From Poland with Love. May

From Poland with Love
© FNFreiheit 

Topic of the Month

Poland on Fire

A major fire broke out in a large shopping complex in Warsaw. The Marywilska 44 mall housed ca. 1.400 shops and service kiosk. 80% of them burned down. Two hundred firemen took part in the extinguishing action. Smoke was visible from far away and disturbing odor was smelled in distant districts of the Polish capital city. All Warsaw residents received SMS warnings and were recommended not to leave their homes. 

The tragedy happened on Sunday when the shops are closed and nobody got injured, but people lost businesses and savings of their lives. Many of the them are Vietnamese. 

Some owners desperately tried to rescue their products and equipment. The Association of Vietnamese Entrepreneurs in Poland announced that the fire meant “great financial losses for merchants”, calling it a “terrible tragedy for thousands of merchants and their families.”  Warsaw city declared help for shop owners, and the company who managed the building declared it will be rebuilt.  

It was not the only big-scale fire that weekend. One day earlier huge fire broke out in a land field in Siemianowice Śląskie, where several thousand tons of various chemical substances had been illegally stored. Another fires in Warsaw broke out on Sunday in a waste sorting plant and in the Kampinos Forest (just on the outskirts of the city). Shortly later, another fire started in Grodzisk Mazowiecki during high school final exams. Some 60 students and teachers managed to safely escape the building before the fire service arrived. 

The Police commented that there are no proofs that they were connected. However, newly appointed interior minister Tomasz Siemoniak received a report compiled by chiefs of State Fire Service and the Police regarding the series. Potential changes in legislation and in technical requirements for buildings were discussed during the meeting in the ministry. "It's too early to discuss anything yet. An investigation is ongoing. We will certainly keep you updated. We must consider all variants here", Siemoniak declared.  

Some days later, justice minister Adam Bodnar addressed reports by investigative agencies that Russia could launch attacks on European infrastructure. He commneted: “The war is in our neighborhood, and a hybrid war is ongoing. Even the worst-case scenarios cannot be ruled out”. However, he did not confirm that the fires were arsons. “It would be unwise of me to talk about it with full confidence”, minister concluded. 

Government authorities reminded that a Ukrainian man who was tasked by Russian services to set fire on an US-owned paint factory near Wrocław was arrested earlier this year.


Tapes of Justice (Fund)

Tomasz Mraz, the former head of the Justice Fund Department in the Justice Ministry, confessed in front of a parliamentary commission details of illegal and dishonest procedure of deciding who beneficiaries of the Fund were. He accused former justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro to be “the main decision maker“ of the entire practice.

Mraz declared that he was forced by his superiors to reward applicants who were not entitled to receive huge grants. Once he did this, he started secretly recording his colleagues from the ministry and political bosses. The latter ones all came from the Sovereign Poland (formerly Solidarity Poland) party, hard-right PiS coalition partner lead by Ziobro. This party totally controlled the Justice Ministry, the minister and all deputies were its members.

Mraz said that some contests were created specifically to fit criteria met by the beneficiary chosen by Ziobro. One example was the Profeto Foundation, which received ca. 100 million zloty (EUR 23,4 million). According to the media, Profeto’s chairman Michał Olszewski is a friend of Ziobro. He is currently in pretrial detention after being charged as a result of the investigation into the Justice Fund. Mraz claimed he pointed out to his superiors that Profeto had been illegible but he reprimanded for such comments.

Mraz gave 50 hours of recording to the prosecutor’s office, many of them leaked to the media and were published by the news website and others.

Prosecutors allege that EUR 66 million in a special fund may have been misused. Between 2019 and 2023, over 2.000 grants were awarded. Justice Ministry released an interactive map showing how the Fund was used to apparently finance the election campaigns of candidates from the PiS coalition partner. “This is a shocking picture of how the state functions and how public money is spent”, commented justice minister Adam Bodnar. The map shows that ca. 90% of the money went to constituencies of Ziobro’s colleagues. They received an average of PLN 7,7 million (ca. EUR 1,8 million) each in funding compared to an average of PLN 1,5 million for other constituencies. The biggest beneficiary of the scam was the constituency of deputy minister who oversaw the Fund, Jakub Romanowski.

In one of the tapes, prosecutor Jakub Romelczyk tells Romanowski that they “will definitely refuse [to initiate proceedings against Ziobro launched by liberal MP Witold Zembaczyński] because I don’t see any grounds to initiate proceedings”. Justice minister commented: “The content of the recorded telephone conversation, in which prosecutor Jakub Romelczyk determines the manner in which the proceedings will be concluded prior to the screening of the case and the decision on the merits, indicates that he may have committed a disciplinary offence”.

