From Poland with Love - November

From Poland with Love
© FNFreiheit 

Topic of the Month

New and Newer Government

Poland has a new government. But it’s not the cabinet of Donald Tusk, but the third cabinet of Mateusz Morawiecki…

President Andrzej Duda decided to give incumbent prime minister the first opportunity to form a new government. This was unprecedented move in Poland’s modern history as Morawiecki can count on support of only 191 PiS MP (out of 460), while the alliance of the Civic Coalition, the Third Way and the Left lead by Tusk secured majority of 248 seats.

Morawiecki submitted a request to the president to appoint his new government, and on November 27 Duda swore in new ministers, who will work a maximum of 14 days. The president said the parliamentary elections had brought a clear outcome, adding that it is only natural that the incumbent prime minister is asked to form a new government when his party has remained in power through popular vote. He underlined he is "absolutely convinced" that the new government will be effective. The opposition mocks that this cabinet’s life span will be shorter than the one of a fly. Adam Szlapka, leader of the liberal Nowoczesna party, said that Duda's choice was "a waste of time".

It was surprising for many that Morawiecki managed to find people who were willing to join this two-week-long spectacle. Most of his closest coworkers, PiS leaders, refused to take part in it. Defence minister Mariusz Błaszczak, for instance, firstly announced that he would not continue his work as minister, but later was forced by Jarosław Kaczyński to do so as Morawiecki hadn’t find anybody else. PiS presents this cabinet as “experts’ government” - most of its members are unknown for general public, they are former deputy ministers and directors of departments. “I know most of you, but I don't know most of you as ministers. I know you as experts, as people who until now have done a good job working in the background, performing the tasks entrusted to them”, Andrzej Duda stressed during the ceremony in the presidential palace, sustaining the narrative of his political associates.

More than half of the new government are women, more than in any other Polish government after the fall of communism. “I believe this is a breakthrough. Very often we have heard that in many parts of our country, women are underrepresented in positions of responsibility, that there are not enough of them”, Duda commented. Two of appointed women arouse special interest. Ewa Krajewska, the Chief Pharmaceutical Inspector since 2021, became the minister of health. According to the Supreme Court of Auditors (NIK) Krajewska was responsible for allowing 118.000 defective vaccines on the market. But the biggest star of the government became Dominika Chorosińska, MP and celebrity, famous for her very conservative catholic views and career in TV (mostly soap operas). Shortly after getting appointed she discredited herself in a radio interview, where she didn’t know how many members the Sejm has or who the first post-communist prime minister was.

Parliament has time until December 11 to hold a confidence vote in a new government. The vote will take place on December 11, and it looks like it will be a defeat for PiS. All the new ministers will not accomplish much in this short period, but at least they will get entitled to high severance pay…

And what is happening on the other side of the political spectrum? The still- opposition is getting ready to seize power. The first step was to elect Szymon Hołownia, one of the leaders of the Third Way, as Speaker of the Sejm. Hołownia’s witty style has made session of the Sejm popular, even among younger generations. One of the Warsaw cinemas will broadcast its sessions live on a big screen. Sejm’s channel on YouTube has reached almost 400.000 subscribers, and Hołownia became the most popular politician in the country. Not a bad start for someone who does not hid his ambitions to become the president in 2025.

The Sejm’s Presidium - the supreme management body of the Sejm - became dominated by the current opposition politicians. After much hesitation one of the leaders of far-right Confederation, Krzysztof Bosak, was also elected as a deputy speaker, hence member of the Presidium. The only group with no representation is the biggest one - PiS. PiS presented its former Speaker Elżbieta Witek as their candidate, firstly for the position of the Speaker against Hołownia, and then for a deputy speaker. But Witek, accused of violating laws when she presided the chamber, was not supported by the democratic opposition parties. PiS calls it a scandal, but Jarosław Kaczyński’s party didn’t vote in favor of any Presidium candidates except for their own. Hołownia said that a seat is waiting for PiS candidate who will give a guarantee of respecting the law and following the procedure. A similar situation happened in the Senate, where PiS’s former deputy speaker Marek Pęk wasn’t elected. But in this case, after some reflection, the democratic parties will most probably support him during the next round of voting.

The new majority in the Sejm started working on important issues, e.g. they appointed new members to the politicized National Council of the Judiciary (KRS). The first meeting of KRS with the appointees of the new Sejm ended with a huge political fight. Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz from the Civic Coalition called the police after one of the PiS-loyal judges threatened her. Also, the new opposition majority in parliament voted to dismiss all members of the socalled Russian influence commission, created by PiS as a tool to attack its political opponents. Shortly before that happened, Commission’s members issued an interim report (full of mistakes; some fragments have been already removed) recommending that leading opposition politicians including Donald Tusk, not be allowed to hold positions responsible for state security. Commission’s president Sławomir Cenckiewicz announced that they had found a number of concerns regarding cooperation between Poland’s Military Counterintelligence agency and Russia’s Federal Security Service in the period 2010-14, when Tusk previously served as prime minister. Tusk only commented that he is not surprised by this report, as the main task of this body was to attack him. “The whole case reeks of politics”, he concluded.

