NEWSLETTER
From Poland With Love – February

From Poland with love

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Topic of the Month

Invasion on Ukraine

On February 24, Russia brutally invaded Ukraine violating international laws. After first week of the war, we know that Ukraine is heroically defending itself and Putin’s Russia kills innocent people, use forbidden weapons, disrespects human rights. This war is happening in Europe, so close to the Polish border that when rocket stroke close to the town of Volodymyr in Ukraine, less than 15 kilometers from the border, windows in some Polish homes in the East shook. Detailed description and analysis of the invasion lies much beyond the scope of the newsletter, but it is important to present some facts and opinions from the Polish perspective.

  • Every day dozens of thousands of Ukrainians cross the border between Ukraine and Poland. Most of the via the border post in Medyka, where they come, among others, with a special Polish train that circulate between the border and the city of Lviv. After the first week of war over half a million people left to Poland. It is estimated that up to 5 millions of Ukrainians will leave their home country, most of them to Poland.
  • The Polish government has prepared nine reception points for refugees along its border with Ukraine, which will provide food, medical aid and information to those displaced following Russian attack. Additional reception centers were open in cities, for example at Warsaw’s East and West train stations.
  • Mobilization of Polish society to help refugees is beyond all expectations. Facebook groups where ordinary citizens offer their help have mushroomed in recent days, gathering hundreds of thousands of users. Many Poles have volunteered to welcome refugees into their homes. Volunteers drive hundreds of kilometers to the border to give rides to those who need them. Informal groups collect money, cloths and everything that is needed in transit or to start new life. Informal groups prepare sandwiches and hot meals to deliver them to receptions centers and to communication hubs. Over 90% of Poles support accepting Ukrainian refugees and 64% say they will help personally. “We are impressed with how the Polish people are stepping up. Poles are showing the world what hospitality means, what gościnność means,” US ambassador to Poland, Mark Brzezinski, said.
  • Municipalities, especially big cities like Warsaw, Cracow and Lublin, prepared their own support centers and housing for refugees. Cracow authorities declared they can host even 17.000 people, using, among others, hostels, summer houses and city’s main show arena. Warsaw prepared accommodation in sport halls.
  • Poland supports all forms of sanctions against Russia. Poland was one of the first countries to close its airspace for Russian planes. Hesitation of some countries about expulsion of Russia from the Swift system was criticized by all parties in Warsaw. “In this war everything is real: Putin’s madness and cruelty, Ukrainian victims, bombs falling on Kyiv”, leader of the opposition Donald Tusk said. “Those EU government’s, which blocked tough decisions (i.a. Germany, Hungary, Italy) have disgraced themselves,” he added.
  • Hospitals became open for Ukrainian refugees. Medical prescriptions from Ukraine became valid in Poland. Children who need oncologic treatment were relocated to Polish hospitals, and some of them will go from here to other European countries.
  • The Polish government is seeking to introduce new measures that will make it easier for Ukrainian refugees to obtain the right to work and to receive child benefits, including access to the so called 500+. Many companies, including the biggest retail chains, are adopting special simplified employment procedure for people who have fled Ukraine. Countless smaller businesses have also been helping their Ukrainian employees bring their family members to Poland, offering them work and free accommodation.
  • Sunday shopping ban was lifted in regions that border with Ukraine to help people buy the most needed products to be send as humanitarian aid to Ukraine and to deliver them to refugees who are already in Poland.
  • Half of the refugees are children. Education ministry wants to register children at schools and plan to draft in students as soon as possible. Special preparatory classes will be created, in particular focused on language. In some cases, Ukrainian children have already started classes in Polish schools.
  • The biggest newspaper “Gazeta Wyborcza” has published a special issue in Ukrainian, and the most popular Polish radio RMF FM started its special channel RMF Ukraine to help people at the border.
  • Polish parties and Polish parliament supported express track for Ukraine to join the EU. “Poland supports an express path for Ukraine’s membership of the EU”, tweeted Andrzej Duda. Candidate status should be granted immediately and accession negotiations initiated at once after that. Ukraine should also have access to EU funds for reconstruction,” he added.
  • The government presented the Homeland Defense Act. The proposed changes are aimed at strengthening the Polish army – increase in the number of soldiers to around 300.000, increase in the budget for defense, as well as technical modernization of the army. Moreover, the Act organizes regulations concerning the Polish Armed Forces. Main objectives of the Act:
    • organisation of regulations on the Armed Forces,
    • increase in the defence budget,
    • implementation of the concept of common defence,
    • increase in the size of the Polish Army,
    • simplification of the military service system,
    • restoration of the reserve system,
    • enhanced training of soldiers,
    • increase in the interest in military service and military studies,
    • establishment of a system of incentives for candidates for service,
    • increase in the flexibility of promotion rules.

