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EJC/REC, Vol 13, #4
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication

Volume 13 Number 4, 2003

Civil Society, Radical Mass Media and the Oppositional Public Sphere in Post-Communist Poland:
The Case Of ‘Radio Maryja’

Izabella Zandberg

Johns Hopkins University


Abstract. This study reviews the history and analyzes the content of a radical ultra-right Catholic medium – Radio Maryja (Radio Mary) and its contribution to the creation of an oppositional public sphere in post-Communist Poland. The oppositional meaning-making of the radio programming takes place both from above, through the medium’s main ideologues, and from below, through callers participating the radio-station’s daily open-microphone programs.  This meaning-making is carried out in relation to the processes of increasing global interdependence embodied by the approaching assimilation of Poland with the European Union and in relation to the surrounding social and economic crisis continuously faced by Polish society since the collapse of Communism. Six major themes of the oppositional discourse on the airwaves of the Radio are identified and analyzed: critical assessment of systemic transition, anti-elitism, ultra-Catholicism, anti-Europeanism, anti-Semitism and historicism. The social activism of Radio Maryja and its potential role in empowering, for political and social participation, people who otherwise would be excluded from such involvement (the retired, elderly, and unemployed) are discussed.


The anti-Communist revolutions in Central Europe were motivated to a large extent by the moral goal of recreation of a civil society.  This civil society, as envisioned by the region’s dissidents of the pre-1989 era, was considered a “communication project,” in which exchange of news, ideas and opinions was to play a crucial role.  Freedom of expression and access to diversified sources of information were to bring about the emancipation of citizens and move civil society towards pluralism and the re-creation of a public sphere (Fedorowicz, 1990).

The fundamental changes that took place in the political system of that region have turned it into a laboratory for analysis of mechanisms accompanying the emergence of public spheres and possible relationships among them.  However, while those mechanisms have been to a certain degree similar across Central Europe, the dynamics of change in each of the countries of that region have been different, as different as their cultural, social, political and economic circumstances.

This paper analyzes an ultra-right Catholic radio station – Radio Maryja – as the main contributor to the creation in post-Communist Poland of an oppositional public sphere and the organizing force of contentious elements within the civil society in that country.  The study examines the history of this radical medium and analyzes program content in the context of the processes of globalization and assimilation of Poland within the European structures, as well as the surrounding social, economic and political crises that have been affecting this society in transition

Oppositional Public Sphere, Radical Media and New Social Movements

The classical, Habermasian vision of a public sphere is that of a socially-bounded, opinion-shaping zone of discourse and argumentation.  Cohen and Arato write that Habermas insisted on the necessarily democratic/non-hegemonic character of this zone, encompassing all discourses carried out within a “public,” and allowing everyone an equal opportunity to participate in the decision-making processes of a society (1992).

Many critics of Habermas, however, contend that all-inclusiveness does not capture the essence of the public sphere (McLaughlin, 1993; Ryan, 1997).  To the contrary, the public sphere is rather seen as a contested terrain, of which partisan differences constitute an integral element (Waldstreicher, 1997).  John Downing (2001) moves this argument further by pointing out that a public dialogue is necessarily defined by power struggles and the public sphere cannot, by definition, have a non-hegemonic character.  Therefore, he suggests, in order to encompass all discourses carried out within a “public,” a distinction between a public sphere and an alternative public sphere needs to be made.  The mainstream media, reflecting the dominant discourse, need to be seen as constitutive of the “mainstream” public sphere, whereas the radical media provide for the alternative public sphere. 

Jakubowicz (1990) suggests even further differentiation of the public sphere and introduces notions of an official public sphere, where official discourse takes place; an alternative public sphere, which, although not representing the official discourse, abstains from questioning legitimacy of the political system in place; and an oppositional public sphere, which questions such legitimacy and advocates the necessity of systemic change.  This is also how this study defines the terms “oppositional public sphere” and “oppositional discourse”–that is, that the oppositional public sphere and the discourses it allows challenge the status quo.

