Emancipation of mass media from government control was one
of the main goals of the Polish post-Communist reformers, who hoped that media
serving as a forum of political and ideological debate would facilitate the
emergence of civil society. The
widespread expectation was that an open debate would lead to integration and
unification of the society around fundamental values of democracy, pluralism
This striving toward the establishment of a public sphere,
however, should not be interpreted as an indicator that there was no public
sphere in pre-1989 Poland, nor that the Communist-controlled, official public
sphere was the only one that existed before 1989 in that country. As Jakubowicz suggests (1990),
three public spheres coexisted in Poland before the collapse of Communism: an
official, government-controlled public sphere, an alternative public sphere
connected to the Roman Catholic Church which had emerged since 1956, and, since
1976, an oppositional public sphere connected to the anti-regime dissident
groups (which, beginning in 1980, was mainly organized around
“Solidarity”). Media were crucial
components of all the three spheres: official mass media were major
contributors to the official public sphere (although different factions within
the ruling party were represented in different party-owned internal bulletins
and periodicals); some fifty periodicals and newspapers published by the
Catholic church were contributing to the alternative public sphere; and
underground periodicals and books contributed, together with dissident “salons”
and meetings, to the oppositional public sphere. While the alternative and oppositional public
spheres to some degree overlapped, there was a crucial difference in their
orientation: the alternative one abstained from questioning the legitimacy of
the Communist rule in the country while the oppositional one questioned such
legitimacy and called for change in the political system.
The long awaited systemic change that took place in 1989
drastically altered the configuration of previously existing public spheres,
including the previously state-owned media system, opening it to private
ownership and differentiated political affiliations. This change unavoidably meant struggles for
media ownership and control, and those struggles became a political fight in
their own right, with political clout becoming as significant as media
themselves. Consequently, such power
struggles have led to a situation in which the participatory model envisioned
by the reformers has been replaced by an environment where access to mass media
is exercised not by a society as a whole but by the power elites, which seek
influence upon broadcasting policy and contents (Jakubowicz,
1994, p.285). (Even so, in contrast
to the previous era, the elite control over media has a highly fragmented
character because the dominant elite is politically divided.) At the same time, market mechanisms reshaped
the emerging media systems by replacing the doctrine of equality with that of
freedom of access, and defining audiences of media not as their recipients or
users but as consumers whose purchasing power was to be sold to
advertisers. The final outcome of these
processes, observes Sparks, is that
the role of media as facilitator in creating the civil society and
participatory democracy has been to a certain extent lost (1998,
This doesn’t mean, however, that the
civil society, including its contentious elements, has entirely lost access to the
public sphere in contemporary Poland. To the contrary,
based on the case of an ultra-right Catholic radio station, Radio Maryja (Radio
Mary), I suggest that democratization of the media system in that country has
provided for the emergence of an oppositional public sphere, where oppositional
views can be expressed and oppositional discourses used. This oppositional public sphere is a site
where critical assessment of changes that have been taking place in Poland since 1989 occurs, where questioning legitimacy of the system
in place occurs and where alternative visions of the desired outcomes of
systemic change are proposed and propagated.
By questioning the legitimacy of the system in place, this oppositional
public sphere fits the definition of the oppositional public sphere from
Jakubowicz’s model of the pre-1989 era (1990). It is ironic, however, that the official
discourse it opposes today used to occupy the exact place of an oppositional
public sphere during the Communist era.
Oppositional Discourses and Alternative Visions of Systemic Transformation
The Social Costs of Transitions
Radio Maryja – a “Catholic Radio with a Mission”
Named after Mary, the mother of Jesus, the station was
founded in 1991 by the Roman Catholic missionary order of The Redemptorists
(which is not directly under the jurisdiction of the Polish Church), with Fr.
Tadeusz Rydzyk as station manager. It
started broadcasting on December 8, 1991, as a local station in the cities of
Toruń and Bydgoszcz, based on an agreement between the Church and the Ministry
of Telecommunication from 1990, in which the Church was allowed to start
sixty-four Catholic radio stations in its dioceses. Thirty-two of those frequencies were
allocated to Radio Maryja.1.
Maryja consists of not only equipment, but most of all of the people. And not only people working directly in the
studio, but all the listeners, interlocutors, who are our family. In a family we don’t pick our words. We often say what we think – in a straight
way. We talk in order to come to
understanding and to find the truth,2.
explains the Radio’s founder, director and main
ideologue, Fr. Tadeusz Rydzyk (Rydzyk, 1995, p. 12).
A poll held in July 1998 ranked Radio
Maryja as Poland’s fourth most-popular station. It was listened to by 7.4% of the population
(which means approximately 5 million listeners in a national population of 39
million). Sixty-one percent of the
listeners are women, 46% of its audience is 50 years or older, 28% is 30-49
years old and 26% is 9-29 years old.
Forty-eight percent of Radio Maryja listeners live in villages, 27% live
in towns with populations of less than 100,000 and 25% in cities with
populations of more than 100,000.
Thirty-three percent of the listeners have middle-school educations, 23%
have vocational educations, 24% have high school educations and 6% have university
degrees (OBOP study, 1999).
The average listener of Radio Maryja spends 219 minutes per day tuned to
the station (Holley, 1998).
According to Rydzyk, the majority of
Radio Maryja listeners come from the poorest strata of society, including
inhabitants of small villages and towns – the strata most affected by the
economic changes in the country. Radio
Maryja sees itself as the only source of true information for its
listeners. Rydzyk explains its mission
People want truth about what is going on in Poland,
around them. They want to know what are
the necessities and the effects of the systemic transformation. After all they carry the enormous burden of
these changes (Rydzyk, 1995, p. 8).
