One of Poland’s largest charities has been accused of illegally the opposition’s election campaign by a candidate from the ruling party, who has reported the case to the electoral commission. The charity denies the allegations.
The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (WOŚP) – which organises Poland’s biggest annual charity fundraiser, with the proceeds going towards buying medical equipment for hospitals – has recently put up billboards and posters around Poland.
Alongside WOŚP’s logo, they say in large letters: “Poles! Let’s defeat this evil!!! We will win.” Beneath that, in much smaller text, are the words “against sepsis” and “nationwide program to combat sepsis”.
Politicians from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party have claimed that the campaign – which comes just ahead of the 15 October elections – is intended to suggest that Poles should vote out the government. WOŚP’s founder and frontman Jerzy Owsiak has regularly clashed with the PiS.
Bliska mi osoba przeżyła dzięki sprzętowi od @fundacjawosp. Każdego roku wrzucałem coś do puszki żeby spłacić ten dług. W tym roku Jerzy Owsiak za pieniądze fundacji utrzymującej się z darów na ratowanie życia i zdrowia wykupił billboardy, które mają pomóc w kampanii Tuska. pic.twitter.com/3tpM73R5gM
— Janusz Cieszyński (@jciesz) October 2, 2023
“The stylisation of letters is an obvious reference to the slogans of the opposition,” said a PiS election candidate, Agnieszka Wojciechowska van Heukelom, quoted by news website Niezależna. However, in the past WOŚP has used exactly the same stylisation.
“The little word ‘sepsis’, which should theoretically be the essence, is lost in this message,” added Wojciechowska van Heukelom, who also noted that Owsiak spoke on Sunday at an opposition rally in Warsaw alongside opposition leader Donald Tusk.
“I am outraged that children and other volunteers, in good faith, are collecting money in tins which in some part may have been used for such a covert election campaign,” said the PiS candidate. “In my opinion, this is illegal.”
She announced that she had reported the advertising campaign to the National Electoral Commission (PKW) to assess whether it consistues hidden campaign financing.
Foundations linked to state-owned firms make up 20% of entities that have registered to campaign for the referendum called by the government on election day.
The opposition warns that this will be a way for the ruling party to boost its campaign spending https://t.co/psUsTrx3Eq
— Notes from Poland 🇵🇱 (@notesfrompoland) September 8, 2023
Owsiak, however, has rejected suggestions that the billboards are related to the elections. He says that contracts relating to the advertising campaign were signed in March and May, when the election date had not even been set (though it was known it would be sometime in the autumn).
“We are fighting sepsis,” Owsiak told new website Onet . “We are very vocal about it: we will win with sepsis.”
Meanwhile, WOŚP itself also issued a statement saying that the billboards are related purely to the sepsis campaign and that they comply with the law on public collections.
WOŚP, which has been held annually since 1993, has often faced criticism from conservatives, who dislike Owsiak’s secular, liberal values and have often accused him and his family of benefiting financially from the fundraiser.
Since coming to power in 2015, PiS has made efforts to undermine the event. In 2017, public broadcaster TVP – which is under government influence – stopped broadcasting WOŚP, which instead moved to private station TVN.
Since then, TVP has often criticised WOŚP in its news coverage, including in 2021, when it accused Owsiak of hypocrisy for collecting money for sick children while also calling for a more liberal abortion law that would allow the “killing of sick children in their mother’s womb”.
Poland’s biggest charity fundraiser again breaks record despite pandemic and conservative criticism
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Agata Pyka is an assistant editor at Notes from Poland. She is a journalist and a political communication student at the University of Amsterdam. She specialises in Polish and European politics as well as investigative journalism and has previously written for Euractiv and The European Correspondent.