From Poland with Love - March
Topic of the Month
What Did He Know?
A television documentary about Pope John Paul II’s alleged knowledge of pedophilia and sexual assault within the Catholic Church in Poland has caused a widespread outcry and created a new axis of polarization ahead of general elections.
The film titled ‘Fraciszkańska 3’ (the papal address in Kraków) tells a story of Karol Wojtyła before he became the pope in 1978, focusing on 1960s and 1970s when he was the archbishop of Kraków. It accuses Wojtyła of allowing three priests – two of them served prison sentence - to continue working in the church despite knowing they had been accused of abusing minors.
In the course of the investigation, reporters met with victims and their families, as well as former employees of the church administration. They were not allowed to access archives of the dioceses, but they analyzed documents of the former communist security services. The latter ones are being used by the government to discredit the investigation (even though PiS used the same archives against Lech Wałęsa).
But TVN, the producer of the documentary, was not the only source of the latest news about John Paul II. Similar allegations were made in a new book by Dutch journalist Ekke Overbeek, titled “Maxima Culpa: John Paul II Knew”. Overbeek claims that Karol Wojtyła moved sexual offenders from parish to parish to protect them and the church itself. "He was aware of the problem from the very beginning, and that sheds a completely different light on his pontificate", the writer commented.
The accusations brought questions over whether John Paul II was made a saint too quickly. He was beatified only six years after death and then canonized just three years later. It was the fastest canonization in the history of the church. Polish episcopate is firmly defending its historic leader. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the head of the conference of bishops, commented that the reports are “shocking attempts to discredit his person and work, made under the guise of concern for the truth and good”. “The Polish pope has been a moral yardstick, a teacher of the faith, and an intercessor in heaven for millions of Poles”, he said.
Sejm adopted a resolution denouncing the “disgraceful media campaign” and defending “the good name of St. John Paul II”. “The Sejm strongly condemns the shameful campaign conducted by the media (…) against the Great Pope St. John Paul II, the greatest Pole in history”, the document reads. And the speaker of the Sejm Elżbiera Witek commented: "John Paul II is our identity, our foundation and our bond. The communists knew this perfectly well and that's why they sought to destroy him while he was alive. Today, their heirs are doing it after his death". PiS MPs came to the house holding pictures of the Polish pope. His images flooded Polish public space: gigantic pictures have been projected on administration buildings, state-owned companies paid for massive outdoor campaigns, right-wing media printed the pope’s face on cover pages of all their outlets, TVP aired pieces of pontifical speeches every day in prime time… On the other side PKN Orlen, operator of the dominant chain of gas stations and owner of the biggest chain of newspaper kiosks, decided to ban (for good) a left-wing weekly that mocked John Paul II on its front page. Marches to honor John Paul II on the anniversary of his death were organized in some cities, including Warsaw and Wadowice (where Wojtyła was born).
The topic is so important to the ruling party that they risked good relations with the USA. The Ministry of foreign affairs summoned the American ambassador to Poland, Mark Brzezinski. TVN is owned by a US company, the Warner Bros. Later the MFA commented that it “recognizes that the potential outcome of these activities is in line with the goals of a hybrid war aimed at causing divisions and tensions within Polish society”.
Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki called the accusations "an attempt to trigger a culture war in Poland" and his deputy Piotr Glinski declared with bravery that "an attack on the pope is an attack on Poland". But the truth is that the government is very pleased with the fuss as it covered many of their problems, including corruption scandals and high inflation.
PiS is using John Paul II to mobilize its voters. It appears that the pope is an important part of identity of millions of Poles and polarizes the society just like abortion and LGBTQI. It is commented that PiS wants to play the pope’s card as much as possible in the coming campaign accusing the whole opposition for slandering the national symbol. It will create a difficult situation for these democratic parties which partly have church-going, moderate conservative voters, in particular the Civic Platform and Poland 2050. On the other side, the left is also trying to benefit from the situation calling to remove the pope’s name from public spaces, including from names of streets or schools.
