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
Sick Cows, Illegal Meat
The report by TVN shocked the public opinion by showing an apparently lame cow being dragged to slaughter in Ostrów Mazowiecka, and workers showing slabs of meat with sections cut out they said were visibly defective.
Polish government was firstly trying to ignore the report saying that it was an incident. “The cows were slaughtered without proper supervision and that is why it had to be withdrawn from the market. But the meat was safe,” said Jerzy Wierzbicki, head of the Polish Association of Beef Cattle Breeders. But after an investigation it became apparent that over 2,5 tones of meat from the illegally slaughtered cows was sold to 14 EU countries.
Only after a huge pressure from media, NGOs and the EU the minister of agriculture started acting.
Two veterinarians working in the slaughterhouse were fired, along with their supervisor. The government and beef producers insisted that the lax supervision was an isolated incident rather than widespread practice. Minister Jan Krzysztof Ardanowski announced a bill to give Poland’s General Veterinary Inspectorate more control over slaughterhouses. He also promised money for more full-time veterinarians (under-paid now) to carry out checks. Meat producers would pay the inspectorate for the checks rather than directly paying a contracted veterinarian. Ardanowski wants constant video monitoring in trucks transporting livestock as well as inside slaughterhouses to minimize risks of sick animals being supplied for slaughter and the slaughter itself being carried out without supervision.
A European Commission official said that Poland triggered the food safety alert system on January 29th following a request from Brussels. The Commission sent a team of inspectors to Poland to carry out a four-day audit of the country’s food safety and veterinary controls. “They will be assessing the situation on the ground together with the Polish authorities who are in the lead of the investigation, so let’s wait for them to do their job,” said Commission spokesperson Anca Paduraru.
After inspections Polish government reported a case of atypical bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) among cattle on a farm near the Czech border in the southwestern town of Mirsk, according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).
Poland’s reputation as a reliable beef exporter to EU markets is taking a battering, and farmers are expecting big losses. Poland produced around 560.000 tons of beef in 2017, 470.000 tons was exported. The biggest importers of Polish beef are Italy, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Great Britain and France. The losses connected to the scandal are estimated for PLN 600 million (EUR 140 million).
The case was used by other governments in the region to limit export of Polish meat and Polish food in general. “Unfortunately, it is obvious that Poland does not have a well-established system of controls and veterinary supervision, or there were violations of the law,” the Czech Agriculture Minister Miroslav Toman said. Beef from sick cows at a shuttered Polish abattoir may have been passed off as prime Argentinian cuts at upscale Prague restaurants.
The beef scandal only made the situation of minister Ardanowski worse. He has been dealing with large farmers’ protests organized by AGROunia. Farmers held a warning protest on January 28, blocking a number of major roads and another protests in February. “This is the start of a peasant rebellion in Poland,” said Michał Kołodziejczak, the leader and founder of AGROunia. His charisma and bold actions against the government remind many commentators of Andrzej Lepper, populist agriculture leader who became a deputy prime minister in the first PiS government.
“Our goal is to create an organisation much stronger than a political party. We want to influence the decisions made by politicians, no matter what party these politicians represent,” Kołodziejczyk said. It is a very bad news for PiS who is currently fighting for votes in the countryside, trying to marginalize PSL, a traditional peasants’ party. But it looks like the enemy is rising elsewhere…
Five Polish opposition parties have formed a coalition for the European elections in May, accusing the ruling PiS conservatives of creating an anti-European platform. “We will make it impossible for anyone to take Poland out of the European Union,” said a joint statement by the main opposition Civic Platform, the Peasants’ Party (PSL), Nowoczesna, the Social Democrats (SLD) and the Greens.
According to a poll conducted by Ipsosfor OKO.press, such a pro-EU alliance could count on 33.2% of the vote, compared to 33.9% for PiS.
