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From Poland With Love - February

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Topic of the Month

Officially Fascist

National Radical Camp (Obóz Narodowo-Radykalny; ONR) can be described as “fascist”, the Polish Supreme Court has ruled. The verdict ends a four-year legal battle by ONR members against a left-wing activist. In 2017, Robert Koliński expressed his opposition to a far-right march in the city of Elbląg co-organised by ONR. Koliński argued that ONR “openly refers to its pre-war, fascist, antisemitic, racist and xenophobic roots”.

The ONR considers itself an ideological descendant of the 1930s-era National Radical Camp, an ultranationalist and antisemitic movement which existed in the pre-World War Poland. It is one of the organizers of the annual Independence March (read more in the November 2020 issue) which draws tens of thousands of participants and ends up with fights against the police and serious acts of vandalism.

“I’m not saying that you are fascists or Nazis”, said the Supreme Court judge and he added: “I’m just saying that the accused had the right to think so on the basis of how you behave, the slogans you proclaim, how you dress, the symbols you use. This was how Nazi and fascist militias dressed before and during the Second World War”. He also noted that today’s ONR programme calls for Poland to be “ethnically homogeneous”. This “is an important element of fascist views”, said the judge.

The activist who won the case now hopes that the ruling can be the basis for having ONR outlawed completely, as promoting fascism is illegal under the Polish law. Poland’s constitution “prohibits parties and other organisations whose programmes are based upon Nazism, fascism and communism, as well as those whose programmes and activities sanction racial or ethnic hatred”. For many years, the opposition parties called for having ONR outlawed. The liberal Nowoczesna party sends official petitions to Zbigniew Ziobro, the minister of justice, every November after the Independence March.

In 2008, three ONR activists were found guilty of “propagating Nazism” for making the salute. In 2019, prosecutors began an investigation into ONR’s branch in Lublin for the crime of propagating fascism. It had published a tweet celebrating Belgian Nazi collaborator and wartime SS officer Léon Degrelle sentenced in absentia to the death penalty for collaboration as “one of the greatest national revolutionaries”. The same branch announced it wanted to “fight international Jewry”…

Before the Supreme Court ruling, ONR has been enjoying impunity for all its extreme actions. What is more, the new minister of education, hardliner Przemysław Czarnek, has attended ONR Lublin’s marches in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, also Andrzej Duda participated in the Independence March in Warsaw.

The above can explain why so many Poles went furious when they heard that a former member of ONR Tomasz Greniuch was appointed as acting director of the Institute of National Remembrance’s (IPN) branch in Wrocław. IPN was created to research and popularize the modern history of Poland and to investigate crimes committed from 8 November 1917, throughout the Second World War to the communist period.

Greniuch’s appointment was perceived as the latest piece of evidence that IPN has become a platform to promote hardcore nationalism mixed with antisemitism and xenophobia. He is an author of the book “The Road of a Nationalist” that contains praise of fascist movements. According to Never Again Association “In this publication the author revokes the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory, according to which a ‘world government’ was supposedly heading for a destruction of Poles and Poland ‘in the time of Zionist triumph, when the idea of globalism presumes the enslavement of all the nations of the world into one superpower under the aegis of the world diaspora’.” Besides Léon Degrelle, he also praised Corneliu Codreanu, the creator of the Iron Guard, the Romanian fascist organization which was murdering Jews. In 2005 he co-organized a march to commemorate the anti-Jewish pogrom of 1936 in the town of Myślenice.

Regardless all these evidences the IPN leadership and many PiS politicians defended the appointment stressing that Greniuch has apologized for his past and he is a different man now. But has he really changed? When a journalist asked Greniuch in 2019 about his extremist past, the controversial historian did not apologize. He argued that his "views have nothing to do with his scientific work".