Poland is predominantly a catholic country, but at the same time, it is the fastest secularizing country in Europe. Public opinion has been debating in recent years about clerical sex abuse scandals, and accusations of cover-ups - the Vatican has disciplined a number of local bishops for negligence - but so far John Paul II was excluded from accusations. After the discussion on the reports started, the episcopate announced it will set up an “independent panel of experts” to assess the problem of child abuse by members of the clergy. "I hope that this team and its work will become true aid for the wronged people who deserve the truth", Primate Archbishop Wojciech Polak said.
Suicide of a 15-years-old Victim
The death of 15-year-old Mikolaj Filiks, a son of Civic Platform (PO) MP Magdalena Filiks, has shocked the public opinion in Poland, provoking another debate about standards of the state-owned media.
The state-owned regional Radio Szczecin released details that allowed the teenager to be identified as a victim of sexual abuse. They did it in a campaign against a former PO local politician who had been accused of paedophilia. Radio Szczecin and its right-wing allies, e.g. TVP Info and Gazeta Polska, were trying to prove that the main opposition party had tried to sweep the scandal under the rug for political reasons. In fact, the sexual predator was sentenced to four years and 10 months in prison already in 2021. The details of the case were not revealed to the public to protect the victims, protect successfully until Radio Szczecin decided to take advantage of the children’s tragedy…
“On the 17th of February, my son Mikolaj Filiks passed away. Miki’s 16th birthday would have been on the 8th of March”, Magadlena Filiks posted on social media. “On behalf of myself and my daughters Aleksandra and Maja, I’m asking the ‘media’ to respect our privacy by not attending [the funeral]”, she continued. Thousands of people shared her post.
The Sejm commemorated the teenager’s death with a minute’s silence. “We will hold PiS accountable for every villainy, for all the human harm and tragedy they have caused while in power. I promise”, PO chairman Donald Tusk tweeted.
PiS leaders, including prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki, joined in condolences. Even National Broadcasting Council, controlled by PiS, admitted that ethical principles had been violated. Right-wing journalists started deleting old social media that accused Magdalena Filiks of covering up a paedophilia scandal. But they became silent only for a short moment, quickly changed their strategy, and launched a coordinated attack blaming PO politicians for the death of the child.
A discussion about ethical standards (lack thereof) in Polish media swept the country again. Experts remained that PiS took control over all state-owned media and changed them into a hatful propaganda machine that openly act against different minority groups and the opposition. Many commentators draw parallels between this tragedy and the hate inspired by the mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz (read more in the Politics section of this issue).
The independent journalists' association Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie stated that "above all, journalists should show concern for the people they write about. Anyone who doesn’t respect this principle should be expelled from the profession". People were asking when the head of Radio Szczecin will be fired. So far he has not been fired and it is hard to imagine that he will be sacrificed by his political patrons.
Polish farmers have been fiercely protesting against the government. Some forms of the protests have been particularly disturbing for the ruling party, e.g. deputy prime minister and Agriculture minister Henryk Kowalczyk had to be evacuated from the fair in Kielce when he was approached by a group of angry farmers; the same politician was attacked with eggs during an international discussion panel.
Farmers are angry at the low prices of grain, and blame the drop in market value on an inflow of Ukrainian grain that was supposed to be immediately transported to the Middle East and Africa. Poland was planned to become the country of transit as traditional routes of export had been blocked by Russian aggression. The EU waived customs duties and import quotas to facilitate the process. But according to the protesters, the grain is not leaving Poland thus unfairly competing with the local crop. And production of the latter one has become expensive due to huge increases of energy and fertilizer prices.
Farmers demand the resignation of the minister and compensations to those who suffered from the mass grain influx from the East.
On the other side, Polish government is blaming Brussels for the situation. Mateusz Morawiecki sent a letter to European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen calling for immediate actions to remedy the problem. Poland will encourage Slovakia, Romania, Hungary, and Bulgaria to do the same. Warsaw declared it was ready to help take this grain and export it to Africa. A confusing fact is that PiS blames the EU but the person responsible for agriculture in the block is a PiS politician, commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski.
Tensions will be growing. PiS used to be the most popular party in the Polish countryside, but recently it has lost farmers’ support. It needs to rebuild it if it seriously thinks about winning the autumn elections. But this year political competition is strong, traditional farmers’ party PSL is building a conservative block with Poland 2050 and agrarian-populist AgroUnia led by charismatic Michał Kołodziejczak is growing stronger.
