From Poland with Love - September
Topic of the Month
The pivotal vote in Poland will take place on October 15. The incumbent PiS will face off against center-liberal Civic Coalition (KO; composed of center right Civic Platform, liberal Nowoczesna, the Greens and left-leaning Polish Initiative), alongside parties from the left to far right. The campaign has been short but very intense. It focused mostly on the issues of migration, security, inflation and women’s rights. The first two topics were used by the government, who presents itself as the only force that can guarantee that Poland will not accept the EU’s migration pact. PiS scares Poles with waves of illegal migrants who would flood Poland, if KO won elections. On the other side, the main opposition party has tried to convince voters that PiS is the real threat showing the recent visa scandal (read the section Politics) and proving economic incompetence of PiS administration.
Three smaller parties (coalitions of parties) stand chances to introduce their representation in the future Sejm. Today we cannot be sure how many of them will pass the threshold and in what order they will finish the electoral race. The far-right Confederation lost its impetus and is currently shrinking in polls. Some very controversial candidates are not helping them to mobilize new voters. According to polls, they decrease in favor of PiS and the Third Way. The latter one, a coalition of Poland 2050 and Polish People’s Party (PSL), has been for weeks polling very close to the threshold (8% for coalitions). Third Way positions itself as a moderately conservative alternative. Finally, the Left focuses on women’s and minority rights, and the housing crisis. Other parties, according to polls, have no chances to win seats.
Last period of the campaign was marked by cooperation and coordination between democratic opposition parties (something very much expected by anti-PiS electorate) KO, Third Way and the Left repeat that will form a government after the elections, and they don’t attack one another. Contrarily, Donald Tusk publicly repeats that voters of the Third Way and of the Left should vote for them. Tusk understands how important it is that these two parties pass their thresholds and have representations. But also PiS knows this, and does everything to convince Third Way’s potential voters they should not waste their votes for the yellow-green block (colors Poland 2050 and PSL).
In the last weeks of the campaign all parties have targeted women voters. Data shows that many have not decided who they will support on October 15, and majority will vote for the democratic opposition. On the other side, PiS is trying to prevent this, saying that if Tusk is back in power, Polish cities won’t be safe for women because of Muslim migrants.
One the most important moments of the last days of the campaign was the One Million Hearts March in Warsaw. Organized by Donald Tusk and Rafał Trzaskowski, the mayor of Warsaw who has recently become a second face of the Civic Coalition’s campaign, supported by the Left and many civil society organizations gathered around one million protesters on October 1. “The impossible has become possible, when I see this sea of hearts, when I see these hundreds of thousands of smiling faces, I feel that this turning point in the history of our homeland is approaching”, Tusk said during the rally. It was a huge and optimistic event. It drastically contrasted with the closed-door PiS convention in Katowice on the same day. The message of the opposition was clear: we are here, with people of Poland and they are closed in a congress hall talking to each other. One Million Hearts March was not only a political event with the biggest online coverage in Poland’s history but also the biggest demonstration ever.
The final decisive moment of the campaign should be the leaders’ debate. State-owned TVP decided to organize it on Monday before the elections. Donald Tusk immediately said he will come, surprisingly for many right-wing commentators (TVP will create as hostile circumstances as possible). Jarosław Kaczyński willing to avoid another confrontation with Tusk (Kaczyński lost previous TV debate with Tusk in 2015) said that he has other plans for that day. Surpassingly he is going meet farmers in a village of Przysucha. PSL leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz and AgroUnia leader Michał Kołodziejczak (KO candidate) announced they will also come to Przysucha on Monday to ask Kaczyński the most urgent questions about agriculture. PiS will be represented in the debate by Mateusz Morawiecki, the Left by Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus MP, Third Way by former TV celebrity and leader of Poland 2050 Szymon Hołownia and Confederation by its former presidential candidate, a nationalist Krzysztof Bosak MP.
PiS-loyalist from TVP now worry that their viewers will be exposed on speeches of all the opposition leaders (something that has not been seen in the state-owned channels for years) and moved the debate from prime time to 18:30. Additionally, TVP appointed its most pro-PiS propagandist to run the show.
According to the polls, ca. 9% of Poles who declare they will vote still don’t know what party they will support. And since the race is so tight we can expect an eventful, yet brutal, last week of the campaign.
