From Poland with Love - January

From Poland with love

Topic of the Month

One Step Closer to Recovery Fund

Sejm adopted a judicial reform that could unblock EUR 34,5 billion from the EU Recovery Fund. The new act is supposed 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 (which  replaced the controversial Disciplinary Chamber; read more in the June 2022 edition). 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)

Supreme Court’s spokesman, judge Aleksander Stępkowski, warned that the new bill is “unconstitutional on many levels” as it “allows for the permanent removal of legally elected judges”. Also the Supreme Court’s First President Małgorzata Manowska warned that the bill violates the principle of irremovability of a judge.

PiS’s junior coalition partner United Poland, lead by the justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro, voted against the bill because it views it as undermining Polish sovereignty. "The [recovery fund] is in its essence a very expensive loan for which we will have to pay. Poles should also know that succumbing to blackmail always ends badly", Ziobro tweeted.

PiS had to look for allies in the opposition. But the opposition claims that the bill is unconstitutional as the NSA cannot be granted such competences (this opinion is shared also by the NSA president). On the other side, the opposition wants to unblock the Recovery Fund for Poland. After negotiations, all democratic opposition groups in the parliament decided to show common position about the controversial law and abstain in the vote. With their abstention the law would have anyway been adopted and funds released. But during the vote the Poland 2050 party, run by a former TV celebrity Szymon Hołownia, voted against. This came as a shock for other parties. Poland 2050 broke the deal to differentiate itself and to score political points, and by doing it lost trust of its partners. Leaders of Civic Coalition say that Hołownia is an unreliable partner and it’s hard to imagine a common list with his party in the autumn elections.

The bill will be now debated during a special session of the Senate. Amnesty International and a dozen of civil society organizations wrote to the Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki about their concern about the  unconstitutionality of the bill.

To become law, the bill would also need to be signed by the president. Andrzej Duda has declared he would not accept any regulation that would allow the legitimacy of judges to be called into question. It is not very surprising as nominating judges is a presidential  prerogative. Duda was quickly indentified as an ally by minister Ziobro who publicly appealed to him for a veto. But it is unlikely. Andrzej Duda will act the way Jarosław Kaczyński wants, and it this case it looks like PiS leader wants billions from Brussels to finance projects needed before the autumn elections. Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said he expects to obtain a first tranche of European Union aid in the second half of this year.

Poland & Germany

Tanks for Ukraine

Last month in the German-Polish relations were marked by the discussion about tanks for Ukraine. Polish authorities kept pushing on their German counterparts to convince them to participate in the initiative supported by a number of European countries.

Ukrainian authorities stressed that some 300 new tanks are necessary for them to stop the Russian aggression. Poland, but also Finland, Norway, Spain and other countries, wanted to equip Ukraine with Leopard 2 tanks, designed specifically to combat Russian tanks. But since Leopards are made in Germany, Berlin needs to approve their export. And Berlin was hesitant.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has called on German government to be "brave" and give the green light to export of 14 Leopard 2 tanks from Poland to Ukraine, stressing that Germany has special responsibility after years of pumping billions into the Russian oil and gas industry. Morawiecki also said that he could wait two-three weeks for chancellor Olaf Scholz’s response, but would send the tanks anyways. A German government spokesperson had told Poland that to do so would be unlawful under the terms of the purchase agreement.

Additionally, Polish authorities were encouraging Scholz to donate some of the German Leopards, too. Polish defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak supported Morawicki by saying: "This is our common cause, because the security of the whole of Europe is at stake!".

New German defense minister Boris Pistorius said his country had given allied nations the permission to train Ukrainians to use Leopard 2 tanks. At the same time, he didn’t declare Germany would export their own tanks. Polish authorities have already announced they aim to get training time on Leopard 2 down to five weeks. Courses will most probably take place in Świętochów training center, not far from the German border.

Poland has already sent ca. 250 Soviet era T-72 tanks to Ukraine, and will send additional 60 PT-91 tanks to Ukraine


Rebellion in the Constitutional Court

Six out of eighteen judges of the Constitutional Court appealed to its president to call a meeting to elect her successor. They also informed about it president Andrzej Duda. According to their interpretation of the law, the term of the Court’s head lasts six years, in case of Julia Przyłębska it should end on December 20, 2022. A number of lawyers and opposition MPs agree with this interpretation.

Przyłębska responds that her term will last until 2024, arguing that she was appointed to her current position in December 2016. And only later PiS adopted a number of new laws on the Constitutional Court introducing a six-years term. Przyłębska believes she is not bound by the law as at the moment of her appointment there was no time limit for the service of the president - it could have been as long as the term in the Court.

Przyłębska, known as a personal friend of Jarosław Kaczyński, was supported by the government.

