In our new Newsletter our guest contributor, Dr. Milosz Hodun, will give us monthly updates about current news, events and all other things you need to know about Poland.
Read it here!
Topic of the month _______________________________________________________________
New law on National Remembrance
For years Polish officials have struggled to fight phrases like “Polish death camps” that are sometimes used abroad to refer to Auschwitz and other concentration camps that Third Reich built and operated on occupied Polish territory during World War II. To combat such statement Polish parliament passed amendment to the Law on the Institute of National Remembrance. The law imposes sanctions up to three years of imprisonment to anyone who attributes “responsibility or co-responsibility to the Polish nation or state for crimes committed by the German Third Reich”.
The government explains that the law concerns only the protection of the “Polish state and nation”. Contrary to what its critics say, it does not protect individual Polish citizens who committed crimes against Jews, nor does it ban anyone – especially the survivors – from speaking about the cruelty and injustice which they experienced. But the unfortunate wording of the law raises concern that the new legislation will criminalise speaking about the negative involvement of Poles in the Holocaust and suspend free inquiry of scientists and intellectuals who wish to deal with this aspect of Polish history. Israel says the law could criminalise some survivors whose testimony implicates Poles.
The law was adopted by the Sejm on the eve of the Holocaust Remembrance Day, January 27th. Since that time, it has caused an array of diplomatic scandals between Poland, on the one side, and Israel and Ukraine, on the other – although these two states were defending various historical narratives. United States secretary of state and Canada and France’s foreign affairs ministers expressed reservations about the amendment.
The law is also highly controversial in Poland. The opposition criticizes it for not having been consulted with international partners. Also many NGOs and informal groups protest. A group of Poles who risked their lives during the war hiding Jews wrote a letter asking the government not to rewrite the history.
New Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki trying to explain the government’s intention and repair relations with Israel accidentally added fuel to the fire saying that Jews were among the perpetrators of the Holocaust, referring to Jews who had worked as police in the ghettos. Answering to that Benjamin Netanyahu said the remark was “unacceptable” and tantamount to denying the Holocaust.
Senior Israeli and Polish diplomats met in Jerusalem on the first day of March in a bid to resolve differences. Deputy foreign minister Bartosz Cichocki led the visiting Polish delegation, while Foreign Ministry Director General Yuval Rotem headed Israel’s team.
The new law took effect on March 1st. An Argentinian newspaper became the first outlet to be targeted by it. Polish League Against Defamation (RDI), a non-profit which is close to PiS government, lodged a case under the new law against the website of Pagina 12, a newspaper in Argentina.
An important fact is that when Poland’s president Andrzej Duda signed the law he also sent it to the Constitutional Tribunal for review. Polish officials have said no criminal charges will be brought until the court has made its ruling, expected in several weeks. The Tribunal is dominated by judges dependent on the PiS’s will and it is expected that according to PM Morawiecki’s will the court will rule the law unconstitutional to repair damages in international relations.
Poland is home to some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the European Union. In Poland, the procedure is only permitted if the mother’s health is at risk, there’s a fetal abnormality, or the pregnancy results from rape or incest. Even then, it is difficult to find a doctor who will perform the procedure and many Polish women cross the border with Germany or the Czech Republic to seek help (even more use underground clinics in Poland).
In late January the Sejm rejected a bill that would increase women’s access to abortion, provide free and accessible contraception, offer emergency contraception without prescription, and incorporate comprehensive sex education at school. The bill had received signature support from over 400.000 people. Instead, legislation is moving forward in Poland’s parliament that would further restrict abortion rights by banning the procedure for fetuses with congenital disorders.
Because of the fact that many opposition MPs voted against the civic proposal of increasing women’s rights, or did not vote at all, the main opposition parties – both liberal Nowoczesna and center-right Civic Platform – lost big parts of social support and their credibility among progressive voters.
It is important to remind that in 2016 PiS’s majority in the parliament almost passed a full ban of abortion in Poland. But then the law collapsed after senior politicians from PiS backed away from it after a parliamentary committee urged MPs to vote it down following mass protests. About 30.000 people, many dressed in black, gathered in wretched weather in Warsaw’s Old Town, and many more in dozens of locations around the country, chanting among others “We want doctors, not missionaries!”.
Foreign Affairs ____________________________________________________________________
Rule of law is a key principle in democratic states that ensures the independence of the judiciary system. Article 2 of the Treaty on European Union mentions respect for the rule of law as one of the values the EU is founded on. A breach of EU values justifies a reaction at EU level and this is what the procedure under Article 7 of the Treaty on European Union aims to achieve.
Since 2015, the European Commission has been concerned about the independence of Poland’s Constitutional Tribunal and courts because of several changes in legislation. The Commission has since issued four recommendations but has not been satisfied with Poland’s response. Article 7 is triggered against the Polish government, a move that could result in the suspension of its voting rights in the EU, unless it concedes ground by March 20. Commission’s decision is backed by Germany and France.
Taking away Poland’s EU voting rights would still be unlikely as it would require agreement from all the member states. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has said he would block any such action against his Polish ally. It also looks like changes in government in Warsaw were made to prepare Poland for a long game with Brussels. Not only the new Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki is a polyglot who understands nuances of international politics and started meeting European leaders to change Poland’s image, but also the ministers who were the most controversial for Brussels (but the justice minister) were replace with more moderate PiS politicians. Morawiecki in his latest step in the PR offensive is drawing up a “white book,” which intends to deliver to the other EU member states, explaining why Poland adopted the measures. One goal is to illustrate similarities between the Polish overhaul and existing judicial systems in other EU countries.