European Coalition will present their electoral lists in all 13 constituencies by mid March. But we already know that the Warsaw list will be led by Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz, former SLD prime minister and minister of foreign affairs. In Kraków, Civic Platform MEP Róża Thun will get the lead position, in Katowice it will be former president of the EP Jerzy Buzek. In Wrocław the list will be opened by Janina Ochojska, founder and president of the Polish Humaniatrian Action (PAH), one of the most respected charity and foreign aid organizations in Poland.
It looks like this election will be a battle between a Euroskeptic PiS block and the centrist European Coalition. Wiosna, a recently established progressive left party of Robert Biedroń, vowed to “refresh” Polish politics and decided to run alone in the EU elections. It is projected to get approximately 10% of the vote. Similarly, leftist Razem party does not want to join the pro-EU alliance, amid fears that its socialist beliefs may be “affected” by the collaboration with centre-right or liberal ideas, Adrian Zandberg, one of its leaders explained.
On the right side from PiS there will be a new coalition called Confederation for Poland (Konfederacja dla Polski), a mix of anti-European and anti-migrant libertarians, ultra-traditionalists, pro-life hard liners and ultra-nationalists. With a good campaign this group can win two seats in the European Parliament, next to 3-4 seats for Euroskeptic Kukiz’15 who just signed an alliance with 5 Stars Movement from Italy.
Elections in Gdańsk
Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, former deputy mayor, won by-elections in Gdańsk and became first female mayor in the history of the city (after 190 male city leaders). Dulkiewicz got over 82% of votes.
Two other right wing candidates: Grzegorz Braun and Marek Skiba got respectively 12% and 5%. Such a good result of a nationalistic, extremist director Braun was possible because PiS and other parties did not present their candidates against Dulkiewicz. More than 60% of voters who supported PiS candidate Kacper Płażyński in 2018 chose Braun now. Płażyński himself voted for Skiba.
By-elections in Gdańsk were required by law after the murder of Paweł Adamowicz, long-time mayor of the Baltic metropolis, in January 2019, during the charity event in his home town (read more in the January issue of the Newsletter).
Jankowski’s Monument Vandalized
Activists toppled a statue of a prominent Solidarność-era priest amid allegations that he sexually abused minors, a protest against what they called a failure by the Catholic Church and society to resolve the problem of clergy sex abuse.
This demonstration came only hours before Pope Francis gathered ecclesiastic leadership from all around the world for a landmark meeting at the Vatican to address the Church’s sex abuse crisis. A Polish foundation representing victims of sex abuse gave Francis a report listing hundreds of such cases in Poland and over 80 cases in which priests were convicted and handed verdicts by regional courts.
The three men, who shared a video of the toppling on social media, wound a rope around a monument to Henryk Jankowski. After pulling the monument down, the activists placed children’s underwear in the priest’s hands as well as draped a white altar boy’s robe over the statue’s body. They were charged with disrespecting a monument and causing material damage.
At the time of Solidarność, Jankowski’s work was recognized internationally, for instance with visits from George W. Bush and Margaret Thatcher, who both went to his church to praise his work eradicating communism in the eastern European state. More recently various reports have emerged alleging him abused minors during his time as a clergyman. The allegations have led ecclesiastic authorities to launch an investigation into the matter.
A few days later shipyard workers put back into place the metal statue. Karol Guzikiewicz, head of the Solidarność union at the Gdansk shipyard, said the statue should stay up until the allegations against the late Jankowski are clarified. The workers did not seek the city’s permission to put the statue back near Jankowski’s former parish in Gdańsk.
Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, the newly elected mayor of Gdańsk announced hours after she had won the seat that she wants to meet the supporters of Jankowski’s statue to talk about its future, stressing that in her opinion it should not be present on city’s property.
The New Five
Jarosław Kaczyński presented his party new five promises. The so called “New Five” or “Kaczyński’s Five” is tailored to give PiS a victory in May EP elections. Among the proposals are the following:
- the Family 500 Plus programme, will be extended to also include first-born children,
- all retirees will receive support from the Retirement Plus programme every year from 2019, including disability claimants,
- income tax will be waived for all workers under 26, apart from those who are self-employed,
- the network of local buses, especially in small towns and villages, will be reestablished.