The opposition will support the draft law, calling for better dialogue with Europe and finishing conflicts with Brussels (and immediately getting money from the Next Generation EU fund), breaking relations with pro-Putin parties and leaders in Europe. Even PiS is disturbed by the behavior of its closest ally in Europe, prime minister Viktor Orbán, who closed its borders for transit of international military aid for Ukraine. “We find this attitude surprising, but it is Hungary's business and its national interest,” said chief of PiS parliamentary club Ryszard Terlecki.

  • Polish embassy in Kyiv keeps open and ambassador Krzysztof Krajewski is still working.

Politics

Kaczyński Loses a Strategic Vote

Jarosław Kaczyński lost a very important vote in the Sejm, which raises additional questions about the stability of the PiS government.

The draft law in question would mandate free, regular Covid-19 testing of employees and enable those who believe they got infected in the workplace to seek compensation from colleagues who refused testing. Both points were highly controversial for different reasons. The right to compensation was questioned by the opposition, but also by some members of the ruling coalition (not to mention representatives of employers’ associations), as something unethical and impossible to implement. Regular testing was strongly opposed by the far-right Confederation but also by some PiS MPs, from both libertarian and anti-vaxxer reasons. Anna Maria Siarkowska, the most well know anti-vaxxer in the PiS group said the draft law would introduce “unconstitutional segregation”.

There was no party discipline in this vote but Jarosław Kaczyński himself was presenting the draft law in the lower chamber, something that happens very rarely, giving clear signal that he wants to see his camp’s clear support for the anti-pandemic measures.

Eventually, 61 MPs of the United Right (PiS and its allies) abstained or voted against the law on Covid-19 testing in the Sejm. Another 15 didn't even appear in the parliament building for the vote. Kaczyński lost.

The government blamed the opposition for the defeat, saying that they don’t want to support the efficient anti-pandemic response and suggested that in this case PiS won’t submit similar measures in the future.

According to commentators, it has been a symbolic defeat that proves that the United Right is slowly decomposing. As MPs see that the party is losing support, they are less afraid to disobey. It is especially visible in the right wing corner of the United Right, where justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro and his Solidarity Poland party are more and more bluntly attacking prime minister Morawiecki. It is even commented that Ziobro is building an alternative for his people for 2023 elections. According to some commentators, he can create a new pre-electoral alliance with the Confederation.

Sex Scandal on the Far Right

Ordo Iuris, an ultra-conservative Catholic foundation known for influential lobbying to ban abortion and limit LGBT+ rights, has recently been through a major crisis started with a romantic affair within the organization, also described as ‘sex scandal’.

What is Ordo Iuris? It is a right-wing think tank with great links to the church and the government. Ordo Iuris has been behind many anti-human rights initiatives introduced by PiS in recent year, including the abortion ban and hate speech campaigns against LGBT+ people. Ordo Iuris drafts bills, creates analysis, lobbies in the parliament, funds massive communication campaigns. It has created a number of satellite organizations, which receive grants from governmental sources. Recently its experts have established Collegium Intermarium, a law school that is supposed to form a new generation of conservative leaders. Ordo Iuris is a part of a rich and influential international network, Tradition, Family, Property (TFP), which has been accused of being a religious sect in several countries. It is also the European arm of the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) headed by Jay Sekulow, Donald Trump’s former lawyer.