As Downing asserts, the radical media most often serve the expression of opposition “from subordinate quarters directed at the power structure and against its behavior” and/or “building support, solidarity, and networking laterally and against policies or even against the very survival of the power structure” (p. xi).  These two purposes may coincide.  In this sense, radical media provide for expression of contentious and oppositional strands within a society and, at the same time, become an organizing force for the active audiences.  The active audiences often overlap with social movements, which, contrary to more institutionalized forms of opposition (such as those represented by trade unions or political parties) provide in a democratic society one of the most dynamic expressions of resistance. 

Downing considers radical media to be crucial for a democratic process, “the chief standard bearers of a democratic communication structure” (p. 43).  They contribute to this process often more effectively than the mainstream media by expanding the range of information and reflection that is available in mainstream media discourses and allowing for the expression of voices, views and opinions of the excluded. 

There are numerous ways and forms in which contentious groups comprising the civil society participate in the social life, although  “[w]henever civil society interacts with the state in a contentious mode, the interests and identities of civil society actors (individuals and organizations) are defined, defended, and advanced through various forms of resistance or protest” (Ekiert & Kubik, 1997, p. 7).  The new theories of social movements place such struggles over meaning at the very center of oppositional activism, and civil society is seen as both a target and a terrain of such collective action (Cohen & Arato1992, p. 509; see also Castells, 1983, 1997; Inglehart, 1979; Melucci, 1996).  When the access of oppositional discourses to the mainstream media is limited, alternative (outside-of- the-mainstream) media become the only outlets available for promotion of values and opinions represented by these contentious groups. 


Public Spheres in Poland Before and After 1989

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 and tolerance.

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, p. 129).

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 in Poland

The Social Costs of Transitions

When analyzing oppositional discourses within civil society in post-Communist Poland it is necessary to note that this country has been facing, since the collapse of Communism, a serious social crisis, reflected in sharp and increasing inequalities, lasting economic decline, massive unemployment, poverty, and an emerging underclass.  Consequently, the gap between the rich and the poor has been systematically increasing, as has the tension between these two social strata. 

In order to understand this increasing economic stratification of Polish society, it is important to take into consideration that, between the years 1989-1993, the Polish economy lost about one-fifth of its national income.  Unemployment skyrocketed from practically non-existent levels to 14 percent in 1993, and rose to almost 16 percent in the year 2000 (Europa World Yearbook, 2000).  Poverty, in terms of income, increased from 23.8 percent of households in 1990 to 44.1 percent in 1994, and fell to about 21 percent of households in 1997 (Szulc, 1999, p. 11). 

The long-term or even irrevocable hardships resulting from the attempted economic reforms have been accompanied by despair, especially among “those of a humbler sort,” whose participation in public life in the first place was limited.  While their cost – in lost jobs and reduced standard of living – was the highest in the society, their gains from the economic transition were the most limited (even if in the long run they too would benefit from it) (Smolar, 1996; Okrasa, 1999).  With the collapse of the previously state-run or social institutions that in the previous era performed protective functions, the disadvantaged found themselves “lost” in the new reality, displaced from their traditional roles and functions in the chain of social and industrial relations undergoing drastic transformations.  Those feelings of being lost and abandoned, mixed with the harsh social costs of economic change, unavoidably generated resistance among the social strata left out of the benefits of macroeconomic recovery.  This resistance was directed especially against the transition, and resulted in a search for clear-cut explanations and simple solutions to their problems.  Spinning the myths that would provide such explanations and point to the “guilty” ones became a part of the meaning-making activism of the oppositional elements of the new civil society. 

