From Poland With Love - July
Topic of the Month
A group of PiS MPs submitted an amendment to the Broadcasting Act. In the justification to the proposed legislation we read that it aims at "clarifying regulations enabling the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) to effectively counteract the possibility of radio and television broadcasters to be taken over by any entities from outside the European Union, including entities from countries posing an immediate threat to state security". The intention is to "prevent companies based in Poland to be owned by entities from outside the European Economic Area".
Representatives of PiS want to change the key provision of the Act by adding a "condition" to it: "Licence to broadcast radio and television programmes can only be granted to a foreign entity, whose seat or permanent residence is located in a European Economic Area member state, provided that such foreign entity is not dependent on a foreign entity, whose seat or permanent residence are located in a state that is not a member of the European Economic Area", the draft reads.
KRRiT has suspended the extension of the license of the independent TVN24 news channel. TVN24 is the most popular news channel in Poland and is seen by PiS as one of its main opponents, an obstacle that prevents national populists from more impressive electoral victories. TVN24 is owned and financed by an American company Discovery Inc. The regulator raised concerns about possible violations of the Polish law and asked Discovery about its planned merger with WarnerMedia. (WarnerMedia, owned by AT&T, and Discovery would merge to create a new media company. Owning 71% of shares, the majority shareholder in this new company will be the current shareholders of AT&T.) Current members of the National Broadcasting Council were elected in the summer of 2016 by PiS.
It has been commented that the main target of the amendment is not TVN24 but TVN itself, one of the biggest TV channels in Poland and the most influential one in big cities. This why the new bill is commonly called “Lex TVN”.
Marek Suski, the PiS MP behind the bill, said in one of interviews that he hoped that Discovery Inc. will be forced to sell some of its assets in Poland and PiS-friendly businessmen will buy them. This would be in total accord with Kaczyński’s plan of “re-polonization” of Polish media. It is worth reminding that earlier this year state-owned oil company PKN Orlen bought the Polska Press publisher from Germany’s Verlagsgruppe Passau, the owner of 20 regional newspapers, almost 120 local weeklies and more than 500 online websites in Poland, with a total audience estimated at some 17,5 million readers (read more in the January issue of the Newsletter).
Prime Minister Morawiecki commented the draft amendment: “Imagine a situation where a media in Poland … would be bought by an entity from Russia, China or an Arab country. Would we as citizens want the right to say ‘no’?” Nevertheless, not everybody in the ruling coalition is in favor of Lex TVN. The most centrist of the three coalition parties, the Agreement, raised its concerns. "We will not support this law without the amendment we proposed", the Agreement spokeswoman Magdalena Sroka said. The tensions within the government are growing (read more in the May issue of the Newsletter).
TVN issued a statement underlining that: "(...) Ownership structure of the Company complies with the provisions of the Broadcasting Act. It's been confirmed by independent expertise compiled by distinguished Polish law professors. We underscore that in 2015 the National Broadcasting Council approved the entry of American capital into our Company, and until we have applied for license extension for the TVN24 channel, TVN ownership structure raised no concerns whatsoever". "TVN considers the viewers and their right to reliable and confirmed news as absolutely crucial. It is on their behalf that our journalists ask questions and for over 20 years have been closely watching every government's actions", the TVN Management Board wrote.
Press Club Polska said the decision is an attempt to strangle media. “In our opinion, the move to not extend TVN's licence seems to be an attempt to put pressure on independent media", the independent press association explained. "When it comes to this “lex TVN” bill, as they call it, it is unacceptable to pass a law against a single economic entity that plays an important role in the media market and is simply an independent medium that challenges the government”. Bartosz Węglarczyk, editor-in-chief of the biggest online news portal Onet.pl commented the situation with even blunter words: "The government wants to kill a station it dislikes. (...) a few ruling party MPs pretend they have written a law, and then the National Broadcasting Council officials will pretend they made a decision. Together they will execute a business which stands no chance in confrontation with the machine of power".
