From Poland with Love - August
Topic of the Month
Elections 2023: Lists, Candidates, Exotic Transfers
President Andrzej Duda decided that the elections to Sejm and Senate will take place on October 15. As expected, Duda opted for a short campaign, preferred by PiS. Parties (5% threshold) and coalitions (8% threshold) had time until September 5 to register their lists. Six committees registered their Sejm lists in the whole country (460 MPs to elect): PiS, Civic Coalition, Left, Third Way, Confederation, and Nonpartisan Local Government Activists (BS). The two first ones are competing to win the race, three latter ones are competing for the third position, and the Third Way (a coalition of two parties: PSL and Poland 2050) is currently fighting to end the race above the threshold. BS lists are a surprise. The grouping is a regional coalition partner of PiS, strong in Lower Silesia. In the Senate, PiS candidates will compete against candidates of the Senate Pact (KO, Left, Third Way) in 100 single-seat constituencies.
Former Nowoczesna leader Ryszard Petru will close the list of the Third Way in Warsaw. Petru firstly wanted to run for Senate from Warsaw but the Senat Pact didn’t support him. Later he was offered to compete for a seat in the upper chamber in one of the pro-PiS constituencies in the East, but he refused. He wanted to run to Sejm from Warsaw to challenge the libertarian leader of the far right Confederation, Sławomir Metzen, but Civic Coalition didn’t give him a place on their list, so he chose the Third Way proposal. Currently the Third Way is polling below the threshold and may have no representation in the next Sejm. Their lists look like a patchwork with very liberal and ultra-conservative candidates.
Leader of the agrarian party AgroUnia Michał Kołodziejczak will lead Civic Coalition’s list in Konin. Kołodziejczak is a charismatic organizer of farmers’ protests against the government, representing the young generation of agrarian business in Poland. He wanted to run together with the classic farmers’ party, PSL, but PSL’s new coalition partner, Poland 2050, didn’t agree. Tusk’s decision to invite Kołodziejczak to his block shocked both PSL and PiS, as it shows that Civic Coalition is planning to fight for votes in the countryside, natural voter base of conservative parties.
The most commented transfers to PiS lists are Robert Bąkiewicz and Łukasz Mejza. The first one was the main organizer of the Independent March (read more in the November 2021 issue), but earlier this year he was removed from his post. Bąkiewicz, called by liberal commentators ‘the organizer of PiS’s militia’, has received PLN 3 million (ca. EUR 650.000) in governmental grants to develop his organization, including to buy a property for a training center. Łukasz Mejza, on the other hand, was accused that one of his companies Vinci NeoClinic, offered stem-cell therapy treatments for illnesses including cancer, multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. Yet experts say that the therapy it offered is unproven and potentially dangerous. Local authorities asked prosecutors to investigate also another of Mejza’s businesses. Future Wolves is accused of earning almost 1 million zloty (EUR 215.000) for providing vouchers for training that there is no evidence actually took place.
Jarosław Kaczyński decided not to face Donald Tusk in Warsaw. PiS leader used to open the United Right list in the capital city, collecting significantly less votes than the PO chairman. This time it is expected that Tusk will attract an unprecedented number of Varsovians’ voters and Kaczyński would be defeated in a way that is not acceptable for the PiS’s image. Therefore Kaczyński will run in his party’s stronghold, the Świętokrzyskie region. Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Gliński will open PiS’s list in the capital instead. Local party activists are worried that this makes their situation even worse in the biggest constituency (20 seats to win). As PiS is expected to lose 2-3 seats here, it was difficult to find strong names to fill in the list. To make everything more complicated, Donald Tusk decided that the last spot on the Civic Coalition list in Świętokrzyskie will be given to Roman Giertych. Giertych was the leader of the ultra-conservative League of the Polish Families and a deputy in the first Kaczyński government. Currently he is known as the key lawyer of PO politicians and a very outspoken critic of PiS. Tusk hopes Giertych will troll Kaczyński’s campaign and attract conservative electorate from the district.
Both Giertych and Kaczyński look like very progressive candidates compared with some politicians who try win seats from the lists of the far-right Confederation. For instance, Confederation’s campaign chief Witold Tumanowicz said at a rally before last EP elections that if his movement comes to power, it will create a register of gay people in order to keep them away from children. Another leader of the extremist block, anti-Semitic monarchist Grzegorz Braun, called for homosexuality to be criminalized and “sodomites sent to prison”. “We don’t want Jews, homosexuals, abortion, taxes and the European Union”, summarized Confederation’s manifesto its leader Sławomir Mentzen some years ago.