The opposition demanded his immediate resignation. The deputy mayor of Wrocław, Sebastian Lorenc, has explicitly called Greniuch a "persona non-grata", and referred to his nomination as "a slap in the face of the victims of Fascism and Nazism". The Israeli embassy in Poland has issued a statement criticizing the appointment. "We encourage Mr. Tomasz Greniuch to visit the Auschwitz Museum whose mission is to remind the entire world of the dangers of Nazi ideology", the embassy wrote in the statement.

Only when Gazeta Wyborcza published images of Greniuch performing Nazi salute even the right wing government could not protect him any longer. These pictures sparked an uproar, including from those close to PiS. Greniuch has resigned. “Due to the circumstances regarding the appointment of Tomasz Greniuch for the post of acting Director of the IPN’s Wrocław Branch, he cannot continue to perform this function”, IPN posted on Twitter. The new director has not been appointed yet.

President Andrzej Duda had awarded Greniuch in 2018 with the Bronze Cross of Merit.

 

Politics

Threat to Academic Freedom?

The District Court in Warsaw ordered professors Barbara Engelking and Jan Grabowski to apologize for "providing inaccurate information" in their book documenting cases of Polish complicity in the killing of Jews during the World War II.  Grabowski, a Polish-Canadian history professor at the University of Ottawa, and Engelking, founder and director of the Polish Center for Holocaust Research in Warsaw, are among Poland’s most prominent Holocaust researchers.

Judge Ewa Jończyk ruled that the scholars must post a statement on the website of the Polish Centre for Holocaust Research. In this statement, they need to apologize to Filomena Leszczyńska for "violating the honor" of her late uncle and the wartime mayor of Malinowo village Edward Malinowski by having provided “inaccurate information" about his betrayal of Jews to Nazi Germans in their over 1.600-page-long book “Night Without End: The Fate of Jews in Selected Counties of Occupied Poland”. Additionally, the Holocaust scholars were ordered to send a letter of apology to Leszczyńska. The section describing Malinowski’s case is supposed to be changed in the next editions of the book.

The justification of the court’s decision is very complex and shows that the judge tried to weigh the arguments scrupulously. She stressed discrepancies in the testimony, given at different times, by a Jewish woman whose words were the basis for describing Malinowski’s actions in the book. The judge dismissed the plaintiff’s demand for a compensation of PLN 100.000. She also rejected a demand that the apology describes Edward Malinowski as a “Jew-saving hero”.

Officially, the plaintiff was 80-year-old Leszczyńska from the small village of Malinowo, but the lawsuit was in fact prepared by Maciej Świrski, founder of the Polish League Against Defamation, a right-wing NGO with close ties to PiS. The organization follows the line of the “historical policy” promoted by the government in Warsaw, which promotes a discourse of Poles being exclusively the victims of wartime, believing that the focus on Polish wrongdoing obscures the fact that most of these killings occurred under German orders and terror.

Jewish groups condemned the verdict. Yad Vashem says that this decision is “a real threat to academic and press freedom” after researchers were censured for harming honor of a man who, according to them, was complicit in a massacre of Jews during the WWII. “The prosecution of researchers and journalists who deal with these issues, instead of pursuing academic discussion as is the norm throughout the world, constitutes a real threat to academic and press freedom”, the statement concluded. Professor Engleking said “I don’t feel guilty”. “This case shows that in the history of the Holocaust, there are no black-and-white situations”, she concluded.

 

Society

The Rainbow Doesn't Offend

Three women activists have been found not guilty of offending religious feelings over posters depicting the Virgin Mary with a rainbow halo. In 2019, they displayed the images of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa on walls and rubbish bins in the city of Płock, responding to a church which compared the LGBT+ community to theft, hatred, jealousy and greed. The then-Interior Minister Joachim Brudziński commented that "all that nonsense about freedom and tolerance does not give ANYONE the right to insult the feelings of the faithful".

Before the trial, one of the defendants, activist Elżbieta Podleśna, described the catholic church as "a formidable force in Poland" and expressed her hope that the institution will change. "Or will it be destructive, politicised and centred around money, as is the case now?" she said.

