Poland – Interview with Polish conservative journalist Jan Pospieszalski: “There is a healthy minority in the Polish parliament that has been able to effectively block segregationist laws while mocking them and showing the absurdity of the proposed solutions.”
Jan Pospieszalski is a well-known television journalist in Poland, but his weekly show was suppressed by public television last April because of its editorial line, which was considered too critical of the Morawiecki government’s policy against the Covid pandemic.
Olivier Bault spoke with him on 2 February, the day after the Sejm voted against a bill supported by a group of Law and Justice (PiS) deputies and the Morawiecki government to make weekly Covid-19 tests mandatory for all employees in companies.
Olivier Bault: Do you think that Poland is heading towards the introduction of a vaccine pass like in France or Italy?
Jan Pospieszalski: I don’t think so. When I see what happened to the segregation laws and then to the proposed “whistleblower” law that aimed to force all employees of companies to test themselves weekly, I am hopeful that we are not. All these bills have been abandoned or struck down, one after the other. Fortunately, there is a healthy minority in the Polish parliament that has been able to effectively block segregationist laws while mocking them and showing the absurdity of the proposed solutions. I therefore hope that any ideas that go even further in restricting our freedoms and inalienable civil rights will share the fate of the previous ones. I think that the climate in Poland today is not conducive to the introduction of Covid passports or any other type of vaccination certificate. That said, the vaccination mandate for certain professions is a cause for real concern.
Olivier Bault: You are talking about the bills that have been pushed, fortunately with no success, by the government and some PiS MPs. The Sejm has just rejected this new draft law which was to make weekly testing mandatory in companies. It provided that an employee who became ill with Covid-19 could claim compensation from any other employee in his or her company who had come to work without a negative test. Moreover, it was the voivode, that is, the government’s representative in the province, or voivodship, who was supposed to decide on the damages payable by an employee without a negative test to the one who got infected. On the day the bill was discussed, a demonstration took place in front of the Sejm. You participated in it. What was the prevailing mood among the demonstrators?
Jan Pospieszalski: I was there, indeed. Despite the unfavourable weather, there were over a thousand people. We were standing tightly packed, as the police cordon was constantly pushing us back on the narrow sidewalk in front of the Sejm building. The mood was serious, and at the same time very combative. There were MPs from Konfederacja [an alliance of nationalists and libertarians, with 11 deputies in the Sejm, ed.] and representatives of various freedom-loving groups. We had a sense of unity, as there were voters from Konfederacja and voters with Catholic-patriotic sensibilities. I was very moved by the speech of a representative of the movement “We defend the Polish uniform”. This young soldier, speaking on behalf of the police and uniformed services, made an impassioned plea for support for soldiers who do not want to take the vaccine product and who are now being discriminated against.
Olivier Bault: What about the self-proclaimed defenders of democracy who demonstrated in the streets during the first years of the PiS governments? Were they not there with you to defend our freedoms?
Jan Pospieszalski: It is indeed paradoxical: the movement that claimed to defend our Constitution and the rule of law in Poland has disappeared while the law and individual freedoms are being so obviously violated today. There were no women shouting “my body, my choice” either. Just over a year ago, they were able to mobilise thousands of demonstrators under this slogan.
Olivier Bault: With its rhetoric blaming unvaccinated people for each new wave of the pandemic, isn’t PiS partly attacking its own voters? The highest proportion of non-vaccinated people is in the eastern voivodships, where PiS gets the most votes in elections.
Jan Pospieszalski: Yes, it is a bit of a paradox. In my opinion, PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński’s usual survival instinct is failing him in this case. It appears that this man, who seemed to understand and feel society’s mood so well, has become a member of the Warsaw intelligentsia who no longer understands much, as he stands against the circles that led him to electoral victory in 2015. For it was precisely the electorate of national Poland, of Catholic Poland, of Poland’s small towns and villages, of conservative and traditional Poland that ensured the victory of Jarosław Kaczyński’s party. Today, these regions – the Lublin and Kielce regions, but especially the Lower Carpathian and Lesser Poland voivodships – have the lowest percentage of vaccinated people and, looking at the infection statistics, this is also where you have the lowest number of infected people. This shows that the popular wisdom that made them reluctant to take the vaccine has had a positive effect. This may be one of the reasons why the epidemiological threat is lowest in these areas.
PiS has lost its ability to listen to society, which used to give it a good feel for the electorate’s mood. In the last two years, since the announcement of the pandemic, something strange has been happening with this party, and it is difficult to understand. What it is doing is certainly counterproductive and greatly weakens the current government’s electoral base.
Olivier Bault: Nationally, just over half of Poles have chosen to receive the Covid-19 vaccine, which is significantly less than in most European countries. Why is there so much resistance to this vaccine in Polish society? This phenomenon is also visible in other societies in Europe, but it is not as pronounced in most cases.
