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
The Minister’s Rooms-Per-Hours
As it was mentioned in the previous edition of the Newsletter, Marian Banaś was the minister of finance only for couple of weeks. He could not enjoy his promotion in the finance ministry for too long since Jarosław Kaczyński found him a new job, namely the one as chief of Poland’s Supreme Audit Office (Najwyższa Izba Kontroli; NIK).
Who is this multitalented politician? Marian Banaś graduated from the Faculty of Law and Administration at the Jagiellonian University (1979). He also under took religious studies and studied philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology. He was one of the founders and activists of the Action for Independence and the Institute of Katyń. In 1981-1983, Marian Banaś served a prison sentence for his activity in the Solidarity freedom movement (Solidarność). In 1992-2015 he occupied various positions at NIK. From 21 November 2005 to 2 January 2008 he served as the Undersecretary of the State in the Ministry of Finance, and since November 28, 2005 also as the Head of the Customs Service.
On August 30th Marian Banaś, candidate of PiS, was elected with 245 votes (out of 460) as new chief of the NIK. His opponent, former minister of justice Borys Budka (PO) got 135 votes. Three weeks later Marian Banaś became the biggest problem of PiS in the 2019 campaign…
Private station TVN24 reported that Banaś let a house he owns in Krakow to a shady business, namely it was adopted for rooms-per-hour. It was run by a local escort agency known for its brutality. Hidden camera footage showed a reporter making payment to use a room for one hour, but not being given a receipt — in violation of fiscal law. New chief of the Supreme Audit Office denied any connection, claiming that he is burdened by “insulations” rather than “charges”, labeling the report as “a great manipulation and provocation against me and the government.”
When he started explaining his connection to the house in Krakow even more interesting facts were exposed. Banaś said the house was given to him by an old Home Army (WWII resistance) soldier. He renovated the house and wanted to sell it.
Banaś agreed to rent the property for PLN 5.000 (ca. EUR 1.100) a month, some PLN 10.000 lower than its estimated market value, according to Gazeta Wyborcza. He has been reporting to tax authorities very low income from renting all his properties.
What is more, the report by TVN24 stressed that in 2016 Banaś had declared to sell the tenement building, but it did not happen. The property became a collateral for loan of over PLN 2,6 million, granted by Bank Ochrony Środowiska, where Banaś’ son had been working. The property was sold only a few weeks before the scandal was presented by the reporters.
Poland’s central anti-corruption bureau (CBA) has been inspecting the 2015-2019 property reports and the audit is expected to be completed at the end of October. “The inquiry encompasses asset declarations submitted between 2015 and 2019. The planned date of the control’s completion is second half of October,” the CBA informed. It means that the results of the control would be known, most likely, after the parliamentary election scheduled for October 13th. “In line with the law on the CBA, inquires may take up to 9 months,” the CBA explained. The ruling party knew about CBA’s doubts about Banaś’s money but decided to ignore it and elect him for one of the key positions in the state.
Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro vowed consequences should any irregularities be found, while other ruling party members were protesting Banaś’s honesty. Opposition MPs called for his immediate dismissal.
Banaś informed the Speaker of the Sejm that he is going on leave until the CBA investigation is over. On the day when his leave was supposed to begin he came to work and fired all three of his deputies, who served under the previous chief of the Office. He did that to be sure that the Office will be run during his leave by another PiS-loyalist. On September 26th the parliamentary committee of state control met on a special hearing and elected Małgorzata Motylow as deputy chief and the Office and it’s acting chief. Motylow is Banaś’s legal councilor and good friend of Marta Kaczyńska, Jarosław Kaczyński’s niece.
According to the latest phone survey conducted by Kantar for TVN24 55% of Poles think Marian Banaś should resign as Chief of the Supreme Audit Office (34 percent answered “definitely yes” and 21 percent “rather yes”). The opposite opinion was expressed by 19 percent of respondents.
There are rumors that after the elections Banaś will lose his job at NIK.
The current minister of investment and development Jerzy Kwieciński was appointed the minister of finance, replacing Banaś at his previous job.
