From Poland with Love - December
Topic of the Month
For the first time ever, new Poland’s prime minister was designated by the parliament not by the president, as Andrzej Duda decided to waste his constitutional right by asking Mateusz Morawiecki to form a new cabinet knowing that PiS has no majority.
“Thank you Poland, this is truly a wonderful day”, Donald Tusk said after he was approved by the Sejm. “Not only for me, but for all those who throughout these many years deeply believed ... that things would get better”, he added. The election of Tusk came almost immediately after the government of Mateusz Morawiecki lost a confidence vote in parliament earlier the same day on December 11.
In his parliament address to lawmakers, Tusk vowed to stand behind Ukraine "from day one" and criticized politicians "who speak of being fatigued by the Ukraine situation". He also promised to quickly unblock billions of euros in EU funds earmarked for Poland.
Tusk’s appointment was welcomed by European leaders. “Your experience and strong commitment to our European values will be precious in forging a stronger Europe, for the benefit of the Polish people,” Ursula von der Leyen tweeted. Chancellor Olaf Scholz wrote: “Donald Tusk wants Poland to be again in the heart of the EU and that’s where her place is”. “I am happy that together, arm in arm with Poland develop the EU and Polish-German relations”, he added.
New Prime Minister Donald Tusk's government was sworn in by Poland's president on the next day. "Please be aware that I am open to cooperation", Duda said. "We come from different political camps, but I have found out that on important issues, such as security, we can come to an understanding", he added. It can be expected that the cohabitation will not be easy and that Duda will be willing to build its future political position in opposition to Tusk.
The new ministers represent three blocs which form the majority, the Civic Coalition (KO), the Third Way (TD) and the New Left: KO has 14 ministers, who come from Civic Platform (PO), liberal Nowoczesna and social democratic Polish Initiative; Third Way has seven ministers shared between the agrarian PSL and centrist Poland 2050; and the New Left has four (the far-left Together party, which is a part of the Left alliance, decided not to join the government but it will support it).
The government will have two deputy PMs: Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL) who also took the top job in the defense ministry, and Krzysztof Gawkowski (New Left) who is also the digital affairs minister. And these are all the ministers:
- Radowsław Sikorski (PO) – foreign affairs,
- Marcin Kierwiński (PO) – interior,
- Adam Bodnar (nonpartisian, a senator supported by KO, former Ombudsman) – justice,
- Andrzej Domański (PO) – finance,
- Adam Szłapka (Nowoczesna) – European affairs,
- Barbara Nowacka (Polish Initiative) – education,
- Izabela Leszczyna (PO) – health,
- Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz (PO) – culture,
- Agnieszka Dziemianowicz-Bąk (New Left) – family, labor and social affairs,
- Paulina Hennig-Kloska (Poland 2050) – climate and environment,
- Borys Budka (PO) – state assets,
- Marzena Czarnecka (nonpartisian) – industry,
- Dariusz Klimczak (PSL) – infrastructure,
- Czesław Siekierski (PSL) – agriculture,
- Krzysztof Hetman (PSL) – development and technology,
- Dariusz Wieczorek (New Left) – science,
- Katarzyna Pełczyńska-Nałęcz (Poland 2050) – funds and regional policy,
- Tomasz Siemoniak (PO) – secret services coordinator.
Three ministers will be working in the Prime Minister’s Office dealing with very particular issues: Marzena Okła-Drewnowicz (PO) – senior affairs, Agnieszka Buzyńska (Poland 2050) – civil society, and Katarzyna Kotula (New Left) – equality; additionally Maciej Berek will be responsible for legislative oversight.
The new government took very quickly some important and long-awaited steps:
- The EU unlocked first payment from the EU Recovery and Resilience Facility for Poland. Warsaw has already received the first advance payment of EUR 5 billion, and around EUR 20 billion is pending for 2024.