Radio Maryja perceives Polish media
(other than itself, its daily Nasz Dziennik (Our Daily) and a
Catholic weekly Niedziela (Sunday)) as its enemies: Liberal Gazeta
Wyborcza and Wprost are criticized by Radio Maryja, accused of “softening people’s brains” and put in the
same category as the satirical Nie (No), run by Jerzy Urban, a
notorious spokesman of the last Communist government, and in the same category
as Tygodnik Powszechny, an intellectual, high-brow Catholic weekly. All together these are considered by Radio
Maryja ideologues to be run by “communo-libertines” and international
financiers joined by the betrayers of the Church and Poland (Czołgowski, Lizut &
Wielowieyska, 1996). Radio Maryja
considers itself a counterweight to the liberal orientation that, in its vision
of reality, has dominated all mass media and considers itself further to be a
warrant of pluralism in the new system of a market economy, which theoretically
should provide for the free access to media but in practice does not. “We speak different languages about something
very different. And it is more and more
difficult for us Poles to understand each other,” writes Marzena Szczepkowska,
representing Radio Maryja’s discourse in Niedziela weekly (Szczepkowska, 1995, p. 12). Radio Maryja is seen by its proponents as the
only place of refuge for those who “haven’t lost their awareness of the events
taking place in Poland and in the world, and who aren’t afraid to follow the path of
proselytism,” “a place of refuge from emptiness, despair and deceit” (Polak-Pałkiewicz , 1996b, p.
11). Consistent with these images,
Radio Maryja calls itself a “Catholic radio with a mission” and considers
itself a “gift of the poor for the Republic” (Polak-Pałkiewicz,
1996a, p. 12).
Social Activism of Radio Maryja
In addition to broadcasting its radio programming, Radio
Maryja carries out other activities.
Numerous books as well as a Radio Maryja Family monthly magazine
(Rodzina Radia Maryja) are published by Radio Maryja’s Foundation “Our
Future” (“Nasza Przyszłość”), as well as by the editorial house
of Loretan Convent in Warsaw. Among
those publications are books devoted to the issues of religion and to the
Polish pope. Some are devoted to the radio itself (e.g. “Our Book: Radio Maryja
Family’s Gift for the Holy Father”), and many other publications discuss
political and social issues lying at the heart of Radio Maryja’s interests
(e.g. “Media and Power” by Krystyna Czuba, “Battle for Poland” and “Battle for
Truth” by Jan Maria Jackowski). Radio
Maryja also publishes housekeeping guides, such as “Cakes by Sister Leonilla,”
in which a popular nun, Sister Leonilla, who has her own cooking program on the
radio, shares her best recipes.
Radio Maryja has a network of offices around Poland (in 1998
there were approximately 190 such offices) (Kadaj, 1998, p. 66)
that provide an organizational-technical infrastructure instrumental in
organizing pilgrimages, demonstrations, pickets, manifestations, prayers for
Radio Maryja and the Radio Maryja family, lectures, and numerous actions of
letter writing and petition signing. The
offices of Radio Maryja are most often organized through parishes, where
volunteers run them on particular days of the week. As such, these offices become important
centers of social activism for people who otherwise would not be socially
involved – especially the retired and the elderly.
Radio Maryja also
produces a great amount of leaflets, prayer-fly-sheets, postcards, calendars,
numerous videotapes presenting activities of the Radio Maryja Family, t-shirts,
children’s books, caps, rosaries, as well as radio sets tuned to Radio Maryja’s
frequencies. All the items may be
purchased in Radio Maryja Offices, as well as at numerous fairs and meetings
organized by Radio Maryja.
Among social and political initiatives in which the Radio
Maryja Family has engaged are:
of thousands of letters sent in 1993 to the Broadcasting Council requesting
national licensing for Radio Maryja combined with rosary prayers by listeners
in front of the Council’s building.
- pickets in front of the homes of Parliament members who
voted for the liberalization of the aforementioned abortion law, with
Radio Maryja’s monthly magazine, Radio Maryja Family, publishing a
list of these MPs.
- tens of thousands of
letters sent in 1993 to the Broadcasting Council requesting national licensing
for Radio Maryja combined with rosary prayers by listeners in front of the
letters against pornography sent to the Parliament
of petitions to void the results of 1995 presidential elections submitted
to the Supreme Court
of the Committee to Rescue Gdańsk Shipyard, collection of shares from
the listeners amounting to 150 million PLN
(approximately $US 40 million)
to flood victims in 1997, resulting in 15,000 tons of gifts and 1.1
million PLN donated by the listeners to the needy, with heating fuel
purchased for 1000 families and 2000 children receiving Christmas gifts (Kadaj, 1998).
Oppositional Meaning-Making Role of Radio Maryja
This study focuses on the role of Radio Maryja as a site of
oppositional meaning-making during the time of systemic transition in
Poland. The study examined the
discourses of Radio Maryja (hosts and listeners) and its associated print
publications to discover the realities and identities being expressed and
encouraged. The meaning-making of Radio
Maryja takes place in two directions:
from above (expressed by Radio Maryja’s main ideologues) and also from
below, by listeners who voice their opinions during the open-microphone
sessions of the nightly program “Unfinished Conversations.” In the context of significant changes in
control, content and ownership of Polish mass media, the discourse of
“Unfinished Conversations” is of particular interest as a new and unfamiliar
public forum, bringing into dialogue meaning-making from above and from below
This study examined this discourse utilizing thematic
analysis of transcripts of Radio Maryja’s broadcast of the daily
open-microphone program “Unfinished Conversations” and print texts about Radio
Maryja from two print publications closely connected to Radio Maryja: Niedziela (Sunday) and Gość
Niedzielny (The Sunday Guest).
