From Poland With Love - June

Topic of the Month


The incumbent Andrzej Duda won the first round of the presidential election but must still go into a runoff vote. On July 12th, he will face Rafał Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw. The election was the first presidential vote to be held in the European Union since the pandemic hit.

It was the longest and the most peculiar campaign in Polish short democratic history, after 1990. Not only the elections were postponed from May 10th to June 28th due to the pandemic, but also new candidates appeared. The most important of the newcomers was of course Rafał Trzaskowski who replaced Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska as the Civic Coalition candidate after her unsuccessful campaign marked with appeals for boycott of the elections (read more in the previous issue).

Trzaskowski gave new hope to the opposition and brought new energy to the campaign. He promised a “new era” in Polish politics. In a record time he collected over 1,6 million signatures of support (instead of 100.000 required). Rather than complicate his mission, however, the short deadline seemed to have helped him by mobilizing his supporters and creating more momentum for the campaign. Trzaskowski rose significantly in the polls using the polarization effect. And once again, elections became a battlefield between PiS and the Civic Coalition.

Trzaskowski said that if he won, he would cooperate with PiS only if it changed its policies in a number of areas. He announced he wants to eliminate TVP Info, main propaganda machine of PiS, and to ban editorializing on all major public channels. Soundness of these proposals became even more obvious after the only presidential debate TVP hosted before the first round of voting. All questions during the debate were tailored to help Andrzej Duda (who most probably knew them in advance), and they touched upon issues far away from real problems of the country (eg. a question about preparations for the First Communion in schools). Even more, TVP manipulated with sound and audio in favor of the incumbent president.

Duda campaigned on a deeply conservative social agenda that was often laced with homophobia. Duda has sought to bolster support for his campaign by attacking same-sex marriage, adoption by same-sex couples and gay “ideology”. He prompted wide criticism from the activists and human right fighters for comparing the LGBT "ideology" to communism. In a “family charter” published ahead of the election, Duda pledged to “prohibit the propagation of this ideology” in public institutions and “defend the institution of marriage” as defined as a “relationship between a women and a man”. Other PiS politicians have joined the chorus of attacks. Joachim Brudziński MEP, Jarosław Kaczyński’s right hand, tweeted that “Poland is most beautiful without LGBT.” Jacek Żalek MEP that LGBT people were “not people, they are an ideology”. Przemysław Czarnek, a PiS MP and member of Duda’s campaign team, said: “Those people are not equal to normal people.” Once again, PiS made LGBT rights the main axis of its campaign.

In times of global crisis, Duda also decided to paint himself as the guardian of the government's social programmes that have helped reduce poverty in Poland. Trzaskowski has been a supporter of LGBT rights during his time as Warsaw’s mayor, but has tried to sidestep the issue during the campaign.

Only 4 days before the election day, Andrzej Duda visited Donald Trump in Washington, D.C. This was an untypical (from a diplomatic perspective) and unexpected visit during the pre-election period. It was read as a clear Trump’s support for Duda. Not surprising though, since Poland is one of a few places in Europe where Trump is very much welcomed by the government and treated with honors. The central expectation from Duda was that Trump would announce extra US military assistance for Poland (read more in the “Poland and Germany section”). The visit could have given Duda a decisive boost ahead of Sunday’s vote.

And it did. Official final results from the first round of Poland’s presidential election show Andrzej Duda secured 43,5% of the vote and needs to go into a runoff with Rafal Trzaskowski who got significantly less (30,5%).

Duda has already bowed toward number three and number four in the race, namely independent and centrist Szymon Hołownia (13,8% of the vote) and far-right Krzysztof Bosak (6,8%). Both of them were declared the biggest winners of the elections so far. Szymon Hołownia, former TV celebrity and a newcomer in politics, has declared he would vote for the opposition candidate. According to the polls, a vast majority of his voters will also support Trzaskowki. He also announced that he would create a new political movement named Poland 2050. Krzysztof Bosak said his Confederation party would “keep equal distance” from both finalists. He called the choice of Trzaskowski or Duda as choosing between “an open enemy and a false friend, and you don’t know which is worse.” Bosak’s voters will most probably tip the balance. According to surveys, they are very divided between the two remaining options, with one-third opting for abstaining by not voting at all on July 12th.