Jan Pospieszalski: I must say that I have not analysed this in detail and it is difficult for me to answer this question. Perhaps it is because of a spirit of contradiction or a feeling of freedom. There have also been concerns about the ethical aspect of how these vaccines have been developed. The knowledge that they are produced from cell lines derived from abortions has weighed heavily in the decision of many Poles. On top of that, there is a kind of mistrust. At first we saw this pandemic as something terrible, but after only a few weeks it became clear that the radical restrictions introduced by the government were disproportionate to the real threat. There were not many deaths, people were getting the disease, but it was usually mild. More and more people rubbed their eyes in amazement at how we had allowed ourselves to be subjected to harsh discipline and restrictions that soon proved to be absurd.
We came to realise the inadequacy of this entire narrative based on four principles: first, Covid is a deadly disease and there is no cure; second, the disease is determined by the PCR test, not by symptoms; third, the only way to defeat the pandemic is through non-pharmaceutical means such as physical distancing, masks, disinfection, and lockdowns; fourth, vaccines will be our salvation. Each of these dogmas appeared to be less and less true. It seems to me that the Poles are acting with common sense and in a less ideologised way.
Moreover, we should not forget that there are still many people who remember communism and remember the narrative served by a totalitarian state, the false propaganda based on fear, on dividing people, on turning people against one another.
Because of this, in Poland a number of people have maintained a common-sense approach to the media. We have this experience of totalitarian communism behind us, many remember it and are more sceptical of what the government and the media say. When the myths fell one after the other, when the dogmas were proven false, I think a large group of people came to the conclusion that since we had been deceived, since the government had said false or absurd things on so many subjects, they might not be right about vaccination either.
What is dramatic is the price that the Polish people has paid for these experiments. I am referring to the considerable number of excess deaths. This issue weighs heavily on the government camp.
Olivier Bault: Why have there been so many excess deaths, in your opinion?
Jan Pospieszalski: It is not in my opinion. We have unequivocal calculations on this subject. We have the statistical data compiled by Marek Sobolewski, from Rzeszów University of Technology, as well as two reports by Dr Pawel Basiukiewicz, head of the Covid Department at the Grodzisk Mazowiecki Hospital. They are specialists in the analysis of medical data obtained from official sources such as the Central Statistical Office (GUS) or the Ministry of Health.
The degree of disorganisation of health services and primary care, based on the fundamentally false assumption that the greatest danger to a physician is that a patient may be ill and therefore must be isolated and diagnosed by telephone, is totally unacceptable. People have observed this, they have experienced the inconveniences associated with this mode of operation. I am talking about the closure of medical centres, telephone consultations, the closure of hospital services to prepare them to receive the huge wave of people sick from Covid that never happened. Hospitals were indeed flooded with a wave of patients, but this happened later as a result of the disorganisation and chaos in the health services. The quarantine and self-isolation imposed on people were particularly difficult to live with. All it took was having got close to a person who was not even necessarily infected, but who had a positive PCR test result, and suddenly several people, for example a doctor, nurses, etc., were sent to forced isolation. Healthy people were confined to their homes for many days. And this is still the case today. Today, in Poland, about one million healthy people are locked up in their homes.
This chaos, combined with the telediagnosis system and the assumption that Covid is not treatable, that one must wait for eventual recovery or worsening of the disease and only take fever-reducing drugs, has had disastrous results. People who were really sick with Covid symptoms were not treated, they were not examined by doctors, and they were not prescribed an X-ray or a CT scan. For the patients who were then taken by ambulance to pneumology wards, there was often nothing left to do. They were placed on ventilators, and only a small portion of them survived this medical procedure.
As a journalist featuring on television shows, I have asked many questions myself. For example, in October 2020, six months after the pandemic was declared, I asked Professor Robert Gil, chairman of the Polish Society of Cardiology, how many surgical operations his hospital had performed in the whole of 2019, and he replied: “Over three thousand”. “And how many have you done this year?” And he said to me: “a little over six hundred”. So I asked him: “Well, in that case, where are the other patients? Have they suddenly and miraculously regained their health? Where are the people who used to come for heart attacks, for bypasses, for stents, for major cardio-surgery?” Professor Gil replied in desperation: “I don’t know where these patients are.”
Unfortunately, we now know that many of them are in the cemetery.
This shows the degree of disorganisation of specialised medical care. In October 2020, I spoke on my show with the national consultant for clinical oncology in Poland, Professor Maciej Krzakowski. He, too, warned that such a drastic reduction of tens of percent in the number of oncological operations was bound to result in a massive number of deaths. And that is what has happened. In the whole of 2020 in Poland, 75,000 more people died than in previous years. The average annual number of deaths between 2017 and 2019 was about 410,000. In 2020, there were 480,000. Of these excess deaths, only 26,000 were Covid-related (patients who died from Covid or died with Covid). The others died for other reasons, such as being taken to the hospital too late after an accident. I personally know the story of a motorcyclist who, after a serious road accident, was taken to a hospital that turned out to be for Covid patients only. He was transported 30 kilometres to another hospital, but he did not survive the trip.
Many people have died before they could even get help. Unfortunately, to date, I do not see any particular reflection on the part of the Ministry of Health or the people responsible for this chaos and disorganisation of health care in Poland, which would lead them to beat their chests and acknowledge: “We have made a mistake.” They continue to impose these idiotic isolations, quarantines, etc.
