In our Poland Newsletter guest contributor Dr. Milosz Hodun is giving us monthly updates about current news, events and all other things you need to know about Poland.
Topic of the month
Corruption on the Top
Marek Chrzanowski was appointed in 2016 by Beata Szydło, the PiS’s former prime minister to be the director of the Financial Supervision Authority (KNF) that ensures proper banking practices. He was reportedly recommended for the post by the governor of the National Bank of Poland, Adam Glapinski, who had been appointed by the ruling party, too.
In March 2018 Chrzanowski met in his office with Leszek Czarnecki, one of the wealthiest Poles, CEO of Idea Bank and Getin Noble Bank. Czarnecki secretly recorded their conversation. The banker equipped himself with three recording devices but only one worked. Later all recording was published by independent media, firstly Gazeta Wyborcza. Chrzanowski suggested Getin Noble Bank to hire a specific lawyer and pay him a fee worth the equivalent of 1% of the bank’s market capitalization in exchange for “support. . . and protection” from the regulator. 1%of Getin’s market capitalization on the day of the meeting was about 40 million zloty (EUR 9 millions).
In an immediate statement, the KNF denied any corruption, calling the newspaper reports an effort to blackmail KNF. Chrzanowski later told the state Polish Press Agency that he has offered his resignation and added that Czarnecki’s accusations are “dishonest and groundless.”
The lawyer named in the document, Grzegorz Kowalczyk, told media the newspaper reports were the first time he had heard of the allegations. It became public that Kowalczyk, well connected to PiS, in 2017 was appointed to Warsaw Stock Exchange supervisory board and in 2018 to Plus Bank’s supervisory board. Plus Bank belongs to Zygmunt Solorz-Żak, owner of Polsat, a TV station that has been favorable towards PiS for last months.
The PiS government tried to make impression that it won’t sweep the scandal under the carpet. Chrzanowski resigned from his post. “No matter who is affected by the investigation, unlike the opposition we won’t be looking at party IDs,” Justice Minister and Chief Prosecutor Zbigniew Ziobro told reporters. “We’ll be as effective as always, no matter who is affected — people nominated by the previous administration, members of the former government or of the current government or people tied to it.”
Poland’s Central Anticorruption Bureau (CBA) has detained Chrzanowski, on corruption charges. The CBA confirmed the arrest in a statement on November 27: “The detained former KNF chairman will be taken to the prosecutor’s office in Katowice, where he will face charges.” To prevent further damage to either the Polish banking sector or its own political reputation, PiS will hope to conclude the investigation and charge Chrzanowski as quickly and quietly as possible.
This issue is a great trouble for PiS. During last three years in office, Kaczyński and his group have portrayed themselves as the party cleaning up Poland’s institutions after the 8 years of PO-PSL coalition government. Also, PiS remembers well how a recorded corruption scandal destroyed a social democratic government in 2003.
The case will also be a test for the Polish justice system, brought under much tighter political control thanks to changes brought in by the PiS government.
The opposition is calling for special investigation committee by the parliament and demission of the governor of the National Bank.
Shares in Czarnecki’s banks rallied on news of Chrzanowski’s detention. They fell by more than a fifth on Wednesday, a day after the boss of Poland’s financial watchdog quit. The sharp fall in the bank’s share price adds to the challenges facing the loss-making lender, which has a credit portfolio with a significant number of bad loans.
Finance Minister Teresa Czerwińska promised to support the two banks with liquidity if needed.
Many economists worry about the scandal’s impact on Poland’s business reputation. When PiS came to power, some political risk analysts feared that the party’s stated aim of “re-polonising” industries such as banking and media would drive out Western investors and spook top businesses operating in other areas, imperiling the country’s economic growth. About 30% of banking assets in Poland are under state control. The government bought a 33% stake in second biggest lender Bank Pekao in 2017 from Italy’s UniCredit in a 10,6 billion zloty (EUR 250 million) deal. The government then felt able to claim domestic ownership had risen to 55%.
The European Banking Authority (EBA) said recently that stress tests showed Polish banks had a high degree of resilience in the event of a macroeconomic shock. PKO BP, Poland’s biggest lender, was the most resilient bank in the tests, while Bank Pekao ranked third.
Further reading on scandal’s consequences for the industry.