A group of LGBT rights supporters chanted "The Rainbow Doesn't Offend" outside the courthouse. The Miłość Nie Wyklucza (Love Does Not Exclude) organization hailed the acquittal as a "breakthrough". Catrinel Motoc from Amnesty International’s Europe Regional Office said: “The charges should never have been brought against these women and it’s absolutely the right decision that they have been acquitted.”

Also in February, Polish musician Adam 'Nergal' Darski, frontman of the extreme metal band Behemoth, has been sanctioned for violating the same blasphemy law. According to the court, Nergal offended religious feelings in his 2019 Facebook post that showed him stepping on an image of the Virgin Mary. He received fines of PLN 18.500 (ca. EUR 4.000) and had to cover the court costs of almost PLN 3.500. Later he commented on Instagram: “Will I let superstition and fundamentalist dogmas capitalize on this and EVERY other case of the same nature? FUCK NO! Nigel has some aces up his sleeve… Just wait and see”.

By the end of the month, Nowoczesna, Poland’s liberal party, launched a campaign to abolish the blasphemy law. A respective bill has been proposed in the parliament.

 

13 Million for 18 Years in Prison

A court in Opole ordered a record high compensation of nearly PLN 13 million (ca. EUR 2,5 million) to a man who had spent 18 years in prison for a rape and murder of a teenager he didn’t commit.

Tomasz Komenda was arrested in 2000 over a 1997 rape and murder of a 15-year-old girl at a New Year’s village party. He was initially handed a 15-year prison term, which was later increased to 25 years, despite him protesting his innocence. Due to the family’s pressure, the police reopened the case. DNA tests, among others, proved he was not guilty. In 2018, Komenda was acquitted of all charges and released.  Two other men have been convicted and handed 25-year prison terms.

The prosecutor general, Zbigniew Ziobro said that "the decision to acquit Komenda shows that the mistakes of the judiciary can be corrected. Although, nothing will bring back the lost years to him or compensate the suffering, in this moment, he regained his dignity and saw a glimmer of hope for the future”. The investigation regarding the alleged misfeasance and negligence by public officers who carried out the inquiry into the 1997 case will in turn be conducted by prosecutors in Łódź. Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced at the time that he was authorizing a special payment of 4.000 zloty per month to Komenda until his compensation case was decided.

Tomasz Komenda unwillingly became a celebrity. “25 years of innocence. The case of Tomek Komenda”, the film directed by Jan Holoubek, became a blockbuster in Poland. At a premiere of the movie, Komenda asked his partner to marry him. After answering in the affirmative, the couple received a standing ovation from the audience.

Watch the trailer:

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Super-Kayaker Dies

The famous Polish adventurer Aleksander Doba, known for feats such as crossing the Atlantic in a kayak and swimming the entire Polish coast, died at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania.

Born in 1946, in Swarzęd, Doba got into kayaking at 34. And only when he was 65 he started his great journeys across the ocean that made him a national celebrity. The first trip, from Dakar in Senegal to Acaraú in Brazil, would set the record for the longest unaided transatlantic canoe trip. Doba constructed a special kayak himself (named Olo); it was seven meters long and the paddle itself measured 2,75 m. According to Doba, the strains involved in performing such a long kayak trip are more mental than physical. Still, he did lose 14 kilograms in the 14 weeks of the journey. And he did not stop challenging himself. He was 71 when he completed his third and the most dangerous expedition.

His adventures earned him the 2015 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year title from National Geographic magazine. The same year he was awarded the Polonia Restituta, one of the country’s highest orders, by president Bronisław Komorowski.

He died in February, at the age of 74, during an attempt to scale the highest peak in Africa. According to fellow travelers, Doba reached the summit of Kilimanjaro, and stopped to take a photograph. He then fell unconscious and couldn’t be resuscitated. His feats and his youthful courage will assure him a very special place in Poland’s pop culture.

