From Poland with Love – July
Topic of the Month
Belarus Helicopters over Poland
On August 1 Polish airspace was violated by two Belarusian helicopters conducting a training near the border. They were flying into the Białowieża region, some local people claim – even over the town of Białowieża.
First reports by radio RMF FM were belittled by the authorities, who denied rumors of airspace violations. Not for long though. Although Belarus had previously informed Poland about the training in the border area, Polish defense ministry later admitted that the incident happened and that it occurred at a very low altitude, complicating radar detection. This was the reason why the Operational Command of the Armed Forces had earlier announced that Polish radar systems had not recorded any violation of Polish airspace.
Poland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has called upon the chargé d’affaires of the Belarusian embassy, and issued a stern protest urging Minsk to provide an immediate explanation of the incursion. The Lukashenko regime responded that the accusations were “far-fetched” and invented by Polish authorities to justify building up forces by the frontier. On the other side, Polish defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak convened a meeting of the National Security and Defense Affairs Committee to discuss the case. He announce he will increase the number of troops patrolling the border and allocate extra resources to the region.
According to many commentators, the breach was a deliberate move intended to provoke Warsaw. It was expected since the infamous private Wagner mercenary force were relocated to Belarus. They started training with the Belarus army, moving 1.000 Wagner soldiers close to the border with Poland. "The Wagner group is extremely dangerous and it is being moved to the eastern flank [of NATO] to destabilize it", commented prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki. He added that Polish authorities know about 100 troops in the vicinity of the city of Hrodna. He warned that the number of provocations will rise. “They will probably be disguised as Belarusian border guards and will help illegal immigrants to enter Polish territory, destabilize Poland”, Morawiecki said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin stated that the western territories of Poland are a "gift from Stalin", and Poland should be grateful to the USSR for "restoring its independence". He also mentioned reports about discussions on the creation of a Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian union and Warsaw’s plans to detach Western Ukraine. Alexander Lukashenko added that Poland poses a threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity, and joked that some of the Wagner fighters were keen to press into Poland and “go on a trip to Warsaw and Rzeszów” (Rzeszów is the city in Eastern Poland and main transit hub for Western military support for Ukraine).
Polish and Lithuanian authorities are especially worried about incidents in the Suwałki Gap, an area of Polish territory between Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. Morawiecki met there Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda. The latter noted that “cooperation between Poland and our ally Lithuania is essential in the face of these threats and provocations”.
"Any attack by the Wagner Group will be seen as an attack by the Russian government", US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said answering a question about concerns of Eastern European partners in NATO. She added that “is a threat to all of us and we want to ensure that the message is clear that any attack by the Wagner Group will be seen as an attack by the Russian government".
Government officials are using the situation on the border in their electoral campaign. They don’t provide dry facts and don’t try to calm down the public opinion; contrarily, they inspire fear and blame opposition for being anti-patriotic/pro-Russian, e.g. Morawiecki accused the opposition leader Donald Tusk of neglecting the real threats to Poland and safeguarding the interests of his allies (Germany) instead. The prime minister said that Tusk hid behind Angela Merkel during the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. However, despite how serious the situation is, it is difficult to take Morawiecki’s concerns seriously. He can scare Poles with war in the morning and have fun at a PiS family picnic in the evening, taking no action in between. Also unserious original reaction on the helicopter incident proved that the government does not have everything under control…
Russian government ordered the closure of the Polish consulate in Smolensk. This diplomatic mission looks after two important memorials: a cemetery for victims of the USSR's mass execution in Katyń and the site of a 2010 plane crash that killed Polish president and other officials. "As a result of the unfriendly actions by the Polish government, which are of an anti-Russian nature, steps have been taken to illegally seize Russian diplomatic property on Polish territory", Moscow announced. Officially it was a response for taking over the building of a Russian school in Warsaw by Polish authorities (read more in the May issue). Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki informed that Poland would respond "in kind". "The decision of the Russian authorities is a manifestation of increasingly bold attempts to falsify history and deny responsibility for the crimes committed by the Russian state and particular - known by their names and surnames - citizens of that state", Polish MFA communicated.