Polish-Belarusian activist and artist Yana Shostak was nominated by the Greens to run for the Civic Coalition list. She was quickly removed after she called for allowing abortion at any stage of pregnancy. Civic Coalition wants to liberalize abortion laws, allowing terminations only up to the 12th week of pregnancy. Shostak landed in the list of the Left in Poznań. In Warsaw the Left attracted Jacek Dehnel, one of the most well-known writers and translators. Dehnel lives in Berlin with his husband, and is known for very critical approach towards the church.
‘I wouldn’t even call it a referendum’
Poles voting in general election in October will also face a referendum. A very controversial one. Once again, the inspiration came from Hungary. Voters will be asked to say if they want to see: the retirement age raised; foreign entities allowed to buy state assets; the border fence with Belarus removed; and easier rules on the processing of migrants.
All questions are linguistically designed in a way that it is almost impossible to answer ‘yes’, e.g. “Do you support the reception of thousands of illegal immigrants from the Middle East and Africa, in accordance with the forced relocation mechanism imposed by the European bureaucracy?”. All questions are based on emotive, leading language to provoke a certain response. They have been designed to cause difficulties for Donald Tusk and the Civic Coalition. The opposition reminds that no party wants to raise the retirement age or that this is PiS who has just sold state-owned oil company Lotos to MOL and Saudi Aramco (and now plans about closing the Warsaw Chopin Airport and selling the land to developers leaked to the public opinion), and this is PiS that opened borders to unprecedented number of economic migrants from non-EU countries… “The questions asked there are crucial for the security of our compatriots and our country,” government spokesman Piotr Muller said in the Sejm.
Tusk is calling for opposition voters to boycott the referendum. “I solemnly declare this referendum null and void. It is invalid in the deepest and broadest sense of the word”, he said. The only role of the referendum is to allow PiS to run unlimited campaign with public funds. The referendum is treated separately from the election under campaign finance laws, allowing Kaczyński’s party to spend as much as they want.
“I would be ashamed to take part in this referendum,” Wojciech Hermeliński, former head of the National Electoral Commission and a former constitutional court judge, commented. “I wouldn’t even call it a referendum”, he added.
There is also a problem with the secrecy of voting. The only way to vote in general elections and not to vote in the referendum is to expressly ask for one ballot only in the polling station. Such request will be noted in the voters’ registry. PiS will know who refused voting in their referendum, in other words - who voted against them in elections. This may be particularly dangerous for opposition voters in smaller towns and in the country side, but also difficult for PiS voters in big cities. Destroying a referendum card is a controversial act, because it is a criminal offence, punishable by up to two years in prison, to destroy election or referendum documents. For the referendum to be valid, at least 50% of the voters should participate in it.
Minister Who Lost Trust of Doctors and Kaczyński
Health minister Adam Niedzielski has been dismissed after he revealed details of a prescription a doctor had written for himself. The doctor in question gave a critical comment about the ministry in a TV interview.
The doctor said in the TV that he faced serious problems with issuing prescriptions for certain painkillers after changes had been made by the health ministry. He was one of many who flagged the issue, but one of a few who did it in public. Niedzielski responded in social media that everything is OK with the new system and said that the doctor prescribed himself a certain type of psychotropic drug. The disclosure of sensitive data provoked an outcry. Poland's Supreme Medical Chamber (NIL) told the prime minister that doctors had lost confidence in Niedzielski and also informed prosecutors that he may have committed a crime. “A doctor tells the media about the problems doctors in his department have with prescribing painkillers. The health minister, who is not a doctor, retaliates by checking what medicines this doctor is prescribing and to whom, and announces this on Twitter, breaking medical confidentiality”, posted NIL. Additionally, the Supreme Bar Council (NRA) called on the prime minister to discipline Niedzielski, accusing him of breaking the constitution.
Niedzielski was replaced by Katarzyna Sójka, a doctor and PiS MP. Sójka has never been a very active politician and does not have great communication skills. But well, nobody expects her to stay in her position longer than a few months. After elections, she will be replaced.
Even Less Sex Ed in Schools
Legislation that bans NGOs which “promote the sexualisation of children” from schools has been approved by the Sejm. It was a civic initiative, meaning that the idea was supported by at least 100.000 Poles. In the parliament, it was backed by PiS and Confederation, since –according to Jarosław Kaczyński - it gives parents greater freedom in bringing up their children. “The idea is to prevent children from being exposed to practices that are certainly harmful to them and may cause serious damage to their psyche”, Kaczyński commented.
The bill introduces the requirement for organizations willing to run activities in schools to submit information on the agenda planned to the headmaster. The latter one is obliged to stop the initiative if it is deemed a lesson “promotes issues related to the sexualisation of children”. The new law would prevent human rights organization and evidence-based sexuality educators from running activities in schools.
