From Poland with Love - February
Topic of the Month
Every Inch of NATO
US president Joe Biden spoke to a crowd in front of the Royal Castle in Warsaw to mark the one year since Russia started a full-scale invasion in Ukraine. Biden’s remarks followed a surprise visit to Kyiv.
The speech struck a similar tone to others Biden has made in recent months, including one he gave in Warsaw nearly a year ago. He highlighted his country’s commitment to Ukraine. “One year into this war, Putin no longer doubts the strength of our coalition, but he still doubts our conviction. He doubts our staying power”, Biden said. “But there should be no doubt, our support for Ukraine will not waiver. NATO will not be divided and we will not tire”, he added.
Biden also responded to the anti-American and anti-European speech made by Vladimir Putin earlier on the same day, in which the Russian dictator claimed that Russia had been attacked and was fighting for its existence. Biden commented: "The West is not plotting to attack Russia as Putin said today. Millions of Russian citizens who only want to live in peace with their neighbors are not the enemy". He also said: "We're seeing again today what the people of Poland and the people across Europe saw for decades. Appetites of the autocrat cannot be appeased. They must be opposed".
During his visit in Poland, Biden also met leaders of NATO's eastern flank. “The commitment of the United States to NATO, I said it many times and I say it again, is absolutely clear. Article 5 is a sacred commitment the United States has made", US president stressed. "We will defend literally every inch of NATO, every inch of NATO", he repeated. The Bucharest Nine (B9) – a format created in 2014 by Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania and Slovakia – was this time supplemented by Moldovan president Maia Sandu. “You know better than anyone what’s at stake in this conflict not just for Ukraine, but for the freedom of democracies throughout Europe and around the world”, Biden told Eastern European leaders. It is worth noticing that Viktor Orban was not present, and Hungary was represented by president Katalin Novak.
Official comments about the US president’s visit made by Polish authorities were enthusiastic. Duda praised Biden's trip as ‘spectacular’, saying it had boosted morale of those defending Ukraine. Polish head of state said the visit was "a sign that the free world, and its biggest leader, the president of the United States, stands by them". Although no concrete declaration was made on the further enhancement of American forces in Poland – as the Polish government had hoped for - Duda welcomed the assurance of American administration continuous commitment to NATO. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented: "We are in the process of discussion with president Biden's administration about making their [troop] presence more permanent and increasing them". Only Jarosław Kaczyński seemed not too happy with the Biden’s public speech. A clip where the PiS leader said “he said nothing” minutes after the speech became viral in social media.
Duda’s ‘Compromise’ Compromises EU Funds
President Andrzej Duda decided not to sign the judicial reform bill that was supposed to unblock the Recovery Fund for Poland. He opted for sending it to the Constitutional Court for examination instead, in what he described as a “preventative measure”.
Last month, Sejm adopted a judicial reform that could release EUR 34,5 billion for Poland. The new act was designed to alleviate a years-long legal battle with the European Commission over rule-of-law standards. Under the draft law, the Supreme Administrative Court (NSA) would deal with disciplinary cases instead of the controversial Chamber of Professional Responsibility of the Supreme Court. What is more, judges would also not face disciplinary procedures for questioning the independence of their peers appointed by politicized bodies (National Council of the Judiciary). The law was supported by PiS, but not by its junior coalition partner, the hard-right United Poland of the justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro. Ziobro publicly appealed to Duda to veto the law.
Duda said that he wanted to offer a compromise and this is why he decided not to veto the law. "But speaking honestly, that agreement raises serious controversies of a constitutional nature", he added stressing that as president he is the guardian of the constitution and takes care of civic rights.
This move hit the PiS government that is hoping to get the money from the EU before the autumn elections. But the representatives of the government hold their nerves and say that they will wait patiently for the judicial decision. The only member of the cabinet who is very happy with the decision, and is not hiding it, is Zbigniew Ziobro. The justice minister said that Poland won’t receive any money from the Recovery Fund anyways, and the judicial reform is only an instrument of European politicians to “change the government in Poland” and “create one European state”.
