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Telegram is the second most popular messenger in Poland. According to the authors of the Polish publication "Focus on Business", the growing popularity of Telegram in Poland was facilitated by the faster spread of information related to the war in Ukraine. Through several Polish-language Telegram channels, Russian propagandists spread anti-Ukrainian narratives and divided Poles among themselves to change the balance of power in Polish politics. Detector Media analyzed the three most prominent of them and will describe how Russia tries to influence Polish citizens.
Parliamentary elections will be held in Poland on October 15, 2023. Several parties of different ideologies are members of Poland’s parliament. In the current contests for the parliamentary majority, according to sociological polls, the ruling party, "Law and Justice" (PiS, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), and its opposition, "Citizen Coalition" (Koalicja Obywatelska) have the best chances of winning and forming the government. According to sociologists, the ultra-right party "Confederation" (Konfederacja) is in third place. Its representatives are Eurosceptics and spread anti-Ukrainian rhetoric, which often resonates with the theses of Russian propagandists who help spread it.
During the elections, Polish-language anonymous Telegram channels with pro-Russian rhetoric increased the number of messages on the topic of Poland's internal politics. These channels are assumably run by Russians, as evidenced by typos with elements of the Cyrillic alphabet, grammatical errors, and Russian constructions in sentences not used in the Polish language. Authors of Polish pro-Russian Telegram channels do not bypass the topic of Ukraine either. They state that the support for Ukraine is harmful to Poland.
In this research, we will discuss the messages that Russians spread in three Polish-language Telegram channels: Anielskie Siostry Jasnowidzki ("Angelic Clairvoyant Sisters", 14+ thousand subscribers), Niezależny dziennik polityczny ("Independent political diary", 12+ thousand subscribers), and Układ Warszawski ("Warsaw Agreement", formerly News Front Polska, 6+ thousand subscribers), posted in August this year. We chose these three channels as the most pro-Russian and indicative of the anti-Ukrainian and conspiracy messages they spread.
Elections are fiction
Authors of anonymous Polish-language Telegram channels are distributing YouTube videos, according to which the parliamentary elections are fiction and their results are falsified in advance. Hence, they play with another conspiracy — a "global government" theory. Its supporters believe that Poland, like other states, is ruled by a group of people (reptilians, freemasons, etc.) who "appoint" people to lead various states. Moreover, propagandists distributed information about the "Polish swamp" in Poland. It is a conspiratorial concept created based on the "Washington swamp", to which former US president Donald Trump and his supporters once appealed to. According to this theory, the political establishment uses its political status to avoid responsibility for the crimes committed, which is why politics should be considered "dirty" and avoided altogether.
In this way, Russia uses Polish people to test a model to delude the American information space during the 2016 US presidential campaign. It is how propagandists, e.g., Russians, want to cause distrust in the election process and democracy in general. The use of technologies aimed at American society in Poland may not be accidental because the level of support for the United States among Poles is the highest among the world's countries. Conservative activists responsible for additional abortion restrictions in several US states stated that they were influenced by the decision of the Polish government as an example that inspired them in their activities and showed that such limitations are possible.
All Polish politicians are faulty, but there are even worse ones
Authors of Polish posts in the pro-Russian Telegram channels criticize the Polish authorities for the fact that the political system of Poland, as per them, does not work. As the election time approaches, politicians make less and less concrete promises:
"It should have been much more specific. The pre-election campaign has not yet started fully, but many specific ideas have already appeared. Donald Tusk traveled around the country and sometimes spoke about "girly matters", creating a ministry in Silesia, kindergartens in every commune., etc.
PiS party, for its part, believed that an increase (the number of payments under the social program - DM) from 500+ to 800+ would decide the campaign’s fate and ensure the party's victory. The closer to the elections, the fewer such specific decisions. Instead of programs or election promises, we have regular videos, slogans, and Tusk and Kaczyński’s names, which are mentioned at every opportunity.