“If this testimony is credible, then we are effectively dealing with an organized criminal group led by the prosecutor general”, Tusk said. “I do not recall any country in Europe where such activities — which deserve to be called an organized criminal activity — were led by a justice minister and prosecutor general”, he added. Minister Adam Bodnar announced that he was suspending Romelczyk for six months.

Sovereign Poland calls the accusations “a nonsense manipulation”. “Today, we live in a world of inverted ideas, where they try to discredit and depreciate activity for the common good!”, wrote PiS spokesman Rafał Bochenek (later another tape was published where Bochenek asked how to get money for local fire brigade from his constituency).

Warsaw City Hall without Crosses

Mayor of Warsaw Rafał Trzaskowski issued a decree on equal treatment standards in the town hall. Among other things, the decree bans the display of religious symbols on the walls of offices and workers’ desks.  However, workers can still wear the symbols on their bodies and clothing. “Warsaw is the first city in Poland to adopt such a document”, said Monika Beuth, spokeswoman for the mayor’s office.

Trzaskowski’s decision sparked protests, not only in Warsaw. One of PiS leaders, former defense minister, Mariusz Błaszczek quoted Jerzy Popiełuszko, a priest who was murdered by the communist regime: “There are invisible prisons (…) of systems and regimes … [that] not only destroy the body, but they reach further, they reach the soul, they reach deep into true freedom”. PiS lead MEP candidate in Warsaw Małgorzata Gosiewska submitted a request to the governor to declare “the cross ban” decree illegal, and the ultra-conservative think tank Ordo Iuris filed a complaint against the mayor for abuse of office.

PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński went further in his rhetoric, attacking Trzaskowski, Tusk and EPP: “As long as they rule, this ‘European option’ [will seek] to destroy religion, to destroy what people believe in, they want to turn people into animals”.

Also some members of the current coalition are critical about the decree. Speaker of the Sejm Szymon Hołownia (Poland 2050) called it “unnecessary”. “I have found a large number of crosses on the walls of the Sejm. While I personally will not hang crosses in public offices, I don’t think that today in Poland we need a war on whether crosses should be taken down from walls”, he said.

Trzaskowski defends his decision repeating that he didn’t do against Christians but to ensure the secular character of the city. He twitted: “Let’s not get crazy.  No one intends to wage a battle against any religion in Warsaw.  The capital will also always respect its traditions. (…) But Poland is a secular state and Warsaw is the capital of this state”.

Government Reshuffle

President Andrzej Duda appointed four new ministers in a government reshuffle. They replaced ministers who quit to lead lists to the European Parliament (read more in the previous issue of the Newsletter).

Tomasz Siemoniak took over the Ministry of the Interior and Administration. Siemoniak, close ally of Tusk, keeps his position as Minister-Coordinator of Special Services, and became one of the most powerful politicians in Poland. Jakub Jaworowski took over the Ministry of State Assets. He has an opinion of a professional and is commented to have the mission to close the mission of the ministry. The Ministry of Development and Technology remains in hands of the PSL party, and Krzysztof Paszyk became its new head.

The most interesting change happened in the Ministry of Culture. Former minister Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz, a politician known for his experience in the field of security and special services, was replaced by art historian and curator Hanna Wróblewska. She has always been associated with the world of culture. From 2010 to 2021, she was the head of the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, and also served as the commissioner of the Polish Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. She was fired by PiS in the attempt to take over all culture institutions to transform them into conservative hubs of propaganda. Over 1.000 key figures from the world of culture, in Poland and abroad, signed an open letter arguing that Wróblewska remained at the “height of her potential” and described Zachęta’s program under her leadership as “diverse, interesting, and often revelatory” (read more in July 2021 issue of the Newsletter). In 2022-2023, she was the deputy director for research and exhibition affairs at the Warsaw Ghetto Museum.

Polish Judged Asked for Protection in Minsk

Tomasz Szmydt, a Polish judge with access to classified information fled to Belarus. He asked Aleksandr Lukashenko for "care and protection". In a letter he had sent to the president of the Supreme Administrative Court in Warsaw, Szmydt announced that he was resigning his post in protest “against the unfair and harmful policy pursued by the authorities of the Republic of Poland towards the Republic of Belarus and the Russian Federation.”. He claimed he was persecuted and intimidated because of his world views, and accused Polish authorities to be under American and British influence.

