From Smoleńsk to Facebook and Beyond – Conspiracy and Paranoia in Poland

A self-confessed conspiracy theorist dies of natural causes during a trip to Warsaw. His mother later claims that he was in fact murdered because powers unknown deemed him to be a threat. The death of Max Spiers is surely saddening – but the fact that he found an audience in Poland for notions that most people would reason to be at best unfounded tells us something about the paranoia gripping the government and the media that back it.

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From Smoleńsk to Facebook, Czarny Protest to the Constitutional Tribunal, “they” are out to get Poland. That’s the message that the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) government and the media that back it are attempting, with increasing ineptitude, to hammer home.

The air crash that killed Poland’s President Lech Kaczyński at Smoleńsk in 2010 could not possibly have been an accident, we are told. Somebody must have consciously willed this atrocity, say PiS; it is almost as if it is in some way better, more acceptable, that the president was assassinated – rather than that he died as the result of accident or incompetence.

Then there is Facebook. The Polish portal Niezalezna.pl (whose name translates, we presume ironically, as “independent”) has in the past week published stories that it says prove that Mark Zuckerberg’s social media empire deliberately deletes profiles supportive of the government. To back up this claim, they note that Facebook’s Central and Eastern Europe boss, Sylwia de Weydenthal, marched alongside members of the Committee for the Defence of Democracy (KOD) in Poland.

“Why are Facebook censors blocking the profiles and content associated with nationalist or patriotic organisations, while turning a blind eye to the outrageous excesses of lefties and anti-clericals?”, one report asks.

Well, they’re not. If you don’t believe us, see for yourself. PiS still have a profile. As do the anti-abortion group Fundacja Pro, and the patriotic-nationalist Patriae Fidelis, among others. Most that have been removed openly promoted xenophobia and intolerance.

Czarny Protest, the national campaign against a bill that would have banned abortion and that brought thousands onto the streets of Poland, was also, according to PiS and its media supporters, a conspiracy against the government. Allegations ranged from “manipulation” to “an attack on the Church”, but if you care to speak to the women who took part you will find that it was in fact about freedom; some of them voted for PiS, and some would for reasons of conscience never undergo an abortion – yet they resented the fact that the state might take that choice away from them, and even more so from their daughters.

And then there’s the Constitutional Tribunal. Foreign minister Witold Waszczykowski invited the Venice Commission to examine the Polish government’s case for refusing to accept a ruling from the Tribunal, on a new law governing the functioning of the court itself. When the Commission published negative reports – warning of a threat to democracy, the rule of law and human rights in Poland – Mr Waszczykowski announced that the outcome was unfair, and that Warsaw would no longer cooperate with the Commission.

Let’s look again at that list: Smoleńsk, Facebook, Czarny Protest, and the Constitutional Tribunal. Or, if you prefer, embracing victimhood as a toddler with a comfort blanket, turning a blind eye to inconvenient truths, making connections where no connections exist, and good old fashioned sulking.

Max Spiers is no longer among us. To his mother we wish, most sincerely, that your grief will abate. To Poland’s government, and the media who gambol behind them? We suggest that the truth is out there – you need only look.