From Poland with Love. March

From Poland with Love
© FNFreiheit 

Topic of the Month

Many Winners of Local Elections

On April 7, after a rather short and very boring campaign, Poles voted in local and regional elections.

It is difficult to conclude who the real winner is. The elections to 16 regional assemblies (sejmiki), which are the most comparable with the national ones (as on county and municipal level Poles tend to vote for local groupings) show all parties should be both happy and sad for their results. And the latter are as follows:

PiS                                     34,27%

Civic Coalition (KO)     30,59%

Third Way (TD)             14,25%

Confederation              7,23%

Left                                   6,32%

BS                                      3,00%

Others                             4,30%.

Turnout was 51,5% compared to 54,9% during the previous election in 2018. October’s parliamentary election observed an exceptional 74,4% turnout. Many women and young people decided to stay home, disappointed with the political situation after last year’s general elections (and lack of expected reforms, e.g. on abortion or marriage equality). Many voters enjoyed a very summery weekend with sun and temperatures over 25 degrees, and opted for countryside chill over democratic obligations.

PiS again came first. It was the ninth victory of Jarosław Kaczyński’s party. PiS proved that it is still a powerful and dangerous party, with a very loyal and mobilized voter base. It should not be underestimated, as it has potential to come back to power. PiS got even stronger in the East and in rural Poland, i.e., receiving over 50% of the votes of Polish farmers. All this in opposition, without control over the state apparatus and state-owned media. “We should, above all, be an incentive for us to work, because it turns out that those who wanted to bury us already, as Mark Twain once said: ‘The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated'”, Jarosław Kaczyński commented. On the other side, PiS lost support since October. It also stopped being the most voted party in three regions, and it will lose power in some of them as it has no ability to form coalitions. Kaczyński’s party was once again humiliated in cities – in 100 biggest Polish municipalities PiS candidates will compete in second round only in 16, and none of them is bigger than 50.000 inhabitants.

Civic Coalition confirmed it is a clear leader of the ruling coalition. Since October, it reduced its distance to PiS. KO won in nine regions, up from seven in 2018, and PiS was in the lead in six. However, KO with its allies from TD and the Left will most probably govern in 12 regions. KO candidates dominated mayor races in big cities, but also they won in many towns. Donald Tusk can be disappointed that his block didn’t receive more votes than PiS. Such victory would have been symbolic, giving the prime minister extra legitimacy to continue reforms.

Third Way maintained its third position from parliamentary elections, and will be a necessary component of many coalitions on regional and municipal level. Several political competitors and commentators didn’t believe that TD would get close to its result from October 2023, since some polls gave it less than 10%. On the other side, 13,5% TD received is not spectacular compared with 12% PSL alone won in 2018. Leaders of TD complain their result could have been better if the Left hadn’t attacked them so forcefully for their opposition against the liberalization of the abortion law. And it’s true that some left-wing MPs went aggressively against the TD leaders, e.g. MP Anna-Maria Żukowska tweeted to Poland 2050 chairman Hołownia: “F*ck off with that patience”.

The Left became again the weakest link of the new ruling coalition. Its 6,8% is below expectations and will deprive it from seats in many assemblies. Focusing mostly on abortion and other national issues was a mistake. Commentators stress that the New Left party is in deep crisis and under current leadership it may never grow again.

The Confederation lost its hopes to succeed in October 2023, when it received less votes than it had been forecasted by research institutes, and now its 7,5% - more than the Left - is seen as a success, but the far right will have a scarce representation in local and regional councils.

Rafał Trzaskowski won re-election in Warsaw, receiving impressive 57% of the vote. His main opponent, Tobiasz Bocheński from PiS got only 23%, and Magdalena Biejat from the Left 14%. Tusk called Trzaskowski “the hero of today’s elections”. His great result confirms that he is still the main democratic candidate for 2025 presidential elections.

Also other KO candidates won re-election in the first round, i.e. in Łódź, Gdańsk, Szczecin, Bydgoszcz, Białystok.