PiS has already tried to worsen condition of TVN in Poland but strong reaction of the former ambassador Georgette Mosbacher cut short all political speculations about the station’s unclear future. Also now the US administration will not stand still. It is said that president Joe Biden is personally interested in the topic. The US State Department has been monitoring the state of media freedom in Poland for some time already, but it is unclear whether and how it will react. Bix Aliu, the chargé d’affaires at the US embassy in Warsaw, tweeted: “The US has been observing the TVN licensing process and the newly proposed legislation with rising concern. TVN has been an essential part of the Polish media landscape for over 20 years. Unfettered press is crucial for democracy“.
TVN is not the only problem between Warsaw and Washington these days. Another symbolic clash is the one over a new ambassador. The Polish government blocks the arrival of the new US ambassador Mark Brzezinski, arguing that in order to take up the diplomatic post, he must first renounce his Polish citizenship. What is peculiar is the fact that Brzezinski has never had Polish citizenship and never expected he might have it…
Mark Brzezinski is an experienced diplomat, former ambassador to Sweden, and a son of Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, one of the most influential Pole in the history of 20th century American politics. Polish MFA claims that since Zbigniew Brzezinski held Polish citizenship and was born in Poland, his son is automatically a derived Polish citizen. In order to take up the diplomatic post, he would have to ask President Andrzej Duda to formally renounce it. Article 8 of the Vienna Convention states that members of a diplomatic mission should be citizens of the state they represent, but the receiving state may agree to accept a diplomat who is at the same time a citizen of that state
Mark Brzezinski claims that he has never been a Polish citizen. Therefore, he cannot renounce the citizenship he does not hold in the first place.
The situation could be easily described as ridiculous. But also as dangerous for Polish-American relations. Such a treatment of an allied state builds distrust and can be followed up with a counter reaction that won’t be pleasant. Such sensitive matters should be handled discretely between MFAs. When PiS politicians understood that they’ve painted itself into a corner, they found a new, original solution: out of the sudden they announced that Brzezinski is actually Czech, not Polish. His mother was a citizen of the then Czechoslovakia, and Poland did not receive any declaration from his parents regarding Mark Brzezinski's citizenship. Thus, according to the administration's newest interpretation, Mark Brzezinski is a citizen of the Czech Republic. Brzezinski will be no longer blocked by the government and will get the agrément in August.
Finally, the new ombudsman of Poland was chosen. Marcin Wiącek, lawyer and professor at the University of Warsaw, was approved by the Polish Senate after being elected by the Sejm.
After the Sejm rejected the candidate supported by hundreds of NGO, and after the Senate disapproved three conservative members of parliament elected by the PiS majority in the Sejm, the situation looked hopeless. Marcin Wiącek was supported by the opposition in one of the previous rounds of voting. This support was seen as a kiss of death that would prevent PiS from voting in favor of Wiącek, ever. But, surprisingly, it happened otherwise. Wiącek, a law professor anonymous for public opinion, whose political views are unknown, was apparently the only compromise, and PiS was aware that a longer conflict over the ombudsman’s appointment would result in another unnecessary conflict with Brussels.
In his first statement after the Senate’s approval, Wiącek described himself as an “independent” person who favors resolving the country’s disputes with the EU. He added that it was “a good day for the protection of freedom and human rights in Poland”.
Polish Supreme Court has ruled that the 2020 Covid-related ban on public gatherings issued by the Council of Ministers “was issued in excess of the statutory delegation.”
“The basis for the ban on public gatherings could not be the law on preventing and combating infections, to which the government referred in subsequent regulations. The problem is that this law does not provide grounds for such restrictions on freedom”, argued former ombudsman Adam Bodnar.
Wives of PiS
PiS adopted a resolution that the close family of its politicians will be banned from sitting on the supervisory boards of state-owned companies. "Incidents of nepotism cast a shadow on our entire grouping and undermine its credibility", the resolution reads. And it continues: "They question the principle, which is of fundamental importance to PiS, according to which, being engaged in politics means working in the interest of the common good, as well as for the benefit of the Republic of Poland and its citizens, and not in order to achieve one's own benefits. Unfortunately, we have not managed to avoid mistakes and shortcomings. We also failed to avoid temptations stemming from holding power".