One Step Back
President Andrzej Duda signed a law formally reinstating over two dozen of the country’s Supreme Court judges, who had been removed from the bench earlier in 2018 under a new law cutting their mandatory retirement age from 70 to 65. Duda put his signature to the amendment just hours after the European Court of Justice (EJC) ordered Poland to reinstate judges who had been forced to retire or face financial penalties.
Emotionally it was a very hard decision for Duda since he was the author of the controversial law (after he had vetoed the original PiS version thereof). He suggested that Poland was implementing the injunction only to relieve pressure from Brussels for now, not because it agreed with the decision politically, and that the ruling would not derail the government’s platform. “I’ve decided that it is necessary to comply with the injunction, irrespective of whether it should have been given by the ECJ… and whether it goes beyond the tribunal’s competencies,” he told state agency PAP. Later, in an awkward speech at the Constitutional Tribunal (fully dependent on PiS) he said: “We have a situation where some elitist judges consider themselves to be above Polish law just because they do not like it.”
Duda’s words prove disagreement in the PiS camp as regarding the path to be taken on the future of the Polish judiciary. While the government decided to follow the ECJ’s order, they’re not happy about it and will likely argue before the court next year that their changes to the judicial system do not in fact contravene the aquis. Deputy justice minister Marcin Warchol criticized the court on Monday, saying: “The tribunal is … testing on our country certain ideas that are, unfortunately, connected to a super state and creating a supranational system that the EU is.”
PiS launched already its European Parliament campaign with a big convention “Poland in the Heart of Europe” where it presented itself as a pro-European and moderate party. No wonder if the latest opinion poll revealed that 84% of respondents would vote to remain in the EU in a referendum, including 76% of PiS supporters, indicating that Poland remains one of the most pro-EU states on the continent. So the EU flag was back at PiS’s event (long time no see). But in the speeches there was nothing about European values or further integration, only a lot about the vision of the Union as an economic block.
Another sign proving that the PiS’s campaign will be directed to the political center is a message of political farewell of Krystyna Pawłowicz, one of PiS’s top MP, known for her hatred towards the Integration, who once called the EU flag a piece of dirty rag. The same strategy of hiding the hardcore right-wingers was used by PiS before the 2015 victory.
Another trouble shook Nowoczesna, Polish liberal party. Nowoczesna group leader in the Sejm Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz left the group with seven other backbencher MPs and joined the Civic Platform group. The act was planned to destabilize Nowoczesna and force the party’s leadership to merge with the Civic Platform. Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz officially was saying that it was the last moment to build a real Civic Coalition, the successful alliance of Nowoczesna and Civic Platform from the regional elections, as a new political entity. But leaks from the Civic Platform’s HQ claim that the deal was entirely about Gasiuk-Pihowicz’s personal position and her second place on the Civic Platform’s EP list in Warsaw. Some political commentators call Gasiuk-Pihowicz’s behavior an act of political corruption.
An Interesting addition to the story is the fact that Kamila Gasiuk-Pihowicz is a wife of Nowoczesna’s former treasurer responsible for the financial aspects of the 2015 campaign. Due to his accounting mistake Nowoczesna lost all state subsidies for the entire term, becoming the poorest of all parties in the parliament. Some of the campaign debt will become personal responsibility of his if Nowoczesna stops paying the installments.
No other MP decided to join the renamed group “Civic Platform – Civic Coalition” (the name is misleading since it’s no coalition) but Nowoczesna with 14 MPs remaining lost its group in the parliament (15 MPs needed to establish one). But two weeks later Jacek Protasiewicz, vice-president of the small Union of the European Democrats party (UED), joined Nowoczesna and the group was reestablished. Protasiewicz and two his UED colleagues had been members of the Polish People’s Party group (PSL) and he join the liberals as a part of the agreement with PSL. Paweł Pudłowski, MP from Zielona Góra, became a new group leader.
Grzegorz Schetyna, PO leader, was widely criticized by mainstream media for trying to destroy Nowoczesna instead of making a deal with the liberals before the European and general elections. Civic Coalition was seen as a chance to beat PiS in 2019 but after the situation with Gasiuk-Pihowicz the trust from the previous campaign will be hard to rebuild. What is more, Schetyna gave a clear signal to other potential partners that he is not interested in peer cooperation and his aim is to swallow smaller players.