Duda and Trzaskowski went back to campaigning immediately after the exit polls results were announced. Both are aiming at Hołownia and Bosak’s electorate. “The voter who voted for  Krzysztof Bosak or Szymon Holownia can pick cooperation with the government or fighting between the president and the government for three and a half years,” government spokesman Piotr Müller said. Trzaskowski, in a speech to his supporters, made a pitch to voters of all other candidates to rally around him in the runoff: “This result shows one thing that is most important: over 58% of our society wants change. I want to say clearly to all these citizens – I will be your candidate. I will be the candidate of change,” he said.

Two last candidates in the “big 6” were declared the greatest losers of this election. Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, chairman of the Polish People's Party (PSL), scored only 2,4% and Robert Biedroń, one of the leaders of The Left, only 2,1%. It’s a disaster for both of them. Two months ago, Kosiniak-Kamysz was seen as the candidate who can unite the opposition and win against Andrzej Duda in the runoff. And Robert Biedroń was declared a rising star of Polish politics last year. Both lost mostly with Trzaskowski, who was able to present himself as the only representative of the anti-PiS democratic camp. Kosiniak-Kamysz said he would not resign as PSL chairman, but he is already facing harsh criticism from the partners from the parliamentary group. It is obvious that he will personally vote for Trzaskowski, just like most of his voters, but definitely not all of them. PSL has its core electoral base in the country-side where liberal mayor of Warsaw looks like from a different planet. Robert Biedroń declared that he supports Trzaskowski and asked his voters to vote for him on July 12th.

The official results are as follows:

  1. Andrzej Duda (Law and Justice) - 43.67%. (8 million 412 thousand 183 votes)
  2. Rafał Trzaskowski (Civic Coalition) - 30.34% (5 million 845 thousand 164 votes)
  3. Szymon Hołownia (independent) - 13.85% (2 million 667 thousand 655 votes)
  4. Krzysztof Bosak (far right) - 6.75% (1 million 300 thousand 923 votes).
  5. Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (PSL) - 2.37% (457 thousand 092 votes)
  6. Robert Biedroń (left) - 2.21% (425 thousand 734 votes)

None of remaining 5 candidates got more than 0,3% of the votes.

It will be a very difficult two weeks before the runoff. It can be expected that PiS will use all the tools available, including all money state agencies they have, all state services, state owned media and companies. Andrzej Duda is the clear front-runner after the first round, with 3 million more votes than Trzaskowski. But Trzaskowski is having his momentum now and big chances to consolidate anti-PiS, democratic votes. A lot will depend on mobilization of new voters, but also of the core electorate of both candidates who may be on their summer vacations. If Duda wins, nothing will change in Poland until 2023. If Trzaskowski manages to win, he will inherit a deeply polarized country and a highly politicized media and judiciary, but also he will become a leader of the democratic opposition, and will create a new power center in Poland with instruments of checks and balances vis-à-vis the illiberal government.

Covid-19 Update

Still Waiting for the Pick

On June 1st the number of confirmed coronavirus infections in Poland reached 34,775. The epidemic is far away from its end. Even more, the number of confirmed infections increased by 382 in one day on the first day of July. The ministry also reported that, in all, 1.923 people suspected of coronavirus infection have been hospitalized, 83.033 are under quarantine, 13.919 are under sanitary-epidemiological supervision. So far, 21.791 people have recovered.

Poland and Sweden are the only EU countries to have not yet passed their Covid-19 peak, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) flagged in mid-June.

If the epidemic situation will be difficult in the fall, some restrictions may return, but certainly not in the same form as they were introduced so far, Health Minister Łukasz Szumowski told to Polish Radio.