Civil Society and Collective Protest

The introduction of radical economic reform and the pauperization of a broad stratum of the society were accompanied by an opening of political space for the restoration of civil society.  This establishment of the civil society was paralleled by the highly contentious policies of its members.  As Ekiert and Kubik (1997) observed, between the years 1989-1994, collective protest in Poland was the most intense among the countries of the Central European region.  Most of the protest actions were organized by civil society organizations such as labor unions, peasant organizations, and social and political movements, with very limited involvement of political parties.  They were most often oriented towards immediate results, and often of a short-term or immediate character such as demonstrations, strike alerts or road blockades.  The collective protest that was used by various groups to further their economic and political claims, however, did not forge new collective identities or the development of new organizations.  The majority of protest actions was organized by existing organizations (most often labor unions) with already established identities, and was of a more pragmatic character, with demands remaining primarily economic (Ekiert & Kubik, 1997). 

Also, due to the characteristics of the emergent media system, in which the availability of mass media for social communication was much less than had been hoped for, the scope of the public sphere available for use by the civil society, including its non-establishment, oppositional part, was limited.  Consequently, the extent to which oppositional views and ideas infiltrated the mainstream public sphere was very restricted, with the acuteness of the conflict determining which issues or ideas had access to the mainstream media.  Therefore, the opportunities for meaning-making activism of civil society actors, especially those of contentious character, have become very limited.  The response to those structural limitations has been the emergence of a radical/alternative medium -- Radio Maryja -- a phenomenon in the European and world sphere and a major meaning-maker for the anti-liberal camp in post-Communist Poland.  Radio Maryja has provided an oppositional public sphere in the country by making available a space for radical, oppositional debate within the society, otherwise absent from the broadcast media. 


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.  In June 1994, together with two popular, general interest commercial stations – Radio ZET and RMF FM –  Radio Maryja was granted a license for national broadcasting.  Today, thanks to transmission by four satellites, Radio Maryja can be heard in the whole of Europe up to the Ural Mountains, and in North and Central America.  Since July 1998, it may also be heard through the Internet (  Also, in 1998, Radio Maryja acquired its own daily paper – Nasz Dziennik (Our Daily). Funded by listener donations, Radio Maryja is tax-exempt and free of ads.  Its programming is produced by approximately ten Redemptorist priests, a few nuns and 200 lay volunteers.  Most of those involved in the production of Radio Maryja’s broadcast are not paid. 

Radio Maryja’s programming has been devised as an on-air forum for prayer, catechesis, meditation, and community.  Religious and patriotic music (“sacro-songs,” jazz standards, choirs, classical themes) is also played and broadcast.  Religious programming constitutes slightly more than 50% of the airtime, of which 20% is devoted to prayers and transmissions of the Holy Mass.  These prayers include rosaries, with listeners calling the station to pray on the air with the millions of others listening at their radio sets.  Such direct involvement with the medium provides a feeling of community among its listeners.  Also, during certain time slots, open microphones allow listeners to call, for example, to ask the whole community of listeners for a prayer for them or to advertise something to give away (anything from a piece of furniture to human milk produced abundantly by a mother willing to share it with some infant in need).  This feeling of community is also provided by the Radio Maryja’s “pilgrimage,” in which Radio Maryja visits parishes located in different parts of Poland and broadcasts from the local parish.  Finally, and perhaps most important, community is created by open-microphone programs, “Unfinished Conversations” (“Rozmowy niedokończone”), starting every day at 10:00 p.m. and lasting often late into the night, during which different political, social, cultural, and other issues are discussed (from abortion and the Constitution to a controversial book or the liquidation of the shipyard in Gdańsk).  Callers, identifying themselves by first name only, voice opinions and share their thoughts with guests in the studio and radio hosts.  An unstructured conversation takes place on the air, in which every similarly thinking person may call and express his or her opinions (callers with different views on the discussed issues are usually cut off by the program’s hosts).  This close, almost intimate relationship with the medium involves callers from all over Poland, as well as from abroad, making Radio Maryja a truly participatory medium for those subscribing to its views and providing its listeners with the feeling of belonging to one big family – the Family of Radio Maryja (as Radio Maryja calls its audience).