The Constitutional Court is under heavy influence of the ruling party and should do whatever Jarosław Kaczyński asks for, in this case – to announce that the law is fully constitutional. But the Court’s president Julia Przyłębska has to halt a rebellion in her own institution, as some of her colleagues want to remove her from office (read more in the previous issue). The judicial reform act can be a bargaining chip for the opposition within the Court.
New Senate Pact
Key democratic opposition parties have reached an agreement about the autumn Senate elections. They decided to run only one common candidate per constituency; in other words – not to campaign against one another. The Senate Pact has been signed by the Civic Platform, the Polish People’s Party, the Left, Poland 2050, and the initiative of local politicians called Yes! For Poland (lead by the mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski).
Polish senators are elected in single-member districts (members of the Sejm are elected in proportional system), and a similar agreement in 2019 gave the democratic opposition a majority in the upper chamber. According to polls quoted by some opposition leaders, the 2023 Senate Pact can result with as many as 65 mandates (out of 100). Now the parties need to agree on who the 100 candidates will be.
On the other side, it looks like there won’t be a common opposition list for the Sejm elections. Firstly, the Poland 2050 party declared during its January congress that it is not interested in being a part of the coalition led by the Civic Platform. Later, Poland 2050’s leader Szymon Hołownia confirmed its willingness to cooperate with Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, chairman of the Polish People’s Party. Such alliance would mean that these two parties want to form a conservative block that would compete for moderate PiS voters. They believe that their coalition will not only stop the decline in their polls but will also give them a bonus for unity. However, it is difficult to predict how electorates of these parties – that are very different – will react to this alliance.
Also the left has distanced itself from the idea of one opposition list. In February, four left-wing parties signed an agreement of cooperation. It looks like the New Left, the biggest party on this side of the political stage (formed in 2021 by a merger of the Democratic Left Alliance and the Spring party), gave up hopes for joined forces with the Civic Coalition (Donald Tusk didn’t really want that), and followed advice of its partners from the radical left Together party about running independently under the red flag. Two remaining components of this agreement are marginal groupings: Polish Socialist Party, recently empowered by MPs who left the New Left in a protest against its chairman (read more in the December 2021 issue), and the Labor Union.
It looks like the opposition will go divided in autumn. Opposition voters will have to choose between the right wing PSL-Poland 2050 block, centrist Civic Coalition supported by an association of popular mayors, and the Left. Additionally, PiS will have to compete with the far right Confederation and right-wing agrarian project announced by leaders of the AgroUnia and the Agreement (read more in the previous issue).
We Will Give You Poland Back
Artur Dziambor, one of the leaders of the Libertarians (Wolnościowcy) was kicked out from the Confederation by the peer court. In a result, two remaining MPs representing the Libertarians, left the Confederation parliamentary group. They announced they will build their own lists before the autumn elections.
Confederation was composed of four entities, namely the National Movement, monarchist Confederation of the Polish Crown, New Hope and the Libertarians. The latter one was a splinter party created when three MPs left the New Hope (formerly known as KORWiN) after pro-Russian comments made by the former chairman, controversial veteran of Polish politics, Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Recently Korwin-Mikke was replaced by a young libertarian economist Sławomir Mentzen who built a coalition within the Confederation with nationalist. Dziambor called Mentzen and Robert Winnicki, leader of the National Movement, ‘dictators’. It has been commented that they also want to marginalize Grzegorz Braun, antisememitic leader of the monarchists, and take full control over the organization and its campaign.