Polish opposition parties are attacking PiS government over reports that the country’s consulates may have issued hundreds of thousands of temporary work visas in return for bribes. The scandal started for the public opinion with firing of deputy foreign minister Piotr Wawrzyk. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the reason for his decision is “lack of satisfactory cooperation”. Wawrzyk, who not long time ago was PiS’s candidate for Ombudsman (read more in December 2021 edition), also lost his spot on election list of PiS. Independent media quickly reported that Wawrzyk’s close subordinates were involved in a massive scandal – migrants from the Middle East and Affrica had to pay thousands of euro to get quick appointments in Polish consulates.
It is said that Morawiecki has known about the situation for months, but reacted only after some Western partners demanded his actions. As reported in previous years (also in this newsletter), Poland was the EU’s champion in issuing first resident permits, e.g., in 2021 Poland issued 1/3 of all such permits in the block (almost one million). According to the opposition Civic Coalition, in last three years, even 350.000 visas might have been issued irregularly.
It is important to remind that Polish visas gave access to other Schengen-zone countries. Western member states observed rising numbers of migrant coming from Poland. Some of them took preventive actions. The German states of Brandenburg and Saxony called for the temporary reintroduction of border controls on the Oder. Eventually, German interior minister Nancy Faeser announced temporary checks on borders with Poland (and the Czech Republic) in an attempt to curb an influx of asylum seekers.
PiS denied all accusations. The party claims there is no scandal, only some small irregularities, and they were discovered and taken care of by state authorities, just the way it should be in a democratic state. PiS stresses that the investigation is not about thousands but about 300 cases. Polish prosecutors released a statement revealing it had begun investigations of corruption as long ago as July 2022. "The allegations include, among others: invoking influence in a state institution and accepting financial benefits as well as providing financial benefits for intermediation in setting matters in a state institution. These acts are punishable by up to 8 years' imprisonment", a statement reads.
The oppositions calls for demission of the foreign minister and further investigations, including of the system of granting student visa to applicants from Asia and Africa. Donald Tusk accused Jarosław Kaczyński and his party of hypocrisy. For many months PiS has been using fear as its main political weapon. Migrants and Muslims were main victims of this hateful campaign. State-own media scare viewers every day repeating that if the opposition wins, Poland will become a dangerous country where violence, especially against women, will become a standard. On the other hand, Tusk reminds, it was PiS people who tolerated corruption and who sold unprecedented number of visas to Poland.
European Commission Vice-President Margaritis Schinas said: “What happens in a Schengen state affects the functioning of all Schengen countries. That is why the alleged cases of fraud and corruption in the Polish visa system are extremely worrying”. “The visa scandal in Poland needs to be clarified…I don’t want people from Poland to simply be waved through, and then have a discussion about our asylum policy afterwards”, said German chancellor Olaf Scholz. “Further measures may then have to be taken at the borders”, he added. Scholz’s remarks were immediately criticized by the Polish government. Foreign minister Zbigniew Rau responded: “The latest statement by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz violates the principles of the sovereign equality of states, which is the foundation of good neighborly relations and friendly cooperation with Poland”.
It seems like the visa scandal will be the most important political topic during the last phase of the election campaign.
Poland & Germany
Scapegoat of the Season
In the campaign, PiS has seized two key targets: migrant and Germany. Berlin replaced Brussels in the anti-European and anti-Western rhetoric. PiS has accused Germany of trying to dictate Polish government policy on literarily everything. The biggest dispute in the recent days was of course about migration (in connection to the bribes-for-visas scandal), but there is more: Ukraine (in the context of weapons and grain), gas, environment. PiS unilaterally opened new fronts of conflict with Germany: world war II reparations, subsidies for German classes for German minority in Poland, and a dispute over waste export to Poland (all topics covered in this year’s editions of the newsletter).
Polish government criticizes its Western neighbor all the time damaging bilateral relations and weakening multilateral alliances from the inside. PiS is using all tools it has to accelerate the German-bashing campaign, even the president and governor of the National Bank. The latter one has recently criticized German companies for advocating German political interests in Poland, against Polish interest.
PiS officially portrays Tusk as Merkel and Scholz’s puppet and calls Civic Platform a ‘foreign party’, managed from Berlin. Kaczyński wanted to debate with Manfred Webber, German leader of EPP, whom he calls ‘Tusk’s boss. (Webber in on the radar of PiS since he said that his European party is “building a firewall against PiS” and that “we are the only force that can replace PiS in Poland, leading the country back to Europe”. PiS cannot forgive this).