But there were also big surprises. The biggest one happened in Wrocław, where the incumbent Jacek Sutryk (independent, unofficially supported by PO) won only 34% and will have to face a political newcomer from TD Iwona Bodnar who receiver impressive 30%. In Poznań incumbent mayor Jacek Jaśkiewicz (KO) won only 44% and will have to compete against PiS candidate (20%) in two weeks. Both Sutryk and Jaśkiewicz didn’t need a second round to win in 2018. In Kraków, where incumbent Jacek Majchrowski decided not to run after 22 years in office, the winner of the first round is KO MP Aleksander Miszalski (37%), even if all polls suggested it would been an independent Łukasz Gibała (27%). They will both meet in the run-off on April 21. In Gdynia the incumbent mayor Wojciech Szczurek, in office for 26 years, didn’t even make it to the second round.

Next election will take place in two months. On June 9, Poles will elect their representation in the European Parliament.


Deal between Farmers and the Minister

The Polish government reached an agreement with farmers to end ongoing nationwide protests. Farmers have been protesting for weeks in Polish cities, blocking roads and state borders to express their dissatisfaction against the import from Ukraine and EU climate policies.

It is interesting how the demands of the protesters shifted. Originally they were strictly against the import of products from Ukraine. They were stressing that Ukraine's farmers are flooding Europe with cheap imports that leave them unable to compete, and demanding import quotas based on figures from before the full-scale invasion in Ukraine began. But together with the intensification of the protests the demands became more and more anti-EU. The protesters started demanding withdrawal from the Green Deal and Fit for 55.

Protesters used controversial methods, e.g. unknown individuals dumped agricultural products from a Ukrainian train on the Polish side of the border. Later, ca. 160 tons of Ukrainian grain was destroyed at a Polish railway station in Kotomierz (northern Poland). Ukrainian deputy prime minister Oleksandr Kubrakov called the incidents another “case of impunity and irresponsibility”.

March 7 was when the protests became the most violent. Some protesters threw stones at police and tried to push through barriers around the parliament buildings. Farmers were supported by miners, hunters and other groups equipped with firecrackers and smoke bombs, leaving 14 officers injured. The police used tear gas and detained over a dozen people. Deputy agriculture minister Michał Kołodziejczak (KO), not long time ago a leader of a farmers’ protest movement himself, commented that the people who came to Warsaw that day were not “real farmers” but "provocateurs and troublemakers".

Indeed, extremists have been seen during the protests and radical parties have been trying to benefit from them. From one side, Polish media circulated pictures of a tractor with pro-Putin slogans. From the other side, members of the far-right Confederation supported farmers on the border. Such images have been exploited by Russian propaganda to undermine popular support for Ukraine in Poland.

A week before the deal between the Polish agriculture minister and farmers’ associations and unions, the European Commission agreed to abandon pesticide restrictions, increase rye and barley subsidies, maintain the current level of agricultural tax, and lift restrictions on plant protection products and the need for fallow land. It is commented that it is the first time the EC has backed down from pushing its climate goals. 

The farmers didn’t stop though. Even 70.000 of them involved in blockades at 570 locations on March 20, paralyzing traffic in many cities and towns. Some mayors tried to ban the protests, e.g. Jacek Sutryk in Wrocław, explaining that he “understands the farmers’ demands”  but is his duty to keep the city running for its citizens. It only escalated the tensions. The street where Sutryk lives was blocked and he received many personal threats.

The farmers also blocked a key highway at the Polish-German border, forcing German police to divert traffic on the way from Poland to Berlin.

The negotiations between the government and the protesters at the European Agricultural Forum in Jasionka finished with the drafting of a document focusing on subsidies for grain and measures governing the transit of specific agricultural products from Ukraine. Some unions and associations commented it was not enough and protests will continue…

20.000 Released Prisoners

Deputy justice minister Maria Ejchard announced that the ministry plans to release ca. 20.000 prisoners due to overcrowding in the Polish prisons, adding that the first early releases have already occurred. She also commented that cells in Poland holding more than ten inmates (in total 580) were closed before the end of January.

“My goal for this term is to reduce the number of prisoners by 20.000”, Ejchart said in an interview for the daily Rzeczpospolita. Poland and Hungary have the highest number of prisoners in relation to population in the EU. The ministry aims at expanding the use of electronic monitoring.