Polish-Ukrainian Conflict over Grain
Prime minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal condemned a decision by Polish government to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain exports to the European Union as an "unfriendly and populist move". He posted on social media: "During this critical time, Poland intends to continue blocking the export of UA grain to the EU. This is an unfriendly and populist move that will severely impact global food security and Ukraine's economy". President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the decision “absolutely unacceptable and outright non-European”.
Polish prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki informed Poland will not lift the ban on September 15, even if the EU does not agree on its extension. "The interests of our farmers are paramount for us", Polish agriculture minister Robert Telus declared. "Our decisions are not against anyone; they are first and foremost for our farmers", he added. Polish government was supported by the EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski (PiS), who believes that the temporary ban was necessary and suggests that the EU should subsidize transit of the grain via Poland.
The unilateral decision of Poland, that goes against EU rules, has been widely criticized in the block. German agriculture minister Cem Özdemir commented the Polish move with very sour words: “This is not a wish-fulfillment program, where you pick and choose what you like, take money from Brussels, but at the same time close the border”. He concluded that the only actor benefiting from Poland’s actions is Russia.
The conflict escalated when Marcin Przydacz, an aide to the president of Poland, said that in banning the import of Ukrainian foodstuffs (while still allowing for its transit through Polish territory) Poland is protecting its agricultural sector and that Warsaw cannot put foreign interests ahead of its own in this respect. He added that “Ukraine has received really huge support from Poland” and that it “should start appreciating it”. The Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs summoned Poland’s Ambassador to Kyiv Bartosz Cichocki over this statement. “Summoning the Polish ambassador, [...] who was the only [diplomat] that remained in Kyiv side of the day Russia invaded Ukraine, to the Ukrainian MFA, should never have taken place”, the Polish prime minister tweeted.
Polish farmers are seriously worried with the situation. Ukrainian grain that was earmarked for countries in the Middle East and Africa, leaks in Poland (according to the farmers’ PSL party, 1/3 of the grain from Ukraine). And just before harvest time, Polish grain collectors are full. From the other side, this year's harvest in Ukraine is projected to be only 10% lower compared with 2022 (60 million tons). All this means lower prices and potential bankruptcy for many farmers in Poland.
Ukrainian grain is ca. 20% less expensive than Polish grain. Journalist investigation showed that among the companies that bought Ukrainian grain are some linked to PiS politicians. In response, Polish government promised to publish a full list of such companies but hasn’t done so.
PiS is determined in the case of import of Ukrainian grain. It looks like it is a new party strategy tailored to gain votes of farmers and some anti-Ukrainian electorate. PiS strategists are worried that their party will lose even more votes to the far-right Confederation, so far the only party with clear anti-Ukrainian agenda that is currently fishing new voters in the countryside.
It is obvious that Russia uses tensions between Warsaw and Kyiv in its disinformation campaign in Poland, and the CEE region.
Lex Tusk Signed
After PiS majority in the Sejm dismissed the Senate’s rejection of the presidential amendment, president Andrzej Duda signed into law the amended bill that would set up a special commission to investigate Russian influence in Poland in 2007-2022.
The president, after much confusion (he signed the original law, then sent it to the Constitutional Court, then presented his amendments) proposed three key changes to the original text (read more in the last issue): 1. All the penalties will be removed. Instead, the committee will simply issue a statement declaring that a person has acted under "Russian influence" and is not fit to perform public duties. 2. The committee will be made up of non-partisan experts, not MPs or senators. 3. Politicians under investigation will be able to file an appeal against the committee's decisions in a common court.
The commission will consist of nine members in the capacity of secretary of state. Its chairperson will work in the Prime Minister's Office. All members will be both judges and prosecutors and will have access to confidential information. Additionally, they will be protected from being subject to any criminal liability for their activities in the commission.
The law is still dubbed "Lex Tusk", as its intention is to target the leader of the opposition before the autumn elections. PiS lawmakers do not hide that the real motivation behind the law is to punish Donald Tusk and hit him with a report written by PiS loyalists shortly before the vote. In its initial version, the act stipulated, that a person found guilty for acting under Russian influence to the detriment of Poland's national security would be barred for up to 10 years from holding an office with access to public funds.
