Kremlin narrative during Polish elections: Jews and LGBT 

Mateusz Bajek

Analyst, Global Lab., Warsaw, Poland

Introduction

Polish extreme-right and pro-Russian political movements, the Russian and Polish media inspired by the Kremlin propaganda, as well as trolls on the Internet started using two new narratives during the electoral campaign before this year’s elections in Poland. The first one was the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli narrative, peak of which took place during the election campaign of the European Parliament in May 2019. The second narrative, directed against LGBT communities, has been popular since February 2019 and will most likely be one of the main topics before the elections to the Parliament of Poland in October 2019.

The goal of both narratives (although it should be clearly emphasized that these narratives were not invented by Russia) is not, however, to hit Polish Jews or Polish-Israeli relations or even Polish LGBT community. The tactics of the Kremlin’s propaganda have changed over recent years and have become definitely more sophisticated. These narratives are supposed to cultivate conflicts among Poles, whose attitude towards these topics is very diverse. Both narratives also have additional goals. Promotion of the anti- LGBT views may support vision of the West, where LGBT supposedly had its roots, as morally fallacious. Meanwhile, anti-Semitic propaganda hits the Polish-American alliance.

Background

2019 is the year of two very important event on the Polish political scene: elections of the European Parliament, which was held on May 26, as well as parliamentary elections that will take place on October 13. The political significance of these elections is unique, because they interrupt the longest (in the history of Poland) 4-year period when there were no national elections held in the country. The previous national elections were held in 2015, while earlier during the period from 1989 to 2015 national elections were held on average once a year.

Such a significant time difference means that we could not observe the evolution of the Kremlin narrative during the elections in Poland. Meanwhile, the tactics of the Kremlin (and its trolls) as well as political movements close to the Kremlin, are changing all over the world. This is demonstrated, for example, by the analysis of the Kremlin narratives in the US or the EU during the recent years.

In 2015, during the two ongoing electoral campaigns, the most visible narrative used by communities close to the Kremlin was anti-Ukrainian propaganda. Anti-Western propaganda was next to it. I wrote about both these narratives in my previous publication entitled “Are Russian trolls just Russian? Pro-Russian propaganda on the Polish Internet.” It is worth noting that while the anti-Ukrainian narrative was conducted using standard methods (direct attacks on Ukraine, its history and politics), the anti-Western narrative very often took a specific shape. In addition to direct attacks on Germany, the USA or NATO, in order to propagate the narrative of the fall of Europe, the Kremlin propaganda showed the Poles the issue of European migrant crisis in a great detail.

It is worth noting that during the presidential election in May 2015, the most important topics present in the Polish media turned out to be domestic problems. Meanwhile, during the parliamentary election in October 2015, the most important topic turned out to be migrant crisis fuelled, among others, by the Kremlin narrative.
In 2019, the range of problems presented in the Polish media in the pre-election period is completely different. In addition to the usual internal problems for each country, an extraordinary increase in the importance of anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic narratives, as well as the narrative against LGBT communities can be noticed.
The anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic narratives have been present in the Polish media “since forever” and concerned mainly the margins of Polish political life. It did not appear in the Polish media on a large scale until 2018 when it was brought about by the political conflict between Poland and Israel. The immediate cause of the conflict was the adoption of the so-called Holocaust Legislation in Poland and Israel’s criticism of this fact. This conflict was fuelled in the Polish media, in particular by media close to the Polish government and not affiliated with Russia, however, circles close to the Kremlin also joined the propagation of this narrative. The anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic narratives then died out in the second half of 2018 to revive a few months before the European Parliament elections in February 2019.

