From Poland with Love - April
Topic of the Month
Food from Ukraine
After facing weeks of farmers’ protests, Polish government decided to ban imports of grain and other food from Ukraine. Farmers showed anger because the grain from Ukraine that was supposed be transited through Poland to other countries, in particular to Africa, did not leave the country and has been sold locally for much lower prices than the Polish product. What is more, Polish silos are already full with grain and harvest will start in four months or so. The situation is so bad that even the minister of agriculture Robert Telus admits that he is not able to get rid of all the supplies before this year’s grain will come. He has announced 1 million tons of grain from Polish silos will be exported via Baltic Sea ports every month but experts say this is not possible as the capacity of the infrastructure is too low.
"Instead of introducing tariffs, the government is offering farmers subsidies, which won’t solve the underlying problem of Ukrainian produce flowing in”, said Michał Kołodziejczak, leader of AgroUnia, a farmers’ union that became a party (read more in the January issue of the Newsletter).
The import ban includes not only grain, but also sugar, meat, fruits and vegetables, milk, eggs and other food items. The decision came as a surprise to counterparts in Kyiv, Brussels and other EU members. Ukrainian agriculture ministry announced it “regrets the decision”. The minister said that “Polish farmers are facing a difficult situation, but we emphasize that Ukrainian farmers are facing the most difficult situation”. For PiS a radical reaction after months of inaction of the right-wing government was the only way to stop farmers’ discontent. Jarosław Kaczyński knows that he needs votes from the countryside to form government third time in a row after the autumn elections.
What is more, Polish government announced that it has created an aid package for the rural Poland which will amount to PLN 10 billion (ca. EUR 2,15 billion), the largest in the history. Approved measures include subsidies to ensure farmers get a minimum price of PLN 1.400 per ton of wheat and increasing the amount of excise duty farmers can have refunded on diesel.
The ban, imposed in possible breach of European laws and in violation of solidarity with Ukraine, have drawn condemnation from politicians all over Europe. "I expressed deep concern about such decisions and emphasized that these steps are a gross violation of the Association Agreement and the founding treaties of the EU", president of the European Council Charles Michel said. But Polish government responded that it had no alternative, since the EU didn’t manage the crisis. Trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis started talks with Poland and four other affected countries- Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia - in a bid to resolve the situation. His main promise was to improve the operation of so-called solidarity lanes set up by the block to evacuate exports overland.
And after two weeks of negotiations they cut an agreement. According to the deal the European Commission will put forward emergency safeguard measures for wheat, maize, rapeseed, sunflower seeds, and potentially in the future other products. The EU will also provide EUR 100 million in support for Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Slovakia. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented “We have just now finalized agreements with the European Union regarding the ban on the import of these agricultural products, which above all led to destabilization in the Polish market”.
Ukrainian authorities showed their disappointment with the decision. MFA in Kyiv sent notes to Warsaw, Budapest, Bratislava, Bucharest and Sofia. "I expressed deep concern about such decisions and emphasized that these steps are a gross violation of the Association Agreement and the founding treaties of the EU", president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said.
Polish government risked good relations with Ukraine trying to save support among farmers. Morawicki commented "We care first and foremost about the Polish farmer".
Tricks before the Elections
A group of Polish activists from London conducted an experiment proving that recent changes in the election law may result with depraving Poles living abroad from their voting rights.
PiS adopted a controversial amendment to the Electoral Code that aim at increasing the turn out among the party’s electorate in autumn elections, e.g. establishing additional polling stations in rural areas (read more in the January edition). This act established also a deadline for electoral commissions in overseas voting districts to submit their counts within 24 hours after the end of voting. If they do not, all votes from the district will be considered null and void. Similar limitation are not foreseen for polling stations in Poland.
A coalition of Polish NGOs in London organized a simulation of the vote count and came to the conclusion that many polling stations abroad, not only in the UK, but also in other Western and Northern European cities, won’t be able to meet the new requirement. As a consequence, thousands of votes will not be taken into account in the final distribution of seats in the parliament. These UK-based NGOs remained that many polling stations abroad have significantly more votes to count than those in Poland and often the counting teams are smaller than in Poland.
What makes it even more intriguing is the fact that significantly more Poles who cast their votes abroad vote for the opposition, e.g. in the last presidential elections Rafał Trzaskowski got 73% of the vote and Andrzej Duda only 27%. Because all votes from the abroad are added to the Warsaw constituency (the one with the highest number of MPs), this change can give PiS an additional seat in the Sejm on the expense of the opposition.