Olivier Bault: Your long-running and very popular talk show was pulled from public television in April of last year for criticising the government’s policy on the Covid-19 pandemic. To date, it has still not been allowed back on the air. Is this censorship?
Jan Pospieszalski: It cannot be called otherwise, especially since it is not an isolated case where a journalist’s programme is terminated because he or she does not want to follow the only correct editorial line, the one imposed from above. I tried to be honest with our viewers and true to the mission of journalism, which is to seek to know the world better and to be the voice of the unheard. After those first shows, when people saw that I was saying something a little different from the government propaganda, I gained the trust of a lot of people and they wrote to us. When I was thrown out, everyone knew that it was not because I had made a terrible mistake or broken any ethical rules, but because I had given a voice to those doctors, experts and scientists who had been silenced until then. These were specialists who looked at Covid realistically, who questioned the dogma and challenged the fact that Covid could not be treated, precisely because they were treating it themselves. There are antiviral drugs that are effective if given in the early phase of the disease to block the development of the virus. And in case of additional intervention by a doctor, examining and auscultating the patient and administering an antibiotic if necessary, it turned out that Covid wasn’t so bad. These doctors talked about it on my shows. They also questioned the second dogma, that only PCR tests can determine who is ill and who is not. For them, diagnosis based on symptoms was more important.
Olivier Bault: TVP management criticised your show for being biased because there were no voices in favour of the government’s policy in this area. But you recently leaked text messages in which the head of the Prime Minister’s medical council refused to participate because he “does not want to discuss with the proponents of the flat earth theory (even if they are right)”. So it was the government that did not want to participate in an honest discussion on television?
Jan Pospieszalski: Yes, this incident illustrates their attitude very well. And it was not just anyone, because it was the chief advisor to the Prime Minister of the Republic of Poland, Professor Horban. He was talking about the doctor who first announced that he had an effective drug, amantadine hydrochloride, which gives very good results if given in the early phase of the infection. This was said by Dr Włodzimierz Bodnar. When Professor Andrzej Horban learned that Dr Bodnar would be present, he reacted by saying that he “does not want to discuss with the proponents of the flat earth theory”, “even if they are right”. So he actually acknowledged that Dr Bodnar was right.
By their attitude, those people have proven that their goal is not to care for patients. This is a very serious accusation, but I have irrefutable evidence. One of the pieces of evidence, indirectly, is this text message, but there are other statements and documents that show that what these people wanted was not to care for the patients.
Olivier Bault: So what is it they wanted?
Jan Pospieszalski: I have no idea. That as many people as possible became infected so that vaccines could be sold? I don’t know, this is pure speculation. One can only assume that the huge profits of pharmaceutical companies may be one of the reasons. Health Minister Adam Niedzielski himself said it very well in an interview with the weekly magazine Wprost on 5 September last year: we have to be careful about the third dose, because we do not know whether it is in the interest of the patients or the pharmaceutical companies.
In my opinion, this conflict-of-interest element and the contacts of those who decided on the Polish policy against the pandemic should be closely examined. What were their real relationships with the pharmaceutical companies and why was this vaccination policy adopted in such a reckless manner, while rejecting all treatments? The other problem, and I have checked this myself, is that of the 17 members of the Prime Minister’s Medical Council, there were no pulmonologists and no cardiologists. Most were virologists and infectious disease specialists. The Medical Council, which was suddenly created and worked alongside the Prime Minister and the Minister of Health, thus acquiring enormous influence on Poland’s social, economic and epidemiological policies, was first of all incompetent because essential medical specialties were not represented in it, and secondly it acquired enormous influence on our lives, closing and opening stores, closing churches, restricting cultural life, demolishing health care, and destroying education by imposing remote learning on children. And since these people have been given such enormous powers, it would be appropriate to check who they are and also whether and how they may have contacts with interest groups or with the services of other countries, and so on.
Olivier Bault: However, if we look back, compared to other European countries, Poland is one of the countries where civil liberties have been least restricted and where the economy has suffered the least. Perhaps these poorly crafted bills proposed by the Law and Justice party are intended to keep the liberal and left-wing opposition busy, as it is lobbying very hard for the introduction of full health segregation and lockdowns with each new wave?
Jan Pospieszalski: I appreciate that. I have had conversations with German friends who have told me how the restrictions have awakened an inner policeman in people.
People watch and discipline each other, and this is particularly visible in Germany. In this context, Poland appears to be an oasis of freedom, but there are reasons for this. The involvement of people, the commitment of various freedom-loving circles, the awakening of the Poles’ instinct to revolt and also the enormous heroic activity of those independent doctors who have been prosecuted, brought before the chambers of the medical association, who are subject to disciplinary proceedings, all this has given wings to all those who love freedom and are attached to patriotic and republican traditions.
And that is positive. What lie ahead, however, are the delayed consequences of the pandemic. Even assuming that the restrictions are lifted and that infections start being treated from the start and not just on ventilators, the consequences ahead will remain enormous, if only because of the lost school years for children who have been forced to stay at home sitting in front of computers.