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From Poland With Love - September

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Topic of the Month

Darkest Possible Image of Poland

The crisis on the Poland’s border with Belarus has escalated. Warsaw and Brussels are still accusing Minsk of encouraging migrants, mostly from Afghanistan and Iraq, to cross the border in order to put pressure on the EU over sanctions imposed on the Belarusian regime for human rights abuses. Polish authorities have refused to let migrants apply for asylum. This violates international law, but the Polish government argues that it must protect the nation’s borders and security in the face of a “hybrid war” attack from Belarus.

Observers have also accused Poland of violating international law by pushing asylum seekers back over the border. The border guard reported that it had been only escorting people back "to state border line". At the same time, the agency refuses to share detailed information, citing the regulations in place under the state of emergency. Amnesty International (AI) informed that an analysis of satellite images and other photos and videos leave no doubts that Poland carries out unlawful pushbacks. “Forcing people trying to claim asylum back without an individual assessment of their protection needs is against European and international law", said Eve Geddie, director of AI’s European institutions office.

According to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna daily ca. 20-30% of people detained by Poland’s border guard and returned into Belarus are children. Polish deputy Ombudsman Hanna Machińska described the latter case as a scandal that shows the “darkest possible image of Poland”.

Warsaw is working to warn potential migrants that the country's border with Belarus is sealed and is not a passage into the European Union. The government is planning to build a permanent wall, a 2,5-metre razor-wire fence erected as an emergency measure. Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński pledged that the country’s eastern frontier would have “the most modern security” in Europe. Additionally, the government has deployed 4.000 border guards and 25.000 soldiers. But it’s only about the infrastructure; Polish diplomats in Middle Eastern and African countries are also talking to local media and posting messages on the most popular communication channels to prevent people from trying to enter the EU via Belarus.

Top government officials have portrayed some of the migrants as dangerous criminals, terrorists or people with sexual perversions. Two ministers held a press conference where they claimed that about one tenth of the migrants at the Polish border have been found to have possible connections with terrorism, organized crime and human trafficking. Allegedly, there have been found photos on migrants’ devices showing secret meetings of terrorist groups, cadavers, executions, arms. The most shocking part of the press conference was when the officials presented an image of a man having sex with a cow. The ministers claimed the picture, found on a migrant’s phone, is “evidence of zoophilia” against which Poland must be protected. The pictures were very quickly exposed as found in a porn site and both ministers were accused of Islamophobia by international media.

As already mentioned, PiS government has introduced a state of emergency along its border with Belarus. No journalists, human rights lawyers or opposition politicians are allowed to enter the area. Polls show that a majority of the Polish public supports the PiS ’s policies at the border, including the state of emergency. But the only source of information on what is happening on the border are governmental sources - that are not trusted by the civil society and big part of the public opinion - and Lukashenko’s propaganda. Some activists claim that the state of emergency is designed to hide some actions of the army and border guards.

Not even medical staff can approach the border to help people camping there. Some doctors have written open letters to the ministries asking for allowing access to people who are suffering coldness, exhaustion, hunger. At least five migrants have died on the Polish side. More deaths are expected as the weather in Poland is changing rapidly and the temperatures are getting lower. UN human rights chief Michele Bachelet called on Belarus' neighbors to protect asylum seekers. Even the Catholic church, close political ally of PiS, appealed for humanitarian assistance. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki, the president of the Polish Bishops’ Conference, called for permission to launch humanitarian corridors in order to control the relocation of refugees and put an end to a chaotic migration happening “at the hands of gangs of smugglers”.

The European Commission has warned Warsaw that it must comply with EU law, and has urged it to work with the EU’s border agency. Poland has not requested Frontex assistance, though this agency is helping in Lithuania and Latvia, which also share a border with Belarus.

Europe

On Our Knees

“Brussels sends us overlords who are supposed to bring Poland to order, on our knees”, Marek Suski, one of the PiS leaders said. He added that Poland “will fight the Brussels occupier” as it fought past Nazi and Soviet occupiers. These words, once again, have provoked discussions about potential Polexit.