Media comment that Donald Tusk has completed his government, but names will be announced after Morawiecki’s fiasco to win support in the parliament. According to journalists, there will be two deputy prime ministers: Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz (also defence minister, PSL) and Krzysztof Gawkowski (digital affairs minister, Left). Other key ministries will be taken by: foreign affairs – Radosław Sikorski (PO), interior – Marcin Kierwiński (PO), justice – Adam Bodnar (independent, former Ombudsman), education – Barbara Nowacka (iPL), European affairs – Adam Szłapka (Nowoczesna).

Most probably the new government will be approved by the Sejm on December 12 and sworn in on December 13 to be able to represent Poland during the Summit on Brussels on December 14 and 15.


So Long Awaited Ombudsperson

The new majority in the Sejm elected Monika Horna-Cieślak as the Children’s Ombudsperson. She became “the civic candidate” supported by several Polish NGOs and the Supreme Bar Council.

Horna-Cieślak is a lawyer and activist. She has been involved in protecting children’s rights since she was a teenager. She provided legal assistance to young people experiencing different types of violence and was engaged in various social campaigns with the Empowering Children Foundation (Dajemy Dziecom Siłę). Additionally, she is a member of the Human Rights Commission at the Supreme Bar Council, chair of the Children’s Rights Section, and a member of the Commission for Cooperation with the Courts at the District Bar Council in Warsaw. She authored the Council of Europe’s HELP program.

Horna-Cieślak is also known for her legislative work in the area of children rights, e.g. she co-authored the Law on the Protection of Minors, and the law increasing access to a psychologist for young people without the consent of a legal guardian.

Many Polish activists and politicians have awaited this appointment for a long time. The outgoing Children’s Ombudsman Mikołaj Pawlak was ultraconservative and infamous for his homo- and transphobic views and support for corporal punishments. In 2020, he claimed that sex educators try to give children sex-change drugs. New children rights commissioner represents very different approach – she is in favor of evidence-based sexuality education and supports LGBTQI rights.

246 MPs supporter Horna-Cieślak, while 195 were against and three abstained. She has to be confirmed by the Senate, but this should be only a formality.

New Majority Restores IVF

Sejm in its first session of the new term saw a debate over a civic initiative’s bill advocating for the reinstatement of state funding for IVF (in vitro fertilization). The initiative was signed by over half a million Poles.

The previous programme was introduced by the Donald Tusk government and 22.000 children were born between 2013 and 2016. PiS stopped financing it for ideological reasons. Instead, the right wing majority assigned EUR 22 million to the unsuccessful “Program for Comprehensive Protection of Procreative Health in Poland 2016-2020”. It focuses on the so called naprotechnology, natural family planning methods promoted by the Catholic Church and its conservative allies. In response to PiS’s actions, many local authorities established their own IVF funds to help citizens affected by infertility.

The new bill amends the law on healthcare services financed from public funds, mandating the health minister to develop, implement, execute, and fund a policy program for infertility treatment, including IVF. At least EUR 115 million will be used to finance the initiative.  

The debate was heated. PiS recognized that anger of Polish women was one the main reasons of their defeat in October and didn’t criticize IVF as forcefully as in 2015-16. PiS health minister said that IVF “undoubtedly offers great opportunities for couples who face the problem of not having children”. Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki surprised public opinion by saying that he had always been supporter of this method. Not everybody however have repented. The far-right Confederation called to reject the bill and its MP Grzegorz Braun said that IVF is “invitation to the vestibule of hell on this earth”.  Maria Kurowska MP from the hard-right Sovereign Poland (PiS’s ally) added: “If we consider that all embryos are human beings, which they are, then please note, ladies and gentlemen, that, on average, the life of one child is paid for by the death of six of his brothers and sisters”.

The bill has to be signed by the president, but in this case Andrzej Duda is commented to be in favor of the citizen’s initiative.

European Affairs

Border Crisis

Polish truck drivers have been protesting since November 6 near several border crossings with Ukraine over what they see as unfair competition from their Ukrainian competitors, as well as hurdles for EU drivers operating in Ukraine. The protesters blocked access for trucks moving commercial goods; exemptions include humanitarian items, perishable goods and military supplies for Ukraine. On November 27, the protesters were joined by farmers who started a blockade of access to Medyka, one of the most important crossing points on Poland’s eastern border. Half of border crossings were totally blocked.