- Defense minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz decided to liquidate the parliamentary subcommittee for reinvestigation of the Smoleńsk air disaster of April 10, 2010 (in which the former President Kaczyński and other high Polish officials died). All members of the subcommittee had been stripped of all authorization and powers necessary to act on behalf of this body. Lead by the hard-right ex-defense minister Antoni Macierewicz, the subcommittee had two tasks – to prove that the air disaster was an act of terror by Russia, and to show that Donald Tusk was co-responsible for it. After years of very expensive work, the subcommittee couldn’t demonstrate any successes.
- The finance minister Andrzej Domański has dismissed the country's representative to the World Bank Jacek Kurski. Kurski moved to New York from the chair of TVP CEO. It was Kurski, former spin doctor of PiS, who changed the TVP into a propaganda tube of Jarosław Kaczyński’s party.
- The Ministry of Foreign Affairs recalled Poland’s permanent representative to the EU Andrzej Sadoś, and replaced him with Piotr Serafin, who was Head of Cabinet of the President of the European Council Donald Tusk in 2014-2019.
- Donald Tusk has announced the launch of work on the civil partnership act, which will allow same-sex couples to register their unions. The process will be lead by equality minister Katarzyna Kotula.
- Education minister Barbara Nowacka said she wanted to limit religion classes paid from the state budget to one hour a week. “If the local government or parents decide that they would like more of these hours, it will be their decision, including the financial decision”, Nowacka added. The leadership of the Catholic Church has already shown its deep dissatisfaction.
New housing program is set to launch in the second half of 2024, potentially aiding around 50.000 people this year. The program offers interest rate subsidies for loans taken until the end of 2025, with allocated funds of PLN 500 million in the 2024 budget. The subsidy, lasting 10 years, varies based on household size, reducing interest rates from 1,5% for singles to 0% for households with five or more members.
A resolution backed by the new majority calling for public TV and radio to display “independence, objectivity and pluralism” was adopted by the Sejm. It called on “all state authorities to immediately take action aimed at restoring constitutional order in terms of citizens’ access to reliable information and the functioning of public media”. Announcing further events, Donald Tusk said: “Fasten your seatbelts”.
Shortly after, the head of the TVP network, the head of state news agency PAP and the head of Polish Radio have all been dismissed. The minister appointed new supervisory boards for the mentioned companies, which promptly appointed new management boards. Old board members were blocked from entering media buildings and police were summoned.
TVP1, the main public TV channel, broadcasted only its logo for 10 minutes instead of normal noon programming; state-run 24-hour news channel TVP Info and TVP World, the English-language news channel, were shut down.
The situation prompted PiS MPs to stage a sit-in in the TVP buildings. They announced they exercised their rights to control state-owned companies. In reality, they wanted to extend the existence of PiS propaganda tubes they created eight years ago. PiS politicians showed full support to the PiS-loyal news presenters. During the sit-ins the atmosphere was very tense, e.g., Jarosław Kaczyński said to a young anti-PiS protestor: “Watch out that you don’t end up in prison, you little shit.”
Maciej Świrski, the head of the PiS-controlled National Broadcasting Council (RMN) commented that “disabling the television signal and the TVP Info websites is an act of lawlessness and recalls the worst times of martial law”. “The illegal actions of the Minister of Culture in relation to TVP, Polish Radio and PAP show how the authorities that supposedly care about the rule of law violate it at every step”, twitted former prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki.
The next turning point in this dynamic situation happened when president Andrzej Duda decided to veto a government bill that provided PLN 3 billion (ca. EUR 695 million) in funding next year for public media. Duda justified his decision saying the illegal installation of new management had violated Polish constitution. He wanted to harm the government, but only gave it a new ground for further actions against the old regime in TVP.