The resolution origins from the general dissatisfaction with PiS’s politics of giving wives, brothers, sons and daughters of PiS politicians (often without any qualifications) well paid jobs in SOCs. The dissatisfaction was even higher within PiS itself. Many regional and local PiS activists were angry because they hoped to be appointed themselves to supervisory boards. Newly appointed PiS secretary general Krzysztof Sobolewski became the symbol of the party’s nepotism. Sobolewski’s wife was a member of three supervisory boards of country’s top SOCs, including the oil company Orlen Paliwa. Sobolewski’s nomination to the top job in the party resulted, among others, with resignation of PiS minority leader in the Senate. Senator Marek Martynowski quit as he couldn’t stand promotion of a man whose name became a synonym of nepotism (later he was convinced to come back).
Sylwia Soboloweska, Krzysztof’s spouse, was the first “victim” of the resolution and lost all the well-paid jobs. Many others followed. But media keep on reporting about other PiS MPs’ family member’s lucrative jobs in SOCs and state agencies.
After 7 years in European politics, Donald Tusk returned to Poland. “We're going to stand up against the evil that rules in Poland today", he said announcing his come back to national politics.
To allow Tusk’s soft landing in Civic Platform, Borys Budka, rather unsuccessful leader of the party, resigned. Two deputy president and close allies of Tusk, MEPs Ewa Kopacz and Bartosz Arłukowicz, have also submitted their resignations. The PO National Council unanimously elected Tusk as new party’s VP. Budka was also elected a VP. As the more senior of the two, Tusk will be leading as acting president until the end of term.
Mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski seemed very surprised with Tusk’s decision and for a moment it looked like he would run against his former boss. But his plans were quickly verified and all his potential allies in the party expressed full submission to Tusk.
The new old leader has immediately refurnished Polish political stage. Many democratic voters, confused with weak leadership for last seven years, saw in Tusk a commander who can lead entire opposition against PiS. Civic Coalitions’s numbers went significantly up (+10 percent points compared to last month). This is a big problem not only for PiS but also for the Left (trapped inside a civil war within the leadership) and Poland 2050 (whose leader does not seem to attract such an attention as before).
Battle of Courts
The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) ordered Poland to suspend all activities of the Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court. The ECJ found that the chamber, which “does not provide all the guarantees of impartiality and independence”, is in violation of European law. The ECJ has called for “measures necessary to rectify the situation”.
The European Commission has given the Polish government time until 16 August to suspend its disciplinary chamber for judges, otherwise it would face financial penalties. “The European Commission decided today to authorize commissioner Reynders to use measures to induce Poland to comply with the ECJ’s ruling”, said Commission VP Věra Jourová. “Poland has one month to respond to our demand; it must respect the decisions of the CJEU”, Reynders added. “We will be guided by the primacy of EU law in all member states. We will use all means to stop negative changes in EU countries”, he added.
PiS government responded with mouth of its spokesperson. Piotr Müller said that they “analyze the documents presented by the European Commission” and “initiate appropriate dialogue with” Brussels. But representatives of the hard-right coalition party lead by justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro were less diplomatic. Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta tweeted: “This dialogue has been going on for three years…it’s like talking to a brick wall. The European Commission acts in bad faith, violating the norms of the treaties and ignoring the Polish constitutional order. Further invitations to talks legitimize these actions”.
What is more, on the very same day, the European Commission issued its annual rule-of-law report, assessing all countries in the community. Once again, Poland was indicated as one of the most problematic members. Authors of the report are concerned that “there are risks as regards the effectiveness of the fight against high-level corruption, including a risk of undue influence on corruption prosecutions for political purposes”. They also expressed concerns about media freedom, measures taken in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, and women and minorities’ rights.
The EC has also launched legal action against Poland to defend LGBTQ+ rights. According to the Commission, Polish authorities had failed to cooperate with its inquiries into so-called LGBT-ideology-free zones, which officials suspect break the EU law on non-discrimination.
Polish government got support in its crusade against the European institutions from the politicized Constitutional Court. The latter one ruled that interim measures imposed on the Polish judicial system by the ECJ court are against the Polish Constitution. The ruling came just before the decision of ECJ on the Disciplinary Chamber.
"Fortunately the constitution and normality prevails over an attempt ... to interfere in the internal affairs of a member state, in this case Poland", justice minister Ziobro said. Opposition leaders and former ombudsman Adam Bodnar stressed that the ruling of the Constitutional Court means a legal Polexit which happens step by step.