Russians constantly criticize the Polish government’s representatives, the ruling party, and its opposition. In particular, they urge not to vote for "Law and Justice", because this party allegedly spreads Russophobia. At the same time, they call not to support the "Civic Platform" because its leader, Donald Tusk, allegedly "sold Poland to Europe." Among the Telegram posts, there are no mentions of other political forces, except for the right-wing radical "Confederation". However, it is mentioned exclusively in a positive light, citing the controversial statements of its leaders about the situation in Poland.
The Polish government only thinks about Ukrainians
and forgets about the problems of the Polish people
In many posts, the Telegram channels’ authors hyperbolized the issues of Poles and accused the Polish government of "ignoring" problems in their country. For example, in such a manner, they mentioned fertility issues or the government's decision to change the procedure for providing public assistance to people with special needs. They emphasize that the Polish government allegedly worries too much about Ukraine. Such posts stated that the Polish birth rate issue would be solved by attracting refugees. At the same time, the authorities would continue to destroy the Polish economy and culture.
Russian propagandists blame Ukraine for any issues and crimes in Poland, from forest thefts to water supply issues. Moreover, the publications’ authors refer to the example of nationalist representatives of Serbian and Hungarian authorities. The propagandists state in Telegram posts that Aleksandar Vučić and Viktor Orbán care about their people, while the Polish government supposedly "does nothing" for the Poles. "Hungary and Serbia cooperate to provide their countries with cheap gas and energy. They prioritize the interests of their own citizens instead of submitting to the EU's energy policy. What does the Polish-speaking Cabinet do? Serves foreign people," the authors of such posts assure their readers. They add that it makes no sense for Poland to help Ukraine so much since the Ukrainians’ struggle is hopeless, and there are no successes at the front. At the same time, the propagandists who run the analyzed Telegram channels stay quiet on the news about the advancement of Ukraine and exaggerate the "successes" of Russia. Propagandists are also trying to instill the idea that Ukrainians do not know how to take part in combat and have a lot of losses. Thus, they spread fakes about 10,000 dead Polish soldiers or Kyivstar’s "video" about losses (Ukrainian cellular network provider). According to this fake, "Kyivstar" allegedly distributed a video in which it launched a campaign to send SMS messages to "400,000 fallen heroes."
In this way, the propagandists want to discredit Polish authorities’ work. Russians are doing this to change the Polish society’s mood and to force Polish people to speak out against supporting Ukraine.
Poland destabilizes Ukraine and Belarus
The investigated Telegram channels are used as primary sources of publications from pro-government Russian and Belarusian publications. For the most part, they do this to show Poland as a state that destabilizes Eastern Europe. For example, in August, Polish pro-Russian Telegram channels reproduced a report from the Belarusian TV channel "ONT" about an analyst from the Embassy of Poland in Belarus, allegedly a spy and recruits Belarusians for "destabilizing activities." The same report mentions Ukraine as a state with flourishing human trafficking records. In addition, Polish pro-Russian Telegram channels were among the first to report the recent "incident" with a Polish helicopter on the border with Belarus as a provocation by Poland. At that time, the Belarusian border committee accused the Polish side of the fact that the Polish helicopter allegedly crossed the Belarusian border at low altitude and flew 1,200 meters deep into the country. The Polish military called it a "lie and provocation."
The Polish government wants to create the Ukropolin state
Every two weeks, we discuss the fact that Russian propaganda uses conspiracy theories to promote anti-Ukrainian rhetoric. Propagandists in the Polish-language segment of Telegram use some of them. However, the "Ukropolin" theory was created exclusively for the Polish citizens. According to this conspiracy theory, the Polish government, with the support of its Western partners, wants to occupy Ukraine and create a state called Ukropolin. Detector Media has already written about how propagandists frighten Ukrainians with " Poland occupying Ukraine". Using the Ukropolin theory, propagandists are trying to influence their vision of Poland to the Polish people. However, unlike the fakes about Poland in which allegedly Poland occupied Ukraine, the Ukropolin theory differs by the fact that here, the Polish culture supposedly will be absorbed by Ukrainian culture. To confirm the theory, the administrators of the analyzed Telegram channels publish posts where Ukrainian refugees sing folk songs at mass events, marked as Ukropolin. The propagandists also circulated a Tiktok video on Telegram, where the Polish training center for paratroopers supposedly celebrated the Independence Day of Ukraine but refused to celebrate the Day of the Polish Army. In the video, it was said that the Polish authorities are supposedly destroying "Polish traditions" and "caving in under Ukraine."