Recently, Kaczyński’s party has released a campaign video suggesting that Berlin is seeking to control the Polish opposition. "Guten Tag! I am calling from the German embassy and I would like to speak to the Chancellor about your 'Rentenalter', that is the retirement age in Poland. We believe it should be the same as it was under Prime Minister Tusk", a voice with strong German accent says in the clip. And Jarosław Kaczyński answers: "Please apologize to the Chancellor, but it is the Polish people who will decide about this issue in a referendum. Tusk isn't here anymore, and those habits are finished".
Only weeks before elections, PiS leaders talk about Berlin interfering in Polish politics and campaign. German authorities clearly adopted a strategy of ignoring disturbing comments from Warsaw, and leaving most of them without any reaction, but recently even this has change. Under permanent attack, some German politicians started responding the taunts. All this cannot have any positive effect on bilateral relations. Luckily, they are bad only on the governmental level, and relations between people, local and regional authorities and businesses or civil society remain good and very good.
Poland & Ukraine
New Grain Deal
Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania have agreed on a plan to help expedite Ukrainian grain exports. It says that grain inspections will shift from the Poland-Ukraine border to Klaipeda, a Lithuanian port on the Baltic Sea.
In May, European Commission, introduced a ban on the import of wheat, corn, rapeseed, sunflower and sunflower oil from Ukraine to Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Romania. The embargo was later extended until September 15, with no intension to prolong it further. Poland, but also Hungary and Slovakia, introduced its own, unilateral ban on Ukrainian grain imports. The tensions between Warsaw and Kyiv flared. Ukraine responded with a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO). President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said at the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York that his country was working to preserve land routes for Ukrainian grain transit. He commented that the “political theatre” around grain was only helping Putin.
In early October, when the Kaipeda agreement was announced, Kyiv "put on hold" its complaint in WTO. It is a good prognosis for the recovery of compromised relationship, but no real improvement can be expected before the October 15 elections, since PiS is trying to win votes of far-right, anti-Ukrainian Poles who currently lean towards the Confederation.
Economy, Inflation and Reference Rates Down
The National Bank of Poland (NBP) cut its reference interest rate by 75bp to 6%. It delivered a shock to the market, which expected not more than a 25bp reduction. Experts were surprised by the NBP because inflation rate in August was still at very high level (10% year-on-year) and the economy was still slowing down (-1,4% GDP year-on-year).
The NBP explained its decision with a “lower than expected demand pressure [that] will exert influence on a faster return of inflation to the NBP's target”. “Taking into account these conditions, as well as the time lag with which monetary policy decisions affect the economy, the NBP has adjusted interest rates, which will support reaching the inflation target in the medium term”, the official statement reads.
The market reacted forcefully to the NBP decision. The Warsaw Stock Exchange's banking index fell almost 4%, and some of the biggest banks lost nearly 5%. The scale of easing influenced also the currency, and zloty lost almost 2% against the euro, and one euro still (beginning of October) costs over PLN 4,6.
Shortly before the elections, it is commented that NBP may cut the reference rate again to increase optimism (reduce monthly payments for mortgages) among voters, and help PiS winning the majority in the future Sejm.
According to the newest data (flash estimate by Statistics Poland), Poland’s headline inflation rate slowed in September to 8,2% year-on-year, below analysts’ expectations of 8,5%. In other words, a single-digit inflation rate has been observed in Poland for the first time in 18 months.
Incredibly Cheap Fuel
Poland's state-controlled energy giant Orlen has used strategic reserves of fuel to keep prices at stations low, and support PiS in the campaign. Orlen is selling diesel it imports at less than the price Orlen pays for it; prices have fallen by between 8% and 12% this month. All this is happening in a period when prices of gas have risen globally, and Polish zloty has lost its value.
Privately owned stations cannot compete with Orlen, which controls 60% of retail market, and many of the may bankrupt opening new opportunities for Orlen to expand. Many other stations have introduced restrictions limiting single purchases at their stations, in particular in the border areas, since many Germans or Czechs come to Poland to fill up not only their cars but also fuel cans. Also Orlen urged people not to buy fuel to stock up so that the logistics forces that operate the stations can work normally. There was shortages of gas in several cities, and sometimes even ambulances were not able to buy gas.
Polish anti-monopoly authority said it cannot see any problems with low fuel prices, but the European Commission is observing the situation and could start proceedings.
Poland exported 90.000 tons of waffles and wafers worth EUR 503 million in the first seven months of this year, analysts from the Polish Economic Institute revealed. Compared to the same period last year, the volume of products sold increased by 6,6%, and the value increased by 16,1%. Poland is the world’s leading waffle exporter for the eighth year running.
In 2022, Poland delivered waffles and wafers to customers in over 106 countries, with the largest share of exports going to the EU, mostly Germany. But they travel much further, e.g. in Iceland Polish wafer brand PrincePolo has been considered a national sweet treat for many decades.
