From Poland With Love – December
Topic of the Month
An independent prosecutor, campaign manager of the biggest opposition block and a lawyer defending top democratic politicians are targets of phone-hacking using Pegasus spyware.
Pegasus uses known or unknown security weaknesses in devices of targets, to gain access to them: is able to spy on iPhones and Android smartphones in real time, it can record conversations, record geographic data and secretly active cameras. Computer scientists say there is no protection against such spyware. It is a powerful tool of malware developed by Israeli firm NSO Group that is sold mainly to governments. NSO has said its product is only used to fight terrorists and drug rings.
Citizen Lab, an internet watchdog of the University of Toronto, that has been investigating the use of Pegasus by authoritarian governments, announced that among first confirmed victims of phone-hacking in Poland are prosecutor Ewa Wrzosek, lawyer Roman Giertych and senator Krzysztof Brejza.
Wrzosek is a well-known independent prosecutor who opposes the PiS government’s controversial judicial reforms. She was labeled by PiS an enemy when she started investigation against the canceled 2020 presidential elections (that cost Polish taxpayers over EUR 15 million). Giertych is a former education minister (back then in far right League of the Polish Families, PiS coalition partner) who has been acting as lawyer for key opposition politicians, including Donald Tusk and former foreign minister Radosław Sikorski MEP. Giertych also defended a businessman from Austria who revealed the involvement of Jarosław Kaczyński in a real estate corruption scandal. Finally, Brejza was one of the most popular young MPs who was appointed Civic Coalition’s campaign chief in 2019 elections.
In Brejza’s case, his phone was digitally broken in 33 times from April 26, 2019, to October 23, 2019. During this period, the Polish state-owned broadcaster TVP accused Brejza of waging a vitriolic campaign against his political enemies, citing bogus emails to substantiate this claim. The Polish parliamentary were held on October 13 and gave victory to PiS. Civic Coalition politicians declare now that the elections were rigged as PiS had full access to all their campaign communication; they even call it “a Polish Watergate”.
Poland’s Supreme Audit Office (NIK) announced that it would re-open an investigation into the previously discovered invoice to purchase Pegasus. The daily Gazeta Wyborcza published a report, which claims that auditors had discovered an invoice for PLN 33,4 million (ca. EUR 7,2 million) to purchase a surveillance system for the Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) in 2018. At that time, NIK had assessed that the financing was illegal as the money came from a justice ministry’s special fund to support victims of crime. Head of NIK Marian Banaś called the situation “one of the most serious crises of democracy” in Poland.
CBA bought Pegasus not long after then Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (and prime minister Victor Orban) met with then Polish prime minister Beata Szydło in 2017.
Polish secret services’ spokesman Stanislaw Żaryn neither confirmed nor denied whether the government ordered the hacks. Prime Mateusz Morawiecki characterized the first cases of Pegasus hacking on Polish anti-government figures as “fake news”. "Of course, the agencies will certainly clear up this case to the very end and I'm convinced that there is more untrue than true information among what's been appearing in the public domain, but I have also asked the agencies to clear it up", he added.
Concerns around spyware pushed Israeli company to tighten its rules on exporting such technology to authoritarian regimes. Hungary and Poland are among the countries whose licenses have been revoked. However, this is not enough. In November 2021, Apple filed a federal lawsuit against NSO, seeking a permanent injunction against the company’s use of Apple products and services (Apple also warned prosecutor Wrzosek that her phone had been hacked). Amazon Web Services has blocked all accounts connected NSO Group, and the US Treasury Department has moved to block exports or other transactions with the company, calling it a threat to “the rules-based international order”. Also EU is analyzing the case. "I don't really have an idea on how to forbid this", German MEP Moritz Körner of Renew Europe told Politico, who follows digital surveillance issues in the civil liberties committee.
Security expert Piotr Niemczyk from the liberal Nowoczesna party stresses that other alternatives to spyware are already on the market: North Macedonian-based cybersecurity company Cytrox has already developed Predator that works exactly the same way as Pegasus.
Duda’s First Actual Veto
President Andrzej Duda vetoed a media ownership law, known as Anti-TVN Law.