PM Mateusz Morawiecki estimated that the promises would cost around PLN 40 billion (EUR 9 billion) a year. It is difficult to calculate a real cost thereof since not all details are know.
In answer to opposition accusations that the ‘New Five’ package was a form of political corruption aimed at buying votes, both to the European Parliament in the spring and the national parliament in the autumn, Morawiecki expressed disappointment that the opposition had not commented on the substance of the package. Some opposition parties, like Civic Platform or newly established left-wing Wiosna have difficulties criticizing the ‘New Five’ as it adopts their postulates proving that it is impossible to fight against PiS with expensive social spending proposals.
The biggest criticism came from teachers and people with disabilities. These two groups have been fighting for raises of their salaries and benefits for many months now. But the government has been always saying that the budget is empty. Now, out of nowhere the minister of finances found EUR 9 billion for new ideas of Kaczyński. Both groups announced they will protest in April and May. This could especially be visible and damaging in case of the teachers since April and May are the months of final exams in primary, secondary and high schools.
Warsaw among the richest EU Regions
The Polish capital city was ranked 19th among the richest regions of the European Union with GDP per capita of 152% of the EU average. The most prosperous place in the entire EU is London. Inhabitants of internal London (western part) in EU statistics are more than six times richer (626 percent) than the average in the whole EU.
Among the ten poorest areas however, there are as many as three Polish voivodeships: Lubelskie, Warmińsko-Mazurskie and Podkarpackie. The poorest area in the EU is North-West Bulgaria, where GDP per capita is 31% of the average of all Member States.
Innovations and New Tech
Minister Mateusz Morawiecki and Google CEO Sundar Pichai were among those taking part in an international innovation roundtable in Warsaw. Politicians and businesspeople brainstormed ways of boosting the innovation performance in Central and Eastern Europe and tapping its digital potential.
Government officials from countries including Lithuania, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Romania were slated to be among those meeting at the Palace on the Isle venue in Warsaw’s Royal Łazienki Park.
In 2015 Google opened its Google Campus for Start-ups in Warsaw poorest district of Praga Północ, in a former vodka factory Koneser. It is a gathering place for innovators to share ideas, learn from each other, and support their local ecosystem. In 2017 it hosted the first ever Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) Community Demo Day – CEE All Stars. This two-day fundraising and mentoring event was managed together with partners from 12 CEE countries, featuring 40 startups from the entire CEE region, and 30 regional investors from both CEE and Western European countries.
Warsaw Google Campus is one of six spaces like that organized by the company, next to Madrid, London, Sao Paulo, Seoul and Tel Aviv.
In February 2019 Marta Krupińska from Poland became a new director of Google Campus London. Krupińska, famous after founding Azimo, the digital money transfer app, has vowed to make diversity a priority as she takes over the reins at the relaunched Google for Startups UK.
Conference on Iran in Warsaw
Poland and the USA jointly organized a conference in Warsaw on February 13th-14th that focused on Iran’s influence in the region. The conference, known as the Ministerial to Promote a Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East, addressed “terrorism and extremism, missile development and proliferation, maritime trade and security, and threats posed by proxy groups across the region,” according to a statement from the US State Department.
Iran’s foreign minister Javad Zarif criticised the conference calling it “another attempt by the United States to pursue an obsession with Iran”. Describing the meeting as the “Warsaw Circus”, Zarif said it was “no coincidence that Iran is hit by terror on the very day” the talks began in the Polish capital. Ayatollah Khamenei said that negotiations with the US brought “nothing but material and spiritual harm”.
