the same time, I was sued with Gazeta Wyborcza by three Polish organizations linked to a dangerous cult-like organizations known as “Tradition Family Property”. This organization is based in Brasil but is active in the whole Western world under different names. Its aim is to undermine women and gay rights. It co-works with the infamous World Congress of Families sponsored by Kremlin oligarchs. It was exposed by European ARTE TV and other journalists and activists like Neil Datta in Brussels and Klementyna Suchanow in Warsaw.
The members of this organization penetrated many Polish Ministries, including the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After I published thoroughly documented articles about their activities I was sued not once but thrice.
I’m not here to complain. I’m here to say that Poland is fighting for freedom and truth.
Grzegorz Rzeczkowski from Polityka weekly is publishing now a series of penetrating articles about how businessmen and gangsters linked to Kremlin helped Law & Party in its rise to power.
Also, the Onet internet portal is doing a great job in discovering the ruling party scandals.
Against the government’s hatred, the courageous and inspiring Gazeta Wyborcza with its anti-authoritarian spirit is the first Polish newspaper successfully selling journalism on the internet.
The Arbitror Publishing House and its chairman Marcin Celiński who bravely publishes my books are doing well. Despite of falling readership, my book ‘Macierewicz and his secrets’ sold almost a quarter of million of copies.
These market successes are a good sign – but in no way a consolation.
The situation in Poland is more than dangerous. It seems that in few years, the only free speech can be hate speech.