From Poland With Love – August

Topic of the Month

Stop the Nonsense

Małgorzata Szutowicz, best known as Margot, who is a non-binary anarchist activist and one of the founders of the Stop Bzdurom (Stop the Nonsense) collective, was put in pre-trial detention for two months for acts of civil disobedience, including using a knife to cut the tires of a van that drives around broadcasting anti-LGBT messages, including a claim that “homosexuals are preparing society to accept pedophilia.” Such a detention is normally used in cases of serious crimes and dangerous criminals.

Currently Szutowicz is facing one more charge, of hanging a rainbow flag on a Jesus monument belonging to a church downtown Warsaw. Szutowicz’s lawyer said she could face up to two years in prison for offending people’s religious feelings “by outraging in public an object of religious worship”, as well as a fine or community service for the second crime of profaning a monument.

According to witnesses, the activist was forced to endure “transphobic comments and jokes” during her arrest. She was also set to be detained in a male facility and denied access to a lawyer. She has been publicly misgendered by the police and PiS politicians.

Together with Szutowicz some 48 other people were also arrested. Many of them were activists who went to protest on the streets of Warsaw against Szutowicz’s pre-trial detention. They gathered in front of the HQ of the Campaign Against Homophobia, one of the leading LGBT+ rights organization in Poland, and marched to the main street of the historical center of Warsaw to show their solidarity with Szutowicz and LGBT+ people. But it’s not only them who were arrested, as the police was especially zealous in this case. Some by-passers, including foreign tourists watching the demonstration, also ended up in prisons. A group of progressive MPs was trying to prevent it, and later they followed all arrested people in different police stations across Warsaw offering them legal assistance.

Szutowicz actions are seen by some observers as radical, but many others stress that the way the LGBT+ community is treated by the government gives activists no other choice if they want to be seen and listened to.  “The LGBTI community is being denied the right to exist by the leading political party. LGBTI people in Poland live in a situation of constant, repressive pressure with no access to justice or state protection,” said ILGA-Europe Program Director Björn van Roozendaal.

Cultural figures from Poland and around the world have joined rising calls to release Szutowicz. Margaret Atwood, Olga Tokarczuk, Agnieszka Holland, Pedro Almódovar, Ed Harris, Luca Guadagnino are among more than 70 cultural figures who have condemned rising anti-LGBT+ sentiment in Poland. “Homophobic aggression in Poland is growing because it is condoned by the ruling party, which has chosen sexual minorities as a scapegoat with no regard for the safety and well-being of citizens,” the open letter reads.

Organizations such as The European Parliament LGBTI Intergroup, the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, and the Council of Europe Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Unit have all called for Szutowicz’s immediate release.

Following Szutowicz’s arrest, many protesters were displaying rainbow flags on diverse monuments in Warsaw and other cities, and they were arrested for those actions. Until today police officers guard 24/7 all important monuments so that they are not “vandalized” with rainbow flag. Santa Clause hats or football t-shirts on the same monuments have never been called acts of vandalism…

The Ombudsman Adam Bodnar has condemned the police’s actions against those who sought to protect Szutowicz, and has launched a preliminary investigation into claims that officers violated basic human rights. “In a democratic state ruled by law, all citizens, regardless of any characteristics, including sexual orientation and gender identity, should enjoy their full rights with a sense of safety and dignity,” he wrote. “I stress that the protection of this safety is one of the basic tasks of the police.”

After three weeks in temporary detention, Szutowicz was released. Her lawyer said it was partially possible thanks to letters of support written by many notable figures such as: former editor-in-chief of the catholic weekly Tygodnik Powszechny father Adam Boniecki, chief rabbi of Poland Michael Schudrich, Jacek Taylor – attorney for political prisoners in communist era, as well as actress Maja Komorowska.

Read the open letter: https://wyborcza.pl/7,173236,26217113,lgbt-community-in-poland-a-letter-of-solidarity-and-protest.html

Foreign Affairs

Support for Free Belarus

Belarus has been in turmoil since the presidential election on August 9th that, according to the opposition, was rigged to extend Alexander Lukashenko’s 26-year rule. Due to the difficult post-electoral period in Belarus, the relations between Warsaw and Minsk are getting worse and worse, as Polish society and Polish authorities show their solidarity with the democratic opposition in Belarus.