As numerous print publications in Poland have been addressing the
discursive practices of Radio Maryja since its inception, the analysis of the
print texts provided context for analysis of the on-air spoken discourse.
Selection of texts
Sixty randomly selected hours of Radio Maryja’s broadcast of
“Unfinished Conversations” were recorded and analyzed. This program starts at 10pm every evening and
lasts to the early morning hours of the next day. The sample included ten randomly selected
hours of programming per week, between the following dates: June 15-August 1,
2000, January 1-15 2001 and July 1-15, 2001. (Selection of this period for the
analysis of programming reflected the schedule of the author’s trips to
Portions of the recorded programming that pertained to the
construction or assertion of collective identity, contributed to the
construction of systems of knowledge, and expressed beliefs about reality were
transcribed and analyzed in detail.
Drawing from the insights of social constructionist theory, selection
was guided by the assumption that such construction of meaning involves
“building materials from history, geography, biology, collective memory and
personal fantasies, power apparatuses, and religious revelations, as well as
entails a sense of place, language and specific cultural, and political and
economic institutions” (Castells, 1997, p. 7). Portions of the programming devoted to issues
other than the subject of this study (e.g., health advice) were excluded from
A library search of articles devoted to Radio Maryja (search
key word: Radio Maryja) covered years 1992-1998 (electronic catalogues in
Polish libraries became available in 1992).
The search yielded 100 articles from 15 national publications that were
at the time catalogued. Two of those
publications - Niedziela (Sunday) and Gość
Niedzielny (The Sunday Guest)- were ideologically linked to Radio
Maryja and yielded 19 articles (Niedziela - 18 articles, Gość
Niedzielny- 1 article). The
remaining publications (81 articles) cover the whole ideological spectrum represented
in the Polish media at the time of analysis.
Those publications included Gazeta Wyborcza daily, Życie
daily, Trybuna daily, Rzeczpospolita daily; Tygodnik
Powszechny, Wprost weekly, Polityka weekly, Słowo
weekly, Gazeta Polska weekly, Wiadomości Kulturalne weekly, Ład
monthly, Powściągliwość i Praca monthly and Press
monthly. Among them, liberal Gazeta
Wyborcza published the largest number of articles devoted to Radio Maryja
Recorded material from broadcasts of “Unfinished
Conversations” and texts from Niedziela and Gość Niedzielny
weeklies were subjected to thematic analysis, focused on the ways in which
Radio Maryja’s discourses express particular versions of reality and encourage
the construction of a collective identity of Polish people in the context of
the circumstances of the post-Communist systemic transition.
The analytic process consisted of three phases. First, the collected texts from Niedziela,
Gość Niedzielny and the recorded and transcribed broadcasts of
“Unfinished Conversations” were analyzed to identify patterns such as
“conversation topics, vocabulary, recurring activities, feelings, folk sayings”
that were related to the analytic focus on collective identity and reality construction
(Taylor & Bogdan, 1984, p. 131). Next, the patterns were combined into themes
by “bringing together components or fragments of ideas or experiences, which
often are meaningless when viewed alone” (Leininger, 1985,
p. 60). The identification of themes
emerged through seeking “ideas or components that would fit together in a
meaningful way when linked together” (Leininger, 1985, p.
The final step involved analysis of the collected print
texts from publications other than those linked to Radio Maryja, in order to
validate the author’s identification of particular themes and free them from
the context of the time-frame within which the recordings of on-air programming
were made. These press articles were
regarded as published sources of information on developments of Radio Maryja,
as at the time of analysis, no books or journal articles had been published on
the subject of Radio Maryja.
The analysis identified six major themes pertaining to the
representation of reality and construction of collective identity of the Polish
subject under the conditions of systemic transition: critical assessment of
systemic transition, anti-elitism, anti-Europeanism, ultra-Catholicism,
historicism, and anti-Semitism. In the
sections that follow, each theme is examined in detail.
Critical Assessment of Poland’s Systemic Transition
The representation of reality that
Radio Maryja provides to its listeners is highly critical of contemporary
Poland. Analysis of print texts from Niedziela
and Gość Niedzielny showed that practically all spheres of
social life are seen as sites of numerous pathologies and degenerations. The society is portrayed as lost and
ideologically disoriented; political victories of post-Communist Social
Democrats are just one more indicator of this deep crisis of ideas from which
Poland suffers. Consequently, politics
is described as being devoid of independent thinking and an arena from which
real patriots have been eliminated.
Culture, as seen by one of the leading Niedziela columnists, Ewa
Polak-Pałkiewicz, is a “morass” managed by the “Coryphaeuses of mass
media, the aeropagus of television” (Polak-Pałkiewicz,
1996a). Fr. Rydzyk offers his
assessment of the Polish media:
Whoever owns mass media,
may speak -- and we see what the consequences are. People don’t know what is
going on in Poland. And a danger is probably greater than in 18th
century, during the partitions. (Rydzyk, 1996b, p. 3).
