Meanwhile in Cuckooland 203

Yet another week, yet another time Poles went to the streets. This time to protest against so-called LexTVN, the new law proposed by PiS that on the surface are to ensure that foreign powers have no influence over the Polish media. Doesn’t sound like that bad idea, until you close. The law is clearly aimed at TVN, the last (since Polsat got a bit more cosy with the government) major TV station openly criticizing the government, that is owned by a Dutch company controlled by the American media holding, as if the bill gets passed, in order to get concession to broadcast in Poland, TVN would have to change hands – which gives PiS hope they will be able to buy it using one of the state owned companies or at least have an influence on its new owner.

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Click HERE to see all chapters of the series so far.

This is an obvious attack on media freedom, and the idea is not new, so if you wondered why PiS suddenly decided to go ahead with such urgency, you probably guessed that they are in trouble and need something to cover it up. There is, for example, that problem with a former bodyguard of Beata Szydło who, as regular readers might remember, was involved in the accident in Oświęcim, when her column rammed into a Fiat Seicento driven by a young man (we first wrote about it here). The government media and ministers instantly announced that he was to blame and he should be actually grateful to the government driver who turned left and saved his life by crashing the Prime Minister’s car into a tree. But the case turned to be not-so-obvious and a long process of meddling with the investigation to the point of questioning the credibility of witnesses and losing CD with crucial evidence took place – all to undermine the Seicento driver’s claim, that the column has not been using sirens as required by law and overtaking him illegally at the junction. And now, a couple of days back, that former bodyguard goes to the press to say he has to take the lift of his conscience. In the interview with Gazeta Wyborcza, under his own name, he says how Beata Szydło usually did not use sirens, as they wanted to keep Szydło’s weekly travels to her home low profile, so people won’t talk about how the prime minister is abusing her privileges. He also says, that while he was not ex-plicite ordered to do so, it was expected from him to lie about to the investigators, so the young driver could be framed.

The story is corroborated by a former TVP journalist, who was reporting from the site of the accident. He got reprimanded by his superiors for saying on air that witnesses never heard any sirens and then taken off the air when he said about the double solid line making overtaking in that place illegally. He also mentioned how the journalist who replaced him designed a computer animation showing that there is a broken line and playing sirens loudly, then informing their viewers that it’s the driver of the overtaken Seicento who is to blame.

This is the problem with lexTVN: while, obviously, TVN is not perfect or impartial, it’s the only TV station that still dares to challenge the government and show its wrongdoings. When it’s gone, the standards of TVP will dominate the Polish media market. And then the few remaining papers or portals critical of the government will probably follow – is already controlled by the German capital, and when it comes to Wyborcza, Polityka, or something probably can be conjured up as well.

And when it comes to TVP standards, they are terrible not only where the propaganda replaced journalism. In another sensational (well, for someone who doesn’t know Kurski, at least) material last week Gazeta Wyborcza reported on how TVP boss Jacek Kurski uses his bodyguards as private servants: they do their regular shopping and laundry for them, but also cater for some cravings, like when they were ordered to shop for sweets for Kurski’s wife, they deliver sandwiches to her or feed Kurski’s cats where they are away. But they are also getting some more important tasks such as spying on opposition politicians or Wyborcza’s journalists. And all while being on taxpayer’s payroll.

Gazeta Wyborcza demanded some answers from TVP, but instead, they got statements from their sources, who tried to revoke their permission to publish the article. In the identical messages, they both claim that “they prepared those lies of anger and wish to take revenge on their former boss”. Apparently, Kurski acts really quickly and managed to blackmail his former employees. Still, Wyborcza went ahead with their publication.