Confederation held its convention under the slogan “We Will Give You Poland Back”. The faces of the event were Mentzen and the far right candidate in last presidential elections, young MP Krzysztof Bosak (much more popular than Winnicki; also known from one of the editions of Dancing with the Stars). They attacked both PiS and the democratic opposition. “We reject the arrogance of PO, which it showed during its rule, but we also reject the fossilized statism of PiS – the cronyism, the incompetence and the shame you bring upon us”, commented Bosak. Mentzen attacked the EU and ‘globalists’, in particular for the green agenda. They also complained about the censorship in Poland, reminding that Confederation politicians are not welcome in media and are banned from Facebook (for promoting disinformation and hate speech). Recently also the web site of the conservative libertarian Najwyższy Czas (High Time) magazine has been blocked, according to the far right, by the secret service.
Polish far right camp also got a hit also from a different angle. Robert Bąkiewicz, president of the Independence March, organizer of the biggest nationalist annual event (read more in previous November issues), was removed from his post by his colleagues. 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. The opposition warns that he would us tax payers’ money to train his hooligans who regularly vandalize Warsaw’s city center. Confederation leaders commented that Bąkiewicz had been bought by PiS. On the other side, some PiS politicians praise Bąkiewicz for his patriotism, and cannot believe he lost control over the association and its significant budget.
Eight Years of Prison for Andrzej Poczobut
Polish journalist Andrzej Poczubut was jailed for eight years for actions aimed at harming the national security of Belarus, attempting to rehabilitate Nazism, and inciting ethnic hostility. The sentence sparked outrage in Poland. Poczobut was arrested in spring 2021 as part of a wider crackdown by the Lukashenko regime against political opponents, following months of mass protests against the dictator (read more in the March 2022 issue). The Polish government and multiple international organizations are calling on the Belarus to release him. The leader of the Belarusian democratic opposition Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya called the decision "Lukashenko's personal revenge".
Poland’s initial response was to close the Bobrowniki border crossing, one of two direct land routes for trucks and motorists. Warsaw has also withdrawn its consuls from the Belarus cities of Minsk and Hrodna. Later, the Lukashenko regime expelled three Polish officials, and banned Polish trucks from entering the country via Lithuania or Latvia.
Ukraine & Poland
Tanks and Jets
On the first anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Poland has officially delivered its first tranche of four Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine, becoming the first country to do so (read more in the previous issue). Sweden’s Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson announced Stockholm’s decision to send up to ten Leopard 2A5 tanks to Ukraine.
During his visit in Kyiv, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that another set of Leopards 2A4 – as well as old Polish-produced PT-91s and Soviet T-72s tanks - will be send to Ukraine in the next few weeks.
At the Munich Security Conference, Morawiecki went even further, breaking another taboo by saying that Poland is ready to support Ukraine with its MiG jets, but only if a broader coalition is formed with the United States as a leader.
Bringing Back Ukrainian Children
Poland and the European Commission have announced that they will launch an initiative aimed at repatriating Ukrainian children abducted by Russia. The project designed to track down the missing children and bring those responsible to justice will be lead be both the Commission president and Poland’s prime minister.
Observers estimate that thousands of Ukrainian children have been illegally sent to Russia for adoption. Polish minister of European affairs Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek said: “The whereabouts of many of these children are unknown. Estimates vary widely, but even the most restrained ones speak of at least six thousand cases of documented child theft”. "This is, in fact, a war crime, one that has unfortunately been committed several times before in history, also in Polish history. This is why Poland feels especially obliged to draw attention to the dramatic fate of Ukraine's youngest inhabitants", he concluded.
EC Sues Poland over the Primacy of EU Law
The European Commission will sue Poland at the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over challenges to the primacy of EU law made by the Constitutional Court. It is a response to decisions by Poland’s Constitutional Court that declared measures imposed by the ECJ unconstitutional. According to the EU executive body, two rulings from 2021 “directly challenged the primacy of EU law and the provisions of the EU treaties”. “Everyone in the EU should enjoy the fundamental principles and the rights of the EU legal order, including the right to a court that is independent under EU law”, EU justice commissioner Didier Reynders posted on Twitter.