The Belarusian president commented that Warsaw may be plotting to seize part of the country if its political crisis worsened. He warned that Poland plans to take over the Grodno region bordering Poland and Lithuania if Belarus falls apart, or if the opposition wins. Belarusian foreign ministry summoned the Polish charge d’affaires to protest against alleged Poland’s attempts to interfere in Belarus’ domestic affairs. Krzysztof Szczerski, head of the Presidential Office in Warsaw, replied: “These comments are unacceptable. No one has such intentions in Poland and this is propaganda.” “If the West does not have a ‘we win, they lose’ approach to Russia, then Putin will be step by step expanding the Brezhnev Doctrine,” Szczerski added. “The Lukashenko´s regime is not a threat to Poland at the moment,” Defense Minister Mariusz Blaszczak told the tabloid Super Express, noting that Poland should be prepared for a number of scenarios.

On August 10th Polish authorities called for an emergency European Union summit on the situation in Belarus. “The authorities have used force against their citizens, who are demanding change in the country. We must support the Belarusian people in their quest for freedom,” PM Mateusz Morawiecki said. Poland together with the Baltic States are calling for a new democratic presidential election in Belarus and urging the European Union to impose targeted sanctions against Minsk top officials.

PM Morawiecki has published a multi-step plan to help Belarus, which would provide scholarships for academics and funding for the independent media. They will initially cost around PLN 50 million (ca. EUR 12 million). “Empathy is not enough—we need to take concrete action,” he said.

President Andrzej Duda said that he was closely watching the situation after Belarus’s presidential elections and would react appropriately, as it develops. Among others, he discussed the issue with his German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier. “The presidents expressed an expectation that today’s meeting of EU foreign ministers will give a clear communique, with a legible signal of the European Union’s engagement in resolving the problems in Belarus and a clear European policy in the matter of the Belarusian conflict,” the head of the Presidential Office informed. Duda also appealed to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to call on Belarusian authorities to refrain from violence against demonstrators and release arrested demonstrators.

According to the MFA Poland is bracing itself for an influx of people from Belarus after a violent crackdown on protests there but wants to maintain border security. Recently Poland reopened all consulates in Belarus, after they were closed in March due to the epidemic, and simplified visa issuance procedures.

Belarusians living in Poland have been organizing solidarity demonstrations with protesters back home. They represent a significant minority in Poland. In addition to ca. 50.000 Polish citizens of Belarusian ethnicity (on the other side, in Belarus there are between 300.000 and 1,2 million citizens of Polish origin), tens of thousands of Belarusians have migrated to Poland in recent years looking for a better life in the EU. Thousands of people were marching on streets of Warsaw, Kraków, Łódź and other showing their support for the democratic opposition in Belarus.

On August 9th over 2.000 Belarusians residing in Poland tried to cast their votes in the Warsaw embassy. Only 244 got to exercise their right, as the embassy invoked the Covid-19 to limit access. So they organized an alternative ballot in front of the polling station. According to the organizers 2.379 people took part and the opposition candidate Svetlana Tsikhanouska won 98,7% of the votes.

Lublin Triangle

The foreign ministers of Lithuania Linas Linkevičius, Ukraine Dmytro Kuleba and Poland Jacek Czaputowicz announced the creation of a new regional initiative, the Lublin Triangle. It is supposed to be a platform for political, military, economic and social cooperation to counter “the ongoing Russian aggression” in the region and to reiterate their “firm support” for the European and Euro-Atlantic institutions. Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania are hoping the Triangle will be an important mechanism for strengthening Central Europe’s role in the EU and promoting Ukraine’s European and Euroatlantic integration.

It is a first Central European initiative with Ukraine onboard. “The Lublin Triangle emphasizes the important role that Ukraine, Poland, and Lithuania play in Central Europe and the world,” said Dmytro Kuleba. “Our unity can not only strengthen our countries but also effectively counter common threats, guarantee the security and prosperity of our region.” Expressing their support for Ukraine’s aspirations to NATO membership, the ministers also recommit to deepening and broadening of Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian military-to-military cooperation, stressing the importance of the EU and NATO.

Among other priorities named in the declaration is a commitment to providing mutual support in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.

This new political initiative invoked the integrationist heritage of the 1569 Union of Lublin, when the 17th century Lithuanian-Polish Commonwealth, which included most of today’s Ukraine in its borders, was officially established.