The law, which was surprisingly adopted by Sejm and Senate earlier in December, would have prevented companies from outside the European Economic Area from holding a controlling stake in Polish media companies. PiS had argued the law would protect Polish democracy from potentially hostile actors such as Russia or China. But as a matter of fact, it was intended to hit one single company, US-owned Discovery group who is an owner of one of the most popular private channels in Poland, TVN, and the most popular news tv, TVN24, whose reporters have often been critical of the populist government.
Thousands of Poles all over the country against the law, with many in the crowd waving EU flags and holding signs emblazoned with the TVN logo. Deputy president of the European Commission Vera Jourova warned Poland against limiting media freedom and failing to comply with the EU law. US State Department called on Warsaw to think carefully before moving forward with a law that could "erode foreign investors' confidence in their property rights and the sanctity of contracts in Poland".
Duda said he recognized that the bill would have been a blow to his country's reputation as a place to do business. "I believe that generally limiting the possibility of holding shares or stocks in media companies is sensible when it comes to foreign capital", Poland’s president said. "I share the opinion that it should be introduced in Poland, but for the future", he added.
Jake Sullivan, Joe Biden's national security advisor, spoke with two key Polish officials over the phone and told them that Biden "appreciated" the veto. "The veto sent a positive signal just before Poland takes over the Chair of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe on January 1", said a US National Security Council spokesperson.
Reporters without Borders (RSF), a media rights watchdog, stated the veto was "good news for press freedom, which is in dire straits in Poland".
It is commented that the veto was not agreed with PiS and Jarosław Kaczyński. It is said to be a sign of a decomposition and chaos within the right-wing coalition, and that Andrzej Duda is securing his own political future after the second term but also professional/political future of his daughter.
The European Commission has approved the merger of Discovery and Warner Media. The merger plans for Discovery and WarnerMedia, which are owned by AT&T, were announced by the two companies in May 2021. The AT&Tshareholders will own 71% shares in the new company upon completion of the transaction, while Discovery shareholders – 29%. The telecommunication giant has already completed the acquisition of TimeWarner, HBO, TNT, CNN and Warner Bros.
“People will not survive such price increases”
Electricity bills will rise by about 24% net and gas bills for households will surge by 54% net in 2022 after Poland's regulator (URE) approved new tariffs. Bills for businesses will rise significantly more. Among the reasons for the raise, the URE named rising prices of future contracts for electricity and the soaring prices of the EU's CO2 emissions, which tripled between May 2019 and November 2021.
The increase means that a consumer using gas just to prepare meals will pay in average PLN 9 (EUR 2) per month more for their gas, while those who use a lot of gas, for example to heat their homes, will pay some PLN 56 (EUR 11) more. But media keep informing about households who received new gas bills facing increases of several hundred percent as some housing associations and residential communities were treated by gas suppliers are normal businesses entities.
Opposition leader Donald Tusk has accused the government of overseeing a steep rise in energy prices. “Are you all crazy?” Tusk asked in his Christmas address. “People will not survive such price increases”, he added.
Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki answered that the increases are Russia and EU’s fault. He also criticized Tusk as European People’s Party’s leader for not doing anything to improve the EU Emissions Trading System.
Inflation in Poland reached 7,8% in November, the highest figure for two decades. Adam Glapiński, the governor of the National Bank of Poland, forecasted that it would average 7,6% in 2022, with a peak of 8,3% in June.
Łukasz Mejza, deputy sport and tourism minister has resigned following allegations that a medical company he owned offered dangerous treatments for incurable illnesses.
The wp.pl web portal reported that, before taking up his ministerial position Mejza had run a medical company which specialized in offering expensive, unproven treatments for diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and cancer. He promised his clients recovery for very high fees.
Additionally, another public relations and training business he co-owned allegedly could not account for all of the European Union regional development subsidies it had received.
Mejza’s name became a synonym of corruption and fraud. Opposition demanded his immediate dismissal. Public opinion supported this call and it is reported that Jarosław Kaczyński was angry that the government services didn’t scan the controversial MP properly. PiS was not able to defend its deputy minister any longer.