These happenings lead to closer cooperation between smaller opposition parties, Nowoczesna, PSL and UED, and SLD (not in the parliament but got 6,7% support in 2018 elections). Commentators stress that a new coalition might be born and will be able to run by itself in the upcoming elections or to negotiate a wider alliance with PO.
Economy & Environment
Pride of Poland
For 17 years the state-owned stud farm in Janow Podlaski in Eastern Poland has hosted the “Pride of Poland” auction.
In 2016 the PiS’s minister of agriculture replaced the stud’s long-standing boss with an inexperienced newcomer. In his first two months two horses died, prompting media headlines; the new boss was ousted. Last year the auction brought in only a tenth of what it made before the changes. The next boss was also sacked. The 2017 sale was muted with only five horses selling. Champion three-year-old mare Prunella fetched the highest price of €150,000, going to a Czech buyer. Then, 24 mares and a stallion were up for auction, but bidding on 19 did not reach the reserve price.
Some 32 horses went under the hammer at this year’s incarnation of the sale, with 17 horses selling at both the 49th Janów Podlaski auction and the Summer Sale. Top price was for Parmana, who was sold for €180.000 to Israel. But it looks like it the final result is way worse than expected since some of the horses auctioned in the summer where eventually not bought, and this includes Parmana, and they were presented at the December auction again. All in all from EUR 500.000 income officially announced the Pride of Poland brought only a half of this sum to the organizers. This is far away from 2015 when only the most expensive horse was sold for EUR 1,4 million.
Auction director Maciej Paweł Grzechnik said organizers were pleased with the final result, “though it could always be a bit better.”
“The disparity between teachers‘ salaries and the general level of wages in Poland increased”, said Sławomir Broniarz, chairman of the Union of Polish Teachers. Polish teachers began a nationwide protest and demand a wage increase of more than 230 euros.
The main tool used during this protest is sick leaves. Dozens of schools are closed. In most schools classes are taking place as planned, but in singular cases nearly all teachers are on sick leaves.
Teachers copied this form of protest from the police or court employees, who won in 2018 higher salaries.
Katarzyna Lubnauer, leader of the liberal Nowoczesna party supported the teachers. Lubnauer believes that the government’s offer for the teachers is not acceptable since most of the proposed rise would come from teachers’ pockets. “Part of the PiS’s proposal is to cut some of teachers’ benefits and to extend periods needed to reach higher level in teacher’s career”, she said. Nowoczesna’s leader added that the government is offering salary rises lower that average salary rises in the Polish economy, that are way below the increases of the cost of life in Poland.
Negotiators in Katowice secured agreement on a range of measures that will make the Paris climate pact operational in 2020. The Katowice agreement aims to deliver the Paris goals of limiting global temperature rises to well below 2°C. The summit accord, reached by 196 states, outlines plans for a common rulebook for all countries – regulations that will govern the nuts and bolts of how countries cut carbon, provide finance to poorer nations and ensure that everyone is doing what they say they are doing.
The deal will ultimately require every country in the world to follow a uniform set of standards for measuring their emissions and tracking their climate policies. It also calls on richer countries to be clearer about the aid they intend to offer to help poorer nations install more clean energy or build resilience against natural disasters.
Largely absent from these talks, which had a technical focus, was the question of how countries will step up their targets on cutting emissions. On current targets, the world is set for 3°C of warming from pre-industrial levels, which scientists say would be disastrous, resulting in droughts, floods, sea level rises and the decline of agricultural productivity. The text charts a path forward for countries to set tougher targets for cutting greenhouse gases under the Paris climate agreement, as well as stronger transparency rules for countries in disclosing their emissions.
Some green groups and certain countries expressed frustration that more ambitious climate goals were not achieved during COP24. E.g. Canadian minister of environment and climate change Catherine McKenna was emphasizing that more action is needed to combat climate change despite Katowice deal. Also Greenpeace criticized the deal. “We should have had so much more… we’ve had a really terrible year of extreme weather events, of forest fires and of scientists telling the world that we are running out of time,” he said. “In the face of that, this agreement is morally bankrupt, it is just not enough”, Daniel Mitler, political director of Greenpeace said.
More about COP24 can be found in the November issue.