Ordo Iuris people are so influential as they have been also given position in many ministries, governmental agencies and courts where they promote ultra-conservative agenda. In 2021 the government of Mateusz Morawiecki nominated Aleksander Stępkowski, former president of Ordo Iuris, for the post of judges of the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg (he was rejected by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe).

Recently, Ordo Iuris participated in discussions on restricting a right to divorce. However, in first weeks of 2022, something unexpected happened. A split occurred. A young and influential vice-president Tymoteusz Zych left Ordo Iuris with a group of dozen coworkers. Officially, the decision was made due to “differences in visions” and a lack of agreement with current chairman Jerzy Kwaśniewski. However, public opinion was quickly informed that this move was motivated by personal reasons and an internal scandal.

Apparently, right wing fanatics who fight so vigorously for traditional families, live themselves much different lives. Media found out that Zych had a long-lasting affair with his colleague from the organization, the director of the International Law Centre Karolina Pawłowska. Both of them are married, both had children from their marriages. For a long time, the affair was said to be an insider secret within the ranks of the organization. However, a few months ago, a violent outburst occurred. Pawłowska’s husband physically attacked Zych in the latter’s office and both men had to be separated by other employees.

Most of Polish media and social media channels were reporting the scandal with passion for a week or so. Private life of Zych and Pawłowska became public and memes with their faces were produced and reproduces in bulk. It also raised ethical questions about invasion of privacy. But most of commentators agree that in this case it is important to inform the public opinion about behavior of these two far-right lawyers and show their hypocrisy. For years, they have been moralizing, talking about values, trying to limit other people’s rights. Zych and Pawłowicz were behind hateful campaigns accusing, e.g., gay people of threatening marriage and the traditional family model.

This scandal has seriously damaged the reputation of Ordo Iuris and many progressive politicians and NGOs activists hope the organization will lose its power. But knowing its effectiveness and connections, it is difficult to believe. Zych has already established a new think tank, named Logos, that wants to be a softer, less aggressive version of his former employer.

European Affairs

Compromised Independence of the Court

The European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) held that the Civil Chamber of Poland’s Supreme Court composition lacks impartiality and independence. Strasbourg judges pointed to a “systemic dysfunction in judicial appointments procedure in Poland.”

The issue before the ECtHR concerned whether the appointment of judges by the National Council of the Judiciary violated the rights to a fair hearing. This right is enshrined under Articles 6 and 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In Dolinska-Ficek and Ozimek v. Poland, the ECtHR held that procedure followed for the appointment of judges was influenced by legislative and executive powers. In the present case, Advance Pharma Sp. Z o.o v. Poland, the Strasbourg court followed judicial precedent. It further held that the Civil Chamber of the Supreme Court was not a “tribunal established by law,” due to compromised independence and impartiality issues of deficient procedure for judicial appointments is prevalent.

Polish deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta said that the ECtHR was applying double standards towards “old” and “new” democracies.

Unprecedented Enforcement

Polish government was obliged to daily fines of EUR 50.000 for not complying with the interim measures (dispute with the Czech Republic) ruled by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) stating that Poland must close the lignite mine in Turów (read more in the September issue of the Newsletter).

Since Poland has refused to pay, the Commission informed the government in Warsaw that it will proceed to executing the fines. The sum for the first months of unpaid penalties, of EUR 15 million, is to be deducted from EU funds for Poland already in February. It will be the first time that the EU has withheld funds from a member state for not complying with a ruling by the ECJ.

Polish government announced it will appeal the EU’s decision to impose the fines, as the agreement with the Czech authorities had been reached. Under the deal, Prague should withdraw the legal complaint in exchange for compensation of EUR 45 million for infrastructure upgrades and other environmental safeguards and pledges.

Polish funds and regional policy minister Grzegorz Puda said that Poland intends to contest the EC's decision, stressing the Sejm: “We believe we must do everything for Poles to have energy security and heating.” Czech prime minister Petr Fiala announced that he got guarantees an underground barrier under construction would work in protecting water sources. Ecological NGOs have questioned the agreement, doubting the planned underground wall would be effective. Polish opposition stresses that the deal was sealed years too late and because of that Poland lost dozens of millions of euro. They criticize the government for rough treatment of Czech partners and mishandling of the negotiations.

