Newsletter
From Poland With Love – November

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Topic of the Month

Not One More

11 months after the politicized Constitutional Court of Poland decided to introduce a nearly full ban of abortion, a 30-year-old pregnant woman died because she was denied access to this procedure. Izabela from Pszczyna, as she is commonly referred to by the media, died of a septic shock in her 22nd week of pregnancy. Doctors noticed the absence of amniotic fluid, but still forced her to carry the fetus with structural defects until its heart stopped beating. Once it occurred, it was too late to save the mother’s life.

While still in county hospital in Pszczyna (Silesia), Izabela mentioned the strict abortion law in SMS sent to her family, suggesting that it was because of the Constitutional Court’s verdict that doctors were waiting with the termination procedure. Izabela texted her mother: “The embryo weighs 485 grams. For the moment due to the anti-abortion law, I have to stay in bed. And there is nothing they can do. They will wait for him to die or for something [miscarriage] to begin; otherwise, I can expect septic shock” and “Tragedy. My life is in danger. And I have to wait”.  After Izabela’s friends and family made her last messages public, people across Poland have been sharing them along with the hashtag #AniJednejWiecej ("Not one more").

“Under the stricter anti-abortion legislation, there was only one premise that would allow doctors to terminate Izabela’s pregnancy – a threat to the mother’s health or life. However, in practice, it is very difficult for doctors to prove this. If they made a decision to terminate the pregnancy too early and then the prosecutor later determined that Izabela’s life wasn’t at risk then they could face up to three years in prison”, Jolanta Budzowska, a lawyer who specializes in medical errors and is now working as a lawyer for Izabela’s family, said.

This tragic death reignited discussion about Poland’s abortion ban, bringing thousands of protesters from all over the country out on the streets. Only in Warsaw some 30 thousand people participated in the tribute march. When the march reached Castle Square, people lit candles or turned on flashlights in their phones and the song "Sound of Silence" by Disturbed played from the speakers (a symbol of demonstrations after the assassinations of Paweł Adamowicz; read more in January 2019 issue of the Newsletter). The demonstration was attended by key opposition politicians, including the mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. "Doctors should not act under pressure because some fake tribunal passed a ruling. Unfortunately, this is exactly what begins to happen. Iza's death is an example of this – the worst and most tragic example. It is an example of the thoughtless, ideologically-driven, and vicious actions of the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS)”, Trzaskowski wrote.

The government says the ruling was not to blame for her death, rather an error by doctors. "When it comes to the life and health of the mother ... if it is in danger, then terminating the pregnancy is possible and the ruling does not change anything", prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said. Other members of PiS went much further shocking a big part of public opinion. For example one of top MPs Marek Suski dared to comment: “People die, it’s biology... unfortunately women sometimes die during childbirth”.

The death of Izabela in Pszczyna was the first to be publicly linked to the ruling. But it encouraged other people to talk about death and suffering of other pregnant women who were not able to terminate abortions due to the cruel Constitutional Court’s verdict.

Europe

European Convention of Human Rights Unconstitutional

Poland's Constitutional Court (TK) declared that the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) had no power to question its appointment of judges, rejecting a ruling by the Strasbourg court in May. ECHR ruled then that a company had been denied its right to proper hearing due to the illegal appointment of a Constitutional Court’s judge. "Article 6 of the Convention ... as far as it includes the Constitutional Court in its definition of a court, is not compatible" with the Polish constitution, read TK’s president Julia Przyłębska. She stressed that the article was unconstitutional in as far as it gave the ECHR the right to assess the legality of the appointment of the Polish judges.

Deputy justice minister Sebastian Kaleta tweeted happily: "The Constitutional Court throws away the ECHR judgment violating our system”. He added that that it was "a beautiful day for Polish rule of law and sovereignty" and that "another attempt at external and illegal interference in Poland’s system has been stopped".

"Today’s judgment from the Polish Constitutional Tribunal is unprecedented and raises serious concerns. We will carefully assess the judgment's reasoning and its effects," Council of Europe secretary general Marija Pejcinovic Buric said in a statement.