Poles are described as having fallen
into a deep spiritual coma, becoming defenseless victims and, at the same time,
a tool in the hands of a cunning enemy. This
enemy represents forces of a well-organized Evil, which is directed from an
anonymous headquarters but is never clearly defined. Depending on the context, these forces may be
Communists, Masons, and Jews, but also feminists, religious sects, and, generally,
liberals. Radio Maryja, on the other
hand, is seen as the savior anointed by Holy Mary that will be instrumental in
awakening Poles from their spiritual stupor.
When awakened, they will finally comprehend the real order that has been
established in their country, as opposed to the invented order projected to the
masses by all other mass media (Mularczyk, 1995).
Radio Maryja claims knowledge of this
real order already and perceives contemporary Poland as the scene of a great
social division. The country is perceived by Ewa Polak-Pałkiewicz (1996b) as divided “into two continents drifting away from
each other and knowing less and less, almost nothing about each other.” One of the demarcation lines between them is
money: some Poles have so little that “their everyday life is filled by a
painful search for bread, clothing for children, heating
fuel for the winter” (Polak-Pałkiewicz, 1996b). Another line of division, running parallel to
the previous one, is that of access to information: Polish society is divided into those who
watch television and read large-circulation sensational, political, women’s,
and youth’s magazines and those who listen to Radio Maryja and read a press
“that respects independent thinking” (Polak-Pałkiewicz,
The parts of Polish society that subscribe to Radio Maryja’s
evaluation of the developments in the country not only listen to the radio
station; they also interact with it and treat it as a forum in which their
views and opinions, unheard in the mainstream media, can be expressed and made
public. Analysis of the recorded
programming provides numerous examples of negative assessments of the country’s
systemic transition and its possible outcomes.
Typical of Radio Maryja listeners is the following opinion
expressed by a caller named Zosia, on July 6th, 2001 during the
radio program “Unfinished Conversations” with Rydzyk:
Don’t sell all the
land.... Asians work in our country,
they build roads. “Poles don’t want to
do it,” they say.... It will come to the time when Polish people will have to
go abroad for work, because they [foreign companies] will bring their own
workers with them.... We need to defend ourselves, to fight. But – it seems as if people are disoriented.
Alicja, a caller to an “Unfinished Conversations” program
devoted to the problem of homelessness, puts the fears of Radio Maryja’s
listeners in these words:
The homeless today are a fragment of something
bigger. We can all become homeless. A
careful observer who follows what our Parliament is doing, what laws are being
passed, has to come to the conclusion that we are close to becoming Kurds in
our own country. We will not have our
state. We will not have our houses (Holley, 1998).
Callers describe the effects of the
systemic transition extremely negatively:
treason – such a selling out of Poland?
For me it is treason. What about
these millions of people – many young, graduated from schools, but
unemployed.... Half a million people just wasted. (anonymous caller, 6 January
Young people – they
commit suicides. They graduate from
universities, without jobs. People are
depressed.... People are dying (anonymous caller, 6 January 2001).
Children finish their schools and then they just
stand all days in front of their houses. Because there are no jobs for them –
this is a tragedy. Nobody would like to have some uprising in Poland....
(caller Henryk, 27 July 2001).
People gave their lives for what homeland? For a homeland, where so many people are
homeless, without jobs, with so many orphanages... (anonymous caller, 6 January
These negative assessments of the
situation, most often not related to any particular events but pertaining to
general analysis of Polish society in transition, are often combined with
strong anti-individualist impulses and nostalgia for a disappearing feeling of
belonging to a collective:
We should care, we
should be patriotic. We should care
together – not everyone pulling his way....
We should together.... These are
our people... (caller introduced as a Catholic nun, 6 January 2001).
Return to life in solidarity is necessary... (anonymous caller, 27 July 2001).
Self-organization, working together,
is seen as the only way to overcome these difficulties: “Let’s take the matters
in our own hands,” “We have to feel at home where we live,” “We can’t give away
the right to make decisions concerning our things, our lives, into the hands of
people whom we don’t know” (anonymous callers to “Unfinished Conversations,”
various dates) - these are typical voices calling for a unifying effort against
the existing conditions.
In the process of presenting itself
as the one true voice of Poland, Radio Maryja harshly attacks a wide range of
other viewpoints. Liberals as well as
those representing various other ideological orientations, including leading
dissidents of the Communist era, are characterized as political and
intellectual elites. Intellectual elites
are ridiculed and accused of being the servants of a system based “not anymore
on police violence, but on bureaucracy and moral blackmail” (Kot,
1993). “With the enlightened ‘Europeans’ one cannot have any discussion,”
comments a female caller, “it is as if one was talking to someone recorded on a
Radio Maryja portrays the right side
of the political spectrum, including Solidarity Union, together with the
government and most of the Parliament, as unreliable and not involved in the
problems of the people:
We are fighting for jobs, for the homeland. But they didn’t come to us.... Where is the
government, where is Solidarity, which used to be so beautiful? Isn’t there anyone anymore in this country
who thinks? We will wake up robbed!
Satława on air, a strike leader in a meat factory in Toruń
(“Unfinished Conversations,” September 2, 1998)
According to one of Radio Maryja’s main ideologues, Fr.
Mieczysław A. Krąpiec, Radio Maryja is for its listeners “the only
Polish radio, because it reaches to the very basis of the Polish culture,
because it knows what the nation should strive for” (Krąpiec,
1997). He also considers Radio Maryja a voice that tells its listeners not
to “feel stigmatized by being different” (Ibid).