First Non-Dutch Person to Head PCA

Poland's current ambassador in the Netherlands will head the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) in The Hague. He specializes in international law and has worked with several foreign institutions, including the Max-Planck Institute in Hamburg and Cambridge University. He also worked as an advisor to the European Commission, the European Parliament, the Polish justice ministry and the Sejm.

Czepelak was chosen in a secret ballot by diplomatic representatives of the 122 signatory states of the Hague Conventions. He became the first ever non-Dutch person to hold the role in the organization’s 123-year history.

The PCA, funded in 1899, began work in 1902 and has to date ruled in about 20 cases, mostly before World War I. In later years, its role was taken over by the Permanent Court of International Justice, and after World War II by the International Court of Justice. The PCA resumed arbitration proceedings in 1998.

Economy

Tighter Shopping Ban

On February 1st, the Polish government tried to close the legal loophole in the Sunday shopping ban. Many retailers, including supermarkets, bypassed the ban by declaring themselves post offices, as such they allowed pick-up of packages delivered by courier companies. The Sunday shopping ban was introduced in 2018 as one of top postulates of the church and ‘Solidarity’ trade union, a close allies of PiS. Now stores can remain open on Sundays only if postal services account for more than 40% of the revenue of a given premises.

But imagination of Polish entrepreneurs has no limits, and many retailers found new loopholes to keep open. Some of them branded themselves as book clubs (a table, a chair and a shelf with books to read was enough to do that). One supermarket in Cieszyn, on the border with the Czech Republic, took advantage of proximity of a bus terminal and called itself a bus station now. Book clubs and bus station can remain open, as the law allow companies in the fields culture, sport, education, tourism and leisure to operate on every day of the week.

However, the victory of the Cieszyn store against Polish lawmakers did not last long. Quickly, after a small protest of trade unionists, the police closed the ‘bus station’ as it is illegal to sell alcohol in such establishment…

Poland & Germany

Speechless

Polish minister of education, ultra-conservative Przemysław Czarnek, issued a directive reducing the number of German language classes taught in Polish schools to members of the ethnic German minority. It has been reduced from three to one hour per week and the change applies only to this one minority.

The directive follow a decision of the Sejm from December to reduce subsidies for teaching minority languages and regional languages in schools by nearly forty million zlotys (ca. EUR 8,8 million). Instead, the funds will be spent on teaching the Polish language to members of the Polish minority in Germany.

Liberal MP from Nowoczesna called the directive “outrageous” and said it will “harm our fellow citizens who pay taxes here, study here, raise their children, and make an indisputable contribution to the development of the Polish state.” Democratic opposition parties were against the decision and tried to stop it in the Senate, where they have the majority. But the upper house’s veto was overruled by supermajority of PiS and the Confederation in the Sejm. This hostile step was also criticized by representatives of diverse minorities, experts and civil society. “I cannot accept that budget cuts are made at the expense of communities or groups who often experience marginalization in various spheres of social or cultural life anyway, and which state institutions are specifically obliged to support,” Polish Ombudsman Marcin Wiącek said.

Members of organizations that represent German minority are especially critical of the decision. The German Socio-Cultural Associations in Poland published a statement claiming that that the decision is contrary to Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Similar declarations were issued by the Federal Union of European Nationalities  and Polish communities abroad (including Polnisches Bundesnetzwerk Partizipation und Soziales).

The Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages has taken note with concern of the recent steps of the government in Warsaw. The Committee reminded that Poland has committed itself to protect and promote regional or minority languages, to take resolute action in order to safeguard them and to encourage their use in public and private life. It has asked the Polish authorities for further information concerning these measures.

Germany’s Commissioner for Matters Related to Ethnic German Resettlers and National Minorities Bernd Fabritius visited the Opole region, the most important center of German minority in Poland. “I am surprised by this regulation, which from the perspective of the German government introduces discrimination between national and ethnic minorities in Poland,” he said.