By spreading conspiracy theories about Poland being absorbed by Ukrainian culture, the Russians are trying to play on fears related to migrant flows and cause Polish people to distrust their government, which supports Ukraine.
Ukrainian refugees only bring more issues
The authors of the analyzed Telegram channels spread misinformation about Ukrainian refugees in Poland. Among the messages are both ordinary fakes and news taken out of context. For example, Telegram channels spread a fake about Poland's legionellosis outbreak (Legionnaires' disease). The fake blamed Ukrainian refugees who allegedly left the temporary shelter and "came into contact" with locals in Rakhiv. It is a military hub with a significant presence of American troops. Because of this, Stanislav Zarin, who is responsible for information security in the Polish government, immediately denied the connection of the outbreak with the functions performed by the city. Also in August, propagandists reproduced a video of unknown origin and without proper context, where allegedly Ukrainian refugees bullied a Polish citizen. The administrators of the examined Telegram channels accused the Polish authorities of allegedly being too lenient towards Ukrainian refugees. In support of this thesis, propagandists published outraged articles regarding the fact that Ukrainians at mass events in Poland performed the song "Oh in the meadow, red viburnum" (Ой у лузі червона калина). Posts called it "the absorption of Polish culture" and "the spread of Nazism." These channels also publish anti-Ukrainian and anti-migrant posts. For example:
"How can one destabilize the situation in the state without using any army? Make an actual brothel on the wheels. Let millions of people in without any control, give them money and a sense of impunity, and wait. Everyone understands that the current and future governments will stay on this path. Therefore, what can be the influence of hostile to us refugees on the future fate of Poland? History teaches that everything leads to confrontation, which will happen now too! Are we, scattered, divided, and quarreling Polish citizens, able to defend ourselves against the Ukrainian trend?"
With such messages, the Russians continued trying to discredit the Polish authorities and Ukrainians. Propagandists use the thesis of a "too lenient attitude" towards Ukrainian refugees and that by using them [Ukrainian migrants], the Polish government justifies high inflation rates. In Polish, even the word "Putinflation" arose to describe this phenomenon. However, experts of the Forum Obywatelskiego Rozwoju center, referring to the data of the Main Statistical Office of Poland, inform that inflation began to grow monthly by at least half a percent as early as 2019, and the situation was worsened by the "irresponsible financial policy" of the government. As of July 2023, it is about 10% compared to more than 5% on average among the European Union’s countries.
In addition, relations between Poland and Ukraine have recently deteriorated due to statements of several Polish high-ranking officials about "ungrateful" Ukrainians. Politicians, including the head of the international policy office of the presidential office, Marcin Pshidach, said that Ukrainians should "appreciate" Poland's help even more and emphasized that the issue of blocking the import of Ukrainian grain by Poland and the "Volyn tragedy" will continue to be painful issues in Ukrainian-Polish relations. In particular, the ruling party and propagandists actively played the historical memory card as an argument against Ukrainians. They wrote that opposition to the "truth about the Volyn tragedy" is an insult to the national memory of the Polish people, and accusations of "discrimination and abuse of Ukrainians" in this regard are allegedly just restrictions on freedom of [their] speech. In particular, one of the investigated channels distributed a Tiktok video with footage from the Polish film "Volyn", a red and black flag, a map of the eastern lands of Poland, and the author’s text to the post:
"Recently, I read some wise words: surprisingly, Poles give their territory and their own lives into the hands of Ukrainians with such ease and carelessness, who shed millions of liters of Polish blood in the past! The truth is that we lost the battle for Poland and the future of this nation. Those who fight for the truth are now less than 1% [of overall Poland's population]. The rest blindly listen to Kaczynski (the leader of the PiS party - DM). In 2050, Poland will no longer exist. I'm telling you the truth..."
