Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Voice of the Disinherited? Religious Media after the 2005 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Poland

Academic journal article East European Quarterly

Voice of the Disinherited? Religious Media after the 2005 Presidential and Parliamentary Elections in Poland

Article excerpt

In the fall of 2005 a major shift of power took place in Poland. Both parliamentary and presidential elections wrought the control over the elective and legislative branches from the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD) to a right-wing party Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc, PiS). (1) In April 2006 the winning party formed a coalition with two smaller populist parties: Self-Defence (Samoobrona) and League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR), marking the beginning of what was proclaimed to be the IVth Republic of Poland. What made the change possible? What was the role of religious media in this election and in the first year of the new political situation? The present study focuses on the role played by the conservative Catholic Radio Maryja and other media closely associated with it: daily Nasz Dziennik and TV Trwam.

Scholars and journalists often risk doubtful generalizations while discussing church-state relations in Poland. Many fail to appreciate the internal divisions between different groups of Catholics, as well as within the church hierarchy, while the church is no longer a monolith it used to be under the communist regime. This article tries to show a more nuanced view of this issue by analyzing the mounting and still unresolved conflict between the conservative religious radio station, largely independent and uncontrolled by the church, and the Polish Episcopate. This analysis should give a fairly complete, though complicated picture of church-state relations in Poland after 1989 in general, and after the recent elections in particular.

Radio Maryja--A Historical Outline

Radio Maryja is an influential radio station formally run by the Order of Holy Redeemer (Ojcowie Redemptorysci), but de facto managed by the hand of its Director, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. Ordained in 1971, Rydzyk spent several years in Germany (between 1985 and 1991), where he became acquainted with religious media and came to understand the importance of the "fourth power" in a democratic society. Upon his return to Poland he founded Radio Maryja, which began broadcasting on December 11, 1991. The Radio grew very quickly: initially it operated locally, obtaining permissions from individual bishops, until it got a national coverage in 1994. The Radio and daily "Nasz Dziennik" ("Our Daily") are part of a larger structure run by the priest; his initiatives comprise an informal association of regular listeners of the Radio, called Rodzina Radia Maryja (The Family of Radio Maryja), which has it's monthly under the same title, and a extensive network of local cells. "Nasz Dziennik," established in 1998, quickly became the most influential religious paper in Poland. It is the only Catholic daily and has an estimated 200,000 copies sold every day. Since its conception it was strictly associated with Radio Maryja. Other institutions and enterprises include two foundations, a publishing house, and the Higher School of Social and Media Culture (Wyzsza Szkola Kultury Spotecznej i Medialnej), training journalists since 2001. In 2003 Father Rydzyk launched TV Trwam, which translates as "I persist."

During the 16 years of its history the Radio has been an active and, at times, significant actor on the Polish public forum. In 1997 it opposed the ratification of a new constitution (which was perceived as not explicit enough in its invocatio Dei) and the new administrative division of the country (presented as the new partition of Poland); it also opposed Polish membership in "liberal" European Union, the sale of land to foreigners and major privatizations of state-owned companies (including the famous Gdansk Shipyard, a birthplace of Solidarity movement in 1980). In its foreign policy the Radio was often critical toward Germany, while advocating closer cooperation with Russia and the US. In addition, Father Rydzyk did not refrain from direct involvement in party politics: he assisted at the birth and relative success of Liga Polskich Rodzin (League of Polish Families) in 2001, an ultra-conservative party initially aimed at preventing Poland's accession to the European Union, and later switched his approval to more influential PiS. …

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