From Poland With Love - June
Topic of the Month
“Russia Has Prepared Plans to Invade Poland”
PiS leadership faces a heavy scandal as private e-mails of top members of the government including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki are being leaked to the public as an aftermath of a hacking operation. They started popping up on Russian accounts on encrypted messenger system Telegram. The e-mails come from the account of Michał Dworczyk, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office.
The leaked emails were allegedly stolen through a private account Dworczyk set up on one of the most popular Polish web sites. The leak is commented to have happened at the end of 2020. "Currently, I am not able to say exactly when my e-mail account was hacked, but I would like to emphasize once again that I did not use it to send any information that could pose a threat to state security", the minister said.
The government has found that between 4.000 and 4.500 accounts have been hacked and around 70.000 emails taken. It came as a shock to public opinion that the ministers use private, unsecured e-mail accounts for their professional communication, instead of the official email protected by the secret service agency. People in the loop were, i.a., Mateusz Morawiecki, government spokesman Piotr Müller and development minister Jarosław Gowin.
The disclosed emails concern the COVID-19 restrictions, relations with Ukraine and Belarus. There have also been Dworczyk’s personal impressions after meeting new members of the cabinet in Vilnius. One of the most electrifying messages from hacked emails is about the discussion within the government about deploying the army in response to mass protests against an almost total ban on abortion last year.
Dworczyk and others are defending themselves by saying it is all Russian disinformation and part of the published e-mails has been fabricated to hit the government, incite internal conflicts and create divisions between Poland and partners abroad. “The main goal of the ongoing attack is to compromise democratic values — freedom of speech and trusted public debate — targeted by disinformation”, says an official brief sent to EU ambassadors. And it adds: “The intercepted disinformation content is focused on current public debate and aimed at provoking, highly polarizing and antagonizing politicians and society, questioning NATO values and trust, as well as questioning costs of military modernization; provision of 'proof' of Poland’s direct involvement and sponsorship of riots in Belarus and of instability in Eastern Europe, as well as damaging Polish-Lithuanian relations”.
Poland’s minister-coordinator of the Intelligence and Security Services Stanisław Żaryn said that Poland has been the target of a cyber attack conducted by a group named "UNC1151” and "the Polish intelligence services have gathered information proving the links between the attackers and Russian special services". Journalists quickly found out that those findings of Polish intelligence were mostly copied from two reports published in July 2020 and April 2021 on the website of the American cybersecurity company Fireeye.
Jarosław Kaczyński, who is a deputy prime minister responsible for security, said that “the analysis of our services and the secret services of our allies allows us to clearly state that the cyber attack was carried out from the territory of the Russian Federation. Its scale and range are wide”.
PiS called a special, closed session of the parliament to present details about the cyberattacks. During the session, Jarosław Kaczyński reportedly said that Russia has prepared plans to invade Poland. He also revealed that new legislation is being prepared to provide the government with more powerful tools to monitor digital security and accused some MPs of being hostile towards the Polish state. Two Civic Coalition parliamentarians, Michał Szczerba and Dariusz Joński, left the session in protest. “We do not trust the person who presents the main issue”, said Szczerba. “This is the person responsible for various types of irregularities”, he added.
According to the opposition, the scandal proves the government’s incompetence and the secret session was a farce. It warns that Kaczyński might be willing to restrict civil rights with the announced legislation.
Poland Violated the European Convention on Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Poland has violated the European Convention on Human Rights by dismissing judges Alina Bojara and Mariusz Broda without explanation, underlining the importance of protecting the independence of the judiciary and the "principle of respect for procedural justice".
Both judges argued that they were dismissed from their positions illegally and arbitrarily, and were deprived of the possibility to appeal the minister's decision. ECHR agreed with the complaints and found out that Poland has violated Article 6(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights (right to a fair and public trial).
Strasbourg judges pointed out that the decisions of the Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro to put a premature end to the judges’ terms were not subject to appeal and that the judges’ removal took place under a legally doubtful provision of the Act on Common Courts. The latter allowed justice minister to dismiss presidents and vice-presidents of courts at will and without restrictions. According to Polish Judges Association Iustitia, Ziobro fired more than 150 court presidents and vice-presidents over a six-month period in 2017 and 2018.
ECHR ruled that Poland is to pay each of the judges EUR 20.000 in compensation for the material and non-material damage they suffered.