Mejza wrote on Twitter that he is innocent and needs time to defend his “good name”. He requested temporary leave from his parliamentary duties. Later, government’s spokesman Piotr Mueller said that Mateusz Morawiecki had dismissed Mejza from the position of deputy sport and tourism minister.
Mejza replaced one of the agrarian PSL MPs, and in October joined Jarosław Kaczyński’s team. He backed the government that needed his vote after Jarosław Gowin and his Agreement party left the majority in the Sejm. As a reward, he became a junior minister.
Five MPs and senators have left the Left parliamentary group and launch a Polish Socialist Party (PPS) parliamentary circle. The group includes deputy speaker of the Senate Gabriela Morawska-Stanecka, senator Wojciech Konieczny, as well as popular MPs Joanna Senyszyn, Robert Kwiatkowski and Andrzej Rozenek. Senyszyn and Rozenek joined marginal PPS party lead by Konieczny, and two remaining politicians became independent.
As a result of Morawska-Stanecka and Konieczny's move, the Left has lost its only two senators and is not any longer part of the Opposition Block’s majority in the Senate.
The departure was a consequence of a creeping conflict between one of the co-leaders of the New Left party (created in autumn 2021 after a merger of the Social Democratic Alliance and the Spring), Włodzimierz Czarzasty and many MPs. Czarzasty used all tricks allowed by the party statute to quell the rebellion of some of the younger MPs. E.g. Andrzej Rozenek faced being removed from the party for criticizing the leader for seemingly negotiating with PiS.
Additionally, Morawska-Stanecka accused Czarzasty of blackmailing her, verbal attacks and sexism. Neither she nor anybody from the remaining departing MPs was defended publicly by Robert Biedroń, the other co-leader of the New Left.
The Left parliamentary group, composed of the New Left party and far-left Razem, counts now 44 members (7 down from 51 in 2019).
Zero VAT on Food
Seeking for measures to fight inflation that is the highest in two decades prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki has urged the EU to allow it to lower VAT on fuel and some types of food, such as meat, bread, milk, and vegetables.
During a December summit in Brussels Morawiecki had petitioned the European Commission to allow for a temporary lowering of VAT on fuel from the current 23% to 8%, and on food from 5% to zero. “After my talks with President von der Leyen and Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni today, I am a cautious optimist that here we will achieve our goal”, he commented.
Commissioner Gentiloni has been quoted as saying zero VAT for food would be legalized for member states in the future and Poland’s finance minister Tadeusz Kosciński announced that Poland had tacit approval from Brussels for the VAT change and it will be introduced in February, for six months.
Poland & Germany
Scholz and Baerbock in Warsaw
After first stops in Paris and Brussels, the new Germany’s foreign minister Annalena Baerbock has visited Warsaw.
She met with her counterpart, Zbigniew Rau, to discuss the cooperation between the two countries over the situation at the Poland-Belarus border. Baerbock called on Warsaw to allow humanitarian aid for migrants in on the border. She confirmed Berlin’s full solidarity with Poland and the Baltic States in this conflict provoked by Belarus. “I would like to make it clear, that in view of the freezing temperatures in the border area, humanitarian aid is available on both sides of the border”, she stressed.
New Green minister also brought up the divisive topic of judicial independence and the primacy of EU law. She called the dispute between Warsaw and Brussels "uncomfortable" and said she is relying on a joint negotiated solution.
On the other side, minister Rau congratulated his German counterpart on assuming the office and stressed issues such as the Polish minority’s rights in Germany, the commemoration of Polish victims of the Second World War, reparations and war compensation for Poland.
The issue of Nord Stream 2 could not have been avoided. Baerbock shared Poland’s concerns and its critical stance towards the pipeline. “We are content with such an unambiguous position on the project’s implementation and hope it will be clearly demonstrated by the German government’s actions”, highlighted minister Rau.