Watch a film about Aleksander Doba: 

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Economy

The Tallest in the EU

After reaching a roof height of 230 m, Varso Tower became the tallest building in Poland. And after the installation of the 80 m spire, it became the tallest in the entire EU. Varso Tower, expected to open in early 2022, is supposed to have a special viewing deck and two high-speed glass elevators that will transport guests at the speed of 8 meters per second. There will also be space for restaurants and bars overlooking Warsaw’s city centre, on top of rental office space. Its two observation decks, among the highest in Europe, will be located at 205 m and 230 m – as much as twice as high as the observation deck of the nearby Palace of Culture and Science.

 

Plant-Based Revolution

Sales of vegan substitutes for meat products in Poland increased by 107% in volume and 138% in value last year. Meanwhile those of plant-based alternatives to dairy rose by 50% in volume and 44% in value.

The latest data published by the daily Rzeczpospolita shows that the proportion of households buying plant-based meat alternatives increased from 4% to almost 10% over the 12 months from November 2019. Other researches show that some 7% of the Polish population is vegetarian, and 2% is vegan. Additional 38% people who ate meat said they were trying to limit their consumption and almost 60% declared a desire to reduce meat consumption in the next year or two.

All biggest supermarket chains offer a wide offer of meat substitutes, and plant-based hot dogs can be bought in Orlen gas stations and thousands of Żabkas, the most popular chain of convenience stores in Poland.

With Warsaw being one of the world's friendliest cities for vegans, according to HappyCow, and more great vegan restaurants continuously opening up all over the country, an increasing number of Poles is obviously searching for meatless alternatives.

Some of the most popular recipes on Poland's most beloved vegan blog Jadłonomia (over 300.000 followers on Facebook and Instagram) were meatless versions of Polish comfort food. And this inspired the blog author, Marta Dymek, to publish them in form of a book. It became a hit, second bestselling book in Poland in the month of its premiere (a third vegan hit by Dymek).

Read more about Polish vegan cook books: https://culture.pl/en/article/poland-turns-plant-based-how-vegan-cooks-…

 

Electro-Growth

Poland has become the EU’s largest exporter of electric buses, after it saw sales rise 50% last year, leapfrogging Belgium into first place. Poland sold electric buses worth EUR 213,4 million abroad between January and November 2020, according to official data from Statistics Poland. It is estimated that about a third of all electric buses in Europe are manufactured in Poland. Poland’s buses were mostly sold to Germany (36,9%) and Italy (35,2%), according to Polish Economy Institute (PIE). Other exports went to Norway, Romania, Luxembourg, France and Sweden.

Nearly a quarter of electric buses in the EU were produced by Solaris. Scania, MAN and VW heavily invest in electric buses production in Poland, too.

The Polish law on electro mobility and alternative fuels introduced in 2018 stipulates that the fleets operated by local authorities in municipalities with over 50.000 inhabitants are obliged to hold a share of at least 5% electric buses in 2021; 10% in 2023; 20% in 2025 and 30% in 2028. The Polish National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management will dedicate PLN 1,3 billion (ca. EUR 290 million) for subsidies and loans for local authorities investing in electric buses, hydrogen buses and the necessary infrastructure.

 

Future Zones

According to the Global Cities of the Future ranking, the best cities for direct investments in 2021 were Singapore, London and Dubai. The ranking comprised 25 cities, including two from Poland. Wrocław achieved 15th place and Warsaw ranked 20th. Wrocław won in the category of small and mid-cities and took 6th place for Economic Potential, 9th place for Human Capital and Lifestyle, 2nd place for Cost Effectiveness, 10th place for Connectivity and 1st place for Business Friendliness.

fDi Intelligence team, a division of the Financial Times, prepared also a report “Polish Cities of the Future 2019/20”. A group of specialists conducted a major research dedicated to Polish metropolises, which outcome was presented with a breakdown into five categories: Economic Potential, Human Capital, Cost Effectiveness, Connectivity and Business Friendliness. According to fDi Intelligence researchers, Warsaw, Kraków, Wrocław and Gdańsk boast the greatest economic potential. In the same category, Gdynia reigned supreme among mid-sized cities, followed by Tychy, Legnica, Opole and Gliwice. Smaller locations were also recognised by the analysts, with particular emphasis on towns set in the vicinity of Warsaw: Błonie and Grodzisk Mazowiecki. Września, Stryków and Niepołomice near Kraków were next on the list.

