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The Rywin affair (Polish: afera Rywina was a corruption scandal in Poland, which began in late 2002 while the post communist government of the SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) was in power. It is named after the prominent Polish film producer Lew Rywin, who was a key figure.
Chain of events
On 22 July 2002, Lew Rywin called in at the office of Adam Michnik, editor of Poland's largest daily newspaper, Gazeta Wyborcza. Rywin offered to arrange, in exchange for a bribe of 17.5 million USD, a change in a draft law aimed at limiting the print media's influence on radio and television, which would have been in Michnik's favour – as the original draft would have prevented the paper's publishing house, Agora S.A. from taking over the private TV station Polsat or the second channel of Poland's public TV broadcaster TVP. Rywin said he was acting on behalf of what he called a "group in power" which wanted to remain anonymous but possibly included then prime minister Leszek Miller of the post-communist SLD.
Michnik secretly recorded the conversation and started investigations to establish the identity of the "group in power". He also arranged a meeting between Miller, Rywin, and himself in Miller's office. When Miller denied any involvement in the deal Rywin had put forward, according to the other persons present, Rywin lost his composure and even spoke of committing suicide. Rywin himself later claimed to have been under the influence of alcohol.
Only after the Gazeta Wyborcza' alleged investigations had remained inconclusive, on 27 December 2002 – half a year after the incident, which cast some doubts on the real role of the newspaper in the affair – the paper printed the partial record of Michnik's conversation with Rywin, thus starting the actual scandal. However other papers had reported parts of the story earlier (e.g. weekly magazine Wprost)
In January 2003, the Polish parliament (Sejm) created a special committee to conduct an investigation into the circumstances of the affair.
A separate penal prosecution resulted in Rywin being sentenced to two years in prison and a 100,000 PLN fine on 26 April for 2004 fraud, as the court concluded that the "group in power" did not exist and Rywin had been acting on his own initiative. On 10 December 2004, the Warsaw court of appeals repealed this sentence, sentencing Rywin to a reduced term of two years for "paid protection" on behalf of a still anonymous group.
In the meantime, the protracted hearings of the Sejm's special committee continued. On April 5, 2004 the Sejm committee officially finished proceedings. With a majority vote supported by the SLD and Samoobrona deputies to the committee, it adopted without prior discussion a final report which came to the same conclusion as the penal court - according to which Rywin had been acting completely on his own.
However, the dissenting minority, including committee chairman Tomasz Nałęcz, refused to back the report and began to compile minority reports. The Sejm then had to decide whether to accept the committee's official final report or one of the various minority reports as the outcome of the investigation. On September 24, 2004, the Sejm unexpectedly voted to accept the minority report that most radically departed from the majority report and named the following persons as the masterminds behind Rywin's mission:
- prime minister Leszek Miller (stepped down in May 2004)
- Aleksandra Jakubowska, deputy minister of culture in Miller's government, who was also in charge of the amendment of the law that would possibly have benefited Agora S.A.
- Włodzimierz Czarzasty, another high-ranking SLD media policy-maker
- Robert Kwiatkowski, head of the Polish national public TV broadcaster TVP, the second channel of which was discussed to be privatized and a possible target for an Agora S.A. takeover
- Lech Nikolski, Miller's Chief of Cabinet, later in charge of the Polish EU membership referendum as minister without portfolio.
Long-term impact on political culture
The long-term impact of the affair on Poland's political culture has yet to be fully assessed. Certainly, it has once more reinforced the Polish population's already deeply rooted traditional suspicion of the state and politicians. Well-known former dissident Adam Michnik's reputation has been damaged as he was suspected to be more deeply entangled in the scandal, although in what way remains unclear. His friendly relations with members of the former communist political establishment were exposed. This increased the numbers of Poles who are convinced that politicians and opinion-leaders are involved with the large-scale shadow economy.
While people were certainly satisfied when high-ranking politicians were supposedly revealed as masterminds, this has also disenchanted even more people away from politics: On the one hand, the supposed delinquents deny all accusations and cannot be held accountable; on the other hand, it was quite obvious that the Sejm's acceptance of the minority report, which claimed the involvement of high-ranking politicians, had itself been due to some clever tactics of the interested opposition factions and a certain inattentiveness of the SLD. This created the impression that the opposition was not really interested in neutrally establishing the truth, either, but rather playing a power game of its own.
The one person who seems to have benefited the most from the affair was Jan Rokita, the representative of the largest opposition party Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska) at the time and a member of the investigative committee, the hearings of which were broadcast live on TV. With his aggressive style of interrogation he made a name for himself as a tough investigator, thus establishing himself as the opposition's most important figure within a few months and at the time came to be considered as the most likely aspirant to the post of prime minister after a probable SLD election defeat in 2005.
Apart from that, the right-wing party Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość), whose defining themes are the fight against crime and corruption, had benefited from the affair, which contributed to raising its public profile. It was the party's deputy Zbigniew Ziobro who had authored the radical minority report the Sejm had passed.
By late 2004, however, the Rywin affair had already being overshadowed by another scandal, which could have even more far-reaching effects: The so-called Orlen affair (afera Orlenu, Orlengate) surrounding the privatization of the largely state-owned oil giant PKN Orlen.
Against the background of these affairs, right-wing politicians, in particular from the Law and Justice party, began calling for an end to the post-1989 Third Republic, which they consider inherently weak, morally corrupt and controlled by cliques. Law and Justice presidential candidate Lech Kaczyński and eventual winner called a "moral revolution", it should be completely replaced with a Fourth Republic, a "strong and moral state".
The fallout from the Rywin affair contributed to the SLD's massive defeat at the 2005 parliamentary election. The SLD has never really recovered, and lost all of its remaining seats in 2015.
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