Poland’s most popular charity faces an uncertain future after its founder and president, Jurek Owsiak, resigned on Monday.
Set up in 1993, Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy’s main objective has been to “Protect health and save children’s lives by providing medical equipment to public hospitals”.
During the first finale the foundation collected a total of 1,535,440 US dollars. This year the total number of donations to the charity surpassed 1 billion złoty.
Since then the organisation has also provided medical equipment to aid elderly patients and moved from strength to strength in its size and scope. The love heart synonymous with the organisation is plastered across countless medical machines in Poland’s underfunded hospitals, and the charity’s positive reputation has seen major companies queuing up to donate cash to the cause.
However, it is well known that not everybody is a fan of the organisation. Some circles of the Polish Catholic Church are believed to lament the popularity of the Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy compared to its own Caritas charity. In the run up to some previous editions of WOSP, a few priests have even encouraged people not to donate to the charity.
Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy’s quirky organiser Jerzy Owsiak is often the target of fierce criticism too. The journalist and social campaigner’s outlandish glasses and earrings do not represent what a staunch conservative would call “normal”. The fact that Owsiek has a history of drug taking and organises the popular Poland Rock Festival, a fun loving drug fuelled mudbath complete with live punk music, doesn’t endear himself to Poland’s right wing media either.
Two years ago the charity even had to change their television partner due to the dislike of Owsiak inside Poland’s conservative and catholic Government. For this first time in its history, the finale of the charity was shown on TVN instead of public stations TVP1 and TVP2. Despite this obstacle, in 2017 WOSP managed to raise more money than ever before.
Despite repeatedly being accused of stealing or wasting donations, Owsiak and WOŚP have been proven innocent by the courts time and time again. The charity are still going strong and continuing to provide extra medical equipment for children and the elderly.
The criticism nonetheless continues to be directed at both Owsiak and WOŚP. In 2018 the charity organiser was accused of having a friend in the Russian secret service. This year’s smear campaign featured an animation depicting Owsiak’s charity as a means of funding PO. The video, which has been labelled as anti-semitic due to the star of David being visible on the banknotes, shows the former mayor of Warsaw using a puppet of Owsiak to hoard money.
Although it is clear that Jurek Owsiak is no fan of the current government, the suggestion that his charity is funding the PO party is grossly untrue. For starters, WOŚP was founded over a decade before Platforma Obywatelska.
The constant attacks on WOŚP has seen the charity become an-anti government symbol, even though such an association is not welcome. PiS supporters do of course make donations to WOŚP, and every year President Duda auctions something to help generate funds for the charity.
However those who don’t support PiS appear to have been motivated more than ever before to donate to WOŚP. The phenomenon seemed to start when state tv said they would no longer broadcast WOŚP in 2016.
Before PiS took power, donations to WOŚP were increasing by a modest amount year-on-year. Since then, the amount of money accrued by the charity has shot up considerably. In 2019 one can expect another notable increase in the amount of WOŚP donations.
The success of this year’s record haul has nonetheless been overshadowed by the death of Gdańsk President Paweł Adamowicz, who was murdered on the stage in front of a live audience at the city’s WOŚP charity concert.
The tragic events that unfolded on Sunday night, coupled with the torrent of hate that has been directed towards Owsiak, led to his resignation as WOŚP President on Monday. Owsiak has promised to continue to work for the WOŚP, but the charity will now need to find a new leader and a new face (or faces) to front its future campaigns.
This hatred towards me, towards the foundation, has been heating up for 25 years. For 25 years I have been fighting with the people who threaten me. Unfortunately, the Polish justice system and the police cannot cope with this.
Since Owsiak made the announcement hundreds of thousands of Poles have asked him to reconsider his decision on social media via the hashtag #muremzaowsiakiem.
Jurek Owsiak is by no means the only one who has been affected by the barrage of hate. Courageous 15-year-old Łukasz Berezak, a wheelchair-bound volunteer with Crohn’s disease, has decided to call it a day due to not being able to take any more of the “constant hate” aimed against him.
Łukasz famously told reporters 5 years ago that he was motivated to help others because “there is no help for me”. He has even gone through the pain barrier on several occasions to go out and help collect money for WOŚP’s cause.
Whoever takes over the helm of WOŚP will likely encounter a number of great obstacles in trying to maintain the charity’s popular format.
Following Sunday’s tragic murder, police and security costs at WOŚP events are likely to skyrocket. Given the Polish Government’s frosty stance towards WOŚP, one would expect the charity to have to foot the bill themselves. Those high costs could makes the concerts unviable, forcing to WOŚP to abandon them. The new face (or faces) of the charity would also have to face similar levels of hate and scrutiny that Owsiak had to deal with.
Although there is no sign of WOŚP collapsing, this year’s finale could possibly be the last one in the popular format we have become familiar with.