Read the report: https://www.fdiintelligence.com/article/74164

 

Poland and Germany

See you in Court, Onet

Axel Springer, the Swiss-German owner of several media outlets in Poland, including the most popular tabloid Fakt and Newsweek Polska, has announced that it is taking legal action against an PiS MP in response to his tweets comparing their actions to executions carried out by the Nazis. Marek Suski, the MP in question and deputy chair of PiS group in the Sejm, wrote two tweets comparing Onet web site to Poland’s former occupiers. The first, which was quickly deleted, read: “The Germans are a model of care for the rule of law in Poland and have a long tradition of it. Once executions, today ONET!”. In the second tweet, which remained online, Suski wrote about public hangings of Polish weapons factory workers carried out by Germans in Radom in 1942. “Now ONET is mounting a smear campaign against the weapons factory in Radom. I wonder what they would have written if they’d existed in the 1930s”, Suski wrote, illustrating his post with a graphic image of gallows and the details of the people hanged on them.

“Mr. Marek Suski of course has no confirmed information and is a liar. See you in court”, responded Onet’s editor-in-chief Bartosz Węglarczyk.

Axel Springer also confirmed that it would be suing Krzysztof Wyszkowski, a former anti-communist opposition fighter and now a member of the council of the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), after he also tweeted wartime comparisons about Onet. Onet is “an electronic version of the Ribbentrop-Molotov gas pipeline, that is a Polish-language tube for gassing Poles!” Wyszkowski wrote. “The rag’s entire message is the dirty water left by Der Sturmer”, he added.  “As before, aggressive anti-Polonism, this time performed by the Polish hirelings of an anti-Polish owner”. Wyszkowski got legal protection from Ordo Iuris, the ultra-conservative organization that fights against women and LGBT rights in Poland.

What did actually Onet write to meet all these criticism? According to the article's authors the Grot rifles, produced by the state-owned Łucznik factory and issued to Poland's territorial defense forces since 2017, and of late to other military formations, feature a badly-fitted gas regulator which soldiers have to secure with plastic tape, tend to overheat during standing fire, are susceptible to corrosion and jam upon contact with sand. Also, the news web site claimed, the rifle butts and ammunition magazines are prone to breakage. According to Łucznik, the Grot rifles are fully compatible, functional and safe, and well-liked by the armed forces.

 

Camomiles and Pansies

A Polish high school student Krystyna Paszko has won an EU award for her initiative to launch a fake online shop as a lifeline to domestic abuse victims trapped during the lockdown. She heard of a similar concept in France where people go to the pharmacy enquiring about a ‘special mask’ and decided to adjust it and repeat it in Poland.

She launched a fake online shop “Rumianki i Bratki” (Camomiles and Pansies) which presented itself as a “natural cosmetics shop”. Through this platform victims can hide requests for help from their abuser by appearing to be shopping online. When a victim writes asking to buy something, a psychologist from the Women’s Rights Center responds instead of a salesperson and asks how long the "skin problems" have been going on for, or how the affected skin reacts to alcohol. If someone places an order and leaves an address, it is actually a code asking for authorities to visit their home.

"I thought it would only be for my friends, and friends of friends. I thought I would help maybe one person or two, but the number of shares on Facebook was high and it became really popular", 17-year-old Krystyna said. Since its launch, more than 350 people have contacted the website. Most of the victims are young, under 40, and about 10% are male.

The initiative was one of 23 projects to receive the EU's Civil Solidarity Prize, a one-off contest offering EUR 10.000 to reward civil society organizations tackling the consequences of Covid-19.