National Electoral Commission (PKW) drew election list numbers. In total, nine committees which registered their candidates for the Sejm in more than one constituency took part in the draw. First, the numbers were drawn for the five committees which had registered their lists in all constituencies. Poland is divided into 41 constituencies of various size. The smallest one being in Częstochowa where there are 7 MP seats available, whereas Warsaw is the biggest one with 20 seats to win.
The number are as follows:
- Number 1 for Polish People’s Party (PSL),
- Number 2 for Law and Justice (PiS),
- Number 3 for Democratic Left Alliance (SLD),
- Number 4 for Confederation, and
- Number 5 for Civic Coalition (KO).
Next, the numbers were drawn for the committees which had registered candidates for the Sejm in lesser number of constituencies. As a result, the Prawica (the Right) committee drew number 6, the Action of Disappointed Retirees Pensioners – 7, Coalition of Non-Partisans and Civil Servants – 8, Piotr Liroy-Marzec’s Effectives – 9. These smaller committees have no chances in winning seats in the Sejm but they can “steel” some votes from PiS. Therefore PiS is heavily campaigning with a message that only Law and Justice can protect traditional values and a vote for any other so called right-wing or anti-establishment party equals supporting the liberal and left opposition. PiS is attacking especially the Confederation that attracts the radical right voters and currently is polling at 5-6%.
The ruling party’s main message in this campaign is “We’re building a welfare state” and it’s focused on economy, new minimal wage and extra benefits, better infrastructure in the countryside. PiS has been keen to present itself as fiscally responsible, vowing to cut debt and proposing the country’s first balanced budget in three decades. Of course the topic of traditional family is omnipresent in PiS’s storytelling, too. “Our program is built around that, which we consider the most important, the dignity of the individual and his life. We understand the defense of life broadly, as defense against various forms of oppression, such as euthanasia, abortion on demand, and generally undermining the value of human life,” Jarosław Kaczyński said.
On the other side, Civic Coalition is promising to revert the PiS reforms in the justice system which have caused the European Commission to trigger the Article 7 procedure against Poland. Health care is one of the hey topics of the KO’s campaign. In Poland, state healthcare spending reaching only about 4,6% of GDP in 2016 well below the 6.6% average among OECD countries. The Coalition demand immediate raise to 6% of GDP for hospitals.
But the most important event for the Civic Coalition’s campaign was the announcement that it’s not Grzegorz Schetyna but Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska who is the Coalition’s PM candidate. Schetyna is deeply unpopular in the country — a recent survey found that 58% of those polled thought he should quit as party leader — and lacks the charisma thought necessary to overcome PiS’s large lead. He said that Poland needs a leader like Kidawa-Błońska, someone who will restore accountability, honor and respect to Polish political discourse. “We need someone who would think about ordinary people and ordinary problems,” he added. “Someone who won’t waste time on political fighting, but would work hard. Someone who won’t be focused on other politicians but on human stories.” Putting forward Kidawa-Błońska gave some new hope to the opposition candidates and additional points in recent polls, but there has been no WOW-effect, and KO is much behind PiS.
Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska comes from Warsaw. She was one of the finders of PO, former member of the Warsaw City Council. In 2015 she was speaker of the Sejm and currently is a deputy speaker. Her husband Jan Kidawa-Błoński is a movie director. She is great-granddaughter of two key statesmen of the Second Republic of Poland: president Stanisław Wojciechowski and prime minister Władysław Grabski.
Poland’s parliament will be suspended until after an election. PiS ensures that the outgoing parliament – in which it has a majority – reconvenes after the election for a short period before the new lawmakers can take their seats. Such situation has never happened before. Many MPs who will lose voters’ support on October 13th will be voting on important pieces of legislation.
The opposition fears that PiS may use that small window after the election to push through additional bills. “It means that PiS has some kind of a hidden plan – it either does not believe the election result will be positive for them and wants to play safe, or it wants to prepare some draft law, which could not have been adopted under normal conditions,” Malgorzata Kidawa-Blonska said. PiS, which is tipped to win the election, denies any such intention.