According to the government, The Covid-19 cluster outbreak has been brought under control in Silesia. But the official data still shows that about a half of the new cases are reported in Silesia. What is more, according to Gazeta Wyborcza the official statistics show a significantly lower number than the real number of the new cases is. The reason for that might be underreporting in the region. Lower figures were needed to convince the Czech government to open its borders for the people from Silesia. When the numbers of the new cases were high, all Poles could enter the territory of their southern neighbor except for Silesians. It provoked anger in this second most populous region of Poland, whose support is needed to win the presidential elections. Just before the first round of voting “Poland’s Silesia region ha[d] moved up to the green zone so travellers won’t need negative tests or to undergo quarantine,” Czech minister Adam Vojtěch told reporters.

Reopening Poland

Poland reopened its borders with all European Union neighbors two days before the European Commission target, on June 13th. Towns on the German-Polish border celebrated as Poland opened the gates. At midnight, the mayors of Görlitz in Germany and Zgorzelec in Poland cut through chains on a makeshift fence that had divided the towns.

Poland's controls at the borders with Ukraine, Belarus and the Russian exclave Kaliningrad remain in place, while requirements from these countries have been relaxed. Under Poland's new measures, citizens of non-EU members - Russia, Belarus and Ukraine - are allowed to enter Poland only if they are a spouse or child of a Polish citizen or have a work permit for the country. Workers from these countries will not need to undergo 14-day quarantine on arrival.

All the Visegrad Group countries have supported a recommendation of the European Commission to the EU Member States to gradually reopen external borders from July 1st, which remained closed due to Coronavirus pandemic developments.

On June 16th, Poland reopened its airports for international flights within the European Union. Passengers are required to fill in a declaration of health before boarding any aircraft, while those with a body temperature exceeding 38°C are to be refused boarding. Originally, only 50% of seats could have been take on each aircraft. However, this restriction was lifted on July 1st. The change is good news for both outbound and inbound tourist traffic, according to deputy prime minister Jadwiga Emilewicz. "We're waiting for foreign tourists; they form an important part of the Polish economy." She recalled that in 2019 the contribution of tourism to Poland's GDP increased to 6,9%. However, this year the figure is expected to be lower due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Despite the lifting of many epidemic-related restrictions, over three-quarters of city hotels and nearly half of those located outside cities reported that they had booked only 20% of their rooms for July and August. According to Rzeczpospolita, the hoteliers said the situation was worse than they expected, and 87% of hotels have problems with maintaining their financial liquidity.

The Polish government has been planning to issue domestic travel vouchers to citizens in order to spark demand after Covid-19 restrictions are eased. Firstly, the PLN 1.000 voucher was promised to all working Poles. But recently it’s been said it would only be PLN 500… per child in a family. Not many details are known yet, but it has been rumored that the Sejm will pass a special act during an extraordinary session two days before the runoff voting, so that Andrzej Duda could say “It’s my present for you”.

International Affairs

V4 Mayors Ambitions on Climate

In an open letter to the president of the European Council, the mayors of Warsaw, Prague, Bratislava and Budapest said the EU should target a 55% emissions cut by 2030, compared with 1990 levels, up from its current goal for a 40% reduction, and asked for EU measures to support cities' climate action. "The joint crises of the coronavirus and global warming creates an unprecedented test of concerted action for the EU," said the letter, which comes ahead of an EU summit.

Back on Track in V4

On July 1st Poland took the lead in the Visegrad Group. "Back on track" will be the motto of this Polish Presidency.

The Polish Presidency of the Visegrad Group (V4), whose members regularly take turns in presiding the V4 every year, began. It is the sixth Polish presidency of V4. The programme of the Polish Presidency was adopted by the Council of Ministers on June 30th, 2020. Visegrad cooperation will focus not only on post-pandemic reconstruction, but also on giving impetus to regional cooperation, improving it and promoting people-to-people contacts between the societies of the four countries of the Group.

V4 initiatives and activities under the Polish (PL) Presidency (PRES) will be divided into three areas:

  1. Economy and connectivity
  2. Security
  3. Society

In these three areas PL PRES has set 4 objectives:

1. Strong V4 in a strong Europe

Objective related to the coordination of V4 countries' activities within the EU.

2. Return to normality

Objective related to the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences

3. People-to-people contacts

Objective related to strengthening integration and cohesion within the V4, between the V4 countries/societies.

