From Poland With Love - March




The first case of Covid-19 infection in Poland was reported on March 4th, with the patient already discharged from hospital in the western city of Zielona Góra. The “patient zero” had traveled on a bus from Germany. Already 6 days after the first confirmed case Polish government took radical steps. It sealed its borders, closed malls and banned gatherings of more than 50 people. The Polish government has decided to close down all creches, kindergartens, schools and universities as well as cultural institutions in the country. And it was only the beginning. On March 10th General Jarosław Mika, Poland’s Chief of General Staff, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus after returning from an army gathering in Germany. On March 16th environment minister Maciej Woś announced he had been tested positive for coronavirus. Later a few MPs were confirmed positive, too. On March 20th, Poland introduced a state of epidemic. On March 31st, the government announced further restrictions on the movement of people. "We want to be prepared for the growing number of infected people, but we also want to curb and flatten the infection growth curve so as to avoid such situations as in Italy and Spain," Mateusz Morawiecki said. All shops selling building supplies are to be closed on weekends. Food stores will remain open but the number of customers will be limited to three per cash register. Each customer will have to put on disposable gloves before entering a store. Additionally, from 10am to 12pm shops are open only for people over 65 years of age. Furthermore, all hairdressers, beauty salons, tattoo and piercings establishments are closed. All non-essential rehabilitation treatments are cancelled. Only two persons per counter are allowed inside the post office and up to three per open-air market stall. Hotels and other accommodation facilities are closed, with the exception of places used as temporary hostels for employees, or for quarantine. Access to parks and recreation places is restricted and city bike rental points are closed. Minors are allowed in public space only in the company of an adult. Those who break the rules will face fines ranging from PLN 5.000 to PLN 30.000 (EUR 1.100-6.600) and repeat offenders may even be handed prison sentences, Morawiecki added. The main goal is to flatten the infection growth not to stuck hospitals and emergency rooms. Poland has re-categorized 19 hospitals as being capable of dealing with infectious diseases, enabling them to receive patients suffering from COVID-19 in weeks to come. Poland has been suffering from a lack of systemic reforms and underspending in its health care system. In recent years, Polish doctors have been at loggerheads with the government over health spending. Resident doctors even went on hunger strike in 2017, demanding a larger chunk of GDP to be put into the sector and calling for better pay and working conditions. It was the main topic of the ongoing presidential campaign (read more in the February issue), that was frozen by the pandemic. Despite a sense of decisive action by the government, doctors and experts across the country are raising questions about the state of the Polish healthcare system and its vulnerabilities to the pandemic. Shortage of intensive care facilities, and in particular of ventilators, is a big concern of doctors. The opposition is accusing the government of acting too slow and not having prepared hospitals enough once it was obvious that Covid-19 would come to Poland. There are not enough protective costumes, masks, glasses, gloves, etc. Other big problems are related to Covid-19 tests. Namely, a lack thereof. Poland tests much less people per 1 million citizens than Western European countries, also significantly less than neighboring Czech Republic or Lithuania. Therefore, the real scale of the pandemic is not known.  


