Newsletter
From Poland With Love - January

Article Banner - From Poland With Love December 2020

Topic of the Month

PiS TV

State-controlled Polish refiner PKN Orlen has bought newspaper publisher Polska Press from its German investor.

Polska Press, previously owned by German Verlagsgruppe Passau, owns 20 out of 24 regional dailies, as well as 120 local weeklies, 500 local news sites reaching 17,4 million users per month, and six large printing houses. It employs 760 journalists. In many local and regional markets Polska Press holds a dominant position. It operates in 15 out of the 16 regions in Poland and is a market leader in terms of readership and sales in most of them.

Polish competition watchdog UOKiK has approved the plan, disregarding the Ombudsman Adam Bodnar’s appeals to "protect the citizens' right to reliable information" and "shield the media market from political pressure". Oddly enough, shortly before its decision about Polska Press the competition office had blocked the acquisition of Eurozet, the owner of one of the biggest radio station Radio Zet, by Agora (the publisher of Gazeta Wyborcza, the biggest liberal newspaper). UOKiK claimed that the acquisition would limit competition in radio markets by creating a duopoly.

In 2020 Orlen took over Ruch – the second-largest press distributor in Poland, delivering newspapers to over 15.000 kiosks across the country (in fact, Ruch in one of the most recognizable brands in Poland, and a symbol of press distribution). Orlen also created its own media house, Sigma Bis, aggregating advertising budgets from large state-owned firms.

The company announced on its web site: “PKN Orlen is expanding its presence in the media market. The acquisition of one of the largest publishing groups in Poland and harnessing the potential and capabilities of the media agency Sigma Bis and Ruch will enable the Group to create a flexible, personalized and comprehensive offer delivering greater customer satisfaction. The transaction is part of PKN Orlen’s strategic plan to strengthen its retail sales, including its non-fuel sales”. In line with its strategy until 2030, Orlen aims to grow its retail sales by advancing modern communication channels, expanding the network of parcel collection points, digital transformation of its retail formats and building an e-commerce platform around the Ruch network.

Orlen has declared it bought Polska Press out of "purely business reasons". "We are looking for diversification," Orlen CEO Daniel Obajtek explained. But regardless of what the company representatives say the opposition is protesting against the acquisition calling it a political move aimed at strengthening PiS’s position in media (also by development of microtargeting tools) before the next regional elections.

It is worth mentioning that the political position of Daniel Obajtek is growing. After he was praised by Jarosław Kaczyński media started speculating that he might replace the Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki by the end of the year. But he responded: “I am in business, we are building a big business, this business must have some continuity with such serious decisions (…) This is far-reaching thinking”. His “business career” fully depends on PiS. In 2006-2015 he was a mayor of Pcim, a very small town that is a synonym of backwardness in Polish jokes.

PiS politicians are not really hiding that this is another step of the "re-Polonisation" of media dominated by foreign capital. Reporters without Borders (RSF) warned that "Polska Press is just the start" and PiS will follow Viktor Orban’s path of taking full control over the media landscape, concentrating them in one hand. In the same way that the Hungarian prime minister uses friendly oligarchs, Kaczyński and Morawiecki use state-owned companies (SOCs). It is worth remaining that since 2015 Poland has fallen dramatically in the press-freedom rankings, from 18th in 2015 to 62nd last year.

To prove that the so-called “deconcentration” of media has top priority on PiS’s agenda, we can point at the party’s newest idea: solidarity tax. The government will soon start working on a bill to ensure additional income for the National Health Fund and the fund supporting culture. Per the expected legislation, the new tax will concern all broadcasters and publishers, including big tech corporations. The tax will be calculated based on these parties' ad revenues. All radio and TV stations will have to pay. Also all cinemas, outdoor advertisers and the press, as well as companies providing internet advertisement services in Poland, including tech giants and the largest web portals. It will hit the media market severely mauled by the Covid-19 crisis. The only broadcasters and publishers who won’t be harmed are those belonging to the state or SOCs as they are heavily subsidized.

