From Poland with Love. February

From Poland with Love
© FNFreiheit 

Topic of the Month

Special Commissions Launched

Polish Central Anti-Corruption Bureau detained former deputy minister of foreign affairs Piotr Wawrzyk for his role in the so called visa scandal. Wawrzyk reportedly issued foreign consulates lists of individuals that were to be issued Polish visas. These individuals allegedly paid the equivalent of up to PLN 40.000 (ca. EUR 9.000) for a multi-entry visa into Poland.

A special parliamentary commission is also investigating the visa scandal. Wawrzyk refused to testify in front of the commission, but his associates were more talkative. One of them, Edgar Kobos, reportedly confessed during a closed part of his testimony to taking bribes in exchange for helping organize visas. Kobos said that he believes former foreign minister Zbigniew Rau was behind the illegal practice.

Also testimonies of the former Polish consul in Mumbai and his deputy left no doubts about the shameful character of Wawrzyk’s dealings. The Mumbai consulate, for instance, received an urgent requests from the ministry to issue Schengen visas for groups of dozens of Indian citizens who were presented as “Bollywood filmmakers”. The diplomats stressed that this order from the deputy minister was unprecedented. What is more, according to their research the group had nothing to do with filmmaking industry. Many of the visa receivers used Poland as a transit country on their way to USA. “The visa scandal portrayed by the media is only a small piece of a much larger migration scandal”, deputy consul Mariusz Reszczyk said.

Also, a new parliamentary commission was created to investigate accusations that the PiS government illegally used the Pegasus spyware to hack phones of opposition politicians. After the commission was formed, its member, a liberal MP Witold Zembaczyński (Nowoczesna party) commented: "We will reveal the truth”. "Our work in the investigative commission will cause not only an earthquake, but also a tsunami", he added.

In 2022, Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog of the University of Toronto, that has been investigating the use of Pegasus by authoritarian governments, announced that among first confirmed victims of phone-hacking in Poland are independent prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek, top lawyer of the Civic Platform Roman Giertych and senator Krzysztof Brejza, former campaign chief of the Civic Coalition (read more in the December 2022 issue).

The illegal use of Pegasus have been already analysed by a special commission in the Senate, but they didn’t have special investigative competences. Also European Parliament’s Committee of Inquiry to investigate the use of Pegasus and equivalent surveillance spyware (PEGA) raised deep concern about spying on the opposition and free media in Poland. MEPs wrote that Poland’s use of the Israeli spyware Pegasus was part of “a system for the surveillance of the opposition and critics of the government -- designed to keep the ruling majority and the government in power” (read more in the May 2023 issue).

The new commission is composed of MPs from all parties. It is presided by Magdalena Sroka, former policewomen and leader of the Alliance party, which until 2021 was a member of the PiS majority. Currently, Sroka is an MP of the Third Way. The commission is going to interrogate, among others, PiS chairman Jarosław Kaczyński, former prime ministers Mateusz Morawiecki and Beata Szydło, and former justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro.

Recently it has been reported that also PiS politicians, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, were spied with Pegasus. The news created outcry inside the party. It looks like two freshly proclaimed heroes and ‘victims of the oppressive Tusk’s government’ – former ministers of interior Mariusz Kamiński and Wąsik (read more in the previous issue) – were actually using the spyware against their own colleagues. Media reported that the opposition against them two has grown in the party and that their lead position in coming EP elections is being questioned.


Poland’s NATO Capital Welcomes Ukraine

During the NATO-Ukraine Council in Brussels it was decided that NATO and Ukraine will create a joint analysis, training, and education center in Poland. It will be erected in Bydgoszcz. It is a follow-up of the decision taken during the NATO summit in Vilnius last year to increase interoperability between Ukraine's army and the military alliance. It will be implemented in coming months.

"It will allow Ukraine to share lessons learned from Russia's war and will create a structure for Ukrainian forces to learn and train alongside their allied counterparts", NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said. "This will benefit them and us, and also create a framework to train alongside NATO allied troops. Our experts are now working on the details, and I expect NATO leaders will take the final decision later on this year", he added.