Some 25 countries have decided to postpone their upcoming elections, with the last few - mostly regional or in tiny states - being held in early March. Even Vladimir Putin postponed the constitutional referendum in Russia. The only nation-wide election organized already during the rampaging coronavirus pandemic was held on in France, with 600 doctors now requesting prime minister Edouard Philippe and former health minister Agnes Buzyn to be put on trial for failing to prevent an epidemic. One week after the election day many French who worked at the polling stations were tested positive for Covid-19. Presidential elections in Poland are scheduled for May 10th. They have not been canceled and- according to the PiS government - they won’t be canceled. Jarosław Kaczyński insist on electing the president as soon as possible. He might be afraid that if the elections were held in autumn, the Poles would see how unprepared the government was for the pandemic - how hospitals are underfinanced, how schools are not ready for any kind of emergency, etc. Additionally, in autumn the economic situation is expected to be much worse, with an unemployment rate of more than 10%. Kaczyński explains his rationale in a cynical way ignoring the threat. His official stance is that not only holding the nationwide elections is safe, but that a high turnout can be expected. His argument is that a local by-election, held in five tiny communities on March 22nd, had a turnout higher than expected. All major opposition candidates are calling for postponing the elections. This would allow for more of a level playing field. Today none of the opposition candidates can run any campaign. All caucuses, town hall meetings, door-to-door campaigns, debates are canceled. The only way to reach voters is online. The former prime minister and president of the European Council Donald Tusk has also joined the ranks of those calling for postponement, calling the election a risk to public health and safety. “Only a madman or a criminal would propose people head to the polls at this time,” he says. He also points out that the winner would likely face a lack of legitimacy, as low voter turnout and the unprecedented conditions could easily see any victory challenged in court. Only president Andrzej Duda can run and runs a very active campaign, visiting hospitals, factories, meeting ministers and other officials. Everybody in Poland can see this. Everybody but Jarosław Kaczyński who said: “It would be extremely unfavourable for the president and prime minister to be from various political camps and to argue. Today, among other conditions, we need effective crisis management and political stability. This is the reason why these elections should be held on May 10th.” According to all polls, over 70% of Poles is against holding the elections in May. The European Commission said "it is for member states to decide whether to postpone planned elections in the current context." An EC spokesperson added that "any such decision of course must be consistent with the member states’ obligations in the international law and their constitutional arrangements.” The only ground for the postponement of the election is through the declaration of a state of emergency. The government is not willing to do that. It declared a state of epidemics. Public, economic and social life is de facto limited in Poland by a special law and executive orders issued by the minister of health. According to constitutional experts, it is in fact a state of emergency without its official declaration. In the last week of March Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska (Civic Coalition), the main opposition candidate, suspended her campaign. “Today in Poland there is no other task than battling the epidemic and its consequences," she said in an open letter. “Under these circumstances, organizing presidential elections would be a criminal action.” She called on her rivals to take the same step and said if the election isn’t delayed, it should be boycotted. But other opposition candidates are not going to boycott the elections. Far right candidate Krzysztof Bosak called Kidawa-Błońska's effort "foolish," while the campaign chief of the left-wing candidate Robert Biedroń said the step marks her “political retirement.” According to one of the newest polls, Duda would romp home in a first-round victory with 65% support, although the voter turnout would only be 31% (other polls show even lower turnout). However, he would only take 44% if the elections were delayed. In order to increase the turnout and prove that the elections are democratic and equal as required by the Constitution, on March 29th, the electoral law was changed by PiS to allow people over 60 years old to vote by post. One of the Jarosław Kaczyński’s closest MPs added this amendment  to the anti-virus economic package at the last moment. The measures, which expand postal voting to those over 60 and to people under quarantine — but not to the Poles living abroad — are aimed at assuaging doubts about the feasibility of holding the elections during the pandemic. They also make it easier for PiS's core electorate of older voters to cast ballots. After heavy criticism of the proposal, PiS decided to file draft legislation for the postal vote amendment that would apply to all citizens. “Every voter, in keeping with formal requirements, will be able to vote without having to personally go to a voting booth. The rules will only apply once, during the 2020 presidential elections,” the draft legislation stated. According to the opposition, Polish law forbids any changes to electoral rules six months before an election, a contention rejected by PiS lawmakers. Also, more and more Polish mayors protest against the elections. The mayors of all biggest cities in Poland stated that they would not organize the elections if it was dangerous for their citizens. Others, like mayor of the southern town of Będzin, Łukasz Komoniewski, said that they would not sign the documents allowing the elections to take place there. Almost 300.000 people are needed to distribute the ballots and count votes. PiS is warning all daring mayors and threatening them with legal consequences, including replacing them with commissioners appointed by the government. Currently it seems like PiS is doing everything to hold the elections on May 10th. But if the opposition was united and kept repeating how irresponsible and dangerous such decision is, PiS might change its mind. Kidawa-Błońska’s strategy regarding the boycott of the elections has already changed the tone of the discussion and Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin is talking about postponing the elections to 2021 or even 2022. Also, it is difficult to imagine that health minister Łukasz Szumowski, who became a political star, could agree with holding the elections during the pandemic. Some constitutional experts pointed out a specific solution to postpone the elections. According to the Constitution of Poland, the elections can be hold only if there is more than one candidate. Therefore, if all opposition candidates dropped out of the race, it would automatically make the elections void in the eyes of the law, and new elections would have to be announced. Regardless of their differences and particular interests, it was imaginable that Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska, Władysław Kosinak-Kamysz, Szymon Hołownia, Robert Biedroń and Krzysztof Bosak could cooperate to postpone the vote. But this is not an option anymore as something surprising happened. Marek Jakubiak, a beer maker and former MP (Kukiz’15), announced that he would also run in the elections. This ex-backbencher who leads a marginal party managed to collect over 100.000 signatures in a week. How? It is being said that PiS helped him. Jakubiak will not join any opposition pact and guarantees that Duda will have a competitor. Marek Jakubiak scores between 0 and 1% in polls…  