The Commission added also that it has tried conduct a constructive dialogue with Warsaw, but Polish government has not addressed its concerns.
What is more, the Commission stressed that the Constitutional Court lead by Julia Przyłębska “no longer meets the requirements of an independent and impartial tribunal previously established by law (…) due to the irregularities in the appointment procedures of three judges and in the selection of its president”.
Orlen and Human Rights
Norway's wealth fund – worth over one trillion euro - put Polish energy giant PKN Orlen under observation for a period of three years because of "unacceptable risk that the company contributes to serious violations of human rights". Orlen is one the most important financial instruments that sponsor multiple activities of the government and PiS politicians. Among others, Orlen helped Jarosław Kaczyński to take control over private media in Poland by purchasing Polska Press, owner of majority of regional newspapers and hundreds of local news web sites (read more in the January 2021 issue). Company’s CEO Daniel Obajtek became one of the most important actors within the Polish right-wing.
Also in February, Russia halted supplies of oil to Poland via the Friendship pipeline. The pipeline has been exempted from sanctions which the European Union has imposed on Moscow, and until recently ca. 10% of Orlen’s crude oil supplies came from Russia. According to Russian ministry of energy, in January 2023 Orlen was the biggest exporter of Russian oil in the EU. But even now, when the Friendship pipeline is dry, Orlen still buys Russian oil in the Czech Republic. The southern leg of the pipeline works, selling oil to refineries in Kralupy and Litvinov managed by Orlen.
Destruction of Polish cultural heritage in Belarus
In a small church of Our Lady of the Rosary in the village of Soly, near Hrodna in Belarus, a fresco depicting the Battle of Warsaw was walled over. The 1920 battle is known in Poland as the “Miracle on the Vistula”, when Polish army defeated the Red Army and stopped the march of communism to the West.
The devastation was done at the behest of the Belarusian authorities. Last year, both a regime newspaper and a state-owned TV published stories criticizing the fresco for inciting national and religious enmity. The journalist of the Belarus-1 channel commented that “it seems the churches care not about the salvation of the souls, but about returning of Western Belarus to Poland”.
Soly belonged to Poland between 1921 and 1939, and the fresco was created shortly after the end of the Polish-Soviet war. The fresco had been painted over before, in the Soviet times. After the collapse of the USSR, it was renovated and re-consecrated.
Speaker of the Polish foreign affairs ministry commented on Twitter: “We condemn the destruction of Polish cultural heritage in Belarus by the Lukashenko regime. This heritage constitutes an integral part of the history of Belarus. Destroying it is unworthy and incompatible with the principles of the civilized world".
An Icon or a Container?
The building of the Modern Art Museum in Warsaw has been topped. When its total shape became visible to the public a heated debate about architecture started.
The highest point and the structure of the new museum have now been completed, together with a large section of the white concrete façade and the cinema tower. It is a modernist edifice, which has four above-ground levels and two underground ones. It is located in the very downtown of Poland’s capital, above the Centrum metro station, just next to the iconic and dominant Palace of the Culture and Science.
Museum’s simple form has been widely criticized in social media, and later by the government controlled outlets (as it is pride and joy of the Warsaw city hall, which is in hands of the opposition). Critics say that the building is too basic. Most of them would rather see a new icon of modern architecture in such a symbolic place of Warsaw. Others favored a more classicist architecture and complain that the building reminds them of a container.
Defenders of the building say that the project is a result of international competition – won by Phifer and Partners from New York in partnership with Polish studio APA Wojciechowski - and is a part of a more comprehensive urban plan for the big empty space in front of the Palace of Culture and Science (known as the Parade Square). Indeed, the city hall presented visualizations of the newly designed Central Square with over 100 trees and a pond that will be created between the Modern Art Museum and the TR Theater building which will be constructed there in the coming years (designed by the same architects). Urban planners stress that it will be ‘human scale architecture’, attractive for pedestrians that will revive this, rather empty today, part of the city center. What is more, deputy mayor of Warsaw Aldona Machnowska-Góra stresses that the beauty of the building is inside, pointing at pictures of the monumental, white stairs.