Those who control the media (and were, ironically,
responsible for the allocation of additional frequencies for Radio Maryja) are
in Radio Maryja’s discourse the same people who have “possessed” Poland
– “hirelings or betrayers of Poland”
(Rydzyk, 1996b, p. 5). Elites, then, become one of “the Others”
against whom the collective identity of Radio Maryja’s listeners is being
constructed. The identity of the
‘elites’ is presented as false and non-Polish, while the identity of the masses
listening to Radio Maryja and subscribing to its views becomes the true
identity of Poland.
More and more we are learning how to be ourselves. They [the elites]...will feel worse and worse
in their too small, somebody else’s costume.
And, maybe then, they will discard it,
Ewa Polak-Pałkiewicz in Niedziela weekly (Polak-Pałkiewicz,
Catholicization of Polish society is the overarching mission
of Radio Maryja, and much of the Radio’s airtime is devoted to prayer and daily
catechesis. But the Catholicism promoted
on these airwaves is of a specific character, often quite different from that
which is represented by the Polish Episcopate.
This Catholicism is highly politicized and inseparably intertwined with
If the nation ceases to be Catholic, it will
cease to exist. And it is happening
right now. We will be Polish
language-speaking citizens, or rather a dumping-ground of Europe, warns Fr.
Krąpiec on the air (Graczyk,
The Church and Poland, in turn, are identified by listeners
with Radio Maryja:
Radio Maryja is constantly being attacked by an international – not
Communist but liberal, libertine -- which attacks the Church, the Holy
Father.... But we [Radio Maryja and its listeners] are anointed by Jesus and
Mary (anonymous caller, 8 July, 2001).
I see a massive attack against the Holy Father
and against the Church. How are we to defend our Church? We are being ridiculed
and we start to be ashamed of our faith and our religiousness. In order to protect the Church, we need to
get outside of our families, our homes.... (caller Anna, 3 January 2001).
In such statements, made without reference to any particular
events but rather in broad commentary on the political climate in the country,
the messianic tones are heard calling for protection of the real truth from
international and internal betrayers.
Also in such statements, an essentialist definition of a nation is
asserted, assuming the existence of a ‘true Polishness’ inseparable from
The Church and the Catholicism of Radio Maryja’s discourse
are closed, anti-intellectual and distanced from the ecumenism preached by the
Pope. The idea of a “discreet Catholic”
is opposed by Radio Maryja’s idea of a politically active Catholicism. This Catholicism is not reflective, but
extreme and militant:
The fact that Radio Maryja is being listened to
even by those who do not openly admit to it, proves on one hand a continuous
need for prayer and, on the other a weariness of Catholics with “defeatist
Christianity”... because Radio Maryja surely doesn’t promote such type of
writes a Niedziela weekly
columnist, Marzena Szczepkowska (1995). An example of this militancy is the
suggestion aired during “Unfinished Conversations” on October 24, 1996, that
members of the Parliament who voted in favor of relaxing antiabortion laws
should have their heads shaven “like the prostitutes who associated with the
Germans” during the German occupation in Poland and other European countries (Głuchowski, 1997).
The views expressed on the airwaves
of Radio Maryja and by most of its callers (in the period studied) reflect a
broad rejection of the systemic transition in Poland and its ambitions of
entering the European Union. Pursuing
European Unification is identified with the “deChristianization and
denationalizing of Poles,” making them into “so-called Europeans,” an
“enigmatic conglomerate of individuals subordinated to bureaucratic decisions
of the commissars of the united Europe located in Brussels . . . where Europe
unites, but not in a Christian spirit....
It unites in a liberal spirit, a Masonic spirit” (anonymous caller, July
27, 2001). Referring to European bureaucrats
as commissars points out that European unification is perceived by this caller
as a threat of foreign domination, not very different from the domination of
the Soviet Moscow over its socialist satellites.
The station, its leader Fr. Rydzyk,
and its supporters see themselves as fighters against those evil forces
embodied in the liberal West, “that perfumed swamp,” as it is often-times
referred to on-air. Tomasz Biernat,
Ph.D., a columnist of the Radio Maryja Family monthly (2001)
describes European culture as a site of evil and deprivation, usurping for
itself a right to answer the grand metaphysical questions, such as “What is a
human being?” “What is a sense of human life?” “What is the nature of the
world?” by giving to these questions simplified answers, such as “Only pleasure
counts,” “One has a right to freely express oneself,” “A difference between
Good and Evil is relative,” “Live as if God didn’t exist.” In such a way, Biernat continues, European
culture replaces religion and itself becomes a cult object. Biernat’s position is supported by callers to
By going to the European Union we are going to
this moral...tumbledown. By going to the
European Union, salvation of the people will be in a serious danger (anonymous
caller, 2 July 2001).
The European Union is Evil. It destroys families. It destroys property. It destroys industry (caller Henryk, 27 July
At the very moment when Poland is being considered for
membership in the European Union, Radio Maryja constructs Europe (which is
equated with the European Union) as “the Other,” a morally inferior but
powerful oppressor aiming at enslaving the nation, and against whom Poles
should unite. Poland, in contrast, is
seen as spiritually and morally superior, defending true values, especially
Catholicism, which requires standing up to the European “invasion.” By offering its listeners an affirming
collective identity defined against that of a much more economically advanced
Europe, Radio Maryja empowers its audience and encourages listeners to think of
themselves as superior, in a position to teach rather than to learn from
The techniques of constructing selective tradition are
widely used by Radio Maryja. Selective
tradition, according to Williams (1961), is a tradition
constructed within a particular historic moment “from the whole body of
activities,” when certain elements are selected for emphasis depending on their
fit with “contemporary systems of interests and values “ (51-52). Radio
Maryja’s discourse reframes European culture, commonly seen as a cradle of
Christianity, as a threat to Polish identity and values. In so doing, both the hosts and listeners
choose selectively among cultural achievements and social trends to project their
fears onto Europe as an aggressor rather than as a family to which Poland would
actively seek re-admission.
