In today’s Britain, WAGs in court tends to mean an unedifying spectacle, Vardy v Rooney exposing self-obsession, a vulture-like tabloid press and the perverting effects of social media. In Poland, meanwhile, an ex-WAG popstar has brought and won a case at the European Court of Human Rights, one that has been a victory for freedom of speech and is revealing of both the state of Polish-EU relations and the feverish atmosphere of Poland’s culture wars.
It’s a story that goes back 13 years. In 2009 Dorota Rabczewska, aka Doda, was at the height of her fame. Polish pop’s ultimate blonde bombshell, she had left successful pop-punk band Virgin and seen her debut solo album,
Diamond Bitch (2007), go platinum. Recently divorced from Radosław Majdan, the goalkeeper for the Polish national team, she was in a high-profile relationship with Adam “Nergal” Darski of blackened death metal band Behemoth, and was the darling of the gossip mags.
Darski was at that time the focus of a blasphemy prosecution for ripping up
a Bible on stage, and this prompted a journalist to put a question about religion to Doda. She declared she was not convinced by the Bible as it had
been written by “someone wasted from drinking wine and smoking weed”. When the tabloid Super Express got hold of the interview, the story was published with the headline: “Doda: I don’t believe in the Bible”.
Under Article 196 of the Criminal Code, offending religious feelings is an
offence, and after two individuals made complaints Doda was charged and convicted, receiving a fine of 5,000 Polish złotys (now worth around £1,000) – 50 times the minimum fine provided for by law. All domestic appeals were unsuccessful, but last month the ECHR found that the conviction constituted a violation of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of expression. The Polish state has been ordered to pay €10,000 (£8,800) in damages to the singer.
Doda is an unlikely fighter for freedom of speech, and although she has certainly seen the inside of a court before, it has been for reasons more familiar to celebrity culture. The same year she made her Bible comments,
she sued the rapper Mieszko Sibilski for making jibes about her in his song Liście otwartym do Radosława Majdana (Open Letter to Radosław Majdan). He was ordered to issue an apology.
Just a few months before they published the article that landed Doda in such hot water, Super Express was ordered to apologise and run a clarification after it published a photograph of the star at a red-carpet event that she alleged had been digitally altered to make it look as if she wasn’t wearing any knickers.
This is all Vardy-level stuff, but last month’s ECHR ruling makes Doda a player in the antagonistic relations between Poland and the EU, and the
battle for Europe’s soul as governments lurch ever rightwards.
The rhetoric coming from Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) has
become stronger in recent months over the issue of the EU withholding
pandemic relief funds – the EU has said government reforms to the Polish
judiciary threaten judicial independence and contravene EU law. PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński insisted in the summer: “We will have no choice but to pull out all the cannons in our arsenal, and open fire.” Recently a group of organisations representing European judges have challenged the milestones agreed to release the funds. Fears of “Polexit” remain.
The judicial reforms are just one area in which Poland’s values are increasingly deviating from those of the EU, and Doda’s case saw human rights organisation Article 19 ranged against the Catholic ultra-conservative legal organisation Ordo Iuris, which has been pushing an anti-LGBT, anti-abortion and anti-divorce agenda in Poland since 2016, when the abortion bill it was involved in drafting threatened a total ban, sparking countrywide protests.
Having made a comeback with the powerful EDM single Melodia Ta, and
starring in Polsat’s reality TV series 12 kroków do miłości (12 Steps to Love) –
going on a series of dates with average Joes while also having tell-all
consultations with a psychotherapist – Doda hasn’t lost her taste for the
limelight. Neither have the authorities lost their enthusiasm for such
blasphemy cases, with three still ongoing against Darski. In a changing
Poland, musicians remain centre stage.
DODA in five songs
Nie daj się (2007)
Doda’s signature hit, Don’t Give Up, was anthemic, guitar-flecked pop with a video that sealed her reputation for pneumatic vampishness.
Bad Girls (2010)
The lead single from the follow-up LP to Diamond Bitch, 7 pokus głównych
(7 Deadly Sins, 2011) took a Lady Gaga-esque direction, with high-oncept visuals and an electro-rock sound.
Nie wolno płakać (2018)
Doda’s third album, Dorota (2019), saw another change in direction, mostly consisting of heartfelt covers. You Mustn’t Cry was one of the album’s two original songs, a rock ballad that showed a softer side to the singer.
Fake Love (2021)
Premiered live on Polsat’s New Year’s Eve show, this sophisticated dance track was Doda’s biggest hit for years. Sung in English, it followed June’s
Don’t Wanna Hide and both singles will appear on her fourth album.
Melodia Ta (2022)
Released in both Polish and English versions, My Melody is more serious
dance euphoria as the singer moves into the latest stage in her career.