Harted Campaign Against an ECJ Judge
The findings of ECJ about Poland were presented by a Polish judge Marek Safjan, professor at Warsaw University and former president of the Constitutional Court. Safjan became a subject of a hatred campaign of the right-wing media. PiS-friendly Gazeta Polska weekly presented a cover with the judge in Nazi uniform and wrote a story about Safjan’s father, calling him both a Nazi and Soviet collaborator.
Safjan explained that “The situation of my father was unique. His father, my grandfather…was a person with documented Jewish ancestry. During the war, my grandfather received an ultimatum from the Germans: either his son joined a sanitary formation working with the Grenzschutz…or he would be sent to a camp with his father. Both would die”. He added that: “And yet, the stereotype of the ‘Commie Jew’ is still used against me”.
PiS government has dismissed director of Zachęta, leading contemporary art museum in Warsaw. The Culture Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Glínski informed the gallery on that Hanna Wróblewska’s contract would not be extended beyond next year.
Zachęta is an institution created from private donations before the World War II whose mission is to popularize contemporary art as an important element of socio-cultural life. A place where the most interesting phenomena of 20th and 21st century art are presented. Already during the communism era, it was an enclave of top quality modern art.
Hanna Wróblewska is an acclaimed art manager who has led the gallery for over a decade maintaining high level of exhibitions. More than 1.000 Polish art professionals have signed an open letter protesting the government’s decision. The letter argues that Wróblewska is at the "height of her potential" and describes the gallery’s programme under her tenure as "diverse, interesting and often revelatory".
A museum dedicated to Apple and its products is set to open in Warsaw. The museum will feature 1.500 exhibits related to the development and evolution of Apple products throughout the company's history. It is said to be the biggest and most complete collection of its kind in the world. The museum will be spread across 320 square meters, featuring creative and interactive exhibits including Apple computers, laptops, accessories, cellphones, software, peripherals, posters, commemorative gadgets, and more. One of the highlights is a working replica of the Apple I signed by Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.
Surplus Vaccines and Burning Vaccines
The Covid-19 vaccination process has visibly slowed down in Poland. With ca. 50% of the population vaccinated, it is more and more difficult to find new people willing to get a jab. The government’s ideas like the vaccination raffle did not convince many undecided Poles. The newest proposal, one million zlotys for municipalities with the highest vaccination rate in every county, will not change the situation either. The antivaxxer movement is on the rise. In Grodzisk Mazowiecki they attacked a vaccination center physically assaulting some of its employees, in Zamość they set fire on sanitary inspection office.
On one side, the government knows it must do something to speed up the vaccinations. On the other side, there are many vaccination and Covid skeptics among PiS member, including among MPs. Some of the latter ones supported a bill called “Stop sanitary segregation” drafted by antivaxxers from the far right Confederation party.
Poland intends to sell its surplus Covid-19 vaccines (ca. 4 million doses) to Ukraine, Georgia and some Balkan countries. "The resale of vaccines is a scenario that we've been considering since the very beginning. In contracts signed at the European Commission level, Poland had ordered a total of about 100 million doses from various producers”, head of the Strategic Reserves Agency.
Second Least Safest Country
The government passed tightening of the traffic law. Among its provisions, the new law increases the maximum fine for road offences from PLN 5.000 (ca. EUR 1.100) to PLN 30.000 (ca. EUR 6.500). The draft act also raises the minimum fine for offenders guilty of bodily and/or property damage to PLN 1.500 (ca. EUR 325). The same amount will also be the minimum fine for breaking the speed limit by more than 30km/h.
Many activists’ have appealed for years to change the fines for dangerous driving as they stayed at the same low level for last decades. According to OECD, Poland is the second least safe country after the US as regards road traffic. According to the report, the number of deaths due to road accidents in Poland stands at 76 per one million, whereas, for example, in Germany it is over twofold lower, and average number of deaths in other big EU countries stands at around 50. Annual costs of road crashes in Poland reached 2,7 percent of GDP in 2018, according to the National Road Safety Council data.
