From Poland With Love – April

From Poland with love

Topic of the Month

Poland and War in Ukraine

This is a monthly digest of the most important facts and events – from the Polish perspective – on the Russia’s invasion on Ukraine:

  • Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki launched a Europe-wide billboard campaign to support Ukraine and discourage the West from economic cooperation with Russia. The billboards will show images from Western European cities compared with pictures from ruined Ukrainian towns. The campaign will be implemented mostly in Western Europe – Germany, France, Italy and Austria were named - and will target leaders who do not take enough action, in the opinion of the Polish government, against the regime in Moscow. Morawiecki said: “Vladimir Putin has prepared a special operation including war crimes and genocide. What is happening in the Ukrainian streets shocked us, but only for a short time“. According to the Polish PM, his #StopRussiaNow campaign will be “a scream of those who have been brutally murdered in cities, towns and villages [of Ukraine].”
  • More than 5 million people have fled Ukraine to neighboring countries; almost 3 million of them have now entered Poland. "Refugees in Poland continue to arrive traumatized, and in need of vital support, including shelter and trauma counseling. We have seen strong leadership from civil society organizations, private sector and government institutions in Poland who have mobilised quickly to support refugees from Ukraine”, stated the International Rescue Committee.
  • So far, one million of Ukrainian citizens got PESEL, Polish social security number, that, among others, give them access to health and education systems and social benefits.
  • "Poland is doing all it can to ensure that those of us who have left [Ukraine] feel not like refugees, but like people forced to leave their land by this ongoing tragedy”, said Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy during a press conference. He added that he wanted “to thank Poland and the Polish nation for an unprecedented support for Ukraine and the Ukrainians".
  • Polish defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak met in Pentagon with the US defense secretary Lloyd Austin. Błaszczak stated that he was "grateful for the US engagement and commitment in solidifying allied posture against this war". He also added that "strengthening of NATO's eastern flank, including deployment of additional troops to Poland and support for NATO's response forces, is a proof of the US reliability and steadfast assurance of the American dedication to the safety of NATO's European partners”. "I'm reminded once again of the old Polish saying 'For our freedom and for yours,' Mr. Minister, Poland has once again demonstrated that spirit in the past two months since the invasion, you have helped the Ukrainian people fight for their country and escape from the horrors of war”, Lloyd Austin said.
  • Polish government signed an agreement under which it will receive British air-defense missiles and launchers in September, five years earlier than previously planned. According to the new deal, Poland will get two units each consisting of three launchers with Common Anti-Air Modular Missiles developed by the missile manufacturer MBDA. The package will include Polish-made weapon-control devices and transport and loading vehicles. Additionally, the agreement provides for training, logistical security and support in the operation of military equipment.
  • British prime minister Boris Johnson said "We're looking at sending tanks to Poland to try to help them as they send in some of their T-72 to to Ukraine”.
  • Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau, at a meeting with his counterparts from the Baltic states, said that "the international community should urgently respond to Kyiv’s appeals to accelerate the delivery of heavy equipment necessary to push the Russians away. The coming weeks might be crucial in Ukraine's fight against Russia and we must support their heroic battle for freedom". The ministers called for increased NATO presence in the region. "What we want to achieve is clearly the bolstering of number of troops to the Baltic States and Poland, we’re talking about the brigade size units in our countries", stressed Latvian Foreign Ministers Edgars Rinkevics.
  • Polish parliament approved a string of measures and new sanctions in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The legislation includes a ban on the import of coal from Russia and the freezing of Russian-linked assets. The interior minister announces that Poland is imposing sanctions on 50 Russian oligarchs and companies. In addition to these sanctions, the legislators have also prohibited the use and propagation of symbols supporting the invasion of its neighbor, for example the “Z”.
  • The presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia met in the Polish city of Rzeszów to board together a train to Ukraine. They visited the town of Borodyanka, near Kyiv, and met with president Volodymyr Zelenskyy. "The Baltic states are our key partners in security matters in the region... we decided to go to Kyiv together. Our goal is to show support to President Zelenskyy and the defenders of Ukraine in a decisive moment for this country", said Jakub Kumoch, the chief foreign policy advisor of the Polish president. Also German president wanted to join this group, but Ukrainian authorities informed that he is not welcome due to his years-long support for Russia and its interests in Europe.
  • Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called on the European Union to provide funds to help Poland deal with the recent influx of refugees from Ukraine. He pointed to the fact that the EU provided EUR 6 billion of support to Turkey during the wave of Syrian refugees in 2015-16. “For the time being, we are financing this within our capabilities”, Morawiecki said. “But to ensure that justice is done and that the European system is in force, also in our case, we are conducting an increasingly intensive dialogue with the European Commission in this regard”, he added.
  • An 80-km-long line (up to 33 hrs waiting time) of trucks formed on the Poland-Belarus border as Russian and Belarusian drivers tried to leave the EU following a sanctions deadline. The EU has banned trucks from these two countries - except those carrying medicine, mail or petroleum products - from entering or staying inside the block.
  • Soviet monuments around Poland have been vandalized. For example, a Red Army memorial has been demolished in Koszalin by unidentified perpetrators. Additionally, the Institute of National Remembrance of Poland announces the dismantling of three Soviet monuments in populated areas. "This is injustice towards the victims, violence against history and historical truth, over decency – to put on a pedestal those who enslaved free, independent states, those who caused pain and suffering to women and children. Those who today are becoming a model for the genocides of the 21st century", head of the Institute Karol Nawrocki said. In revenge, Russian authorities brought heavy equipment to the Polish military cemetery in Katyń and announced that they might destroy it. In 1940, Soviet services murdered over 22.000 military officers and intelligentsia prisoners of war in Katyń.