Also in November, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that powers wielded by the Polish justice minister are against the EU law. The judicial reforms in Poland created potential problems in some criminal cases, the ECJ pointed out, where the justice minister could influence which public prosecutor took on a case and which judge heard it. According to the EU top court, such far-reaching competences “give rise to reasonable doubts in the minds of individuals as to the impartiality of those seconded judges when they rule in such a case”. The ECJ said that the lack of legal criteria for the decisions taken by the justice minister creates the risk of bias from appointed judges, undermines the presumption of innocence of the defendants they are judging.

The decision comes only weeks after another case on the rule of law in Poland saw the ECJ fine Warsaw EUR 1 million a day.

***

The five main political groups in the European Parliament – EPP, PES, Renew Europe, the Greens and the United Left – have written jointly to the European Commission, demanding it freeze billions of euros in recovery money for Poland until PiS government respects the rule of law and the primacy of EU law.

Politics

Humanitarian Crisis Continues

The constitutional state of emergency at the border with Belarus, which was extended to its maximum duration of three months, ended on the last day of November. The state of emergency allows the interior ministry to ban all non-residents, including journalists, activists and MPs, from the border area. Polish government was determined to prolong it to control better flow of information about the situation at the border. In theory the lower chamber of the parliament – Sejm – could declare another state of emergency in December, but the government decided to adopt a brand new law about the protection of the frontier. It allows the government to continue restricting access to its border with Belarus to everyone except people who live, work, or study in the designated zone.

President Andrzej Duda signed the new measures into law, allowing interior minister to ban access to parts of the border area depending on the situation. Under the new legislation, journalists must obtain permission from the regional chief of the border guard to work from the area. PiS politicians argued that these restrictions would help guards and soldiers perform their jobs more efficiently.

The Polish opposition and human rights NGOs say the new measures give the government too much power and are unconstitutional. Also the Ombudsman has criticized them stressing that they give the interior minister the right to limit freedom of movement and to limit access to information about what is happening on the border indefinitely.

The situation on the frontier has calmed since mid-November, when Polish forces fired water cannon at migrants who were throwing rocks. However, there are still regular attempts to force through barbed wire. Polish authorities have accused Belarusian guards of destroying the border fence and constructing provisory bridges in order to help migrants get through into the EU.

Warsaw continues to report crossing attempts. Migrants brought to Europe by the regime in Minsk are more and more desperate with the onset of winter conditions. Humanitarian agencies say as many as 13 migrants have died at the border, where many have suffered in a cold forest with no food nor water. Some of the victims were buried outside a wooden mosque of the Polish Tatars in Bohoniki, including a 19-year-old Syrian, drowned in the river Bug. Polish volunteers have saved numerous migrants from death in local forests. Most of them tell stories about violence by the Belarusian police.

In the other part of Poland, in the Western region of Lubuskie, a group of migrants started a riot in a detention centre in Wędrzyn, demanding better conditions or a transfer to Germany or Iraq. They tried to force the fence surrounding the center.  Some 600 police officers were involved in quashing a riot. Those who initiated the riot were transferred to other facilities across the country.

Official State Far-Right March

Mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski banned this year’s Independence March, annual event organized by radical nationalists that attracts many far-rights groups and hooligans known from acts of vandalism (read more in the November 2020 issue of the Newsletter). This decision was supported by two courts that would – under normal circumstances – close the case, but not in the country ruled by PiS.

It is worth mentioning that organizers of the Independence March lost their multi-annual permission due to an oversight. Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro reacted immediately and decided to bring an extraordinary appeal before the Supreme Court. Ziobro requested the decision prohibiting the registration of the march as a cyclical assembly to be revoked, arguing the ban on the event "has restricted the constitutional freedom of assembly”. Nevertheless, Court of Appeal in Warsaw said that minister's motion had been dismissed. The organizers announced the event would happen anyways, with or without official permission.

The PiS gave nationalists a helping hand, once again. The head of the Office for Veterans and Repressed Persons has announced that the Independence March would be held as an official state event this year. In other words, the biggest annual gathering of far-right sympathizers attended by fascists from all over Europe became a part of governmental celebrations of the Independence Day.

