Does Poland have free speech, or not?

I meant to comment on this article I read a while back and find out if anyone knows what the outcome was?

For the link-shy, the article is titled “Polish man goes on trial for ‘defaming’ president” and explains how Marek M is going on trial for linking the presidential website to searches for an insulting word used as a synonym for the male genitalia. I wonder what that could be? :)

It goes on to explain how Marek M is not the first person to come under intense pressure for daring to say or imply anything not entirely nice about Mr. Kaczynski. Apparently, “potato” is a particularly taboo word when used in the same sentence as “Kaczynski”. Ooops!

To be honest, I don’t find it strange that our dear president is throwing his toys out of the pram but I do find it strange that he is being allowed to get away with it. Or is this another of those “He’s our president so he can do what he likes!” moments?

Take a look at the website on the page that talks about freedom of speech:

“In Polish law system the freedom of speech was first guaranteed in the Little Constitution in 1992, and later in The Constitution in 1997, according to which everybody has freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas. The censorship was abolished by Polish Parliament in 1990.”

“In 1993 Poland signed the European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The 10th Article of the Convention states that everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right includes freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers.”

Note: more bad translating on official sites – “In Polish law system” – LEGAL system, dammit!!!!

So what’s the deal then? Do we have free speech in Poland or do we not? I’ll be mightily shocked if a country where such freedoms were repressed for so long is still restricting these freedoms in any way whatsoever. Especially if it is being done by people who seem, at other times, very keen to expose those who were involved even in the smallest way with the regime that imposed such restrictions.

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45 thoughts on “Does Poland have free speech, or not?

  1. guest says:

    Article 135.

    § 1. Whoever commits an active assault on the President of the
    Republic of Poland shall be subject to the penalty of the deprivation of liberty for a term of between 3 months and 5 years.

    § 2. Whoever insults the President of the Republic of Poland in public
    shall be subject to the penalty of the deprivation of liberty for up to 3 years.

  2. scatts says:

    So we can insult everyone but the president? Interesting. Wonder how many other countries have similar laws.

    It happens in Africa, apparently –

    Anywhere else, in Europe perhaps?

  3. Tomek says:

    I guess that settles it – Poland does not have freedom of speech. Articles such as 135 effectively cancel it out.
    I do wonder how it is in other countries in Europe. I used to work in a gift shop in Denver, which sold every anti-Bush item imaginable, including refrigerator magnets portraying Dubya angaged in homosexual activity with Dick Chaney, and I remeber a few times I was asked by a perplexed foreign tourist whether it was legal to sell such items.

  4. Negrin says:

    What I’m wondering about is whether article 135 of the penal code does not violate the constitution. I’m no lawyer but common sense would dictate that it’s pretty likely, actually.

  5. zapluty karzeł reakcji says:

    We can insult everyone, even president. But there are some limits. We can insult president under one condition: it has to be president of Russia, Belarus, USA or any other country.

  6. […] [Polandian] Does Poland have free speech, or not? […]

  7. scatts says:

    Actually, zapluty, if the guy writing the post I linked to is correct, we can’t insult other Heads of State:

    Germany and Poland has laws that make it illegal to insult foreign heads of state, especially those present in Polish territory [in the case of Poland]

  8. island1 says:

    The Beatroot wrote something about this:

    Somebody made the interesting point in the comments that Marek M didn’t actually insult anybody, he just linked one thing to another and let people make their own connections.

  9. […] Does Poland have free speech, or not? « Polandian […]

  10. baduin says:

    I suggest a short internet search on such things as libel, slander, and particularly the difference between defamation and insult.

    For your convenience:

    The law in question penalizes insult, not defamation.

    Incidentally, insult is penalized generally; only the penalties differ in cases of the President, other public officials and all others.

  11. Ania says:

    Scatts, you come from a country of libel law suits.

  12. Anonymous says:

    British Queen? Fuck this old little bitch! Oh, relax, i’m just enjoying my freedom of speech, right?

  13. Ania says:

    OK, let me explain something here:

    The ‘President’ is written with capital letter in English, so is Tuesday.

    We are living in a democracy, which means that whoever has won the vote, gets to play. I have not voted for the PiS or for the PO – to me they are both bloody lefties, the Red Plague. But – much as I hold in contempt both – I will reject any attempt by Scatts to “allow” them anything. Scatts has not been elected.