As a result, thousands of Ukrainian drivers have been left stranded and forced to wait days in even 30km-long queues. The rough conditions on the ground, including sub-zero temperatures and a lack of sanitary facilities, have raised serious safety concerns. Two Ukrainian drivers have died, Ukrainian media reported.

Protesters demand that Brussels reintroduce a permit system for Ukrainian drivers entering the EU and for EU truckers entering Ukraine. Additionally, they demand enforcing existing EU legislation which permits Ukrainian haulage companies to move goods to and from Ukraine but not local carriage between or within EU member states, and a ban on registering haulage companies by entities from outside the EU, with a particular focus on countries east of Poland, and a review of such businesses already operating. Protesters also want empty trucks returning from Ukraine to the EU to be excluded from an electronic queuing system set up by Ukraine.

According to the Ministry of Infrastructure in Warsaw, current legislation is very unfavorable against Polish business. In 2021, Polish truckers had a 38% market share against 62% of their Ukrainian competitors. At the end of October 2023, the numbers turned to 8% and 92%, respectively.

Kyiv said it wants its export routes via Poland to be unblocked before it holds talks with Polish authorities and the European Commission, and stressed it will not compromise on licenses for Ukrainian drivers.

The European Commission has harshly denounced the blockade. "The truth is that I find the situation at the Polish border with Ukraine absolutely unacceptable", Adina Vălean, the European Commissioner for transport, said. "While I support the right of people to protest, the entire EU, not to mention Ukraine, a country currently at war, cannot be taken hostage by blocking our external borders. It's as simple as that", he added.

Slovak truckers mirrored their northern neighbors and also began blockading crossings with Ukraine. Members of Slovakia's union UNAS were allowing only four trucks per hour to enter Ukraine at the Vyšné Nemecké checkpoint.

The European Business Association in Ukraine said that accumulated losses from the blockade reached over UAH 305 million (ca. EUR 7,75 million), hitting both exporters and importers.

PiS and PO Hand in Hand Against the Treaty Reform

Two biggest Polish parties, PiS and Civic Platform, opposed  changing the EU treaties. In case of Jarosław Kaczyński’s party this position was expected, but the stand of Donald Tusk came as a surprise to many observers.

“Europe needs repairing in many aspects”, said Donald Tusk, adding that the “stupidest method” to achieve this is to fall into naive “Euroenthusiasm”, which was one of the reasons for Brexit. Tusk concluded: “Certainly, the project prepared by the European Parliament […] does not meet what, in my opinion, represents the spirit of the times and the real needs of the EU”. It is worth reminding that the former head of the EU Council is also not very enthusiastic about the EU Migration and Asylum Pact.

It looks like Tusk does not want PiS to play with the sovereignty card, and he knows that he cannot afford losing voters before the regional and European elections in spring 2024. Tusk is willing to cooperate with Brussels and build constructive compromises, but he will be very careful about communication details. “No groups on the Polish political scene will allow ourselves to be involved in any decisions, maneuvers or processes that would limit Polish independence, sovereignty and interests”, he declared.

Recovery Fund Released

The European Commission green-lighted Poland's revised Covid-19 recovery and resilience plan (RRF), worth almost EUR 60 billion. It combines EUR 34,5 billion in low-interest loans and EUR 25,3 billion in grants, which are meant to be disbursed in several installments throughout the next years. Almost half of the projects that Poland has committed to undertake will be dedicated to the green transition.

Despite the upward revision, the money remains strictly linked to the conditions imposed last year, also known as "super milestones". The Commission will only assess the progress made by Warsaw when the government submits an official payment request. However, the Commission's new positive assessment includes the option to release EUR 5,1 billion in pre-financing before the end of the year. It is part of the REPowerEU program aimed at helping member states recover from the energy crisis that followed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, and reduce their dependence to Russian fossil fuels.

Poland and Germany

End of Patriot Deployment

German defense minister Boris Pistorius said his country is set to end the deployment of three Patriot air defense units to Poland after almost a year. The deployment was an aftermath of a stray Ukrainian missile that struck Przewodów, Polish village near the border with Ukraine, in November 2022 (read more in the November 2022 issue). Patriot systems together with 300 German soldiers were based in the town of Zamość.

"I am very happy about the friendly and appreciative reception our soldiers in Zamość were granted by the Polish military and the people living there", Pistorius said. However, it was clear from German declarations that the deployment was only temporary.

On the other side, Poland is set to become the first US ally to manufacture advanced radar components for the Patriot system. It is a result of talks Polish government and Polish Armaments Group (PGZ) had with US government and arms producer Raytheon (part of RTX Corporation) in Washington, D.C., in November.