Sejm’s speaker Elżbieta Witek explained that she took this decision because she was asked by many MPs from both the majority and the opposition to give them extra time in their constituencies for campaigning. When she was asked to name what MPs exactly asked her she was not able. The only requirement came from the PiS majority leader. Civic Coalition announced that their MPs are ready to work in the Sejm before the elections and they are firmly against the sitting after the elections.
Nowoczesna Leader Threatened
Katarzyna Lubnauer, leader of Nowoczesna, received life threats directly after a live TV political show broadcasted by TVN. Besides obscenities addressed to her personally, the author of the threats suggested that Lubnauer “should be killed just like that thief Adamowicz,” in reference to the January fatal knifing of Gdańsk mayor Paweł Adamowicz during a charity rally (read the January issue of the Newsletter).
– In the middle of the night, I was called to not move from the hotel because the perpetrator is in the area and I would stay at this place for the time being. In the morning I was told that the perpetrator was arrested –Lubnauer said.
The police detained a member of the Polish parliament’s Marshal’s Guard (Straż Marszałkowska) on charges of directing unlawful threats against Katarzyna Lubnauer. Shortly after that the Sejm Information Center (CIS) reported that “an officer in the Marshal’s Guard had19 years of experience in the parliament”. The chief of the Chancellery of the Sejm wrote, “at the request of the Marshal’s Guard Commander, has immediately suspended the officer in official duties and ordered a procedure leading to his immediate discharge from the service”. Furthermore, in line with the law on the Marshal’s Guard, “a disciplinary inquiry has been launched immediately”.
Lubnauer emphasized that “she would not have publicly disclosed the case unless the perpetrators had been arrested”. “I thought, first of all, to congratulate the police, and secondly to warn everyone that you can neither threaten nor hate on the Internet, since none of you are anonymous and everyone can be held accountable,” Lubnauer stated. “This means that not only we politicians, but generally all visitors to Sejm were more threatened than anyone could have anticipated,” she added.
“The idea that a person who has special rights has the right to have a gun can go after the entire Sem, after the Sejm hotel, which can practically take the key even from our room – because at the reception, I think no one would refuse the key to the marshal’s guard – it makes everyone feel a bigger threat ,” Lubanuer said to TVN24 reporter.
EAJ on Polish Judiciary
At its meeting in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan, on 15 September 2019 the European Association of Judges (EAJ) adopted a resolution concerning the situation of the judiciary in Poland. The organization notes and echoes the concerns recently expressed, especially by the judges of the Courts of Appeal in Poznań, in Krakow and in Katowice, concerning the situation of the judiciary in Poland. The EAJ notes that particular concern has been expressed about threats to the independence of the judiciary posed by recent changes to the judicial system promoted by the executive which are designed to impose a level of political control over the judiciary. It considers that these measures represent a failure by the Polish executive to respect the principle of the separation of powers in its recent changes to the judicial system, and to show appropriate respect to the judiciary as the third arm of the Polish government.
The EAJ expresses particular concern about the lowering of criteria for the selection of candidates to sit on the Supreme Court, and the failure to ensure that the independence and objectivity of candidates is guaranteed.
The EAJ urges the government of the Republic of Poland:
- Immediately to bring to an end disciplinary proceedings brought against any judge based on the judge’s decision to request a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union or the judge’s delivering a judgment of which the government or its agencies disapprove;
- To review the new system of disciplinary proceedings to ensure they are independent of government and the Minister of Justice;
- To introduce procedures to amend the legislation on the National Council of Judiciary to ensure that its judicial members are elected by the judges and are not nominated by Parliament or the government; and
- Forthwith to undertake all necessary or appropriate steps to restore the independence of the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Tribunal and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
Finally, the organization calls upon the UN Human Rights Commission, the European Parliament, the Council and Commission of the European Union, and the international community similarly to urge upon the government of the Republic of Poland the need to take the steps and measures mentioned above.
Read the entire Resolution here: http://citizensobservatory.pl/ustawa/resolution-of-the-european-association-of-judges-eaj-concerning-poland/
ECJ Sides with the Polish Government
Questions from two Polish courts to the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) over whether a new system of disciplining judges in the country violates EU law shouldn’t be admitted, the court’s advocate general said in a non-binding opinion.