In an urgent response, European Council’s Venice Commission recommends that Polish authorities repeal both the contentious act and the amendment. It warns against the bill’s broad scope and vagueness, arguing that the legislation "could easily become a tool to eliminate political opponents". It is especially concerning only months before the general elections. "The establishment of a commission where the "accused" is publicly interrogated by an administrative body on vaguely defined grounds is extremely dangerous. It could easily be abused to brand political opponents (or, more generally: people who are, for whatever reason, disliked) as "enemies of the state", eroding the democratic process, diminishing the plurality in the political landscape, and fuelling a sense of general distrust in the public", the letter reads.
Arrested for Self-Abortion
Police intervention targeting a women who underwent abortion, sparked outcry in Poland. Mrs. Joanna said she had taken an abortion pill in April, and one week later, she called her psychiatrist for reasons unrelated to pregnancy termination. The doctor reported her to the police, who arrived at her home shortly after. She was taken to the ER, where officers tried to prevent doctors from talking to her. Her laptop was confiscated. Police officers strip-searched her, forced to do squats and cough even though she was still bleeding. Joanna called it “bordered sexual violence". Her lawyer filed a complaint against the officers, whose actions were unlawful.
The police claimed intervention was necessary to determine if someone assisted Joanna with abortion. The prosecutor’s office launched an investigation into the crimes of assisting or soliciting suicide and assisting abortion. Joanna emphasized that no one helped her to terminate the pregnancy and that this was her decision. Polish chief of police, Jarosław Szymczyk, defended his subordinates, stressing that there was a possibility of suicide which they sought to prevent.
Polish Supreme Medical Chamber (NIL) communicated it has launched an inquiry to explain all details of the police intervention. “We would like to stress that what has happened to the patient constitutes a violation of patients' rights”, NIL informed. Also the Ombudsman and the Patient Ombudsman launched their separate inquiries.
Sensitive data about Joanna’s health were given to the media by state officials and media. Right wing politicians and journalists are viciously trying to diminish her credibility by calling her crazy.
Marches of solidarity with Joanna and against police oppression took place in front of police headquarters in many Polish cities.
Minister Releases a Neo-Fascist
Polish justice minister and attorney general Zbigniew Ziobro ordered the early release of an neo-fascist activist who snatched a woman’s rainbow bag on a day of the Pride parade in Pozań, in 2020. Marika M., who was midway through a three-year jail sentence, was a member of the extreme right Front Oczyszczenia Narodowego (Front of National Cleansing) organization (photos of her wearing neo-Nazi emblems such as a Celtic cross are available in the Internet). According to the case file, Marika M. and two other perpetrators caused bruises and sprains to the victim’s hands and wrists.
In a press conference, Ziobro presented Marika as young innocent girl, active member of a society, forgetting about her affiliation with radical groups. The minister underlined that sentencing was excessively disproportionate with those handed to left-wing activists. “Courts ruthlessly punish Poles for defending faith and values. They let them go free for attacking churches, beating believers and spitting on police officers”, he tweeted. Ziobro called Marika the real victim and announced an appeal to president Andrzej Duda for a pardon on her behalf.
Some two weeks after the conference, Ziobro fired the deputy chief of Poznań-Stare Miasto District Prosecutor's Office for "glaring mistakes were made that resulted in a dubious legal classification" in the Marika case. "There can be no consent to ideological and worldview reasons influencing the way certain offences are assessed and how those responsible for those offences are punished", he said.
The Marika case provoked a wave of comments by representatives of human rights and LGBTQI organizations. They stress that such behavior of justice minister will lead to further normalization of homophobia and increase hate crimes in Poland. However, for Ziobro and his hard right Sovereign Poland party attacks on LGBTQI people are the most important activity ahead of the autumn elections as they are competing for voters with the far right Confederation.
Saakashvili’s Blood in a Shoe
A team of Polish doctors examined former president of Georgia Mikheil Saakashvili, who had been sent to prison in 2021 for six years on charges of abusing his power while head of state. His allies comment the sentence as politically motivated. After the examination by Polish doctors, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki informed: "We do not leave our friends in trouble”.
Saakashvili’s health is in a very bad condition, as he has been on a long hunger strike and he claims he was poisoned. He requested being send for treatment abroad, and Poland offered such treatment. So did Ukraine, as ex-president of Georgia holds Ukrainian citizenship. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy commented: "The world once again has witnessed how the Kremlin, sadly at the hands of the Georgian government, is killing Mikheil Saakashvili".