4. Digital V4 – e-V4

Objective related to the development of V4 cooperation in the digital sector.

According to the Polish ambassador to the UK “Poland’s presidency of the V4 will be special for another reason: February 2021 marks the 30th anniversary of the Visegrad Group. It is a time to celebrate the remarkable civilisational leap, the huge economic growth, the new, dynamic infrastructure, and ambitious and well-educated societies that have emerged in the years following the fall of the Iron Curtain. This, along with V4’s investment opportunities, and countless tourist, culinary and heritage attractions, allows our region to return to Western public’s consciousness, and look to the future with optimism.”


365 Days in The Woods

Finally, a good Polish Netflix original series landed on the streaming platform. And one Polish film succeeded, even though many Poles are embarrassed.

First one is The Woods. It is a six-part thriller directed by Leszek Dawid and Bartosz Konopka, adapted from a Harlan Coben story. The synopsis reads: "Set in two time spans: 1994 and 2019, The Woods tells the story of a Warsaw prosecutor, Paweł Kopiński, who is still grieving the loss of his sister from twenty-five years ago – the night she walked into the woods at a summer camp and was never seen again. But now, the discovery of a homicide victim – a boy who vanished along with Paweł's sister – reveals evidence that links him to her disappearance. As hope rises that his sister could still be alive, dangerous secrets from his family's past threaten to tear apart everything that Paweł has been trying to hold together.”

This is a second Polish-language Netflix original production, after not very successful 1983 (read more in the February 2018 issue of the Newsletter). It is often compared to the Netflix hit Dark, though the Polish production lacks the German series’ supernatural elements and is heavily grounded in reality.

The series isn’t particularly innovative, but it is an absorbing piece of cinematic entertainment, with the potential to boost the appeal of Polish productions for an international audience. It became successful in Europe, Canada, Brazil and New Zealand. Hailed as being ansuper creepy,”by The Mirror, anda beautifully shot, captivating thriller,” by Forbes, criticisms have largely been limited to pot-shots at an admittedly questionable attempt at dubbing.

Speaking about the new series, the author behind the story himself recommended that people watch it with subtitles, tweeting: "Proud of the wonderful Polish cast and crew who brought #TheWoods #WGłebiLasu to life. Strongly suggest you watch with subtitles rather than dubbed to appreciate the terrific acting. @netflix gives you that option. Thanks."

It is important to say that music plays very important role in the series. Foreign viewers can discover a soundtrack that flips between dark and moody to 90s-style rock guitar, with songs of cult Polish bands like Maanam.

The other Polish hit on Netflix is 365 days. This erotic thriller from directors Barbara Białowąs and Tomasz Mande became the most popular feature film in the British and US edition of the platform and in the second place worldwide!

Netflix released 365 Days to the international audience on June 7th. Within a few days, the film was at the top of Netflix's top 10. The media hailed it as a Polish version of Fifty Shades of Gray. It is based on an erotic novel by Blanka Lipińska. Lipińska is the most popular Polish author of 2019, loved by readers and hated by critics.

Michele Morrone stars as Massimo, a member of a Sicilian mafia family who fails to protect his father from an assassination after being distracted by a beautiful woman. Massimo becomes so obsessed with the woman, a Polish sales agent named Laura, that he kidnaps and imprisons her. Massimo gives Laura 365 days to fall in love with him or else she can go back to her unhappy life in Poland…

The movie 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. The most shocking sex scene is a four-minute montage set aboard Massimo’s yacht that includes graphic depictions of various sex types and positions.

The popularity of 365 Days was spiked by the TikTok social media platform, where users recorded millions of reactions to chosen erotic scenes from the film and shared them as #365Days. The #365Days hashtag on TikTok currently has 146,6 million video views and counting.

Unfortunately, Blanka Lipińska has already written two more volumes on continuation of the story and they will also be filmed.

Watch trailers:

The Woods:

365 Days:

Poland and Germany

Heiko Maas in Warsaw

Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs Jacek Czaputowicz said that Germany's upcoming presidency of the Council of the EU, which was due to commence on July 1st, would be "a challenging period." Czaputowicz made this awkward remark at a joint press conference in Warsaw after meeting with his German counterpart Heiko Maas. Germany wants to put the rule of law at the heart of the EU economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, a policy note said in an apparent swipe at Poland and Hungary.