Recently ombudsman Marcin Wiącek has also reacted on the case. He commented: “The work and analysis of [my] office clearly show that overseas constituencies are very vulnerable to various organizational and technical problems in the voting process, as exemplified by the recent elections, which were the subject of numerous complaints by citizens to the commissioner”. He said that the amendment “violates the essence of the electoral law” and “make the validity and effectiveness of the vote dependent on circumstances that are beyond the control of the citizens themselves and are due to problems with the efficiency of the electoral administration or from restrictions arising from foreign law”. He added that the constitution “does not differentiate the right to participate in elections depending on the place of residence”.
Special Committee for Election Campaign
PiS set up a special committee to investigate Russian influence in public life. The opposition believes it will be used as a tool to prosecute political opponents of the ruling party.
PiS failed to find support for this idea twice in the administration committee of the Sejm. Even their own MPs opposed it and the party leadership had to change members of the committee.
The special committee is something like an extraordinary court and formally is not a parliamentary commission. It will have extensive powers, including to issue rulings, for example banning people from holding public office for 10 years and to revoke administrative decisions from 2007 to 2022 found to have been influenced by the Kremlin. The special commission is to consist of nine people appointed by the Sejm, with the prime minister appointing the chairman.
“The establishment of the committee is absolutely necessary to purge Poland of agents and villains of various kinds (…), to eradicate the weeds that go against our country”, said deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta. According to the Civic Coalition, the bill mainly targets the opposition, especially former prime minister Donald Tusk. The special commission will work during the election campaign and its report will be presented shortly before the vote. KO politicians believe that the report may became an excuse to arrest Tusk in the pick of the campaign.
Leader of the Civic Coalition Donald Tusk announced he will lead a grand march on June 4. The event will be organized on the anniversary of the first Polish (partially) free elections of 1989 to show the government that “time is coming to an end”. Former prime minister said that the march will be against "high prices, theft and lies, and to support free elections and a democratic Europe-oriented Poland".
Tusk said that everybody is invited and he expects thousands of Poles to come to Warsaw and participate. Leaders of the Left have already responded that they will show up. On the other side, the leader of the centrist Poland 2050 party, Szymon Hołownia, said that the march is part of the blackmailing strategy of Civic Coalition and he will not come.
Later, Hołownia and leader of the agrarian party PSL announced that they will form common lists for the autumn elections. Negotiations between these two parties have been long and turbulent. Some media reported that they were severed when Poland 2050 demanded all lead positions on the lists (in 41 constituencies). Eventually, they cut a deal and will form a electoral coalition – according to Polish law such coalitions have to pass a higher threshold of 8% of the vote to win seats in the Sejm. Both leaders announced that they don’t want to act against other opposition parties and their goal is a democratic government with parties that want a change.
Unidentified Military Object
The remains of "an unidentified military object" were found in the north of Poland, close to the city of Bydgoszcz. The authorities have not identified the object but media comment it can be a part of air-to-surface missile. Very quickly different theories started circulating in social media, including the one that the missile came from Russia and was to hit Bydgoszcz, a city that hosts key NATO institutions in Poland. However, RMF FM reported that most probably it has not been launched from abroad and it comes from one of the military bases in Poland.
The defense ministry communicated that “the situation does not threaten the safety of residents. The place of the find is being investigated by Polish officers, military police, and sappers”. Justice minister and prosecutor general Zbigniew Ziobro said that the case will be investigated. "No traces of explosions or explosives has been found at the site of the operations", the District Prosecutor's office in Gdańsk stated. "Various hypotheses regarding the secured evidence are being investigated", it added.
Hub for Leopards and MiGs for Ukraine
Poland, Germany and Ukraine signed in Ramstein an agreement for a hub to repair Leopard tanks. Three parties agreed on financing of the hub, which costs around EUR 150-200 million a year and the hub could begin operations at the end of May.
Already in March, Polish defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak declared that Poland was ready to establish a service hub for the tanks handed over to Ukraine at the Bumar-Łabędy military equipment producing plant in Gliwice, since it has 20 years of experience in the maintenance and repair of Polish tanks.
"Every piece of equipment that is supplied in this war, whether tanks or combat support tanks and other equipment such as howitzers or Patriot systems, is subject to wear and tear, especially when they are in continuous use in combat", Germany´s defense minister Boris Pistorius commented. "That is why I am very pleased that together with my Polish colleague and my Ukrainian colleague Oleksii I was able to sign a Memorandum of Understanding today. It states that we will set up a joint maintenance hub in Poland for the entire Leopard 2 fleet, i.e. the two A4s and the two A6s", he added.
Poland has handed over 14 Leopard 2A4 tanks to Ukraine.