 

Foreign Affairs

Godson’s Dreams

A former right-wing Polish MP will run in presidential race in Nigeria in 2023.

John Godson became an MP of Civic Platform for the first time in 2010. He was re-elected in 2011. He left PO as it was too progressive for him and joined the right-wing Poland Together party led by Jarosław Gowin, today’s deputy Prime Minister (the party changed its name into the Agreement). But he didn’t stay there long and moved to the agrarian PSL. He lost his seat in 2015 and returned to Nigeria, where he was born.

Godson, who has a background in agriculture, set up shop on a 600-acre Pilgrim ranch in southern Nigeria. There he raises pigs and cattle and also grows cashew nuts, coconut palms and grain. He was also actively involved in political life. He is an advisor to the Nigerian Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). He also heads a committee in his city that deals with economic recovery from the Covid-19 epidemic.

 

Culture

Photographer and Activist Awarded

Polish LGBT activists Bart Staszewski was placed by the TIME on the list of 100 people who are shaping the future of business, entertainment, sports, politics, science, health and more. Staszewski was awarded as one of its "100 emerging leaders". The magazine also distinguished such people as the poet Amanda Gorman, the Prime Minister of Finland Sanna Marin, the actresses Hunter Schafer (Euphoria) and Anya Taylor-Joy (The Queen's Gambit).

In 2018, Staszewski co-organized the first-ever “Equality March” (Pride march) in his home town Lublin and ever since has been highlighting the growing number of small towns that passed non-binding resolutions banning “LGBT ideology”. He became nationally known when he started his photo campaign against the LGBT-free zones (that now he is sued for by some of the towns).

TIME magazine wrote: His strategy: traveling to those towns and taking photos of LGBT people standing in them, near signs he made that read “LGBT-free zone” (a colloquial term for the towns). Staszewski says he hopes the photographs will show Polish politicians—and the world—that “we are not an abstract being, an ideology, but real flesh-and-blood people who must live in these places.” The goal, he says, is to “change reality.” After Staszewski shared the photos online, they were reposted by several members of the European Parliament, helping draw international attention.

 

The Lost Soul

Another book by Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk has been translated into English. “The Lost Soul” is a poetic story of a man who loses his soul in the daily rush and can only regain it in a very special way. It draws from tales and beliefs of old cultures such as North American Indians and the people of Polynesia, who say someone has lost his soul when they see that there is something wrong with him.

The book has many meanings, also inspired by its nostalgic, meditative drawings by Polish artist Joanna Concejo. The drawings tell an independent story, inspired by Tokarczuk’s text but built around a pair of children’s gloves kept together by a string.

Also the Tokarczuk’s magnum opus will get published in English after seven years of translation (by Jennifer Croft). Over 1.100 pages long “The Book of Jacob” will be released in November 2021. It tells the story of Jacob Frank, a controversial Polish-Jewish religious leader and mystic who founded the Frankist sect in the 18th century. Tokarczuk’s English publisher, Fitzcarraldo Editions, said that the book tells Frank’s story “through the eyes of both his supporters and those who reviled him”, and “paints an intricate picture of a divisive yet charismatic man who spent his life battling against oppression and dogma”.

And in Poland the newest book by Tokarczuk became a bestseller. “The Tender Narrator” (Czuły Narrator) was her first book released after she received the Nobel prize. Between mid November and mid February over 130.000 copies were sold.

 

Party Support

IBRiS for Rzeczpospolita, 28.02.2021

 

PiS                                      32,3%

Civic Coalition              18,1%

Poland 2050                  17,9%

Left                                     7,4%

Confederation              6,2%

PSL                                     6,0%

 

Vaccines from Russia and China

Pollster for SuperExpress, 4.03.2021

 

Do you want the Polish government to buy vaccines from Russia?

Yes                                      19%

No                                       81%

 

Do you want the Polish government to buy vaccines from China?

Yes                                      26%

No                                       74%