Anti-Semitic innuendo is present almost constantly in Radio
Maryja’s discourse. Rydzyk’s specialty
-- motivational speeches -- are laced with racist and nationalistic tones, as
in his commentary on the licensing process for all-national broadcast:
Poles are not getting into the radio and
television. You know what trouble Radio
Maryja is encountering, even though supposedly there are Polish people in the
ministries, and supposedly there are Poles in the Broadcasting Council, they
all speak Polish beautifully. But, maybe
these are only Polish-language-speaking natives [sic]? And maybe they are hirelings? (Kowalski, 1997)
Callers also express anti-Semitic sentiment on the Radio’s
airwaves, constructing a mythology of “the Other” ruling the country. This mythology sometimes takes on a dangerous
character, when Jews become identified as the cause of difficulties and
economic crisis, as in this call from a retired woman:
I am retired, with a pension of 700 zlotys. And them, they earn thousands and thousands
of zlotys. They rule our country (“Unfinished
Conversations,” July 8, 2001).
Such veiled anti-Semitic statements often go unchecked,
without comment from Radio Maryja’s presenters.
This lack of comment creates an impression of Radio Maryja’s tolerance
or even identification with the caller’s views.
Oftentimes anti-Semitism is used as a card in the political
game, as in the 1995 presidential elections, when a female candidate, Hanna
Gronkiewicz-Waltz (at the time a head of the National Bank and a presidential
candidate, coincidentally enjoying the support of the Church hierarchy) became
a main target of the station and its listeners, many of whom described her as a
Jew, a Freemason, and a woman who “got married only recently” (Perlez,
This involvement of Radio Maryja in the 1995 election
campaign and its anti-Semitism ignited an increasing conflict between Radio
Maryja and the Polish Episcopate. “This
radio brings disgrace upon the Church by using unChristian, unjust language,”
commented the Secretary of Episcopate, Bishop Pieronek. (Wilczak, 1995, p. 16). “This Radio is making some people
uncomfortable – they would like to see it more polite. But why, if finally we are capable of
speaking with our own voice?” responded Rydzyk (Ibid.).
Whillock (1995) provides an
explanation of the mechanisms through which hate speech – such as that of the
anonymous callers expressing their racist, anti-Semitic, and sexist views --
acts as an organizing force for an otherwise dispersed audience. Hate speech provides a bond of common
experience and a common enemy and validates the feelings of individual
listeners by linking them with others who have similar views. “The audience becomes
engaged in a fantasized community that extols their own virtues while
exonerating themselves from any blame for their own misfortune” (Whillock, 1995, p. 38).
Whillock’s explanation of the effects of hate speech is
useful in an attempt to understand the reasons why listeners of Radio Maryja
use anti-Semitic (and sexist) discourse.
I suggest that the hate speech serves as a way of distancing oneself
from responsibility for one’s misfortunes, and collectively blaming them on the
“Other,” against whom the speech is directed.
This projection of blame provides for the maintenance of a positive
self-image. Anti-Semitic ideas have been
“stored” in repositories of ethno-linguistic nationalism (in spite of the
virtual nonexistence of the Jewish population in post-World War II Poland),
surviving the Communist era, and revived in the new conditions of political
pluralism -- becoming attractive when the audience seeks to comprehend the
emergence of two million people living in permanent poverty in post-Communist
Hosts, guests and listeners of Radio Maryja often refer to
the nation’s past and assert the importance of Poland’s history for the
collective identity of Radio Maryja’s audience and for Poles in general. Most
historical references, however, are made to the periods in the nation’s past in
which Poland was attacked and had to resist the aggressors, fighting defensive
Everyone who is Polish feels that he/she
participates in the first battles with the Germans in Cedynia, or with the
Teutonic Knights’ invaders in Grunwald [in the year 1410], of battles with
Mongolians in Legnica. And [in]
Częstochowa, [where] took place our common defense against the Protestant
invader from Sweden, who wanted to extinguish Catholic religion in our
nation. Here exactly... a battle for
Polishness, for our culture, for national identity, was carried out. If I am Polish, then for me equally important
are: a defense of Częstochowa, a defense of Zbaraż, and...a defense
wrote Fr. Krąpiec in Niedziela
From such a version of the national history, more aggressive moments on
the side of Poland, or even moments of peace are excluded, especially because
contemporary events and developments are compared to events in the past that
have historically played a defining role in national memory. For example, a defense against the closing of
a shipyard in Gdańsk is compared to the heroic defense of the Polish Post
Office in Westerplatte, near Gdańsk, in September 1939, against the German
aggressors. Bureaucrats of the unified
Europe are compared by Rydzyk to “these Swedes, who were going to Jasna Góra
[the holy site of Polish Catholicism], then with cannons and muskets, today not
armed, but with financial and political power....” (Kowalski, 1997, p.13). In addition to selective invocation of past
events, their re-interpretation takes place.
For example, the French Revolution is equated by Radio Maryja’s
ideologues and listeners with the Soviet Revolution, often casually listed as
the two main disastrous events of the past with a continuous disastrous
influence on the contemporary world.