Some analysts predict Poland's GDP growth to slow down to 2% in 2020 from 4% last year. Others predict even a worse scenario if things take a wrong turn. “For sure GDP growth will not be the same as we had planned before. Will it be below zero? It is not ruled out,” Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki admitted. So far, the economic situation in Poland is very difficult. The country is technically locked down, with only some shops (mostly grocery and pharmacies) staying open. The main employers' association reported that 69% of Polish firms plan to reduce the number of employees. The government plans to spend PLN 212 billion (EUR 47 billion) to help the economy. President (and a candidate in the 2020 elections) Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Morawiecki announced the plan called “The Shield” in a joint statement on March 18th. Minister of Development Jadwiga Emilewicz then prepared a package of support measures for companies from those sectors expected to suffer the greatest losses. The package is equivalent to 9,2% of Poland's GDP. On the last day of March, Sejm approved this rescue package. Unfortunately, only the government solutions were approved by the MPs. The amendments proposed by the Senate and by the opposition were rejected. Many of the latter ones were in fact changes suggested by employers and trade unions. The package approved offers up to PLN 75 billion (EUR 17 billion) of additional budget spending on jobs and infrastructure. Businesses will also be entitled to suspension of social security payments, preferential loans, credit guarantees by the state-run BGK bank, and the government will take over lease payments of transport companies — one of the most heavily hit by the crisis. The government pledged to cover up to 40% of employees' wages in companies affected by the crisis, with employers covering 40% as well. The remaining 20% represent a wage cut for the employees. Companies that suffer a 15% reduction in turnover in 30 days because of the outbreak qualify for the support. The government also promised payouts of 80% of minimum wages to the self-employed. Morawiecki also offered extra 7.5 billion zlotys for health care. The Senate and the opposition called for additional PLN 20 billion in healthcare spending, mandatory weekly coronavirus tests for all healthcare workers and broadened exemptions for firms to pay social security payments. PiS rejected a majority of the Senate’s proposed changes. The opposition criticizes PiS for having spent all the savings from the state budget that were a consequence of years and years of economic growth. Instead of having invested in health care and keeping savings for crisis, PiS spent everything on social projects for diverse groups of its voters and now can afford only a slim rescue package. Additionally, the European Commission will give Poland EUR 7,4 billion from a package consisting of 37,3 billion EUR aimed at alleviating the impact of the epidemic. According to the information published at the EC official websites, Poland will receive the biggest share of the fund, due to the fact that the country is the largest beneficiary of cohesion policy funds for 2014-2020. Poland will first receive EUR 1,1 billion for immediate use. When it spends these funds, it will gain access to the rest of the amount. The Polish Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) has proposed to introduce price caps. This solution already exists for certain categories of medicinal products, medical devices and foodstuffs for particular nutritional uses.  

