From Poland with Love - October

From Poland with Love
© FNFreiheit 

Topic of the Month

Election Digest

Polish democratic opposition won the elections. PiS admittedly came first and will have the highest number of MPs but is unable to form a new majority. The latter one will be composed of the Civic Coalition, the Third Way and the Left. They have together 248 seats vis-à-vis PiS’s 194. Even with the far-right Confederation Jarosław Kaczyński is not able to reach 231 necessary to stay in power. President Andrzej Duda has ignored the parliamentary arithmetic and appointed Mateusz Morawiecki to form a government. This means that Donald Tusk’s new cabinet will be approved – most probably – in December.

  • The final results of the elections to the Sejm are as follows:

          Law and Justice – 35,38% (7.640.854 votes),

         Civic Coalition – 30,70% (6.629.402 votes),

         Third Way – 14,40% (3.110.670 votes),

         New Left – 8,61% (1.859,018),

Confederation – 7,16% (1,547,364).

  • Two national parties didn’t exceed the threshold: Nonpartisan Local Authorities (BS) – 1,86% and Poland is One – 1,63%. BS’s result was very disappointing. They didn’t manage to cross the 3% threshold entitling to receive state subsidies. Even in the party’s stronghold, Lower Silesia, BS was unsuccessful with 2,81% of the vote, a very bad forecast before the regional elections. BS currently governs in Lower Silesia with PiS but this coalition may not survive until the end of the year.
  • The composition of the Sejm will look as follows:

          Law and Justice - 194 seats,

          Civic Coalition - 157 seats,

          Third Way - 65 seats,

          New Left - 26 seats,

Confederation - 18 seats.

