From Poland With Love – December

Topic of the Month

The Deal

“We have reached an agreement of a kind that, let me stress it, has accepted all of our preconditions that we have made,” said Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki after the EU leader approved the EUR 1,8 trillion budget and Covid recovery plan. “We have a budget, together with the reconstruction fund, which means big funds for investment, big funds for supporting the development of Poland’s economy, for new technologies, for many goals that need to be implemented, especially now that we want to quickly come out of the pandemic. That’s important to us,” he added.

The new agreement still ties disbursements from the fiscal package to democratic and rule of law standards but such sanctions cannot be triggered before the Court of Justice of the EU has ruled on the legality of any nationally introduced measures. The Commission will refrain from implementing the legally binding rule of law mechanism while a member state challenges its legality at the CJEU. This is a process that can take years.

The new mechanism will also not come into effect until next year (after elections in Hungary).

Under the deal, Morawiecki explained, the rule of law mechanism would be limited only to ensure that EU funds are spent correctly according to precise criteria and not touch on social issues such as abortion, LGBT+ rights or migration policy. And this is exactly the way many experts sees the agreement – a killer of a mechanism that was supposed to guarantee the rule of law, or a sacrifice taken by European leaders to keep Warsaw and Budapest onboard.

Eve Geddie, Director of Amnesty International’s European Institutions Office said the delay in introducing the rule of law mechanism “will allow for irreparable damage to the human rights of people in Poland and Hungary, and to the integrity of the rule of law across the EU”. Some MEPs also showed their dissatisfaction, like Moritz Körner (FDP) from Renew Europe, who said the text was in general not problematic but the clause on the Court of Justice was really bad as it could lead to a delay of up to two years. 

It has been commented that such deal contributes to the new way of Euroscepticism in Poland. But this time disappointment with the EU is expressed by the opposition supporters, until recently the biggest Euro-enthusiasts, who now see the European institutions as inefficient, unable to protect its laws and values. “For the citizens of Hungary and Poland, rule of law delayed is rule of law denied. This capitulation could create an indefinite delay in the rule of law mechanism coming into force and allows autocrats in Poland and Hungary to damage the democratic system and wage wars against minorities”, stated together the Hungarian citizens’ organisation aHang and Polish movement Akcja Demokracja.

Also George Soros, archenemy of Viktor Orbán, noted that the EU budget and Covid-19 fund compromises chancellor Angela Merkel reached with Hungary and Poland are the worst of all possible worlds. “All I can do is to express the moral outrage that people who believed in the EU as the protector of European and universal values must feel. I also want to warn that this compromise may severely dent the hard-won confidence that the union’s institutions have gained through the creation of the recovery fund,” he wrote.

Nevertheless, many EU leaders see the deal as a great success that will protect the rule of law in the Community. Emmanuel Macron tweeted that the leaders “adopted a robust agreement on the mechanism to put in place, in respect of the rule of law. Europe moves forward, united, and displays its values”. Angela Merkel said the deal was a “great relief”.

The deal had also serious consequences in Polish politics. Before the summit, once again, Morawiecki has been politically blackmailed by Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, his biggest opponent within the government and leader of the most anti-European party in the ruling coalition, the Solidarity Poland. It was Ziobro who publicly demanded the veto of the compromise and announced that any other action would mean political surrender of Morawiecki (read more in the previous issue). “Veto or death,” said one of Ziobro’s MPs.

After the deal was cut, Ziobro struck a discordant note by claiming that the deal “will significantly limit Poland’s sovereignty” and it “violates the Treaties”. According to him, “the decision to approve the regulation in a budget package without legally binding safeguards is a mistake”. And he added that “the regulation which makes Poland’s access to the EU budget dependent on the European Commission’s arbitrary, political and ideological evaluation will unfortunately come into effect”. Radical right politicians together with conservative organizations and the church warn that the rule of law mechanism is a first step to forcing Poland to accept policies like gay marriage and adoptions of children by same-sex couples

This criticism of Morawiecki, and his patron Jarosław Kaczyński, jeopardized the continuation of the coalition government. Government spokesman Piotr Mueller said that turn of events after the summit “did not fill us with optimism regarding the possibility of continuing cooperation” with Solidarity Poland. “I can imagine a parliamentary majority with PiS, but without the participation of one of our current coalition partners,” he added.

