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Censorship Polish Style


Robert Looby writes from Lublin:

Preventive censorship was lifted in short order after the fall of communism in Poland but post-publication censorship has not disappeared.

When a biography of Ryszard Kapuściński appeared back in 2010 his widow took legal action against the publisher (Świat Książki). She failed to have publication blocked but the case continues. Actually, it’s “cases” – Kapuściński’s daughter is also suing for “invasion of privacy”. In early October current affairs magazine Wprost reported a breakthrough: the book’s author, Artur Domosławski, has been abandoned by his publisher, which agreed to apologise to Alicja Kapuścińska and withdraw the book from circulation. The publisher also agreed to remove four chapters from any re-edition. The apology – for violating the plaintiffs’ rights to privacy, their good name and dignity, as well as something called the “cult” of Kapuściński – duly appeared on October 18th in the press. The apology also claims that there are untruths in the book, a charge its author denies and which has not been proven in court.

This is not such an isolated incident. Polish law allows for books to be withdrawn from circulation for the duration of a case for invasion of privacy taken against the author. Even if the author wins in court the book ‑ after so many years – has often been forgotten by the public. Among the most high-profile cases in Poland are a biography of Edyta Górniak, a pop singer, and a documentary about Amway called Welcome to Life. The latter was “released” after twelve years in the courts. Another worrying case (also from 2010) is that of film director Andrzej Żuławski’s roman à clef Nocnik (Chamber Pot) – out of the public eye now because Weronika Rosati (daughter of Dariusz, a Polish politician) claims one of the characters is her. She is suing for 200,000 Polish zlotys (about €50,000) and the book cannot be distributed while the case drags on. In 1972 the Polish censors forbade any mention of Żuławski’s film Devil. Another roman à clef – this time about mountaineers – has been taken out in the same way and on the same pretext as Żuławski’s book. As Wprost magazine comments: who knows how many biographies have been nipped in the bud by the chilling effect of a legal threat. A famous Polish actress reportedly demanded the writer of her biography remove any discussion of her divorce from a famous filmmaker on pain of being sued for invasion of privacy. You’ll notice I’m not naming either of them.

Just how seriously Poland treats freedom of speech is shown by the verdict handed down in Warsaw on October 18th in the case taken by prime minister Donald Tusk against the magazine Nie (No) for publishing an April Fool’s day story purporting to be a transcript of a secretly recorded conversation interspersed with swearing between himself and several other politicians on a football terrace. The magazine has been directed to apologise to Mr Tusk.

The drb adds: Artur Domosławski’s biography is still available in its English translation, Ryszard Kapuściński: A Life, published by Verso. Robert Looby’s review of the original Polish for the drb is here.