Bydgoszcz is the eighth biggest Polish city, located in the northern part of the country (capital of the Cuyavia-Pomerania region). It is nicknamed the NATO capital of Poland. It is home for the NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU), a staff structure which among others, fills coordinating tasks and planning for the Allied Forces deployed on Polish territory, the NATO Joint Force Training Center (JFTC), subject to the ACT-Allied Command Structure of NATO, with its headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia; the NATO Military Police Centre of Excellence (MP COE) and NATO Force Integration Unit (NFIU). The Command of the 3rd NATO Signal Battalion in Bydgoszcz (3 NSB) has been in operation in the city since 2010.

Government and Opposition on Trump’s NATO Comments

After Donald Trump’s suggestions that he would encourage Russia to attack any NATO member that did not spend enough on defense, both side of the Polish political scene issued their comments. Poland’s defense minister Władysław Kosinak-Kamysz (Third Way) commented that Trump is weakening NATO and that an election campaign cannot excuse for toying with the security of members of the Alliance. On the other side, PiS used Trump’s words to verbally attack Germany for not fulfilling their obligations. “Instead of criticising the US, Polish leaders should mobilize Germany and other European NATO members to fulfill their allied obligations”, former prime minister Mateusz Morawecki commented.

Prime minister Donald Tusk referred to the infamous Trump’s speech, without mentioning his name, in his visit in Berlin: "We will be respected in all the capitals of the world if we believe that the European Union can be a power not only of civilization, economy, and science, but also a military power". "History has turned out to be extremely cruel and surprising. A few years ago, no one would have thought that Poland and Germany would cooperate closely, including militarily, in defending Ukraine against Russian aggression", Tusk added in a joint conference with German chancellor.

International Affairs

Duda’s Unfortunate Statement on Crimea

In an YouTube interview president Adrzej Duda said “It is hard for me to answer that question" when he was asked the question whether he believed Ukraine would be able to retake Crimea. "I don't know if [Ukraine] will regain Crimea, but I believe it will regain Donetsk and Luhansk", he said, adding that Crimea is “a special place, also for historical reasons. Because in fact, if we look historically, it was in Russia's hands for most of the time".

This remark was immediately criticized by the Ukrainian ambassador and Polish government. Foreign affairs minister Radosław Sikorski reminded that Poland "recognizes the independence of Ukraine within its internationally established borders".

Duda had to reiterate from his unfortunate statement. “My actions and position on Russia’s brutal aggression against Ukraine were and have been unequivocal from day one:  Russia is violating international law and is an aggressor and occupier. The Russian invasion of Ukraine and occupation of internationally recognized Ukrainian territories, including Crimea, is a crime. … Ukraine must win”,he wrote on X.

Classic Sikorski

Polish foreign minister Radosław Sikorski became viral when he responded to Moscow’s United Nations ambassador Vasily Nebenzya at the Security Council’s meeting. He delivered a speech aimed at “correcting the record” of the Russian envoy’s remarks, repudiating a series of Kremlin talking points used repeatedly to justify the invasion of Ukraine.

“Ambassador Nebenzya has called Kyiv ‘clients’ of the West. Actually, Kyiv is fighting to be independent of anybody. He calls them a ‘criminal Kyiv regime’. In fact, Ukraine has a democratically elected government. He calls them Nazis. Actually, the president is Jewish, the defense minister is Muslim and they have no political prisoners. He says that Ukraine was walling in corruption. Well, Alexei Navalny documented how honest and full of probity his own country is. He blamed the war on US neo-colonialism. In fact, it is Russia that tried to exterminate Ukraine in the 19th century, again under the Bolsheviks, and it is the third attempt”, Sikorski said in New York.

Polish MFA’s speech was applauded by other members of the Security Council and met with positive reactions, e.g. former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt called it “a classic. Not much left of Russia after that”.

It has been commented in Polish media that Sikorski is interested in becoming the new EU defense commissioner and that Donald Tusk is lobbying in his favor. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen announced "If I would be the president of the next European Commission, I would have a commissioner for defense", adding that it should be a politician from Central or Eastern Europe.