Culture minister used the veto and announced the liquidation of all public media. "Due to the decision of the President of the Republic of Poland to suspend financing of public media, I decided to put into liquidation the companies Telewizja Polska SA [TVP], Polskie Radio SA [Polish Radio] and Polska Agencja Prasowa SA [PAP]", he said on social media. "In the current situation, such action will ensure the continued operation of these companies, carry out the necessary restructuring and prevent layoffs of employees in the above-mentioned companies", he added. According to Sienkiewicz, this move will protect the companies and their employees as they are deprived of funding due to the ongoing political dispute. The head of President Duda's office, Marcin Mastalerek, said the liquidation announcement was an "admission of defeat" by the government.
Publication by the liquidator of a list of salaries of top propagandist employed in TVP caused public outrage. Some of them, which were already very high, were risen even more in late 2023. Two presenters earned over EUR 340.000. TVP anchor Michał Adamczyk, additionally received a EUR 250.000 bonus for his faithful service to the party. Adamczyk was taken off the air earlier last year in the wake of a family scandal. Now it became public, that despite his huge earnings, he evaded paying child support for his daughter (ca. EUR 280 a month) . At moment of solstice of the current crisis, Adamczyk was again found useful and was appointed new TVP chief by PiS–controlled state body.
Many of the hard-core propagandists of the PiS-loyal TVP found new jobs in TV Republika. TV Republika is financially linked with PiS. Entire shows were moved directly from TVP Info to TV Republika – same hosts, same formats, same titles – which may be a breach of intellectual property and copyrights of TVP. Danuta Holecka, the editor and anchor of the most symbolic TVP evening propaganda show ‘Wiadomości’, is now reading the news in TV Republika. And ‘Wiadomości’ itself disappeared from the programme. They were replaced by a brand new ‘i9:30’ evening show run by a new crew, which is trying to be objective giving time and space to all political groups and presenting diverse points of view.
TV Republika has a new problem. One of singers and songwriters known for his strong support for PiS caused a scandal when he said that migrants should be sent to Auschwitz. Another journalist Marek Król said that migrants should be tattooed or chipped like dogs. The Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum condemned the “immoral political statements regarding refugees.” IKEA, Carrefour, MasterCard and many other companies announced they were pulling their advertising from the station.
The topic of the public media will be one of the most important points of conflicts between the new majority on one side and PiS and Andrzej Duda on the other one.
‘Disgusting’ Anti-Seminitism in the Sejm
On the inaugural day of the new Polish government, Grzegorz Braun, an MP of the far-right Confederation party, used a fire extinguisher to put out a Hanukkah candelabrum placed in the parliament lobby. Braun is known as the most controversial, far-right member of the assembly, infamous for his anti-Semitic, homophobic and pro-Russian views. He claims, among others, that there is a plot to turn Poland into a “Jewish state” and has calls for homosexuality to be criminalized in the country.
The ceremony for lighting Hanukah candles was held in the Polish parliament, just like every December in last 17 years, to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights and was attended by rabbis and a Jewish music band. The far-right lawmaker grabbed a fire extinguisher and put out candles. A cloud of smoke, haze and white powder filled the area.
Sejm speaker Szymon Hołownia ordered Braun to be temporarily barred from proceedings and imposed fines, forcing him to lose half of three months of his salary and per diems for half a year. "What happened is just disgusting. This is a great Jewish holiday, these people were invited here", the speaker said, adding "there will be no tolerance of anti-Semitism" in the Sejm. Prime Minister Donald Tusk called Braun’s behavior "unacceptable". The act was also condemned by multiple parties and NGOs. “I am ashamed and I apologize to the whole Jewish community in Poland”, tweeted cardinal Grzegorz Ryś, who leads a committee for dialogue with Judaism.
Braun was reported to prosecutors. Not only for disturbing a religious act but also for physically attacking a women who tried to prevent his shameful act. He is not embarrassed of what he did. “Those who take part in acts of satanic worship should be ashamed”, he commented.