The latter topic was one of the most important ones during the German chancellor’s visit to Poland that took place only a few days later. "It is important that Europe makes clear together that we will not accept this and that we do not agree with what is happening there", Olaf Scholz referred to threats of Russian invasion on Ukraine. And he added: “We continue to feel responsible for ensuring that Ukraine's gas transit business remains successful". "We will also help Ukraine be a country that will be a major source of renewable energy and the necessary production that results from that. We are in concrete talks around how we can help achieve that", chancellor concluded.
After a meeting with Mateusz Morawiecki, Scholz reaffirmed Germany's commitment to a cooperative partnership and declared hope that progress can be made in the dispute over democracy and the rule of law. "Europe is a community of values and law. We are united by the idea of the rule of law and democracy", he said. Conversely, minister Mateusz Morawiecki said the new German government’s support for European federalism is “utopian and therefore dangerous”.
At the end of the visit, Scholz lied a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
On the other hand, Jarosław Kaczyński accused Germany of trying to turn the European Union into a federalist "Fourth German Reich" in an interview with far right Gazeta Polska Codziennie. There are countries that "are not enthusiastic about the prospect of building a German Fourth Reich on the basis of the EU", PiS leader and deputy prime minister said.
According to Kaczyński the term "Fourth German Reich" "has nothing negative about it, as it is not the Third Reich but the First", i.e. the Holy Roman Empire.
He added that the European Court of Justice has been used as an "instrument" for federalist ideas.
European Far-Rights Summit
Leading far-right, alt-right and populist right politicians from all over European Union met for a summit in Warsaw. The meeting was hosted by Jarosław Kaczyński and the most prominent guests were France's Marine Le Pen, Hungary's prime minister Viktor Orban, and Santiago Abascal from the Spain's Vox party. Leaders of Austria's Freedom Party (FPÖ), Estonian Conservative People's Party and Belgium's Vlaams Belang were also there together with other less significant politicians (in total 16 parties). Represenatatives of the Alternative for Germany (AfD) and Italy's Lega were absent.
The "Warsaw Summit of Conservative Leaders of Europe" adopted a short declaration, which spoke out against" the – disturbing for them – idea of creating a Europe governed by a self-appointed elite". It attacked "social-engineering" on the European level that "detach[es] a human being from their culture and heritage". It also defended regimes from Warsaw and Budapest from Brussels’ attacks based on the protection of the rule of law.
It was an important event for PiS to show to their electorate that they are not alone in Europe, as the opposition always presents, and that they build alternative alliances that can reshape Europe in the near future.
The most important and much expected result, a creation of a new political party and a group in the European Parliament, was not accomplished. And this is why the summit has been described as a failure by many political commentators. Currently, two far-right groups, European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) and Identity and Democracy (ID) each have slightly less than 70 MEPs. Together with 133 MEPs they would become third biggest group.
Polish opposition attacked the summit as an anti-European event that pushes Poland away from the EU and drives into the arms of Vladimir Putin. In this context, especially the presence of Marine Le Pen was stressed. Her party in recent years took millions of euros of Russian money. PiS politicians were angry answering questions about Le Pen’s connections with Kremlin underlining that Le Pen “doesn't work for any Russian energy firms, unlike many politicians in the European People's Party or the European social-democrats".
Another Infringement Procedure
The European Commission launched an infringement procedure against Poland over rulings by the Constitutional Tribunal in July and October that challenged the primacy of EU law over national law (read more in the October issue of the Newsletter). “The Commission considers that these rulings of the Constitutional Tribunal are in breach of the general principles of autonomy, primacy, effectiveness and uniform application of Union law and the binding effect of rulings of the Court of Justice of the European Union”, the Commission said. “The Commission has serious doubts on the independence and impartiality of the Constitutional Tribunal and considers that it no longer meets the requirements of a tribunal previously established by law,” the Commission concluded.
Former Polish prime minister Beata Szydlo MEP said, “This is no longer a legal dispute, it is an attack on the Polish constitution and the foundations of Polish statehood”. Her successor Mateusz Morawiecki noted the legal action showed that “a trend for bureaucratic centralism is unfortunately progressing in Brussels but it has to be stopped.” And he added: “More and more EU member states are seeing that there should be a limit to competences – what the European Union can decide on and what the Polish state can decide on”.