    Now, I can understand that Scatts does not understand this. He comes from a Monarchy, and whichever way he votes back home, the Queen stays. So stays the Heir Apparent, although the Britons seem relieved to find him so preoccupied with organic farming.

    However, Scatts, you now live in a country that first elected her leader in 1572. Push it through your head already.

  14. Ania says:

    Anonymous, you’re a crass pig.

    Scatts has no choice but to put up with the Queen, because She is not elected; which has not stopped the Britons themselves, namely the BBC channel, from making remarks about her genitals. The BBC is held in contempt.

  15. domingo says:

    Ania, saying that ‘we’ are living in a democracy, and ‘they’ have monarchy sound a little bit funny, considering that GB is a motherland of modern democracy rather than literal “monarchy”. But it still doesn’t change the fact that free speech has its limits, especially when the President is propably most often insulted public person in our country, often unfairly. Yes, and maybe i am a crass pig, but i just wanted to say that both Queen and DEMOCRATICALLY elected head of state deserve at least MINIMUM respect. Howgh.

  16. Tomek says:

    You either have freedom of speech, or not. ‘Freedom with some exceptions’, is not freedom.
    Yes, as a result of said freedom we have to deal with some low standard rants, and some peoples feelings will be hurt. But it’s better than giving someone (most likely of low enough intellectual, personal and ethical standards to be interested in holding such a position) an authority to judge what is acceptable to say in public.

  17. Ania says:

    And I agree with you a 100%, Domingo, as my previous post goes.
    I even undesrtand what you were doing: you tried to give Scatts the impression of what it feels like when your official is insulted by a rude foreigner.
    I understand, and disagree very strongly – Poles should not lower themselves to that level. For one reason, there is nothing to be gained, this is the way they talk. The BBC’s case of Russel Brand telling a Grandfather that he had raped his granddaughter comes to mind.
    Secundo: nie znizaj sie do poziomu chamow, bo wciagna cie na swoj teren i pokonaja doswiadczeniem.
    You may still wonder why I think that and still called you names – well, sometimes it’s just the just thing to do. Such as a nose-punch.

  18. scatts says:

    Bloody hell, Beetroot’s writing again? I though he’d given up and gone off to fine tune some whizzo new scheme or sumfink!

    Did I write Tuesday with a small t? I prefer my presidents lower case, as it happens. Never really been good with rules.

    It is true that I have not been elected, yet.

    Monarchy – whole new topic and not Polish so I’m not really allowed to post about it here. Personally, I like the Queen but when she’s gone they can dismantle the thing for all I care. You can say what you like about them, especially Charles.

    Respect. Tricky one. How do they “deserve” respect? My view is they certainly shouldn’t get it as a right just by holding the position, they have to do more, actually earn it. This might be the main difference between us. You’re more “He’s the President – respect dude!” and I’m more “You’re the president – prove you deserve everything that goes with that position!”.

    By the way, insulting all and anything British is okay with me but it really doesn’t make me feel any differently about what I wrote. It’s a bit childish actually, like I’ve insulted your people so you’ll insult mine?! Come on.

  19. crass domingo says:

    Scatts, you really don’t get it, do you? In my opinion you’re an ass;).Now prove that i am wrong. PROVE IT.

  20. Pawel says:

    Scatts – you can’t insult anyone in Poland. There is a special article for the Polish president and other heads of state. But there is a different one in our penal code for insulting other people.

  21. Pawel says:

    As for the Freedom of Speech, are you sure there should be freedom to say absolutely anything? I don’t think so. Freedom is to be used with responsibility.

  22. Ania says:

    See now what happens, Domingo? You’ve given Scatts the right to call you childish, and he immediately used it. It was more logical to let him be the rude boy on the street. Then, whatever he thought, would be the thinking of a rude boy.

    Scatts, you are missing one thing. Kaczynski is not just a man on the job, like a Minister, he’s Head od State and Representative. When you insult him, you insult me.

    The thing that he’s also the most insulted person in the country is true. But what can one expect from the lefties anyway? Lefties think that tolerance is for them and not for anyone else. So the entire Left and all of it’s ideas must be tolerated, and the entire Right must be ridiculed. Freedom of Speech is for themselves only.

    I personally think that Kaczynski is a decoy for Tusk – those parties have not improved anything, costed much, and occupy TV time.