More Blasphemy

The Solidarity Poland party, a hard-right junior coalition partner in Polish government, proposed a three-year prison sentence for anyone who insults the church or religious sentiments. The would strengthen current conservative blasphemy laws, increasing their scope to anyone who “publicly insults the church or interrupts mass”. Currently, the article 196 of the Polish Penal Code prohibits “offenses toward religious feelings or sentiment” and the draft law proposes the following: “Whoever publicly mocks or scorns the church or other religious association would face up to two years in prison, or up to three years if they carried out the crime through the use of the media.”

Deputy justice minister Marcin Warchoł stated that the “current law is full of holes and encourages hatred towards those who express religious views”, adding that “In Poland, there are shocking examples of aggression and profanation of religious symbols”. Warchoł also pointed at LGBTQI community stressing that it expands its freedom “at the expense of Christians”.

The same party proposed to suspend the Poland's EU budget contribution, either in full or partially. Zbigniew Ziobro, leader of the party and justice minister, said that Poland carries huge financial costs of the Russian invasion in Ukraine. "These costs are estimated at billions of zlotys", Ziobro said. "In the name of values that unite the European Economic Community countries (...) based on the treaties we have the right to request that declaration of solidarity exist not only in words (...), but also be manifested in actual, tangible financial support, because that's what's necessary at the moment. Not for us as Poland, but for the refugees", Ziobro added. Justice minister concluded that Polish government should ask the European Commission to allow Poland to suspend its EU budget contribution "for the duration of this crisis, spectacular, unprecedented, historic situation of the influx of nearly three million refugees to Poland".

The Sharpest Decline in Democracy

Poland has recorded the sharpest decline in democracy over five years across 29 countries in Central and Eastern Europe and Central Asia monitored by Freedom House. According to the newest report published by this American think tank “two countries, Poland and Hungary, stand out for their unparalleled democratic deterioration over the past decade”, but in case of Poland this “decline over the past five years has been steeper than that of Hungary”.

According to the Freedom House, the key developments of last year were as follows:

  • In January, a near-total ban on abortion in Poland took effect, as a result of an October 2020 ruling of the Constitutional Tribunal declaring that terminations in cases of congenital disorder of the fetus were unconstitutional. Such cases previously represented around 98% of legal procedures in the country.
  • In July, the European Court of Justice ordered the immediate suspension of Poland’s Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, citing concerns about the potential for political interference by both the legislature and executive in its functioning. In October, the ECJ imposed a daily fine of one million euros until Poland fully complies with the suspension.
  • In October, the Constitutional Court ruled that parts of European Union law are incompatible with Poland’s constitution, and that national law must take precedence. The European Commission responded in December, launching an infringement procedure against Poland for alleged violation of EU law.
  • In August, a political and humanitarian crisis began along the Poland-Belarus border, after Belarusian authorities had coaxed migrants to the Belarusian border and stranded them there, and many then attempted to enter Poland. In response, the Polish government declared a state of emergency in two border provinces in September, and in October, authorized border guards to forcibly expel migrants, in violation of international law.


