Karolina Zagrodna is a Polish journalist who's been living in London for the past 13 years.
In recent weeks, Poland has found itself in the international media spotlight for all the wrong reasons. Since coming to power three months ago the Law and Justice (PiS) party has made several moves which threaten the country’s still rather young and fragile democracy.
At the end of December Poland’s parliament passed a law to change the functioning of the Constitutional Tribunal, raising concerns that Poland might be sliding towards authoritarianism.
According to the coverage by the Washington Post, the New York Times and others, Poland has already crossed the threshold into totalitarianism, while destroying its image as a "good and democratic partner" of the West.
Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski added fuel to the fire when he announced in a Reuters interview last week that Poland could be open to compromise over British demands to limit the welfare entitlements of European Union migrants if London supports its calls to boost the NATO presence in central Europe. Such comments have outraged Poles living in various European countries and showed that their new government is ready to trade their people as commodity in exchange for more troops.
According to Kordian Klaczynski, the editor of Cooltura, the largest weekly magazine for Polish diaspora in London, the steps taken by Poland’s ruling party PiS are a clear attack on democracy. “ PiS has always been very vocal about their anti-Russian attitude,” he said. “Their remarks about more NATO presence in Poland are all about protection from potential Russian invasion. But the main paradox of it all is the fact that, ideologically, Pis’s actions bring Poland closer to Moscow rather than to London”.
The amendment of the Polish media law at the very end of 2015 is the final straw as far as the European Commission is concerned. Under new rules, the government wants us to start referring to our public service broadcaster as “our national media”, whose aim will from now be to promote “national traditions and Christian and patriotic values”.
This is the first attempt of a government in the history of democratic Poland to directly control media coverage in the country. Such steps have led EU commissioner Günther Oettinger to call for a special debate on Poland in the Commission on 13 January. In a recent interview with a German newspaper, Oettinger accused Poland of infringing “common European values”, adding: “Many reasons exist for us to activate the ‘Rule of Law mechanism’ (Article 7 of the Treaty) and for us to place Warsaw under monitoring.” If the law remains in place, Warsaw could eventually lose its voting rights in the European Council.
Recent events bring me back to 2005, a year after Poland joined the EU, when the BBC decided to close down their broadcasting sections in many eastern European countries, including Poland. Looking at the fundamental progress Poland has made after the end of Communism in 1989, the BBC concluded then that their presence were no longer needed in a country whose media now espoused similar values to those of the BBC.
My country had relied on BBC coverage for over 65 years, throughout the Second World War and the end of Communism. Every BBC broadcast begun with the same three words: “Tu mowi London” (“This is London speaking”) – words that have become a part of Poland’s history and were its only connection to the free world.
Fast forward 10 years and I can’t help but think that the Polish people might soon need the help of a similar media outlet from abroad again.
From time to time we'll share exclusive interview clips (including never-seen-before footage), the most incisive blog posts and the most interesting dispatches from our event organisers as they take the europe debate to the furthest, biggest, smallest, weirdest, most unusual places around europe and beyond.