I just watched the most ridiculous spectacle. Both candidates in the Polish presidential elections refused to participate in the debate organized by the other (as we have to make it clear, TVP does not even hide that they play on Duda’s side). In result this evening we had two separate spectacles: one in TVP, when Andrzej Duda answered conveniently filtered questions from the public (apparently reading them from a teleprompter?), and other where Rafał Trzaskowski was answering questions from the journalists representing 20 various media outlets. Both candidates prepared space for their opponents, but it was only TVP that constantly commented on the absence of Trzaskowski, including dramatic zooms on the empty rostrum. And after the “debate” was over, TVP decided to use time “saved on Trzaskowski’s missing answers” to allow for Duda to have a televised meeting with local people, who happened to be local PiS activists.
Everyone complained that the “dual para-debate” was ridiculous, but I for one liked that new format. Luckily I have two computer screens, so I was able to play both candidates side by side. I paused both of them in turns, allowing the other to speak. When they spoke rubbish, I fast-forwarded to the next question: it was brilliant. No boring fluff, no interrupting each other – all television debates should be organized in that format from now on!
But let’s be serious for a while: this is just yet another attempt of PiS creating parallel, virtual reality. Just compare how Andrzej Duda’s meeting with the public at Wrocław’s Market Square looked through the lense of PiS media (first part of the clip below) and how it looked in reality (further in):
As you can see the number of people who came to protest against Duda (on the left, behind the police lines) exceeded greatly the number of those in support of him. And this is despite the fact, that Duda fans were bussed in from all around the region (I am originally from Wrocław, and two of my friends independently reported to me that groups of those “Duda supporting Wrocław residents” struggled to find their way to the Market Square). Some also witnessed coaches and mini-buses from as far as Silesia picking up Duda’s fans after the event was over. And this is not a record: during his meeting in Wałbrzych, he was greeted by people in the traditional Highland gear. Except that those were wrong mountains, as Wałbrzych lies in the Sudetes, and those were wearing traditional clothing from Tatras, about 400 km to the east.
Rodowici wałbrzyszanie. pic.twitter.com/yL4Y2TD01s
— Lud w majtkach (@marcin_kulinski) July 4, 2020
Andrzej Duda’ fans are often aggressive towards people who do not share their admiration towards them. Wrocław was no different. Bogdan Zdrojewski, former mayor of the city and current member of the senate, was also present in the Market Square, where, according to his reports, he was met with verbal and psychical abuse. Amongst the attacked was also a journalist from Gazeta Wrocławska. Despite the fact, that attack (which can be seen on the footage) happened in presence of no less than 5 police officers, they all claimed that they haven’t seen anything.
If there is one thing, in which Kaczyński and PiS are proficient, is inciting hate in people. Aggression towards supporters of the opposition candidate becomes a daily occurrence. In Wałbrzych house displaying Rafał Trzaskowski’s banner had been vandalized. In Mazowsze a man stopped his car to destroy another Trzaskowki’s banner and when he was confronted by the owners of the fence the banner had been placed on, he became very aggressive towards them and threatened with setting their house on fire (the man has been since arrested by the police and can face up to 5 years in prison).
In Wąchock, passers-by were abused by a Cisterian Monk keeping guard by Andrzej Duda banner placed on the fence of the abbey. His abbot apologized for his behaviour, saying that the friar has mental issues, but the question remains: why, despite the Episcopate’s claim that Church is not to be involved in politics, the abbey provides advertising space for PiS candidate?
The drive against LGBT also incites hate towards those minorities. Andrzej Duda promised to make it impossible for homosexual couples to adopt children (calling it an “experimentation” and “enslavement of children”). This is a response to one of the projects supported by Rafał Trzaskowski, which allows for a same-sex partner of the children’ parent to become it adopted co-parent. But such details does not make it right to the bottom of the information chain – only the general message that LGBT is bad, so when the reporter from Onet asked a couple of village men from Lubelskie voivodship about their opinion on the LGBT community, he was informed, that “they should have their heads chopped out, or be gunned down. Germans would do it better, they should reopen Majdanek concentration camp and burn those swines down”.
Inciting hate work mostly on PiS followers, but the other side reacts accordingly. Many supporters of the opposition openly state that PiS followers are just uneducated idiots, bribed to vote PiS by government handouts. While that might be true to some extent, they ignore the fact, that for many poorer people those handouts were life-changing experience. Since all Polish governments for decades failed to address such issues like a low pension or structural unemployment there is little wonder that those people will support those, who at least ad hoc eased their hard existence by giving them cash. But while the opposition seems to be tired of that division, PiS electorate seems to thrive on the narration dividing Poles into “us” and “them”, the “true Poles” and “traitors”, that has been pumped by PiS for many years but recently was taken to the extreme.
A recent poll for Oko.press show, that two major reasons why people want to vote Trzaskowski are “to ensure that Poland is a democratic country with rule of law” (64% as opposed to 24% of Duda voters who want to vote for him for the same reason) and “so there is fewer arguments and divisions in Poland” (38%). Ending arguments and divisions are the important factors only for 14% of Duda’s voters, for whom main reasons to support their candidates are national pride and living conditions.