Another wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli propaganda was triggered by the statement of the head of US diplomacy Mike Pompeo, who reminded Polish politicians of the need to restore the private property of persons (mainly Jews) who had lost it during the Holocaust. This time, however, the strongest circles expressing opposition to the US demands, in particular against the Justice for Uncompensated Survivors Today Act of 2017 (JUST Act or Act 447), were close to the Kremlin, Polish extreme right movement (e.g. Independence March – https://marszniepodleglosci.pl/), and its media (e.g. kresy.pl, dzienniknarodowy.pl) and Internet trolls. Their coordinated activities could be followed, among others on Act 447 website (https://ustawa447.pl/) and on Facebook profile “NOT for Jewish claims” (link: https://www.facebook.com/niedlaroszczen/). The unsuccessful European Parliament elections results for pro-Russian Confederation coalition (https://konfederacja.eu/), for which the topic of combating Jewish influence was the foundation of the political program, led to the suppression of anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli narratives. This topic lost its meaning before the elections to the Polish Parliament (October 2019), and the Kremlin narrative found a new victim: the LGBT community.

The narrative against the LGBT has also been presented in the Polish media for a long time but enjoyed the bigger popularity than the anti-Israeli narratives. The increase in the importance of propaganda directed against LGBT can be seen from February 2019, i.e. at the same time when anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli propaganda gained importance. The event that made this topic gain significance in the media was the signing on February 18, 2019 by the Mayor of Warsaw, Rafał Trzaskowski, the so-called “LGBT Card”, the purpose of which was to guarantee support from the city authorities to people of all sexual orientations. In response to this decision, two major political movements have started fighting against LGBT communities: the one gathered around the Polish government (PiS party, not affiliated with the Kremlin) and Polish extreme conservatives (often associated with the Kremlin, or inspired by the Kremlin), supported by media close to the Kremlin in Poland.

As noticed by Polish Internet political researcher, Anna Mierzyńska, the campaign against LGBT uses three main narratives in Poland:
1. LGBT ideology is a threat to a traditional family and children;
2. Homosexuality = paedophilia;
3. LGBT want to “sexualize children” in kindergartens and schools so that paedophiles can then take advantage of them.
In 2019 campaign against LGBT, one of the most important roles played by the Stop Sexualization of Our Children Initiative (link: https://stop-seksualizacji.pl/), associated with the right-wing magazine “Option to the right” (link: http://www.opcjanaprawo.pl/), authors of which do not hide their fascination with Putin’s Russia. Organizations (including the Piotr Skarga Institute of Social and Religious Education link: https://www.piotrskarga.pl/) associated with global ultra-conservative organizations (including the World Congress of Families – www.worldcongress.org) financed by Russia were also very active. The Polish extreme right wing was an important milieu, and the most active in this respect was columnist Stanisław Michałkiewicz, also known for his fascination with Putin’s Russia. All these communities had begun their campaign against LGBT even before this topic became one of the axes of the program of the PiS party ruling Poland, and as you can see, they all have links with Putin’s Russia.

Unlike the anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli topics, which have already been largely suppressed, the narrative against LGBT has become part of the pre-election campaign to the Polish Parliament. Thus, this is the second narrative this year, strongly propagated by circles close to the Kremlin in Poland, which strongly influenced the Polish political scene.

Impact

The emergence of two narratives in the Polish media space supported by Russia during election campaigns for the European Parliament and the Parliament of Poland makes one think about the purpose of their promotion. Can the Kremlin’s goal be an attack on Israel, Jews and LGBT itself, as it was in the past, when the Kremlin’s narrative was targeting Ukraine and the West? It does not seem so as neither Jews, nor Israeli-Polish relations, and nor Polish LGBT circles pose any threat to Russia.
Perhaps the goal of the Kremlin narrative is to heat up the conflict among Poles for whom these topics contribute to very clear social divisions? This thesis seems to be largely true. In the past, the author had the opportunity to talk to the people working at the famous Russian Troll Factory, and these conversations prove the transformation of Russian disinformation in the recent years.