  • The Senate Pact, an alliance between democratic opposition parties, won impressive 66 out of 100 seats in the upper chamber. Civic Coalition will have 41 seats, Third Way - 11 seats, New Left - 9, and there will be 5 unaffiliated senators. PiS won remaining 34 seats. The current opposition had slim majority of 51 seats in the previous term.
  • The Third Way is seen as one the biggest winners of the elections. The conservative coalition of PSL and Poland 2050 was not sure if it would pass the 8% threshold for coalition. But the support it got from Donald Tusk, who appealed for the Third Way supporters to vote for their party, combined with good performance of Szymon Hołownia during the debate and weakness of the Confederation gave a very good outcome. The distribution of MPs is almost equal between both partners. It is uncertain if they will form one common or two separate groups in the Sejm.
  • The results of the New Left and the Confederation are rather disappointing. The former one run a very good campaign focused on progressive, social agenda, but lost with KO and the Third Way who presented themselves as the only options to stop PiS. Social democrats lost 4pp and many popular MPs compared with 2019. What is important, the leader of the New Left Włodzimierz Czarzasty received less votes on the Left’s list in his own constituency than a local activist, and almost lost his seat. The hard-left Together party has strengthen its position within the left-wing group. It won extra seats in the Sejm (and has seven in total) and won more in the Senate. This result can shift the balance of power in the left group and influence its future manifesto, moving it away from the political center.
  • The Confederation is seen as a big loser of the elections. The far right group presented itself as a kingmaker and the one that can drain the swamp. Some polls forecasted even 14% of the vote for the far-right group.  But the final result was much below their expectations. The leader of Confederation Sławomir Mentzen admitted that they had fallen short of expectations. It must be admitted that they grew in numbers and reached 18 MPs, enough to form a group in the Sejm (for the first time). However, it can be expected that this group will implode quickly. Three MPs representing the ultra-conservative and monarchist party The Crown may be the first to leave. Also the veteran of Poland’s libertarian conservatives and patron of Confederation Janusz Korwin-Mikke can mess things up. After a series of misogynic comments he lost his seat in the Sejm to the publicly unknown wife of Krzyszof Bosak, the leader of the nationalists, and decided to leave Confederation to build a new party.
  • Many commentators stress that the biggest winner of the elections is Polish society and democracy, as the turnout reached 74,4%. It was highest turnout in Poland since 1919 and even higher than that of the first free elections after the fall of communism in 1989. No research forecasted such mobilization. The turnout was particularly high among women and youth. It is commented that these two groups decided about the opposition’s victory.
  • Just before the elections Mateusz Morawiecki offered PLN 0,25 million (ca. EUR 55.000) bonuses for rural housewives’ associations, brass bands and local sports clubs in small towns and rural municipalities where more than 60% of voters cast their ballot. Additionally, the government promised small municipalities with the highest turnout up to one million zloty (ca. EUR 220.000) to modernize their fire stations. These schemes were supposed to increase turnout in PiS strongholds, far from big cities. Because of the very high turnout in the whole country, the cost of these programmes is very high, even PLN 1,6 billion (ca. EUR 370 million), according to news portal.
  • Poles could vote in over 31.000 polling stations, which were staffed by more than 258.000 electoral commission members, who were paid volunteers.
  • Over 1,1 million Poles – four times more than in 2019 - registered to vote in the elections outside their place of residence. Additional 294.000 have applied for a certificate allowing them to vote at any polling station. A trend of ‘election tourism’ (or ‘smart voting’) has been observed among urban opposition supporters who wanted to go vote in more rural constituencies, where a single vote counts more, i.e. in Warsaw ca. 79.000 voters elects one MP compared to 30.000 in Kielce.
  • 608.000 Polish citizens have registered to vote abroad. It is a record-high number, almost double than in 2019. Such demand raised many concerns about the ability of polling stations abroad to count all the votes (read more in the previous edition). In several countries, e.g. in the Netherlands, votes received warnings about potential long lines and were advised to vote in other countries. This year 417 stations were prepared (compared with 320 in 2019). The voting district in Tel Aviv has been forced to close last minute due to the war between Israel and Hamas.
  • A record number of women were elected to sit in the Sejm. 30% of the members of the lower chamber will be women. The Left will have 44% of women in its group, Civic Coalition – 39%, Third Way – 29%, PiS -22%, and Confederation – only 6%. On the other side, the female representation dropped from 24 to 17 in the Senate.
  • Nearly 100.000 people mobilized by parties and NGOs have volunteered to monitor elections and ensure that they are conducted fairly. At least 27.000 people joined the Civic Election Oversight campaign organized by the opposition-friendly Committee for the Defense of Democracy.
  • Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) published a preliminary report from their mission. It reads: “Poland’s parliamentary elections were characterized by record high voter participation with a wide choice of political options and candidates able to campaign freely, but the campaign was tarnished by notable overlap between the ruling party’s messages and government information campaigns. Together with distorted and openly partisan coverage by the public broadcaster, this provided a clear advantage to the ruling party, undermining the democratic separation of state and party”. "We witnessed a polarized campaign environment where heightened rhetoric, recent changes to the legal electoral framework and serious concerns over the judicial system undermined citizens’ trust in the institutions”, said Azadeh Rojhan, alternate head of the PACE delegation.
  • Paweł Wojtyniuk, former director of the Central Anticorruption Bureau said that officers were ordered to surveil opposition leaders ahead of the elections. Government figures have denied the allegations. Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński accused Wojtyniuk of slander.
  • President Duda said he would convene the new parliament on November 13 and started meetings with representatives of all parties.
  • Shortly before the consultations with the president started, the three democratic opposition groups have jointly declared their desire to form a coalition government and have named Donald Tusk as their candidate for prime minister.
  • PiS is doing everything to stay in power. It intends to convince the agrarian PSL (Third Way) to form a common, conservative majority. PiS politicians are reported to contact PSL MPs to persuade them to switch positions. After years of humiliating the agrarian party (e.g. PSL was deprived by PiS of a deputy speaker of the Sejm) and doing everything to eliminate it from the political scene, members of the current government now cozy up PSL in a way that’s difficult to watch. One of the most vulgar and verbally aggressive PiS leader, the hard-right education minister Przemysław Czarnek, said that if there was no PiS he would be in PSL. The state-owned TVP repeats every day that only PiS and PSL can save Polish farmers from the EU. There were rumors that PiS is willing to elevate PSL chairman Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz to the position of prime-minister. Additionally, Andrzej Duda named Marek Sawicki from PSL the Senior Speaker of the Sejm. Senior Speaker is traditionally one of the oldest MPs who leads the first session and the transition process in the parliament. Sawicki, who in the past didn’t exclude a coalition in PiS, said firmly that his party supports Donald Tusk as prime minister.
  • PiS is hunting the guilty for the defeat. Mateusz Morawiecki has admitted that it was a “mistake” for PiS representatives to submit the application that resulted the Constitutional Tribunal to introduce a nearly total ban on abortion in 2020. He said that he “has always been a supporter” of the 1993 abortion law, that was restricted by the Tribunal.
  • Marcin Wolski, former PiS-appointed director of TVP2, director of TVP’s entertainment branch publicly admitted that, in recent years state-owned media have been creating “worse propaganda than [the communists] in the 1970s”. “This nation has simply been humiliated, the propaganda that has been pouring out over the last few months,” he added. Wolski stated that he had been suspended from appearing on TVP six months ago because he “didn’t fit that hard attack line”, he concluded.
  • The future of PiS is unclear. The party is regrouping, dismissing some of its top figures, e.g. Ryszard Terlecki lost his job as the group leader and Jarosław Krajewski his position as the PiS leader in Warsaw. It is uncertain if Kaczyński will manage to stop his United Right from decomposing. The chairman of the hard-right Sovereign Poland, justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro didn’t even come to PiS’s election evening party. Later, when PiS was still saying it may remain in power, Ziobro said his party will be a firm and tough, but also substantive, opposition. It is commented that he might leave Kaczyński to build his own political project. Sovereign Poland didn’t lose any MPs and with 19 seats it is able to form its own group in the Sejm.
  • The new majority is negotiating a coalition agreement in silence. There are not too many leaks from these talks. The atmosphere among partners is good, and they all believe a fine deal will be reached. The agreement will cover key reforms that will be conducted and methods of coordination of the new government. It is known that the biggest obstacles are some cultural issues, in particular the abortion law. The Third Way does not agree to include it in the agreement, as it does not support liberalization of the legislation. According to the media, the new government will have less ministers than the previous one. However, the ministries of economy and ownership transformations should be recreated. The Third Way wants to appoint Szymon Hołownia and the government to have only one deputy prime minister, Władysław Kosinak-Kamysz who will become also the defense minister. The New Left answered that their candidate to become the Speaker of the Sejm is Włodzimierz Czarzasty and they are open to have this function rotating after two years. The Left sees Krzysztof Gawkowski as a second deputy PM and digitalization minister. Donald Tusk is suggesting three deputies. The Third Way is interested in foreign affairs, economy, climate and environment. The New Left in housing and education. The latter one seems to be the most wanted resort with all coalition partners presenting candidates to take it over. On the other hand , the health ministry is a hot potato with no volunteers. Most probably, the education ministry will be divided into education and higher education with science. Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska from KO is commented to become a new Speaker of the Senate. But all these are only rumors…
  • Donald Tusk has already visited Brussels to rebuild relations with the EU and unblock 35.4 billion euros  from recovery funds frozen because of rule-of-law concerns. He met European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and European Parliament President Roberta Metsola.