A particularly vivid example of the contested versions of
Polish history followed publication of a book on Jedwabne, a small town where,
as historical research shows, Polish citizens played a leading role in a mass
murder of its Jewish population during World War II (Gross,
2001). The book sparked an
especially heated debate on Radio Maryja on the need to rewrite Polish history,
so that “decades of silence about Polish heroism” would be erased:
As discussed earlier, the
transformation of the media system in Poland was defined by two main
influences: 1) privatization leading to commercialization of the press and
large parts of broadcast media and, consequently, redefinition of the media
audience, transforming the audience from that which the media was once to serve
and instead newly perceiving the audience as a saleable commodity; and 2)
domination of the public broadcasting media by political elites of different
orientations. As a result of these
trends, the public sphere that emerged has not become a truly democratic forum
encompassing all possible discourses.
One response to those limitations is Radio Maryja - a meaning-maker of
the anti-liberal camp in post-Communist Poland.
I suggest that Radio Maryja is the main contributor to the oppositional
public sphere in Poland by making available a space for a debate within the
society, which otherwise would be absent from the mainstream media. The meaning-making activity and the flow of
ideas taking place in Radio Maryja’s forum, both on-air and in its
publications, parallel its project of “new evangelization” with on-air
catechesis and prayer. Radio Maryja
provides a medium to express values, ideas, and opinions coming from “below,”
from the listeners who call the station and exchange their ideas with Radio
Maryja’s guests or program hosts. The
construction of meaning by Radio Maryja for and by its listeners takes place in
this exchange, at least to the extent that Radio Maryja reflects and allows to
be expressed on its airwaves meanings existing among its listeners that are
compatible with its ideology.
Radio Maryja attacks almost everyone on the political
spectrum, not only the post-Communist Social Democrats but also pro-European
intellectual elites from the Democratic Union (Unia Demokratyczna), called by
the Radio “pink,” (as almost red, meaning Communist), as well as the majority
of the Solidarity union and most of the right-wing parties. Everyone not immediately linked to Radio
Maryja is, according to Radio Maryja’s vision of the world, an enemy of the
true Poland. This position is
essentialist, assuming the existence of a true Polishness, including true
Polish identity, true Polish history, and true Polish reality – not obfuscated
and deformed by the “liberal media.”
Radio Maryja and the publications linked to it claim to know that
reality and be the only reliable source of information for their audience.
We will always preach truth and love. Love in truth and truth in love. Preach the truth--because only truth will set
us free. Poland needs real freedom, declares
Fr. Rydzyk (Rydzyk, 1996b). Similarly,
the editor-in-chief of Nasz Dziennik, a daily representing the views and
opinions of Radio Maryja, defines the newspaper’s mission:
It [is] an average daily, but at the same, different from
all other [newspapers] in the Polish media market, because the real world is
better than that portrayed by other papers (Niedzielski,
Beyond the space it offers for oppositional discourse,
Radio Maryja also mobilizes its listeners to action. The Family of Radio Maryja is encouraged to
fight for the true Poland, to save it from dissolution and from becoming the
“dumping-ground of Europe.”
As Christine Spolar observes, “as mass attendance declines,
Radio Maryja – playing a role not unlike that of the church during the
Solidarity era of the 1980 – has in recent years rallied thousands of people to
political protests”(1998b, p. A14). One female listener makes the comparison
explicit: “Radio Maryja is like Radio
Free Europe was in the Communist times. The kind of news they air nobody else
airs these days” (Popielewicz, 1997).
Radio Maryja’s oppositional activism and the radicalism of
views expressed on its airwaves have become quite a sensitive issue for the
church hierarchy, posing the possibility of a schism, and challenging the
bishop’s power and authority (Łętowski,
1997). This challenge is possible
because the Redemptorist order running Radio Maryja is not under the authority
of the Polish Church. The Polish
Episcopate, concerned about the contents of Radio Maryja’s programming and its
political involvement, on numerous occasions has attempted to discipline Fr.
Rydzyk. One of the first interventions
was a statement by the Episcopate Commission on Mass Media after Radio Maryja’s
strong involvement in the presidential campaign of 1995 and its attacks on
Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz (whose candidacy was supported by the Episcopate). A statement by the Commission declared that
Radio Maryja had become a disseminator of untruths and slanders, and the
Secretary of the Episcopate, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek commented: “If one speaks
in an unChristian manner, he brings disgrace upon the Church and himself”
(“Skrytykowana Maryja” [“Maryja criticized”], 1995). A second intervention occurred in 1997, when
the Primate of the Polish Church,
Bishop Józef Glemp, in his open letter to the Redemptorist order, warned
against “stirring hostility” in the society and the involvement of a Catholic
medium in politics, and asked the head of the order to supervise Radio Maryja
more closely (Glemp, 1997). In response, Fr. Nocuń, the head of the
Redemptorist order in Poland, expressed his solidarity with Radio Maryja and
its director, and callers reminded listeners on the air that there were already
in Poland “bishops hanged for treason.”
The Vatican so far has abstained from being involved in this confrontation,
except for a statement by its spokesman in June 1997, in which he stressed that
commentaries by Radio Maryja’s Vatican correspondent reflect only the
correspondent’s personal point of view and in no way reflect the official views
of the Apostolic See.