Poland and Germany

Most of ca. 600.000 care workers from abroad who care for sick and elderly people in Germany come from Poland. With borders closed due to Covid-19 pandemic, Germany has a big problem with shortage of health care personnel. When Poland first closed its borders in mid-March, it allowed crossings of Polish citizens who worked in neighboring countries without having to go into quarantine afterwards. Everybody else who came back to Poland was obliged to stay fourteen days at home. But not even that helped many of the commuting workers since the queues before the German-Polish border grew in some places to 12 hours, and more. Moreover, bus companies were under the new restrictions and some of them decided to stop operating at all during the pandemic. Some recruitment agencies permitted care workers from Poland to cross the border on foot. Minibuses or private cars waited on the German side to collect the staff and drive them to their destinations. Currently, this is not possible anymore. Introducing harsher preventive tools, everybody who enters Poland needs to go into quarantine and cross-border commutes are not allowed anymore. Consequently, German system of securing home care, that supplemented much more expensive nursing home network, is collapsing. Experts anticipate that beginning in April, fewer caregivers will come to work in Germany, leaving their positions unfilled. This could affect 100.000-200.000 households with elderly people. But it’s not only about nurses and home care workers. Also Polish doctors who work on the other side of the Oder river can’t make it to their hospitals. Many local governments in Eastern Germany do everything possible to keep their staff, e.g. renting vacant holiday homes and rooms for them. The closure of the border can be disastrous for economy in Eastern Germany in general, especially Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and Brandenburg, since it heavily uses labor force from Poland. The state governments are offering anyone from Poland, who is willing to stay in Germany, EUR 65 a day, plus additional EUR 20 per family member for temporary accommodation. "Those affected are massively engaged in hospitals and healthcare, but also in manufacturing and food production," said Patrick Dahlemann, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern's minister in charge of the effort to keep over three thousand Polish commuters in the country.    



European Affairs

Luxemburg Court Won’t Take Up The Polish Case The European Court of Justice ruled it won’t take up a case about disciplinary procedures for Polish judges. The statement added, however, that the Polish judges should not be penalized for submitting such requests to the EU court. "The fact that a national judge made a request for a preliminary ruling which turned out to be inadmissible cannot, however, lead to disciplinary proceedings being brought against that judge," the statement reads. Both judges who sent their questions to Luxembourg were not referring the merits to the Court of Justice, but rather part of a new law “reforming” the Polish judicial system involving disciplinary proceedings for judges (read more in the August 2019 issue of the Newsletter). The judges were concerned that rulings in both cases would go against the state and there would be retribution against them. Already in September 2019 the European Court of Justice general spokesman issued an initial opinion on the matter saying the queries were unacceptable as the cases to which they referred - litigation proceedings between a Polish city and tax authorities and a case involving organized crime - were insufficiently connected with the EU law. The Court said that under Article 267 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, the preliminary ruling sought must be "necessary" to enable the referring court "to give judgment". It also said there must be a connecting factor between the disputes before the national court and the provision of EU law for which an interpretation is sought. As in the present case there was no such factor because the referring courts do not have to apply EU law in order to rule on those disputes. The Court therefore found that the questions by Polish courts "are general in nature, so that the requests for a preliminary ruling must be declared inadmissible."  