Another Sex Scandal in Sosnowiec Diocese
A catholic priest is under investigation for organizing a gay orgy in which a sex worker was hospitalized after overdosing on erectile dysfunction pills. Father Tomasz from the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Angels church in Dąbrowa Górnicza held a party with his friend in an apartment belonging to the parish. Something went terribly wrong. When police and paramedics were refused entry after being called when one of the participants of the orgy collapsed, prosecutors launched an investigation into the priest for lack of assistance to a person whose life is in danger.
It has been commented in media that the man may have been plied with the so called date rape pill. What is more, it looks like the priest was known in the region for looking for casual sex on dating apps. Immediately after media reported about the orgy, father Tomasz went on vacation in Turkey (some lawyers say he should have been arrested). In a letter to the Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, he wrote: “I perceive it as an obvious attack on the Church, including the clergy and the faithful, in order to humiliate its position, tasks and mission”.
Local bishop appointed a commission to clarify the facts and circumstances of the situation. However, it may not be enough to save his job. The Sosnowiec diocese, where the events occurred, is infamous for sexual scandals involving highly ranked priests. In 2013, the Vatican took an unprecedented decision and fully dissolved the diocesan seminary. In March 2023, two clerics died after an alleged homicide and suicide. The hypothesis is that they were in a sexual relation. The newest scandal made mayor of Sosnowiec cut ties with the local church. The mayor Arkadiusz Chęciński said: “As a city, we are famous for tolerance and respect for all faiths and views. However, due to recent reports from the diocese negatively influencing opinions about the city, the outrage of the inhabitants and the lack of a clear dissociation from these matters forces me to make the unpleasant decision to suspend the city's cooperation with the Diocese of Sosnowiec until real corrective actions are taken”. According to many commentators, including those from inside the church, Bishop Grzegorz Kaszak should resign immediately.
According to the data from the last census, released this month by Statistics Poland, the number of Catholics in Poland has fallen to 27,1 million (71,3%), down from 33,7 million (87,6%) ten years ago. The share of Poles who does not claim any religion has tripled to 6,9%. Orthodox church remains second biggest religious groups (0,4% of the population), followed by Jehovah’s Witnesses (0,3%) and Lutherans (0,2%). More Poles declared they belong to the (mock) Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster than those who are Muslim or Buddhist.
Vatican (Unwillingly) Helps PiS to Build Their Historical Narrative
Pope Francis finished the beatification of the Ulma family in Poland. The nine members of the family were beatified in their hometown of Markowa, where they were martyred by Nazi soldiers for hiding eight Jews during World War II. In occupied Poland the penalty for aiding Jews was summary execution. Cardinal Marcello Semeraro presided over the beatification mass, which was concelebrated by 7 cardinals and 1.000 priests, with over 30.000 faithful, including President Andrzej Duda.
Pope Francis upheld the Ulmas’ life as model of Christian life for everyone to follow. “In response to the hatred and violence that characterized those times, they embraced evangelical love”, he said. This was the first time an entire family has been beatified. Many conservatives highlight that the unnamed “unborn baby” was also beatified (as Wiktoria Ulma was pregnant), and it was an important message from the Vatican against abortion. The Holly Seat had to intervene declaring that beatification of a fetus would not be possible according to the laws of the church.
The story of the family from Markowa is important for the PiS government as they have been of trying to rewrite history by exclusively focusing on Polish suffering at the hands of the Nazis and the aid Poles provided to their Jews during the war. The Ulmas are presented as a typical Polish countryside family, an exemplification of the whole nation. A dedicated museum has been opened in their village and school students are encouraged to visit it (also Israeli pupils coming for Holocaust-focused trips to Poland). Recently, the Institute for National Remembrance (IPN) opened in Warsaw an exhibition Death for Humanity: The Ulma Family.
On-Stage and Contrary to the Laws of the Republic
Co-leader of the New Left Robert Biedroń MEP ‘married’ his partner, lawyer Krzysztof Śmiszek MP, as part of a play touring the country. The wedding was performed during Spartacus: Love in the Time of Cholera directed by Jakub Skrzywanek (more about Skrzywanek in the January 2023 edition). Each show ends with the ceremony of a different queer couple in traditional costumes.
In the on-stage ceremony performed by an actress the words of the official marriage oaths are used finalized with “I declare that contrary to the regulations in force in the Republic of Poland, the marriage of [the couple’s names] has been concluded”.