Society

No More Solidarity

On the last day of August, Poland celebrated 40 years since it took a crucial step towards democracy with the creation of the Soviet bloc’s first free trade union, Solidarność (Solidarity), which changed the course of the European history. On August 31st, 1980, an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard (now Gdansk Shipyard) Lech Wałęsa, who was representing striking workers, sat down at a table with the communist government to sign an agreement. The key concession made by the communists was to allow the formation of a free trade union.

“It was the greatest victory in Poland’s history and its value rested in the fact that the old order was defeated but at the same time those who were defeated were encouraged to remain friends,” said Wałęsa at the historical shipyard gate in Gdańsk. He also warned against populism: “People today are electing populists and demagogues because they promise change… they (populists) have correctly diagnosed (today’s problems) but their cure is wrong.”

Leaders of the PiS government were holding separate ceremonies in Gdańsk to stress their long-standing negative assessment of the deal with the communists and of Wałęsa’s role in it. PiS calls Wałęsa a traitor and does everything to erase him from the history textbooks, replacing him with other- PiS-allied- anti-communist oppositionists like Anna Walentynowicz (see the April 2020 issue of the Newsletter) or Lech Kaczyński.

The current Solidarity leader and PiS MP, Piotr Duda, said during ceremonies that the union would try to bring assistance to protesters in Belarus. “Our hearts and eyes are focused on Belarus, where they are having their August now and where they should not be short of solidarity, spelled with the small s and the big S,” Duda said. He recently declared that Solidarność was born “under the cross”, while the trade union’s weekly paper asked, “is LGBT a neo-Marxist ideology?”, giving now space for a discussion about the trade union’s actual role in Polish politics.

PM Mateusz Morawiecki said Monday that Solidarność stood not only for the past 40 years that Poland was celebrating but was also a “determinant and azimuth for the next 40 years” for the government and the nation.

Monuments all over the world have lit up with the colours of the Polish flag and the logo of Solidarity to commemorate the anniversary, from the Niagara Falls to the statute of Jesus Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro to the Qutb Minar in New Dehli.

Politics

Greedy or Poor?

The Sejm adopted an amendment to the regulations increasing the salaries of local government officials, MPs and ministers as well as other persons occupying “managerial positions in the state”. After the regulations come into force, the salaries of these groups will be linked to the salaries of Supreme Court judges. An MP, for example, would earn 63% as much as a judge, while the president gets 30% more. Under the proposed new system, the salaries of deputies and senators will increase from the current level of PLN 8.000 (ca. EUR 1.800) per month gross to almost PLN 12.600. Ministers would see their pay increased by 78%, to PLN 18.000 zloty, while the prime minister would earn PLN 22.000.

The president would more than double his earnings, from PLN 12.600 to 26.000. First lady, meanwhile, would receive a salary for the first time in history, set at PLN 18.000 per month.

The new legislation also increases state funding for political parties by 50%. The amount they receive is based on their performance in elections. So, for example, PiS subsidies would rise from PLN 23,3 million to almost 35 million.

386 out of 460 MPs supported the amendment. 33 MPs objected and 15 abstained. Only three small parties/groups represented in the Sejm voted against: Confederation (far right), Greens (Civic Coalition) and Partia Razem (the Left). This rare display of cross-party unity provoked an outrage within the public opinion, as the significantly higher salaries were presented in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis that made many Poles lose their jobs and companies. Krzysztof Bosak, a Confederation MP and its presidential candidate in recent election, wrote on Twitter that “mainstream parties consult among themselves behind the backs of voters”.

The public outcry has led the Civic Coalition to change its mind. Borys Budka, the leader of the PO, announced that the party would ask its senators to reject the proposal when it is debated in the Senate. According to Budka, Polish people are of the view that this is not the time for such pay rises. “Since the people are our paymasters we have to respect that,” he said. The Senate voted against and PiS declared that this was the end of this amendment. But media report that a big group within PiS is very unsatisfied with this decision as they believe they should earn more. Deputy speaker of the Sejm Ryszard Terlecki is reported to have been appointed to continue the secret negotiations with the opposition.

In 2018 PiS lowered the salaries of PMs by 1/5, as a consequence of a scandal with huge bonuses that PiS ministers paid themselves.