Economy

The Anger

Hundreds of businesses disobeyed lockdown rules and reopened declaring that they “won't survive another month”. Even more businesses stated they would also do so in the upcoming days. Something that has for a long time been a boogeyman became a reality, and the government doesn’t know how to deal with it.

Dissatisfaction and desperation are especially visible in the mountains. Normally “górale”, the highlanders from the Tatra region, use the winter season to make income that supports their families during most of the remaining months of the year. This year it is not possible. Ski slopes, restaurants and hotels in Poland's tourist-reliant mountainous south have to be closed due to the sanitary restrictions. The government even prevented children from traveling to ski resorts during their winter break.

Some 200 entrepreneurs have joined the so-called “Highlanders' Veto” movement, whose leader Sebastian Pitoń announced the disobedience campaign while clad in the traditional outfit of the Tatra mountains. Pitoń is a supporter of the far-right Konfederacja and a Covid-denier. But most of entrepreneurs behind him are not politically allied and their protest is a cry for help. Some guesthouses have started looking for “alternative solutions” and advertising rooms as “ski lockers” or sold parking spots for a weekly fee of nearly EUR 500, with rooms thrown in as an extra.

PiS government, terrified with the disobedience in its electoral stronghold (45% for PiS in Zakopane, the capital city of the Tatra, in 2019 elections), announced a package for all 200 mountain communities. Each of them can apply for up to EUR 2 million grant for businesses that are not covered by the government’s existing support package for the wider tourist industry, which was introduced last year.

The górale are not the only ones losing patience with the government's response to the pandemic, with many small business owners all over Poland taking to social media to announce they are opening back up. They must be creative not to be immediately closed down by the police or sanitary inspection, e.g. a skating rink owner in Szczecin decided to operate as a flower shop to get around the rules. Some businesses have exploited the fact that the government reopened cultural venues, e.g. a pub in Warsaw has reopened as the “Warsaw Beer Cap Museum”. Two nightclubs have reopened as political party headquarters.

Around half of Poland’s gyms have reportedly reopened and the Polish Fitness Federation warned that many of its members would reopen at the start of February, regardless of the rules the government put in place. According to the Polish Gastronomy Chamber of Commerce, as many as 20.000 restaurants are expected to admit customers in violation of the current rules.

The courts are ruling against the authorities in cases when businesses and individuals are brought to pay fines for breaking the restrictions. The Administrative Court in Opole, ruled that a hairdresser did not have to pay the fee for serving a customer in violation of the spring lockdown rules. The judgment stated that such restrictions cannot be legally introduced by a government decree alone. The 2008 law provides a basis for some restrictions, but that curbing movement and shutting down business activity require the introduction of a constitutional state of emergency.

The anger of Polish entrepreneurs and many ordinary citizens is growing when they read about the arrogance of the authorities. For example about Jadwiga Emilewicz, the former deputy prime minister, who went with her two sons on a skiing trip or about constitutional judge Krystyna Pawłowicz who went to a spa hotel, while most Poles can’t go anywhere and obey the rules. The first case was especially outrageous. Emilewicz said her sons were registered as competitive athletes with the Polish Ski Association (PZN) and were allowed to train on the ski slopes. But the PZN pointed out that the permits given to Emilewicz’s children were applied for and issued after the ski training had taken place.

 

Politics

Cultural Wars

In January the Polish Constitutional Court announced its reasoning for a ruling that tightens the abortion law. This was a condition for publishing of the verdict in the Official Gazette. As a result of this publication, abortions in Poland will only be permitted in cases of rape, incest and when a mother's life is endangered. The ruling will likely have a significant practical impact on Polish women, given that, until December 2020, 98% of all legal terminations came as a result of severe foetal defects.