The building will be finished later this year. The Museum of Modern Art is already a well-established public institution in Poland, but so far it has been operating in a temporary seat in a pavilion by the Vistula River.
Poland & Germany
German Women Expelled from Poland
A 26-year-old German woman has been expelled from Poland and prohibited from entering again for five years for repeatedly violating a ban on civilians accessing the area along the border with Belarus. She was part of a group of European citizens which was tracked in the zone, when they were trying to help migrants coming from Belarus, by Polish border guards and punished with PLN 500 (ca. EUR 110) fines. As the German women didn’t accept the ticket, her case was sent to court.
Grupa Granica, a NGO that assists asylum seekers and migrants on the border, claims that the guards used verbal violence and xenophobic comments against the German women. Something that the guards denied. Activists protest against the punishment saying that under Polish law, EU citizens “can only be expelled if it is required for reasons of defense or state security or their stay poses a threat to public health”. They add that Polish authorities should be accused and sentenced for violence and acting against Polish and international law.
Until now, 37 migrants are confirmed to have died on this border since the crisis started, although the real number is likely to be higher. 317 people who tried to cross the border are currently missing. Four bodies have been found in the last weeks, as migrants and asylum seekers are still trying to come to Poland despite the five-meter-high wall built by Polish authorities (read more in the June 2022 issue). To commemorate their death activists organized vigils in Polish cities, e.g. in front of the HQ of the Border Guards in Warsaw. “We want to underline the fact that these deaths are the result of the deadly policies implemented by the Polish government. Each of these deaths could have been avoided if the Polish armed services respected Polish, European and international law”, the statement of Grupa Granica reads.
Deutsche Bahn (DB) and Polish railroad company PKP discussed the development of German-Poland cross-border connections during the 5th German-Polish Rail Summit in Potsdam. Both sides agree to invest in the Berlin-Szczecin route. To cut the journey time to 90 minutes (30 less than today), the route is being double-tracked, electrified, and equipped with the ETCS system. DB and PKP also plan construction of a new railway bridge over the Oder river connecting Küstrin-Kietz, in Brandenburg, and the Polish town of Kostrzyn.
Additionally, a better and more frequent service is intended between Berlin and Przemyśl (close to the border with Ukraine) via Kraków, and between Berlin and Warsaw via Poznań (a two-hour cycle on the latter one).
Cooperation between DB, PKP and the Ukrzaliznytsia (Ukrainian railway company) was also an important part of the summit. The companies evaluated very positively their common initiatives in context of assisting refugees and bringing humanitarian help to people in Ukraine. PKP underlined that ca. 2 million people used free train services for Ukrainian citizens, DB added it issues half a million free ‘helpukraine’ tickets.
The Goal of the Year
Amputee football player Marcin Oleksy has won the 2022 FIFA Puskás Award for his astonishing scissor-kick goal. The award recognizes the most spectacular strike across men’s and women’s football, and in the past it was awarded to, among others, Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahomović. Oleksy became the first disabled receiver of the award for the seemingly impossible acrobatic goal in a game of his Warta Poznań against Stal Rzeszów.
Oleksy was a construction worker who was crushed during road works by an out-of-control vehicle and forced to have his left leg amputated. The accident didn’t stop his love for football and he quickly started playing in the amputee football league.
The Puskás Award was established in late 2009, and is named after the legendary Hungary and Real Madrid striker Ferenc Puskas.
Polls & Trends
IBSP for Stan Polityki, 1.03.2023
Civic Coalition 33,91%
Poland 2050 7,33%
Warsaw was named European Best Destination 2023. In this annual competition Warsaw beat 21 other destinations receiving over 142 thousands votes (68% from outside Poland) of all 686 thousand casted.