An international incident occurred during the examination. Director of the Humanitarian-Medical Support Team at the Polish PM Office, Artur Zaczyński, hid in his shoe a blood sample of Saakashvili. A video from the prison where Zaczyński was forced by guards to remove his shoe and give the sample back was presented by Georgian justice minister Rati Bregadze. The incident was called “inexplicable”. It raised many questions about Polish government concerns that Saakashvili has been poisoned. The chargé d'affairs of the Embassy of Poland in Tbilisi was summoned to the MFA of Georgia. Polish diplomats called the incident “unintentional”, adding that reaction of Georgian authorities contradict the principles of good cooperation.
Poland & Germany
Chemical Waste on Fire
5.000 tons of chemical waste burned down a storage hall last weekend in Zielona Góra. Over five thousand cubic meters of toxic materials were stored in the warehouse that burnt. Authorities have ordered the evacuation of the city's Przylep district (2.500 residents) because of the health risks. The fire was contained after 24h-long struggle by over 200 firefighters from 60 different units.
The fire reminded once again about the growing problem of waste dumping in Poland. Much of it has been imported from abroad, mostly from Germany (read more in the May edition). Environment minister Anna Moskwa said that at least 35 tons of German waste are currently on Polish soil. She added that the federal government and state authorities have never accurately responded to a removal request, and that Berlin blames individual regional authorities and vice versa. She reminded that Polish government filed a complaint with the European Commission, which is the first step before sending it to the Court of Justice of the European Union. The Commission and German authorities commented that they had not received the official document from Warsaw.
The topic has become very political in the pre-election summer. Both PiS and Civic Platform (PO) accuse one another of inaction to solve the problem. PiS claims that PO allowed the unimpeded import of hazardous waste during its term in office, and PO shows data how this import has grown in recent years. Already in 2014, the Provincial Inspectorate for Environmental Protection in Zielona Góra drew attention to numerous inaccuracies related to the storage in Zielona Góra, but national authorities didn’t do anything. The issue is national, massive and urgent. There are now over 400 illegal landfills in Poland, of which ca. 150 are places where hazardous waste has been detected. If the government does not help local authorities to close them and clean the land, more fires and other environmental catastrophes can be expected.
Give the language back to the children
Last year education minister Przemysław Czarnek decided to cut funds for teaching German language for the German community by two thirds (read more in the February issue). The decision of the ultra-conservative education minister effected only this one minority. It was part of anti-German campaign of the PiS government. Numerous experts, NGOs and opposition politicians, e.g. majority of members left the Joint Commission of the Government and National and Ethnic Minorities showing solidarity with their German colleagues, protested against the decision.
Recently, the German minority has launched a billboard campaign titled “Give the language back to the children”. In addition, they have sent a letter with five question about discrimination of German children to Czarnek. “Taking away hours of German [language] is a blow not only to the children themselves, but also to local communities”, commented the only German Minority’s MP Ryszard Galla (elected from Opole). According to Galla some 56.000 children are affected by this discrimination.
According to leaders of German minority in Poland, during a meeting in January, Czarnek promised to restore the previous budget for German teaching. The promise has not been completed. And education minister responded that that his ministry is still annually spending PLN 120 million (ca. 27 million) on teaching German to the German minority compared to zero euro spent by the German government for teaching Polish to Poles in Germany (in Germany states pay for such education), and he stressed that the he will made his promise from January when Berlin “agrees no to discriminate Poles”.
Education & Science
Nuclear Biology and Virgin Mary Studies
Przemysław Czarnek, Polish education minister, known for his ultra-conservative and homophobic views, continues his mission against academic freedom and quality of independent research. Since the beginning of his service, he has been fighting against members of academia and institutions that conduct research against his personal views (e.g. studies on Holocaust and gender studies), reducing their budgets and threatening with further cuts (read more in the May edition), and pumping extra funds to those who work on issues important to development of the right-wing political agenda.