Poland will have one of Europe’s most restrictive regimes. The Tribunal’s president, PiS nominee, Julia Przyłębska, said abortions in cases of foetal abnormality legalized “eugenic practices with regard to an unborn child, thus denying it the respect and protection of human dignity”. She continued that Poland’s Constitution guarantees a right to life and terminating a pregnancy based on the health of the foetus amounted to a “forbidden form of discrimination”.

The publication triggered a new round of demonstrations. Protesters took to the streets of Warsaw and other Polish cities. Once again, they expressed themselves through placards saying, among others, “This is war”, and “We are pissed off”.

Ombudsman Adam Bodnar published a statement condemning the verdict, saying that it is risking women’s lives and, in many cases, “condemning them to torture”. Małgorzata Kidawa-Blońska, deputy speaker of the Sejm and former Civic Coalition’s presidential candidate, tweeted a line from a dissenting ruling by Constitutional Tribunal judge Leon Kieres: “The state should provide women with the necessary help, not force them to be heroic”. “PiS does the opposite,” she commented.

Also in January Poland became an arena of a discussion about euthanasia. The middle-aged Polish citizen living in the UK, referred to as RS, suffered in November 2020 a massive heart attack at his home, depriving his brain of oxygen for 45 minutes. He was in a vegetative state in a Plymouth hospital with doctors not seeing any prospect for recovery. The man's wife and children supported a successful application by the hospital to a court for permission to turn off his life support system so that he could die while receiving palliative care.

However, the RS's mother and sister in Poland argued that the man, as a Catholic, would oppose the turning off of life support owing to his faith. After losing in the English court, they have said they would like the Polish government to become involved, and also took their case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The ECHR rejected their plea, but Polish politicians got very actively engaged.

The minister of health offered RS a place in a special clinic for patients in coma in Olsztyn, northern Poland. Deputy Justice Minister announced that a diplomatic passport in the RS's name had been sent to the Polish consulate in London to open the door for his repatriation. Andrzej Duda ordered his foreign advisor to meet the UK ambassador to Warsaw.

Krystyna Pawłowicz, ex-PiS MP and current Constitutional Tribunal judge, accused the hospital of wanting to harvest the  man’s organs and compared them to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele. ”Polish church was pushing on the church in England to stop the ‘barbaric civilization of death ’”. In a letter to Matt Hancock, British Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, two senior catholic bishops conveyed the offer of Polish authorities to help transfer the RS back to his homeland. TVP compared RS to an inmate in Auschwitz.

RS died on January 26.

 

Let All Be Un-Clear

Polish right-wing media and politicians cannot move on after the US elections. TVP was probably one of the last institutions in Europe that believed that Trump’s victory was stolen and hoped Biden would be removed from office by the Supreme Court (or anybody else). During the storming of the US Capitol Polish state-owned broadcaster compared QAnon followers with the Polish opposition. It was also deeply concerned about the censorship of Trump’s social media accounts.

After Trump’s social media ban, PiS allies, without hesitation, decided to build a Polish Parler, or rather- a Polish Facebook… Tomasz Sakiewicz, editor-in-chief of Gazeta Polska, one of the government’s propaganda tubes, is the man behind the new project. Its name is Albicla – an abbreviation of the term “Let All Be Clear”. Its goal is to become a new censorship-free platform where users would be able to share their views without restrictions and without the risk of being banned or having their accounts closed.

Albicla had a really rough start. Not only because of the technical problems, but mostly because it was exposed as everything but “censorship-free”. Many users, including liberal journalists, became banned immediately after they registered.

Moreover, Albicla became a victim of numerous hackers’ attacks who, e.g. replaced all the graphics with pictures of rainbows (symbols of LGBT+ movement). Later, personal data of ca. 10.000 users leaked uncovering serious issues with security systems (or lack thereof).

Die Welt devoted an extensive article to the topic summing it up: “The Polish platform Albicla is supposed to be a counterbalance to social media, which allegedly restricts freedom of speech, but in reality, it is a tool of the government”.

Culture

Nice Ride

Three metro stations in Wola district in Warsaw will compete for the Mies van der Rohe award. They were designed by Biuro Projektów Kazimierski i Ryba from Warsaw.