Life without Russian Gas

Polish authorities announced that Russian company Gazprom suspended natural gas deliveries to Poland beginning after Warsaw refused a demand to pay for its supplies in Russian rubles. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the move an “attack on Poland” and an example of “gas imperialism. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said the announcement by Gazprom “is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail”.

PGNiG, Polish state gas company, announced that it was notified by Gazprom that deliveries through the Yamal-Europe pipeline would stop. Poland uses about 20 billion cubic meters of gas a year, 9,9 billion cubic meters of which come through the Yamal pipeline from Russia; less than 8% of gas is used to generate electricity, with nearly 80% powered by coal. “The existing entrances to the system make it possible to balance the gas system without supplies from the eastern direction”, announced Gaz-System, Poland's gas transmission system operator.

“This is a turning point that has been accelerated by Russia today”, said Piotr Naimski MP, Poland’s top official for strategic energy infrastructure. Polish climate minister Anna Moskwa explained that Poland was prepared for this situation after working for years to reduce its reliance on energy sources from Russia. Poland’s long term gas contract with Russia from 1996 expires at the end of this year and the Warsaw had repeatedly said it didn’t plan to extend it. Gas reserves in Poland are 76% full, and the government plans to keep filling storage up to 90%.

According to experts Poland is capable of importing all its needs through LNG terminals (one exists in Świnoujście) and from its neighbors. Baltic Pipeline will connect Norway with Poland and should be operational by October, ensuring a sizable quantity of gas imports. What is more, soon Poland could get gas via an almost completed pipeline from Lithuania. If necessary, an additional EU emergency decree would see Germany and Czech Republic pump (Russian) gas (back) into Poland.

PGNiG announced two days after the cut that it was gradually restoring the flow of gas to municipalities that lost it, including the sea resort Łeba. This was connected to the fact that the Russian gas infrastructure company Novatek, that operates in Poland, was put earlier this week on the list of sanctions against 50 Russian and Belarusian businesses. PGNiG took control over Novatek’s infrastructure.

Anna Moskwa said: "Today what is missing is full sanctions on gas that would solve the problem with Gazprom, the problem with following sanctions 100%. We expect these sanctions". She added that the European Commission should penalize countries that use rubles to pay for Russian gas.

Crisis in the Air

The conflict between air traffic control staff and Polish government almost paralyzed sky over Poland.

The conflict has been ongoing for months already. The protest at Warsaw's Chopin Airport was in reaction to the new remuneration system. Of 208 flight controllers working there, 170 did not agree to a lower pay. They were demanding higher salaries and better working conditions. They protest threatened to disrupt more than 600 flights a day. According to Eurocontrol, capacity for services to Warsaw could be cut to 170 a day if the situation had not not improved, leaving around 340 flights a day at risk of cancellation, while 300 of 700 daily overflights via Polish skies would have needed to be rerouted.

In late April, the government announced that it was possible that from May 1 – during the long May weekend used massively by Poles to travel - both Warsaw airports will work only 7 hour a day, from 10 to 17hrs. They also published a list of priority destinations that will not be canceled. The latter one was beneficial for state-owned LOT Polish Airlines, and would mostly hit low cost airlines like Ryanair, the only airline that operates at the Warsaw Modlin Airport. Many airlines, especially those operating charter flights, considered moving their operation to other cities, e.g. to nearby Łódź.

Eventually, the Polish Air Navigation Services Agency (PAŻP) announced on April 28 that it had “accepted and agreed to implement all the demands”. PAŻP accepted all of the demands regarding safety conditions, but money talks will continue. Under the temporary agreement, Polish air traffic controllers will keep working until July 10. And controllers’ union warned that this was just a “truce” and “not the end of the war”.