Krzysztof Penderecki Died Krzysztof Penderecki died in Kraków at the age of 86 years after a “long and serious illness.” The statement issued by the Ludwig van Beethoven Association called Penderecki as “Great Pole, an outstanding creator and a humanist” who was one of the world’s best-appreciated Polish composers. The association was founded by Penderecki’s wife, Elżbieta Penderecka, and the communique was signed by its head, Andrzej Giza. Born in 1933, Penderecki began studying the violin after World War II, in 1946. In the 1950s, he moved on to Jagiellonian University in Kraków, then to the Academy of Music, where he completed his violin studies and began studying composition, first under the lead of Artur Malawski and later Stanislaw Wiechowicz. After graduating, Penderecki began teaching at the Academy in 1958. Penderecki was the avant garde composer who is most known for his work featured in the Hollywood films “The Exorcist" and "The Shining." Various film directors used Penderecki´s music to capture their mood. His music was used in Martin Scorsese’s “Shutter Island”,  Peter Weir’s “Fearless”, David Lynch’s “Wild at Heart” and “Inland Empire”. One of his most famous pieces is the composition “Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima” composed in 1960, a wailing, discordant lamentation dedicated to the victims of the World War II's atomic bombing. Another one was his “St. Luke Passion” from the mid-1960s. Though using experimental language, it was liturgical in more than just the formal sense, held together through traditional structures, and showed Penderecki as a devout artist. He went on to compose many religious works, including a Magnificat, Deus Irae, Te Deum, and the Polish Requiem, a traditional and exquisitely beautiful work. Over his long career, Penderecki was nominated for eight Grammy Awards and won four of them, most recently in 2016, when he won the Grammy for the best choral performance for "Penderecki Conducts Penderecki, Volume 1." He was also awarded the Grammy Trustees Award in 1968 along with jazz greats Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. One of his best-known fans is a member of the alternative rock band Radiohead Jonny Greenwood, who collaborated with the composer in 2012. “His pieces make such wonderful sounds,” said Greenwood. “I think a lot of people might think his work is stridently dissonant or painful on the ears. But because of the complexity of what’s happening – particularly in pieces such as Threnody and Polymorphia, and how the sounds are bouncing around the concert hall, it becomes a very beautiful experience when you’re there. It’s not like listening to feedback, and it’s not dissonant. It’s something else. It’s a celebration of so many people making music together and it’s like – wow, you’re watching that happen.” In addition to his significant and distinctive legacy on Earth, Penderecki’s name will also endure in the heavens: in 1991, an asteroid in the main Asteroid Belt was christened 21059 Penderecki.   Kill It and Leave This Town The world premiere of Mariusz Wilczyński's feature animation film Kill It and Leave This Town co-financed by the Polish Film Institute took place in the new competitive section Encounters during the 70th International Film Festival in Berlin. The goal of the Encounters is to support new voices in cinema and to give more room to diverse narrative and documentary forms in the official programme. A three-member jury chooses the winners for Best Film, Best Director and a Special Jury Award. “Kill It and Leave This Town” is the debut feature by acclaimed Polish animator Mariusz Wilczyński, who spent 11 years crafting a dreamlike journey into the subconscious and the past. Produced by Agnieszka Ścibior for Bombonierka and Academy Award winner Ewa Puszczyńska (Ida, Cold War) for Extreme Emotions, it features the voices of Krystyna Janda, Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska, Małgorzata Kożuchowska, and Barbara Krafftówna. Mariusz Wilczyński is a self-taught artist who has been creating animated auteur cinema for over twenty years. Retrospectives of his films were held, among others, at MoMA in New York, National Museum of Brasília, Tokyo International Forum and The National Museum in Warsaw. His animations were shown at the National Gallery in London and at Berlinale. He also realizes improvised live animation performances, which he co-creates with symphony orchestras from Hong Kong, Paris, Tokyo, Geneva, Lviv and Warsaw. In 2007, the New York Times called him "one of the most important contemporary creators of artistic animation.” For the last 11 years, he has been working on Kill It and Leave This Town. He is a professor of animation at the Film School in Łódź. Kill It and Leave This Town was conceived as a short film. But much like the movie’s fantastical depiction of Łódź, the industrial city of his childhood, it continued to grow. It tells a story about a man grieving over the loss of his family members, who retreats into the safety of memory. Kill It and Leave This Town was enthusiastically received by the audience and critics. Peter Bradshaw gave the film four stars in his review for The Guardian. “Here is the Neue Sachlichkeit reborn; yet the realism is overwritten by something hallucinatory and nihilistic, but also funny in a bleak Beckettian sort of way. You can watch this film often without being quite sure what is happening or who exactly the various figures are: it is a kind of sleep-talking cinema, a cinema which splurges up scrambled messages from the unconscious, which have their own dark mysterious poetry,” he wrote. Also the newest film by Agnieszka Holland had its premiere at Berlinale. Charlatan is a biographical drama about an exceptional man, gifted  with healing abilities, set against the background of the events of the 20th century. The story is inspired by the life of the healer Jan Mikolášek, who amazed the generation with his ability to diagnose and treat diseases with herbs, exposing himself to obstruction by the communist establishment. Mikolášek's story is not only one of human lives full of twists and turns, but also a general reflection on the price paid for the privilege of genius. Charlatan is a Czech-Irish-Polish-Slovak co-production. The music for the film was composed by Antoni Komasa-Łazarkiewicz with the participation of Mary Komasa-Łazarkiewicz. Kasia Adamik, Rafał Paradowski and Tomasz Naumiuk were involved in the project. Read the full review in The Guardian and watch the trailer:  