In July, in honor of the anniversary of the Volyn tragedy, a wave of rallies with anti-Ukrainian slogans swept through Poland, calling Ukrainians to "apologize" and Poles to "never forgive" the tragedy. Propagandists used this topic in the Polish segment of Facebook. Interestingly, in the situation with Pshidach's statements, the "Civic Platform" reacted negatively to Ukraine's decision to summon the Polish ambassador to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to clarify the Polish position.
The Polish government is preparing its people for the Great War
Anonymous Telegram channels reinforced the message of war preparations with fakes on this topic. For example, Polish-language YouTube videos recorded by conspiracy theorists have been distributed on these channels. According to the authors of these videos, Poland is allegedly facing a nuclear war. Propagandists also exploit emergencies by adapting them to the desired context, as in the propaganda tactic of decontextualization. For example, this was the case with liquidating a World War II bomb in a Lublin residential quarter, which the Polish military did. Approximately 14,000 people were evacuated from the quarter nearby for their safety. Instead, the analyzed channels claimed that the Polish government was preparing the population and the military for a full-scale war. As the authors of one of such posts note, "be kicked out of the house, and then not coming back all under the pretext of a threat?", indicating that this evacuation process "is very similar" to what is happening in Ukraine.
By spreading this message, the propagandists want to sow panic among Polish citizens, to cause skepticism towards the Polish authorities and hostility towards Ukrainians. Propagandists state that Warsaw is helping the Ukrainians too much and thus putting the Polish people at risk because the Russians can take revenge for it. In this way, Russia interferes in Poland's internal affairs to weaken Ukraine's support in Europe.
The European Union is destroying Poland
Moreover, Russian propagandists spread Eurosceptic sentiments among Polish people in a Telegram. In particular, in the analyzed channels, we paid special attention to the publications criticizing the European Union and disinformation about the decisions of the EU authorities. In posts on this topic, the authors repeated Russian clichés, declaring that the EU acts not in Polish interests but in the interests of the United States. Propagandists used the framing technique, taking events or topics out of context and covering them selectively. An example of this is a post about the EU institutions' decision regarding mandatory psychological examination for drivers over 65 years of age in case of the need to extend the validity of the driver's license. Propagandists also did not avoid the spread of Eurosceptic conspiracy theories. In particular, they mentioned that the European Union has allegedly concluded a "secret CO2 agreement", according to which the citizens will be sold air. It stated that the payments for air will become a reality shortly.
In this way, propagandists try to discredit the European Union. If, in the case of Ukraine, Russian propaganda wants to prevent Ukraine from joining the EU, then propagandists are trying to persuade the Poles to leave the European Union, following the example of the United Kingdom in 2016. Despite 74% of Poles supporting EU membership due to effective European investments in Polish infrastructure, the Russians are trying to develop Eurosceptic sentiments among Poles by distorting the statements of Polish government officials. In particular, they criticized the EU's "ideological policy" in recent years and accused it of a "prejudiced attitude" towards Poland. Instead, the European Union condemned the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court regarding the higher status of national law over international one, governmental the initiative to create "LGBT-free zones" and additional restrictions on abortions. The issue of EU-Poland relations is also used by the ruling party "Law and Justice" as a political tool since, at one time, the leader of the opposition party "Civil Platform", Donald Tusk, was the head of the European Council. The current Government of Poland claims that Tusk allegedly supported the EU’s "discriminatory policy" towards Poland, "betraying" its national interests.
In an attempt to influence the election outcome and change the political system of Poland more favorably, the Russians touched upon the most painful points for the Polish people. Amid the uncertainty and turbulence in the modern world, propagandists want to deepen this state in the information space to disorient voters and demotivate them to vote in elections. Telegram continues to be the central refuge of Russian propaganda in the Eastern European Internet space, as it allows to maintain anonymity and a lesser degree of responsibility for disinformation spread. Even if Polish citizens run pro-Russian Telegram channels, they should understand that playing along with Russian propaganda is dangerous. It is not for the Russians to decide the political fate of Poland in the future, but so should the Polish people as citizens of this country. However, Russia is trying to influence Poland by exploiting the desire for access to alternative or exclusive information. Hence, the Polish people tend to fall on the hook of propagandists.