The bill must be now signed by President Andrzej Duda to come into force. However, Duda has already rejected similar pieces of legislation twice, arguing that they were divisive.
Train Systems Stopped by Radio Amateurs
Polish security authorities had to investigate cases of disruption to railway traffic, after unauthorized radio signals stopped multiple trains in August. One of such disruptions halted 20 trains in north-eastern part of the country. What was especially worrying in the context of the Poland’s railway system’s role in supplying Ukraine – both with military and agricultural products and materials-, is that the Russian national anthem and speeches of Putin were occasionally heard in the background. The counterintelligence agency launched an investigation hinting foreign inspiration. PiS politicians commented that it might be an action against the ruling party before the October elections. "The parliamentary elections are coming up, we have a war situation. It is about a kind of destabilization”, deputy interior minister Paweł Szefernaker commented.
Finally, two young men in their twenties were arrested after they generated intercom signals that halted six trains. Media reported that they had long been interested in amateur radio and both broadcasted the ‘radio stop’ emergency signal on frequencies used by regional train operators. The charges relate to the creation of a situation intended to threaten the life or health of many people or to cause damage to property of significant size, which triggers action by public institutions or a security, public order, or health protection body to abrogate that threat, but also to the introduction of imminent danger in land traffic. One of the two was a police officer, and police informed they had opened a dismissal procedure against him.
Poland still uses old-fashioned open radio frequencies for train signals, meaning that everybody with a cheap shortwave radio equipment can stop trains all over country. This is surprising for a country that is modernizing its railway system, where communication by train has become very popular in recent years. Poland's national transportation agency has stated its intention to upgrade railway communication systems by 2025 to use almost exclusively GSM cellular radios, which do have encryption and authentication.
Second Polish Astronaut
Poland and the European Space Agency (ESA) have signed three agreements concerning, internships of Polish graduates at ESA, and the development of Polish space technologies and the participation of a Pole in a space mission to orbit. The latter part of the deal is particularity exciting for the Polish public opinion
“We would like the space industry to be present in Poland. It already functions quite well as we have 400 companies operating in this sector. Many of them are still start-ups, however, through these agreements and cooperation with the European Space Agency they will gain momentum and will participate in the creation of modern technologies”, said development and technology minister Waldemar Buda.
Poland has become the second ESA member state to reach an agreement to fly an astronaut on a private mission to the International Space Station. This means that a second Pole in the history will fly to the space, after Mirosław Hermaszewski in 1978. Minister Buda has already announced that the Polish astronaut is going to test advanced technologies while on the orbit mission, and carry out experiments and an educational program for students. The most likely candidate for the mission is dr. Sławosz Uznański, who was selected as a reserve astronaut by ESA and is the only Polish member of agency’s astronaut corps. Uznański is a graduate of the Łódź University of Technology and holds an M.Sc. degree from Université de Nantes and Diplôme d’Ingénieur and Ph.D. from University of Aix-Marseille. He currently works for the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva.
The cost of the deal was increasing its subscription to ESA programs by EUR 295 million.
Poland & Germany
Patriots Are Staying until the End of the Year
Germany has offered to extend the deployment of three Patriot air defense systems to Poland until the end of the year.
Poland’s defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak asked his counterpart Boris Pistorius to extend the deployment made in January and planned for half a year. Together with three Patriot air defence units, ca. 300 German soldiers have been based in Zamość, in eastern Poland. In August Pistorius answered positively, stressing that the deployment won’t be prolonged for next year. According to the German minister the decision showed that Berlin is a reliable partner and “taking into account the security needs of our Polish friends”. The gesture is symbolic and aims at improving the bilateral relations after the confusion over a joint maintenance hub for repairing Leopard 2 tanks in Poland (read more in the previous issue).
Reparations: Voices from the US Congress and Wieluń
Congressman Chris Smith, Republican co-chairman of the Congressional Poland Caucus has urged the US government to support Polish government’s call for discussions with Germany over Poland’s losses in World War II. “The German state has made no direct reparations payment to the Polish state nor signed any bilateral compensation agreement with the Polish state – though it has signed bilateral agreements with over a dozen countries and international agreements with some victim groups”, Smith wrote. “Yet it’s not too late for Poland. For one thing, Germany’s duty to make compensation was established by the Potsdam Agreement in 1945 and accepted by the Federal Republic of Germany. It has no expiration date”, he added.
One year ago the Polish authorities presented a report detailing the material losses suffered by Poland during the World War II along with a pledge to demand EUR 1,3 trillion from Berlin in reparations (read more in September 2022 issue). On September 1, 2023, during another anniversary of the beginning of the war, PiS government repeated their demands, e.g., Polish ambassador to Germany Dariusz Pawłoś did it in presence of German ministers of foreign affairs and culture.