The European Parliament voted on March 1st 422 in favor to 147 against, with 48 abstentions, on a nonbinding resolution to support the Commission’s action against Poland.
Sunday shopping ban
Last year Polish parliament adopted a law that will gradually impose a ban on Sunday shopping, meeting the demand of its Catholic supporters and labor unions. Under the new proposal, retail businesses will be required to close for two Sundays a month from March 2018. Smaller businesses, however, are exempt from the new regulations.
Anyone infringing the new rules faces a fine of up to PLN 100.000 (EUR 24.000). Repeat offenders may face a prison sentence.
From 2019, the new legislation will allow shopping malls to stay open just one Sunday per month. From 2020, shopping malls will be allowed to operate only 7 Sundays per year.
A survey by state-run pollster CBOS showed that 58 percent of Poles supported curbs on Sunday shopping. A poll by private pollster Kantar TNS showed 76 percent backed a solution that would guarantee two free Sundays per month for retail sector employees without any curbs on shopping.
A Polish-British motion picture entitled Loving Vincent has been nominated for an Academy Award.
“Loving Vincent,” the film by Polish director Dorota Kobiela and British director Hugh Welchman is the first of its kind — the world’s first fully painted feature film. The plot revolves around the murder mystery that surrounded the circumstances of Vincent van Gogh’s death, in 1890. The story explores the sub plots through a vantage point. The film is created based on 65.000 frames and each of its 65.000 frames is an oil painting on canvas.
“Loving Vincent” achieved great financial success in the history of Polish cinema, raising the bar and assuring $20 million worldwide at the box office, and in US alone, the film took in $6 million.
Germany and Poland ____________________________________________________________
Morawiecki in Berlin
On February 16th PM Mateusz Morawiecki paid his first visit to Berlin aiming at repairing bilateral relations. The visit help building new relations between Warsaw and Berlin but showed how many different positions there is between the governments. Records of divergences are as follows:
Nord Stream 2. According to Angela Merkel the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Germany and Russia poses no threat to Europe’s energy security. Germany has focused more on the commercial benefits of the pipeline. Mateusz Morawiecki said he fears the pipeline to be laid under the Baltic Sea would increase Europe’s dependence on Russian gas and could cut off Ukraine from gas transit fees. Morawiecki also presented himself as an advocate of Ukraine and the Baltic states in this case.
Regarding refugees and immigration crisis, Angela Merkel said both countries wanted to strengthen the EU’s outside borders and to “combat the causes of flight” in parts of Africa and the Middle East. As of February 16th, 2018, Poland has not taken in a single refugee in the Emergency Relocation Mechanism from Italy or Greece. Germany would like if countries accepting larger number of refugees were rewarded with more EU regional aid, the Financial Times reported. The plan is preliminary but there have been an increasing number of signs that Berlin is adamant on such a tough position in this respect.
Morawiecki defended Poland’s controversial judicial reforms while Angela Merkel deferred judgment on the matter to Brussels.
Morawiecki was later on Friday to take part in a major security conference in Munich.
German war reparations
Even though the topic was not mentioned during the Berlin visit it is still played internally by PiS.
Last year, an analysis by Polish parliamentary experts said that the Polish government is entitled to demand that Germany pays reparations for the massive damage it inflicted on Poland between 1939 and 1945. In September 2017, ex-PM Beata Szydło said Poland deserves reparations from Germany but indicated her government had not yet made a final decision on pressing claims. Arkadiusz Mularczyk MP is in charge of a unit tasked with calculating the cost of Germany’s war damages. On March 2nd an official said Friday that Germany could owe Poland $850 billion for the damage it inflicted during World War II.
On February 21st Germany’s ambassador to Warsaw Rolf Nikel said in an interview for TVN that the matter of war reparations for Poland is “legally and politically closed”.
Polls & trends _____________________________________________________________________
Support for political parties
Source: Kantar Millward Brown for “Fakty TVN”, 22.02.2018
PiS (ECR) 40% (+2)
PO (EPP) 16% (-4)
Nowoczesna (ALDE) 8% (-)
Kukiz’15 6% (-)
PSL (EPP) 5% (-)
SLD (S&D) 3% (-5)
Wolność (EFDD) 3% (-)
Razem 3% (-)
Public trust in politicians
Source: CBOS, 1-8.02.2018
Trust Neutral Don’t trust
Andrzej Duda (president) 72% 9% 17%
Mateusz Morawiecki (PM) 64% 15% 13%
Beata Szydło (ex-PM) 58% 12% 28%
Paweł Kukiz 49% 19% 23%
Katarzyna Lubnauer 24% 15% 25%
Grzegorz Schetyna 22% 20% 48%
About the author _________________________________________________________________
Expert at the Nowoczesna party. PhD, formerly a part-time teacher at Reykjavik University School of Law. His main areas of interest are comparative constitutional law and federalism. Board member of Projekt: Polska Association. Until September 2015, he worked as an expert within “Presidential Experts’ Programme” at the Chancellery of the President of the Republic of Poland.