Sleeping in the Sejm, Bathing in a Sink
A group of people with disabilities and their carers protested again in the parliament. They demanded the adoption of the civic initiative law (supported by almost 200.000 signatures) on social allowance and an increase of the social allowance to match the national minimum wage (PLN 3.490, ca. EUR 745). This is twice as much as they receive now.
A similar protest took place in the Sejm building in 2018, and lasted 40 days. In 2019, its leader, Iwona Hartwig, was elected an MP from the Civic Coalition list. Now she again brought her son and other families to present their demands to the politicians of the ruling coalition.
The protesters met deputy minister of social affairs but refused to continue negotiations in the building of the ministry worrying that they would be banned from coming back to the Sejm. Instead, they asked the First Lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda to visit them and promote their demands.
The group slept on mattresses on the corridors and accuse the speaker of the Sejm of cruelty as they didn’t have access to showers. Some carers shared stories that they had to bathein their children with disabilities in sinks in toilets.
The social affairs ministers called the protest a political one and repeats that PiS has done more for people with disabilities than any other government. She also announce a new social benefit, up to PLN 3.178 (ca. EUR 675), for people with disabilities that will be introduced next year. Independently, carers will be entitled to the existing social allowance, and additionally, they will be able to work and earn up to PLN 20.000 without losing it.
USA inaugurated its first permanent garrison in Poland. It is called Camp Kościuszko (nicknamed ‘Camp K’ by soldiers) and is located in Poznań. It consists of only 13 military personnel, but additional 140 civilian employees will assist them. The garrison will support US Army’s V Corps, which oversees missions along NATO’s eastern flank and has a forward headquarters on the post.
"We are proud of the declaration of President Biden regarding the permanent presence of American troops in Poland. We have been striving for this for years, for the word 'permanent' - and it has just become a reality”, Poland’s defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak commented. “The United States has the strongest armed forces in the world, and we intend to use the best models", he added. “From the Suwałki Gap to Poznań and everything in between, evidence of the strength of NATO abounds”, Lt. Gen. John Kolasheski, V Corps commander, said. “Today, there are more allied soldiers from more allied countries, standing shoulder to shoulder in Poland than at any time in the alliance’s history”, he concluded.
Some 10.000 American soldiers in Poland are still operating on a rotational basis. Camp Kościuszko is the eighth US Army garrison in Europe, in addition to those in Germany, Belgium, and Italy.
More news on defense:
Last year, Poland's army have recruited 13.500 new soldiers, the largest number since it ended conscription in 2008. It is ca. 8% of total armed forces of 164.000 soldiers. According to the plan of the authorities this number should increase to 300.000 in the coming years.
The K2 tanks used by the Polish Army will be manufactured, serviced, and repaired at the military plant in Poznań. The agreement was signed by the Korean company Hyundai Rotem and Polish defense industry consortium PGZ.
K2 tanks will be supported by domestically produced, high mobility and ability to overcome terrain obstacles fighting vehicles known as Borsuk (badger). The government has announced it will purchase 1.400 of them in what they say will be the Polish arms industry’s largest project in half a century. The contract is worth several dozen millions of Polish zlotys. They will be produced in a plant in Stalowa Wola and first of them will be delivered by 2025.
Additionally, it was announces that Poland is buying the Patriot air defense systems, F-35 planes, 18 HIMARS rocket launchers and ca. 500 launcher loader module kits from the US; 212 K9 self-propelled howitzers, 48 FA-50 light combat aircraft and 288 K239 Chunmoo rocket artillery launchers from South Korea.
Polish deficit for 2022 came in almost 60% lower than planned in the state budget. It was PLN 12,4 billion (ca. EUR 2,65 billion), PLN 505,0 billion income and PLN 517,4 billion expenditure. “Our budget deficit was predicted to be around PLN 30 billion”, prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki informed. “That put the general government deficit, a measure closely monitored by the European Commission, at around 3% of gross domestic product (GDP)”, he added, stressing that it is a great success in light of high costs of the post-pandemic measures and the support for Ukrainian refugees.
Several economist, and the Supreme Court of Auditors (NIK), have warned that the real deficit is higher as some expenditures have been removed from the state budget.
