Open letter to
Mr. David Walmsley – Editor-in-Chief
The Globe and Mail
Subject: Paul Waldie’s article about Poland, G&M 2018-01-24
Dear Mr. Walmsley,
Your paper seldom devotes any space to Poland, the country of origin of nearly one million Canadians, but, when it does, the message is usually negative, biased, and often ill-informed. The article by Paul Waldie in the January 24, 2018 issue, “What happened to Poland?”, is no exception.
Mr. Waldie describes Poland as a country governed by an extreme right-wing party, which is xenophobic, autocratic, anti-democratic and anti-European, to the point where its citizens tremble with fear and, on occasion, commit self-immolation.
I have left Poland when I was 26. I visit Poland often. I know the country well, have spent there a couple of weeks as recently as last November, spoke to many people, read the local press (which I read regularly from Canada anyway), and must conclude that the article has little to do with reality. I will go through it in detail, but, for the benefit of Mr. Waldie, I will start with a bit of a background.
Just over two years ago the Law & Justice party (PiS), a moderate Christian democratic party, won a majority in the Polish parliament. It was the first majority since the fall of Communism in 1989.
The party, which calls itself right-wing, is, actually, a hybrid. It supports free market, but is socialist in some economic policies (e.g., it re-nationalized a big chunk of banking) and on some social matters (it introduced a massive child support and increased the minimum wage), conservative on moral issues, and centrist on some other points. In the electoral campaign it committed itself to, among other things:
- a) reforming the judiciary,
- b) bringing the retirement age back to where it had always been in Poland (65 for men, 60 for women),
- c) curtailing corruption,
- d) stopping the sellout of state corporations and re-Polonizing some banks (pretty socialist, wouldn’t you agree?),
- e) introducing pro-demographic measures, among them 500 PLN (around CAN$180) per month bonus for every second and next child, and building affordable housing for young couples (very socialist!),
- f) trimming the exorbitant pensions of ex-functionaries of the Communist police and the internal security personnel.
The popularity ratings of PiS, around 36% at the time of the election, approach today 50%. It is rising because, unlike all the previous governments, PiS is delivering on its promises.
The reforms of the judiciary, but also those curtailing corruption and reducing the pensions of the ex-employees of the apparatus of terror, are very popular among the voters, but they step on the toes of the establishment and produce thousands of sworn enemies.
Example 1: Private media
The previous government of Mr. Tusk (now the president of the European Council), kept the media happy and pro-government by giving them tens of millions for advertising public institutions and state corporations. The ads were entirely unnecessary, but provided a legal way of bribing the media, which, in return, instead of keeping an eye on the government hands, watched and criticized the then opposition, that is PiS.
The bribing ended with the October 2015 parliamentary election. It was a hard landing – the media were suddenly left to their own devices and had wean themselves off the public tit. You can imagine how they love PiS for this.
If you are looking for a vicious critic of the government, just go to any private paper, TV or radio station and, most likely, you will not be disappointed. There is only one major paper and two weeklies that are rather friendly toward PiS.
Example 2: VAT
Through simple measures, such as firm instructions to the customs and police personnel, statistical analysis of VAT remittances and refunds (VAT is similar to GST), and the introduction of tougher penalties for tax crimes, the national revenue has risen by some ten billion CAD annually on VAT alone. Hundreds of criminals were charged and arrested and many more will be charged in the future. Among these criminals are government employees and even some politicians, as well as crooked businessmen, who bribed the former under the “watchful eye” of the Tusk’s government. Again, thousands of enemies
added to the list.
Example 3: Judiciary
When the Communist regime formally ended in Poland in 1989, a degree of the clean-up of the public institutions from the old party, secret services and police operatives took place, but some areas had been left untouched, among them the courts and tribunals of all levels, in spite of their notoriety in supporting the Communist power in the past. The judicial establishment was supposed to “cleanse itself”, as some prominent judges predicted at the time.