These three stations on line 2 were opened in April 2020, at the height of the first lockdown. Metro Płocka, Młynów and Księcia Janusza have since won widespread acclaim for their individualized aesthetics and functionality, not to mention their striking use of light and neon.

What’s interesting, workers at the metro station Płocka found the bones of a prehistoric mammoth. Their age is initially estimated at 100-120 thousand years. Pelvis bone and skeleton fragments were discovered 6 meters underground during the construction of a ventilation room. A copy of the bone is exposed now in the station and a mural of the giant mammal was painted next to exits.

In total twenty projects from Poland have been nominated this year.

European Union Prize in the Contemporary Architecture Competition Miesa van der Rohe was funded by the European Commission and the Mies van der Rohe Foundation. It has been awarded every two years since 1987. The Szczecin Philharmonic, to date, has been the only Polish building to claim the top prize at the Mies van der Rohe awards.

See the nominees from Poland: https://noizz.pl/design/mies-van-der-rohe-2022-20-polskich-budynkow-nominowanych-do-nagrody/9whb1me

 

Pop Hops

Henryk Jerzy Chmielewski, better known by his pen name Papcio Chmiel (Pop Hops), a cartoonist famous for his adventures of Tytus, Romek and A'Tomek, has died aged 97.

He was born in Warsaw in 1923. He fought in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war, he served in the Polish Army as a gunner. He later worked as a graphic designer for Świat Przygód (World of Adventure) and Świat Młodych (Youth’s World). He drew his first comics in 1947. The cartoons, which ran to 2009, featured the escapades of two boy scouts, Romek and A’Tomek, and Tytus, a chimpanzee who could speak. His scripts dealt with the socio-political situation in Poland and explained the history (e.g. the Battle of Grunwald).

Several generations of Poles were brought up by his comics. Several million copies have been sold.

In 2009, Chmiel painted a mural at the Warsaw Rising Museum.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki wrote on Facebook that Chmiel "showed how beautiful and malleable the Polish language is, and what power, especially in the times of the grey PRL (communist-era Poland), imagination and truth have. Rest in peace, Papa”.

 

A Warning

An academic edition of Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” has been published in Poland for the first time. It will be only the second annotated edition of “Mein Kampf” in the world — after a German one that came out in 2016.

Since there are laws in Poland against propagating fascist content, the Hitler’s book could have been published only equipped with scholarly commentary (the law excludes academic activity from criminal liability). Obviously, such publication has been controversial. Director of the Auschwitz Memorial Museum, Piotr Cywiński said: “There is no denying that “Mein Kampf” is an important historical source which is indispensable for research into how National Socialist ideology developed”, but he warned about the misuse of the publication. Poland’s Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich said an academic edition could be “a positive thing” and could “help people understand in a much more complete and profound way the dangers of Nazism, of lying, of totalitarianism.”

 “According to the critics, the publication of this book is an offense to the victims of Nazism. In my view, it is the opposite,” said Eugeniusz Krol, a historian who has been preparing the Polish-language edition for the past three years.

“Mein Kampf” was published in 3.000 copies by Bellona, a publishing house specializing in history books (During Hitler's lifetime, a total of around 12 million were sold). It runs to 1.000 pages and will be buttressed with an extensive introduction and over 2.000 footnotes. There will not be any publicity campaign and price was set at very high PLN 150 (ca. EUR 33). “We do not want this publication to be widely accessible,” said Bellona’s director, Zbigniew Czerwinski. He added the book was above all “a warning that it is easy to dismantle democracy and build a totalitarian regime in an almost invisible way.”

The publication of new editions of Hitler’s work became possible in 2015 when the copyright held by the Bavarian government expired. Pirate copies or abridged versions of Hitler’s book have circulated in Poland for years. In 2005, the government of Bavaria requested the seizure of copies of one such version in Poland.