War of Tanks
Poland will purchase 250 M1A2 Abrams SEPv3 main battle tanks from the US, replacing older tanks dating back to the Cold War. The M1 Abrams main battle tank—a clean-sheet design equipped with a 105-millimeter main gun, Chobham composite armor, and gas turbine engine—debuted in 1981 as the most advanced tank of its kind. The forthcoming acquisition is to allow Warsaw to replace its outdated Soviet-designed T-72 and PT-91 tanks with a new tracked vehicle platform.
Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak said: “So we are ordering the most modern tanks. Tanks available in the best equipped version, tanks that are combat proven, tanks which were constructed to counter the most modern Russian T-14 Armata tanks”. He didn’t hide that the tanks will arm Polish Army units guarding against incursions by the Russian Army.
It has been commented that PiS cut the deal with the US administration to at least partially appease its American allies after all the antics (Read more in the Topic of the Month section). Defense experts, including former head of the National Security Bureau Roman Kuźniar, stress that this purchase shows that Jarosław Kaczyński does not know much about the national defense and PiS is mentally stuck in the Cold War era way of thinking about the war. Poland doesn’t need tanks to scary away Russia, it needs drones and new technologies instead, they stress.
Poland and Germany
“Anti-Freedom Tendencies in Germany”
Polish authorities has accused German judicial system of putting European standards at risk after a court in Cologne fined a Polish priest Dariusz Oko with EUR 4.800 for an article describing gay people in the catholic clergy as “parasites”. Oko published his article titled “On the Need to Limit Homosexual Cliques in the Church” in Teologisches calling gay priest a “cancerous ulcer”. Oko, who is also a theology professor, is well known in Poland for his ultra-conservative opinions.
A complaint was filed by a Munich priest, Wolfgang F. Rothe. Rothe claimed that there should be no place for such hate and incitement within the Catholic Church.
Polish Deputy Justice Minister Marcin Romanowski commented that he saw “anti-freedom tendencies in the German legal protection system”. Ordo Iuris, the ultra-conservative foundation that is behind the biggest anti-LGBT+ campaigns in Poland, also defended Oko’s article as a part of the freedom of academic discussion.
In a Pipeline
Germany lost its fight to overturn a ruling limiting Gazprom's access to the OPAL pipeline. European Court of Justice (ECJ) upheld the ruling, siding with Poland which sees European reliance on Russian gas as a regional security threat. Polish gas firms launched a case against OPAL after losing some transit volumes and tariff incomes resulting from the opening of Nord Stream 1 in 2011. ECJ rejected Germany’s arguments that “energy solidarity” was a political concept rather than a legal issue. The top EU court also stressed that the European Commission was required to examine possible risks to security of gas supply to EU markets.
On the other hand, United States agreed to back the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a German and Russian project that is bypassing Poland and Ukraine. Nord Stream 2 is nearly 98% complete and has cost more than EUR 9 billion so far. It will double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream 1.
The pact came days after chancellor Angela Merkel's last official visit to Washington. German foreign minister Heiko Maas heralded the agreement as "constructive." It Poland this deal is seen as a slap in the face and a gift to Putin. According to Polish politicians from both sides of the political spectrum, this deal is an assault on Ukraine’s sovereignty. In a joint statement, Kyiv and Warsaw said they were "united in their determination to hold Russia to account for aggression and malign activities by imposing costs via sanctions and other tools".
Polls & Trends
IBRiS for Onet, 24-25 July
Civic Coalition 26,2%
Poland 2050 10,9%
The Smartest of Them All
Kantar Public, July 2021
Who of the politicians is the most intelligent one?
- Szymon Hołownia (Poland 2050)
- Rafał Trzaskowski (KO)
- Donald Tusk (KO)
- Robert Biedroń (Left)
- Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL)
- Krzysztof Bosak (Confederation)
- Borys Budka (KO)
- Włodzimierz Czarzasty (Left)
- Jarosław Kaczyński (PiS)
Who of the politicians in the most modern one?
- Szymon Hołownia (Poland 2050) & Rafał Trzaskowski (KO), ex aequo
- Robert Biedroń (Left)
- Donald Tusk (KO)
- Robert Biedroń (Left)
- Krzysztof Bosak (Confederation)
- Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL)
- Borys Budka (KO)
- Włodzimierz Czarzasty (Left)
- Jarosław Kaczyński (PiS)