michnik9_WOJTEK RADWANSKIAFP via Getty Images_poland media blackout Wojtek Radwanski/AFP via Getty Images

Polish Democracy in the Crosshairs

The Polish government's attack on the economic underpinnings of free media is no less an assault on democracy than the January 6 storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters. Behind both are lies, violent rhetoric, and the perversion of politics and public life.

WARSAW – There has been nothing like it before in Poland. On February 10, newspapers and magazines suspended publication, news websites went dark, and dozens of radio and television stations ceased broadcasting. Thirty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the abolition of censorship, and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Poland’s civil society is again defending its hard-won democracy from a state determined to do away with it.

The policies Poland’s independent media outlets are now protesting have made them as vulnerable as their counterparts in Russia and Hungary. In fact, as Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński, Poland’s de facto ruler, has publicly admitted, the template for his regime is that of Hungary under Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. So, to understand the Polish media’s protest of silence, the Hungarian experience is worth recalling.

After returning to power in 2010, Orbán, determined to consolidate what he called an “illiberal democracy,” relied on the “salami” tactics invented by Mátyás Rákosi, the so-called Hungarian Stalin, to establish communist rule after World War II. In the fight against the “class enemy,” Rákosi’s Communists methodically diminished free institutions, slice by slice, until nothing but the casing remained. Orbán adapted these tactics for the twenty-first century, and Kaczyński has followed him.