Zbigniew Ziobro said in a statement that the applicants were not deprived of their judicial functions and called the verdict political. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki commented that he would "implement the reform of the judiciary in line withour our [PiS’s] priorities".
The parties have the right to appeal the judgment to the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights.
Neither Zloty, Nor Euro, Nor Dollar
The Polish Sejm passed an amendment to the Code of Administrative Procedures on Property Restitution, a law that sets a 30-year deadline for the recovery of property seized by Nazi Germany and subsequently nationalized by Poland’s communist-era government. The amendment follows a 2015 ruling by Constitutional Tribunal ordering time limits to be imposed on the period during which flawed administrative decisions can be challenged.
The new law was supported by 309 of 460 members of the lower chamber from left to right; Civic Coalition´s MPs abstained. It has been supported by many urban activists and experts as the current law and a lack of a complex restitution act create massive legal uncertainly. 40.000 to 60.000 tenants living in 3.000 municipality-owned tenement buildings are at risk should they be re-privatized. In other words, in cities like Warsaw there are entire neighborhoods of pre-WWII houses that should be protected as a part of historical heritage but they are falling apart due to unregulated legal status. Tenants in such houses often live in extremely poor conditions, e.g. without central heating.
Nevertheless, some groups have heavily criticized the amendment as it essentially prevents any further WWII-era compensation claims or appeals of past decisions. Israel seemed particularly outraged. The Israeli Embassy in Warsaw stated that the “immoral law will seriously affect relations between our countries”. Israel’s head of diplomacy Yaid Lapid tweeted: “We are not interested in Polish money and the allusion itself is anti-Semitic. We fight for the memory of the victims of the Holocaust, for the pride of our nation, and no parliament can pass laws aimed at denying the Holocaust”.
Israel's foreign ministry summoned Polish ambassador Marek Magierowski. The ministry commented that up to 90% of property restitution claims could be affected. In turn, Poland said it had summoned Israeli Charge d'affaires Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon. "We believe that unfortunately what we’re dealing with here is a situation that certain Israeli politicians are exploiting for internal political purposes", Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński said, and Magierowski defended the bill on Israel Radio, stressing that Jews would still have the right to sue for property stolen during the Holocaust. He commented that he was under the impression that "no one in Israel has read the law".
On June 25, a spokesman for the US State Department added his own call for Poland to discontinue further work on the amendment.
Mateusz Morawicki commented that "I can only say that as long as I am the prime minister, Poland will not pay for German crimes: neither zloty, nor euro, nor dollar”.
Symbolic Opposition’s Victory in Rzeszów
Konrad Fijołek, the opposition candidate for the mayor of Rzeszów, has romped to victory in the first round, securing 56% of the vote. He was supported by all key opposition parties, including Civic Coalition, the Left, Polish Peoples' Party and Poland 2050.
The election in Rzeszów, capital of the PiS stronghold Subcarpathian region, was held because Tadeusz Ferenc (82), the mayor of the city since 2002, resigned in February after suffering from Covid-19. Ferenc was originally connected with the Left (SLD) but has been declaratively independent for many years wining all local elections with impressive results (in 2007 he got record 77% of the votes). Surprisingly for Rzeszów’s inhabitants he named Marcin Warchoł as his successor.
Warchoł was a former deputy justice minister, right hand of the Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and a member of Solidarity Poland, the most conservative part of the United Right coalition. Reasons for this decision are not clear. Warchoł (himself not even from Rzeszów) campaigned exclusively as Ferenc’s successor and the face of the popular mayor was present on all his campaign materials. Young, dynamic Warchoł was seen as a favorite to win the race.
PiS was angry that its junior partner became so independent and could even win this prestigious and symbolic election. Kaczyński’s party appointed Subcarpathian governor Ewa Leniart to run against Warchoł. This meant an open war within the ruling coalition. What is more, the third coalition partner, the Agreement, eventually supported Warchoł.
In addition to that, both right wing candidates had a serious competitor, Grzegorz Braun. This ultra-catholic MP of far-right Confederation also decided to run in Rzeszów.
And who is the opposition’s nominee? Konrad Fijołek had been Ferenc’s associate, vice-chairman of the city council and head of the Rzeszów Development Group. Fijołek announced in his campaign that if he won the election, he would like to “sort out the spatial chaos” in the city. The second most important element of his platform was the broadly understood quality of life, i.e. more urban greenery.
