Torun, Poland — Radio Maryja is a source of embarrassment to many Poles, but the diatribes from this radio station, intermingled with lengthy prayer sessions, are heard by millions of listeners each day.
Its programs exploit listeners’ fears that Poland’s new capitalist democracy undermines their traditional Catholic way of life. Jews and Masons are viewed as threatening outside forces to be demonized.
The station’s Director, and founder, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, figures prominently in Polish politics because the priest can often deliver the votes of his followers who tune in to the station’s xenophobic, homophobic and antisemitic programs.
His listener-supported media empire includes a television station (TRWAM), a daily newspaper (Nasz Dziennik) and a high school for 400 students.
The charismatic 64-year-old priest, who belongs to the Redemptorist Missionary Order, is a staunch supporter of the country’s right-wing parties, especially the Law and Justice Party, which currently controls the presidency (though the prime minister and cabinet are controlled by the rival Civic Platform Party in a fractious cohabitation). Law and Justice Party officials have “a political monopoly on Radio Maryja programs,” said Jacek Holub, who covers the station for Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland’s largest newspaper.
Although the Law and Justice Party does not officially share Radio Maryja’s stands upholding racism, antisemitism or xenophobia, “The radio station supports Law and Justice because it sees it as its only available political option that has any kind of power that would be helpful for Radio Maryja,” Katarzyna B. Bylok, an expert on Radio Maryja told the Forward.
And the party does share the station’s views opposing equality for homosexuals.
During last year’s European Union Parliament election, Radio Maryja urged its audience to vote for 15 Law and Justice candidates on the grounds that they would oppose any interference in the internal affairs of the community’s members, such as permitting gay marriages. All 15 were elected with Radio Maryja’s endorsement and appearing on its programs.
“Having an enemy unifies them,” said Szymon Spandouski, a reporter of the Torun newspaper Nowosci.
Anti-Semitic rhetoric is heard on broadcasts from listeners who call the station, as well as from the station’s own commentators and panelists.
On January 11, 2009, for example, Dr. Krzysztof Kawecki justified the persecution of Jews between the two world wars and claimed, “The boycotting of Jewish stores was necessary for self defense against the alien competition.”
Professor Boguslaw Wolniewicz criticized the nation’s president Lech Kaczynski for participating in a Hanukkah service. “What should we Poles care about Hanukkah,” he said in a broadcast on January 31 last year. “It looked awful for the government to do this.”
During an interview in Warsaw, Stanislaw Michalkiewicz, a weekly commentator on Radio Maryja, replied “that’s nonsense” when I asked him whether the station was antisemitic. Michalkiewicz said that it was wrong to blame Jews for everything bad. “Things such as natural disasters cannot be blamed on the Jews,” said. He went on to say that “influential Jews often charge that someone is an anti-Semite even if the accused person is not.”
On march 27,2006 Michaelkiewicz addressed Holocaust restitution efforts this way in a Radio Maryja broadcast:
“While we are implementing democracy, the Judeans are sneaking up from the back trying to force our government to pay protection money, concealing the fact by calling it compensation.”
My request to interview Father Rydzik in Torun was declined.
Pope Benedict XVI has criticized Radio Maryja for meddling in politics. Stanislaw Dziwisz, the cardinal of Krakow, has called upon the nation’s bishops to replace Rydzik with a new governing board for the station. But the Polish bishops have been badly divided and have failed to act. Many support Rydzik.
”You have to understand that the Catholic Church does not want to act against Rydzik and sow divisions within the church,” said Katarzyna Bilok, who has studied the station,” adding that “the church sees benefits from the leadership of Father Rydzik because he is a powerful evangelizer.”