One of the method of promoting friendly faculties and institutes are changes in assessments of academic journals. A new ranking of journals was published last month. Again, theological journals were promoted. Researchers now receive the maximum possible 200 points for articles appearing in, e.g., Person and the Challenges: The Journal of Theology, Education, Canon Law and Social Studies Inspired by Pope John Paul II. This is the same amount of points that is assigned to globally recognized journals such as Nature and Science. Among other journals added to the top points basket is The Annual of Catholic Theology or Studies in Law on Religion, published by the Catholic University of Lublin (KUL). KUL is Czarnek’s alma mater, where his is a professor, operating directly under the Concordat between Poland and the Vatican.
Journals are valued at 20, 40, 70, 100, 140 or 200 points. When the system was established in 2018, points were assigned according to quantifiable measures known as “impact indicators”, such as the number of times articles are cited elsewhere. Now they fully depend to minister’s will. Points are important for academics, for their career and finances of their research units. Many of them complain that the new system doesn’t promote real, influential research, and they joke that they will rename their journals into Nuclear Biology and Virgin Mary Studies or Quantum Physics and John Paul II. “The elimination of the criteria of scientific quality leads to international marginalization and isolation of Polish scholarship”, Polish rectors protested when the first changes were announced by Czarnek.
What is interesting, also the magazine published of the lower chamber of the parliament, Przegląd Sejmowy, fully controlled by PiS, got maximum number of points.
Świnoujście Finally Connected with Poland
The longest EU-funded underwater tunnel in Europe officially opened in Poland. The tunnel is 1.440 meters long and connects the islands of Wolin and Uznam, and the city centre of Świnoujście with the rest of the country. It will allow seamless transportation for locals and visitors. The project, approved in 2018, received EUR 162,3 million of Cohesion Policy funding, out of a total investment of EUR 191,5 million.
The Baltic Sea resort of Świnoujście lies on 44 islands, which until now could only be reached by ferry. This made commuting difficult, for both local inhabitants and tourist (2,5 million a year). The latter ones often had to wait in hours-long lines to board the ferry. Now the crossing will take 3 minutes.
The tunnel will serve as a catalyst for the region's economic development, also on the transnational level, connecting Poland and Germany.
The tunnel was one of the important infrastructure projects of PiS government. It is part of Poland’s “drive to catch up with Western Europe in terms of standard of living,” an official statement reads. “It’s also a demonstration of the fact that the inability to undertake major public infrastructure projects in Poland is now a thing of the past”, Jarosław Kaczyńki said.
Ahoj to the Baltic Sea!
In 2023 summer season the language that can be heard a lot in Polish beaches is – surprisingly for many – Czech. SchengenVisaInfo.com found that 2023 has seen a notable surge in sales for Poland on the Czech portal Slevomat, with a 50% increase compared to the previous year. Other travel agencies have reported even higher rise in holiday bookings to Poland. The trend has been confirmed also by Polish Baltic resorts, e.g. Sopot – top destination of Czech vacation-goers in Poland – said that southern neighbors are now in the top 3 visitors to the city’s tourist information centers.
Czech agencies argue that Poland became very popular not only because of the prices – lower than in Czechia or Croatia - but also because of numerous sites and attractions, like castles, modern museums, amusement parks, etc., that are still undiscovered by Czech tourists. Additional argument is good infrastructure that makes travels between two countries very easy.
The trend is commented to continue. Czech railway company Česke Drahy, in cooperation with Polish PKP, will start next year a new connection from Prague to Gdańsk via Wrocław, Poznań and Bydgoszcz. There will be four trains a day from the Czech capital to the Polish Baltic coast.
The Inspectorate for Commercial Quality of Agricultural and Food Products (IJHARS) carried out inspections of 109 kebab shops. It found various types of irregularities in 82% of places inspected. Most of them were about composition and labeling of dishes, e.g. chicken was sold as beef, and beef as lamb.
The Inspectorate recommended further commercial quality checks in catering establishments, with special focus on information on the actual composition of meals served.
Polls & Trends
Kantar Public, 27.07.2023
Civic Coalition 32%
PSL-Poland 2050 5% (threshold for coalitions is 8%)
Ukrainian Refugees in Poland
Would it be good for Poland if Ukrainian refugees were to stay for many years?
Strongly agree 17% (-1; compared with March 2023)
Agree 45% (+6)
No opinion 11% (-1)
Disagree 15% (-2)
Strongly disagree 12% (-1)