After the performance Śmiszek tweeted: “What a wedding! (…) There were nerves and emotions. But there was also anger that in 2023, in the middle of Europe, two people who love each other are not recognised by their country…That instead of respect and dignity, hundreds of thousands of people in Poland receive contempt”.
Agnieszka Holland’s newest movie Green Border became one of the standouts at the Venice Film Festival. The movie tells story of migrants from the Middle East and Africa trying to cross the Polish-Belarusian border spurred on by the propaganda of the regime in Minsk. The story is told from three perspective: migrants, local volunteers trying to help them, and border guards. The film is described as emotionally devastating appeal to European authorities to change their inhumane policy towards desperate people who want to build new, safe life in the Old Continent. Green Border won the Special Jury Prize.
In Poland it became immediately used in the political fight. The government brutally attacked Holland – known for her support for the Civic Coalition – accusing her of creating an anti-Polish picture that serve purposes of Moscow and Berlin. PiS leaders described Green Border as disgusting before the official premiere (they didn’t get a chance to watch it). President Andrzej Duda asked about the outrage, commented with words “only pigs sit in the cinema”, an anti-Nazi slogan from the occupied Warsaw of the World War II era, when only Nazi propaganda films were shown in our cinemas.
Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro compared the film to “Nazi propaganda”. “In the Third Reich, the Germans produced propaganda films showing Poles as bandits and murderers. Today they have Agnieszka Holland for that”, Ziobro tweeted. Holland informed she plans to bring defamation charges against the minister. She also demanded that he make a charitable donation of PLN 50.000 (ca. EUR 10.800) to an association that helps Holocaust survivors.
A court in Warsaw ruled that Ziobro must not compare the director or her work to authoritarian regimes. The minister commented on the court's decision, naming it "an attack on freedom of speech and freedom of public debate in Poland, guaranteed by the constitution". "We will not be intimidated, we will not accept communist censorship entering public debate in Poland", Ziobro added. He also said he would appeal against the decision.
The hateful campaign went beyond the political bubble. The most popular cinematic portal in Poland, Filmweb, got flooded with negative ratings of Green Border. Far right activists protested against screenings in multiple locations around Poland, occasionally meeting counterdemonstrations.
The opposition defends Holland. So does the film industry. The Federation of European Screen Directors (FERA) - which represents more than 20.000 European film and TV directors - joined several European filmmakers coming out in support of the Polish Oscar-winning director. FERA stressed it was “full of admiration” for Holland’s “strength and courage in the face of the appalling attacks against her and the film in Poland”. “We stand squarely behind Agnieszka”, they concluded. What is more, the European Film Academy (EFA) commented in a statement: “We are stunned by the current personal hostility and threats from the Polish Minister of Justice, Mr Zbigniew Ziobro, against the President of the European Film Academy, the highly acclaimed filmmaker Agnieszka Holland, at a high political level because of her film”.
Link to the official trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAmd876mKbg
New Mega Park of Museums
Museum of Polish History and expansion of the Polish Army Museum have opened to the public in the Warsaw Citadel. The new museum has 45.000 sq m for exhibition spaces, archives, a concert hall, cinema, library, and educational areas. The remodeled Army Museum received greater exhibition spaces and extra storage for its grand collection of ca. 300.000 artifacts. Together with the Katyń Museum, located in the 10th Pavilion of the Citadel, they will create the “park of museums”, one of the largest museum complexes in Europe. The project costs PLN 1 billion (ca. EUR 215 million).
Both museums were designed by Warsaw-based WXCA architects. They are located in a fortress built in 1832 that has been closed for over two centuries. The building of the History Museum is a stone monolith - a metaphor of history. Its façade has been laid with marble slabs of varying grain.
During the opening ceremony, an exhibition entitled “1.000 years of the glory of the Polish military” was inaugurated. It presents Poland’s military history from the times of the first duke Mieszko I to the era of World War II.
Santos Out. Probierz In
Fernando Santos was fired as Poland’s coach after bad performance in European Championship qualification, after less than 9 months of service. Poland is currently fourth in its five-team qualifying group, behind Albania, the Czech Republic and Moldova.
Shortly later, Polish Football Association (PZPN) hired Michał Probierz as coach of the national team. Probierz won both the Polish Cup and Super Cup twice, with Jagiellonia Białystok and Cracovia, and has managed the national Under 21 side since July 2022. The new manager's contract will run until the end of the qualifying period for the 2026 World Cup.
Polls & Trends
United Surveys for RMF FM and DGP
Civic Coalition 28,2%
Third Way 11%