21st Karlsruhe Dialogues - Speakers

Democracy and Media Freedom: New Polish Unfreedom


Bartosz Wieliński


Bartosz Wieliński studied political science and journalism at the University of Silesia in Katowice, Poland. From 2002–2004, he pursued postgraduate studies on foreign relations and diplomacy at Jagiellonian University in Kraków. From 2005–2009, he was the foreign correspondent of the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza in Berlin; between 2005 and 2012 he also worked as a lecturer on journalism at the University of Silesia in Katowice. Since 2009, Wieliński is an editor at the foreign desk of Gazeta Wyborcza in Warsaw. He covers German and Austrian politics, society, and modern history, as well as European and global security and development issues. In 2013, he won the Grand Press Award, the most important prize in Polish journalism, and in 2014 he was the winner of Amnesty International’s Pióro Nadziei Prize. Wieliński is the author of the book Źli Niemcy (“Bad Germans”, 2014).



1. In your opinion, which “enemies” pose the greatest threat to pluralistic societies?

I consider the following to be the enemies of free society: the various populists in the West who have already anchored their parties in the political system and are now trying to win the support of the majority and then restructure their states in such a way that it becomes impossible for them to lose power. This has already happened in Hungary, and it is well under way in Poland. The indifference of society adds to this. People are losing interest in politics, and are staying home on election day. This makes the populists’ work easier.


2. Public trust in elites and the media has been declining in recent years. What do you think can be done in order to restore this trust?

It is not only the trust in elites and the media that has disappeared, but also their quality. European politics currently lacks politicians that could be described as Hommes d’État. We attach greater importance to tweets and Facebook posts than to speeches and public discussions. And politics cannot be described in 140 characters. The politicians have become lazy. Right now, it is in the ranks of the populists that commitment can be found. And the media have stopped asking the difficult questions. Instead of seriously describing the world, they are making infotainment. To protect free societies, the politicians and journalists must leave their comfortable bubble, confront the world, and pay more attention to the quality of their work.


3. In pluralistic societies, how can awareness of the advantages of freedom – and the appreciation thereof – be raised, in particular when it comes to those who lack experiences with unfreedom?

The key to this is political education. The people need to know how their country works, which institutions play which roles, and why they are important and irreplaceable in the political system. This is my Polish experience. The PiS government is destroying the independent judiciary, and party propaganda is comparing judges to criminals. If the Poles had known more about the role of the Constitutional Court, the dismantling of the Court could probably have been prevented.