All COP24 decisions: https://unfccc.int/katowice
“Sick Man of Europe”
France is “the sick man of Europe” and its problems are hurting the region, Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz said, citing the “yellow vests” protest movement and last week’s jihadist attack in Strasbourg.
“The terrorist attack proves that something is not right in France, the protests over the past weeks, President Macron’s withdrawal of state reforms” – he lamented the ‘sad’ situation in the country.
“If at the same time, you’re lecturing Poland, there is something not right. First you have to bring some order to your own country” said Czaputowicz obviously angry at recent Macron’s critical remarks on Poland’s controversial reforms, which the European Union says pose a threat to the independence of the judiciary.
Critical materials about Macron have been presented regularly on TVP, Polish state TV, concluding that someone who cannot govern well his own country should not have ambitions to reform Europe. Macron’s vision was always opposed with the Polish and Hungarian example of strong nation-states that bring security and economic development to its citizens.
France’s ambassador to Poland Pierre Levy has said he was “surprised and shocked” by the Polish foreign minister’s comments. France was trying to build closer ties with Poland, he said, but the Polish minister’s comments made him “wonder whether Polish authorities really wanted to mend our relations”. He added that “We want Poland to play a full role in Europe. We want to stand together. I can’t imagine a Europe worthy of the name, in which Poland didn’t play its role together with us.”
…and Polish Hero…
During the Starsbourg terrorist attack on December 11th Polish musician, journalist and European Parliament tour guide Bartłomiej Niedzielski stood together with several friends, near the Christmas market. He stepped into the way of the armed shooter and blocked his access to a club. This act of heroism may have saved many lives. Niedzielski was wounded in the attack and died a few days later.
Polish President Andrzej Duda, a former MEP who remembered Niedzielski from his time in the European Parliament, expressed his shock on Twitter: “He was fatally injured when he saved the lives of the other people.” PM Mateusz Morawiecki, has promised the victim’s family a life-long state pension. “The Pole has paid with his life for the lives of other people,” he said.
Bartłomiej Niedzielski became a national hero praised by all media. Not for long though. Soon it became public that he was a member of LGBTQ community and a firm supporter of its rights. He was also interested in Jewish culture and spoke many times about his solidarity with the Palestinian people. Sadly this fact changed the narrative of the public (PiS-dependent) and right-wing media. The heroism of Niedzielski was omitted in newly realized programs and articles and none of them mentioned his orientation and views, unfitting with a picture of a “truly Polish hero”.
Kaziemierz Kutz dies at 89
One of the most respected Polish directors Kazimierz Kutz is dead. The film maker died after a long illness at the age of 89 near Warsaw.
He was born near Katowice, Upper Silesia, in 1929 and ever since associated with the traditions of this region, created in his films a realistic portrait of Silesians.
He was the author of over 20 feature films, of which the most famous are the parts of the Silesian triptych: “Salt of the Black Earth”, “Pearl in the Crown” and “Beads of One Rosary”, telling the history of several generations of Silesian miners’ families entangled in the difficult 20th century history of the region.
In 2010, Kutz made his debut as a novelist, publishing a semi-autobiographical “The Fifth Side of the World” − a novel he spent nearly 40 years writing.
In 1997 Kutz took part in the elections to the Senate of Poland (from the list of the liberal Freedom Union) and was supported by approximately half a million voters. In 2001 he was elected for his second term as a non-partisan candidate, and in 2005 re-elected for the third term. He was the deputy speaker of the Senate of Poland.
Cold War Wins Big
Paweł Pawilikowski’s Cold War takes home five EFA awards. Pawlikowski, Damian Nenow and Joanna Kulig win big at the 31st European Film Awards on 15th December 2018.
Cold War was in the main race for the 31st European Film Awards and received a total of five nominations. In November 2018, Jarosław Kamiński won the EFA for European Editor. During the award ceremony in Seville on 15th December, the film scooped up four more awards: Paweł Pawlikowski won the Best Director award and the statuette for European Screenplay; Joanna Kulig won the prize for Best Actress, which Pawlikowski accepted on her behalf; and Cold War was named the Best European Film.
The Oscar Academy unveiled the shortlists for nine different categories, including Best Foreign Language Film. In the Best Foreign Language film category, nine films advanced from the eligible 87 films submitted from as many countries. Alfonso Cuaron’s “Roma” from Mexico, Pawel Pawlikowski’s “Cold War” from Poland and Nadine Labaki’s “Capernaum” from Lebanon were on the Oscars shortlist and are all favorites to be nominated.