It is true that the government has been using anti-European rhetoric for years, provoking conflicts with the EU institutions and using them for internal purposes, promoting the most anti-EU politicians to top jobs. This strategy has been particularly visible in recent months, after the EU resorted to financially penalize members failing to comply with its rule of law and democratic governance standards. In November, the European Commission may approve the EU-funded national recovery plans of Poland, but will set conditions linked to respecting the rule of law for the release of EU funds. Ryszard Terlecki, deputy speaker of the Sejm, said that we “should think about... how much we can cooperate”, with Europe and consider “drastic solutions”. "The British showed that the dictatorship of the Brussels bureaucracy did not suit them and turned around and left", he added.

PiS is using state-owned media to pass the message across that Poland would be financially better off without the EU, as most of the funds from support programmes leave Poland really quickly and end in pockets of Western European companies. Patryk Jaki, MEP, showed a presentation claiming that Polish economy has lost over PLN 0,5 billion after the EU accession.

For the opposition, PiS’s anti-European stands are one of the main political battlefields against the government; especially when the recent public opinion poll showed that 90% of Poles support the integration with the EU. “Catastrophes like, for example, Brexit, or the possible exit of Poland from the EU, very often happen not because someone planned it, but because someone did not know how to plan a wise alternative”, leader of the largest opposition party Civic Platform (PO) Donald Tusk said.

The heated discussion provoked by Suski ended with Jarosław Kaczyński’s intervention. Chairman of the ruling party stated: "There will be no Polexit, it is a propaganda invention that has been used many times against us”. "We unequivocally see the future of Poland in the European Union", he added. But he also issued a warning to the EU, saying Poland wishes to remain a "sovereign" country.

Conflict with Prague Is Escalating

Conflict between Polish and Czech government over the Turów open-cast lignite mine continues (read more in the previous issue of the Newsletter). In March Prague filed an injunction saying the Turów drains groundwater away from surrounding areas. Later, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) told Warsaw to stop extracting brown coal in the area. However, Warsaw ignored the order and started bilateral negotiations with Prague.

In September, ECJ ruled that Poland must pay the European Commission a daily fine of EUR 500.000 after failing to cease the mining activity.

The negotiations continued, but under the new circumstances. Poland first offered to compensate the Czech Republic for not closing the Turów mine located on the border between both countries. By the end of September, Poland, surprisingly, left the negotiation table. According to the Polish ministry of foreign affairs, Warsaw did everything in its power to work out an agreement with the Czech side; however, the Czechs were not interested in resolving the issue. "If Czechs do not see the possibility for an agreement, then this will negatively affect the Polish-Czech relations", Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz said. He added that Poland would now concentrate "on a European direction" to resolve the matter.

Polish government believes that the Czech partners are not willing to solve the problem as the Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš was allegedly using the conflict in the elections campaign, presenting himself as an imperturbable protector of the Czech interests.

Politics

Less Homophobic Regions

In early September, the European Commission (EC) sent letters to the authorities of five Polish regions demanding their immediate action to annul the anti-LGBT declarations. The EC warned that a failure to do so would result in a suspension of recovery funds. These five regions could lose not less than EUR 126 million of post-Covid aid.

Deputy minister of regional development sent a letter to local and regional authorities advising them to reword their declaration. This was read as an order coming directly from the PiS HQ. And it worked… Almost immediately, the regional assembly of the Świętokrzyskie region became the first to abandon its status as an "LGBT-free zone”. Later authorities of the Małopolska, Podkarpacie and Lublin regions also abandoned the resolutions.

The changes came not without opposition from some of the PiS politicians. Many voted to keep the “LGBT-free zones”, some other opted only for minor linguistic amendments. E.g. in Małopolska sixteen councilors voted in favor of repealing the declaration; seven voted against and fifteen abstained. Regional Councilor Witod Kozłowski stated that no officials in the region “were ready to take responsibility” for leaving the region without funding, but he also stressed that “Małopolska is a strong region, built on values and based on centuries-old Christian tradition”.