Braun’s behavior may have deeper political consequences. The Left has already filed a motion to dismiss the Confederation representative, Krzysztof Bosak, from the Sejm presidium (where he is currently the only deputy speaker to represent opposition parties). Civic Coalition called for Confederation to kick out Braun from their parliamentary group, suggesting this may save Bosak’s position. If they did so, Braun would be most probably followed by two more members of his ultra-conservative monarchist party the Crown and Confederation would lose its group due to a low number of MPs. No group means less money and less rights in the legislative process.
Watch the incident in the Sejm: https://www.youtube.com/watch?reload=9&v=2lMQRaf4ZHc
Two Years of Prison for PiS Ministers
Former interior minister Mariusz Kaminski and his deputy Maciej Wąsik (both PiS) were sentenced to two years in prison for abuse of power in previous posts. This is yet another final of an ongoing case that has been present in the public debate since 2015. That year, only weeks after PiS came to power, president Andrzej Duda issued a pardon to Kamiński who had been found guilty of abuse of power while serving as head of the anti-corruption agency (CBA).
This pardon allowed him to become a minister. However legal experts questioned whether Duda could have pardoned him before a court issued a final ruling in his case. In 2023, politicized Constitutional Court confirmed – exactly like Jarosław Kaczyński ordered it - that the presidential pardon was legal in this case. However, only a few days later the Supreme Court showed it is of an opposite opinion, and decided to reopen this case sending it back to a lower court.
The original case – known as the “land scandal” - dates back to 2009. After PiS had lost power but when Kamiński was still leading the CBA, he was charged with exceeding their powers (illegally falsified documents, listened to calls of various politicians) in an illegal investigation into a corruption scandal that had led to the resignation of deputy prime minister Andrzej Lepper (from the agrarian populist Self-Defence party) and the collapse of the Kaczyński government. In the aftermath, Lepper was found dead in his Warsaw party office in what police have described as an apparent suicide.
The story is far from the end. On January 4 a chamber of the Supreme Court has overturned a decision to end the parliamentary mandate of Maciej Wąsik. The problem is that it is the court’s Extraordinary Review and Public Affairs Chamber, which is not recognized by the EU and the Polish Ministry of Justice as a court since all its judges were are PiS-loyalists appointed in a wrong procedure. Now there is a conflict between different chambers of the Supreme Court about who can once and for all solve this case.
Another Russian Missile in Polish Air Space
According to the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces, Polish airspace was violated by a Russian missile. The object entered from the direction of Ukraine, entering about 40 km before leaving after about three minutes. It occurred when Ukrainian authorities had reported a mass attack on their territory. Russia attacked Ukraine with 158 drones and missiles, aiming for critical infrastructure.
Polish air defense network had been on high alert and fighter jets were sent to intercept the missile before it left Polish territory. The army also carried out a ground search around the point where it lost radar contact with the projectile. President Andrzej Duda called an emergency meeting between politicians and the military.
Poland summoned the Russian charge d'affaires and demanded an explanation. The Russian representative said Moscow won't provide any explanations until it receives evidence that shows the object was a Russian missile. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the security alliance is monitoring the situation and communicating with Polish officials.
Museum of Deportations
The Culture Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) took a decision to award Sybir Memorial Museum with the Council of Europe Museums Prize 2024.
The museum, located in the city of Białystok, tells the story of successive deportations of people from Poland to Siberia, northern Russia and Kazakhstan during the Soviet occupation and the division of Poland in the period 1940-41, the deportation of Jews to extermination camps during the Nazi regime, and deportations from Poland during the communist period of the USSR after the Second World War until 1952.
These days, when the last deportees are passing away, the museum displays their oral and written testimonies as well the objects that accompanied their journey and lives far away from home. Researchers from Białystok stressed they had found representatives of around 60 nations and ethnicities among the deportees. The exhibition also includes the stories of Polish deportees who helped advance scientific knowledge about Siberia, e.g. Bronisław Pilsudski, an anthropologist who documented Siberian tribes, and the zoologist Benedykt Dybowski.