Well, it did not. Twenty nine years later, the Supreme Court, for instance, still has judges who used to sentence members of the Solidarity movement before the year 1989. A peculiar system, unknown anywhere else in the world, of judges appointing new judges without any input from the society, government or parliament, thus perpetuating the post-Communist clique in the judiciary through nepotism and cronyism, is only now being dismantled through the reforms introduced recently by PiS. Inefficiency, corruption, incompetence, arrogance and servilism of the degenerate justice system are reflected in the fact that some 80% of the Polish society has a negative view of it.
Those who oppose the reforms, often with their own axe to grind, come from among the remaining twenty percent. Anti-reform demonstrations, initially sizeable, have fizzled out, in spite of the efforts of the “total opposition” block, the self-proclaimed saviours of democracy in Poland, consisting of several opposition parties as well as some other political movements not represented in the parliament.
The society’s verdict is merciless: the recent polls consistently give 45 – 50% of committed voters to PiS and 15 – 17% to the main opposition party. The rest slide toward the 5% parliamentary threshold or are already below it.
The anti-PiS citizens’ movement KOD (“committee for the defence of democracy”), whose rallies in Warsaw two years ago would attract 50,000 people, self-destructed through corruption at the top (the leader and his cronies helped themselves to the collected donations) and through allowing some disreputable politicians (such as ex-officers of the Communist secret police) to march with them side by side, but mainly through the absence of any political or social program. The only program KOD could come up with is the call to topple the PiS government. Now their rallies bring together a few hundreds or less.
In the meantime Polish economy undergoes an explosive growth, wages increase, state corporations, cleansed from the inept previous parties’ appointees, replaced with professionals, begin producing profits and expand, deficit virtually disappears, the defense budget is brought to the required by NATO level of 2% of GDP and will increase to 2.5% in a few years, poverty, significant only 2 years ago, is practically eliminated, and many Poles living abroad start trekking back to find their place (and jobs) in the new Poland.
This is the situation in Poland today. Now let me go back to your article.
Mr. Waldie starts with a dramatic description of the suicide of a man, who killed himself “accusing the ruling Law and Justice Party of trampling on human rights, gagging the media and using the police to maintain its hold on power”, as Mr. Waldie put it.
A sad event, no doubt. Naturally, the opposition made a major media event out of it. Opposition politicians as well as their followers laid flowers where the man has died. But was his death justified? Were his claims true? Let’s look at the facts.
“Trampling on human rights”:
Substantive human rights are:
Right to life
Freedom from torture
Freedom from slavery
Right to a fair trial
Freedom of speech
Freedom of thought, conscience and religion
Freedom of movement
Let’s add to this the freedom of political activities, freedom to exercise one’s sexual preference, etc.
All the above rights and freedoms unquestionably exist in Poland. Life is protected (even in the womb), there is no torture, no slavery, there is the right to a fair trial (how fair the actual trial is depends on the professional standard of the judge and the prosecutor, but this is another matter), there is freedom of speech, thought, conscience and religion, freedom of movement, political activity, sexual preference.
There is not a single person imprisoned for political activities (fascism excepted), not a single journalist, not a single homosexual or other LGBTQ person, not a single person for the following of any religion, etc. etc.
The streets of Polish cities witness profusion of political demonstrations and counter-demonstrations, all protected by the police, usually without any interventions, unless there is violence, in which case police uses the most humane and gentle tactics. To my knowledge not once did the police use tear gas since the election. It wasn’t like that under Mr. Tusk: police used not only tear gas, clubs and goons, but, on at least one occasion, during the miners’ demonstration, rubber bullets were fired at the workers and serious bodily harm resulted.
“Gagging the media”:
This accusation is absurd. There are many private TV channels, plenty of private newspapers and periodical (75% foreign controlled), many radio stations, nearly all supporting the opposition for the reasons explained earlier, or neutral. There is absolutely no censorship in Poland. There is no interference into what appears in the media. The only media controlled by the government is the public TV (TVP) and the public radio (PR). The public media share of viewers or listeners is small in relation to the rest of the media.