Additionally, the town of Wieluń became the first municipality in Poland to claim reparations from Germany for the damages and suffering it had incurred at that time and during the entire occupation. This step is very symbolic and used in PiS’s propaganda, as Wieluń was the first town attacked by the Nazis in 1939.
20 More Years for the Turów Mine
The Voivodship Administrative Court (WSA) in Warsaw has suspended proceedings against the decision to extend the concession for the Turów lignite mine until 2044. In other words, the mine can continue to operate unhindered for more than 20 years.
The mine is locate on the border with Czech Republic, very close to the border with Germany, and for many years has been a bone of contention between Warsaw and Prague. Polish government was obliged to daily fines of EUR 500.000 for not complying with the interim measures ruled by the European Court of Justice stating that Poland must close the lignite mine in Turów (read more in the September 2022 issue of the Newsletter).
The new permit was granted by Polish environment minister Anna Moskwa in February, based on the positive decision by the General Director of Environmental Protection (GDOŚ). GDOŚ’s decision was challenged in WSA by environmental organisations from Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic. The WSA had to discontinue the case due to the lack of a legally valid conclusion to the proceedings pending simultaneously before the GDOŚ at PGE’s request to amend the contested environmental decision. The decision is not final.
According to some observers, the government is not happy with this decision. For many months it has been using Turów in its anti-EU, nationalistic rhetoric. It has presented itself as the only protector of the mine, the region and its people, and Polish coal in general. PiS has even organized a party congress in this not-so-easy-to-reach corner of Poland. Now, when court decided the mine can continue operations, PiS lost fuel for its campaign against Brussels, environmentalists and judges.
The biggest state-owned utility in Poland, PGE (Polish Energy Group), brought forward its target of achieving carbon neutrality to 2040, from an earlier target of 2050. According to commentators, it is not due to quick transformation of the company, but due to a trick. All carbon-fueled power plants will be excluded from PGE and moved to a new state-owned agency. This way PGE will look greener and will be able to compete for cheaper money for much needed investments.
PGE also announced it expected a cumulative 2024-2030 profit before tax of more than PLN 90 billion (EUR 21,76 billion). In the same period the company plans to invest PLN 125 billion in decarbonization and electrification.
Super Productions about the War Hero
The Pilecki Report has been released. It is the most expensive Polish film production in twelve years. It cost PLN 39 million (EUR 8,47 million) close to The Battle of Vienna’s 44 million (2012). The film was directed by Leszek Wosiewicz and Krzysztof Łukaszewicz. It is a cooperation between, the Documentary and Feature Film Studio, the Polish Film Institute, the Polish National Foundation and TVP and it depicts Pilecki not only as a war hero, but also his private life.
In 1940, Pilecki volunteered to be arrested and send to Auschwitz to gain detailed information about the organization of the concentration camp and extermination of the Jewish people. In 1943 he ran away, and in 1944 he fought in the Warsaw uprising. After the war he was an intelligence agent in communist Poland. In 1947, he was arrested and put on a show trial. He was tortured and executed. In 2006, he was posthumously awarded Poland’s highest military honor, the Order of the White Eagle. Pilecki is known as "the victim of two totalitarian systems".
Pilecki is definitely one the most well known war heroes, and current government made much effort to remind his merits. It is not a first film about Pilecki created in recent years, and the last one. Recently it has been announced that James Bond producer Jayne-Ann Tenggren is set to start work on a new film about Pilecki. This one will be even more expensive, as it is commented to become the most expensive Polish film in the history. It will be a joint Polish-American co- production by the Polish Film Institute and The Power Hound Pictures (screened in Poland, Italy and the USA).
Enemy of My Enemy – this is the title of the film – will be based on the bestselling book Il Voluntario (The Volunteer) by Italian historian Marco Patricelli. Patricelli will be a consultant in the production. Hopefully it will be better than The Pilecki Report. The current super production has not managed to fill up movie theaters and did not meet with warm welcome from critics who describe it as a lost opportunity and compare it to old-style TV productions.
Polls & Trends
Kantar for TVN, 5-6.09.2023
Civic Coalition 31%
Third Way 8%
Best cities to live in Poland
According to the Business Insider
1. Poznań - 28 points,
2. Katowice – 39,
3. Opole – 42,
4. Wrocław – 44,
5. Olsztyn – 44,
6. Bydgoszcz – 48,
7. Gorzów Wielkopolski – 48,
8. Rzeszów – 52,
9. Łódź – 52,
10. Lublin – 53,
11. Kraków – 54,
12. Gdańsk – 55,
13. Szczecin – 59,
14. Warszawa – 60,
15. Kielce – 64,
16. Białystok – 74.