The social and political importance of Radio Maryja is
undeniable. Some observers on the left claim that Radio Maryja plays a positive
social role by channeling tensions which otherwise would lead to protests on
the streets (Sroczyński, 1997, p. 12). Those on the right see it not only as a
protector of Catholicism from attacks of the left, but also as a protector of
Polish identity, endangered by a dilution in a “liberal-leftist-pseudo European
souse” (Mazur, 1997).
Radio Maryja has allowed for large strata of the Polish society--mostly
female, elderly, inhabitants of villages and small towns--to express a defined,
collective identity. These strata had
considered themselves stigmatized by the system of domination; hence they are now
constructing an identity through a process of exclusion of the “enemies” and
“oppressors”: United Europe, Jews,
liberals, political and intellectual elites of the country. Radio Maryja’s listeners no longer think of
themselves as individuals only, but as members of the Family of Radio
Maryja. Any attacks and critiques
against the Family enforce this identity even further. These attacks are perceived as committed by
forces of Evil, which empowers the members of the Family even more in their
conviction of being right in their assessment of reality. Previously on the margins of the Polish
culture, thanks to the medium of Radio Maryja they have become visible and have
started constituting an influential force on the political scene.
Radio Maryja’s audience constitutes a powerful voting
machine for the right-wing organizations supported by the station. In 1995, Radio Maryja became involved in the
presidential election campaign by launching attacks involving anti-Semitic
rhetoric on presidential candidates, in spite of the Church’s abstention from
official endorsement of particular candidates, while calling upon believers to
vote for politicians representing Christian and patriotic values. Extreme opinions voiced by Radio Maryja’s
callers have been transmitted live without any commentary from Radio Maryja’s
hosts, providing an impression that Radio Maryja identified with these extreme
views. In fact, the success of the
Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) -- a trade union-led alliance of right-wing
parties led by a successor of Lech Wałęsa, Marian Krzaklewski, in the
1997 parliamentary elections -- is linked by numerous analysts of the Polish
political scene to Radio Maryja’s support (Mazur, 1997; Bobinski, 1998).
Radio Maryja also introduced twenty of its own candidates into the lower
chamber of the parliament (Sejm), reading their names over the air and
winning support among the Senate members as well. By 1998, approximately fifty members of the Parliament
(out of 460 Sejm’s deputies and 100 deputies in the Senate) were in some
way linked to Radio Maryja or strongly supported Radio Maryja (Łapa,
1998). Two of Radio Maryja’s most
vocal ideologues, Krystyna Czuba and Jan Maria Jackowski, were elected to the
Parliament thanks to Radio Maryja’s support, and became chairmen of Commissions
for Culture and Broadcasting in both chambers of the Parliament.6. Radio Maryja’s interest in control over
cultural institution suggests a strategy aimed at acquiring an increasing
ability to project its vision of Poland
through the mainstream media, and thereby becoming better positioned to
mobilize its meanings, with an ultimate goal of naturalizing those meanings for
the Polish collective. The
much-anticipated referendum on Poland’s 2004 accession to the European Union
will be an important test of the effectiveness of this mobilization, as it has
been carried out in the oppositional public sphere of Radio Maryja.
This study sheds light on the role
and function of communication and mass media in societies in transition, about
which there is still very little systematic analysis. This study suggests that, when access to the
public sphere becomes limited for the oppositional discourses, alternative mass
media may provide an oppositional public sphere where collective identities of
resistance can be forged. At the same
time, the research suggests that such alternative media have the potential of
becoming organizers of robust civil society organizations (such as the Family
of Radio Maryja) representing an oppositional interpretation of reality. In other words, alternative mass media may
become facilitators of oppositional meaning making with the potential to organize
social movements that subscribe to such oppositional meanings. This, in turn, suggests a modification of
radical media theory to consider a new factor in the formation of social
movements: the medium as an organizing
force, as distinct from Downing’s (2001) delineation of
already established social movements expressing their ideas and agitating for
their causes through existing media.
This study of an oppositional
discourse emerging during the time of systemic transition in Poland suggests
the need for further investigation of collective meaning-making and
construction of collective identities of resistance against “the Others”
differentiated across various national, religious, ethnic, racial and cultural
boundaries. Further exploration,
including audience analysis, will be needed to assess fully the social impact
of Radio Maryja. The discourse of Radio
Maryja needs to be considered within the context of other media, including
mainstream and other print, broadcast and satellite programming. Interdisciplinary research, accounting for
the intersections of human security, globalization, citizenship and culture,
will be of increasing importance in these times of expanding interdependence
and increased polarization within and between nations, both in post-Communist
Central Europe and in other regions of the world.
1. Beginning in March 1993, Radio Maryja
started broadcasting with a terrestrial satellite station, substantially
increasing its reach in the country. Immediately
after, Fr. Rydzyk applied for a national license for the station. When met with opposition within the National
Broadcasting Council (explained by technical limitations), Radio Maryja
organized an action of letter writing by its listeners, in which over a million
letters requesting allocation of frequencies were sent to the Chairman of the
2. Translations from Polish to English by
author, except where otherwise noted.
3. Number of articles per publication:
of at least one-page long articles)
4. Radio Maryja’s discussion of
Gronkiewicz-Waltz’s candidacy for the presidency illustrated sexist attitudes
as well as anti-Semitism. Given Radio Maryja’s large female audience and its
conservative positions on social issues, the station has a potentially
significant impact on women’s lives through the definition of gender roles and
influence on social policy. The material collected and analyzed for this study
did not, however, provide sufficient data on this impact, which is a topic
deserving its own analysis.
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