In recent years, Polish right and far-right groupings have been stressing the fact of asymmetry in how Poland and Germany treat German and Polish minorities respectively. They stress the favorable treatment of the German minority in Poland. In 2021 PiS, supported by ultra-nationalist MPs from the Confederation, decided to take direct action to force Berlin to support more Poles living in Germany. One of the main proponents of the new law PiS’s Janusz Kowalski stressed that Germany must give the status of recognized minority to Polish people and pay for Polish classes, because right now Berlin “does not spend even one euro on this.” He demands “no more discrimination against Poles in Germany.”

Culture

Beloved Poet of the Right

Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz has died at the age of 86. Rymkiewicz was a poet, essayist, dramatist and literary critic, also a professor of philology and a retired employee of the Institute of Literary Research at the Polish Academy of Sciences.

Rymkiewicz was born in Warsaw, in 1935, into the family of prose writer Władysław Szulc, of German-Polish origin, and Hanna Baranowska of Tatar-German origin. Rymkiewicz was a literary alias of his father then later become his last name.

He published his first volume of poetry titled “Conventions” in 1957. Later, such books as: “A man with a hawk’s head” (1960), “Metafizyka” (1963), “What is a thrush” (1973) were published. Rymkiewicz also worked as a translator. His translations include, amongst others, American poetry (Thomas S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens) and Spanish poetry (Federico García Lorca and Pedro Calderón de la Barca).

He was awarded with the Nike, the most prestigious literary award in Poland created by liberal “Gazeta Wybrcza” for a volume “Sunset in Milanówek”. In 2016, the minister of culture Piotr Gliński awarded Rymkiewicz for lifetime achievement as an essayist, playwright and author.

Rymkiewicz has strong political views that coincide with PiS, in particular his view on history and tradition. He supported Jarosław Kaczyński and his governments. He even wrote a poem titled “To Jarosław Kaczyński” suggesting that the plane crash in Smoleńsk was an act of terror and calling for justice for Lech Laczyński’s “burned body”.

And the Oscar Goes to…

This year two Poles were nominated for Oscar awards. One of them is still a student at Warsaw School Film, Tadeusz Łysiak.  His "The Dress" ('Sukienka') has been nominated in the Best Live-action Short Film category. It tells the story of a young hotel worker, who, due to her short stature, experiences loneliness and rejection (great role of Anna Dzieduszycka).

The other nominee is a cinematographer who has already won two Oscars (“Schindler's List”, “Saving Private Ryan”), Janusz Kamiński. This time he will be computing for the award for his work in Steven Spielberg's “West Side Story.”

The winners of the 94th Oscars will be announced on March 27th.

Society

Worst Access to Contraception in Europe

According to a new report by the European Parliamentary Forum on Population and Development (EPF), Poland is ranked the lowest European country in terms of access to contraception and other family planning resources.

EPF evaluates countries in 15 categories connected to policies related to supplies and counseling and availability of online information. Poland scored only 25% in the first category and 43,4% in the second category, with final result of 31,5%. This is significantly less than last year (44,8% overall).

Sport

No Satisfaction in Beijing

Poland won only one medal at the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing, the worst result in decades.

Ski jumper Dawid Kubacki won bronze by finishing third in the normal hill event. He was eighth after the first round but made a stunning jump of 103 meters to give him a spot on the podium. It was rather a surprise as it was Kamil Stoch, Poland’s most successful ski jumper of recent years and the most decorated Winter Olympian, who was expected to bring a medal back to the Tatra mountains. Unfortunately, last weeks before the Olympics were very difficult for Stoch, who had not performed well and suffered an ankle injury.

Poland’s biggest hope for gold this year, a short track speed-skater Natalia Maliszewska didn’t even get a chance to compete in her favorite distance race, 500 m, as she got tested Covid-19 and isolated, then released and isolated again... She described her entire experience in Beijing as "traumatic," during which she said she was ruled in and out of the competition several times due to conflicting test results.

Party Support

IBRiS for Radio Zet, 25.02.2022

PiS                                        37,4%

Civic Coalition                   22,8%

Poland 2050                      10,9%

Left                                      7,2%

PSL                                       4,9%

Confederation                   4,1%