He took part in propagandist programmes of Belarusian and Russian media outlets. Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski called Szmydt a "traitor." Minister Donald Tusk called on a meeting of the country’s special services to discuss alleged Russian and Belarusian infiltration of the Polish state apparatus.

Szymydt was a judge at the Warsaw District Administrative Court. He dealt with sensitive security issues, including appeal proceedings involving civil servants who were denied access to classified information. After PiS came to power, he became a head of the legal department of the politicized National Council of the Judiciary. Szmydt and his ex-wife were key figures in an online campaign attacking judges who spoke out against judicial reform of PiS.

Poland’s Internal Security Agency has launched a probe into how much access the judge had to classified information. Prosecutors office launched an inquiry into possible espionage. And a disciplinary court “gave authorization for Tomasz Szmydt to be held criminally liable”, stressing that “clearly shows that Tomasz Szmydt participated in hybrid warfare … conducted by Belarus and Russia against Poland”. Justice ministry announced an arrest warrant would be issued.

New Commission to Investigate Russian Influence

Prime minster Donald Tusk decided to revive a commission investigating Russian and Belarusian influence in the years 2004-2024. According to the PM it should be a non-partisan body of experts whose aim is to protect national security. The main reason for such establishment is intensified hybrid attacks from the two Eastern neighbors, including cyberattacks, espionage, acts of sabotage and growing pressure along the Poland-Belarus border (currently even 400 illegal crossing attempts a day).

The original idea of the commission comes from PiS. In 2023 the party of Jarosław Kaczyński established a special 9-person commission to investigate Russian influence. The law behind it  was dubbed "Lex Tusk", as its intention was to target the leader of the back-then opposition before the October elections. PiS lawmakers do not hide that the real motivation behind the law was to punish Donald Tusk and hit him with a report written by PiS loyalists shortly before the vote (read more in the July 2023 edition of the Newsletter). The commission had seen opposition from the European Union and was dormant.

The new commission will be different. It was not established by an act of the parliament (there was no agreement between the coalition parties in this matter), but by an executive order of the prime minister. It is supposed to be composed of experts, not politicians. The commission will include 12 members, including former Ombudswomen Irena Lipowicz, former head of the consumer’s protection office Cezary Banasiński, and be directed by the head of the Military Counterintelligence Service and deputy head of NATO intelligence, general  Jarosław Stróżyk.

PiS criticizes the new commission, complaining that the one they established was shelved. "As for the issue of investigating Russian influence, such actions were taken by the PiS government, which created a special commission", former PM Mateusz Morawiecki said. He added that that “the opposition boycotted it, fearing the discovery of facts inconvenient to them".

Ex-Minister Charged 

Former health minister in PiS government Adam Niedzielski has been charged by prosecutors over an incident in which he released the private medical information of a doctor who had criticized new regulations introduced by his ministry (read more in the August 2023 issue of the Newsletter). Niedzielski responded to criticism in social media revealing that the doctor prescribed himself a certain type of psychotropic drug.

The prosecutor’s office commented that „the proceedings concern the abuse of power by a public official in the person of the health minister through the unlawful processing of personal data regarding the health of an identified person by revealing the data via mass media in an entry on internet portal X”. Crime is an offense punishable by imprisonment for up to 3 years

Before resigning in 2023 the minister was criticized for releasing the data by legal and medical professionals. Poland's Supreme Medical Chamber (NIL) told the prime minister that doctors had lost confidence in Niedzielski, and the Supreme Bar Council (NRA) called on the prime minister to discipline Niedzielski, accusing him of breaking the constitution. What is more, he was punished by the data protection authority (PLN 100.000 fine, ca. EUR 23.000). 

Niedzielski refused commenting on the case. 


East Shield

Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced his government will build a system of fortifications and barriers along the border with Russia and Belarus. Additionally, Warsaw is also planning to invest in anti-drone surveillance, in bid to protect its territory from hostile actions from its two Eastern neighbors.

The whole package is called “East Shield” and will cost PLN 10 billion (ca. EUR 2,3 billion). As described by the Chancellery of the Prime Minister, this plan includes four dimensions: geopolitical security, European air defense, internal security and a secure border. Tusk hopes it will be partially financed by the EU, since it will strengthen security of the entire community. The investment will be consulted with the Baltic States, as the Shield will be a part of a larger infrastructural security project.