“The museum works with the strong narrative of deportation, reducing research-based material to the essentials, working with strong spatial images that give a voice to the selected authentic objects. The museum’s ability to convey history through workshops, events, media, publications and new formats is impressive and brings it to a broad audience”, stressed the awarding committee.
The Council of Europe Museum Prize has been awarded since 1977, and it is the second time it comes to Poland. In 2016, it was granted to the European Solidarity Center in Gdańsk.
Visit the museum online: https://sybir.bialystok.pl/en/the-museum/.
Worst Meat Product in the World
Salceson (headcheese) was ranked first in the ranking of the worst-rated meat products in the world, according to the Taste Atlas website. Salceson scored only 2,4 stars on a five-point scale. It is a type of offal product containing heads, skins, trimmings, fat, blood, and spices. It is usually prepared using pork or beef. All ingredients are seasoned, cured, put into casings, cooked and shaped to the desired size.
Taste Atlas comments “Once considered to be an inferior meat product, today the Polish headcheese is regarded as a unique gourmet delicacy”. It also adds: “They are mostly prepared with pork, but some varieties exclusively use veal. Once popular in many cities bordering Germany, today they are prepared and enjoyed throughout the country. Regardless of the type, these texturally-exciting treats are usually enjoyed as cold cuts, commonly accompanied by bread and various meat products”.
Salceson overtook the Slovak Liptovska saláma, the American Smithfield ham, German Sülzwurst and Slovenian Tlačenica sausage.
The ranking was created basted on Taste Atlas users who can grade products and dishes from all over the world. It worth stressing that Polish cuisine as such is not making so badly on the website – it was ranked 13th best cuisine in the world; pierogi is the 34th best dish on the planet, and żurek is 2nd best soup globally.
Poland & Germany
House for Polish-German Cooperation Celebrates
The House for Polish-German Cooperation (DWPN) celebrates its 25th anniversary.
Its opening in 1998 was an event of major importance attended by two presidents. The then German president Roman Herzog and his wife Christiane came to Gliwice. Roman Herzog said: "A home for Germans, Poles, and other friends and neighbors to dialogue about where we came from, where we are, and where we are going....". He added that it is more than just another step toward understanding between the Polish and German peoples: it is a milestone. And Poland’s then president Aleksander Kwaśniewski commented: "Home - is something inherently friendly to a person. It is a place where he wants to feel comfortable and safe".
The DWPN was the first cross-party initiative of Polish and German institutions and organizations to combine their experience and skills, their financial and human resources in a single association of associations according to the principle "strength in community, together we are able to do more”.
At the beginning of 1999 the House established a special unit within its structure called "European Centre" to, among other, provide professional information on the EU and the process of EU enlargement and to support active participation in the accession of local and regional authorities.
The House's most important sponsor is the German Interior Ministry, which covers almost two-thirds of the almost PLN 3 million allocated for its activities in 2021. Polish ministry contributed 11% of the total amount. Additional 10%t was contributed by the German consulate in Opole, an 9% by regional institutions and authorities.
Polish media covered the new Disney+ series on difficult Polish-German relations with interest. “German House” is a drama about a young interpreter who is confronted with the truth of the Holocaust during her work at the first Auschwitz trial in 1963.
The five-part miniseries is an adaptation of the best-selling novel of the same name by author Annette Hess. The main character was called to Frankfurt to translate the testimonies of Polish Holocaust survivors, which are evidence in the trial of SS officers who ran the Auschwitz death camp. At the same time she started to recall incidents from her family’s past. The book has sold more than 700.000 copies in 33 countries.
The series was shot in Poland last year. Actors include Katharina Stark, Anke Engelke, Iris Berben, Hans-Jochen Wagner her father Ludwig and Ricarda Seifried.
Polls & Trends
Pollster for SuperExpress, 19.12.2023
Civic Coalition 31,3%
Third Way 17%