The ECJ’s advocate general, Evgeni Tanchev, said that due to procedural reasons, these questions shouldn’t be addressed by the court. He said there hasn’t been “sufficient explanation of the relationship between the relevant provisions of EU law and the Polish measures in question,” and “the question whether there is a structural breach of judicial independence … remains hypothetical in the circumstances of the main proceedings.”
The opinion is non-binding but usually constitutes the base for the final judgment, which is expected by the end of this year.
One week earlier Polish government sent its response to the European Commission within the EU law infringement procedure regarding the new disciplinary measures for judges. If the EU Commission finds the response unsatisfactory, it may refer Poland’s case to the European Court of Justice.
According to the Commission: “The new disciplinary regime undermines the judicial independence of Polish judges by not offering necessary guarantees to protect them from political control, as required by the Court of Justice of the European Union.” The new disciplinary chamber is composed only of judges selected by the new National Council for the Judiciary (KRS) whose members have been appointed by the PiS. Some members of these two new bodies showed their moral and ethical standards publicly in the hate speech scandal last month (see the previous edition of the Newsletter).
Macron: Go Protest in Poland!
French President Emmanuel Macron has criticized Poland for blocking the fight against the climate change crisis. Poland along with the Czech Republic, Estonia, and Hungary, blocked a proposed strategy at an EU summit in June for the bloc to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, which means it would absorb the same amount of greenhouse gases it emits.
Speaking to “La Parisien” on board his flight to the climate summit at the UN in New York Macron noted: “The truth is that the country which is blocking everything is Poland. My aim is to get other countries to react to this and to invite young people who are protesting in Europe to put pressure on that country… let them move those I can’t!”
“Marching every Friday to say that the planet is burning, that’s nice, but that is not the problem,” Macron told reporters, adding people should “go protest in Poland! Help me move those I cannot push forward.”
Poland’s minister for European affairs Konrad Szymański responded that his country was serious about climate issues, but wanted clear rules on burden sharing in the EU. Polish deputy foreign minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk said that Macron “is aware” that Poland was trying hard to reduce carbon emissions. He hoped that “in this area as well as in other areas, he will refrain from this kind of lecturing which, in his case, has become tiring.” And Macron answered “I’m not stigmatizing anyone. But I want to convince our Polish friends that it’s good for them to move on this.”
Eventually even Polish PM commented Macron’s words. Mateusz Morawiecki said that French president’s criticism of Polish climate policy was “unfounded”. Morawiecki pointed out that under the Kyoto Protocol, Poland was required to reduce CO2 emissions by 6% but it has slashed output of greenhouses gases by almost 30% over the past 20 years.
On the other side, thousands of Polish young activists joined “Thousand Cities Protest” against climate change. Marches were organized in over 60 cities, among others, in Kraków, Lublin, Łódź, Poznań and Zakopane. Polish activists have put forward 6 postulates to politicians and media. They demand from Polish government to announce ecological crisis, to implement up-to-date knowledge on this subject to Polish schools curricula, and summoning a special climate council.
Scandals in Gdynia
Polish Film Festival in Gdynia is one of the oldest film events in Europe which promotes the Polish cinematography on such a wide scale. It exists since 1974; until 1986, PFFF was organized in Gdańsk; then Gdynia became its venue, and the Danuta Baduszkowa Musical Theatre became the Festival Centre. Currently, the Festival programme comprises of: two competition sections (Main Competition, Short Film Competition), numerous non-competition sections, as well as accompanying events. The permanent sections of the Festival include, among others, “Pure Classics” (a review of the Polish digitally reconstructed films), “Pre-War Cinema Treasures”, “Polonica” (screenings of foreign productions made with the participation of Polish filmmakers), the exceptionally popular, abounding in educational programmes “Gdynia for Children” section, or the thematic sections organized with the participation of the partners of the Festival. Every year, the Platinum Lions prize is awarded at the Festival for career and artistic achievements.
The most important awards of the Gdynia Film Festival are the Golden Lions and Silver Lions. They are awarded by the international Main Competition Jury and they are amongst the most precious awards of the Polish film industry.