Reshuffled Government

After Andrzej Duda’s presidential victory, PM Mateusz Morawiecki announced that changes in his cabinet are coming. He said that the new government would have only 12-13 ministers compared to the record high 21 now. These words provoked lots of movements inside the right-wing coalition. The panic was visible, some of the worst ranked ministers started to look for new jobs, whereas the most powerful players were looking for upgrades for themselves and their allies. Two small coalition partners of PiS, the Solidarity Poland and the Alliance, want to mark their presence and position in the camp, but also there are multiple factions within PiS fighting for their particular interests.

The Solidarity Poland is especially visible in this race. Its leader and justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro is marking his presence on the political scene with very radical right-wing remarks, mostly against the Istanbul Convention (see the previous issue of the Newsletter) and the LGBT+ people. It has been commented that Jarosław Kaczyński does not like this particular activism on the very right side of his political camp and he even thinks about replacing Ziobro’s team with PSL in the coalition. But these are most probably only rumors and PiS will not destroy the successful alliance created in 2015.

Some members of the government decided to quit before being fired. The first one to declare his departure from the PiS administration was deputy health minister, known to a wider public from almost daily press conferences on the Covid-19 situation, but also from being accused of corruption and incompetence. But what was really important was the resignation of his boss, health minister Łukasz Szumowski. He announced his decision during the historical peak of newly reported daily cases of Covid-19 in Poland. Szumowski became extremely popular at the beginning of the epidemic in Poland. He was the one who explained the Polish people what the epidemic is and how they should behave. He quickly became one of the most trusted politicians. But he also quickly lost this political capital when the media reported allegations of wrongdoing in the procurement of medical equipment needed to fight the virus. According to these reports, his family and friends earned a lot selling uncertified equipment to the ministry. Gazeta Wyborcza reported in May that the health ministry spent PLN 5 million (ca. EUR 1,1 million) on 120.000 FFP-2 face masks and 20.000 surgical masks that were found not to meet the safety standards. The report said the contract was awarded to a ski instructor who knew the minister’s brother, Marcin.

The newly named health minister is Adam Niedzielski, an economist who has worked for many years in different areas of public finance and administration and has most recently been the head of the National Health Service (NFZ).

Two days after Szumowski’s resignation, minister of foreign affairs Jacek Czaputowicz announced his final decision to leave the government. This came as no surprise as some months ago, Czaputowicz informed about his plans in an interview for Rzeczpospolita, but on the other hand nobody expected that he would leave during the Belarus crisis. His office gave no precise reason for the move, but said “the minister has in the past said that the post-election period was the right time for a change” in the post of foreign minister. Czaputowicz’s position in the government has always been very weak. He was never a member of PiS, and Jarosław Kaczyński called him “an experiment” shortly after he was appointed. During his time, the role of the ministry was marginalized, the EU relations were moved directly to the PM Office and the minister was fully dependent on PiS’s will.

Zbigniew Rau, the chair of the parliamentary foreign affairs committee, was appointed to the post of foreign minister. Rau is a law professor and former governor of Łódź.

The opposition criticizes him for not having any position abroad and any contacts in the diplomatic world. Civil society criticizes him for his homophobia. Rau claimed on Facebook that “LGBT+ ideology” promoted an anti-Christian “civilization of death”. He also wrote that since “the moral revolution began in 1968,” Europe had “legalized zoophilia”, “euthanasia of the weakest, the oldest and the ailing” and “suggested legalizing pedophilia”. He added: “Recently, Swedish scientists even reported the need to consider the legalization of cannibalism”.

Special Funds for LGBT-free Zones

Justice minister Zbigniew Ziobro has announced that towns which applications for European Union funding were denied (see previous issue of the Newsletter) because they have declared themselves “LGBT free” would receive money from the state instead. He handed over a symbolic cheque of PLN 250.000 (ca. EUR 57.000) to the mayor of Tuchów at a special ceremony, adding that: “We tried find out if there are any other municipalities mentioned by Commissioner Dalli. If we find any, we will reach out to them.”

What is even more appalling is the fact that the money comes from the special Justice Fund that was created to help the crime victims.

Tuchów, a small town in Lesser Poland, was one of six Polish cities whose applications for EU twinning grants were rejected last month because of their anti-LGBT+ declarations inspired by PiS. A French town that Tuchów was twinned with, Saint-Jean-de-Braye, broke the partnership and declared that the relationship was now “tainted”. The EU Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli commented then that “EU values and fundamental rights must be respected by member states and public authorities”. Zbigniew Ziobro then said: “We will not allow discrimination of Polish citizens and local governments by the European Union, the Union must respect the equality of all its citizens who have the right to form their opinions and beliefs freely.”