The truth is that this year’s March was the most peaceful in years. But it was not without incidents. Members of the fascist National Radical-Camp burnt German and anti-fascist flags, as well as a portrait of Donald Tusk.

New Reforms of the Judiciary

Justice minister Zbiegniew Ziobro announced his newest reform of the judiciary that will seek to reorganize the judicial hierarchy. His idea now is to reduce Polish three-layer court system to two. The current district and regional court layers will be merged into one. The reform aims to create 79 district courts and 20 regional courts, instead of the current 318 regional, 40 district and 11 appeal courts. Additionally, he also announced new digital solutions to access courts, including a mobile application for contacting the court, taking part in online hearings as well as sending and receiving court documents.

Officially, it will be done in order to free up more than two thousand judges by removing a significant part of the bureaucratic workload. According to Ziobro, his proposal addresses the lengthy court procedures that Poles complain about.

The minister claims that the proposal also assumes equality among general court judges. "Judges will have a single status, as we want to introduce the principle of equality of general court judges in Poland," Ziobro commented.

The opposition argues that this structural reform is another way PiS to “purge” critical judges and promote party-loyalist within the judicial system.

***

Poland’s National Council of the Judiciary (KRS) has been expelled from the European Network of Councils for the Judiciary (ENCJ) due to its politicization under the current Polish government. It is the first time a national judicial council has ever been thrown out of the ENCJ.

Economy

Anti-Inflation Shield

According to a flash estimate released by Statistics Poland (GUS), consumer prices in November 2021, compared with the corresponding month of 2020, increased by 7,7%, and as related to the previous month increased by 1,0%. Inflation has been the hottest political topic in Poland for months, one that Jarosław Kaczyński is really concerned about.

The Polish government set out a so called “shield” to curb inflation. It includes the following measures:

  • From 20 December, the excise tax on motor fuels will be reduced to the minimum allowed by the European Union. From 1 January to 31 May, 2022, car fuels will be exempt from retail sales tax.
  • From 1 January to 31 March, 2022, the VAT rate on gas will be reduced from 23% to 8%.
  • From 1 January to 31 March, 2022, excise taxes on electricity will be lowered to 0% and the VAT rate applied will be 5% instead of 23%.
  • Finally, an allowance of between PLN 400 and 1,150 (EUR 85 to 245) will be granted to the most deprived families.

The programme is worth PLN 10 billion (ca. EUR 2,14 billion) and will also include cash payments to households. They will be income-dependent and made in two installments next year.

Initially, the Polish government announced that they wanted to reduce the VAT rate on food products to 0%, but this has not been authorized by the European Union. Brussels responded that such a request has never been made by Morawieceki’s administration.

According to analysis by ING the anti-inflation shield doesn’t alter on inflation past the first half of next year and it will only temporarily limit the impact of rising energy and fuel prices, at the same adding to the ongoing spending spree. The peak of the headline CPI in 1Q22 should now be closer to 7%, rather than 8% y/y. “Benefits introduced in the anti-inflation shield add to other elements of the policy mix, which are inflationary. In 2022 the minimum wage is set to grow by 7%, while personal income taxes will be cut for low earners as a part of the Polish Deal. But that 'deal' effectively raises taxes for the higher paid, so companies will likely be forced to compensate for this, as the labour market is very tight. While the Polish Deal indeed lowers the tax wedge, so encouraging higher labour force participation, which is disinflationary, there'll be a long delay before we see its effects”, ING wrote in a statement.

The magazine “Global Finance” again assessed the activities of central bank governors in Europe. President of the National Bank of Poland Adam Glapiński was recognized by the authors of the ranking as one of the worst.

Culture

Forefather’s Eve 2021

Dziady (or Forefather’s Eve; written between 1823 and 1860) by bard Adam Mickiewicz is considered one of the greatest works of both European Romanticism and is one of the most important national literary works of Poland. Its newest staging at the Słowacki Theatre in Cracow became not only a top cultural event of the season but also one of the most commented political topics of the month.

