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May 21, 2024

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Poland Under Fire:
Power Games And
Anti-Polonism In Mass Media

The American economist Neil Chamberlain defined negotiating power as follows:  “We may define the bargaining power of A as being the cost to B of disagreement on A’s terms relative to the cost of agreement on A’s terms”. The cost of disagreement need not be only financial. It may also mean a loss of reputation, loss of security, loss of political support or just a “bad press”. Therefore, building up negotiating power, for instance by influencing the news reports, is crucial to achieving successful negotiation outcomes. A party with strong negotiating advantages can usually dictate the terms of agreement.

The government change in Poland after the parliamentary elections in October 2015 brought to power the national-conservative party Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS (Law and Justice). Although PiS is not anti-EU in general terms, it opposes the EU in its present form. Due to its assertiveness and strong pro-national orientation, analogous to the Hungarian Fidesz party of Victor Orbán, PiS has been perceived by European leaders like Jean-Claude Juncker or Martin Schulz as well as by some mass media as a threat to the EU. Poland stopped being a meek pupil of Brussels unlike the previous Polish government of Platforma Obywatelska, PO (Civic Platform) with its coalition partner PSL, which were so strongly favored by the EU, but have now been consigned to history. The PO-PSL Polish leaders were punished severely by voters for a series of scandals, arrogance, disregard of basic needs of average Polish citizens, very high unemployment rate, and indifference towards young people who, having no prospects in Poland, have for years been emigrating en masse to Western Europe. Also the ambiguous stance of PO politicians on the issue of the placement of migrants within the EU played a role in their defeat.

Nevertheless the previous Polish government, PO and PSL, enjoyed the full support of mainstream media and of European leaders. PiS, on the other hand, which was not interested in playing the role of gentle lamb within the neoliberal EU, came under fire immediately from mass media like New York Times, Washington Post, Times, numerous German newspapers and broadcasting companies, but also Polish Gazeta Wyborcza (co-investor George Soros) and Polish Newsweek.  Christian Bommarius from Berliner Zeitung wrote on November 11, 2015: „From Hungary and Poland comes a greater threat to Europe than from the murder squads of Islamic State”. There may well be many reasons not to like PiS, but comparing it to psychopathic murders by IS is a sign of blind hatred, poor journalism and a blatant taunt at the victims of this totally evil movement.

The media attacks on Poland don’t focus, however, only on “unpopular” Polish national-conservative government and PiS, but also on the Polish Catholic Church, Polish patriotism and Polish history, which is regularly blatantly distorted by mainstream journalists. The words national, patriotic and conservative do not suit the “book of political correctness”. As far as Poland is concerned, the consumers of mass media are to be conditioned to associate the Polish government with dictatorship, Poland with Holocaust and the Catholic faith, and Polish patriotism with backwardness, which as envisaged by elites, are an obstacle for the development of new secular “open societies” deprived of value systems, traditions and history.

In regard to the Holocaust the world media regularly used the historically false and offensive term “Polish death camp” while reporting about the German death camps set up and operated by Nazi Germany in occupied Poland. As the manipulative term “Polish camps” became an obvious falsification, however, the journalists expressing the views of various pressure groups, for instance the Israeli chauvinistic editor from Haaretz, Ofer Aderet, distort the history by falsely attributing complicity in the Holocaust to Poland. In this area the American and some Jewish media are dominating, but the German media, which are interested in whitewashing of German war crimes, are defiantly parroting slanderous insinuations too.

For some Israeli journalists, like the mentioned Haaretz writer, (Haaretz belongs partly to the German publishing house DuMont Schauberg), it is just obvious that Poland, a country which lost 20% of its population during the World War Two, was complicit in the Holocaust. Anyone who dares to voice any objections to this claim is immediately stigamtized as a history revisionist. Dear Mr. Ofer Aderet, maybe Polish people are also responsible for the September 11 attacks or for the nuclear disaster in Fukushima? Why are you so modest?

Roger Cohen, a British journalist working presently for New York Times and enjoying wide support from Washington elites, spread in his recent provocative op-ed  “My daughter the Pole” (August 22, 2016) a wave of slanderous insinuations targeting Polish dignity. Cohen vigorously supported every US military intervention during the last 20 years including Iraq and Libya as well as destabilization operations in Syria and Ukraine. He contributed to some extent to the deaths of thousands of people and to the development of Daesh, but he had the utter gall to say in his newest story that plenty of Poles participated in the Holocaust. Extremely offensive remarks in view of the fact that Poland, in complete contrast to other European countries like France, Belgium, Norway or Romania, never collaborated with Hitler’s Germany and about 50,000 Poles lost their lives for rescuing Jews during the war (Poland was the only country in occupied Europe, where offering the slightest help to Jews meant a death sentence for the rescuer and his family).