Polish MFA Rebuffed Russian Lies

The infamous interview with Vladimir Putin by Tucker Carlson sparked a lot of attention in the world, proving the dangerous shift of US right wing into pro-Russian position. In Poland the interview was commented not only because of Putin’s message about the war in Ukraine, but also because of the Russian dictator devoted special attention to Poland and its history.

Shortly after the interview Polish MFA publish a statement in English with rebuffing Putin’s ten historical lies about Poland and Ukraine. Among other, we can read the following:

  • Poland did not cooperate with Hitler’s Germany. Poland’s entering into any sort of military alliance with Hitler was out of question.
  • Poles did not force Hitler to start World War II against them. It was Hitler’s Germany and the USSR that signed an agreement against Poland, which allowed Germany to assault Poland on 1 September 1939. Soviet Russia and Hitler’s Germany cooperated in concert until June 1941.
  • Poland was neither involved nor a party to the Munich Agreement (September 30, 1938), which heavily limited Czechoslovakia's sovereignty. Polish demands for Trans-Olza were made after the Munich Agreement was signed.
  • The idea of Ukrainians as a separate nation did not emerge in Poland. The process of self-defining of Ukrainians as a separate ethnic group was paralleled by similar processes in 19th century Europe.

European Affairs

Billions Released

The European Commission formally approved the release of EUR 137 billion to Poland, this is ca. EUR 76,5 billion in cohesion funds and almost EUR 60 billion from a post-COVID recovery fund.

The final step on the way to change the Commission’s decision on blocking the funds for Poland was done by Polish justice minister Adam Bodnar, who presented the new government's plan aimed at reversing the controversial judicial reforms of the PiS government. European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen called the plan “a powerful statement and clear roadmap for Poland” in its way to strengthen the democratic order.

Some of the reforms can be stopped by President Adrzej Duda who has the right to veto any legislation (excluding the state budget). Duda’s second and last term ends next year, and the Commission gave Poland time until the 2026 to implement all the necessary reforms, stressing that the release is of “temporary” nature.


Confident Consumers

Poland and Lithuania are the only two European Union countries to record a positive consumer confidence index in February, scoring 1,2 and 2,8 (in a scale between -100 to +100) respectively. The index is based on surveys regarding households’ expected financial situation and their sentiment about the general economic situation

The EU’s average record is -15,8. The lowest figures were found in Greece (-47.2), followed by Estonia and Slovenia.

Poland has also seen the biggest improvement in the index over the past 12 months, rising by 18,3 points.

Shopping Wars

Two biggest discount super market chains in Poland, Biedronka and Lidl, started a price war. It began with a TV commercial where Lidl said that according to the most popular tabloid newspaper, Fakt, Lidl is the cheapest choice in the country. Biedronka followed with its own campaign stating that Fakt’s methodology is wrong and they are the cheapest. Both chains initiated their huge-scale media campaigns. In the next step of the conflict, Biedronka sent text messages to all registered customers showing that actual prices for selected products in their shops are cheaper than in Lidl. To catch up Lidl lowered prices of many articles.

One of the main battles during this war took place during Fat Thursday, the last Thursday before the Lent when Poles traditionally eat donuts. One chain announced that it would sell donuts for PLN 0,49 (ca. EUR 0,11), when regular shops sells them for ten times more. And bidding down accelerated. Finally Biedronka offered donuts for PLN 0,18 (EUR 0,04) and Lidl gave away donuts for free!

Both chains lowered prices of numerous basic products, like milk, cheese, ham, to levels unseen for years. Customers compare and can’t believe. Among others, the prices of vodka dropped radically to PLN 9,99 (ca. EUR 2,2) for half a liter (and to PLN 8,99 in Kaufland), even below production costs (only the tax is PLN 14,46). This move sparked much criticism from both public health experts and politicians. Many citizens protested to the Consumer Right Protection Authority (UOKiK), which reacted by saying that the preliminary analysis showed the chains may have broken the law on promotion of alcohol. UOKiK noted the prosecutor’s office.