“The ‘East Shield’ deterrence and defense plan is the largest operation to strengthen the eastern border of Poland, the eastern flank of NATO, since 1945, “The goal of the Shield is to protect the territory of Poland, hamper the mobility of our “, defense minister Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz said. “The goal of the shield is to protect the territory of Poland, hamper the mobility of our adversary's troops while making such mobility easier for our own troops and to protect civilians”, he added. Defense minister mentioned also Poland could consider renouncing the Ottawa Convention, which aims at eliminating the use of anti-personnel landmines.  Polish authorities stress that Poland pays price for supporting Ukraine, and is a target of Russian hybrid war. Shortly before the announcement of the new mega project, a Polish soldier was attacked with a knife attached to a long tool.

Critics underline that no details of the project have been released, and it was launched two weeks before the elections.

European Affairs

EC Closes the Article 7 Procedure

The European Commission has announced it is taking the first steps to close the Article 7 procedure against Poland, indicating there is no longer a "clear risk of a serious breach of the rule of law" based on a set of legislative and non-legislative changes that Poland has proposed to reverse the negative trend. "Today, marks a new chapter for Poland", commented Commission president Ursula von der Leyen. "It is the result of their hard work and determined reform efforts. The ongoing restoration of the rule of law in Poland is great for the Polish people and for our Union as a whole", she added.

Polish government welcomed the decision to drop the rule of law case. It was one of the priorities of Donald Tusk and one of his main promises in the autumn campaign. Recently, Polish minister of Justice Adam Bodnar, during a meeting of the General Affairs Council of the European Union, presented Poland's Action Plan for restoring the rule of law. The main points of the reform concerned the Constitutional Tribunal, the National Council of the Judiciary, the Supreme Court, and the separation of the office of the Minister of Justice and the Prosecutor General. Since then, the Ministry of Justice has carried out legislative and non-legislative actions, which are implemented in respect of all principles expressed in the Constitution of the Republic of Poland, EU law and the principles arising from the case-law of the Court of Justice of the EU. “We do not waste a day working to restore the rule of law in Poland”, Bodnar argued, insisting that this is “a difficult, complicated process, (…) determined by different circumstances”.

This Action Plan and determination of the Tusk administration were enough for the EC to take action. However, none of the announced bills have been adopted and implemented. It is sure that they will be vetoed by President Andrzej Duda and/or declared unconstitutional by the politicized Constitutional Court. Bodnar commented that Poland may be forced to “wait for new president in 2025” to fully fix rule-of-law.

The European Commission launched the Article 7 TEU procedure against Poland in December 2017. In the proposal initiating the proceedings, the EC presented its concerns regarding Poland's respect for the rule of law. The EC observed back then that overhaul as undermining democratic checks and balances and bringing the courts under political influence.  Multiple legal cases followed the Article 7 activation, some still pending. EC also held back billions of euro in funds earmarked for Poland.

International Affairs

Restrictions of Movement of Russian Diplomats

Poland introduced restrictions on the movement of Russian diplomats on its territory. It is a consequence of Russian involvement in hybrid war against the EU, Polish foreign affairs minister Radosław Sikorski announced. This declaration came after Warsaw detained several people suspected of planning sabotage attacks on behalf of Russian security services (read more about fires and Polish judge who escaped to Belarus in other sections of this issue).

Polish diplomatic note mandates reporting the names, dates, purposes, and routes of those traveling, as well as information on their means of transport. These requirements apply to employees of the Russian embassy in Warsaw and the consulates general in Kraków, Gdańsk and Poznań. It does not affect the Russian ambassador.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced that it would take retaliatory measures against the Polish embassy in Moscow and the consulates general in St. Petersburg, Irkutsk and Kaliningrad.


Poland Attracts Migrants from Asia and America

According to the EWL Group employment agency and the University of Warsaw's Centre for East European Studies the number of guest workers from Asia and South America in Poland has risen five-fold over the last five years. In 2019, the number of work permits granted to employees from Asia and Latin America totaled fewer than 55.000 while in 2023 the figure jumped to 275.000. In the case of Latin American migrant workers, the growth dynamic had been as high as more than 20-fold.

EWL stresses that “immigrants from Asian and Latin American countries, despite a language barrier and a long employment process, show a strong desire to work in Poland, are satisfied with their employment in the country and plan to stay in Poland for the long term. The challenges the migrants are facing while working in Poland are the language barrier and the time-consuming employment process”. The president of EWL Group, Andrzek Korkus commented that Poland is attractive because of the record low unemployment, the record number of people are working in the Polish economy, and regardless the record low economic growth. “Despite its weak condition, our economy, our labor market, is exuberant”, he stressed.