Germany has approved Poland's request to export five old MiG-29 fighter jets to Ukraine. Germany inherited 24 MiG-29 jets from GDR during reunification. Twenty-two of these aircraft in question were given to Poland in 2004.
More Walls on the Eastern Border
Polish authorities have begun building an electronic barrier, equipped with cameras and motion detectors, at its land border with Russia. It will run for 210 km on between the Polish Warmia and Mazury region and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad to monitor, prevent and counteract suspicious actions.
Last year, Poland built a wall on its border with Belarus to stop migration of people from Asia, Africa and the Middle East that was stimulated by the regime of Lukashenko. It also erected a razor-wired fence on the border with Kaliningrad. Earlier this year, it put up anti-tank barriers on roads leading to border crossings with Russia.
Interior minister Mariusz Kamiński said that Polish Eastern border will be “perfectly prepared for any type of illegal activities that are linked to crisis situations regarding our eastern neighbors”.
Poland’s record daily fines of EUR 1 million for judicial reforms that undermine the independence of the courts were cut in half by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The Luxembourg Court said it slashed the daily fine to EUR 500.000 following reforms done by Poland, but didn’t annul the penalty completely – as requested by Polish government - because Warsaw has failed to fully abide by earlier demands to dismantle a controversial overhaul of the judicial system.
"The Vice-President [of the ECJ] considered that the measures introduced by Poland (…) may, to a large extent, ensure the implementation of the interim measures indicated in the decision of July 14, 2021", the Court’s statement reads.
The Commission has so far deducted 10 tranches worth a total of EUR 360 million.
Modular Nuclear Reactors
In a ceremony at the US ambassador’s residence in Warsaw, the EXIM Bank signed a letter of interest in lending up to USD 3 billion and the US International Development Finance Corporation up to USD 1 billion to the ORLEN Synthos Green Energy project for developing ca. 20 small BWRX-300 modular nuclear reactors designed by GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy.
This is another milestone in Polish-American cooperation aimed to replacing coal with nuclear energy in Poland, helping the country to become less emitting and more secure. US ambassador Mark Brzezinski said that Russia’s aggression against Ukraine reinforced the necessity to turn toward safe and reliable energy sources. Last year, Polish government signed an agreement with Westinghouse Electric for pre-design cooperation on the first large nuclear power plant (read more in the December 2022 edition of the Newsletter).
The first BWRX-300 reactor should be launched in Poland in 2029. It will be the world’s second after the Canadian one.
Poland has reopened an airport in Radom, 115 km from Warsaw. It doesn’t sound like big news but it became very political, widely commented and laughed at in Polish media.
PiS decided to support this airport for two main reasons: 1. It cannot control the important regional airport Warsaw-Modlin, 2. The Radom region is PiS’s stronghold and the party wanted to reward local population and authorities for support. According to most of experts having another airport so close to Warsaw, but also close to regional airports in Kraków, Lublin and Rzeszów, makes no economic sense. The airport won’t attract passengers from Warsaw as currently it takes 2 hours to get there from the capital. It is also unclear how this investment is coordinated with the idea of mega airport in Baranów, between Warsaw and Łódź, that PiS wants to open – unrealistically - by 2028 (read more in the March 2018 issue of the Newsletter).
The airport was a project financed by the city of Radom. It originally opened in 2014, and it wasn’t successful at all. In 2017 it served less than 10.000 passengers and in 2018 was declared bankrupt. The central authorities didn’t give up and invested PLN 800.000 (ca. EUR 175 million) in a new terminal and runway. According to Polish Airports State Enterprise, the airport will be able to handle around one million passengers a year at the beginning of its operation, and eventually over three million people a year. Even the name of the airport was changed to attract passengers- now it is a confusing Warsaw-Radom airport.
So far only state-owned LOT Polish airlines is operating from Radom, offering five destinations. No other carrier is interested, even low cost airlines are not tempted by lower airport fares. The biggest Polish tour agency, Itaka, offered some charter flights from Radom in the holiday season but later it removed them from its catalogue due to very low interest.
Holocaust Trips Agreement
A new agreement between Poland and Israel about the Holocaust trips provoked a discussion in the latter country. Yad Vashem memorial criticized the new agreement saying it recommends a number of “problematic sites” that distort history.
The new agreement was supposed to make the relations between two states better after a long dispute about the history, in particular about the behavior of Polish people during the Holocaust. Relations deteriorated when Polish government passed legislation that outlawed blaming the Polish nation for Nazi crimes. As part of that conflict, Israel last year suspended youth trips, which had brought about 25.000 Israeli youths to Poland annually.