“Annihilation of the Polish State”

During the celebration of the Independence Day Jarosław Kaczyński warned that the EU is seeking to introduce a “German plan” that would result in “the annihilation of the Polish state”. “A specific plan is already being prepared, the implementation of which would lead not only to the deprivation of our independence and sovereignty, but even to the annihilation of the Polish state”, PiS chairman said. He added that such plan will be implemented with support of the new majority in the Sejm, and called Poles to “fight, fight and fight again”. “[This coalition is led not by a Polish but a German party”, he concluded.

Rule of Law

Wałęsa Cannot Rest Easy

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) released a judgment, finding in favor of former president of Poland Lech Wałęsa. The Strasbourg court found that a special appeals court created by a 2017 Polish judicial reform violated Wałęsa’s right to a fair proceeding because of the political influence exerted upon the procedure.

The Chamber of Extraordinary Review – because it’s about it – can be used by the Polish Prosecutor General for bringing “extraordinary appeals”, which allows to challenge final court rulings. The ECHR’s judgment reconfirms that the Chamber was not an “independent and impartial tribunal established by law”—which in Wałęsa’s case meant his right to a fair hearing and right to respect for private and family life (Articles 6 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, respectively) were breached.

The case that lead to this decision was initiated in 2011, Wałęsa won with his former colleague from the opposition, and currently his critic and PiS’s ally, Krzysztof Wyszkowski. Ex-president and Nobel Prize winner filed a civil suit against Wyszkowski after being accused of cooperating with communist secret services. Wałęsa partially won the case, but the final judgment was challenged by the Prosecutor General Zbigniew Ziobro in 2020. The latter stated the appeal was intended “to ensure compliance with the principle of a democratic State governed by the rule of law and implementing the principles of social justice”. The politicized Chamber overturned Wałęsa’s victory. The verdict of the Strasbourg judges was unanimous, and the court ordered that Poland was to pay damages to Wałęsa for his losses.

But Wałęsa cannot rest easy. He will face another trial in Poland on accusations that he falsely testified in 2016 not to have signed documents relating to his alleged cooperation with the communist authorities. If found guilty, he faces up to three years in prison.


UN Award for Empowering Refugees

The UN Nansen Refugee Award will go to Poland for the first time. According to the office of the UNHCR High Commissioner the 2023 regional winner for Europe is a Polish couple, Lena and Władysław Grochowski.

The couple launched the Lena Grochowska Foundation in 2014 to support people of Polish origin returning home. Over the years, it expanded and included support for people with intellectual disabilities and projects that oscillate around culture and art. But after Russia began its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, they expanded their work to help Ukrainian refugees. They have provided 500.000 nights of free lodging. They opened centers in six cities, investing over EUR 4 million. The family has also been offering accommodation to migrants on the Polish-Belarusian border.

“They have given a lot more than aid to refugees. They have empowered refugees by helping them to find jobs, to get training, to get socially included", stressed Andreas Kirchhof, a Senior External Relations Adviser at UNHCR. "And secondly, they have mobilized the business community. They have worked with cities, they have worked with humanitarian organizations, so it's a whole of society approach which we see here and which benefits refugees".

A commemorative medal and an award sponsored by the governments of Norway and Switzerland will be presented on 13 December at a gala ceremony in Geneva. Established in 1954, the UNHCR Nansen Refugee Award honors individuals, groups and organizations who go above and beyond the call of duty to protect refugees, as well as internally displaced and stateless people.


Polonaise Protected by UNESCO

Poland’s traditional dance, the Polonaise,  was added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity during the 18th session of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Kasane, Botswana. The announcement came over two years after a campaign for its inclusion on the list was launched by Romana Agnel, founder of the Cracovia Danza Court Ballet, the only professional court and historical dance ensemble in Poland.

Dancing the Polonaise, one of five national dances of Poland, is somewhat similar to walking, hence its first name was the walking dance. It also includes a number of figures such as bows and turns. The dance is in 3/4 time and is performed by a procession of mixed pairs moving along trajectories, curved or straight, proposed by the dance-leader. Dating back to the 16th century, by the 17th century it had become a popular dance at celebrations in stately courts where it was first written about by Western diplomats.

It is one of the most well-known and popular dances in Poland, performed during different occasions. A visible example is the tradition observed in every Polish high school, where the Polonaise dances by students, teachers and other members of the community, marks the beginning of prom night (studniówka).

Polonaise becomes the sixth Polish tradition to receive the honour after Krakow’s nativity scene tradition (2018), beekeeping culture (2020), falconry (2021), the Corpus Christi floral carpets tradition (2021) and rafting (2022).

Watch how Polonaise look like here.

Party Support

IBRiS for Rzeczpospolita, 5.12.2023

PiS                                                   31,5%

Civic Coalition                               27%

Poland 2050                                  10,3%

Left                                                  9,3%

Confederation                              9%

PSL                                                   7,3%