Radio Maryja’s participatory character does not attract the whole spectrum of ideological orientations to be presented on its airwaves.  Roman Catholic in its character and conservatively right-wing, Radio Maryja, with its open microphones, brings to the air a great deal of anti-democratic, anti-liberal, anti-European, anti-modern, anti-Semitic and pro-nationalistic rhetoric combined with working-class populism.  The founder of Radio Maryja, Fr. Rydzyk, defends the open-microphone sessions and considers them useful during a time of rapid systemic change: “I just want people to get rid of all the fears and wounds they have within themselves,” Rydzyk says (Spolar, 1998a).  This ability to say what one thinks publicly on the air is one of the main features of Radio Maryja that differentiates it from other radio stations, including other Catholic stations:

Radio 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 as follow:

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:

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 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 Council’s building
  • 200,000 letters against pornography sent to the Parliament
  • signing of petitions to void the results of 1995 presidential elections submitted to the Supreme Court
  • establishment of the Committee to Rescue Gdańsk Shipyard, collection of shares from the listeners amounting to 150 million PLN  (approximately $US 40 million)
  • assistance 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.


Research Method

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 Poland.) 

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 the analysis.

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 (24).3.

Analytic Procedure

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. 60).

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, 1996b). 

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:

Isn’t it 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 2001).

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 2001).

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 tape” (Ibid).

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!

declared Józef 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,

writes Ewa Polak-Pałkiewicz in Niedziela weekly (Polak-Pałkiewicz, 1996a).


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 nationalism:

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, 1995). 

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 Catholicism.

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 Christianity,

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 “Unfinished Conversations”:

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 2001).

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 others. 

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, 1997).4 

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 Poland.


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 wars:

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 of Warsaw…

wrote Fr. Krąpiec in Niedziela weekly (1997).  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:  “We need to rewrite Polish history so that the priority will be given to the help offered to Jews by Polish citizens,” declared professor Ryszard Bender,  a member of the Polish Broadcasting Council and  one of the participants in a discussion in the Radio Maryja studio.  He continued:  “Decades of historical silence about Polish heroism are now used to offend Poles and accuse them of crimes.”  “No defense, but counter-attack is necessary,” concluded historian and professor Jerzy Robert Nowak, another member of the panel in the Radio Maryja studio (8 July, 2001).5.

The above statements by Bender and Nowak point to the way in which Radio Maryja treats Polish history as something that needs to be revised, so that it will reflect the true spirit of the Polish people.  And this true history, devoid of any elements of aggression, is a history of continuous heroic defense against the aggressors of different sorts.  The purpose, for Radio Maryja, of such a version of history is to inspire contemporary Poles and make them feel as direct descendants of the 15th-century warriors facing the Teutonic Knights, heroic and uncompromising in the face of the new oppressor, which is the European Union.



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, 1998).

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 Council.

2. Translations from Polish to English by author, except where otherwise noted.

3. Number of articles per publication:


Title of publication

Number of articles

(number of at least one-page long articles)

Gazeta Wyborcza

24 (16)


18 (18)


15 (6)

Tygodnik Powszechny

13 (13)


7 (0)


5 (4)


3 (0)


3 (0)


3 (0)


3 (1)

Gazeta Polska

2 (0)

Powściągliwość i Praca

1 (0)

Gość_ Niedzielny

1 (0)


1 (0)

Wiadomości Kulturalne

1 (0)


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.

5. For more on the response of Poles to the publication on Jedwabne, see “Ghost of the Past and Nightmares of the Present: Anti-Semitism, Property Restitution and National Debates,” 2001.

6. Radio Maryja has recently expanded to other media, with the establishment in 2002 by Fr. Rydzyk of a new television station Trwam [I endure].  The new TV station has not been approved by the Polish Episcopate and has been denied the right to rebroadcast Vatican television programming, but the Redemptorist order stands firm behind the founder of the new station (TV Trwam księdza Rydzyka [Father Rydzyk’s TV I Endure], 2003)



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