COLLAPSE OF POLISH MEDIA IN THE EAST
During the last two years, half of Polish editorial offices were closed down in the East, and those which survived are in debts. Their catastrophic state is a merit of the policy of the Foreign Ministry
Polish journalists from the borderlands of the Polish Republic are terrified. The actions of the Foreign Ministry caused a situation in which our compatriots feel lonely and unneeded. Decreasing grants for the Polish press, radio and television and internet portals by about 50 per cent causes a situation in which it is more and more difficult for them to cultivate the Polish language and patriotic traditions. – If we are unneeded, please, tell us about it – said Zygmunt Klonowski from ‘A Daily of Vilnius’ in the Senate during a conference about ‘Polish media in the East’. – We are meeting again and nothing results from it. We feel like parasites who are coming to Poland only for money.
If everything is all right, so why is the situation so bad
A definite majority of Polish media in the East were established in the 90s of the last century. From the beginning, they were under the care of the Senate of the Polish Republic. During 20 years effective mechanisms of maintaining Polish titles were elaborated. A few organizations cooperating with the Senate were specialized in reaching to these editorial offices which need financial and institutional support from the Polish country.
The situation diametrically worsened in 2012, when financial means for the activity of the Polish media and organizations abroad were moved from the Senate to the Foreign Ministry. As a result, there was a realistic decline in support by about 50 per cent (in comparison to the year 2011). The changes led to the suspension of liquidation of activity of many media. – Earlier 90 titles were financed and now, there are 45 of them – says Adam Lipiński (the Law and Justice party), the chief of the Seym Commission of Connection with Poles Abroad. – We are entering the second year of realization of this idea and we should sum it up somehow. Maybe we should seriously reflect on whether to return to the Senate system.
However, the Foreign Ministry is ‘hitting back the ball’, saying that everything is under control. The Foreign vice-minister Katarzyna Pełczyńska – Nałęcz assures that everything is on a good way and only this year mass media gained the support of over 4 million zlotys.
- In addition, financing media was also passed on by diplomatic institutions, from which 600 thousand zlotys were given to media in the East. There were 80 titles and 80 per cent of means are assigned by the Foreign Ministry for Polish media abroad – explains the vice-minister of the Foreign Ministry. She assures that financial means assigned for the Polish media abroad are still growing.
However, this explanation is not accepted by those who are interested in the issue. – If everything is all right, then why is the situation so bad? In the Soviet times statistics were good, but there was famine. Why is there such a situation that we cannot live by the means we receive? – asks Klonowski.
Where is missing money?
Among journalists invited to the Senate there were even suspicions that 50 per cent of means assigned for financing mass media, get lost somewhere on the way. – If the amount of finances is the same, and we only receive half of the means, then I ask: Where is this money? – says Emilia Chmielowa, the chairman of the Federation of Polish Organizations in Ukraine.
We must look for answers in ‘murky procedures’ which are used by the Foreign Ministry during allocating money. The Senate was acting more elastically and clerks from the ministry are announcing contests from their desks. As a result, money do not get where it should, but to newly established organizations.
As an example we can give the ambiguity connected with financing the Fund of Civic Thoughts Development which received grants of 1.4 million zlotys from means assigned for the project ‘Cooperation with Polish Diaspora and Poles Abroad’. However, it turned out that the Fund had been established just before the announcement of the contest and cooperators of the former vice-minister of the Foreign Ministry Janusz Cisko were connected with it.
Another setback of the Foreign Ministry – pointed out by Polish editors from the East – is the E-polonia.org portal which has not got any achievements or experience, but it won 265 thousand zlotys in the contest. At present there is no information from Ukraine in the portal, but there are only trainings offers. – We are not suitably financed and such ‘portals’ take nearly 300 thousand zlotys. They are supposed to train us for this money, and later they are supposed to survive thanks to the tourist advertisements. I have been acting in this market for years and I wish them good luck – Mirosław Rowicki, an editor of ‘A Daily of Galicia’ says ironically. – We must reflect on whom the Foreign Ministry grants money.
Commotion around the E-polonia.org portal was also noticed by Jerzy Wójcicki, an editor-in-chief of ‘A Polish Word’. At the first sight one can see that it was made up by amateurs not knowing problems in the East. – If their project was supposed to be addressed to Poles in Ukraine, the name, for example, for E-polacy.pl should be different. We do not have Polish Diaspora, but there are only Poles – reminded Wójcicki. He can only dream about a similar support for the portal Slowopolskie.org created by a group of Poles.
Illegally in Belarus
The most dramatic situation is in Grodzieńszczyzna, where after de-legalization of the Poles’ Association in Belarus, media are acting under the motto of a commercial company. The regime of Aleksander Łukaszenko caused a situation in which Polish newspapers have to be smuggled and distributed in the second circulation, because a word printed in Polish is illegal there.
Irena Waluś, an editor-in-chief of the Polish Magazine’ admits that the circulation of the magazine decreased by three times. – So, I ask the Foreign Ministry to return to reliable mechanisms of distribution of newspapers – she appeals. What kind of distribution does she mean?
- There is no beating around the bush, because Belarusian services know very well how we used to distribute newspapers. We only mean that diplomats would transport newspaper from Białystok to Belarus, as it was earlier – explains Marek Bućko form the Fund ‘Freedom and Democracy’. For two years, the consulate has been refusing to transport Polish newspapers by diplomatic cars. They explain it with political reasons.- I do not understand why a consul could transport newspapers earlier and today it is impossible. After all, these newspapers are financed by the Foreign Ministry – says Andrzej Pisalnik from ‘A voice from Niemno’ to ‘Niedziela’.
Moving financial means from the Senate to the Foreign Ministry is also a source of political complications. – The old system of financing did not put anybody in danger of being considered as an agent of a foreign country. But, unfortunately, at present this situation is, for example, in Russia or Belarus – says Romuald Łanczkowski, a vice-director of the Office of Analysis and Documentation of the Senate Office.
Federation of media in the East
For journalists, the most humiliating fact were decisions made without any consultations. – We were treated subordinately. We were not asked about our opinion in this matter – says Dorota Jaworska from the quarterly ‘Krynica’, edited in Ukraine. – The decision about moving finances from the Senate to the Foreign Ministry was wrong. Therefore, we appeal for returning the old and reliable way of cooperation – adds Andżelika Borys, the former chairman of the Poles’ Association on Belarus.
However, Polish organizations and press editors in the East do not give up. They have already announced the establishment of their common organization – the Federation of Polish Media in the East. Its purpose is to gain more financial support from the country and represent these media in talks with the Foreign Ministry. – We can still gather together in such conferences many times, but the situation is critical. It must be followed by positive and immediate consequences – said Robert Mickiewicz, the chairman of the Association of Polish Media in Lithuania.
Members of the newly established federation want the diplomacy of the Polish Republic recognize media in the East as one of the factors of the foreign policy, especially in the sphere of a fight for maintaining Polish national identity. They also postulate for including their support by the country in the priorities of the policy of the Foreign Ministry. The Federation insists on receiving the amount of 5 million zlotys from 2011 as a necessary minimum for further cooperation. Leaders of Polish organizations suggest a full openness of contests and verification of subjects applying for grants.
- Polishness is a kind of our hobby. We do not earn anything by it. If my husband found out how much money he adds to my editorial work, he would dismiss me from the function of his wife – says Dorota Jaworska. – I am a hostage of this difficult is situation. I cannot tell my readers that the next edition of the Polish magazine will not be published. They simply deserve it for the fact that they are Poles.