Fijołek impressively - and surprisingly even for himself - won in the first round. Leniart was second with 24%, followed by Warchoł with disappointing 11% and Braun with 9% of the vote. PiS had to face immediate consequences of this defeat; attacks came also from inside of the government. E.g. Deputy Minister Jarosław Gowin (the Agreement) bitterly tweeted: "Attacking the middle class, raising taxes, centralism instead of self-governance, and disrespecting coalition partners are paving the way for the opposition to take power”.
On the other side, the opposition sees its victory as an excellent prognosis for the future. Civic Coalition stressed that unification would make sense and united opposition would win 2023 elections.
Jarosław Kaczyński has lost majority in the Sejm after three lawmakers left the PiS group.
Zbigniew Girzyński, Małgorzata Janowska, and Arkadiusz Czartoryski announced they would create a new parliamentary group called "Poland's Choice". Officially, the main point of contention between PiS and the rebellious three was the energy policy and not enough support for conventional energy from the government. “PiS went to the elections with slogans of ‘Polish black gold’ and was going to base our energy sector on conventional sources”, said Janowska, elected from Bełchatów, where the Poland’s largest power plant is located.
“Poland’s Choice” has already given signals that they may support the opposition in a non-confidence vote for the education minister.
The United Rights has now only 229 MPs out of 460. "I don't think this will cause any more problems", commented Mateusz Morawiecki. And it is true that there are also some marginal groups and individual MPs in the Sejm that will support the government. Also, recently a formal agreement with populist Kukiz’15 movement has been signed by PiS. But all this will make PiS’s life in the parliament much more difficult and it starts looking like decomposition of the conservative camp, well known from the (recent) past.
Poland and Germany
President Andrzej Duda spoke with his German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, during the latter’s visit in Warsaw. This was the first time that the two heads of state have met in person since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic. Steinmeier’s last visit to Poland was in January 2020, to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration and extermination camp.
The official visit included a debate on social relations between Poland and Germany at the Royal Castle in Warsaw with the participation of Polish-German youth. Among other discussed topics, there were the situation in the Middle East and Duda's recent visit to Turkey, the situation in Ukraine and Belarus. The presidents also discussed plans for building a memorial in Berlin to some 3 million Polish victims of the Nazi German occupation and the issue of Polish minority in Germany. “I noted with sorrow the disproportion in negligible financing of Polish diaspora institutions by the German state compared to the generous funding of German minority organizations by the Polish state”, Duda said.
Both presidents met to mark a 1991 Treaty of Good Neighborship. Duda called the treaty “a crucial element of Polish and German history, our joint present, as well as a strong foundation for the common future” and claimed the bilateral relations to be “stronger than ever”. German president added that that good Polish-German relations were “one of Europe’s greatest successes in the past 30 years”.
During the common press conference the presidents made no direct reference to most divisive issue, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Steinmeier only said that Germany “takes criticism seriously and will make every effort to achieve reasonable solutions”.
According to daily Gazeta Wyborcza, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to visit Warsaw on that occasion being fed up with the Morawiecki’s administration.
It should be noted that the while the mood in Warsaw was conciliatory and rather festive, Polish ambassador to Germany Andrzej Przyłębski (husband of the head of politicized Constitutional Tribunal) came with a bang. During a speech to the Brandenburg Landtag in Potsdam, he accused German media of spreading an anti-Polish narrative and “obvious lies” about Poland. “Five German correspondents in Warsaw are ruining 30 years of Polish-German reconciliation and understanding”, he stressed.
Most Beautiful Border Crossing in Europe
Historic Poland-Germany border crossing has reopened as striking new bike-bridge. First constructed in 1892, what was then known as the Oderbrücke Bienenwerder became the longest bridge spanning the Oder. In 1945 it was been slated for demolition in order to stem the Red Army’s march. It became ruined and in 1999 it was formally decommissioned. In 2018 a joint agreement was signed between regional authorities in Germany and Poland to revive it as an environmental and touristic attraction. It was reconstructed and modernized (with the total budget of EUR 22 million).
It will serve bikers (60km from Berlin) and nature-lovers as it includes a spectacular viewing platform placed on top of one of the trusses.
Attending the opening, Jobst-Hinrich Ubbelohde, Germany’s Secretary of State for European Affairs, said that the bridge would help build stronger shared tourist infrastructure between the countries.
