It is evening, 19 August 2019. Another sunny, hot day. The climate change shows its positive side for holiday-makers, as there are thousands of people on the sunny sandy beaches over the southern Baltic coast and thousands more hike the hills and mountains of south Poland. 30 degrees in the shade, and the political campaign ahead of the 13 October elections is only about to begin.
With high temperatures storms are expected. The big storm will hit the popular Giewont mountain in the High Tatras in a few days. 4 people will die and 150 further will suffer. This will be the largest tragedy in the Tatras in the recorded history. Here’s a recorded lightening of 22 August.
The lazy summer day ends at 6 PM on 19 August. Onet.pl, the largest online news portal in Poland, publishes an investigation story that will be read over 40 million times in the next seven days.
It is a story that makes people drop their jaws. Remember Cambridge Analytica? Go and see the Great Hack on Netflix. The Onet.pl story is the Polish equivalent.
Poland is a country where the political discourse has been poisoned with hatred for awhile now. The deep divisions have led both sides of the political argument to far-reaching accusations of lies and misinformation. There were victims, like the late mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz, brutally murdered in January.
Onet.pl reveals that the deputy minister of justice, a judge Łukasz Piebiak, is running a coordinated hate speech group that chooses as its targets judges opposed to the judicial reforms introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Once again: a deputy justice minister was involved in preparing smear campaigns against people who were in disagreement with them. Onet.pl talks to a woman, Little Emi, who shares stories how things were done. She shares WhatsApp conversations with the journalists, where the minister is seen as giving instructions, rewards, sharing burden with Emi, who is the executioner of the hate campaign.
Among the victims are some 20 judges, including judge Krystian Markiewicz, who leads the work of an independent association of lawyers “Iustitia”, and Małgorzata Gersdorf, head of the Supreme Court.
Over the next days it becomes public that there was a WhatApp group where coordinating action took place. The group’s name: “Kasta”, or “The Cast”.
The Gang Talk
Emi: Good morning Minister. Is the information useful? What should we do with it?
Piebiak: I have received the material some time ago, but I had no idea how to use it, so I didn’t use it. If you have ideas, that’s splendid!
Emilia: I have the following idea. Send it anonymously to all the branches of Iustitia. And to the addressee. The newspapers are off as we have no proof. I have a phone number to the husband of the mistress. We could use one of the Internet gates or a sim card, but I do not have one and I do not have anyone to register it with. I can talk to R. [a tv journalist of a pro-government TVP]. Maybe he can go through it but there is no source and proof. It doesn’t look good. What do you think? And more generally, will it help us?
Piebiak: I think it will help us. It is important to drive over Iustitia, we have to deal with them. People will talk, and Markiewicz will go down a little bit knowing what we have on him. Maybe Kuba [another Ministry of Justice employee] has ideas how to disseminate it without any traces?
Piebiak: The journalist and the material would be great, but I am not sure if there is such a courageous person.
Emilia: I think Kuba is a little afraid. Those are his ex-pals, you know. Ok. I will do what I can.
Piebiak: Thank you.
Emilia: I’ll talk to the journalists and will send the papers around. Anonymously, by email. And by post. The one problem is I do not have the addresses and the emails. I will do everything as I can, as always. I cannot guarantee the final outcome, but I will try. I hope I will not go to jail for this.
Piebiak: We do not put people in jail for doing good.
Minister Piebiak resigns. Other justices involved resign or are fired from the Ministry of Justice. The ruling party says that all that scandal is a proof that the judicial system in Poland is degenerate and that Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the architect of the PiS judicial reforms, did not know a thing about the hate group.
The judges come to the streets to demand Mr Ziobro’s resignation. Either he did know and is complicit. Or he did not know and is an ignorant. In either way, there is a political responsibility for the ministry one runs.
Over the summer a suicide of Dawid Kostecki, a criminal who was once a boxing champion, draws more questions than answers. Mr Kostecki’s suicide is questioned, and his testimony was instrumental in another of Law and Justice scandals. Mr Ziobro oversees the entire justice system and safety of prisoners is his political responsibility, too.
Will the people care? The elections are in little over a month and a half. The first opinion poll suggests that PiS enjoys its dominant position, regardless of the scandals. Majority of the public would like to see Mr Ziobro go, but they will not punish the entire party for one person’s mistakes, clearly.
The nightmares of many became a reality. Hate speech is procured in Poland, not only in the churches by priests talking about the LGBT community. Hate speech is crafted and targeted against individuals who are on the opposing side. It is not only a group. It is an individual. Be warned, for you can be next. Is this an EU member state or Russia? Clearly there is no one who can prosecute this situation properly, because the Ministry of Hate is the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor is the Justice Minister and all the prosecutors below Mr Ziobro fear him for he has a history of rewarding the loyal and punish the insubordinate.
In a country without an effective independent prosecution, in a country with a paralysed justice system, the public loves the government of Mr Morawiecki because of the economy and social give aways.
PiS may well win the elections in October as all the scandals make the party even more scandal-proof. But the question is not on who wins. The question is about the low standards of public life. Can we go lower? Yes we can. Expect the worst, work for the better, dream for the best.