This year Agnieszka Holland’s film Mr. Jones won the top award. It tells the life story of a Welsh journalist Gareth Jones, who reported on the Great Famine in Soviet Ukraine which killed millions in 1932 and 1933. Gareth Jones was murdered in 1935 in mysterious circumstances amid suspicions that his death had been engineered by the Soviet NKVD secret police. In the film, Jones is portrayed by English actor James Norton, while Vanessa Kirby plays Ada Brooks, a New York Times reporter who helps the hero uncover the Soviet government’s genocidal policies.
Jan Komasa’s drama Corpus Christi, which was last week picked as Poland’s entry for Best International Feature Film at next year’s Oscars, won the festival’s Audience Award.
But this year Polish public opinion was mostly electrified by a scandal connected to the Solid Gold. The film written and directed by Jacek Bromski, and inspired by a 2012 political scandal connected to a pyramid scam during Donald Tusk administration, gives a behind the scenes look at the police and special services.
The movie was suddenly withdrawn by the co-producer – the state-owned TVP. PiS-controlled TVP was not happy about the final edit of the film that did not present the scandal as the government wanted, namely it did not attack the previous government hard enough and unambiguously. Chairman of the Festival’s Programme Council Wojciech Marczewski said that the festival regretfully accepted the decision of the producer of Solid Gold.
The director of the film Jacek Bromski issued a statement addressed to the festival director: “With great surprise I received information about the withdrawal of my film from the Main Competition of the Polish Feature Film Festival in Gdynia at the request of the coproducer of the film TVP. I am surprised because the representative of TVP participated in the selection of films at the meeting of the Organising Committee on 9 July 2019, voting in favour of accepting Solid Gold to the Main Competition. I understand that since I did not and still do not agree to the re-editing of the film and its propaganda use before the election, TVP has put pressure on the film producer to withdraw my film from all planned festival screenings, including those for which tickets have already been sold. I really regret that the festival audience will not be able to see the film in the uncensored version”.
Other directors and artists were supporting Bromski. They warned that there could be a boycott of the Gdynia Film Festival. They are demanding immediate changes, including the clear rules regarding the selection of films in the running. On the other hand, TVP claims the director has censored his own film due to pressure from people associated with the affair.
„Mr. Jones” trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tp5TE8a-17s
„Solid Gold” trailer: https://film.interia.pl/zwiastuny/video,vId,2747601
Germany and Poland
Moniuszko in Berlin
Stanisław Moniuszko is one of the most famous Polish composers of all times. Moniuszko was born on May 5, 1819, in Ubiel near Minsk, present-day Belarus, and lived for some time in Vilnius, in what is now Lithuania, before moving to Warsaw. He was the founder of the Polish national opera and an outstanding composer, conductor, organist, and teacher. He also wrote chamber compositions, religious songs and patriotic music reflecting the history of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
According to the Resolution of the Sejm, the year 2019 was named the Year of Stanisław Moniuszko. The celebration has been included on a list of UNESCO-sponsored anniversaries as a result of a joint initiative by Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.
The Stanisław Moniuszko bicentenary programme started off in Warsaw Grand Theatre – National Opera with a concert performance of Halka, his flagship opera (others are The Haunted Manor and The Countess). Part of the celebration was also showing of Halka at the Berlin Philharmonic. The concert was prepared by the Poznań Grand Theatre, conducted by Gabriela Chmura and introduced by Fredrick Hanssen (Der Tagesspiegel).
Stanisław Moniuszko lived and studied for a few years in Berlin but his heritage is hardly ever presented in Germany.
Polls & trends
Kantar Public for “Gazeta Wyborcza, 1-5/10/2019
Civic Coalition (KO) 29%
Left (SLD) 13%
PSL-Polish Coalition 4%
Vegans in Poland
Data by Pyszne.pl & PortalSpozywczy.pl.
Over one million Polish adults (age 18-65) do not eat meat.
Additionally 43% of Poles claim they reduce meat consumption.
Why Poles reduce meat consumption?
For their own health 54%
Because meat substitutes are easily available 36%
Good range of vegetarian places around 33%
To get/keep fit 31%
For the planet/environment 30%
Doctor’s recommendation 5%
8% of Polish population is vegetarian and 7% is vegan. This is one of the largest vegan populations in Europe.
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.