“Freedom of speech means freedom for those you despise, and freedom to express the most despicable views. It also means that the government cannot pick and choose which expressions to authorize and which to prevent.” Wise words from US lawyer, jurist, author, and political commentator, Alan Dershowitz. And he makes good points, because although everyone pays lip service to free speech, it is does seem increasingly under attack, especially by the politicians who, in order to protect our ancient liberties from terrorists, increasingly place them just out of reach of the rest of us. And closer to home, with the installation of the new Law and Justice government, how does freedom of expression look in Poland?
Well, according to a recent survey, Poland is the second most supportive country of free speech in the world, after the USA. On the Free Expression Index compiled by the Pew Research Centre, Poland scored 5.66 to the USA’s 5.73. Other scores included the UK 4.78, France 4.72, Germany 4.34, Russia 3.34 and Ukraine 2.85. Needless to say, western countries tend to be more supportive of free speech than those in the east. But that was in the spring, and now we are in the autumn of someone’s discontent, it appears.
And perhaps none is more discontented than TVP presenter Karolina Lewicka, who has been suspended following an interview with the new Minister of Culture, Piotr Gliński. The chairman of TVP, Janusz Daszczyński, said in a statement that the presenter’s interviewing technique marked “an emphatic departure from the standards that apply to public television.” The subject of the interview was a play ‘Death and the Maiden’, which was being performed in a theatre in Wrocław, which play Gliński had earlier claimed was pornographic and therefore should not be funded with public money.
Although there was some backtracking on pornographic nature of the play, Gliński accused TVP Info of hosting “a propaganda programme,” suggesting that the station had been “manipulating” public opinion for years. Lewicka called on the minister to apologise for these accusations and accused him of not answering questions but rather trying to make statements as if at a press conference. Daszczyński, having quickly suspended Lewicka, signed a letter of protest with other TVP Info staff: “Your words offend us, our station and Polish Television,” the letter stated. “We demand an apology for the utterance of these offensive words on our programme.”
Is this a general attack on free speech in Poland, the opening salvo of the kulturkampf by which, as Gliński has stated, the government wishes to support cultural projects that make Poles proud of their history, which could be “accomplished through the creation of an institution, and by giving support to programmes, and finally by making films on Polish history and identity,” or simply an over-reaction by the head of TVP to a spat between a presenter and a minister?
Of the three, I am not sure that free speech is especially under attack in Poland. I fear more the attack on free speech in the USA and the UK – which countries should know better, and be setting an example – especially in the universities, where tomorrow’s minds are shaped and where the demand for “safe spaces” and other PC nonsense is imposing a censorship incompatible with free speech. It is ironic that social media is increasingly used not to give voice to the hitherto voiceless, but to lead the charge of the cyber-space lynch mobs. Consider the case of Nobel Prize winner Sir Tim Hunt’s joke, or Angela Merkel asking CEO Mark Zuckerberg to control anti-immigration posts on Facebook. Why not try yourself posting something which does not conform to the zeitgeist and watch the orgy of sanctimonious, self-indulgent groupthink take offence.
And when it comes to the great terror of our time, I think that the mad mullahs are less to be feared than coalition of the thin-skinned, disgruntled, pulchritudophobic and allied trades who take offence and manufacture grievance at every turn, and whose PC terror would have even Robespierre quaking in his boots. By destroying western values and culture, and enfeebling minds, these folk do far more damage, and are far more of a threat to our well-being and survival than any number of suicide bombers.
Perhaps I am being unduly optimistic, but given the choice between a Polish minister of culture wishing to celebrate Polish history and nihilism of the PC brigade, I regard the former as less of an attack on freedom of expression.