A No. 1 Hit Vanished From Poland’s Charts. It’s Not Going Quietly.

WARSAW — Last Friday, Kazik Staszewski, a rock legend in Poland, achieved a stunningly short-lived success in the country’s oldest music chart.

His song “Your Pain Is Better Than Mine” was named No. 1 on the beloved “Radio Three Chart” show — but only for a few moments. Within minutes of the show ending, the results disappeared from the website of the show’s state-run broadcaster. Mr. Staszewski’s anthem had vanished, along with the rest of the chart.

Since Mr. Staszewski’s song chastised one of Poland’s most powerful politicians, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, its disappearance was immediately interpreted by critics as censorship. Over the following week, the furor set off a string of resignations, including from some of Radio Three’s most prominent hosts, and saw high-profile artists calling to withdraw their music from the broadcaster.

The Radio Three station has long been a favorite of Poland’s intelligentsia. Commonly called Trojka, it is known for promoting noncommercial musical genres, such as alternative rock and jazz, though it also features speech-based programming, including spirited intellectual debates. Under communism, it was the only institution that was allowed to broadcast music from beyond the Iron Curtain.

Since 2016, Mr. Kaczynski’s party, Law and Justice, has exerted ever-greater control over Poland’s state-funded television and radio outlets, effectively turning them into mouthpieces of the government and promoting a conservative agenda, often steeped in xenophobia, homophobia and nationalism.

Trojka’s musical focus had, to some extent, spared it the fate of other public broadcasters, which have seen loyalists of the Law and Justice Party brought in to replace some journalists and hosts.

But since the station erased Mr. Staszewski’s song from the charts, some artists and politicians have been calling for a boycott. Tomasz Kowalczewski, the station’s director, initially tried to blame the incident on the chart show’s longtime host, Marek Niedzwiecki, who Mr. Kowalczewski said had manipulated the vote. Because the poll had been “falsified,” Mr. Kowalczewski said in a statement, it had to be annulled.

Mr. Niedzwiecki, who has hosted the show since it first went on air in 1982, denied the charges in a statement, and resigned on Sunday, outraged by the accusation of fraud. He later demanded an apology from the station and threatened a lawsuit.

Station employees told local news outlets that Mr. Kowalczewski had intervened after “Your Pain Is Better Than Mine” topped the chart, calling the head of the music department, Piotr Metz, to take the chart down from the website. On a TV talk show on Tuesday, Mr. Metz showed a text message from Mr. Kowalczewski demanding the radio station stop playing Mr. Staszewski’s song, sent just hours after the chart show ended.

“Your Pain Is Better Than Mine,” which on Friday had more than nine million views on YouTube, is a not-so-veiled censure of a privilege extended to a top politician during the coronavirus lockdown. Mr. Kaczynski, whom the song does not mention by name, was allowed a visit to a Warsaw cemetery in April while it was closed to the public. The visit took place on the anniversary of the Smolensk crash, in which Mr. Kaczynski’s twin brother, Lech, Poland’s president at the time, died. The opening of the cemetery especially for Mr. Kaczynski was sharply criticized on social media.

“You alone can soothe your pain, everyone else is in trouble. Two limousines, or one, the entire cemetery just for you,” Mr. Staszewski sings to the mockingly cheerful sounds of an accordion.

Mr. Staszewski, who has been recording since 1979, declined through a spokesman to comment for this article. But in an interview with the Polish radio station RMF FM on Friday, he said that the song was about “inequality before the law.”

Through the week, nine anchors followed Mr. Niedzwiecki’s lead and resigned, joining about a dozen other prominent hosts who have parted ways with Trojka in recent months.

Mr. Metz, the music department director, who started working at Trojka as an anchor in 1982 and continued broadcasting after he became a manager, was among those who stepped down. He said in an interview that even the Communist regime had more respect for the freedom of speech at Trojka than the current government has.

“Until now, the music department has been mostly free from political pressures,” he said. “The news and opinion desks were not so lucky, though. In those last years, Trojka has been promoting one ideology, one political camp and a very simplistic narrative that went against what this radio station used to stand for.”

The scandal over Mr. Staszewski’s song has also been the last straw for many Polish artists, who called on the station to stop playing their music.

Tomasz Organek, the frontman of Organek, an alternative rock band, said in an interview that Trojka had been like “home to him and other independent artists” and that “the decision to part ways is a painful one.”

“But this last politically motivated manipulation is unacceptable,” he said. “We’ve been seeing signs of that for years with Trojka, and it’s a real shame because it was once a bulwark of independent thought and sound thinking.”

The artists calling on Trojka to stop playing their music, who include some of Poland’s most popular singers and bands, have been joined by Mystic Production, one of the country’s biggest independent record labels. Mystic Production holds the Polish rights to music by many foreign artists, including Nick Cave, Deep Purple and Skunk Anansie.

Since those requests are not legally binding, it will be up to Trojka to decide whether they will respect them. Mr. Kowalczewski, the station director, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Even some senior government figures have condemned the station’s actions. Piotr Glinski, Poland’s deputy prime minister and minister of culture, called the move to take down Mr. Staszewski’s song “a provocation.”

“At times, some artists say nonsense. Even outrageous nonsense,” he wrote on Twitter. “But it’s even more outrageous to remove a song for ‘being wrongheaded.’”

A handful of Trojka’s longest-serving anchors have decided to stay for now. And some of them staged a protest on social media this week, sharing a manifesto in which they denounced “censorship” and “outrageous treatment of journalists” at the station.

“There’s almost nothing of the old Trojka left,” Mr. Metz said. “I imagine I will turn it on some time from now, and, for the first time ever not recognize it right away.”

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