According to data from the Social Insurance Institution, in 2023 the largest annual increase in the group of foreigners working in Poland was recorded by Colombians (215%), Nepalese (110%) and Argentineans (75%).


Poland Lost Two Music Giants

Polish composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek died in Kraków at the age of 71. He was born in Konin in 1953, and initially graduated with a degree in law. Shortly after finishing university he started working in music with the renowned adant-garde theater director Jerzy Grotowski. Later, he created his own ensemble, the Orchestra of the Eighth Day, which toured Europe, releasing an LP “Music for the End”. In 1989, Kaczmarek immigrated to the US. He composed in Hollywood, but not only. Among his film and television scores were “Unfaithful”, “Bliss”, “Aimee and Jaguar”, “The Visitor” and “Get Low”. His music for Marc Forster’s “Finding Neverland” won the Oscar and was nominated for a BAFTA and Golden Globe. The film received three other Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor for Johnny Depp.

Kaczmarek composed music for state occasions in Poland, including the Cantata for Freedom in celebration of the 25th anniversary of Solidarność (2005). In the early 2000s, Kaczmarek founded Instytut Rozbitek for the development of new work in the areas of music, film, theater and new media. He later founded and served as creative director of the Transatlantyk Poznań International Film and Music Festivals (2011-12).


Polish saxophone player, composer, conductor and broadcaster Jan ‘Ptaszyn’ Wróblewski died in Warsaw at the age of 88. He made his professional debut in 1956, playing baritone saxophone in the famous Krzysztof Komeda Sextet. In 1958, ‘Ptaszyn’ was selected as the Polish representative to the International Newport Band, which played at the prestigious Newport Festival. Over seven decades of his professional career he performed at world’s top jazz festivals, leading combos and playing with the most feted musicians.

Paweł Brodowski, editor-in-chief of the Jazz Forum magazine said: ''It may be hard to believe, but when Jan 'Ptaszyn' Wróblewski started playing music, jazz was censored in Poland. As a result of Stalin’s cultural politicy that governed what kinds of art and culture could be consumed in the country, anything that may have been associated with western imperialism was formally excluded from public life. However, these rigid policies only made jazz more appealing, leading many young people across the country, like Ptaszyn, to fall in love with it”.

Since 1970 he has been creating Trzy quadranse jazzu (Three Quarters of Jazz) on Polish Radio, the longest-running music programme in the history of Polish radio.

Poland & Germany

Polish Cellist in Charge of Cologne’s Philharmonics

Cultural manager, educated as cellist, Ewa Bogusz-Moore, will become the next general and artistic director of Cologne’s Philharmonic. Before her new role, she was in charge of the Polish Radio’s National Symphony Orchestra and served as joint CEO of the European Union Youth Orchestra. She is a former deputy director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute, which promotes Polish culture abroad, and was first entrusted with the task of developing the strategy of promoting Polish classical music throughout the world. At the same time, she took up the post of manager of I, CULTURE Orchestra.


New President of the European Federation of Academies of Sciences

The General Assembly of the European Federation of Academies of Sciences and Humanities (ALLEA), convened in Berlin to commemorate its 30th anniversary and inaugurate a new president and board. Polish Earth scientist Paweł Rowiński assumed the role of the its eighth president.

Rowiński previously held the position of vice-president at the Polish Academy of Sciences from 2015 to 2022, and serves as the Director of the academy’s Institute of Geophysics in Warsaw. His research interests include mathematical methods in geophysics, geophysical flows, river hydrodynamics, and fluvial hydraulics.

Following his election, Rowiński commented: “As international collaboration faces increasing challenges, cross-border cooperation among academies becomes more vital than ever. I am committed to working closely with all ALLEA members to ensure that the voice of the academies continues to be heard”. Two of his priorities will be to strengthen the voice of Central and Eastern Europe in the Federation and engage all member academies in rebuilding Ukrainian science after the war. He also announced ALLEA will open an office in Warsaw.

ALLEA was founded in 1994 and brings together 59 learned academies from about 40 European countries. The ALLEA secretariat is based on the premises of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin.

Party Support

European Elections, Opinia24 for Gazeta Wyborcza


Civic Coalition                               32,1%

PiS                                                29,8%

Confederation                                   9%

Third Way                                       8,9%

Left                                                  7,7%