Expectations were high. “Dziady anno domini 2021 will be a presentation about Poland. Keeping in mind the performances of Wyspiański, Dejmek, Świnarski, and Grzegorzewski [most important theater directors in Poland’s history – M.H.], we know that this arch-Polish drama tells about our unconscious retrotopia, about past of the undead and its undead wraith. The community of bloody ritual and conformist salon is two faces. Poland, which Wyspiański met with ghosts at a wedding “, it was announced.

According to the director Maja Klaczewska it was “a presentation about Poland”. She added: “The one who takes to the streets to fight for basic rights, but the one who prefers to stay at home and passively observe what is happening in the world (…). Today, two Poles are our daily lives-two countries at war with each other. Poets stand between parties fighting a fratricidal struggle. They are alone. There is no need for both sides of the Poet. As in a ghostly dream, we keep dreaming the same story, and as a human being we fail. Conservative Poland wants to suit Poets. Close their mouths. He wants to bind their bodies, kill their Love. He wants to adapt national history, rewrite it”. And this was something the PiS activists could not stand.

The ultra-conservative superintendent of the Lesser Poland region Barbara Nowak, well known for her xenophobic and homophobic comments, did not like the new interpretation of Dziady. She twitted that she advises against organizing school trips to the show because “it's a disgrace to use works of national poet A. Mickiewicz in the political fight between Polish anti-government opposition and Poland's national interest".

Minister of education Przemysław Czarnek backed Nowak and thanked her for "her reaction, as we cannot remain silent in the face of marring of beauty and desecration of art". He also called the new staging "trash".

What is more, it was difficult to accept for conservatives that in the Klaczewska’s version of Dziady the part of Konrad (main character) is played by a woman.

Many commentators compares – in an exaggerated way – the current critique of Dziady by PiS politicians to the famous situation from 1968. Then the communist authorities banned the performance of Dziady, directed by Kazimierz Dejmek at the National Theatre, calling it anti-Soviet. The ban was followed by a demonstration after the final performance, which resulted in numerous police detentions. It was a part of the so called March 1968 political crisis.

So far the aftermath of the Nowak and Czarnek’s insults has been totally different from what they planned – the show is sold out, and Słowacki Theatre has added many additional spectacles to its repertoire.

Patriotic Mega-Painting

Panorama of the Battle of Racławice (Pamorama Racławicka) has reopened after an extensive 10 month modernization. It is a monumental painting measuring 15 x 114 m. It depicts the 1794 Battle of Racławice led by general Tadeusz Kościuszko against the Russian Army.

The masterpiece was the idea of Jan Styka, a painter from Lwów (Lviv). He wanted to commemorate the centennial of the battle with a gigantic patriotic painting.  He invited, among others, Wojciech Kossak, Tadeusz Popiel, Włodzimierz Tetmajer and Teodor Axentowicz to work together. Panoramic perspective, scenography constructed in front of the picture and special lighting were supposed to make it look multidimensional.  It took 9 months to finish and it immediately became an important national artifact for Poles derived of their statehood.

After World War II the Panorama was transported to Wrocław. For many years it was stored in a magazine, far from the spectators’ eyes due to its associations with political situation at the time (Polish-Russian relations). Finally, since 1985 the gigantic painting could be seen again in a brutalist rotunda.

Interesting fact: Only two years later, in 1987, the prime minister of China Zhao Ziyang was impressed by the Panorama. And as a consequence, in 1989 the first Chinese panorama was created, even bigger than the Polish inspiration. It presents the victory of the communists over the army of Kuomitang in 1948, and it started a long chain of Chinese battle mega-panoramas.

The value of the renovation, the biggest one in the history, was approximately PLN 30 million, with funds coming from the EU’s Infrastructure and Environment 2014-2020 Operational Programme. The modernized gallery now features large LCD screens with background information on the painting and its figures available in 18 languages. The building has now also been adapted for disabled visitors and a new souvenir shop has been built.

Panorama of the Battle of Racławice brings in around 400.000 visitors each year from Poland and abroad.

Poland & Germany

Goodbye, Ambassador

Andrzej Przyłębski is leaving his post as Poland’s ambassador to Berlin after five years in post. He became well known for attacking German authorities and journalists who criticized the government in Warsaw, e.g. he accuse Joachim Gauck of “narrow-mindedness” and Andreas Voßkuhle of interfering in Polish affairs.