What is the most interesting, the six judges who rebelled against Przyłębska had been also elected by PiS, and this group includes powerful deputy-president of the Court Mariusz Muszyński and former state prosecutor, a close ally of the justice minister, Bohdan Świączkowski. Media have reported that least two more judges agree with their interpretation but didn’t sign the letter. This conflict is another one within the PiS camp, proving decomposition of the United Right.

Lex Kaczyński & Patriotic Solution

In December 2022, the court ordered Jarosław Kaczyński to pay PLN 700.000 (ca. EUR 150.000) to former foreign minister in Tusk’s government, Radosław Sikorski MEP (who was also a defense minister in the first PiS government). This high sum was demanded by Sikorski to cover the costs of publishing an apology that Kaczyński was in July 2020 ordered to make for defaming Sikorski in relation to the 2010 Smoleńsk plane crash. PiS leader, in an interview, accused Sikorski of ‘diplomatic treason’ when he managed Poland’s relations with Russia after the catastrophe that caused death of president Lech Kaczyński and over 90 other people.

Kaczyński has failed to comply with the ruling, which required him to publish the apology on the portal, where the interview containing his defamatory words was published. The December order allows Sikroski to arrange the apology himself and get compensated by Kaczyński. According to the judgment, the apology must read as follows: “In connection with the interviews I gave to and the Polish Press Agency, I apologise to Mr. Radosław Sikorski for providing the false information that, acting as the Minister of Foreign Affairs, he withdrew a diplomatic note regarding recognition of the Smolensk crash site as extraterritorial and committed diplomatic betrayal. With my statement I violated the personal rights of Mr. Radosław Sikorski in the form of his good name and honour. Jarosław Kaczyński”.

PiS politicians comment that PLN 700.000 is a disproportional. They are frustrated that the money will go to, which is – according to PiS - one of the ‘German outlets’ that support the opposition.

When the national media were commenting the court order and reactions of both sides of the political scene, the Sejm adopted a new surprising bill. According to the proposal costs of apologies ordered by courts should be significantly lower, and new rules would apply also to old court decisions. PiS MPs decided that apologies should be printed in one of the official gazettes (that almost nobody reads) and compensation should not be higher than PLN 15.000 (ca. EUR 3.300). The opposition immediately labeled the bill ‘Lex Kaczyński’ and protested against legislation tailored to benefit one politician. Of course, PiS leaders rejected all such accusations, saying that the draft law was presented long time ago. But the damage was done and the name ‘Kaczyński’ was inexcrtricably linked with the law. PiS withdrew the proposal.

And the PLN 700.000? Kaczyński took advantage of a lifeline thrown by Sikorski. The latter announced that if Kaczyński paid PLN 50.000 (ca. EUR 10.500) to Ukrainian Armed Forced he would forget about the whole thing. PiS leader posted on Twitter a picture of a bank slip and a comment: “Today Ukraine is fighting for its independence and freedom, but also for our security. We support it and we will support it. Since the payment to support the fund for the Ukrainian Armed Forces closes my controversial dispute with Sikorski, I do so with satisfaction”.

Sikorski said he accepted that form of apology, adding “I'm glad we found a patriotic solution”.

New, Unexpected Player

An unexpected announcement has been made by the leader of AgroUnia, Michał Kołodziejczak. He said that his newly registered party will form an alliance with the Agreement party, and they will run together in autumn elections.

This is quite an exotic alliance. AgroUnia was born as a farmers’ association and became famous for its clear and expressive rejection of the agrilutural policy of the government. Its charismatic chairman, known for spectacular happenings, lead AgroUnia members to street protests against current government. On the other side, the Agreement party was until last year an important part of the United Right coalition. It was created and lead by the former deputy prime minister Jarosław Gowin. Gowin was in the past a minister in the PO-PSL government and wanted to become Civic Platform’s leader. The Agreement was perceived as the most moderate ally of PiS representing entrepreneurs and urban conservative voters. When it was expelled from the government in the summer 2021 (over the criticism of the “Polish Deal,” a flagship economic reform package; read more in the August 2021 issue), Gowin resigned and Magdalena Sroka became a chairwomen of the party.

These two parties have nothing in common, at first glance, but decided to cooperate to shake Polish politics. Also because of lack of an alternative – the Agreement unsuccessfully wanted to join the PSL caucus in the Sejm, and AgroUnia is not interested in cooperating with any of the major, old parties. Kołodziejczak said that the slogan of the new political project will be ‘dissapointed by PiS’, and it will bring a new quality to Polish politics as it will be lead by a man and a woman.


Very Weird Spanish Tourists

Coast guards rescued three divers after their motor boat broke down off the coast in the Gdańsk Bay. They gave dubious explanation of their night dive in rough weather conditions along with their mysterious identities. They claimed they are Spanish and were looking for amber. In peaceful times such explanations could have been described as ‘odd’, but in the time of Russian aggression in Ukraine it is worrisome. Especially that it all happened close to Poland’s critical energy infrastructure, namely the Naftoport which receives tanker shipments of oil.