Tale of Two Judges
A Warsaw court found activist Justyna Wydrzyńska guilty of assisting an abortion by supplying pills, and sentenced her to 30 hours of community service a month for eight months.
Wydrzyńska, member of the Abortion Dream Team, declared in the court that she didn’t feel guilty, since she had sent the drugs to a woman who had needed them, a victim of domestic violence. "I didn't want Ania to risk her life by taking dangerous steps since a solution is so easy and medically safe", she commented. Ania, the women in question, who called an abortion line asking for help, has publicly thanked Wydrzyńska to be with her when no one from her closest ones was (these two women have never met in person). It was Ania’s abusive partner who called the police, which confiscated the pills.
Head of Amnesty International, Agnes Callamard, wrote that Wydryńska’a case “sets a dangerous precedent in Poland, where abortion is nearly completely banned, and offers a chilling snapshot of the consequences of such restrictive laws”. Also politicians from many European countries supported the Polish activist. ALDE Party and Renew Europe launched a campaign condemning the decision made in Warsaw. Dutch MEP Samira Raphaela said: “How can it be possible that women in Europe face criminal charges for helping other women in accessing care they urgently need? The right to self-determination is inviolable. Women defending each other and this right need to be celebrated, not put on trial. Justyna's trial is a trial on all of us. I expect a strong position from President Von der Leyen. How are we going to protect our activists from such politically motivated sham trials?”
One day before the verdict in Wydrzyńska’s case, a court in Poznań decided that a group of 32 demonstrators who held a protest against the abortion ban in a cathedral during mass have been acquitted of “maliciously interfering with a religious act”. The judge stressed that women used their right to protest against violations of their rights and the Catholic Church was an outspoken supporter of the abortion ban. “These were the largest demonstrations in Poland since the political changes in 1989 and, in the opinion of some commentators, the largest street protests in the history of Poland”, she concluded. The decision can be appealed by the prosecutor.
The judge who sentenced Wydrzyńska was promoted immediately after her verdict. The judge who acquitted the protesters was punitively sent for a training for “attacking other judges” by the politicized National Council of the Judiciary.
Life Sentence for the Murderer of Adamowicz
Stefan Wilmont, a man who fatally stabbed mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz in 2019 has been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole for 40 years. The trial lasted ca. three years, 400 witnesses were questioned, 60 professional opinions from various fields were included. Wilmont has never apologized and has showed no remorse during his trial, repeatedly smiling and laughing. According to the court Wilmont suffers from "profound personality disorders" but does not exhibit signs of a mental illness.
The judge Aleksandra Kaczmarek said in her ruling that Wilmont had committed an "unprecedented murder" in Poland’s history, “in front of television viewers and spectators". Adamowicz was stabbed on the stage during the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, Poland’s biggest charity event. The television footage of the incident showed the mayor speaking to the crowd while holding a sparkler, before his attacker moved towards him. He was resuscitated at the scene and then transported to the Medical University. After carrying out the attack, the man shouted from the stage “I was jailed but innocent. Civic Platform tortured me. That's why Adamowicz just died”. Wilmont’s mother had warned the police that her son was dangerous and would be trying to commit cruel crimes. Her words were ignored.
Adamowicz was 53 years old when he died. He was mayor for more than 20 years. He was seen as an anchor of the rapid transformation of Gdańsk into a modern and open city. He was calling himself a conservative but was often a progressive voice in Polish politics, supporting LGBT+ rights and tolerance for minorities.
Paweł Adamowicz’s wife, MEP Magdalena Adamowicz (PO) has repeatedly stated that her husband was a victim of the hate promoted against him by state media. She blamed the PiS regime for accepting hatred and silently supporting far-right groups and hate speech leaders.
Not Sustainable by Definition
European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that Polish policy to allow tree cutting during birds' breeding season is illegal, as it goes against nature conservation directives of the block. It was the European Commission who sued Poland arguing that Polish legislation will threaten and even destroy bird habitats. Polish authorities responded that according to the law forests are managed in a sustainable way, in other words that tree-cutting plans in Poland are environmentally friendly by definition.
ECJ decided that “[a]ny plan or project not directly connected with or necessary to the management of a site but likely to have a significant effect thereon, either individually or in combination with other plans or projects, is to be subject to appropriate assessment of its implications for the site given the site’s conservation objectives”. The Luxembourg court added that Polish government cannot prevent environmental organizations from questioning the government’s forestation plans.