Eventually, PiS irritated Solidarity Poland so much that it voted on its future in the coalition. The party’s leadership, however, voted to remain in the coalition. “The voting was secret, and by 12 to eight votes of leadership members the motion of one of our colleagues to leave the coalition was rejected,” Ziobro said, though he reiterated his party’s opposition to the EU budget deal.

Ziobro is becoming an increasing problem for Jarosław Kaczyński. After the animal rights bill crisis (read more in the October issue of the Newsletter), the blackmail over the EU budget deal has been another situation that violates the trust within the right-wing camp. Morawiecki’s government depends on the slim majority with two junior partners. Without Ziobro´s support he would be forced to form a minority government or  to find another coalition partner.

It is commented that PiS considers multiple scenarios. What can be helpful for PiS is the decomposition of the Polish Coalition group in the Sejm. The group was composed of three parties that presented common lists in 2019 elections, the PSL, Kukiz’15 and very small Union of European Democrats. In late December, Kukiz’15 was removed from the group due to its anti-European rhetoric. Four Kukiz’15 MPs formed a new faction and one of them became independent. They are all a tasty bite for Kaczyński. Also PSL, 6 years in opposition and mauled in the presidential elections, could be attracted by a good offer from Morawiecki.

Even though many commentators and opposition politicians say that the government crumbles and they are getting ready for early elections, the most possible scenario is that the United Right will do everything to keep on working together until 2023. Despite all the differences, there is a lot that unites the coalition partners, including business connections.

According to a poll published by daily Rzeczpospolita, PiS would lose a majority in the Sejm if it ran without Ziobro’s party.

Society

Cutting the Line

The Covid-19 vaccination programme started in Poland on December 27th. Before Christmas, Piotr Mueller, spokesperson of the government said: “There are already thousands of people who have applied for vaccinations within the so-called ‘group zero,’ that is healthcare personnel and people who work in hospitals and nursing homes”. The government has approved the National Vaccination Programme under which vaccines will be free and vaccination will be voluntary. Healthcare workers will be first in line, followed by seniors over the age of 60, the uniformed services and teachers in ‘stage one’.

Poland has bought over 60 million doses of vaccines from six producers and is aiming to vaccinate its entire adult population, setting up some 8.000 vaccination points across the country in one of the largest logistical challenges its health service has ever faced.

However, the government may face problems convincing people to get vaccinated. A recent survey commissioned by daily Rzeczpospolita found that 47% of respondents want to get vaccinated, while 44% refuse it, with 9% undecided. Respondents above the age 70 were most in favor of vaccinations (67%), while those between 18 and 29, and those between 30 and 39 were most skeptical (29% and 28%, respectively).

It is a political issue. The survey showed that 82% of those supporting the Left and 65% of those supporting the Civic Coalition are in favor of inoculations. Among those who support PiS, 56% share this view. Only 5% of those who support the Confederation want to get a jab.

The latter party mobilizes anti-vaxxers online and during demonstrations. And anti-vaxxers are  probably as many as Poles who believe that Covid-19 pandemic does not exist. Conspiracy theories followers who say that coronavirus is basically a flu, that hospitals are packed with actors playing sick and that Bill Gates is behind all this scam can be found among all segments of the society. Celebrities are especially active, though, using their social media channels to promote conspiracy nonsense. Edyta Górniak, one of the most famous singers in Poland, became an icon of the movement.

But even anti-vaxxers got angry (and jealous?) when they’d realized that a group of well known artists and politicians cut the line and got vaccinated out of turn. The Medical University of Warsaw hospital said it had vaccinated 18 cultural figures who are intended to serve as ambassadors for the vaccination campaign. In reality, they were more and some of them had no idea they were supposed to be ambassadors. The unusual vaccinations first came to light when Leszek Miller, an MEP and former prime minister, tweeted a picture of a medical record showing he had received the vaccine on December 30th. Among the vaccinated celebrities were Poland’s most popular actress Krytyna Janda, her daughter and some other people from her foundation, and board member of TVN Edward Miszczak and his wife.

