Freedom of the Press in Inter-War Poland: The System of Control

  • John M. Bates


Freedom of the press, as was once remarked, is not an end in itself but a means to the end of a free society. After 123 years of partition a Polish state did, in many respects, axiomatically entail a free Polish society, yet its rulers were continually inclined to limit press freedoms in an increasingly authoritarian manner whenever they perceived either the security of the state or their own position (which they sometimes saw as synonymous) to be under attack. Press liberty, like civil liberties, whilst in theory greatly to be desired, proved in practise to be so inconvenient to those running the country that they often seemed to treat them as dispensable. The benchmark of a truly democratic society is perhaps the ability to countenance dissent — whether in the form of social protest or press criticism — but it is practised, not inherent. The psychological legacy of living under a partitionist regime left an impact on the society and its rulers whose magnitude was revealed only in the fledgling democracy.


Civil Liberty Administrative Authority Parliamentary Democracy Newspaper Editor Polish Authority 
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  1. 2.
    There is a very extensive literature on the Polish press during the inter-war period. Substantial information on general background is given by Andrzej Paczkowski’s Prasa polska w latach 1918–1939 (Warsaw: PWN, 1980) and Prasa codzienna Warszawy w latach 1918–1939 (Warsaw: PIW, 1983).Google Scholar
  2. The two major Polish monographs on press control, to which the present paper is indebted, are Michał Pietrzak’s Reglamentacja wolno ś ci prasy w Polsce (1918–1939) (Warsaw: Książka i Wiedza, 1963)Google Scholar
  3. and Andrzej Notkowski’s Prasa w systemie propagandy rządowej w Polsce 1926–1939. Studium techniki władzy (Warsaw-Łódź: PWN, 1987).Google Scholar
  4. Pietrzak’s account suffers more from official ideological requirements given the time when it was written, necessitating, for instance, the use of the appelative ‘bourgeois’ before ‘democracy’, and the generally hostile tone towards the Sanacja regime. For all that, it remains the standard work in the field. Given the Communists’ relaxation of ideological requirements by the late 1980s, Notkowski can permit himself a more objective view of the period and conclude ‘in interwar Poland, the political system never became completely totalitarian. As a result, neither opposition parties, nor their press, were made illegal’ (p. 93). An invaluable source of archival documents and articles is Rocznik Historii Czasopiśmiennictwa Polskiego later renamed Kwartalnik Historii Prasy Polskiej (Wroclaw, Cracow, Warsaw: 1962–1994). Treatment of the issue of inter-war Polish press control in English has been at best sporadic. It arises occasionally in historians’ accounts of the period as, for example, in Antony Polonsky’s Politics in Independent Poland 1921–1939 (Oxford: OUP, 1972), pp. 226, 257, 331–2, etc. Andrzej Paczkowski, in his article ‘The Jewish Press in the Political Life of the Second Republic’ raises the issue in relation to the Jewish press and makes comparisons with other sectors of the inter-war press. Polin: Studies in Polish Jewry 8, ‘Jews in Independent Poland 1918–1939’ (London and Washington: The Littmann Library of Jewish Civilization, 1994), pp. 176–93.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    The Polish authorities were not alone in censoring the Polish press. The German authorities of Gdańsk controlled Polish newspapers, published both in Polish and German, before it became a free city. See Andrzej Romanow, Gda ń ska prasa polska 1891–1920 (Warsaw: Instytut Historii PAN, 1994), pp. 197–218.Google Scholar
  6. 18.
    Eugeniusz Rudziński, ‘Kształtowanie prasy kontrolowanej w Polsce w latach 1926–1939’, Dzieje Najnowsze (1969), vol. 1, 1, pp. 104–6.Google Scholar
  7. 24.
    The Sanacja set up the Silesian paper Gazeta Zachodnia at the end of 1926 to challenge Polonia the newspaper belonging to the eminent Chadecja politician Wincenty Korfanty. See Edward Długajczyk, Oblicze polityczne i własnoś ciowe prasy polskiej w wojewó dztwieś ląskim 1922–1939 (Katowice: Muzeum Śląskie, 1990), pp. 119–22.Google Scholar
  8. 34.
    Ryszard Michalski, Obraz rzeszy niemieckiej na lamach polskiej prasy pomorskiej w drugiej rzeczypospolitej 1920–1939 (Torun: Uniwersytet Mikolaja Kopernika, 1995), pp. 37–95.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • John M. Bates

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