The agreement on Israeli school trips to Poland includes a list of sites of special importance to both nations. Student groups will be required to visit at least one site on a list of museums and memorials recommended by the other government. Additionally, each delegation of Israeli students would get a Polish guide at the sites they visit. According to Yad Vashem some of the sites on the Polish list are problematic and should not be visited in educational context, but it didn’t say which ones. Most probably, the institute is concerned about the museums that present Poles rescuing Jews as a mainstream behavior and those dedicated to so-called cursed soldiers (some of them collaborated with Nazis).
According to the liberal daily Ha’aretz, many Israeli school principals refuse to visit places recommended by the Polish ministry. “We’ll go with what we believe preserves the memory of the Holocaust and honors the survivors of the Holocaust”, one of the quoted principals says. But others say the new agreement is an opportunity to learn more beyond the historical narrative to which the Israeli students are exposed.
The agreement has to be ratified by parliaments in both countries.
Less Silesians and Kashubians, More Jews and English Speakers
More data from the 2021 census has been released. The most interesting pieces concern national, ethnic and linguistic minorities.
According to the census, population of Poland’s largest ethnic minorities, Silesians and Kashubians, have decreased significantly. They are 585.700 Silesians and 176.900 Kashubians, compared to 846.700 and 232.500 respectively in 2011. Some experts believe that the decline is a result of complicated method of declaring Silesian identity in the online form, more difficult than a decade ago. It is believed that the form was designed to discourage people from declaring any non-Polish identity (PiS does not like diversity, and in particular it does not like Silesian aspirations). Nevertheless, activists from Silesia and Kashubia say the outcome of the census is a success.
The third largest of Poland’s traditional ethnic groups remained Germans (132.500 people), followed by Ukrainians (79.400), Belarusians, Roma, Russians, Jewish, Lemkos, Lithuanians. The number of Jews has more than doubled in 10 years and reached 15.700 people.
Among the non-traditional minorities, the fastest growing groups are English and Irish, followed by American, Italian and French. Ca. 90% of those people named the non-Polish as their secondary identity. 97,6% of 38 million Poles declared Polish as their primary identity.
And if it comes to non-Polish languages, English is the main language used at home by over 704.400 people (103.000 in 2011), followed by Silesian (457.900), German (199.000) and Kashubian (87.600).
Poland & Germany
First German President to Speak at the Ghetto Uprising Commemorations
German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier has asked for forgiveness for the crimes his country committed in the Second World War, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. He was the first German president to speak at the commemorations in Warsaw.
During his speech, he mentioned also Vladimir Putin: “With his illegal attack on a peaceful, democratic neighboring country the Russian president has broken international law”. “This war brings immeasurable suffering, violence, destruction and death to the people of Ukraine”, Steimeier added. "But we Germans, too, have learned the lessons of our history. Never again, which means that there must be no criminal war of aggression like Russia's against Ukraine in Europe", he concluded.
German president together with his Polish and Israeli counterparts, Andrzej Duda and Isaac Herzog, laid wreaths at the monument to the ghetto heroes in Warsaw. “Absolute evil existed in the form of the Nazis and their accomplices. And absolute good existed in the form of the victims and the rebels, from every nation”, commented Herog.
On 19 April 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. It was the largest uprising by Jews during war and the first significant urban revolt against German occupation in Europe. The insurgents had no hope for victory. At least 7.000 Jews died fighting or in hiding in the ghetto. Ca. 7.000 Jews were captured by the SS and police at the end of the fighting. Nazis deported approximately 42.000 survivors. These people were sent to the forced-labor camps and to the Lublin/Majdanek concentration camp. Most of them would be murdered in November 1943 in a two-day shooting operation known as Operation Harvest Festival (Erntefest).
Bolek & Lolek Turned 60
Bolek and Lolek turned 60. They are two cartoon characters from the cult children's animated television series created by Władysław Nehrebecki. The show presented incredible adventures of two brothers. In 1973, at the requests of female viewers, a girl character by the name of Tola was added.
The series was originally aired between 1962 and 1986. Most of the episodes had no dialogues.
During the communist era Bolek and Lolek were reproduced in a high number of toys, books, postcards, etc. They have been commemorated in the Museum of Bed-Time Stories. Their statue was erected in 2011 in Bielsko-Biała.
The series was popular in many countries, especially in Eastern Europe, but it has been aired also in other continents, e.g. in Iran and Canada. In English, the cartoon was distributed as Benny & Lenny, but also as Jim & Jam and Tim & Tom.
Polls & Trends
Civic Coalition 24,8%
Poland 2050 8%