American TIME magazine, belonging to Time Inc. published on July 28, 2016 “The History That Makes Pope Francis’ Auschwitz Visit Even More Meaningful” , a story by Lily Rothman, which delivered a strongly biased picture of apparent disinterest of the Catholic Church in the rescue of Jews during the Second World War. While giving a superficial impression of balanced reporting, it put the clergymen (and women) in a negative light as alleged Nazi collaborators. Mrs. Rothman stated among others: In 1942 Cracow’s Archbishop Adam Sapieha pleaded with the Vatican not to broadcast accounts of German atrocities since it would only make things harder for his people. The historical truth was quite different, however: Archbishop Sapieha focused on organizing secret help for Jews in the region of Małopolska during the war and became its main leader. His efforts were documented by the Jewish medical doctor, director of the Jewish infectious diseases ward in the Krakow Ghetto, Aleksander Biberstein. Rothman who is also an archivist in TIME quoted an old TIME’s article (1963), which is hard to beat in disrespect for Poland: In Hungary and Slovakia, both predominantly Catholic countries governed by Catholic Nazi puppets, his papal nuncios had some success in halting the deportation of Jews to Polish death camps.  (Correct version is: German death camps in occupied Poland.).

The Star, the leading Canadian daily from Toronto tried to manipulatively convince the readers, that Poland was perpetrator of the Holocaust and has a problem to accept it (“the role of Poles in the Holocaust remains an exposed nerve in this country” or “blatantly anti-migrant, anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic marches have become regular phenomena throughout the country”). The request from the Polish Embassy and from Polonia to publish a comment on the slandereous insinuations were ignored by the Canadian publisher.

The British news agency Press Association (PA) wrote on September 28, 2016 on the occasion of death of Simon Peres: “Peres was born Shimon Perski in Poland in 1923. In 1934, his immediate family escaped Nazi Poland to pre-state Palestine.”. According to PA the war began in 1934 and not 1939 and the Polish Nazis occupied Poland, therefore Shimon Perski had to escape. Fortunately, after intervention of Polish Media Issues, an organization of Polish diaspora chasing such inaccuracies in the media, the editor-in-chief of PA apologized and swiftly corrected the error. The New York Times, TIMES, The Star and many others did not follow through with this original-source correction.

It is astonishing that even US media, which should adhere to the highest journalistic standards and which by its mission statement are obliged to offer a balanced reporting, like the American news agency Associated Press (AP), have no qualms about disseminating biased reports about present political situations in Poland, Polish history and traditions. They have even hidden the fact that AP closely collaborated with Hitler’s Germany before and during the Second World War as German historian Harrier Scharnberg has proved. AP reaches millions of readers since their articles are published by other media worldwide.

As the mass media including the American media are controlled by big corporations like Time Warner (owner of companies like Warner Bros., CNN) with a yearly turnover of almost 30 billion USD and with more than 30,000 employees, it is in fact extremely difficult for a country like Poland to defend itself against the frequently biased reporting and misinforming of the public. As Prof. Eva Thompson, a Research Professor of Slavic Studies at Rice University noticed in her opinion article “The return of the Polish question” in July, 2016: With rare exceptions, only representatives of the neo-Marxist and other leftist media in Poland have access to the opinion-making American periodicals.  There are, occasionally, interviews of Polish officials in the Western European newspapers, but in the American media, the representatives of the Polish government have no voice. This is one of the reasons why Poland has almost no negotiating power and can only cozy up to influential “transatlantic” circles.

So what should the Polish people do to reverse the increasingly offensive falsifying of history and shameful attacks on its democratically elected government? They should certainly continuously increase Poland’s negotiating power by supporting patriotic Polish and Polish-American media in the West and Polish-American start-ups involved in film production portraying past and contemporary Poland and Poles, the Polish officials should better cooperate with pro-Polish organizations like Polish American Congress, Kosciuszko Foundation, Piast Institute, Institute of World Politics, journalists, lawyers and scientist (especially historians) and organizations which combat anti-Polonism in the media like Polish Media Issues (organization of Polish diaspora monitoring for more than 11 years the inaccurate media reports about Poland). They should also strengthen the presence of lobby groups especially in the USA and subject controversial and ineffective Polish Cultural Institutes to critical scrutiny. Also the press departments of Polish embassies need an additional, professional staffing.

Simultaneously the Polish officials shouldn’t overpraise the USA and its elites, which perceive Poland only as an asset but not a friend. Poland deserves to be something more than just a water-carrier serving the interests of the all-powerful. As the Polish proverb says: “bez pracy nie ma kołaczy” (No sweet without sweat), it is necessary to invest time and energy to change the status quo. Focusing the efforts of Polish government only on the development of a so called “historical politics”, the dominating and sometimes not very authentic tactics of PiS, will not provide a solution. Building up negotiating power is key to successful change in Poland’s international position. The negotiation process, however, shouldn’t be idealized into a joint gaining game, as proposed by some negotiation specialists like Fisher or Ury, the proponents of so called principled negotiation. It may frequently lead to disappointment. The negotiation process should put more emphasis on the rule advocated already by the Scottish economist Adam Smith: “Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog … Give me that which I want, and you shall have this which you want” or as the former US President Kennedy once expressed it: “We cannot negotiate with people who say, what is mine is mine, and what is yours is subject to negotiation”.

Marek Błażejak
Polish Media Issues
Hamburg