It has been stressed that it was Przyłębski’s own decision to end his diplomatic career and come back to academia. Nevertheless, some commentators  stress that Przyłębski’s excesses were not highly appreciated by Jarosław Kaczyński who prefers to control fully relations with Germany  directly from Warsaw.

Andrzej Przyłębski is a husband of Julia Przyłębska, president of the politicized Constitutional Court of Poland.

Largest Private Foreign Investment in Poland’s History

US Trinseo, a global materials company and manufacturer of plastics and latex binders, announced today the closing of the previously announced transaction to sell its synthetic rubber business based in German Schkopau (440 employees) to Polish Synthos. The transaction also includes the transfer of the associated Schkopau-based manufacturing and research and development facilities, as well as related intellectual property. Value of the purchase is around USD 460 million. This move will make Synthos the second-largest producer in the global synthetic rubber market.

The deal, first agreed in May and given the green light by the European Commission last month. The Oświęcim-based company has presented the investment as part of its broader strategy to move away from fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 28% by 2028. By 2030 Synthos want to produce all of its products sustainably as well as to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. As part of his planned green transition, in September owner of Synthos Michał Sołowow signed a deal with another of Poland’s richest men, Zygmunt Solorz, to build what they intended to be Poland’s first nuclear power plant

This is another step forward in a – worth over EUR 1 billion – series of Synthos’ strategic actions, including the acquisitions of Arkema's PMMA business and Aristech Surfaces LLC in 2021, as well as the planned divestiture of its styrenics businesses, for which a formal sales process is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2022.

Berlin and Warsaw on Minsk

Prime minster Mateusz Morawiecki visited Germany as a part of his diplomatic tour of European capitals to garner support for Warsaw’s operations on the Eastern. In Berlin he met with chancellor Angela Merkel to coordinate an EU and NATO response to the hybrid warfare staged by Alexander Lukashenko.

"Polish-German relations are undoubtedly fundamental for the cohesion of the European Union and the quality of response to the crises... that are taking place in the EU neighbourhood, around Ukraine, Moldova and in several other places, including the Western Balkans", Morawiecki said. "A lot depends on the quality of cooperation between Poland and Germany, including whether we'll be able to continue our efforts to strengthen prosperity and peace in this part of the world," prime minister added.

Angela Merkel said that the "the point is to show the world what's happening there". She also thanked Poland for protecting the boarders and mentioned new potential sanctions against the regime in Minsk.

“Germany will not take in refugees stranded on the Belarus-Polish border”, German interior minister Horst Seehofer confirmed during his visit to Poland. "If we took in refugees, if we bowed to the pressure and said 'we are taking refugees into European countries', then this would mean implementing the very basis of this perfidious strategy", he declared. "We are talking about an irregular and perfidious migration which is being organized by Belarus with a degree of support from Russia", he added. "The Poles are not only following their own interests. They are also acting in the interests of the whole European Union", Seehofer concluded. His Polish counterpart Mariusz Kamiński commented: "We have told our German partners that Poland will not allow an illegal migration route to be created in the east. We are considering all possible measures to deal with this, in close consultation with our partners and allies. And step by step we will de-escalate the situation at the border".

One day earlier, German foreign minister Heiko Maas said that Poland deserved European Union's solidarity in the migrant crisis at the border with Belarus, as, unlike Belarus, it was not responsible for it. "We will toughen sanctions on individuals who are involved in this human trafficking, and we will have to talk about the fact that severe economic sanctions are inevitable ... We will have to tackle the airlines, too", he said. And he added: "If Putin can help, and he is certainly the one who could most easily use his influence in Minsk with Lukashenko to end this truly inhumane drive, then he should do it. Not only talk about it, but he should follow the words with deeds”.

Party support

IBRiS for Onet.pl (30.11.2021)

 

PiS                                         32%

Civic Coalition                  22,1%

Poland 2050                      11,8%

Confederation                  7,1%

Left                                        7%

PSL                                        6,4%