Adam Michnik founded in Poland the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and to this day he is still its editor-in-chief. From there, he has developed a task of monitoring power and firm Europeanism that has led him to the recognition granted by the Princess of Asturias Foundation with the Communication and Humanities award.
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For this journalist and historian, the award comes at a time “of important political tensions in Europe”, “where the institutions and forces of civil society defend democratic values against a wave of populist nationalism, often backed by ultra-conservative fundamentalisms of various kinds”, he explains to elDiario.es about the situation in his country and in Eastern Europe. In this context, “the role of journalists in this clash is evident: either we defend the freedom of the press, the freedom of citizens, which also means the democratic order, or we will have a new and gloomy 1930s.”
The three decades he has been at the helm of Gazeta Wyborcza, whose first issue came out in 1989, have allowed him to take the pulse of democracy in Poland. It emerged at a time when the anti-communist opposition movement led by the Solidarity union and supported by Western forces was bringing down the Soviet regime and the Eastern Bloc was breaking up. “After ’89, the press in Poland was pluralistic and free from pressure from the rulers,” recalls Michnik. “The only pressures that could have been those that came from society, but it was normal… different people live together in society, not everyone likes what is written in a newspaper that I would describe as liberal-leftist, although more liberal than leftist, at least if we consider ‘left’ as the will to dominate the State through the planned economy and the single party system”, he points out.
A far-right government and its propaganda media
43 years of democracy later, the Government of the Polish Republic is presided over by the ultra-conservative Andrzej Duda, from the Law and Justice party, who won the elections in 2015 and was re-elected in 2020, although in a very tight manner compared to his center-party opponent. right. “In Poland, a large part of the media is already dominated by the ruling party, which is populist-radical, nationalist and intolerant, and this mainly applies to public media, which has ceased to be public media and has become institutions of ruling power, in party propaganda, which means the death of the independent media, because newspapers must report on reality, not falsify it at the behest of party instructors”, explains Adam Michnik.
Michnik, who was born in 1946, a year after the end of the Second World War, receives this award while a war is going on in a country that borders his own, and the media reports it in real time… except the Russian media. “Now the question is how to combat the war disinformation campaign in Ukraine, a campaign that comes from Russia,” the historian asks. “Of course, all these lies must be exposed”, he indicates, but he warns that “you cannot dialogue with those institutions that produce falsehoods, because there is no dialogue in them”. “They write what they write not to explain the world, not even in a controversial way, but to enslave people, lull them to sleep and force them to obey the authorities. And there is only one answer to this, one must be guided by the defense of freedom and truth, these are the two pillars of the independent media in a democratic society”, he adds, on the use of the media as transmitters of propaganda.
Euroenthusiasm and brave Poland
Last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled against Poland, warning that the independence of judges was compromised. It was not the first time. Michnik doesn’t think these sanctions are having an effect. “There are a lot of rumors but I don’t see any real change until today,” he says. “The Government has announced, for example, that it is going to dismantle the Disciplinary Chamber [después de que el TJUE dictaminara que es contraria a la legislación comunitaria], which simply serves to repress the judges who pass sentences according to the Constitution and not according to the orders of the authorities, but nothing happened with this”, he remarks. “I consider this government policy to be harmful, stupid and suicidal. The fact that the CJEU imposes sanctions is normal and should be against all States, any EU State that violates its level of power and the democratic principles of the EU, should also be financially sanctioned”, he opines.
The journalist, who had a past of political militancy and was a deputy in the first democratic legislature, admits that he belongs to the group of “euroenthusiasts”. “I am not saying that everything is fine in the European Union or that everything works fine because we are all people, not angels, but I am convinced that from the beginning the Union was good at avoiding conflicts within the EU and, of course, such conflicts. there are none armed,” he says. “I think this is the wise revolution, because it is non-violent. It is aimed not at annihilating anyone, but at enriching each other. Everything that membership of the EU has brought to Poland has been positive, I know of nothing negative, contrary to what Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and [el expresidente y presidente del partido del Gobierno] Jarosław Kaczyński,” he says.
Despite everything, Michnik looks forward to the future thanks to the “initiatives of very brave young people who often save the honor of our country”. “When I look at these people, I look at the future of Poland with optimism, perhaps because my children are also among these people,” he says.