According to the deputy minister, the main reason for prison overcrowding is the severity of the law and the policy of the previous government. She concluded that the newly appointed independent codification committee for criminal law will work on changing these provisions.

PiS politicians comment ironically that the new government cannot deliver any of its promises, but it helps inmates who in majority voted in favor of the three blocks forming Tusk’s majority.

Eight Charges against the National Bank Governor

MPs of the coalition majority submitted a motion seeking to put the governor of the  National Bank of Poland (NBP), Adam Glapiński, on trial before the State Tribunal (TS), a special court for the country’s top officials.

Glapiński faces sanctions for his actions during the Covid-19 pandemic and over his decisions during the inflation pick. Other, more political, charges include his engagement which compromised the independence of the NBP. Glapiński is an old friend of Jarosław Kaczyński, who has shown full support for PiS and its government. This support was particularly evident shortly before the 2023 elections. The motion stresses that Glapiński illegally financed  government spending by making the NBP buy government bonds, the transactions masked by the bonds going through commercial banks first. Additionally, Glapiński is accused of meeting the needs of PiS campaign by unexpectedly cutting the national bank’s reference interest rate by 75bp only weeks before the election.

Additionally, the governor is accused of discriminating members of the NBP Board nominated by the Senate (in other words, nominated by non-PiS parties), and limiting their access to information needed for their work. MPs of the new coalition claim that Glapiński also lied to the public about the NBP’s expected financial result for 2023.

In total, there are eight charges in the motion. They will be first evaluated by a special committee in the Sejm, then by the whole chamber. If the later decides so, the governor will be suspended and face the TS. He could be the first representative of PiS punished by the TS, although it is highly unlikely since the procedure is complicated and the tribunal is lead by the President of the Supreme Court Małgorzata Manowska (ex-deputy minister in PiS administration). What is more, PiS MPs have asked the politicized Constitutional Court to declare laws allowing a parliamentary committee to summon the central bank chief for hearings unconstitutional.

The NBP responded that the motion serves only political purposes before the local elections. “The independence of the central bank will not be infringed upon or destroyed”, an NBP board member Paweł Szałamacha said. Szałamacha, a former PiS MP, is one of many PiS officials who found employment in NBP after 2023 elections. Glapiński himself called the charges „idiotic”. However he wrote a letter to Donald Tusk asking for a meeting to explain everything and end the unpleasant situation.

The conflict with the NBP governor may bring the government into conflict with the European Central Bank for encroaching on the central bank's independence. Donald Tusk is willing to pay this price, as majority of his supporters expect that key representatives of the former administration will be punished for their illegal actions.

President Vetoes Day-After Pill

President Andrzej Duda vetoed a law that would have allowed non prescription access to the contraceptive pill for women and girls of 15 years and older, saying that it breached a constitutional clause on the protection of children’s health. Duda claimed there were no convincing arguments to provide the access to pill to girls younger than 18.

"It's a pity that the president is yet again against Polish women," deputy education minister from the liberal party Nowoczesna Katarzyna Lubnauer commented. Prime Minister Donald Tusk responded that the government will implement a plan B. „This pill will be available on the basis of a pharmaceutical prescription”, added health minister Izabela Leszczyna. Pharmaceutical prescriptions are a system under Polish law that allows pharmacists to issue a prescription in the event of a threat to a patient’s health.

The Youngest MP Making Troubles

The youngest Polish MP Adam Gomoła has been suspended from his Poland 2050 party and its parliamentary group when the media published recordings which showed him encouraging an election candidate to make a payment to the private firm of his colleague.

According to the regional Nowa Trybuna Opolska daily, Gomoła wanted a potential candidate to transfer PLN 20.000 to his associate’s company on exchange of receiving a good spot on Poland 2050 list in local elections.

24-year-old MP denied all claims and claims this is a campaign against him. PiS politicians asked election and anti-corruption bodies to intervene.

International Affairs

Duda and Tusk Together in D.C.

President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Donald Tusk went to Washington to meet with US President Joe Biden. Together. It was an opportunity to commemorate the 25th anniversary of Poland’s accession to NATO, but also to talk about the future, in particular in the context of Russian expansion. The meeting was an attempt to show that even political rivals can come together for the defense of Ukraine.