  23. Pawel says:

    So what exactly rightwingers like yourself want to say, that is not allowed?

  24. Ania says:

    ‘Allowed’ again? Why are you guys all about allowing people this, that, whatever? Hm? And what with your ‘tricky’ question, Pawel? What intolerances would you like me to reveal here?

    For one thing I do not tolerate that whole groups of people are receiving early retirements from my future savings. PiS is spending my money. For second thing I do not tolerate the sudden race for the euro zone – PO is spending my money.

    There are some people that are not on the Left or the Right. Poor we. We’ve got none to vote for. It’s a pity that once I criticise the Left I must necessarily be the Right. I could be Centre, but I prefer to be complicated.

    But the main body of the discussion was: does Poland have Freedom of Speech.
    I argue: yes.
    -In Poland even the President has to go to the courts. In Russia, he’d just have you thrown out of the window. In the West, you’d just find yourself with a bad credit score.
    -The example from a year of two ago: Ziobro wanted the press to reveal all their connections with the Services. I agree with that, because this blocks the Freedom of Speech if all the newspaper journalists are paid for double jobs. But – Urban has refused. He literally said ‘non serviam’. And what has happened to him? He’s still free. I imagine that even in the US he would have to pay for not abiding by the latest laws.
    -Where else in the world you have: NIE, Fakty i Mity, Radio Maryja, Nasz Dziennik and others participating in the public discourse??? Only in Najjasniejsza Pomroczna.

  25. domingo says:

    Ania, I couldn’t agree more. Your kind of common sense is very rare among poles in these days.

  26. Pawel says:

    Ania, wasn’t it your argument, that the “left” was frobidding you from saying things? So I asked what things specifically were you not allowed to say. I still didn’t get my answer. Does that mean your argument is void?

    If you imagine that all kinds of odd media are not present in other countries, I think you didn’t look there close enough.

  27. Ania says:

    I think, Domingo, that most people with common sense are busy working, and don’t speak English all that well. Lucky me.

    No, Pawel, what you are saying, would be binary logic, if it wasn’t wrong.

    I said that Left is ridiculing Right and demanding tolerance for itself. Right in here is Kaczynski. And whatever he says, is soooo wrong to the media.(although if one takes a closer look, he proves to be Socialist, so the only problem is the Left loving liberalism and hating Socialism, if you can get that. Digression ends.)

    I don’t have to speak about myself all the time, the language allows me to speak about others as well. Logic is very strongly based on precise formulating of sentences in speech. You may not connect one thing to another at will.

    Okay, examples of the press, please. Regardless of how many you will find, the presence of all four in one small country in the European Peninsula proves my point is valid, and counters the article thesis.

  28. Tomek says:

    Ania, the idea that by insulting a president you’re somehow insulting the entire nation is preposterous. It’s concepts like these that I find insulting, to the human race. If you want to bow and prey to your leaders, by all means do so, but don’t try to make a rule out of it.
    Pawel, you are absolutely right, freedom is to be used with reponsibility, but responsibility has to come from within, not from above.

  29. scatts says:


    Mugabe is president of Zimbabwe

    Saddam Hussain was president of Iraq

    W Bush was president of the USA

    Kim Jong Il is the Great or Dear leader of North Korea

    Senior General Than Shwe runs Burma

    etc, etc and so on and so forth………

    So please don’t tell me that the people of any country should be humbled in the presence of their great leaders. Nor that insulting a president is insulting the people. He’s the president because you voted for him. You have the power, not him. As W Bush has just found out and as Kaczynski will next time around.

    It should be their privilege to serve you, not the other way around.

  30. Ania says:

    That’s right, Scatts, a very good argument. It’s his privilege to serve me. And I should not like to see him interrupted in his efforts.

    The first argument supports my logic – you associate Zimbabwe with Mugabe. A Zimbabwean with Mugabe. Don’t add to their lot by brushing them off.

    Tomek – so we have crossed from some unimportant Polish Prezzie to the human race. That’s an error of totum pro parte.

    The second error is your reference to the moral law within and starry sky above. It comes from Kant. Now Kant taught about duty, and you can’t tell me that your duty is to go around and be rude to people, unless you want rudeness to become the Imperative, as per Kant.