When media reported about the case, more disturbing facts resurfaced. The police determined that the men were not authorized to operate the boat and had not obtained permission to dive. They had an underwater scooter, not very useful in looking for amber. What is more, only one of them was confirmed to be Spanish, identity of others is not known. Nevertheless, police officers didn’t see anything suspicious and released the men without further questioning. The incident has raised serious concerns about the safety of Poland.

Premier Mateusz Morawiecki said he had requested the secret security services to produce a detailed report on the incident, but he stressed that according to the knowledge they have so far the incident cannot be viewed as an attempted attack on critical infrastructure. Also Stanisław Żaryn, the acting deputy minister of special services, said that there is no connection between the incident and the state security.

Morawiecki also stressed that Poland had increased its level of supervision of strategic infrastructure after February 24. Now a Central Investigation Bureau of Police and the Internal Security Agency have begun investigating the matter.


Ukrainian Entrepreneurship

According to the Polish Economic Institute (PIE), since February 24 over 1 million refugees have found a new home in Poland. This has influenced, among many things, the business environment in the country. Until September, 3.600 jobs were created by companies with Ukrainian capital, and another 10.200 sole proprietorship businesses were established by Ukrainian citizens.

PIE reports that three-quarters of the surveyed Ukrainian companies opened a business in Poland to raise funds for themselves and their families, and 66% of them declare that they will continue operating in Poland, regardless of the situation in their home country.

In total, there is 24.000 companies with Ukrainian capital in Poland; one-quarter of all foreign businesses.

New data was also presented by the Social Insurance Institution (ZUS). By the end of last year the number of foreigners registered in ZUS reached one million, or 6,5% of all insured. This is almost 200 thousands more than in January 2022. ZUS president Gertruda Uściańska commented: “Our data show that the Polish labor market is becoming more and more attractive to foreigners”.

European Affairs

Termination of Contracts Based on Sexual Orientation

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that employers cannot terminate contracts based on a person's sexual orientation. The Luxembourg court said a Polish court had made the wrong decision.

The case revolves around Jakub Kwieciński, a television audio-visual editor who was effectively fired after he published a Christmas song on social media that promoted tolerance towards same-sex couples. The state-owned TVP decided not to sign a new contract with him in 2017 because of his orientation. He sued TVP for damages and compensation. A Warsaw court quoted a national law stating that sexual orientation could be taken into account when choosing a contractual partner.

“Sexual orientation cannot be a reason to refuse to conclude a contract with a self-employed worker”, the ECJ stated and cited the European Union’s directive on equality at work. Kwieciński’s lawyer stressed “Today, the ECJ sent a strong signal that denying someone employment on the grounds of sexual orientation cannot be justified by freedom of contract. The desire to discriminate against someone does not deserve to be protected by this freedom”.

Kwieciński is known for campaigning against homophobia and in favor of marriage equality. His husband and he got married in Portugal and fight in Poland for their union to be recognized. Last year, the Supreme Administrative Court (NSA) declared in their case that same-sex marriage would not be unconstitutional in Poland, and that lack of civil partnerships is only a decision of the lawmakers.


And the Oscar Goes to… Donkey?

Jerzy Skolimowski's film “EO” has become one of five nominees in this year's Best International Film category for the Academy Awards. It is the story of a donkey that is taken on a peculiar journey from a Polish circus to an Italian slaughterhouse. The journey is a starting point for a larger story about people and contemporary Europe. Skolimowski’s masterpiece is an allegory created in a Polish-Italian co-production. It has been already awarded Palm d’Or at the 75th Cannes Festival (read more in the May issue).

Polish donkey will compete for the award with German production “All Quiet on the Western Front”, Argentinean “Argentina, 1985”, Belgian “Close” and Irish “Banshees of Inisherin”.

Jerzy Skolimowski is not only a director, but also a script writer, actor, poet and painter. He debuted as a script writer in 1960 with the film “Innocent Sorcerers”, directed by Andrzej Wajda and Roman Polański's “Knife in the Water”. Skolimowski is called the leading representative of the ‘the third Polish cinema'. He has received many awards, including a Golden Bear for “Le Départ” at the IFF in Berlin (1967), the Jury Prize for “Moonlighting” in Cannes (1982), and he Special Jury Prize at the 67th Venice International Film Festival for “Essential Killing” (2010).

There are also two Polish candidates for Golden Raspberries, namely "The Next 365 Days" and "365 Days: This Day". Both films are continuation of the erotic drama “365 Days” based on Blanka Lipińska’s novel trilogy. All ‘365 movies’ were directed by the duo Barbara Białowąs and Tomasz Mandes. The trilogy is highly controversial since the main romantic story originates in rape and Stockholm syndrome. But this doesn’t bother its fans who watch very long and very explicit sex scenes with blushes (read more in June 2020 edition).