Very Very Expensive

Polish CPI (Consumer Price Index) accelerated 1,3pp to 12,3% y/y in April, the highest rate in 24 years. In monthly terms, the CPI increased 2% in April. Prices of food surprisingly grew 4,2% m/m – the fastest monthly increase since Statistics Poland began recording price growth - while prices of energy expanded 2,4% on the month. And it’s no comfort that fuel prices declined 0,8% m/m.

According to Paweł Borys, head of the state-run Polish Development Fund, double-digit CPI could happen in the next few months with a possible peak in Q3. The government’s main message to respond this crisis is that both economy and salaries are growing and, in general, people live more comfortable even with high inflation. "Wages are chasing inflation and inflation is chasing wages", Borys said.

Statistics Poland published also worrisome data about producer price index (PPI). It rose 20% y/y in March following a revised expansion of 16.1% y/y the preceding month. It is one of the highest levels since the late 1990s and it will be reflected in CPI.

Busy Time on Rail Roads

Poland is going to double the size of its investment program for the railway network to PLN 11 billion (ca. EUR 2,4 billion). This will enable the completion of more than 1.200 kilometers of lines, with a particular focus on linking smaller towns to large cities. In concrete, the new budget will allow to finish 34 projects to upgrade existing lines or construct new ones, instead of the previously planned 17.

The state railway infrastructure manager PKP PLK company has been implementing the largest investment programme in its history, the National Railway Programme (NRP), worth nearly PLN 77 billion. Investments under the NRP are co-financed with budgetary funds and EU funds, specifically the Infrastructure and Environment Operational Programme, Eastern Poland Operational Programme, Regional Operational Programmes and CEF ‘Connecting Europe’ Facility. EU funding amounts to PLN 41,5 billion.

Since 2015, Poland has upgraded and built more than 800 railway stations, sub-stations, stops, and about 6.000 kilometers of tracks.


Black Series in Polish Mines

The death toll from two coal mine accidents that occurred in one week in Poland risen to 19. The first one happened after a tremor and methane gas discharge in the Borynia-Zofiówka mine, and the second one after repeated blasts in the Pniówek mine. Both mines are only a few kilometers away. Both are operated by the state-owned Jastrzębska Spółka Węglowa (JSW).

Over twenty miners were transported to a specialized hospital in Siemianowice Śląskie. One man died there. Others were located in different medical facilities in Silesia. The rescuing mission has been suspended for a couple of times due to difficult conditions and risks of further methane explosions. One blast has hurt seven members of the rescue team. 7 people are still missing, and the rescue missions will be restarted once the methane fire ends.

Prosecutors have already opened investigations into the accidents, and prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that experts will check safety conditions and procedures at both mines. He also promised that the state would take special care of the relatives of the victims.

European Affairs

Macron vs. Morawiecki

Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki was openly supporting the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen in the presidential race in France. Populists from PiS were hoping for Le Pen’s victory and future Polish-French ultra-conservative alliance in the EU. Implementing his strategy, Morawiecki was attacking president Emmanuel Macron on every occasion. Polish prime minister sever times publicly shamed Macron for achieving little in his discussions with Vladimir Putin. He even compared the French president’s frequent phone calls with Russia’s dictator to talking with Hitler.

Macron responded: “I take full responsibility for having spoken to the president of Russia, in the name of France, to avoid the war and to build a new architecture for peace in Europe”. And he called Morawiecki “an extreme-right anti-Semite who bans LGBT people”.

A Polish government spokesman rejected Macron's accusation of anti-Semitism, saying French president had gone "too far with his choice of words” and blamed them on the "political emotions that accompany every election campaign". France's ambassador to Poland was summoned by the foreign ministry.

"Many common challenges and interests lie ahead of Poland and France", Morawiecki wrote when it became clear that Macron won re-election. "It’s time to work on them together. The future of Europe is in our hands. I congratulate @EmmanuelMacron!"  Polish PM concluded. Hopefully it is not too late to improve the devastated relations.

Poland & Germany

On Arms and Fuels

German chancellor Olaf Scholz and Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki met in Berlin on April 26. The topic of the war in Ukraine dominated the talks. Morawiecki stressed the necessity of military help for Ukraine and need for urgent and bold decisions to improve the situation of the Ukrainian army. He stressed that Ukraine needs in particular of anti-tank and air defense weaponry and ammunition. According to the Polish prime minister his German counterpart promised further supplies for Kyiv.