“Using the police to maintain its hold on power”:
Another entirely nonsensical claim. While police is usually present during demonstrations, especially if there is a risk of confrontation, e.g. when a parallel counter-demonstration is scheduled nearby, the conduct of the police is usually exemplary.
During the demonstration in front of the Parliament on the 16 of December 2016, because the security forces would not be provoked into a more brutal action, one of the the demonstrators dropped to the ground and pretended to be hurt by the police. After the foreign TV cameras recorded his act, he got up, dusted off his coat and walked away. The whole thing was filmed on someone’s cell phone and became a video-joke in Poland for weeks and months. The foreign TV stations, however, undisturbed, broadcasted the fake news all over the world, adding to it the use of tear gas, which was another fake.
Interestingly, the supposed police victim and the main clown in this farce, identified as Mr. Wojciech Diduszko, was the husband of Agata Diduszko-Zyglewska, one of the leaders of the Political Critique and a colleague of Mr. Sierakowski, quoted by Mr. Waldie as his (presumably reliable) source. Some reliability, Mr. Waldie.
In short, the man who committed suicide described by Mr.Waldie died for nothing. This is why it is reasonable to assume that he was mentally deranged and the “trampling on human rights, gagging the media and using the police to maintain its hold on power”, to quote Mr. Waldie again, was just a product of his imagination.
Mr. Waldie devoted so much space to the above suicide in Warsaw as if it were a particularly significant event, but suicides are a fact of life. Does Mr. Waldie know how many of our fellow Canadians commit suicide each year, for a variety of reasons? The number is 3,500. Ten a day. Canada’s regional rate of 71.0 (per 100,000 population) in Nunavut would place Nunavut second highest in the world if it were a country. A silver medal for Canada. In the age group between 15 and 19 years old males the suicide rate is even worse, nearly one in a hundred per annum among the Inuits. This is alarming, isn’t it? How many articles did Mr. Waldie write about the suicide epidemic in Canada’s North? Or, is the suicide of a depressed Warsaw man more important than a suicide of an Inuit?
After having spent a big part of his article on the above suicide, illustrated with photographs, Mr. Waldie moves on to the Independence Day March of November 11, 2017.
Press around the world, including G&M, reprinted the article by Vanessa Gera of AP, which depicted the event as a march organized by the extreme right and, beside some ordinary Polish citizens, attended by racists, xenophobes etc. Shortly thereafter, perhaps inspired by the Gera’s article, which raised by then an international furore, Guy Verhofstadt, one of the mandarins of the European Commission, went even further. He said:
“… on Saturday 60,000 fascists marched in the streets of Warsaw –- neo-Nazis, white supremacists. I’m not talking about Charlottesville in America, I’m talking about Warsaw, Poland, 300 kilometres more or less from (World War II Nazi German death camps) Auschwitz and Birkenau.”
One of the marchers, a black naturalized Pole named Bawer Aondo-Akaa, along with some other participants and organizers, are suing Verhofstadt for his words.
The march was actually a peaceful demonstration of Polish patriotism and pride. While there were some inappropriate banners, carried by marginal groups who took advantage of the march to promote their extreme views, or perhaps some provocateurs, the overwhelming proportion of the marchers were ordinary Poles, often with families, war veterans in wheelchairs, young people with Polish flags, etc., and calling it the march of fascists was grossly incorrect. If the minister Blaszczak called it “a beautiful sight”, he was right. For a Polish patriot and a Catholic, which he is, to see this sea of Polish flags and thousands of happy people, marching in harmony and carrying banners with the words “We want God” must have been a beautiful sight. What is wrong with that?