But while those, who vote for the opposition might not deserve the respect of PiS voters, surely paedophiles, not only from the clergy, have it better than ever before. It had emerged that in March this year president Duda pardoned a paedophile – and the one present on the list of the worst sexual predators introduced by justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro. Duda claims that there was no rape, but he’s lying: the man was clearly sentenced for prison time for raping his daughter. He served his sentence in full, and the pardon only revokes his restraining order preventing him from approaching his family.
PiS line of defence here goes in two directions. The first is that the man is not really a paedophile: he was just behaving this way when he was drunk – informs leading pro-PiS portal wPolityce.pl. The second is that it was, in fact, the act of mercy towards that man’s family, as they have forgiven him and he lives with them in the same flat already anyway (despite that he already served an extra year for breaking that restraining order). Perhaps it is true and the (now adult) daughter has indeed forgiven her father. But perhaps the reason for this is that the flat that they live in belongs to him and he’s also the only person with permanent employment in the family, while mother and daughter are heavily in debt and with only casual jobs. So for them, it’s either allowing him to get back home and take care of their living costs, or end homeless, as they won’t be able to stay in the flat on their own. The experts point out that this is a clear case of the economical violence, perhaps also Stockholm syndrome. Of course, we won’t get to the bottom of it, especially that this is just a satirical column in the Czech internet portal, but one question remains open: would the victims be so keen to live with their abuser under one roof again if they have received a proper help from the state? Unfortunately under PiS is not so easy, due to reasons mentioned in that series several times before: according to Supreme Audit Office report, since Zbigniew Ziobro became minister of justice only tiny percentage of the funds that should be used to help victims of crime actually reaches them – the vast majority of that money is used to indirectly support Ziobro’s political allies…
The scandal with the pardoned paedophile was picked up by Fakt – one of the biggest Polish tabloids, owned partially by a German company (that is, in turn, owned by a Swiss company, but PiS do not need to go that deep). That was enough for PiS to start a little war with Germany after Adam Bielan, PiS MEP and chief of Duda’s electoral campaign accused Germany of interfering with Polish elections. To everyone’s surprise, PiS in the same moment opened another front of that war, this time on Twitter, where PiS MEP Beata Mazurek argued with US Ambassador to Poland about if TVN, a major TV station critical of the government-owned by an American Company, is actually an institution created by the secret agents of the ancient regime with the aim of undermining democracy in Poland. And she was roughly showed her place, in a way that could be considered extremely firm by diplomatic standards:
.@BeataMK – shame on you for perpetuating what you know is an absolute lie by suggesting that TVN is WSI. This is beneath a representative of the Polish people.
— Georgette Mosbacher (@USAmbPoland) July 6, 2020
And so, the campaign is going on. The PiS celebrates the success – Gazprom had to pay Poland back 1.5 billion dollars after the ruling of the arbitrage tribunal in Stockholm. What they forget to say is that Poland was overcharged due to very unfavourable deal signed by the previous PiS government and the matter was contested when Donald Tusk was in power. Andrzej Duda travels around Poland (as usual, at high speed, with his motorcade forcing other road users off the road, as seen on this footage). Everybody is doing their part. Beata Szydło explains to PiS supporters, that if someone voted for Duda once, it does not mean that he doesn’t have to go vote again in the second round. TVP continues its propaganda, and when it is not possible – like when the guest from right-wing Konfederacja says not nice things about PiS – suddenly a white noise is being heard over their voice, so he cannot be heard properly. And since the actual people from Konfederacja fail to deliver the desired message, PiS records their own spot where actors and PiS activists pretend to be Konfederacja voters who decided to vote Duda in the second run. The prime minister himself also is on the campaign trail, as usual making absurd promises: like when he promises such a great revolution in Polish football, that young people will dream about playing for Jagiellonia Białystok, instead of Manchester, Barcelona or Madrid. He also informs that we don’t have to fear COVID-19 any more, so everyone – especially the elderly (who are most likely to vote Duda) – should go and vote in the elections with no fear.
The few people who stayed in Warsaw to actually run the country are apparently unable to cope with their obligations: the new deputy minister of finances refused to report to the Senate’s Commission of Budget and Finances, saying that “the ministry will not run to fulfil every whim of the [opposition] speaker of the senate”. According to independent opposition senator Wadim Tyszkiewicz, the government refused also to answer Senate’s question about irregularities in the first round of the election. And they have a lot to answer:
Many of the Poles abroad were unable to vote as they haven’t received their ballots on time – incidentally in the countries where Polish diaspora tends to support the opposition. Many independent observers reported also minor attempts of fraud and some irregularities during the election day in Poland. Nothing major. But with both candidates polling so close, it could be enough to “organize” just a few thousands of votes for Duda to ensure his reelection. And if that happens, Poland can forget about having fair elections for years or even decades to come…
This piece was written for Britské Listy