Three leaders reminded that Poland and the US have common views on security issues, including the need to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia. Duda commented shortly before flying to the US: „the entire Polish political scene, dare I say it, is coming together to show that we are united in matters of our country’s security”. And Tusk said: “I differ politically with President Andrzej Duda on almost everything, but on the security of our homeland we must and will act together”. „We must act before it literally is too late. Because as Poland remembers, Russia won’t stop at Ukraine. Putin will keep going, putting Europe, the United States and the entire free world at risk”, stressed Joe Biden. His administration announced plans to provide a USD 2 billion loan to Poland to purchase 96 Apache helicopters.

Polish prime minister underlined that Poland is a champion among the NATO members in terms of defense spending, planning to allocate 4,2% of GDP, i.e. approximately PLN 160 billion (ca. EUR 37 billion), for this purpose. Moreover, Duda called other allies to boost their defense spending to 3% of their GDP to defend against Russia's aggression. The latter call was not consulted with the government.

Tusk warned US House of Representatives Speaker Mike Johnson that "thousands of lives" depends on whether the Republican allows a vote on USD 60 billion in military aid to Ukraine. „This is not some political skirmish that [only] matters on the American political scene. Mr. Johnson's failure to make a positive decision will cost thousands of lives. He takes personal responsibility for that", Polish prime minister told to the press.


Another Russia Missile over Poland

A Russian cruise missile launched at the region of Lviv violated Polish airspace. It entered Poland’s air space near the town of Oserdów, traveled 2 km and staying there for 39 seconds. It happened during the massive missile attack, when Russia had launched about 20 missiles and seven Shahed attack drones targeting western Ukraine.

Polish Operational Commend commented that “all necessary procedures to ensure the security of Polish airspace have been activated”. “Polish and allied aircraft have been activated, which may result in increased noise levels, especially in the south-eastern part of the country”, it added.

There was no immediate comment from Moscow. Russian ambassador in Warsaw was summoned by the Polish MFA, but he didn’t show up in the ministry. Poland will require explanations in another form. MFA called Russia “to stop terrorist attacks from the air on the residents and territory of Ukraine, and to end the war and deal with the country’s internal problems.”


Costly Consequences of a Controversial Report

According to a report by Hindenburg Research, Polish clothing retailer LPP hasn’t fully divested its business in Russia, and it is still selling its products through third parties.

LPP is the biggest clothing company in Eastern Europe, and before 2022 Russia was its biggest foreign market. LPP sold the Russian business in June 2022 to a Chinese enterprise. The price for the LPP stores was set at USD 135,5 million paid over four years, and at USD 303 million for the inventory. However, Hindenburg Research claims that the deal with the Chinese was “a façade to hide [the] truth of not selling the Russian operations” and “LPP devised an elaborate sham ‘divestment’ strategy to continue retailing in Russia while trying to fool investors and consumers in Poland, Ukraine, and its other markets into thinking otherwise”.

The stock price of the Warsaw-listed company collapsed 35,8%. LPP denied the allegations and stressed that it is not planning to come back to Russia. "LPP, contrary to what the report claims, has no operations in Russia. It does not sell, manage, own directly or indirectly any of the companies mentioned in the Hindenburg Research report", CEO Michał Piechocki said. He added that LPP recorded a PLN 600-million loss on the sale of the Russian company. The market seemed to believe LPP and the company recovered quickly most of the loss

LPP also said it filed a motion with a Polish prosecutor’s office about possible criminal activity against the company and Poland’s financial market. Hindenburg Research is an American company founded in 2017, specializing in financial investigations and taking short positions on selected company stocks. Some of its reports have been highly controversial.


Heart of the Garden – Tree of the Year

Polish candidate won the European Tree of the Year award. Third time in a row. This time the title went to a 200-year-old Polish beech from Niemcza nicknamed 'Heart of the Garden'.

According to the organizers, “this monumental tree grows in the centre of an old park. Its majestic appearance impresses us with its unusually shaped and thick trunk, widely spresaded branches, and purple-colored leaves that shine beautifully in the sun. The "Heart of the Garden" is living proof of an old park’s historic turmoil and dominates over the Arboretum situated around it”.