This reaction of PiS shows that the pressure from outside makes sense and that populists understand only harsh language of money. It is a good change that some discriminatory laws have disappeared. Sadly, it has nothing to do with better understanding and respect for human rights among Poland’s right wing politicians.

License After Two Years

Finally, the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT) agreed to extend the license of the US Discovery-owned TVN24 channel at the last moment. KRRiT had delayed the renewal of the license for almost two years. This decision ends for now the debate over the future of TVN24, the biggest independent news channel in Poland. For last months, PiS was trying to reduce its extent and even to take control over it (buy it with support of SOCs), adopting resolutions to pressure Discovery to sell the channel (read more in the previous issue).

Discovery said the KRRiT decision was "bittersweet" because it showed there has been no reason to delay or deny the renewal for so long. The company added that the above-mentioned resolution "poses a direct threat to the rule of law and media freedom".

The European Commission said that the license extension was a "positive development" but that risks to media freedom in Poland remained, and announced that it will continue to monitor the situation. "We expect member states to ensure that the policies and legislation do not have any negative impact on their commitments to ensure [a] free and diverse media ecosystem", spokesperson of the Commission Christian Wigand commented.

Economy

Inflation: Soon 7%

Inflation in September rose to 5,8% y/y from 5.5% in August. It is mostly due to the continued high pace of fuel price rises (28,6% y/y) and increases in food prices (4,4%). Energy prices were up 7,2%, and are expected to grow even more.

Inflation in Poland is expected to continue to rise, and by the end of the year, it could be close to 7%. Raising prices became a topic of daily conversation among Poles and one of the most important points on political agendas of the opposition. Nevertheless, the government says that the consumer price index (CPI) is a sign of economic growth and salaries are raising faster and therefore everything is ok and nobody should complain.

The governor of the National Bank of Poland Adam Glapiński keeps calm and unresponsive. He signaled he would like to keep the benchmark rate at a record low of 0,1% at least until early next year. Sixteen former Polish central bank officials, including Leszek Balcerwicz and Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, wrote an open letter urging an immediate interest-rate hike to curb inflation. Further delays in tightening could undermine the policy makers’ price stability goal and breach of the constitution, they stress.

5% of Polish Population

In last 12 months the number of foreigner citizens registered as working in Poland has risen to 35%. 818.772 foreigners were registered in ZUS, the social insurance system. Almost 75% of them, 603.481, were from Ukraine. Poland continues to experience the highest levels of immigration ever, at the time among the highest in the European Union.

Eurostat has also reported that Poland issued more first residence permits to immigrants from outside the EU than any other member state for the last three years in a row.

Polish authorities estimated that there were over two million foreigners living in the country in 2019; this is ca. 5% of the population. In 2020 and 2021, despite the Covid-19 pandemic, numbers have also increased.

What is more, also the number of foreign students in Poland increased in the last year by 5%, and there is now over 82 thousands of them enrolled in Polish universities and other higher education institutions. Most of them come from Ukraine and Belarus.

Shopping Ban and Vanishing Shops

Clearly, the Sunday shopping ban is not working well. More and more shops open their doors on Sunday using different loops in the legislation. Recently Germany-owned Lidl and Kaufland markets re-opened on Sunday declaring that they were now also postal agents (it is possible to send and pick-up delivery packages in their stores and postal agents can be open on Sunday; the Polish Post is closed though). This move, together with similar ones done by other chains, caused frustrations of the Solidarity trade union (right-wing, PiS-allied). Its leader and PiS MP Piotr Duda announced a new, tougher Sunday shopping ban law. It will be deliberated in the Sejm shortly.

On the other side, we can see that the ban has not resulted in strengthening of smaller, family-owned businesses, as it was planned by the government in the original bill. Contrarily, 1.600 small shops were closed in the past year, as consumers increasingly turned to discount stores. The latter ones have prepared themselves well for the new, imperfect legislation, and blossomed - 134 new discount stores were open last year (their sales increased by 6,5% in the first half of this year). Their success on the market is the biggest – Biedronka, Lidl, Netto, Aldi have expanded rapidly at the cost of the smallest and the biggest players (three hundred hyper markets were closed and Tesco left Poland).