    I see that a lot of the ill thought here comes from misunderstanding of what other people are and what we are. The simplest way to put it, is to never lower yourself, and that way to create and environment in which it’s not beneficial to lower oneself. If you carry on rudely, everyday people will pick up after you. Life is NOT about how much respect you are entitled to get, but respect is a two way game. This is also confirmed by stochastic models of non-zero sum games. You might be more familiar with Nash than Kant.

  31. scatts says:

    I won’t bandy Kant and Nash with you Ania, as I expect you’ll win hands down.

    I just think that for Mr Kaczynski to go to the trouble of attacking one of his citizens for what is essentially a childish prank shows levels of insecurity, small mindedness, self importance and power wielding that I believe are unhealthy for any president.

    It also, in my opinion, tarnishes any idea of truly free speech.

    PS – finally read what beetroot said. Looks like we agree. He also has a few comments along the lines of “freedom carries responsibility”….interesting the way [some] Poles see this versus us forners. Difference being the amount of time spent under democratic rule?? Not sure.

  32. Ania says:

    Ok, I’ll reveal this to you.

    I am offended because you are a foreigner fussing at Kaczynski.
    Back in the Uni some foreign students were like that, they came from all the countries where their Polish ancestors have been sent, also Africa.
    It always aggravated me greatly to listen to their moaning – how trains were worse here, the snow was wet, the student benefit was too low and nobody cared about their kids. I usually kept shut because in my mind they were guests.

    Later I went abroad and have the same kind of remarks, I don’t like the trains that are sometimes more late in the UK than Poland, the sausage, etc. But I usually not tell that to the locals, because now I’m the guest. I occasionally brawl on the Internet. Sometimes people from other countries moan and the locals will tell them ‘so leave’, like I wanted to, but never did.

    So I’m thinking to myself – if I can leave you alone, you could leave me alone, and we could all be happy. Drink your milky tea. There isn’t much I can do about the Twins right now. Not more than you can do about the Big Clunking Fist who goes by the name of Gordon and is ruining your economy as we speak.


  33. Tomek says:

    This is a good scenario, Ania: read > comprehend > comment.
    I said nothing about moral law, just good judgment. And by ‘above’, I only meant the (human) law and power. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about a leader of a fairly insignificant nation, or Tsar: people should not be led to believe they need to worship said leader.

  34. Ania says:

    ‘but responsibility has to come from within, not from above.’

    I see you don’t realise where did you pick that from.

    So who worships the leader in Poland, exactly? Do you mean those who believe that he, too, can bring a case before a court? If you think otherwise, you are discriminating. Even the prisoners can go to courts.

  35. Tomek says:

    ‘I see you don’t realise where did you pick that from’

    I realize what it reminds you of, but it was not what I was referring to.

    You basically claim that a citizen should feel take personally an offence directed towards country’s leader. Perhaps that’s not worship per se, but its close enough.

  36. scatts says:


    I can’t do much about what some students said to offend you, nor about what you chose not to say about our sausages, although I can imagine what that might have been.

    If your idea of peace is that I will not write things that may offend you then I’m afraid I have to decline.

    I fully understand the traditional knee-jerk reaction of “If you don’t like it, then leave.” and there are some foreigners in Poland that I have said that to myself. They tended to be people who complained about absolutely everything, in some cases because there was genuine cause for complaint but mostly because it was just different from what they were used to or liked. It was clear that these people were never going to be happy anywhere other than their home country. That doesn’t apply to me, nor to any of the foreigners posting or commenting here. So far at least, and I hope it stays that way.

    This post was about free speech. I can comment on Kaczynski, you can comment on sausages. We don’t have to agree. That’s how it should be. I would rather, if you disagree with me again, that you just come out and give me your view on the issue in question rather than this tit for tat “you insulted something Polish so I’ll insult something British” routine but, well, if that’s your style I’m not likely to change it. So far you’ve gone for the UK generally, Gordon Brown, sausages, the Queen, British railways, Russel Brand, the BBC…… May I suggest you get it all off your chest now, one deep breath and let it ALL out!

    Did the students really suggest that Pole’s don’t take care of their kids? I find that one very strange.

  37. domingo says:

    Pardon my clumsy english, but i’d like to say my piece:
    let’s put away all that Kant stuff for a while, and distinguish free speech from an ordinary insult. Isn’t free speech a right to freely criticize public officials? To criticize, not insult them, which IMHO makes a huuuge difference .

