WARSAW – A song took aim at an alleged abuse of power by Poland's ruling party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. It rose to the top of the chart of a public radio station. Then it disappeared.
The public broadcaster is now accused of censorship. The scandal, which has been a top issue of public debate in recent days, has prompted several resignations from the station, Radio Trojka, and left some musicians vowing to boycott it.
The affair has created new worries about media freedom in Poland. Since Kaczynski’s party won power in 2015, it has used public media as a propaganda tool in violation of its mandate to be neutral. In the past five years, Poland has fallen in the World Press Freedom Index from 18th to 62nd place.
Kaczynski isn't himself accused of ordering the removal of the song from a listener-voted chart, and members of the government have also been critical of what happened. Instead, the song's removal is seen as the kind of self-censorship that happens by overzealous underlings in a system where democratic standards are under threat.
Wojciech Mann, a journalist who left Radio Trojka in March, said the story played out at the bottom of a “a ladder of fear" where Kaczynski sits at the top.
The song, “Your Pain is Better than Mine," is by singer and songwriter Kazik Staszewski, known better as just Kazik.
The lyrics of the folk rock song describe an April 10 visit by Kaczynski to Warsaw’s Powazki Cemetery that infuriated many Poles because cemeteries in the country were closed to the public because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It was the 10th anniversary of the plane crash in Russia that killed his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski, and 95 others. Kaczynski was driven in a limousine and protected by bodyguards as he entered the closed cemetery to visit his mother’s grave and a memorial to his brother and other crash victims.
The song doesn't mention Kaczynski's name, but it speaks of limousines, bodyguards and a visit by one person alone to a closed cemetery.
“You alone can soothe your pain, everyone else goes down the drain," the song says.
The song was voted the No. 1 song of the week on Friday by listeners. But the next day it disappeared from the website. Station director Tomasz Kowalczewski said it was removed because of irregularities in voting.
But a Trojka journalist this week said that management ordered him to stop airing the song.
The station has been in operation since 1962. Under communism it played rock music geared at the youth and was given some leeway to be more independent than other censored media. One of the journalists who quit in protest over the the weekend, Marcin Kydrynski, said he couldn't recognize the station anymore.
Kazik's song is now in fourth place on the chart.
Culture Minister Piotr Glinski said he disapproved of the song, but also its removal. But Glinski also said he believed the whole scandal could be a “provocation,” suggesting that people against the government were setting it up to look bad.