The rallying cry of Polish President Lech Kaczynski, concluding his speech in front of an exuberant crowd in Tbilisi on the 12th August, was no doubt music to Georgians’ ears. However, whilst there is no real surprise that Polish public opinion is against Russia in this instance, the media has been equally partisan in its stance over the crisis in the Caucasus.
This trend follows much of the Western press, with the Americans presenting the crisis as a battle for “freedom” as if it were a packet lunch (an imagination running wild conjures up a poor Georgian office clerk ordering a “freedom sandwich” to go in a New York-style deli in downtown Tbilisi). And, of course, Poland is no different: successive Polish governments since the collapse of Soviet control at the end of the 1980s have been markedly USA-friendly, one of the results of which is the part of the missile shield being constructed on Polish soil.
The printed press in Poland has been unanimous in its outrage at Russia not respecting Georgia’s territorial integrity; and consequently not always taking the integrity of its readers into account.
Countless columns in Poland’s leading quality newspaper want to beat Russia with a stick. “Russia is a different and dangerous world,” Rzeczpospolita warns the West on Russia’s decision to acknowledge Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent from Georgia. Even in the left-leaning liberal daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Moscow doesn?t get off lightly, although it looks rather inwards towards Poland and her society. Its columns have deliberated that any terse proclamations from Lech Kaczynski, amounting to “come and have a go if you think you?re hard enough,” are neither constructive for Poland’s relations with Russia, nor do they harbour any safer prospects for Georgia.
There has been one hint of another line on this, however, and, maybe not too surprisingly, it comes from the pages of Trybuna, or what was once called Trybuna Ludu (People’s Tribune), the Communist Party news rag.
A column penned by Poland’s former left-wing Prime Minister Leszek Miller takes a different line, blaming Saakashvili for all the trouble he has supposedly inflicted on his own country. Quite a breath of fresh air for argument’s sake, even though Miller was admittedly a high-ranking communist during the eighties.
The broadcast press do not have that much to offer in terms of balanced news either. The public broadcaster TVP takes every opportunity to wave the Georgian flag in its transmissions, mostly during the news. There seems to be a lack of desire for debate about the Georgian crisis, hence Russia’s demands and wants are swept to one side: Russia invaded Georgia, they are the aggressor. Period. Why argue with that? Everyone seems to be in consensus, even the public radio broadcasters: Polish Radio is making a point in all its services (domestic and foreign) that it is all for solidarity with Georgia. Polish Radio drove this home with an exclusive interview with Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili, available in Polish as well as in the original English.
Perhaps the bias in the press merely reflects Polish public opinion; that is, public opinion on Russia. Opinion polls have shown that Poles fear Russia, so it may be safely assumed that Poland wants to have good relations with its rather large neighbour: a point which, up until the Georgia crisis, was almost constantly being made by the present government, to the extent that even in the case of the missile shield deal Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski stated boldly that he would allow the Russians access for viewing purposes at regular intervals.
Yet the flipside to the coin is that for many Poles, Russia has indeed been the “dangerous” neighbour described in Rzeczpopolita‘s columns. The Poles have had to contend with this for hundreds of years, and the sense of distrust isn’t likely to change anytime soon.