But Mr. Waldie, who, I suspect, has never been to Poland, knows better. According to him, or, should we say, according to his “reliable sources”, which include such marginal groups as Mr. Sierakowski’s Political Critique and Never Again of Mr. Pankowski, “Law and Justice has created a climate where extremism is socially accepted”. Really? Could Mr. Waldie offer some tangible evidence? But who needs evidence? Mr. Waldie goes on in his synthesis, based on his “reliable sources”:
“There is not much room for political opposition in Poland these days as the country embraces the social conservatism of Law and Justice that is transforming nearly every aspect of society and sending shock waves across Europe. Few Europeans saw this coming and most find it hard to fathom that a country such as Poland – once considered a prosperous and progressive darling of the European Union – could drift so quickly toward populist authoritarianism.”
Here Mr. Waldie hits the nail on the head right in the first sentence. Indeed, “there is not much room for political opposition in Poland”, but, contrary to his suggestion, there is no mystery about it. Both opposition parties that have ruled Poland in coalition during the previous eight years are so discredited by their ineptitude, the total lack of any constructive policy, and their corruption (someone counted the corruption affairs of those eight years and came up with the number 117, nearly all quashed or never prosecuted, of which not even one ended with a conviction), that their combined support today oscillates around 20%, which is less than half of what PiS get in the polls. Considering, that another significant opposition party, Nowoczesna (“The Modern one”), after a meteoric rise to over 20% in 2016, is now below the parliamentary threshold of 5%, indeed, “there is not much room for political opposition”.
The “shock waves across Europe”, sent, according to Mr. Waldie, by the Polish conservative political scene, are not caused so much by the conservatism of PiS, but rather by its policy of putting the national interest ahead of the past ill-conceived political correctness, practiced by Donald Tusk. In his case it was justified by the reward he received – his nomination to the presidency of the European Council – but from the perspective of Polish interests, it was a disaster.
Europe will recover from Mr. Waldie’s “shock waves”, when it accepts the fact that Poland is an independent country and will not tolerate excessive interference in its internal affairs from such unelected, arrogant figures as the constantly intoxicated president of the European Commission Juncker or his grotesque deputy Timmermans, both bearing a big share of responsibility for Brexit. Following the recent meetings with them, both the Polish president and the prime minister concluded that Mr. Timmermans’ critique of the Polish judiciary reforms, the basis for the “Article 7” proceedings against Poland, shows Mr. Timmermans’ misunderstanding of the legal points of the Polish reforms.
The mentioned before Mr. Pankowski of Never Again, one of Mr. Waldie’s gurus, warns of the soaring “hate crimes” in Poland, “from a few per week to several a day, with many targeting visible minorities, homosexuals and even people who just look slightly dark.”
It is not clear where this information comes from and what is the definition of his hate crimes. But listen carefully:
In July 2016 three million (3,000,000 !) of young people from around the world, of different degrees of the eye slant and of the skin color from white, yellow and red through all shades of brown all the way to pitch black, and of all possible sexes (forgot exactly how many we now have), gathered in Cracow to celebrate the World Youth Day. In any Western European country you would have bombs, violence, burning cars and tires, assaults, rape and murder. In Cracow, in contrast, there was no violence, no rioting, nobody got murdered, raped or even assaulted, and hundreds of thousands of the young people, who preferred closer interface with the locals, stayed FREE in private homes, surrounded by hospitality, tolerance, love and sympathetic curiosity. The visitors could not praise enough the Polish warm hospitality, freedom and safety they experienced in Poland. Do I need to add anything?
As to Messrs. Pankowski and Sierakowski as your sources, let me add one more comment. Their organizations, the Never Again and the Political Critique respectively, are NGOs with very suspicious sources of funding and, as we know, “who pays the piper calls the tune”. Political Critique, according to Mr. Sierakowski himself, is 90% foreign-funded, all or part of it through George Soros’s Open Society Foundation, while Never Again’s source of money is a mystery which they do not reveal. I stumbled upon an article on the Net suggesting that, until recently, they had a secret deal with the corrupt Polish soccer authority PZPN, whereby Never Again would report infractions on the part of players or soccer fans, particularly those with racial or anti-LGBT connotations (not uncommon in European stadiums), PZPN would then fine the guilty club and they would split the loot with Never Again. No comment on the moral standards here.