Culture & Science

Maria Janion: Noble and Ethical

Maria Janion, a scholar, literary critic and renowned feminist Maria Janion died at the age of 93.

Maria Janion was born in 1926 in Mońki. Until 1945, she lived in Vilnius. After World War II, her family moved to Bydgoszcz. In 1949, Maria Janion moved to Warsaw, where she graduated from the University of Warsaw. In 1963 she received the title of professor of humanities. She worked at the Institute of Polish Philology at the University of Gdańsk, and in 1973 became a full professor. She also lectured at the University of Warsaw.

In the 1970s she became involved in opposition activities – she was among the founders of the independent Society of Scientific Courses. In August 1980, she signed a letter from 64 intellectuals supporting the strikes.

Janion was an outstanding expert in Polish and European Romanticism. She was as controversial as she was courageous in her interpretations. She raised many generations of Polish humanists. Her academic courses, her very modest lifestyle and her apartment completely full with books were subjects of many legends among her students and other scientists in Poland.  “She left as she wanted – in her home, among books. She fell asleep while reading. She was an amazing person in the full sense of the word. Noble and ethical. She was aware until the last moment, she cheered us up until the last moment,” said famous literary critique Kazimiera Szczuka, who was Janion’s friend and student, in an interview with OKO.press.

She wrote over 20 books, including “Zygmunt Krasiński, debut i maturity” (1962), “Romantic fever” (1975), “Konrad Wallenrod’s posthumous life” (1990), “Women and the spirit of otherness” (1995), “General’s Cry” . Essays on War (1998), “Vampire: A Symbolic Biography” (2002), “Incredible Slavicism: Literary Phantasms” (2006) and “Hero, Conspiracy, Death: Jewish Lectures” (2009).

Her best-known and most read work is Uncanny Slavdom (2006), which sparked a new flame of interests in the spiritual and material legacy of Slaves and about Polish identity. According to Janion, the loss of the Slavic legacy led to an indelible rupture on the Polish national soul, and its consequences can be still seen as Poles cannot find their place between the East and the West. She believed that the best remedy would be to re-introduce Slavdom, which is a fantasy,  into the general consciousness of Poles.

Read more: https://notesfrompoland.com/2020/09/05/poland-lies-nowhere-it-is-a-universal-idea-maria-janion-uncanny-slavdom-and-polish-identity/

9 out of 1000

Two Polish universities have been rated as among the best 500 in the world in the new edition of the Academic Ranking of World Universities (ARWU). The Warsaw University saw its position improve, moving into the band of institutions ranked between 301st and 400th (for universities below the top 100, exact positions are not given). The Jagiellonian University in Kraków moved in the opposite direction, dropping into the 401-500 band of rankings.

A further six Polish universities made the top 1,000, with their rankings as follows:

  1. University of Warsaw (301-400)
  2. Jagiellonian University (401-500)
  3. AGH University of Science and Technology (701-800)
  4. Adam Mickiewicz University (801-900)
  5. Gdańsk University of Technology (801-900)
  6. Warsaw University of Technology (801-900)
  7. Medical University of Silesia (901-1000)
  8. Medical University of Warsaw (901-1000)

Gdańsk University of Technology is a new entry in the top 1.000. However, two other Polish institutions – Nicolaus Copernicus University and Wrocław University of Science and Technology – fell out of this year’s ranking, meaning Poland has one less university in the top 1.000 than last year.

Read more: http://www.shanghairanking.com/

Memory: Miracle on the Vistula

100 years ago, on August 15th, 1920, the decisive battle of the Polish-Bolshevik war took place on the outskirts of Warsaw. Referred to as the “Miracle on the Vistula,” it ended with the Polish Army’s victory over the Red Army. The 1920 Battle of Warsaw saved a large part of Europe from the threat of Bolshevism.

British diplomat Lord Edgar Vincent d’Abernon placed the Battle of Warsaw 18th in the list of the most important battles in the history ahead of the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Midway. The battle saved not only Poland from the Soviet invasion, but also it saved large parts of Europe from the Bolshevik scourge. Lenin and Stalin planned to take the fire of revolution to Germany, where local Communist revolutions were already taking place. The Soviets planned also to take the revolution to Hungary, and then to Italy, the Balkans and the Mediterranean.

