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Here is Jarosław Kaczyński talking about the election victory and what (he think) needs to happen to change the Polish media scene

Dust off Google Translate if for some reason your Polish is a bit rusty, and away you go.

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My previous piece before the latest Polish presidential elections ended thusly:

My utterly ignorant guess? Duda by a bit of clear water.

Awesome. Duda beat Trzaskowski by 51%-49%. Both candidates cleared 10 million votes (never previously reached in a Polish election).

Why did Duda edge it? He explicitly appealed to lumpen if not retrograde Polish ‘patriotic’ principles including the traditional family (no LGBTQ+), anti-Germanyism, down with ‘Jewish’ property restitution demands, and so on. He played up the (of course popular) family welfare subsidies that Law and Justice have brought in and that are now expensive but untouchable.

But Duda also campaigned cannily. Here’s the map showing where Trzaskowski visited as he campaigned and the accompanying analysis in Polish:

Podróże Rafała Trzaskowskiego przed II turą. Opracowanie: MamPrawoWiedziec.pl

As you can see, he did not show up at all in poorer eastern Poland, by contrast to Duda who achieved a far wider spread:

Podróże Andrzeja Dudy przed II turą. Opracowanie: MamPrawoWiedziec.pl

The more cautious Trzaskowski approach of focusing where he thought he was strongest nearly paid off. But nearly doesn’t win.

It all reminds me of the 2005 Presidential election in Poland, when stolid if not frumpy Lech Kaczyński faced the much more suave and ‘modern’ Donald Tusk in the run-off. The first round had seen good lumps of votes going to different ‘populist’ parties whose leaders were now out of the race – who in the second round would get those votes?

Tusk and Kaczyński met on TV:

The Left-populist Andrzej Lepper had been eliminated in the first round, and his (mainly poor) voters were likely to incline to Kaczyński. Instead of trying to woo them in his own direction, Tusk made a serious mistake in excitedly accusing Kaczyński of being the sort of extremist who would attract such low-life support.

This allowed Kaczyński to say something to the effect of 

“Look, millions of Poles have suffered during Communism and the transition from it. We need to bring these deprived people in to the political mainstream, not insult and marginalise them!”

Kaczyński that night came across as much the bigger man. And won the election handily. 

Moral? Every vote counts. Don’t write people off. Bring them in.

See UK Labour Party at the last election, baffled by the fact that out there beyond Islington seem to be grumpy poorer ‘white’ worker-folks who are unimpressed with post-modern multiculti metrosexuality. Or Hillary Clinton, who ignored the advice of dull old Bill Clinton and did not do enough in the key state of Wisconsin?

Anyway, now what?

We’ve seen Law and Justice battle EU HQ over ‘rule of law’ issues and the judiciary. Maybe the next front will be an attempt to ‘re-Polonise’ the Polish media scene.

Reasonable Poles tell me that the main state TV broadcaster is now largely reduced to grim pro-PiS propaganda. But there are all sorts of other media outlets across Poland (TV, radio, print, online) that cover all parts of the political spectrum generously, including with energetic/sustained anti-PiS noises.

This became a vivid election issue, with German-owned big tabloid Fakt at one point splashing a claim that President Duda had pardoned a paedophile, and Duda hitting back directly against the newspaper and its shameless ‘German’ loyalties.

Needless to say, media ownership issues are complicated everywhere. It all depends what you’re trying to achieve or to stop. Over-‘concentrated’ ownership (ie one person/family/group dominating the media sector)? ‘Foreign’ ownership?  Cross-sector ownership (you can’t own TV radio outlets if you own print outlets)? What basis is used for calculating what problems if any are arising in today’s anarchic media environment? What even are ‘the media’ these days?

This is an interesting summary of how different Western countries set about it:

The Media Reform Coalition believes that the UK should take a lead in tackling media concentration. Proposals submitted to Lord Justice Leveson suggested a number of remedies, including a 20 per cent cap on ownership in markets for national newspapers, television, radio and online news, calculated by audience share, as well as a 15 per cent limit on total cross-media revenues.

Within the EU there are all sorts of other rules as well, bringing to the broad media sphere the joys of the Single Market:

EU law prohibits, in particular, any discrimination on grounds of nationality. As a consequence, foreign ownership restrictions are generally prohibited. EU law also prohibits any actions that are able to prevent or impede the activities of persons or companies established in other EU member states.

The TFEU sets forth the following fundamental freedoms with which any national laws must comply:

  • article 34: prohibition of national restrictions on the freedom of movement of goods within the EU (including, eg, material, sound recordings and other apparatus for broadcasting);
  • article 49: right of EU citizens and companies to establish businesses in other EU member states (including, eg, broadcasting businesses);
  • article 56: prohibition of national restrictions on the freedom to provide services by EU citizens (including, eg, television and radio broadcasting); and
  • article 63: free movement of capital in the EU (including, eg, capital for purchasing shares in a company).

National laws restricting these fundamental freedoms may be compliant with EU laws under certain circumstances (eg, where necessary for public safety or public health reasons) or in case of an overriding public interest (eg, maintenance of the social order, protection of consumers’ rights, guarantee of the freedom of speech and plurality of media). However, such restrictions have to be interpreted narrowly and must be objectively justified.


So as and when Law and Justice try to bring more ‘Polish’ ownership to the unruly Polish non-state media sector, they’ll have to pick their way through these EU regulatory thickets.

That said, the slogan More Poland! always strikes a chord among those ‘ordinary’ Polish voters, and sets up targets that are hard for the anti-PiS forces to attack without seeming ‘unpatriotic’. Plus with Jarosław Kaczyński it often looks as if having a long noisy battle with Brussels over lofty principles is a handy end in itself, regardless of the final result as and when the dust settles again.

In short, is Polish democracy now DOOMED following Duda’s win?