I wonder why these shady, marginal and small organizations, representing a very narrow, far left / neo-Communist fringe of the society, became the sources of wisdom and information for the Globe & Mail. Their “revelations” clearly suggest that they either don’t understand what is going on in Poland (very unlikely), or they simply lie (very likely).
The same would apply to the two right-wing nationalists, Messrs. Winnicki and Bosak, who are being quoted in the article. Their party has never been represented in the government by a single deputy, and Mr. Winnicki got into the parliament riding on the coattails of another party, which he quit after having gotten elected, a somewhat questionable move.
Why not to interview someone from the political mainstream? From the ruling party? Konrad Szymanski, deputy foreign minister, is quoted, but I suspect that he hasn’t been actually interviewed by Mr. Waldie. In fact, it seems to me that the whole article is a product of Mr. Waldie’s armchair journalism.
I won’t even comment on the accusations of anti-Semitism. This big cannon is always brought forward against Poland. I would only mention that in our country, Canada, B’nai Brith reported some 1,730 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016. I am sure they didn’t miss a single one. One every five hours. And this does not include incidents against other ethnic groups.
And let us remember that our Canadian ethnic incidents are not just swastika-on-the-wall or a hush-hush consumption-of-a-Hitler’s-birthday-cake in the midst of a primeval forest, looking over one’s shoulder type, committed by half a dozen of semi-literate loonies. They often are murder. Wikipedia informs: “In 2016 Patricia Hajdu, the Canadian minister for the status of women, suggested that the total number of missing and murdered Indigenous women could be closer to 4,000.” The period in question is 1980 – 2012. If true, this gives us the rate of one indigenous woman murdered every 3 days.
It is not my intention to rub our collective Canadian nose in this smelly substance of ethnic violence. All I want to do is to bring some reflection, balance and humility into our media’s pontificating about these “barbaric” countries of Eastern Europe, which will require decades or perhaps centuries to achieve our Western level of civilized behaviour.
With this in view, the G&M’s taking a high moral ground position and lecturing Poland on ethnic tolerance sounds utterly brazen.
I will conclude my review of the article here and will not comment on the rest of the fake news in Mr. Waldie’s article, such as the statements that Kaczynski brothers “broke with Solidarity”, that streets in Poland are renamed “to promote national pride”, that certain Marta Tondera was scared while participating in a counter-demonstration (nobody apparently touched her), etc., but let me summarize the comments.
Summary and Conclusion
The Globe and Mail participates in a systematic campaign of denigration of Poland and the Polish people. If you scan the archives of G&M for the word “Poland” and dismiss some reporting on sporting events and texts in which Poland is just mentioned, here is what you net for the last couple of months:
* What happened to Poland? (this is Mr. Waldies story)
* Why are Iron Curtain countries electing extremists?
* EU tells Poland to reverse judicial reforms or face sanctions
* While many fixate on swastika, insidious hatred is increasingly normalized
* Democracy is threatened by dictatorship of geography
* How to fight the far right
* Polish president sharply condemns expression of xenophobia, racism at national march
* Far right nationalists march in Warsaw draws 60,000
and so on.
All the above articles are highly critical of Poland and Polish society. Not a single positive article of any size. And, in my humble opinion, all these articles convey a biased, distorted information which can only be described as fake news. One wonders why? Is it in the interest of Canada to write negatively about Poland? This is, obviously, not the case. Canada has all the reasons to maintain as friendly relations with Poland as possible. These reasons include military, economic and cultural considerations. Let’s look at them.