The denunciation came as hundreds of demonstrators protested alongside Rudy Giuliani outside the venue in Warsaw against the Iranian government demanding “regime change”. Former mayor of New York City said: “In order to have a piece and security in the Middle East there has to be a major change in theocratic dictatorship in Iran and it must end – and end quickly – in order to have peace and stability”. The demonstration was organized by the National Council of Resistance in Iran, and protesters hoisted Iranian flags and held banners against the political repression in the Islamic Republic.
On the other side, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who attended the conference, said it was important because Arab and other leaders “are sitting down together with Israel in order to advance the common interest of war with Iran”.
Foreign ministers of France and Germany boycotted Trump’s anti-Tehran gathering. So did Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chief.
It was not clear what was the main goal of the Polish government with this event. The minister of foreign affairs tried to play two roles at the same time, a US faithful ally and a bipartisan moderator between Teheran and Washington, DC. It is clear that Polish government, after hosting a NATO summit in 2016 and a UN Climate conference in 2018, clearly wanted to host one more big international event even if it did not have a smart agenda and idea how to capitalize it. After the summit, Polish Foreign Affairs Minister Jacek Czaputowicz said, “Poland had an opportunity to present itself as a member of the UN Security Council, working toward peace and security.” Czaputowicz hopes that a so-called Warsaw Process was born and that it could contribute to peace in the Middle East. As a Warsaw-based think-tank, the Pulaski Foundation noted, “It seems that there is now an attempt to replace the current format of international discussions on the Middle East, the so called Madrid Quartet (UN, US, EU, Russia) which, due to conflicting interests of its members, actually ceased to exist.”
Paradoxically, a negative outcome for Poland was a drastic cooling of Polish-Israeli relations…
Another Conflict with Israel
The Warsaw summit made bilateral relations between Poland and Iran really terrible. But it was for the price of improving the relations with Israel. Only for a moment though. Huge scandal erupted from Prime Minister Netanyahu’s remarks in the Warsaw Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. The Jerusalem Post reported that Netanyahu had said that “the Poles cooperated with the Nazis.”
These were not the Israeli prime minister’s words. What he did say was that “a not insignificant number of Poles had cooperated with the Nazis,” which means something different. The Jerusalem Post corrected their story and the PM’s office released a statement reaffirming that “PM Netanyahu spoke of Poles and not the Polish people or the country of Poland.” Nevertheless, the harm was done.
Hours later Israel Katz, currently acting as Israeli foreign minister, made matters even worse when he said that Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk.” Poland’s ambassador to Israel Marek Magierowski criticized Katz’s comments on Twitter, saying that “It is really astonishing that the newly appointed foreign minister of Israel quotes such a shameful and racist remark. Utterly unacceptable.” Poland’s foreign ministry has summoned the Israeli ambassador twice in three days, and the head of the Polish prime minister’s office, Michał Dworczyk, said the Israeli foreign minister’s comments were “disgraceful”.
Mateusz Morawiecki canceled his trip to Israel for the Visegard 4 meeting. He was supposed to be replaced by MFA Czaputowicz but this visit was canceled last minute, too. Slovak, Czech and Hungarian leaders were supposed to have only a series of bilateral meetings in Tel Aviv instead of the V4 summit but pictures published in social media clearly showed the summit of V4 minus Poland with Israel actually took place. Viktor Orbán again chose his own interest over mythic friendship with PiS.
Unlike many countries which have wild Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) celebrations, Polish people do not count calories on Fat Thursday, last Thursday before the Lent. Poles usually celebrate Fat Thursday with various deep-fried pastries, especially pączki – jelly-filled fist-size doughnuts. Statistically, every Pole eats two and a half pączki on that day, which constitutes a whopping 100 million for the entire nation. The most traditional ones are with rose-jelly inside and orange-peel icing but these days all types, shapes and flavors can be found, from strawberry to chocolate to matcha.