And the government control over media is not the only vehicle of propaganda. The proposed curriculum for the newly-introduced subject in school – a contemporary history – has been published. Prepared by minister Czarnek’s friends, it will require students to learn about Cursed Soldiers (a small group of underground activists who continued fighting with the communist regime after May 1945, ranging from heroes such as Witold Pilecki to war criminals such as Romuald “Bury” Rajs that became the main fetish of PiS historical politics), cardinal Stanisław Wyszyński and pope John Paul II (of course!). The peaceful revolution of 1989 will be ignored and the Smoleńsk plane crash is to become the most important event in the post-war history of Poland. Mercifully it ends at 2015 because, to quote minister Czarnek, “it’s hard for us to write about successes of PiS in the schoolbooks. We’ll leave it to our successors”. They will have a lot to write about it, I am sure of that, although their take might be a bit different than Czarnek hopes…

Staying on the topic of schools, there is a new bill proposed according to which headteachers who “fail to sufficiently care for or supervise a minor” can be jailed for up to 8 years if their pupils got hurt or sexually abused. It is unclear why we would need such law, especially the one that is written in such an unclear way if the headteachers are already responsible for the safety of their students, so the common understanding is that this is yet another way to intimidate those, who are not likely to follow minister Czarnek’s guidances.

As if that was not enough, the Energy Regulator published their prognosis about next year’s energy prices. According to it, the electricity bill will rise by 24% and those who heat their homes with gas might pay even 54% more. And then we had this news that despite minister Macierewicz’s assurances the cancellation of the contract for military helicopters (see here) will still cost us dearly – Poland will have to pay 80 million to Airbus, even though “our” Caracal helicopters were finally purchased by Hungary and Kuwait. And meanwhile, despite promises, the lion’s share of the Polish army’s and navy’s helicopter could still easily double as a museum of Soviet technology from the Cold-War-era…

But the biggest problem with the army is the situation on the border. Some time ago one of the soldiers shoot himself – allegedly by accident. Another one died, and it has just been established that he choked on his own vomit after an alcohol-fuelled libation ( he was found to have 0.36% promiles of alcohol in his blood, which would mean either that he had swiftly downed 0.75l of pure vodka, or that he was drinking for days – which might be the case, as local residents reported that the alcohol-fuelled parties were a constant feature in the army post located in the old school).

But when it comes to a PR disaster, the desertion of another soldier is going to be a true problem for the government. Minister of Defence Mariusz Błaszczak instantly informed, that the soldier was a criminal (he was caught drink driving recently) and was about to leave the army anyway (on his own wish) and then demanded to know, who is responsible for that (I dunno, Minister of Agriculture? Minister of Sport? Minister of Industry? I can’t put a finger on it, but I am pretty sure there is one in the government that is responsible for soldiers!)

Meanwhile the deserter defected to Belarus and after initial claim that he was not happy with how the Polish state treats migrants on the border got actively involved in their propaganda efforts telling stories about Polish soldiers murdering migrants by shooting them in the forest. While the treatment of refugees by the Polish forces is indeed atrocious and criminal (read more here) and several of them were found dead already, they usually died of natural causes (if by “natural” in XXI century Europe we could call being forced to hide in the frosty forests without food and water for weeks). The claims of the deserter are rather unbelievable.

But the problem is that the government still does not allow journalists to the area. All the information we have are still from local residents and activists or from the refugees themselves. Adam Wajrak, Wyborcza’s nature writer and a local resident of the area, suggested on his Facebook, after publishing a picture of our army “post” that the true reason why media are not welcomed on the border is actually the fact, that showing to the public the true colours of the army, that apparently does not look so shiny and professional in action as it does in all those military parades government likes so much, could actually be a PR disaster on its own.

But meanwhile the life in Poland goes on, both on national and local level. In Lublin for example, the city had to move a sculpture, so the taxis that park on the pavement can drive across it easier. The national news are milling the drama when Donald Tusk has been accused of wishing death upon his political opponents (while, in fact, he just quoted some passage from Nobel Prize winner poet Czesław Miłosz’ poem “Który Skrzydziłeś”).

So maybe we are already at this? Maybe only the utterly stupid and ignorant can still blindly follow PiS, while those a bit smarter rats – like some TVP journalists or former bodyguards mentioned above, but also a minister’s wife, who took part in recent anti-government manifestation and has paid the price of it, being not invited for Christmas to his family are already leaving the sinking ship?

We’ll see about that. One thing is sure: PiS starts to rot already. The most recent polls show that if elections were today, even allied with right-wing Konfederacja they would be unable (unlike the opposition) to create the government. So unless something really unexpected happens, from now on it’s all for nothing for them, as with everything crumbling around them they either set Poland fully in the direction of Belarus, or just give up the power.

This piece was written for Britské Listy
Collage used picture of the border post by Piotrus (via Wikipedia, CC 3.0) 



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