Both films premiered in 2022 on Netflix have been nominated in the Worst Remake, Rip-off or Sequel category, and the worst onscreen couples. Two Polish films will compete against “Blonde” (impressive 8 nominations), “Pinocchio”, “Nice Regret”, “The King’s Daughter” and “Morbius”. Will they repeat a success of their prequel which won the best script award in 2021? We will see on March 11.

Watch the trailer of ‘EO’.

Death of John Paul II

“Death of John Paul II” is a controversial play about last hours of the Polish pope that became famous in the country and beyond. The play was prepared by the Polish Theater in Poznań. According to its author, it tries to deconstruct last day of the life on John Paul in an ecumenical way.

The director described it: “The Death of John Paul II” as both an epic emotional moment in Polish history — an analogue for, say, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — and as commentary on a universal moral issue: the right to die. One can’t help thinking, in the drama’s scrupulously clinical representations of the pope’s slow death, about how humane it would be for a doctor to step in and end his suffering.”

Jakub Skrzywanek is a 30-year-old artistic director of the Contemporary Theatre in Szczecin. In January 2023, he received Paszport Polityki, one of the most important cultural awards in Polad, for “important, brave and not obvious spectacles, [d]ictated, just like his whole career in the sphere of arts and his management in the theater, by care about the quality and future of our society”.

Recently, “Death of John Paul II”  has been reviewed by the Washington Post. Peter Marks, who saw it in Kraków, wrote: “The Death of John Paul II” is an exquisitely (and excruciatingly) detailed, two-hour reenactment of the final days in 2005 of the life of the revered Polish pope. (Allegations of sexual misconduct against many priests diminished his pontificate but not his personal appeal.) Devised and staged by wunderkind Polish director Jakub Skrzywanek, the play has provoked a powerful response from audiences in the Poland — everything from outraged Catholic publications denouncing Skrzywanek’s work to overwrought audience members coming forward at evening’s end to kneel in prayer at the pope’s bier”.

Watch a teaser of the spectacle.

Europe’s Best Mountain Huts

Architects from the Kraków-based Karpiel Steindel Architektura studio won prestigious title Europe’s Best - an offshoot of the International Property Awards - for their project of luxury shepherd’s huts in the Tatra mountains. It is a complex of six 80-square-meter huts in the village of Kościelisko. They are inspired by the local heritage and blended in well in the mountainous landscape.

They were designed to fully maximize the landscape views and all have southern-facing, fully-glazed gabled fronts to allow for sweeping sightlines. Each hut was constructed on rough-hewn stone bases, this method precluded the need to disturb the undersoil with needless excavations. Roofs were made with unprocessed wood from the Carpathian Mountains.

The chalets are praised for perfect combination of using modern technology and respecting the past.

See some pictures of the project.


Polish Women Don’t Want Children

According to the CBOS research institute, only 32% of women in Poland aged between 18 and 45 say they are planning to have children. In 2017 it was 41%.

17% of women in this age group plan to have children in the next three to four years; 15% say they plan to do so in the longer term; 68% say that either they are not planning to have children or they do not know whether they will. The numbers in 2017 were, respectively 25%, 16%, and 59%.


From Today I Am a Pole

The Polish Football Association (PZPN) has announced that Portuguese Fernando Santos takes over the Poland football national team. "It's a great honor for me because Poland is a great country, with an extremely rich history and culture. Polish football also has a history that has marked my generation. I've been following for years. Matches against Poland have always been very difficult", new coach said at the first press conference. "From today I am a Pole. I am one of you. And we will do everything to provide Poles with a lot of joy. It will take a lot of work, but we are ready for it", Santos added.

Appointed coach of Portugal in September 2014, Santos won the country’s first major title at Euro 2016 and followed it up with the 2019 Nations League. He also coached Greece at Euro 2012, where it reached the quarterfinals, and the 2014 World Cup. He quit Portugal last month following the team’s shock World Cup quarter-final loss to Morocco.

Santos' main objective is to lead Poland to qualify for the UEFA Euro 2024.

Party support

1.IBRiS for Radio Zet, 14-15.01.2023

PiS                                                         33%

Civic Coalition                                   27,2%

Poland 2050                                       9,2%

Left                                                       8,9%

Confederation                                 7%

PSL                                                        5,9%

2. Polster for SuperExpress, 31.01.2023

United opposition*                        50,62%

PiS                                                         35,99%

Confederation                                 9,92%

Kukiz’15                                              1,8%

Agreement                                        0,98%


*) Theoretically: Civic Coalition+PSL+Left+Poland 2050