In the latest season of the conflict, a court asked bailiffs to seize adverts by Biedronka claiming that it has been “cheaper than Lidl since 2002”. Lidl argued in court that Biedronka had provided no evidence supporting its claim. Biedronka must now refrain from using such slogans during the course of the legal proceedings.

The war between the shops is closely observed and emotionally commented by Polish people. The online sphere is full of memes mocking both sides. Oddly enough, many Poles stared taking sides, supporting one of the chains they like and attacking the other one. The country  is divided now between Lidl-fatantics and Biedronka-aficionados and this divide may be deeper and longer standing than the one between PiS and Civic Coalition…

Poland & Germany

Weimar Triangle: Reactivation

In the light possible re-election of Trump, the revival of the Weimar Triangle – created in 1991 and frozen by PiS in 2016 - seems even more important for the security of Europe. Poland sees the Franco-German-Polish initiative as a tool to facilitate greater self-reliance for Europe’s defense. "The close cooperation between our three countries — Germany, Poland and France— is very important to all of us", Olaf Scholz commented. "That is why I am also proposing that the Weimar Triangle be given new momentum at the level of the heads of state and government in order to develop new impetus for the European Union", he concluded. German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock commented that "cooperation [between Poland, Germany and France] had never had been as important since the birth of the Weimar format".

Weimar Triangle decided to push for EU-wide coordination of a common strategy for AI made in Europe. Their leaders stressed that European states should cooperate more closely if the EU is to catch up with the US and China and develop its own versions of AI that inject innovation into the block’s economy and promote democratic principles.

Memory Gaps and Visible Signs

Poland’s foreign minister Radowław Sikorski said Germans have “memory gaps” when it comes to the World War II, remember the suffering caused to Jews but not to Poles. “After all, Germans have gaps in their memory: they know about the Holocaust, they remember the sieges of Leningrad and Stalingrad, but they have forgotten what they did to the Polish civilian population”, he said to the weekly magazine Der Spiegel

“We do not want any artificial hostility with our neighbours”, said Sikorski. “There will be no more taunts against Germans, or demonisation of democratic Germany from the government”, he reaffirmed. However he repeated that the war reparations are “an important issue” for the current government of Poland, suggesting  Germany to “think creatively” about the compensation. He gave an example of a documentation center to recognize the suffering of Polish population, which could play an important role in bilateral relations. Other “visible signs” of such compensation, according to Sikorski, could be  reconstruction of one of iconic buildings destroyed during the war or investments in common defense.


Richter Exchibition House Opened

German visual artist known for his diverse styles and subjects Gerhard Richter has opened his Gerhard Richter Exhibition House. The construction was done on the ground of the International Youth Meeting Centre in Oświęcim, only a few kilometers from the Birkenau memorial site.

Richter will show there his series of abstract paintings titled “Birkenau”. It consists of four reproductions of photographs that were taken in 1944 by members of the Sonderkommando near the gas chamber and the crematorium, known as the only pictures taken in the camp documenting the Holocaust. The photographs, depicting naked women being rushed to the gas chambers and the burning of corpses, were smuggled out in a toothpaste tube by members of Polish resistance. They pictures will be mirrored by huge – 260cm x 200cm - metal plates covered with thick layers of paint that were then scratched off.

The exhibition’s original version has been on display at Berlin’s Neue Nationalgalerie since March 2023. Christoph Heubner, a member the German organisation devoted to confronting the crimes of Nazism Aktion Sühnezeichen Friedensdienste (Action Reconciliation Service for Peace) suggested to present them in Oświęcim.

Cleaning after PiS

Culture minister Barłomiej Sienkiewicz decided to stop two flagship investments initiated by his predecessor from PiS, the new wing of the National Museum in Warsaw and the new building of the Polish Royal Opera.

The new wing of the National Museum was planned to be erected in the park, behind the main building. The management of the museum claims it is necessary to store the collection and to serve as a working space for conservation specialists. An architectonic project was selected already in 2022, and last year a construction permit was issued by city authorities, but now the ministry says that the object is costly and much space was emptied since the Polish Army Museum moved from the National Museum premises to its new modern building in the Citadel (read more in the September 2023 issue).