Direct promotion of specific ideas (e.g. anti-Western, anti-Ukrainian) is currently complemented by other activities envisaged in the so-called The Gerasimov doctrine (the Russian theory of warfare based on influencing the opponent’s society “behind-the-scenes”). In particular, it all may be just about chaos, because permanent anxiety and conflict in the society makes it easier to change its internal and foreign policy.
How does chaos look in practice? The employees of the Russian troll factory control the US accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter simultaneously:
• of black people;
• of white racist people;
• of Muslims opposing US anti-Muslim policy;
Using various channels each of these commentator groups leads to social conflict in the US.
Social divisions in Poland, however, are manipulated not only by supporting the conflict: some media presenting a leftist vision of the world is also considered close to the Kremlin, e.g. the Strajk.eu portal (its editors are commentators on the Russian Sputnik portal). Due to low public support for the Polish left, the importance of these media is not as great as that of right-wing portals. In spite of all, in connection with pro-Kremlin right-wing portals, the vision of the world presented by the Kremlin-like left portals (support for LGBT, the fight against anti-Semitism) is a part of the Gerasimov Doctrine. It is also worth noting that in July 2019, Redfish portal financed by Russia through Russia Today, published a film entitled “Never Again: Fighting the Polish Far-Right”. The film promotes the vision of Poland as a country where fascists have more and more to say, but the fight against them is still being undertaken by Democrats and LGBT.

However, conflicting Poles do not conclude the objectives of the Kremlin’s narrative of recent months. After deeper reflection, one can come to the conclusion that both main narratives have hidden purpose.
The conservative part of Polish society is convinced that LGBT is a “phenomenon” related to liberalism, democracy and the EU. Thus, the “family fall”, “sexualization of children” associated with LGBT, as well as paedophilia should also be Western phenomena. On the contrary, Russia’s vision is promoted as a country supporting the family and protecting children.

Along with the fight against Jewish influence, other two fundamental phenomena that are essential to Poland are struck: our partnership with Ukraine, as well as our close alliance with the US. In the Kremlin narrative, Jews and Israel are very often presented in tandem with Ukrainian politicians (often with Jewish roots), as well as with the history of Ukraine, which supposedly originates from the Jewish state: Khazaria. In addition, the subject of US support for Israel, as well as Jewish claims against Poland (the aforementioned JUST Act), is practically the only narrative possible in Poland, which undermine the foundations of the Polish-American political and military alliance. Poles like the United States so much that it is necessary to use anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric to strike our alliance.

Recommendations

The Kremlin narrative is more often trying to convey propaganda to us in a hidden way so that we could not know the real purpose of it. Meanwhile, the real goals are exactly the same as they were in the past: social tensions, loss of faith in the state, undermining existing international economic, political and military alliances. For this purpose, they can use narratives that were never identified with Russia (support for LGBT), as well as neutral narratives for Russia (anti-Semitism).
Regardless of whether we:
• have left-wing, right-wing or liberal political views;
• are homosexual or heterosexual;
• believe in God or we are atheists;
• support refugees or consider migrants as a threat;
• consider Jews to be victims or not;
• support the current government or support the opposition;
• support the unity of our country or support the self-determination of its nations;

the Kremlin narrative may use our position in a way that serves its interests. Such efforts are likely to intensify in the future, because there are an infinite number of themes that the Kremlin can use. Meanwhile, blunt propaganda, widely used in the past, does not seem to be as effective as the Kremlin would have expected.
Representatives of the state, politicians and social activists should be aware that their views can be used as part of the Kremlin’s narrative against the West or any particular country. Of course, we cannot be censored in our statements, otherwise we would have to stop talking. However, we must invest more in analysing the Kremlin narrative. But we should try to avoid supporting their narrative so that what we believe is not used against us. At the same time, we must be aware that the similarity of the political narrative of our political opponents with the Kremlin propaganda does not necessarily mean that this narrative was invented in Moscow. In a month, this situation might change dramatically. Russian specialists can finance and support each of the parties and each of the narratives presented. The Kremlin’s goal is not to narrow our views to one topic – the final goal is to change our entire consciousness.

The Article is prepared in the framework of the project “EaP&V4 Countries Countering Disinformation” with the financial support from the International Visegrad Fund. The views expressed in the article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not in any way represent the views of International Visegrad Fund or the partner organisations.

The project is implemented by the Europe-Georgia Institute and Civil Development and Research Institute. 

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