The Bolshevik commander on the ground, General Mikhail Tukhachevsky, enthusiastically cabled the commander-in-chief of the Red Army – Leon Trotsky —that Warsaw was merely a bridge. After the collapse of Poland, the Red Army would march through Berlin, Paris, and even London to incite world revolution and create a European Union of Soviet Socialist Republics under Moscow. But when the Red Army set foot on the bridge over the Vistula connecting Warsaw’s east bank to its downtown, Poland’s Marshal Józef Piłsudski ordered a massive counter-offensive. As Poland’s elite First Army defended the capital, Polish forces simultaneously attacked the Red Army from the rear, the north and the south.

Minister of defense Mariusz Błaszczak launched a construction of a museum devoted to the battle on a historic battlefield in Osów. It will be a branch of the Polish Armed Forces Museum in Warsaw. It should be completed within two years.

Security

5G Troops

Poland and the USA signed an expanded defense cooperation agreement (EDCA) that will result in one thousand additional US personnel being sent to Poland on a rotational basis.

The deal, agreed earlier in August, and signed by secretary of state Mike Pompeo and Polish defense minister Mariusz Błaszczak, follows the American decision to withdraw about 12.000 troops from Germany and plans to redeploy almost half of that number to other nations in Europe. The US Army V Corps overseas headquarters will be moved to Poland next year.

The agreement grants American forces access to additional Polish military installations and outlines the logistical and infrastructure costs of catering for greater numbers of US troops, which will be shared between the two countries.

“I believe the agreement will help boost cooperation in other areas; more security means more investment by American companies, including more cooperation in the energy industry,” President Andrzej Duda said at the signing ceremony. “The agreement will enhance our military cooperation and increase the United States’ military presence in Poland to further strengthen NATO deterrence, bolster European security, and help ensure democracy, freedom, and sovereignty,” Donald Trump’s statement said.

For many observers it is very clear that EDCA is a part of the US plan of pushing Poland into the anti-Huawei coalition. Poland is Huawei’s HQ for Central and Eastern Europe and the Nordic region. Although Warsaw has not said its final word on 5G equipment providers yet, Pompeo is striving to consolidate all European allies to speak with one voice. Pompeo has called on Europe to “secure data from the Chinese Communist Party’s surveillance state” by joining the US-led Clean Network program aimed at “safeguarding the nation’s assets from aggressive intrusions by malign actors.”

Poland and Germany

New Ambassador in Warsaw

Poland has finally accepted the appointment of a new German ambassador. The designate, Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven, should have taken up his post in June, when his predecessor, Rolf Nikel, retired.

At the start of the summer, Germany nominated a top diplomat Arndt Freytag von Loringhoven to its post in Warsaw. Previously, he was on the same post in Paris and twice in Moscow, in between he worked in the planning staff and in the office of Minister Joschka Fischer. He was also vice president of the Federal Intelligence Service, vice head of the European Department in the Foreign Office, ambassador in Prague and associate secretary general of NATO for Intelligence.

He was waiting for the agrément for months, something unusual in relations between two allied countries, both members of NATO and EU. The reasons of such behavior have not been announced but commentators has pointed out at least two. One, the general Germanophobia of Jarosław Kaczyński accelerated by the fact that PiS blames Germany and German media on dirty campaign against Andrzej Duda before the presidential elections (read more in the previous issue of the Newsletter) and by the German support for Nord Stream 2 pipeline. Two, the past of the new ambassador’s father. Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven was a Wehrmacht officer and prepared Hitler’s daily military briefings towards the end of the World War II. Polish right-wing media were unnaturally excited about this finding and called them a slap in face of all Polish people. For example Najwyższy Czas, a conservative/libertarian magazine close to the far right Confederation, described the nomination as “Merkel’s gift to the Poles – son of Hitler’s aide de camp will be ambassador to Warsaw”.

It is interesting to add that Bernd Freytag von Loringhoven after being absolved of war crimes became a senior figure in the West German armed forces and later worked as an adviser on the film Downfall. He died in 2007.

When Polish deputy foreign minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sęk announced the final decision about the new ambassador, he underlined that Germans must be aware of “a special kind of Polish sensitivity, resulting from the fact that the crimes of World War II remain a great unhealed wound in the minds of the Polish nation all the time.” But former foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz, who just resigned, called the long delay “strange”.