Chaos in the Army

Two top Polish army commanders resigned days before the elections. The armed forces operational commander, Lieutenant General Tomasz Piotrowski, and the chief of staff, General Rajmund Andrzejczak left on October 10.

Media commented that the reason behind their decision was a clash between Andrzejczak and defense ministers. PiS tried to treat the army as a part of the party apparatus. Previous defense minister Antoni Macierewicz lost respect of generals after his assistant humiliated Poland’s military personnel. Antoni Macierewicz put Bartłomiej Misiewicz in charge of a night raid by Polish military police on a NATO counterintelligence office in Warsaw. What is more, Misiewicz made officers salute him. Also the current minister Mariusz Błaszczak was using army in his election campaign, embarrassing soldiers and putting them in a very uncomfortable, political situation. The minister in his campaign published excerpts of a secret military plan drawn up under the Tusk administration and accused the opposition leader of being prepared to hand over half of the country to Russia.

What’s important, the generals could not accept the situation from last December when missile flew into Polish airspace, and it was only noticed after a mushroom-picker found the debris not far from a military installations near the city of Bydgoszcz. It was an embracement for the government, and Błaszczak blamed Piotrowski for the incident demanding his resignation. President Andrzej Duda had to become a mediator. Recently it has been reported by the media that the minister sidelined Piotrowski in the process of strengthening the defense of the border with Belarus in the wake of the Wagner Group’s relocation there, and from the evacuation of Polish civilians from Israel.

The resignation gave extra fuel to the opposition parties’ campaign. Donald Tusk commented: "We need stability and security. I therefore ask all officers and generals of the Polish army to keep a cool head and maximum responsibility".

President Duda quickly appointed PiS-friendly Lieutenant General Wiesław Kukuła to the post of Chief of the General Staff of the Polish Armed Forces. Major general Maciej Klisz, former Territorial Defense Forces commander, has been appointed to the post of Operational Commander of the Polish Armed Forces.

Poland & Germany

No More Representation

For the first time in over thirty years German minority will not have any representation in the Sejm.

Polish electoral law waives the requirement of passing the five percent national vote threshold for electoral committees established by national minorities’ organizations. This means that they don’t have to reach 5% of the vote on the national level, and they can still participate in a proportional distribution of seats in constituencies where their candidates’ lists are presented. Since the first fully free elections of 1991, the German Minority (Mniejszość Niemiecka) party has won seats in parliament. Always in the Opole region. The number and percentage of votes cast for its candidates was consistently decreasing in subsequent elections. In 1991 they won impressive 26,11% in that constituency, and in 2019 only 7,9%. This was translated into 7 members of the Sejm and one senator in 1991 and only one MP since 2007. The sole MP has been Ryszard Galla, firstly elected in 2005.

In October 2023 the German Minority received only ca. 25.000 votes, not enough to win one of 12 seats from Opole. Their leaders believe it is a result of strong polarization and the fact that many potential voters decided to support one of the big opposition parties to remove PiS from power. In recent months PiS was using Germany and Germans as the most essential enemy of Poland. Government officials attacked not only the government in Berlin but also German minority in the country (read more in the July issue). Some PiS MPs were saying that the current election law grants German minority benefits that should be taken away.

“Many voters were faced with a dilemma: whether to choose the large parties, which were identified in the media as having an influence on the direction of the country, or a regional committee that only operates at the level of one province,” the German Minority commented in a statement. “Despite the loss of our representative in the Polish parliament, we firmly believe that the change that has taken place in [parliament] will bring about a democratisation of social life, an improvement in many fundamental pillars of the state and a return to elementary social dialogue”, they added.

European Affairs

ECHR: Judges’ Retirement Law Violate Rights

The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that legislation which lowered the retirement age for Polish judges violates their rights. In the case of Pająk and Others v. Poland, the Court held that there had been a violation of the right of access to a court in respect of all applicants, and a violation of the prohibition of discrimination taken in conjunction with the right to respect for private life in respect of the three applicants who had lodged complaints under those provisions.

The case concerned four judges who complained about the law that had lowered the retirement age for judges from 67 to 60 for women, and to 65 for men, and had made the continuation of a judge’s duties after reaching retirement age conditional upon authorization by the justice minister and by the National Council of the Judiciary. The Strasbourg court found that the decisions taken in respect of each applicant by the minister of justice and by the NCJ had constituted arbitrary and unlawful interference, in the sphere of judicial independence and protection from removal from judicial office, on the part of the representative of executive authority and the body subordinated to that authority. It concluded that the applicants’ right of access to a court had thereby been impaired in its very essence.


Where Are the 80.000 IT Specialists?