The winner received almost 40.000 votes, and the runner up almost 25.000. What’s interesting, the latter one is also a beech, The Weeping Beech of Bayeux from France. The third place belongs to an ancient olive tree from Sardinia. In total 15 countries participated in the competition.

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. Last year’s winner was the Fabrykant oak from Łódź and the 2022 winner was the magnificent oak Dunin from the Białowieża Forest.



Great March for Polish Literature Abroad

March was a great month for Polish literature abroad. As the main Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza reports, several Polish authors were awarded and honored.

First of all, Urszula Honek became the third Pole ever nominated to the International Booker Prize. Her White Nights, translated by Kate Webter, have been long listed for this important award. According to the organizer, White Nights is a series of 13 interconnected stories concerning the various tragedies and misfortunes that befall a group of people who all grew up and live or lived in the same village in the Beskid Niski region of southern Poland. Each story centers itself around a different character and how it is that they manage to cope, survive or merely exist, despite, and often in ignorance of, the poverty, disappointment, tragedy, despair, brutality and general sense of futility that surrounds them.

Poet and translator Jerzy Jarniewicz, last year the winner of the most important Polish literature award Nike, received the Bernard O’Connor Award for making a significant contribution to friendship, cooperation and understanding between Ireland and Poland. Jarniewicz translated Irish poetry and prose, including John Banville, James Joyce and Seamus Heaney. He has also introduced many Irish poets and writers to a Polish audience for the first time, including Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin, Nuala this Ní Dhomhnaill, Medbh McGuckian, Paula Meehan, Sinéad Morrissey, Leontia Flynn.

Poet Tomasz Różycki has been longlisted for Griffin Poetry Prize. His To the Letter, translated by Mira Rosenthal, is a collection of sonnets , “fresh and a little bit strange”, according to the organizers. “Rózycki’s quirky and self-deprecating humour permeates the poems. So does his sense of the fundamental homelessness of 21st-century human beings”, they stress.

Finally, writer Joanna Bator has won the 2024 Austrian State Prize for European Literature. The jury states that in her books, Bator “has transformed the traumatic experience of the 20th century into complex stories, most of which focus on female protagonists”. Her newest novel Gorzko, gorzko (Bitternis), translated into German by Lisa Palmes, has been also nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair Prize.


Car Confiscations for Drunk Driving

In 2024, drivers in Poland will face a number of significant changes that will significantly affect their rights and obligations. One of the most important innovations are the amendments to the Penal Code, which came into force on March 14. They gave the right to confiscate cars from drivers; on some cases confiscations are obligatory.

Confiscation may occur when the level of alcohol in the driver's blood exceeds 1,5 ppm or when the driver is involved in or causes an accident, and his or her blood alcohol level exceeds 0,5 ppm. Moreover, if the car becomes defective during the accident, the driver may be fined an amount equal to the value of the vehicle. If the actions of a drunk driver result in serious injury or death, the sentence will be increased from 12 years to 16 years in prison.

Some experts have questioned the constitutionality of the law, which was proposed and approved under the previous government. The new government says it will amend the legislation to ensure it complies with the fundamental law of the country. The justice ministry has announced work to abolish the compulsory confiscation of cars in every case, allowing a court to decide on each case separately.

Poland & Germany

Agreement on Waste

Poland and Germany have reached a bilateral agreement on waste management. It is a follow up of the long dispute and a complaint to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) against Berlin for not fulfilling its obligations under EU law to remove 35.000 tons of waste that had been illicitly transferred into Polish soil.

20.000 tons of waste from the Tuplice landfill in the Lubuskie region (by the German border) will be transported back over the Oder. Tuplice - one of seven locations listed in the ECJ compliant – has been an environmental and health hazard since 2015. The landfield will be cleaned on German expense.

Environment minister Paulina Hennig-Kloska stressed the deal with Germany is only the beginning of the process of eliminating all unauthorized waste sites in the border area. Hennig-Kloska added that she has decides to assign significant budget to do that, e.g. PLN 153 million (ca. EUR 36 million) from the general reserve will fund implementation of the "Phoenix" program, aimed at enhancing waste management and rehabilitating degraded areas.