"We discussed the European recovery fund, and a way to constructively and cooperatively manage the exit of the United Kingdom from the European Union," Czaputowicz added. The talks also touched on the Western Balkans, the Eastern Partnership, and the relations with Russia and the Middle East countries.

Both ministers highlighted their diverging attitudes toward the Russian-led Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. "Nord Stream 2 is a project that Poland has criticized from the very beginning, as it does not ensure energy security and makes [Europe] dependent on deliveries of one supplier, namely Gazprom," Czaputowicz stressed. Maas replied that Poland's stance on the issue is "not something new" for Germany. "Our attitude to this project is unchanged," the minister said, noting that his government rejects the US extraterritorial sanctions meant to block the pipeline's completion.

Historical Responsibility

Minister Heiko Maas also announced that Germany has doubled its share of a fund to preserve the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp to EUR 120 million. Maas was quoted in a statement issued by the Auschwitz museum as saying that Germany would keep doing what “it has done for years within the context of its historical responsibility. “We want to support this work and preserve the memory because German responsibility for the Holocaust will never end,” he added.

A few days earlier the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum was forced to launch an appeal for funding after two months under a coronavirus lockdown its revenues dried up. “We are calling for financial assistance from all those who consider it necessary to preserve memory,” the museum said in a statement published on its official website. The 2020 budget has collapsed,” it said, despite “special support” from the Polish culture ministry and the Auschwitz-Birkenau International Foundation, which will help maintain jobs and continue maintenance work to preserve the memorial. The earliest possible date for reopening of the Auschwitz Museum is the beginning of July.

US Soldiers from Germany to Poland?

Donald Trump and Andrzej Duda signed a joint declaration on advancing defense cooperation paving the way for an increased US military presence in Poland. According to the declaration, USA and Poland “continue to develop the plan to bolster Polish–United States military ties and United States defense and deterrence capabilities in Poland. These capabilities presently include approximately 4,500 rotational United States military personnel. As noted, this enduring presence is expected to grow by approximately 1,000 additional United States military personnel in the near term.”

Trump said that some of the 10.000 American troops he’s pulling out of Germany will be moved to Poland, on NATO’s eastern flank against Russian aggression. “Some will be coming home and some will be going to other places, but Poland would be one of those other places in Europe,” Trump announced. Duda called it a “very reasonable decision” and said he had asked Trump not to withdraw US troops from Europe “because the security of Europe is very important to me”.

Six locations for this designed enhanced military presence have been named. Poznań is to host the Division Headquarters and the U.S. Army area support group. Drawsko Pomorskie will host the primary Combat Training Center for joint use by the Polish and U.S. Armed Forces. Wrocław is to host the U.S. Air Force aerial port of debarkation, and Łask will host the U.S. Air Force remotely piloted aircraft squadron. Powidz is to host a combat aviation brigade, a combat sustainment support battalion, and a special operations forces facility, while Lubliniec will host a special operations forces facility, according to the document.

Trump  praised Poland for being one of only eight members that are fulfilling NATO's target pledge of spending 2% of their GDP on defence, unlike Germany, which Trump thinks doesn't need to be protected by US troops against Russia. "Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars to purchase energy from Russia ... and I'm saying ‘What’s that all about?' ... They're spending billions to buy Russia and then we're supposed to defend them from Russia. So that doesn't work too well."

This move raises concerns about the NATO partnership and the ability of Europe to counter Russia in case US support dwindled.

Defender Europe 2020

In June, the USA finished the largest multinational military exercise on the continent, called Defender Europe 2020, in Drawsko Pomorskie, Poland. The umbrella exercise contained a series of smaller, partner and ally exercises to showcase the deployment capabilities of the United States and the niche defense work of European nations, should Russia threaten an advance into NATO territory.

The drills included some 4.000 US combat troops and 2.000 Polish army personnel, along with 100 main battle tanks, 230 armored vehicles, artillery and aviation.

