Republika TV and the Street: What Does the Anti-Polish Authority Fear the Most?

    Never before in the history of Poland have such massive crowds chanted the name of a television station on the streets. Nor has any television channel had the power to draw such large crowds onto the streets. Why? Republika TV proved to be a successful blend of two elements. The first was the recruitment of our best, most professional journalists. The second was the distinctiveness from TVP – less discipline, greater presence of unconventional personalities, and the absence of self-censorship that plagues journalists in public media. This mix appealed to new viewers and triggered a strong identification effect with Republika TV. “Courage” is a word we hear most frequently from our viewers, writes Piotr Lisiewicz in the Gazeta Polska weekly, set to be published this Wednesday.

    On the eleventh of January 2024, 300,000 people took to the streets of Warsaw, virtually all of whom watched Republika TV, responding to the call to march on its broadcast. Donald Tusk accurately identified the threat, although he reacted to it grotesquely: with three compliant TV stations at his disposal, he recorded an ad attacking the fourth, inadvertently promoting it. The message of the ad left no doubt about what he feared: that Republika TV has an image of liberty and rebellion, making traditional methods of combating TVP ineffective against it.

    Tusk tries to corral Republika TV, but it won’t work

    The content of the ad, otherwise untrue, clearly showed this. It was an attempt to corral Republika TV back into the pen it had escaped from, catching Tusk off guard: “PiS is building its media empire. Shares in Republika TV indirectly belong to the Lech Kaczyński Institute, one of whose beneficiaries is Jarosław Kaczyński himself… Operatives disguised as journalists serve PiS propaganda from the morning, and compliant commentators disseminate hateful content.” The ad was hastily put together and therefore not well thought out. The face placed under the words “compliant commentators” was that of Rafał Ziemkiewicz, a constant critic of PiS and additionally in conflict with (legitimate) authorities of TVP.

    This clearly showed that a station like Republika TV, entirely committed to independence and simultaneously nonconformist, is Tusk’s most dangerous opponent. The former total opposition, which turned into a coalition on December 13, attacking TVP, had established tried-and-true patterns, speaking in the language of Zbigniew Herbert, “łańcuchy tautologii parę pojęć jak cepy” (ed. – “chains of tautologies a few ailing concepts”). They were confident that these would work on all non-PiS supporters. Meanwhile, attacking Republika TV with the same clichés, which drew crowds to the streets, proved to be ineffective. Shouting that it was propaganda “for subscription money” was not possible against a private TV station. So, after Republika’s success, it turned out that a private one… even less so. And you have to intimidate its private advertisers with nonsense about neo-Nazis and similar absurdities.

    The shout “Republika!” like “Solidarity!”

    The effect of repression and intimidation turned out to be the opposite of what was intended. The slogan “Republika” is now chanted at demonstrations like the cry of “Solidarity” in the 1980s. And like back then, it can be understood in various ways. Solidarity was the name of a banned trade union, but at the same time, the cry was a call for solidarity with the persecuted or an expression of social solidarity in times of empty shelves. Republika is the name of a television station that, after Tusk came to power, should not have succeeded. But this cry is also a demonstration of the Poles’ will to have a Republic, i.e., a self-governing, independent state.

    There is another important reason for the success. Republika TV managed to perfectly capture the moods of Poles because it was created by a community far more sensitive to the issue of independence than many others on the right. This was felt on the streets on January 11, which surprised some PiS politicians. The enormous crowd had independence slogans on their lips and banners. So, it turned out that not only the “800+” social benefit or the improvement of the living conditions of ordinary people is important to the broad masses of Poles. Over the past years, we achieved what was the essence of Piłsudski’s concept over 100 years ago: combining the demand for the improvement of workers’ conditions with the independence of Poland. The crowd on the streets of Warsaw understood well that both are part of the same whole.

    It’s worth manifesting with humour. It attracts younger people

    A personal digression, but with important conclusions. On January 11, I was neither in the skyscraper from which Republika TV showed the massive demonstration, nor near the stage. I walked in the crowd of people, more towards its rear. To say that I walked is an exaggeration because I didn’t have a chance. The crowd of people wanting to take a picture with me made it impossible. I think I took about a thousand photos. Among these people, there were those who didn’t know my name, referring to me as “Republika,” “Poznań,” “Naszość,” or “The one who came up with the slogan that ruda WRON-a Orła nie pokona” (ed. “a red crow can’t beat an eagle” – the reference to Donald Tusk’s hair colour combined with his sympathy towards Germany (crow) that will not overcome Polish patriotic spirit). Because they had recently started watching our station, they often associated me with daily reports from demonstrations in Poznań or with a film about “Naszość” shown on Republika TV on New Year’s Eve and repeated at the viewers’ request on New Year’s Day.

    The demonstrations in Poznań aroused double enthusiasm among them. Firstly, because they took place in a city that was previously associated with support for PO (ed. Civic Platform), proving that centres of resistance could emerge anywhere. Secondly, the provocative, rebellious, and satirical slogans from Poznań stirred excitement. It turned out that when someone signalled that it was possible, people started inventing slogans in a similar style across the country, significantly changing the image of protests and attracting other, often younger people to them.

    Free Speech House

    “Free Speech House” – this is the slogan from the Republika TV ad. It’s worth noting that freedom on television still makes a greater impression on Poles than freedom on the radio, in newspapers, or on the internet. They simply had very little of that freedom. From the beginnings of television in 1958, through presenters in uniforms during martial law, to concessions mainly distributed by post-communists in the Third Republic. This generated the existence of multi-generational, post-communist cliques that dominated the television market for a long time, somewhat reminiscent of the situation in the courts. Even if the faces of presenters changed, those pulling the strings did not. Each regional station of Polish Radio has its own beautiful stories about its beginnings. No regional public television can boast of such stories. For simple reasons: radio existed during the Second Republic, and television during the communist years…

    That’s why freedom on television elicits such enthusiasm. When Republika TV was created, Andrzej Gwiazda commented on it by saying, “The television started speaking with a human voice.”

    To spite Klaus Bachmann

    Instead of a conclusion. Gazeta Wyborcza, by recently publishing another text by Klaus Bachmann, did exactly what its journalists advise against those in power. With disdain, it attacked not politicians but the PiS electorate. And Republika TV as well. Bachmann, with German arrogance and complete ignorance of the realities, wrote: “PiS cannot mobilize the streets like PO did because its electorate is too old, scattered, and poor to come to the capital every few months.” Incidentally, he also commented on the situation of our station: “Republika TV is currently finding out on its own (…) you can have many viewers, but if they don’t have sufficiently thick wallets, advertisers will flee elsewhere.”

    Of course, Bachmann wrote nonsense, as anyone familiar with the basics of a free market knows. Such remarks may be accurate for advertising luxury cars for billionaires, but these are a marginal part of the products desired by people. A wealthy person will not buy 300 kefir products, whereas 300 people can buy this or that kefir. Bachmann pretends not to know that the reason for advertisers pulling out is their intimidation, for which the authorities have their instruments.

    However, it cuts both ways. Every intimidation provokes resistance. The stronger it is, the greater the chance that a red crow can’t beat an eagle. This also translates into business: surely, after the attacks on Republika TV, the identification of viewers with brands that did not withdraw advertisements will be much stronger than in the case of any other television station.

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