 

Art Records

Sales at Polish art auctions reached their highest ever level of PLN 380 million zloty (ca. EUR 84 million) in 2020, up 29% from a year earlier. According to an annual round-up by Artinfo.pl, an industry website, 21.942 pieces of art were auctioned off in total last year, marking a rise from 16.149 in the previous year. The number of auctions has also been growing, from 55 in 2000, to 148 in 2010 and now to the highest ever number, 467, in 2020.

Poland’s market remains largely in the hands of three auction houses, which together generated 80% of sales value in 2020: Desa Unicum (51,6%), Polswiss Art (18,3%) and Agra-Art (9,3%).

The most expensive artwork sold last year was Wojciech Fangor’s M 22 which went for PLN 7,32 million, including the auction fee. That is the most that any individual painting has ever been sold for in Poland. The highest price paid in the Old Masters category was for the Portrait of Professor Karol Gilewski, M.D. painted by Jan Matejko in 1872, which reached PLN 6,96 million. The sale also marked a new record for this segment.

 

Europe

No Funds for Haters

Norway, Iceland and Lichtenstein cancelled grant to Poland’s Carpathian mountains after the region passed a resolution declaring itself a “LGBT-free zone”. The subsidy was withdrawn in September last year, but the decision came to light in January when a Polish activist Bart Staszewski published three letters exchanged between officials in Oslo and Warsaw.

The grant had been intended to enhance the route through the Carpathian mountains, with the money going towards “discovering, promoting and protecting the cultural and natural wealth of the Carpathian region”.

“By adopting a resolution explicitly referring to “LGBT” or “LGBT ideology” the lead partner discriminates against an identifiable group of persons,” a Norwegian official wrote at the time. On the other side, the Polish minister of funds and regional policy, Małgorzata Jarosińska-Jedynak, said the LGBT-free zones “do not ... discriminate against anyone on the basis of any personal features”.

On a positive note, also in January, one “LGBT-free zone”, Nowa Dęba, became the first municipality in Poland to withdraw its hateful legislation, belatedly claiming it was all “a misunderstanding”. And Szprotawa, a small town in the Lubusz region, declared itself an LGBT-friendly zone.

 

Judges for Nobel

Polish Judges’ Association “Iustitia”, a symbol of the fight against the politicization of the judicial system in Poland, has been nominated by Norwegian Labour Party MP Jette F. Christensen for the Nobel Peace Prize 2021. As the Norwegian MP wrote in her letter: “My nomination this year is for the fight to preserve democracy as a form of government in Europe based on principles. When human rights, rule of law and freedom of speech are threatened, our common peace is threatened”.

 

Society

Demography

Statistics show deaths spiked in Poland to a level unseen since World War II and births sharply declined. These trends are attributed to the Covid-19 pandemic and described as a demographic crisis.

Poland registered 357.400 births last year, the lowest number since 2005, and some 486.200 deaths from various causes, the highest number registered since the war. The overall data showed a population loss of some 129.000 people in 2020, compared with a decline of some 36.400 the year before.

Since 4 March, 2020, when the first Covid-19 case was detected in Poland, 1.489.512 people were infected, 36.054 died, and 1.246.267 recovered. Currently, there are about 14.000 patients with Covid-19 in hospitals, 1.414 of whom are on ventilators. More than 184.000 Poles are in quarantine. Polish hospitals have a total of 29.500 beds for coronavirus patients, and 2.800 ventilators.

 

Out of Wedlock

Over a quarter of children in Poland are now born out of wedlock, continuing a steady rise from below 7% thirty years ago, according to Statistics Poland (GUS).  The number of marriages in Poland dropped by 20% in 2020 and there was also a decline in divorces last year. The median age for marriage is now roughly 30 years for men and 28 years for women.

 

8% More

457 thousands foreigners reside in Poland with valid residence documents. It is 8% more than last year, according to the new data published by the Office for Foreigners. Poland has recently experienced levels of immigration that are unprecedented in its history and among the highest in the EU.