The drills were smaller than planned, since 37.000 troops were originally expected to participate in the exercise. The exercises were initially intended to stretch out across Germany, Poland and the Baltic countries bordering Russia. Germany withdrew from the games in March, with the Pentagon’s European Command suit following shortly thereafter.

Polish defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak called the US deployment to Poland in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic ‘an expression of trust’ and thanked the US for its presence, suggesting it made Warsaw safer.


Europe’s Brain

Paweł Świeboda becomes new Director General of the Human Brain Project.

The Human Brain Project (HBP) is the largest brain science project in Europe and stands among the biggest research projects ever funded by the European Union. As a lasting contribution to the global science community it has developed EBRAINS, a novel European research infrastructure that enables seamless collaboration between scientists and technology experts to advance the fields of neuroscience, computing and brain-related medicine.

Paweł Świeboda is a graduate of the London School of Economics and the University of London. He is a member of a number of advisory boards of European think tanks as well as a member of the Global Agenda Council on Europe of the World Economic Forum. He was Director of the EU Department at the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2001 to 2006, and EU Advisor to the President of Poland from 1996 to 2000. Later has served as Deputy Head and Head of Research of the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC, then IDEA) at the European Commission since 2015. In this capacity, he was co-responsible for the formulation of long-term, strategic advice to the President of the Commission, focusing on economic, research and innovation issues. He has also served on the Commission’s Sounding Board on EU Science, Research and Innovation Performance.

Świeboda is taking over the role of Director General from Prof. Andreas Mortensen of the Swiss Ecole polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). “I am delighted to pass the baton to Paweł, whose presence at the helm of the HBP will be a fantastic asset for the Project”, said outgoing Director-General.

New Technologies

Cloud Hub Growing

Google will invest as much as USD 2 billion in a data center in Poland to deal with cloud services. “Region Google Cloud in Warsaw is the biggest investment in the infrastructure of this type in Poland,” the paper quoted Magdalena Dziewguć, Google Cloud’s business development director in Poland and Central and Eastern Europe, as saying. “We are getting ready for it to be operational at the beginning of 2021.”

The information follows a May announcement by Microsoft that it will invest USD 1 billion in a Polish data center, as the largest economy in the European Union’s eastern wing tries to position itself as a regional technology hub.

Recommended Reading for the Summer

Summer in the City: Działka

“The pandemic has changed everything. In their hunger for fresh air and green grass, Poles have gone back to their roots in search of a tiny allotment (in Polish działka, plural działki) to call their own. Advertisements for these działki disappear immediately. The most attractive properties are gone in less than an hour. The market has never seen anything like it.”

A full text in Notes from Poland:

Polls & Trends

Presidential Race. Polls before the Runoff Voting

SocialChangesr for, 30.06.2020

Andrzej Duda                                              53%

Rafał Trzaskowski                                      47%

Kantar for TVN, 26-27.06.2020

Andrzej Duda                                              45%

Rafał Trzaskowski                                   45%

undecided                                                      10%

IBRiS for Rzeczposolita, 24.06.2020

Andrzej Duda                                             48,7%

Rafał Trzaskowski                                      47,5%

SocialChangesr for, 26-27.06.2020

Andrzej Duda                                               44,83%

Rafał Trzaskowski                                   46,48%

Summer 2020

IBRiS for, 26.06.2020

How will spend your summer holidays this year?

Home                                                               55,1%

Somewhere in Poland                                 35,7%

Somewhere abroad                                     6,4%

Why will you stay at home?

I can’t afford any travels now                    39,6%

I am afraid of Covid-19                                23,6%

I like this way                                                 20,8%

I’m saving money before the crisis          9,5%

Miłosz Hodun

Miłosz is an expert at the Nowoczesna party. PhD, formerly a part-time teacher at Reykjavik University School of Law. His main areas of interest are comparative constitutional law and federalism. Board member of Projekt: Polska Association. Until September 2015, he worked as an expert within “Presidential Experts’ Programme” at the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland. He is member of the Board of Directors of the European Liberal Forum.