Trybuna Ludu, Ronald Reagan and the Pope

Janusz Wrobel

Semiotics says that messages have two aspects: the content and the wrapping. They are "unwrapped" by the receiver whose interpretative efforts are generally conditioned by the wrapping. Propagandistic writings afford remarkable examples of the uses made of this (usually complex) symbolic chain which communication necessitates. The present article will illustrate this by analyzing the communist daily Trybuna Ludu, 9-15 June 1987, during John Paul II's third visit to Poland. The country was then ruled by the Soviet-dependent communist regime under General Wojciech Jaruzelski, and the very word "Solidarity" was banned.
DAY ONE, June 9

A large heading on Trybuna Ludu's page one informs: "Wojciech Jaruzelski meets John Paul II in the Royal Castle." Two photographs show both men at the airport and at the Castle. The photographs put the two leaders on an equal footing as it were. This is reinforced by Z. Morawski's comment on page three: "This meeting was conducted in the spirit of the highest mutual respect and reciprocal understanding of the distinct and significant roles of both speakers." The deputy foreign minister, T. Olechowski, commented that "the meeting was "the continuation of a dialogue of two great Polish patriots. [Their speeches]...contained many similar if not identical views on matters of importance to Poles and Poland." We also learn that "On Zwirko-and-Wigura Avenue, [the popemobile] passed by the cemetery-mausoleum containing the remains of 23,000 Red Army soldiers who perished in the vicinity of Warsaw."

Back to page one. A side column is titled "Human rights in El Salvador: women are beaten inside the church." The article says that a Catholic church was invaded by the police who "beat up 30 women inside....El Salvador is ruled by the Christian Democratic Party of President Jose Napoleon Duarte supported by Washington and personally by President Reagan. The army, which for years had fought the leftist partisans, is also influential." A picture shows demonstrators carrying a gigantic head of Ronald Reagan in the Uncle Sam-type hat. The caption says that this anti-American demonstration took place in Venice in connection with the Big Seven Summit.
DAY TWO, June 10

The front page features two articles. The title in the left column says that "John Paul II paid his respects to the victims of Hitler's genocide at Majdanek. Meetings and celebrations in Lublin." The right column is a report from the U.S. by one Z. Broniarek. It is entitled "The Americans plan to arrest and deport certain ethnic groups. My son still has nightmares." Broniarek writes about a black prisoner who "did not commit any crime except for a minor traffic violation....He was sentenced to death." He then corroborates his allegation that the U.S. government plans forcibly to deport entire ethnic groups from the United States.

Trybuna Ludu endeavored to create an impression that representatives of the western media unsuccessfully tried to provoke social disturbances during the papal visit, while Polish society showed support for socialism and for the Jaruzelski regime.
DAY THREE, June 11

The central column on the front page reports that "John Paul II visits Tarnow and Krakow." The right column shows a photo of a street demonstration and a car on fire. The caption says: "In Rome, a demonstration took place to protest the visit of U.S. President Ronald Reagan."
DAY FOUR, June 12

The central column on the front page reports that "John Paul II travels to Szczecin and Gdynia." The right column features "Infraction on basic human rights in West Germany. The Bonn government ignores the International Labor Organization's decision." The report on the Pope's visit to Pomerania stresses the fact that the Prussian policy of germanization forced Polish clergy and the Polish language out of the region, but "Shortly after the liberation of Szczecin by the Red Army...the first [permits to operate] were presented to the Polish apostolic administrators."

On page two there is a report about the June 11, 1987 press conference during which the government spokesman, Jerzy Urban, said the following:

On 10 June 1987, the Polish Press Agency reported an incident that took place near the hotel Cracovia after the papal mass. Western reports exaggerated its scale and falsely alleged that police used batons and tear gas. In fact, coercive measures were not used. The demonstrators threw smoke candles which created an impression that the police used tear gas....Roman Mazio was detained because he verbally harassed and hit with a stone a police officer on duty....he was drunk. He had been to jail before for sexual assault of a boy, and was amnestied in 1984....A total of 22 persons was detained during that incident. They broke up public order in various ways, by uttering slogans that threatened public order, and by distribution of leaflets....Disruptions of John Paul II's travel hurt the constructive process of the coexistence of state and church. They showed that this process is being used by third parties attempting to weaken the stabilization of the Polish state....The provocations hurt political reforms and the process of national reconciliation.... the political provocateurs may cause difficulites in Church activities within socialist countries because they show that mass religious celebrations can be used to demonstrate hostility toward socialism."1

An Associated Press reporter asked: "Mr. Minister, how do you evaluate the Pope's words referring to agreements with the peasants, and also the statements he made at the Catholic University of Lublin?" Urban: "The Pope is a guest of the Polish authorities, and evaluating the words of a guest is not appropriate."2
DAYS FIVE AND SIX (weekend), June 13-14

The central column is titled "John Paul II in Tri-city3 and in Czestochowa." The right column features three items. Number one is a picture of policemen beating civilians. Caption: "West Berlin. In connection with Ronald Reagan's visit, a number of anti-Reagan demonstrations took place. The police intervened brutally." Number two is an article titled "The U.S. government does not want an increase in the minimal wage preferring low inflation to an increase in unemployment." Number three is titled "Financial sanctions against the French strikers."