The number does not include those in the country with temporary permissions or long-term visas, nor those who have not formalized their stay. A comprehensive estimate by state-run Statistics Poland (GUS) last year estimated that there were over two million foreigners living in the country. Over two-thirds come from Ukraine (244.200 permits), the rest comes from Belarus (28.800) and Germany (20.500). Russia (12.700) and Vietnam (10.900), and other countries. The latter of whom are Poland’s largest non-European group.

 

Germany and Poland

No Extradition to Poland

A court in Karlsruhe has decided not to extradite a citizen of Poland and Germany, accused of forging invoices and defrauding a VAT refund, to Poland on the basis of the European Arrest Warrant (EAW).

This is the second decision by the Higher National Court in Karlsruhe to suspend the execution of a EAW to Poland, directly motivated by concerns that as a result of changes in the judiciary after 2015, the independence of judges in Poland is under threat, and likewise the fundamental right of EU citizens to a fair trial.

The judgment is in line with the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) previous jurisprudence regarding the execution of EAWs in the context of concerns about the independence of the judiciary and the respect for the right to a fair trial in the EU country to which the accused is to be referred. It supplements the judgment in the case of LM (Celmer), in which the CJEU clarified that the national courts deciding on EAWs must perform the two-step test: 1. to assess whether there is a systemic threat to the rule of law in the country of reference; 2. to assess whether the person being sent to that country will be guaranteed a fair trial in the given case.

 

Jab Attack

Janusz Kowalski, deputy minister of state assets and MP for the Solidarity Poland, accused Germany of brutal violation of the EU vaccine rules. He did so after it had emerged that Germany had ordered 50 million doses from two suppliers, Pfizer and CureVac, as well as bought up another 26 million doses which have been turned down by other countries. He added: “We are dealing with a similar approach, in the case of the Nord Stream 2 project, where Germany is trying to push through the project, which is politically beneficial for them - the construction of a gas pipeline with Russia - at the expense of, among others, Poland and other Central European countries.

Before Kowalski, Witold Waszczykowski MEP, Poland’s former foreign minister stated: “It is selfish behavior to buy medicine by yourself, disrespecting common decisions. It is another example of the German policy of respecting their own interests above the interests of other EU countries.” Krzysztof Szczerski, chief of staff to President Duda of Poland, highlighted what he called the “disloyalty of individual states”.

German government said it's purchasing extra doses from EU countries that didn't order their full allocation of the most expensive expensive jab. Poland, for example, contracted only 6,6 million Moderna vaccines despite being eligible for over 13 million doses. The opposition has criticized heavily this decision of Morawiecki. 

 

Parliamentary Cooperation

Speaker of the Sejm Elżbieta Witek and the German Ambassador to Poland Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven discussed parliamentary dialogue. Witek expressed hope for the intensification of Polish-German parliamentary contacts and for a return to top-level direct meetings of Polish and German MPs. The German ambassador on his part confirmed that the dialogue at the parliamentary level was an important element of his mission in Poland.

Witek thanked von Loringhoven for the Bundestag's resolution on the raising of a memorial site in Berlin dedicated to the Polish victims of the Third Reich.

Party Support

IBRiS for Onet, 31.01.2021

PiS                               31,1%

Civic Coalition             19,2%

Poland 2050                16,9%

Left                               8,9%

Confederation              7,4%

PSL                              5,5%

 

Poles and Sports

How many days a week are you active (at least 60 minutes)?

IBRiS for LOTTO Foundation

Adults:
0            31%
1            11%
2            15%
3            15%
4            6%
5            4%
6            2%
7            13%

Children:
0            6,1%
1            8%
2            16,1%
3            19,6%
4            18,3%
5            18%
6            7,3%
7            6,6%

Top 5 sport activities of Poles:

Adults:
Cycling             45%
Walking            45%
Swimming        20%
Gymnastics      14%
Gym activities  14%

Children:
Walking            47%
Cycling             43%
Valley ball        34%
Football            32%
Running           30%