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The Warsaw Voice » Politics » December 21, 2012
Politics & Society
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Hate Speech
December 21, 2012   
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The language of Polish politics is becoming radical at a frightening pace. Everyone—political scientists, sociologists, lawyers, journalists, the public and, last but not least, politicians themselves—agrees that this is the case, but no one has any idea of how to stem the tide.

And if such an idea is put forward by someone, it is immediately criticized as one violating the fundamental principle of democratic societies—the freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Hate speech is the term used to describe this kind of behavior. Polish politicians have gotten rid of all their inhibitions when it comes to attacking an opponent. They use words that just a few years ago would have been replaced with asterisks in newspapers or been edited out during TV broadcasts. Now no one bothers. A growing number of politicians regard verbal insults as a perfect instrument to win a strong position in their party and to attract voters and gain popularity. Interestingly, the media criticize hate speech but regularly invite these politicians to their programs. The most popular news and current-affairs programs regularly host those making the most offensive remarks and enable—or sometimes even provoke—them to hurl insults at their political opponents.

A few examples: Janusz Palikot, leader of the Palikot Movement group, once called former president Lech Kaczyński a “lout.” In another appearance on television, during a satirical program, he said that he would go hunting with President Bronisław Komorowski to “shoot Jarosław Kaczyński [leader of the Law and Justice (PiS) party], disembowel him and offer the skin for sale.”

Stefan Niesiołowski, a deputy of the Civic Platform party and former deputy speaker of the lower house of parliament, called Grzegorz Napieralski, former leader of the Democratic Left Alliance, “an abominably mendacious hypocrite and double-dealer.” Some time later, he called people demonstrating in Warsaw in front of the cross commemorating the victims of Smolensk crash “potential psychiatric cases.” And during a parliamentary debate, Niesiołowski called Antoni Macierewicz of PiS a “dope.”

To be sure, hate speech is not limited to politicians. Grzegorz Braun, a film director with extreme rightist leanings, has recently suggested that two dozen journalists from the private television station TVN and a dozen journalists from Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest daily newspaper, should be shot in order to rid Poland of “vermin.”

Prosecutors are preparing to examine whether Braun’s words can be regarded as incitement to commit a crime. Meanwhile, everyone agrees that even if Braun is brought to court his popularity will grow.

The ruling Civic Platform recently proposed that especially drastic cases of hate speech be subject to a two-year prison term. However, most commentators criticized that idea. Their argument was that this would in fact mean a return of censorship, which was notorious in Poland in the communist era. For the time being, no one has come up with another proposal for solving the problem. There is every indication that politicians will continue to insult one another and the language of politics will remain brutal.
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