Not All Towns Are Homophobic A Polish mayor attempts to mend a broken relationship with a French twin city over anti-LGBT+ laws. In a letter to the French municipality of Saint-Jean-de-Braye, mayor of Włodawa, Wiesław Muszyński, offered a twinning agreement to replace the one with other Polish city, which was previously suspended by the French side.  Muszyński argued that most Poles are “open and respectful people.” “Not all towns are homophobic,” he wrote. One week earlier, Saint-Jean-de-Braye in central France took the unusual step of suspending quarter-century-long official ties with the Polish town of Tuchów. “France is committed to combating human rights violations based on sexual orientation. We cannot accept that the ties that unite our two cities by a twinning oath be tainted. We condemn the position taken by our twin city of Tuchow”, the officials of Saint-Jean-de-Braye  wrote. This way they expressed their outrage over a declaration adopted last year stating that Tuchów was an area “free of LGBT ideology” (read more in the previous issue of the Newsletter). Tuchów was one of the towns in south-eastern Poland that adopted the declaration saying they wanted to defend themselves against “radicals (…) who attack freedom of speech, childhood innocence, the authority of family and school and the freedom of businesspeople.” Włodawa is also a town in the East, just by the border with Ukraine and Belarus. And its mayor, who calls himself “a Pole and a European”, stressed the colorful history of tolerance and cultural inclusiveness. Muszyński reminds that his town has been for hundreds of years home for Poles, Ukrainians and Jews. He has been quoted and interviewed by many international media outlets, including The New York Times.   Women of the Century Anna Walentynowicz became one of the “100 Women of the Year”. She was included in TIME’s list of the most influential women of the past century. Simon Shuster explained this choice with the following words: “Poland’s escape from Soviet rule began with Solidarity, a movement for the rights of workers that Anna Walentynowicz, a welder and crane operator, helped create in 1980. In retaliation for her activism, she was fired that year from the Lenin Shipyard. Her colleagues went on strike to get her job back, sparking a mass resistance that culminated in the Gdansk Agreement, which allowed the first free-trade union in communist Eastern Europe. Within a year, the Solidarity union had nearly 10 million members, with Walentynowicz as one of its leaders. The triumph in Gdansk precipitated the fall of communism, a decade later. It also led generations of Poles to see Walentynowicz as the mother of their independence.” TIME called Walentynowicz a “Mother of Polish Independence”. She was definitely a legend but her public activism after 1989 is described as controversial by many observers. She had a falling out with Lech Wałęsa after he was elected president in 1990. She has been a firm critic of Wałęsa and Poland’s post-communist political settlement. She was vocally pointing bad conduct of the Civic Platform. PiS used her legend, together with the one of Andrzej Gwiazda’s, to build alternative narrative of democratic heroes who should replace Lech Wałęsa in collective memory about the Solidarity movement. Anna Walentynowicz died, aged 80, in the Smoleńsk plane disaster. In December 2015 the main room (The Column Room) in the Chancellery of the Prime Minister of Poland was named after Anna Walentynowicz. She would be celebrating her 90th  birthday in 2019, which is why the Sejm has proclaimed 2019 as the year of Anna Walentynowicz. See the TIME cover with Walentynowicz:  

Polls & trends

  Presidential Race IBRiS for, 27-28.03.2020   If the elections were held last Sunday: Andrzej Duda                                45,1% Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska      17,2% Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz     12,1% Robert Biedroń                             8,5% Krzysztof Bosak                            7,5% Szymon Hołownia                        3,9% Expected turnout:                       39,7%     If the elections were held in May, during the pandemic:   Andrzej Duda                                54,6% Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska       12,1% Krzysztof Bosak                            9,2% Robert Biedroń                             8,7% Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz      6,4% Szymon Hołownia                        3,7% Expected turnout:                        20,7%   Coronavirus and Jobs SW Researches for, 28.03.2020   Are you afraid of losing your job or getting lower salary due to Covid-19 pandemic?   Yes                                                      61,4% No                                                      22,6%     About the author ____________________________________________ Miłosz Hodun 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.