In the most famous pastry shops people queue up for many hours to purchase pączki. The record belongs always to the Zagoździński bakery in Warsaw where inpatient pączki -lovers form lines at 10 pm on Wednesday, 11 hours before the little shop opens. The average waiting time on Fat Thursday is 2-3 hours and the limit to buy is 20 pieces. But it is worth it, they say. They are commonly known as ‘the doughnuts from Górczewska Street’. They win contests for Warsaw’s best doughnuts, and they are praised by customers and culinary critics alike. Despite the acclaim, their producers continue to handcraft only a limited number of them. Once the last doughnut is sold, they call it a day and close their shop. And it has been like that for decades since it is the oldest donut shop in Warsaw.
Sylwia Tomaszkiewicz, great-granddaughter of founder Władysław Zagoździński, says the family tradition goes back to 1925 and that it is likely to continue. Zagoździńki’s original recipe for doughnuts has never changed. Only natural ingredients are used: flour, sugar, margarine, milk, real eggs and… heart, as emphasized by Tomaszkiewicz. The doughnuts are hand-made at every stage of their production.
And the Oscar goes to…
Cold War, the black-and-white drama by Paweł Pawlikowski was nominated for three Academy Awards in the Best Foreign Language Film, Cinematography & Best Director categories. But finally lost to Roma by Alfonso Cuaron.
So no Oscar for Polish artists this year. But is it so? Many Polish media got excited about the Academy Award for Ludwig Göransson for Black Panther original score. This was Göransson’s first Oscar nomination and win. He’s coming off a Grammy win for the Black Panther score, as well as a Golden Globe nomination.
Ludwig, named after Beethoven, was born and raised in Sweden but his mother is Polish and his grandparents are still living in Warsaw. He moved to the USA when he was 22 and began working with both Coogler and Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino).
Germany and Poland
After Brexit Germany Attracts Polish Nurses
The University Hospital of Dusseldorf placed adverts in two Polish newspapers published in Britain, hoping to convince Poles currently working in NHS hospitals to swap Britain for Germany.
The adverts, written in German and Polish, feature Dusseldorf’s attractive skyline against blue skies with the River Rhine in the foreground. As well as telling Polish nurses they could boost their salaries, the adverts also point out Germany had better weather and cuisine than Britain. It is also much easier to get home to family in Poland from Dusseldorf, which is almost 350 miles closer to home than Britain, the hospital noted.
The Dusseldorf hospital needs to hire 100 additional nurses and decided to focus on Poles because many already learned German at school. Although Polish associations in the UK claim the language will be the biggest issue, since not many of the nurses can speak advanced German needed to be employed in a medical care institution.
Since Poland joined the European Union 15 years ago, some 20.000 of nurses (about 7%) have left to work in hospitals across the Community. Statistics from 2018 are optimistic for Poland though. The number of working certificates issued by Polish authorities for nurses who want to transfer abroad dropped down significantly compared to previous years.
Germany overall has a shortage of 70.000 nurses.
The UK has a shortage of over 40.000. Since the referendum, more than 10.000 nurses and midwives from the European Economic Area have left the UK workforce.
Polls & trends
Polls more liberal?
IPSOS for OKO.press, February 2019
Religion classes should be organized in churches 52%
Religion classes should be organized in schools 43%
Abortion on request should be available until 12 weeks of pregnancy:
80% of Civic Platform voters and 78% of European Coalition voters answered “yes”. It was more only among the electorate of Wiosna and SLD. Even PSL and Kukiz’15 are in favor. Only PiS and radical right voters would say “no”.
In all age-groups “yes” dominates, but it’s the most clear in a group “30-49 years old”. The most conservative are the youngest “18-29 years old” and the oldest “60+ years old”.
PARR i Badania.pro for Onet.pl, based on 10 polls of different pollsters from February 2019
|European Coalition (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens)||34%|
|Confederation for Poland (far right)||2,1%|
|Razem (far left)||1%|
Simulation of seat distribution in the European Parliament:
|European Coalition (EPP, S&D, ALDE, Greens)||21|
|Confederation for Poland (far right)||0|
|Razem (far left)||0|
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.