The Nativity Scene (szopka) tradition in Krakow is a social practice originating from Christmas celebration customs, centered around constructing cribs. Born in the nineteenth century, the tradition is indissolubly connected to the City of Krakow and based on skills and knowledge passed down for generations. The szopka is a lightweight construction featuring the nativity scene surrounded by representations of houses and monuments of Krakow, all transformed by the individual maker.
Other scenes are also represented through figurines and artificial lighting, depicting historical, cultural and contemporary social events relating to life. On the first Thursday of every December, makers gather on Krakow Main Market Square to present their work, and the Historical Museum of the City of Krakow makes their work accessible to the public from December to February, helping to transmit knowledge related to the practice. Practitioners include a group of forty of the most active bearers, who construct new cribs every year and run workshops and lectures to promote the practice and transmit related knowledge. The tradition is open to everyone, encompassing a wide circle of people including spectators and visitors belonging to the urban community. The practice also has significant educational functions, passing on knowledge about the history of the city, its local architecture and customs.
In December 2018 szopki were inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Heritage List. It is Poland’s first element on that list.
See how they look like: https://polskapogodzinach.pl/szopki-krakowskie/
Germany and Poland
German Film Week in Poland
End of the year was a great period for fans of good films in Poland – the German Film Week arrived to Polish cities.
The German Film Week presented movies awarded at festivals and praised by the public, made by acclaimed filmmakers and those at the threshold of their career – the full cinematic review of 2018 A.D. The programme includes Emily Alef’s multi-award winning black-and-white Three Days in Quiberon. On the surface it is an intimate portrayal of Romy Schneider and her depression, played by her doppelganger Marie Bäumer, but delving deeper it is a study of manipulation and the boundaries of sacrifices made for art. Nicolas Wackerbarth’s Casting takes us behind the scenes of cinematography, revealing the frequently difficult relationships and conflicts among filmmakers.
Many of the movies presented focused on migration, among others: Wolfgang Fischer’s The Silent Revolution and Thomas Stuber’s In the Aisles. The previous one recalls the history of high school students in East Germany who decide to show their solidarity with the victims of the 1956 Hungarian uprising by staging a minute’s silence during lessons. The latter explores the economic, political and social effects of the reunification of Germany and the price paid by the eastern lands for entering the world of the free market.
Films were screened in Wrocław, Kraków, Opole, Katowice, Kielce, Gdańsk, Poznań, Zielona Góra, Gorzów Wielkopolski, Rzeszów, and Warsaw.
Czaputowicz in Berlin
Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz visited Berlin in December to hold talks with his German counterpart Heiko Maas. Czaputowicz and Maas discussed a spectrum of bilateral, European and international issues, including “the security situation, particularly in the context of the escalating Russian-Ukrainian conflict,” the Polish foreign ministry said on its website.
They also discussed the Weimar Triangle cooperation. “We have many issues of common interest, many shared problems on the European and global agenda, so we should coordinate the activities of major EU players such as France, Germany, and Poland. We hope that a Weimar Triangle meeting at the highest level will take place soon; we share Germany’s position on the major issues concerning the vision of the EU, we differ slightly with France,” said Czaputowicz.
Polls & trends
Pollster for “Super Express”, 13-14.12.2018
Which of the female leaders would you vote for in presidential elections?
Jolanta Kwaśniewska (wife of Poland’s ex-president) 28%
Beata Szydło (PiS, deputy PM, former PM) 10%
Agata Kornhauser-Duda (First Lady) 8%
Two next positions were occupied by Ewa Kopacz (PO, ex-PM) and Monika Jaruzelska (SLD, member of Warsaw council, daughter of the last communist leader of Poland).
Jolanta Kwaśniewska commented that she will not run.
Option 1 – with 2 new potential parties: Robert Biedroń party (leftist party by Robert Biedroń, former mayor of Słupsk and the only openly gay MP of the previous parliament) and RPE (True Europe Movement; anti-European, ultra-conservative party created by priest Tadeusz Rydzyk, director of Radio Maryja)
Robert Biedroń party 7%
Option 2 – with existing parties
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. He is member of the Board of Directors of the European Liberal Forum.