EP Honors Polish War Hero
A room at the European Parliament in Strasbourg has been named after the Polish World War II hero Witold Pilecki. It was an initiative of former Polish minister of foreign affairs Anna Fotyga MEP.
In 1940, Pilecki volunteered to be arrested and send to Auschwitz to gain detailed information about the organization of the concentration camp and extermination of the Jewish people. In 1943 he ran away, and in 1944 he fought in the Warsaw uprising. After the war he was an intelligence agent in the communist Poland. In 1947, he was arrested and put on a show trial. He was tortured and executed. In 2006, he was posthumously awarded Poland’s highest military honor, the Order of the White Eagle.
European Tree of the Year
The 'Fabrykant' (factory owner) oak from Łódź was chosen the European Tree of the Year.
The oak grows in the bishop Michał Klepacz Park, established at the end of the 19th century by the factory owner Richter family. According to the official web site, it is one of the most original trees in Poland and showcase of the city. One of its branches is S shaped and over 20 m long which makes a huge impression on passers-by. In spring crowds of people who want to see its majesty in the sea of light blue flowers are attracted to it.
Fabrykant beat the competition of 16 trees with almost 46 thousand votes, over double of what the runner-off received. The second place was taken by the dragon oak from Slovakia, and the third was the apple colony from Ukraine.
“The majority of the trees contesting this year, including the winners of the contest, have been man-planted”, explained one of the organizers, Thierry de l’Escaille.“ This emphasizes the importance of vision in the management of trees, forests, and nature. Responsible decisions and visionary management have the potential to enrich biodiversity and positively affect forests, landscapes, and even cities as in the case of this year’s winner which is growing in the heart of Łódź”, he added.
It is the second time in a row when a Polish tree wins the title, mostly due to mobilization of followers of the humoristic Instagram account Make Life Harder (1,2 million followers). The 2022 winner was the magnificent oak Dunin from the Białowieża Forest. The competition is organized annually by the Environmental Partnership Association (EPA) and the European Landowners’ Organisation (ELO) to show the significance of trees in the natural and cultural heritage of Europe and the importance of the ecosystem services trees provide.
Dotted Undies in the Opera
Halina Ołdakowska, director of the Wrocław Opera, was dismissed by the executive board of the Lower Silesia region. The official reason was violation of the law on public finances. Infringements were confirmed by the Supreme Court of Auditors (NIK), the regional executive and accounting bodies. Ołdakowska was hired in 2020 after her predecessor had lost his job in very similar circumstances. She employed world-class artists, singer Mariusz Kwiecień and conductor Bassem Aikiki, to rebuild the reputation of the Opera. They both quit under the weight of accusations against their boss.
But unofficially, Ołdakowska was fired after a scandal from February this year. Private birthday party of a 35-year-old assistant to the education minister, Przemysław Czarnek, was organized in the opera building. After a show of Puccini’s ‘La bohème’ (invitees received free tickets) the party started in the foyer to be moved later to the main concert hall. Sławomir Świerzyński, leader of a disco band Bayer Full and admirer of PiS, performed on the stage his ribald song “Dotted undies”… in Chinese. Opposition council members from Wrocław claim that the invoice for the party was much below market prices.
New management of the Wrocław Opera was hired quickly. The institution will be now lead by a former director of the Lower Silesia Philharmonics, Tomasz Janczak, and a director Michał Znaniecki.
Poland and Germany
Polish right-wing media viciously attacked two German MEPs for withholding EU Covid recovery funds for Poland. Moritz Körner from FDP (ALDE, Renew) and Daniel Freund (Greens) allegedly pressured on the European Commission and managed to change President Ursula von der Leyen position.
The news was firstly reported by Der Spiegel. It was commented by Polish minister for finance and regional policy, Grzegorz Puda, who said it was no secret that German MEPs were behind the cut-off of Recovery Fund aid to Poland “under the pretext of concerns about the rule of law”. Later, state-owned media and PiS-sponsored outlets started a campaign presented both MEPs as key enemies of Poland.
Polls & trends
Ipsos for TOK FM, 24.03.2023
Civic Coalition 27%
Poland 2050 6%