Less than a week later Poland’s climate minister Anna Moskwa declared that Poland is ready to help Germany wean itself off Russian oil. “As Poland, we are ready to support Germany's ambitions of de-russification with our refinery in Gdańsk”, she said, and added that she hopes that Germany will stop blocking sanctions on oil. Moskwa also said that she wants Brussles to impose a clear cut-off date for when member states will have to stop importing oil from Russia


Romani-Polish Pavilion in Venice

For the first time in the over-120-year history of the Venice Biennale, a Roma artist is representing a national pavilion. Małgorzata Mirga Tas prepared the pavilion of Poland. Her exhibition titled “Re-enchanting the World” symbolizes a celebration of Roma life, in particular women and their history. Among others, she focuses on migration of Roma people across Europe. The entire pavilion is full of symbols of diverse cultures from India to Persia to Egypt to Greece, to Poland.

Mirga Tas has filled the entire building with a breath-taking floor-to-ceiling tapestry, which references the allegorical 500-year-old paintings from Palazzo Schifanoia in Ferrara. The curators wrote: “You are about to enter a ”picture palace,” an installation of 12 large-format textiles, corresponding to the months of the calendar, which expands the history of art with representations of the culture of the Roma, the largest European minority”. She constructed the art pieces with reused garments, with support of her family and local community from the little town in the Tatra mountains she lives in.

“For much of history, we never created images of ourselves”, the artist said. “It is very symbolic for me. It is not only about me as a Polish-based Roma artist, but it is about my whole community. I am here as a representative”, she added.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue edited by Wojciech Szymański and Joanna Warsza, which includes essays by specially invited writers, e.g. Ali Smith and Damian Le Bas, and poems by Teresa Mirga and Jan Mirga.

Małgorzata Mirga Tas is a Polish-Romani visual artist, sculptor, painter, educator and activist. She was born in 1978, she lives and works in Czarna Góra, a Romani village at the foot of the Tatra Mountains. She started her artistic career with sculpture, which she studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Kraków. She deals with antyziganist stereotypes and engages in building an affirmative and situated iconography of a Roma community from a perspective of a feminism of minority. In 2011, in Borzęcin Dolny, she created the wooden Monument to the Memory of the Holocaust of the Romani to commemorate the local victims of Nazi crimes. Since the same year, she has been organizing the international artistic residency program “Jaw Dikh!” in Czarna Góra, intended for Roma and non-Roma artists. In 2020 she Paszport Polityki, one of the most prestigious art award in Poland.

Another Museum Taken

PiS wants to take over another key cultural institution. This time Jarosław Suchan, longtime director of Modern Art Museum in Łódź has been unceremoniously ousted from his position. Already in December last year ministry of culture declined to renew his contract and  Suchan was offer the position of interim chief. In April, he was fired overnight and replaced by Andrzej Biernacki, a painter and the purveyor of a private gallery in a suburb of Łódź, with no previous experience in managing a big cultural institution. There was no competition for the job, no transparency. Biernacki was handpicked by the deputy culture minister and PiS MP Jarosław Sellin.

Jarosław Suchan led the museum for 14 years and changed it into one of the most important cultural institutions in Poland by  promoting cutting-edge art and intensifying international cooperation.

Moreover, this is only the latest in a series of disputed appointments made by the ministry of culture to public art institutions. Over the past seven years, Polish museums and galleries have been taken over by conservative politicians and degraded. Devastating changes happened, i.a., in the National Museum in Warsaw, in the Ujazdowski Castle Centre for Contemporary Art, Zachęta Modern Art Gallery (read more in previous editions of the Newsletter).

Poland’s art institutions have increasingly become a vehicle for the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party’s (PiS) cultural reform efforts.

Party Support

Ibris for Radio ZET, 30-31 March

PiS                                                       35,9%

Civic Coalition                                  26,3%

Left                                                     9%

Poland 2050                                     8,6%

PSL                                                      5,1%

Confederation                                  5%