Poland and Canada are natural allies in terms of our geopolitical situation. The only conceivable threat the two countries face is Russia. Mr. Waldie says “Poland is hostile to Russia”. The word “hostile” implies aggressive. This is completely incorrect, a fake news. Neither Poland nor Canada have any reason to be hostile to Russia. NATO, to which they both belong, is a defensive organization. The only difference between Poland and Canada in their exercising of a rational approach to the defense against potential Russian aggression is that Poland, according to the NATO standards, spends 2% of its GDP on defence, and will increase this percentage to 2.5% soon, while our country, Canada, spends less than 1%. This is in accord with our tradition of getting a bit of a free ride on the defense, and relying on the US and, today, even on Poland, for financing our mutual strength.
In terms of the military personnel, Canada can field, after the mobilization of both the active soldiers and the reserve, 90 thousand combat ready force. Poland can mobilize 700,000. Who is going to defend whom when the little green men land on, say, Baffin Island?
If, as it is clear, there are all reasons in the world for a close cooperation between the two countries, why would a Canadian paper be hostile to Poland and conduct some ridiculous, fake-news based propaganda war on our ally? Is it folly or treason?
The economy: Poland strongly supported the free trade deal between EU and Canada, while some other EU members were less enthusiastic. The deal is now in force and the door is open to much greater economic exchange between Poland and Canada. Does it mean nothing to The Globe and Mail? Is it in the interest of Canada to keep offending Poland, the policy which may, over a period of time, sour our relations with that country?
As you may know, Poland is sensitive on the point of its honor and reputation and is prepared to prosecute those who smear it. This sensitivity was made more acute by the anti-Polish propaganda, such as yours, which for too long went unchecked.
The Globe and Mail is not the only medium which contributed to the fake, distorted picture of Poland. Only a day or two ago The Times of Israel quoted Yair Lapid, an Israeli, a member of Knesset, the son of a Holocaust survivor, who tweeted:
“I utterly condemn the new Polish law which tries to deny Polish complicity in the Holocaust. It was conceived in Germany but hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered without ever meeting a German soldier. There were Polish death camps and no law can ever change that.”
This entirely false information, uttered by a member of Knesset, demonstrates a total ignorance of the Holocaust history and of the role of Poland and the Polish society in it, among the citizens of Israel, even those whose relatives were affected by the Holocaust. The power of fake news!
There are a million Canadians of Polish roots. These people are dismayed by the anti-Polish propaganda, which has been oozing from Canadian media over decades, against which there seemed to be no defence. The situation is changing, however. It is becoming more and more clear that the media do not govern themselves by the old rules of honesty, objectivity and truth. Nonchalant reproduction of international press agencies’ material, or production of compilations based on such materials (as seems to be the case with Mr. Waldie’s article) is becoming the rule.
You can be sure, Mr. Walmsley, that from now on we, the Polish Canadians, will fight fake news directed against our country of origin a lot more vigorously than in the past.
List poniższy zostal wysłany kilka dni temu do Globe&Mail jako protest przeciwko ich artykułowi “What happened to Poland?” z wydania z 2018-01-24. Jeżeli Państwo uważacie, ze zgadzacie się z treścią listu, będę wdzięczny za wysłanie “endorsement” do G&M oraz o przesłanie zawartości tego maila do jaknajwiększej listy znajomych z nastepującą notatką:
Czytelnicy poniższego listu proszeni są o wysłanie “endorsements” do Globe and Mail (na oba podane adresy), o brzmieniu jak poniżej lub innym, zawierającym podobne przesłanie. Proszę dodac własny komentarz, jeżeli takowy się nasuwa.
I endorse Mr. Zaborowski’s letter to you concerning the article by Paul Waldie entitled “What happened to Poland?” and share Mr. Zaborowski’s indignation about the article’s content and tone.
Nasza masowa reakcja na antypolonizmy jest szczegolnie potrzebna dzisiaj, wobec kontrowersji wokol nowelizacji ustawy o IPN. Dlatego prosze o szerokie rozeslanie tego listu do znajomych aby i oni napisali do redakcji G&M. Nie jest potrzebne zalaczanie listu, poniewaz adresaci dokonale wiedza, o jaki artykul chodzi. Wystarczy krotki “endorsement”.