Poland issued over 90.000 visas for IT specialists from the East under a special 'Poland.Business Harbour' scheme. They were issued for citizens of Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Armenia and Russia, also after February 2022. “In line with the assumption that the success of foreign entrepreneurs in Poland is the immediate success of all our countries, we invite you to co-create Polish economic success, and Polish companies to cooperate on the project. The Poland. Business Harbor program is a comprehensive package that makes it easier for freelancers and start-ups , SMEs and large companies have trouble-free relocation to the territory of the Republic of Poland”, the programme’s website reads.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs reported that in practice the list of countries whose citizens have obtained visas is much longer; including Egypt, Pakistan, India or Iran. Three institutions responsible for the programme - the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Polish Investment and Trade Agency, and the Ministry of Development and Technology were unable to provide data on how many visa recipients were working in Poland, informed the daily Rzeczpospolita. Journalists received some data from the Border Guard, and they show that only 13.500 foreigners had entered the country since 2020 on the basis of visas issued under 'Poland.Business Harbour'.

Regarding visas for Russian citizens, the Ministry of Development and Technology  assures that the programme applied only to 2.400 Russian citizens, more than half of them were women and children, and “among those coming to Poland were people fleeing from Putin’s regime”.

Nobody can explain what happened to over 80.000 people who received the visa. And we are talking about national visas, so those holding it can only work in Poland.

Resort Tax for Poisoning Tourists

The Polish Smog Alarm (PAS) has published a report on the ranking of the most polluted towns in the country. Compared to reports from previous years, there is a clear improvement in air quality in Poland. This is good news. And bad news is that some new towns made it to the report. The leader of the infamous ranking is Nowa Ruda (Silesia), where the highest number of smog days, the concentration of PM10 dust, and the concentration of benzo(a)pyrene have been observed. In the case of smog days, the national norm is 35, and in last year, Nowa Ruda had 95 of them.

Especially worrying is the fact that many health-resorts appear on the list. The word “Zdrój” in a name of a town means that it is a spa, at least in theory. Three such names can be found in the ranking, Szczawno-Zdrój, Rabka-Zdrój, and Jedlina-Zdrój, next to the fourth resort, Szczawnica. The exceedance of the standards for benzo(a)pyrene was at the level of 300-600%. Local activists and environmental organizations try to motivate local authorities of such towns to do something to lower emissions. They sue them in courts and demand cancelation of local resort tax claiming that there is no reason for it as it is actually dangerous for health to stay there. “Charges are levied illegally in these localities. By law, air quality must meet minimum quality standards set by law. However, tourists and visitors are paying for nothing, or actually paying extra for the smog in these areas”, commented a lawyer from ClientEarth.


The Quack

Some films are iconic. In Poland one of those is Znachor (The Quack). It is a 1982 drama directed by Jerzy Hoffman. It tells a story of a famous surgeon beaten by bullies, who loses his memory and cannot recollect who he was before. He settles in a village, and slowly regains his skills for medicine becoming the quack. Watching Znachor during Easter (over and over again) became a national tradition among many Polish families. Millions of Poles know the most famous dialogues by heart, and some of them are often recreated by pop culture, in particular in memes.

The status of the film was the main reason for the confusion when Netflix announced it would prepare its new version. Polish viewers mock Netflix for not-so-great recent adaptations of other iconic products of local culture, e.g. The Witcher or Mr. Car (based on adventure novels for children written by Zbigniew Nienacki in 1964-1985). But the new Znachor directed by Michał Gazda, known in English as The Forgotten Love, exceeded the expectations by taking viewers to an idyllic village and offering a quality melodrama. It is appreciated even by many fans of the previous version. Leszek Lichota, who played the main role, is praised for his authentic creation. “Playing such an iconic character, who is struggling with huge baggage of experiences, immense trauma, and finding his identity anew was a huge acting challenge for me. The story of Professor Wilczur has shown for generations that thanks to the steadfastness of the human heart, humility, and willingness to seek the truth, fates can always turn around", Lichota commented.

In its first week, it was streamed almost 12 million times, making it the second-most-watched non-English language film globally on the Netflix. Since then, it has remained in the weekly top 10, amassing 35 million views in its first five weeks. It was watched for just over 81 million hours.

It is important to stress that The Forgotten Love is not a remake of the 1982 film. It is a new adaptation of a book from 1937 written by Tadeusz Dołęga-Mostowicz. Dołęga-Mostowicz was one of the most popular Polish authors of the inter-war period. Initially his novels were serialized in newspapers, and gave great financial success to both the press owners and the author. Thereafter Mostowicz wrote an average of two novels a year.