The Siekierki-Neurüdnitz bridge will be named after Władysław Bartoszewski, Auschwitz survivor, statesman and minister of foreign affairs. It will become one of the most beautiful border crossings in Europe.
Institute for Catholic Church Statistics published results of a query into sex abuse of minors perpetrated by some Polish clergymen incardinated to dioceses, as well as by some professors of male religious congregations and apostolic life societies. The Institute informed that between 1 July 2018 and 31 December 2020, male dioceses received 368 reports regarding sex abuse of minors. 10% of those cases were dismissed as unreliable, 51% were being examined, whereas 39% were confirmed or marked as credible in early stages or by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
The accused were mostly suspended from serving for the duration of investigation (46%), banned from working with children (36%), or ordered to remain in a specified place (37%). Other forms of punishments included ban on practicing certain parts of service, ban from certain locations, restricted priest duties or canonical penalty. 16% of accused priests retired, while 10% continues to serve.
Primate of Poland Archbishop Wojciech Polak said "We feel great shame, great pain and compassion". He underlined that the Church was "grateful and respectful of those who chose to share their harm by revealing their traumatic stories, often many years later".
Poland’s latest trust rating is the lowest it has been in five years, according to OECD. Confidence in the government had initially risen after PiS came to power in 2015 (when it stood at 21,1%), reaching over 50% in 2017. Then it dropped rapidly last year (due to, i.a., Covid-19 crisis and nearly total abortion ban). Only Chile has less public trust in government than Poland. Across the OECD, only 45% had confidence in the central authorities, lower than for the judicial system (56%), healthcare (66%), the education system (67%) and local police (77%).
Out of Afghanistan
President Andrzej Duda declared that Poland would withdraw its troops from Afghanistan by the end of June. “In accordance with the decisions of the Allies, we have decided not to extend the mission of the Polish Military Contingent in Afghanistan. At the end of June, after 20 years, we are concluding our military involvement in the largest NATO operation in history", he wrote on Twitter.
In 2001, Poland joined the US Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan, sending a contingent of soldiers from the special unit Grom, along with sappers and logisticians. In 2002, the Polish Army assigned the first, 300-strong group to the International Security Assistance Force - ISAF. Five years later, Poland increased its contingent in Afghanistan to 1.200 soldiers and military employees and assumed responsibility for two Afghan provinces.
A total of 40 Poles died during missions in Afghanistan.
Belarus has established a Day of People’s Unity holiday on 17 September - the day when the Soviet Union invaded Poland and Ukraine during WWII (in 1939). Minsk's decision comes amid heightened tensions with its neighbors after the dictator Alexander Lukashenko rigged the election and persecuted members of democratic opposition, including leaders of the Polish minority in Belarus.
Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “Founding Belarusian political history on the legacy of the Hitler–Stalin pact is utterly incomprehensible. This gesture, in line with Russia’s efforts to reinterpret very difficult history of our region, will seriously hinder Belarusian dialogue and understanding with neighboring countries as well as all other European countries.”
Olga Tokarczuk, 2018 Nobel prize winner, known for her progressive views, has prompted a backlash from traditionalists after giving an interview for the Italian daily Correre della Sera in which she listed Poland alongside Belarus as countries that are taking advantage of the Covid-19 to suppress democratic protests. “Belarus is an example that regimes feel safer in the new global pandemic situation: a society that is afraid submits more easily to orders and prohibitions”, she marked.
Tokarczuk was criticized for these words by many right wing figures, including a deputy foreign minister. Nationalists and conservatives launched an online campaign #OdeślijOldzeKsiążkę (#SendABookBackToOlga). The Olga Tokarczuk Foundation stated that it encouraged to send it all unwanted books; they will be sold and all profits will go to benefit LGBT+ advocacy groups. Commentators on the liberal side were skeptical about the success of this campaign. “How can they send back something they don’t have?”, liberals asked ironically…
And indeed, one week after the interview was published, not a single book was send back. Supporters of the #SendABookBackToOlga campaign became an object of ridicule as those who don’t read. As a consequence of these public some books were actually sent to the Foundation. All of them devastated and vandalized…
Polls & Trends
United Surveys for DGP, 5 July
Civic Coalition 18,6%
Poland 2050 16,6%
Kantar for “Fakty TVN”, 24-25 June
Do you think that PiS government policies could lead to Poland leaving the European Union?
Don’t know 13%