The report on the Pope's stay in Gdansk, the city where Solidarity was born, refers to the Pope's visit to the Westerplatte Museum and Polish experiences in World War II. John Paul's visit to the Gdansk shipyards is summed up as a visit to the "Shipyard Workers' Monument." The Mass in the Zaspa district, during which the Pope mentioned Solidarity, is dismissed with a reference to St. Adalbert [Wojciech], a tenth-century saint who also visited that place. A note titled "An attempt at an illegal demonstration" says: "After the Mass in Zaspa, a couple of thousand people tried to organize a demonstration. Other participants in the celebration did not join them. The group's dispersal was due to encouragement and persuasion by priests, and to the firm attitude of the police."
DAY SEVEN, June 15

"The Pope concluded his visit to Poland" and "General Jaruzelski met with John Paul II again" (page one, left column). The right column features an article on "Ronald Reagan's dangerous provocation in West Berlin" quoting Pravda as saying: "Speaking near the Brandenburg Gate, the U.S. President hypocritically called for tearing down the Berlin Wall and opening the Gate. In other words, he called for the liquidation of the anti-fascist defense wall and for invading the DDR." The second article in this column refers to Westerplatte, a place of Polish resistance in World War II, and to the Brandenburg Gate. It continues on page six saying "On the very same day when the Polish Pope stood on Westerplatte and delivered the words of sublime patriotic appeal directed to Polish youth, the President of the United States came to West Berlin for a couple of hours and...speaking under the Brandenburg Gate, called this ominous structure 'an embodiment of German unity'.... The White House boss performed a role in which he should feel uncomfortable: the role of a humanist, a defender of human rights. He forgot about the nightmare of unemployment which oppresses western youth. He also did not remember that a few days earlier an American rocket... hit an Afghan commuter airplane, and fifty civilians died including children...."

On the last day of his visit, John Paul II celebrated Mass at Warsaw's largest square, Plac Defilad. The Mass was followed by a Eucharistic procession. Trybuna Ludu comments: "The attention of the believers participating in this religious gathering was drawn to the friendliness, generosity and culture of the police [that guarded the gathering]. This added to the sublime atmosphere of the celebration." Finally, John Paul II is shown chatting with General Jaruzelski and shaking his hand moments before he entered the airplane.

The papal visit was used by Trybuna Ludu to improve the image of the Jaruzelski regime in Poland. John Paul II and the General were depicted as partners in their prominence, patriotism, love of peace, understanding of the principles of the Polish state, and resistance to the German policy of revenge supported by Ronald Reagan. The goal of the papal visit was made out to be a commemoration of the Polish victims of Nazi oppression and the expression of support for the division of Europe.

Trybuna Ludu endeavored to create an impression that representatives of the western media unsuccessfully tried to provoke social disturbances during the visit, while Polish society showed support for socialism and for the Jaruzelski regime. The atmosphere of the visit reflected the harmony between the Church and the socialist state. "Socialist pluralism" is in full compliance with human rights, and especially religious rights. This is in clear contrast with the so-called western democracies where human rights are systematically abused. In the forefront of this abuse is the United States president who supports human rights abuse in other countries.

On DAY ONE, the communicative wrapping suggested: People's Poland is a country that fully respects human and religious rights of its citizens. General Jaruzelski is a respectable leader on equal footing with the Holy Father. On the other hand, Ronald Reagan is hated by western Europeans, and he supports the ruthless anti-Catholic regime in El Salvador. General Jaruzelski is a human rights supporter, whereas Ronald Reagan is a human rights abuser. To reinforce that impression, on DAY SEVEN, General Jaruzelski, a man of peace, is again contrasted with Ronald Reagan, the killer of children. The technique used here is to endow persons and political systems with characteristics they lack most.

When a sender sends a message that is unpopular, unwanted or unexpected, he/she usually tries to obscure its meaning. Trybuna Ludu exaggerated certain aspects of the Pope's visit, and concealed others, thus creating bases for false impression of readers.

Janusz Wrobel is Professor and Chair of the Department of Polish at Saint Mary's College in Orchard Lake, Michigan.

1 During the Pope's meeting with the Cracovians which took place on the Blonia field, banners with the forbidden word "Solidarity" were displayed. The participants also shouted anti-communist slogans.
2 The Pope made a reference to the August 1980 agreement with Solidarity which the communist government broke in the following year.
3 A common Polish abbreviation for Gdansk, Sopot and Gdynia, the three cities on the Baltic coast in close proximity to each other.

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