Nuclear Future?

Polish state-owned chemical company Ciech has signed a letter of intent to cooperate with Synthos Green Energy (ESG) to co-operate in the use of small modular reactor (SMR) and micro modular reactor (MMR) technologies.

As part of the agreement, both parties will define the possibility of building small or micro nuclear reactors on the premises of Ciech's plants producing soda ash, and they will analyze possible models of energy supply.

The Ciech Group is one of the largest recipients of coal after the commercial power industry in Poland, but it assumes a departure from the use of coal in 2033, and the achievement of climate neutrality in 2040.

 “The first generation IV reactor is to be launched in Canada in 2025, the next units will be built in the USA. If the licensing process in Poland runs correctly, there is nothing to prevent the fourth generation reactors from being commissioned at Ciech plants before the end of the decade”, a president of the SGE Management Board commented.

Culture

A Tale of Upper Silesia

This year, Nike, the most important literary prize in Poland went to Zbigniew Rokita for the book “Kajś. A ​​Tale of Upper Silesia”. “Kajś” is a story about complicated identity and a complex reportage about Silesia and its people. What is more, the book also won the Nike Readers’ Award, what proves that Silesia and Silesian identity became a mainstream topic in Poland, and part of pop-culture.

Rokita said: “I believe there is a Silesian nation” and now his voice will be heard all over the country (Nike-awarded books tend to become bestsellers), also by members of the PiS government who are actively fighting against diversity, deny support for the Silesian culture and deny recognition for the Silesian language.

“I myself deal with minorities and somehow I see it, I know that the situation in which these majority groups want not to recognize any minority is very annoying, it is very difficult, and it brings a lot of suffering. Such societies probably cannot function in full harmony, so these minority votes must be taken into account”, said Rokita.

Mariusz Szczygieł received the jubilee award on the 25th anniversary of the Nike for his “Nie ma”. It is a collection of reportages on death and mourning.

The Nike winner receives PLN 100.000 and a statuette. The organizers are the Nike Literary Prize Foundation and “Gazeta Wyborcza”. Previous winners include: Olga Tokarczuk, Czesław Miłosz, Wiesław Myśliwski, Tadeusz Różewicz, Andrzej Stasiuk, Dorota Masłowska, Jerzy Pilch.

The Most Beautiful House in the World

A family home in southern Poland was chosen the world’s best private residence at this year’s Global Architecture & Design Awards. ‘The Lesser Polish Eaves Cottage’, a property designed by BXB Studio Bogusław Barnaś was selected for its durability and timelessness, also for its striking features including a glorious exterior in tune with its surroundings.

The house is located in Zambierzów, in the Małopolska region, and it was inspired by the traditional local architecture, especially by the market square in Lancokorona, a beautiful village beloved by people from Kraków.

BXB Studio Bogusław Barnaś was established in 2009 and is known for its innovative approach and setting new trends in architecture. The studio was named in 2014 in Wallpaper’s* list of 20 best young architects in the world.

Fears Awarded

This year the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia has been commented to be particularly interesting and inspiring, with a great number of outstanding films, and very visible presence of the youngest generation of filmmakers.

The Golden Lion award went to Fears directed by Łukasz Gutt and Łukasz Ronduda. The film is loosely based on the life of Daniel Rycharski, a visual artist who is both gay and a devout catholic. The story is centered around his life in a small town, homophobia and relations with the church.

Silver Lions went to Leave no Traces by Jan P. Matuszyński, which also won the Best Production Design award. It is a true story of how communist police murdered a young high school poet Grzegorz Przemyk in 1983. Leave No Traces received its world premiere at the 78th International Film Festival in Venice, and will represent Poland as the candidate for the 2022 Oscars.

Additionally, Agnieszka Holland as a first female director received the Lifetime Achievement Award – Platinum Lions. In her acceptance speech, Holland commented on the PiS government’s decisions about the refugees on the border with Belarus and urged Polish citizens not to be indifferent to that tragedy.