PLN 100 million (ca. EUR 23 million) planned for the new wing seems like not much compared with the other black-listed investment, the new building for the Polish Royal Opera. This was supposed be a mostly underground (3-storeys deep) building, surrounded on the outside by big lanterns shaped like water lilies. The cost of the investment was estimated for hundreds of millions of PLN. The main problem with it was its location. It was planned to be constructed in the most representative, historic Łazienki park, in the heart of Warsaw. It was called megalomaniac by many commentators, who were worried it is too big and too dominant for Łazienki, the summer residence of Polish kings. The decision not to continue the investment was taken together the management of the park and conservators.

The Royal Opera was founded by the PiS government, as a consequence of the conflict between the culture minister and the Warsaw Chamber Opera. Minister Gliński couldn’t fire the director of the latter, so he decided to create a new stage focused on old music. The Royal Opera was given the Stanisław Theater building in the Łazienki park, but this small historic stage was not big enough for ambitions of the minister. Currently there are three opera houses in Warsaw and the new government does not see it necessary to fund new stages for any of them.

Minister Sienkiewicz has also started a long process of reversing controversial decisions of the former government regarding key cultural institutions. He started with the flagship modern art institution, responsible for the Polish pavilion in the Venice Biennale, the Zachęta National Gallery of Art. He dismissed Janusz Janowski and annulled the decision of a committee chaired by Janowski that Poland will be represented in Venice by Ignacy Czwartos. The latter one wanted to show an exhibition about Polish history between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia. Sienkiewicz also announced he would merge the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (IAM), which organizes international cultural exchange programmes, with the Biuro Niepodległa, whose activities and grants relate to Polish independence. This legal trick will be used to remove the much criticized director of IAM. He also, for similar reasons, merged the Book Institute with the Literature Institute. More changes are expected in museums, galleries and theaters in coming weeks and months.

Eagles and Kos Win Triumph at the Eagles

Agnieszka Holland’s Green Border won the Polish Eagle prize for the best film at the Polish Film Awards.

The movie tells story of migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to cross the Polish-Belarusian border spurred on by the propaganda of the regime in Minsk. The story is told from three perspective: migrants, local volunteers trying to help them, and border guards. The film is described as emotionally devastating appeal to European authorities to change their inhumane policy towards desperate people who want to build new, safe life in the Old Continent.

The film has been very controversial and criticized by the former government. Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro compared the film to “Nazi propaganda” (read more in the September 2023 issue).

Last year, Green Border won the Special Jury Prize at the film festival in Venice. In February, the film won the audience award of the International Film Festival Rotterdam. Holland, the Oscar winning director, was also awarded with the Eagle Lifetime Achievement Award, becoming only the second female in the 26-year history of the award.

The other major winner of the Polish Film Awards is Kos, which triumphed also during the last Gdynia Film Festival. Directed by Paweł Maślona, the Tarantino-style film about Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko  received six Golden Eagles including best director, best screenplay (Michał A. Zieliński), best supporting actress (Agnieszka Grochowska), best costume Design (Dorota Roqeuplo), best make up (Aneta Brzozowska) and best sound (Radosław Ochnio, Adam Szlenda, Filip Krzemień).


Watch the Kos trailer here.

Party Support

United Survey for, 28.02.2024

Civic Coalition              32,6%

PiS                                     28,2%

Third Way                      15,2%

Confederation              9,1%

Left                                   8,5%

Worcław of the Future

Wrocław won the “European Cities & Regions of the Future” ranking, which compares European cities and regions in terms of their economic, financial, and business strengths. The capital city of Lower Silesia came first in the medium-sized city category, but also in the categories of the most business-friendly place, a place with the greatest human potential, and the best place to live. Additionally, it ended up third in the development strategy category and fourth place in the economic potential category.

The ranking is compiled by fDi Intelligence, an opinion magazine from the Financial Times Group.