Jürgen Hardt, a foreign policy spokesman for CDU in the parliament, welcomed the step but called it “overdue.” He noted that the news reached him on the anniversary of the start of the war. “It remains incomprehensible to us that the Polish government delayed the granting of the agrément for so long,” he added.

Economy

Corona-Budget 2021

Poland’s draft 2021 budget and revised 2020 budget highlight the impact of the Covid-19 epidemic and associated fiscal support measures on public finances.

The revised 2020 state budget, approved by the government on 20 August, targets a deficit of 4,9% of GDP. This would translate to a general government deficit of 12% of GDP, given the large deficits expected in the dedicated fund for epidemic-related support measures created within the state-owned BGK-bank and the new business support mechanism managed by the Polish Development Fund (PFR).

According to the development minister Jadwiga Emilewicz: “The 3rd quarter will be much better than (…) the 2nd quarter. We estimate that the GDP will drop by about 4% year on year, mainly due to a decline in investment. We estimate a significant moderation in the drop of consumption, we’re talking about minus 4% vs. minus 10,9% in the 2nd quarter. (….) There will still be a double digit decline in investment in the 3rd quarter.”

New Eurostat data for the second quarter of 2020 shows that Poland is among the top three countries in terms of the mildness of the recession. Polish GDP declined by 7,9%; only Lithuania and Finland (where GDP decreased by 3,7% and 5,2%, respectively) performed better. German daily Die Welt published that “Poland can prove once again how crisis-proof it is. Since joining the EU in 2004, the country has managed to avoid all major European crises: the euro-crisis in 2009, the refugee-crisis in 2015 and now the coronavirus-crisis. Poland holds up when others stumble.”

The budget deficit is expected to improve significantly in 2021, as economic growth returns and support measures are scaled back. The 2021 budget, whose details were unveiled on August 27th, envisages state and general government deficits in 2021 of 3,5% and 6,0% of GDP, respectively.

One notable measure is the budgeted 104% increase in healthcare spending to 5,3% of GDP.

The next year’s budget would not include the increases in minimum wage promised by PiS. The minimum wage is planned to increase to PLN 2.716 (ca. EUR 615) instead of the PLN 3.000 (ca. EUR 680) that was announced by Jarosław Kaczyński. The rate of unemployment is to reach 8% this year and slightly decline to 7,5% next year.

Investment will rise by 4% in 2021 after a 10,6% drop in 2020, while private consumption will rebound by 4,4% after a 4,2% decline this year.

Sweet Taxes

An additional charge will be added to the cost of sugary and alcoholic drinks in Poland from the start of next year. The tax was proposed by the government late last year, with the aim of “promoting healthy consumer choices” by “using fiscal policy as a tool to combat overweightness and obesity”.

The plan has faced criticism, in particular because it appears to break a pledge by the PiS and Duda not to raise taxes. In its defense, the government has argued that the additional charges – which it expects to bring in PLN 3 billion (EUR 684 million) annually – are technically a “surcharge” rather than a “tax”. According to deputy finance minister Piotr Patkowski it can’t be called a tax as the additional charges “will not be transferred to the state budget, but to the budget of the National Health Fund”, which is responsible for financing public healthcare in Poland.

The new tax will add a fixed PLN 0,5 (ca. EUR 0,11) to the cost of 1 litre of drink containing sugar or sweeteners. There will also be an additional variable charge of PLN 0,05 per litre for each gram of sugar above 5g/100ml. Meanwhile, alcoholic drinks sold in bottles of under 0,3 litre will have an additional charge of PLN 25 per litre of alcohol content. There will also be an additional PLN 0,10 per litre charge for beverages containing caffeine and/or taurine, which are commonly found in energy drinks.

Poland ranks above the European average for obesity and overweightness. EU study from 2014 shows 64,1% of adults in Poland being overweight, compared to an average of 59,1% across all member states. Among children, Poland has one of Europe’s fastest-growing rates of obesity, according to WHO data. Almost 1/3 of Polish boys aged 11-15 and 14% of girls are overweight.

Polls & Trends

Party Preferences with Alliance and Solidairy Poland

IBRiS, 4.-5.09.2020

PiS                                      38,3%

Civic Coalition                28%

Confederation                 8,4%

Left                                     6,7%

PSL                                     5,9%

Alliance (Gowin’s)         1,7%

Solidarity Poland           1,4%

Miłosz Hodun

Miłosz is an 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.