Poland and Germany

Tighter Academic Exchange

Thirty years after the German-Polish friendship treaties of 1991, the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) has set up a working group with its Polish counterpart, the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange (NAWA) to create joint future measures. The agreement includes German scholarships for Polish students, doctoral candidates, and scientists in Germany, as well as Polish scholarships for German students, doctoral candidates, and scientists in Poland.

“Today, [our] exchange stands on a broad basis, but at the same time, we note that there is still room for improvement”, leader of DAAD in Warsaw, Martin Krispin, told The PIE News. “We meet to talk about the future. For that is what this agreement stands for, which I hope will boost not only student exchange, but also joint research projects”, added Wojciech Murdzek, Deputy Minister of Education and Science in Poland.

Hot Spot of Irregular Crossings

According to the German Interior Ministry, the number of people coming irregularly to Germany from Poland is rising. Ca. 400 of them were registered at the German-Polish border in the first half of September. The majority of migrants arriving in Germany via this route are originally from Iraq.

The Frankfurt-Słubice border crossing is considered the hot spot of irregular crossings. Germany's federal police are preparing for a possible further increase in numbers. Additionally, tents and toilets have been set up on the grounds of the police department in Frankfurt.

Last Time in Warsaw

Angela Merkel visited Warsaw for the last time in office. The talks focused on migration, crisis on the Poland’s border with Belarus, and protection of the EU's external borders.

A meeting between Merkel and Andrzej Duda, which was originally announced by Berlin, was canceled. Chancellor's spokesman said that Polish officials told them there were “scheduling problems”. And Andrzej Duda traveled to Silesia for celebrations marking the anniversary of the Solidarity movement.

The Polish President Office declared that there would be no meeting shortly after Russia announced  that Nord Stream 2 had been completed. Duda discussed the topic of the pipeline with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier by phone, according to the head of Duda's international policy bureau.

Society

Blessed

Cardinal Marcello Semeraro, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, declared cardinal Stefan Wyszyński and mother Elżbieta Róża Czacka “Blessed” at a mass at the Temple of Divine Providence in Warsaw. “Today’s new Blesseds have received from this nation the inestimable good of faith and the vitality of the centuries-old tradition of love for God”, he said at the mass.

Cardinal Wyszyński, the primate of Poland led the church’s resistance to communism. He chaired the Archdiocese of Warsaw-Gniezno from 1948 until his death in 1981, and became one of the key personas of the anti-communist movement, a symbol comparable with the legend of Lech Wałęsa. Historians stress that Wyszyński’s dual strategy with the communist party - both firm criticism and cooperation on his own rules with the regime - helped the Polish Catholic church to become the strongest one on this side of the iron curtain, and paved the way for the election of cardinal Karol Wojtyła a pope John Paul II.

Wyszyński is the father of the strong position of the Polish church until today. Recently, after decades of silence, numerous critical voices have appeared asking about his knowledge regarding pedophilia cases in the church.

Mother Elżbieta was a blind nun who revolutionized care for the visually impaired.

Booster

Prime Minister's Office in Warsaw informed that that a Medical Council's recommendation had been adopted and registration for the third dose of Covid-19 vaccine for people over 50 and healthcare employees would be launched on September 24. The booster would be administered at least 6 months after the second shot. It also reminded that registration for a third vaccine shot for people with immunodeficiency has been open since September 1. Pfizer and Moderna products are used in all these cases.

Support for Political Parties

IBRiS for Rzeczpospolita, 28.09.2021

 

PiS                                          34%

Civic Coalition                        23%

Poland 2050                         12%

Left                                        7%

Confederation                       6%

PSL                                         5%

 

Online hate speech

Ariadna for ciekaweliczby.pl

Have you personally experienced online hate?   Yes: 15%

 

What is the main reason for people using online hate?

Lack of satisfaction with own life                                         34%

Frustration                                                                             32%

Jealousy                                                                                31%

 

Are Poles less kind to one another during the PiS

time than they were during the last government?          Yes: 58%