The first adaptation of The Quack was filmed by Michał Waszyński in the same year the book was written.

Watch the trailer:


Satellites for Poland

Polish Development Ministry has signed a EUR 85 million deal with the European Space Agency (ESA) to launch four satellites - three optoelectronic satellites and one radar satellite - by 2027.

According to the Polish government, the agreement will give Poland access to high-resolution Earth observation data, used for security reasons but also for climate research or transportation planning, and will open the door for Polish business to new opportunities connected to ESA supply chains. “Data provided by satellites will be used to record, assess and monitor the effects of climate change and environmental pollution, to assess security and to determine the scale of state support for farmers and entrepreneurs, among other uses”, commented minister Waldemar Buda.


Football Scandal in the Netherlands

Two Legia Warsaw players were arrested by Dutch police following the Europa Conference League match against AZ Alkmaar. The Dutch police reported they had detained players from Serbia and Portugal, identified as Radovan Pankov and Josue. They were released on the following day and returned to Warsaw but remain suspects. The police said they had assaulted two AZ Alkmaar staff members "to such an extent that they needed medical attention". The confrontation took place when the police blocked the Legia team bus "for the players' own safety" because Polish fans were still being escorted from the ground after the game. According to the same sources, Legia supporters had already attacked the police before the match, knocking one officer in riot gear unconscious as they stormed the stadium's entry gate. Police deployed tear gas.

According to Polish media, the players were pulled off the team coach and taken to a police station. They commented the police stormed the bus, pinning club president and owner Dariusz Mioduski to the ground and smashing his phone as he was recording the intervention. "It's a precedent on a global scale... the team is shocked by what happened because no one has experienced anything like this before", Mioduski commented.

"Polish media are creating an image that players were the victim of police, but that's far from the truth. The players themselves were violent", the statement of the Dutch police said. The Polish football federation (PZPN) has asked their Dutch counterparts and UEFA for explanations. The latter responded that it had appointed inspectors to investigate the incidents.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki described the situation in the Netherlands as "very worrying". "I have ordered the foreign ministry to take urgent diplomatic action to verify the events of the night", he wrote on X.

The Dutch ambassador to Poland has been summoned to the foreign ministry to discuss the "reliable, very disturbing information about discriminatory actions of Dutch services against Polish citizens". "The Polish government can't agree to discrimination against our citizens. Those responsible for this must face consequences. We count on cooperation with the competent authorities of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in this matter", Polish deputy foreign minister wrote on social media.

First Post-Election Party Support Survey

IBRiS for Rzeczpospolita, 7.11.2023

PiS                                           32,6%

Civic Coalition                        29,2%

Left                                         9,1%

PSL                                          7,8%

Poland 2050                          7,6%

Confederation                       7,1%

Being Black in Poland

According to the newest study Being Black in the EU by the Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), people of African descent are the least likely to experience discrimination in Poland among 13 studied member states.

21% of respondents from Poland admitted they had experienced discrimination in the last five years – the lowest number in Europe. Poland was followed by Sweden and Portugal (27% each). On the other end of the ranking there are Germany, Austria and Finland , with 77%, 76% and 66% affirmative answers respectively. In the question about having experienced discrimination in last 12 month, Poland came second after Portugal (19% and 17% affirmative answers). One-fifth of respondents in Poland said the discrimination had been based on skin color, 12% pointed at ethnic or immigrant background, and 1% due to religion or belief. One-eight of respondents in Poland said it had happened in relation to housing, 14% while looking for work, 11% at work, 7% in healthcare, and 3% in education.

Only 1% of respondents who had been stopped by Police said they were treated disrespectfully. 81% said police officers were very or fairly respectful. 32% of respondents stopped by the police believe it was because of racial reasons. This figure raised up to 58% in all surveyed countries.

Poland also had one of the highest – only after Denmark - levels of awareness of at least one equality agency working in the country.

The study by the EU agency was conducted on a sample of 6.752 people of African descent in Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Spain and Sweden.