Polish government has two months to reply to the letter of formal notice. If the Commission is not satisfied with the reply, it can send a reasoned opinion requesting it to comply with EU law, again with a two-month reply period. After that, the Commission can sue Poland in the European Court of Justice (ECJ), which can impose daily fines.
Russia Responds to a Polish Deserter
Russia has called for an international investigation into allegations of abuses by Poland of migrants and refugees who have been trying to cross its border from Belarus. Russia did that in response to claims made by a Polish soldier Emil Cz. who fled to Belarus seeking asylum. In interviews with state-owned media from Minks and Moscow he has claimed that Poland has carried out, among others, mass killings of migrants.
The official representative of the Russian ministry of foreign affairs Maria Zakharova said: “We really share Minsk's determination to have an international investigation launched into the use of pesticides by the Polish security forces on the border on 16 November, as a result of which 132 refugees, including 23 children, received chemical burns and lung problems. And we would like our Western partners to show the documents allowing this (they are people acting in the right way, aren't they)? The documents of the EU, NATO, for example? Maybe some additional interpretations? It is common for them to adopt certain interpretations of international agreements at the national level or in regional associations. Maybe they have some secret clauses allowing such things?”
Emil Cz. has also claimed that Polish army killed two humanitarian volunteers near the border. Nevertheless, there have been no reports of any volunteers going missing. Polish defense ministry announced that the ex-soldier had been facing legal problems - was convicted of physical and psychological abuse of his mother and for driving under the influence of alcohol and marijuana. The question remains how come a person known for such inacceptable behavior could still serve in the army and be placed to work at the border in very difficult conditions.
Scientists from Polish Geological Institute-National Research Institute discovered hundreds of dinosaur footprints, representing at least seven species, in a mine in Borkowice (east-central Poland). They are estimated to be 199 million years old (from the early Jurassic period called the Hettangian Age).
The largest footprints of carnivorous dinosaurs are 40 cm long. The quality of preservation is equal to the best-known specimens from other continents. They are so well preserved that the skin can be seen in detail.
The geologists believe that there may be thousands more significant fossils in Borkowice.
Bambini with a Record
Bambini, a piece of art by Magdelena Abakanowicz has broken the record for the highest price ever paid for artwork at auction in Poland after selling for PLN 12 million (ca. EUR 2,6 million). It is a huge installation of 83 child-size figures (109 cm high and made of concrete, resin and wood) created between 1998 and 1999. Bambini, made for the Palais-Royal Garden in Paris, has been widely exhibited internationally, including on the roof of Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City in 1998, in the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid in 2008.
Former Abakanowicz’s auction record was set only in October. Her Crowd III, sold for PLN11million (EUR 2,4 million).
Abakanowicz, who died in 2017, was a painter, weaver and sculptor, and was often referred to as the "total" artist. The revolution she initiated when she first showed her work at the 1962 Tapestry Biennale in Lausanne had a major impact on the development of this art worldwide. She coined the term “Abakans,” after her last name, to refer to her earliest major works.
Public Enemy #1
The most successful Brazilian football club, Flamengo from Rio de Janeiro, announced that Paulo Sousa is their new coach. It happened only hours after Sousa paid a release clause to quit his job as coach of Poland's national team.
Poland's football federation (PZPN) announced Sousa's departure on social media and said the coach would have to pay PLN 2 million (ca. EUR 0,45 million) compensation. PZPN president Cezary Kulesza called Sousa’s decision “extremely irresponsible”.
Sousa guided Poland to six wins (Andorra, San Marino and Albania), five draws and four defeats in 15 matches as they finished second behind England in their 2022 World Cup qualifying group. Polish team face Russia in a playoff next March.
Captain of the Polish national team Robert Lewandowski was reported to be shocked by Sousa’s decision. So was most of the Polish football fans, calling Sousa a traitor and a charmer.
Polls & Trends
IPSOS for OKO.press, 28.12.2021
Civic Coalition 26%
Poland 2050 13%