    Scatss, i’m not quite sure if you sometimes read/watch or listen to polish media, but i can assure you – pretty much of them boil with criticism, anger, vulgarity et caetera (not to mention NIE) towards our infamous potatoes. With reason or not, but in most cases it has nothing to do with so called “watchdog journalism”. And what’s more, i’ve never heard of any journalist convicted for such activity (the only example that now comes to my mind, although not entirely relevant, is Jerzy Urban charged with offence against pope JPII).
    And no, we cannot insult everybody except president, protection of personality rights is guaranteed for everyone.

  38. domingo says:

    And another interesting example: when it comes to insulting public figure, ‘lefties’ in chorus raise alarm over “violating freedom of speech”, but does anyone remember David Irving case? When guy was imprisoned for denying holocaust (no matter how controversial it sounds – free speech is free speech) all lefties were surprisingly quiet.

  39. Ania says:

    Tomek – so far only I and Domingo here feel that personally, the rest seem quite pleased. I suppose that personal responsibility must mean to you all something different than to me. My Grandmother used to say: zły to ptak co własne gniazdo kala. We will get to him eventually, w imieniu Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej.

    Domingo – keep up the good work. One day it may be recognised.

    Scatts, those things were examples. Remove the plank. You are as itchy as Ian Wise in the restaurant yesternight when I told him that to Norwegians English beer is cheap and we Poles love sail boats (both true).

    At least I did not say that the UK has no Freedom of Speech or their Radio sucks. Just what you yourself can find in your own newspapers. And I still listen to Trójka online. Like right now.

    Yes, they did – in their countries apparently there’s more socialism than in mine. I suppose they meant some kind of kindergarten benefit?

    I’ve just learnt that there was one more pact before the WWII, between Stalin and Churchill, dated 1938… I’ve even found a link in English, by Christopher Hitchens:
    So don’t hold your head too high, you don’t come from land of Freedom.

    1430 przywilej of Jedlno, (neminem captivabimus nisi iure victum); something like English Habeas Corpus of 1679.

    why I tell you that last bit? One of the Directors of my last company said to me something about the money chains that people loose their savings in. I told him that we had that, too, and that’s now outlawed (which slowed that credit crunch). He marvelled – how those new countries are quickly picking up from old capitalist countries.

    so I now tell it to everyone, because you obviously don’t know. We’ve been here since II century post Christi. We did not burnt witches, skin Catholics and kill Jews – that’s why I live.

    There, it’s out of my system.

    No, I’m not drunk, it’s sinusitis.

  40. Sylwia says:

    After having thought of it, I’d say that Poland does have free speech, what it doesn’t allow for is the freedom of form.

    You may say that all of Kaczyński’s ideas are idiotic, you’re just not allowed to call him (or anybody else) an idiot.

    Of course it doesn’t necessarily fit the western model of free speech, but I think it fits the Polish one. I remember a discussion about Mohammad’s caricatures being printed in Holland and then reprinted in Poland. To Dutch it was a matter of free speech, to Poles it wasn’t. Poles feel much stronger about respecting other people’s feelings than their own right to say anything they wish in any possible form. It has nothing to do with embracing Islam or Kaczyński’s presidency, it’s about respecting symbols that to some people have a stronger abstractive value than to others. We don’t have to understand why some things matter to some people, we just respect their right to feel this way.

    It the same vein I think that the secularisation of the social sphere in France is a sign of religious intolerance, even though secular views are seen as liberal and progressive. There needs to be a line indicating where one’s freedom limits other people’s freedom. For a good historical example see how libertinism in its distorted form turned into sadism.

    In other words one should think how to express their own views, not how to insult other people. After all calling someone names isn’t a say in an argument. It doesn’t say anything, it’s just a slander, not a voice in discussion.

    Saying the above, I wholeheartedly agree that taking the case to court is an idiotic move on the president’s part, but then it’s good for me. The more he ridicules himself the better chances he’ll lose the next elections.

  41. domingo says:

    Actually, president Kaczyński didn’t sue anybody, the case (as well as most of previous cases) was initiated ex officio.

  42. island1 says:

    domingo: sorry about that, your comments were held automatically for moderation, I have no idea why.

  43. Ania says:

    for the Freedom of Speech, naturally.

  44. Does your website have a contact page? I’m having problems locating it but, I’d like to send you an email.
    I’ve got some recommendations for your blog you might be interested in hearing. Either way, great blog and I look forward to seeing it expand over time.

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