Since technically all vaccinated celebrities have before supported Civic Coalition and its candidate Rafał Trzaskowski in the presidential elections, PiS and TVP presented the event as a political scandal that proves pure contempt of old elites for an ordinary man and democratic rules.

Some local politicians in other parts of Poland have also been heavily criticized for receiving the vaccine out of turn. A PiS member who also did it, has been kicked out of the party.

Mateusz Morawiecki said that “observing the rules of the vaccination sequence is an expression of respect for the rules of social solidarity”. “There is no justification for breaking the rules,” he said, calling it “a real scandal”. An investigation against the hospital and the celebrities started.

The entire situation caused public outrage. Angry comments of doctors and medical students who are waiting for their turn became viral. Some celebrities subsequently expressed regret. “This was supposed to be a clever campaign, but it’s turned into a nightmare,” said actor Wiktor Zborowski.

Many commentators say that the scandal will cause a lot of harm to the idea of vaccinating as such. Others add that some of the antivaxxers may actually change their mind and get a jab after seeing that vaccinations are after all very desired by successful people who are willing to break the law to get them before the others…

Politics

Three Candidates + One

Poland’s Ombudsman, Dr. Adam Bodnar, was supposed to end his five-year term on September 9th, 2020. For five years, he has always been where he should have been, always standing with people and protecting human rights. He has been very vocal when the government was attacking minority groups and was quickly labeled by PiS as its top enemy. The parliament was supposed to choose a new Ombudsman in September. The only candidacy submitted by the deadline was the one of Zuzanna Rudzińska-Bluszcz. She is a lawyer specializing in human rights, who has been working for the Ombudsman’s Office for five years, currently in charge of strategic litigation. She was supported by ca. 1.200 NGOs and formally nominated by the Civic Coalition and the Left. PiS did not nominate anyone and Rudzińska-Bluszcz was rejected by the right-wing majority (read more in the September issue if the Newsletter).

Opposition MPs have tried to elect Rudzińska-Bluszcz one more time, but PiS did not let it happen.

At the beginning of December, the Marshal of the Sejm Elżbieta Witek set a deadline until December 29th for the re-submission of candidates. Later, PiS announced that it nominated Piotr Wawrzyk, MP of the party, deputy minister of foreign affairs. “He is an outstanding specialist who is characterized by particular sensitivity, has extensive scientific achievements in the field of human rights and experience. In our opinion, he is a very good candidate and we hope that he will be elected to the position of the Ombudsman,” PiS spokesperson Anita Czerwińska said. But the opposition stresses that his candidacy is bizarre. Warzyk has no experience whatsoever in the field of human rights and he is an active politician of the ruling party, something that has never happened before in case of an Ombudsman candidate.

Additionally, an exotic alliance of PSL and Confederation nominated their own candidate for the office. It was Robert Gwiazdowski, lawyer and economist, known for his libertarian views and links with the Adam Smith Institute. In 2019 he tried to repeat a success of Nowoczesna, a liberal party created in 2015 by another economist, Ryszard Petru, and launched his own movement. Poland Fair Play, how it was called, scored 0,5% in the EP elections and thus ended its short life. His candidacy is highly controversial as in 2018 he wanted to… eliminate the Ombudsman Office from the Polish system. He has been also criticized by women’s organizations for his comments about abortion, e.g. “The right to abortion is not the quintessence of the classical understanding of freedom. She was free when she took her pants down”.

What is more, PiS MPs have asked the fully politicized Constitutional Tribunal to overthrow the law that allows Bodnar to remain in the office until his successor is chosen. And the court is considering a ruling. If it does so, that would open the way for a new procedure allowing Law and Justice to take control of the office, bypassing the need for the Senate’s approval, perhaps introducing a new position of “acting Ombudsman” elected solely by the Sejm.

In early January, president Andrzej Duda suggested that Jan Maria Rokita could be a good Ombudsman. Rokita was one of the founders of Civic Platform, representing its conservative wing. He was a self-declared new prime minister of a PO-PiS government in 2005 campaign. In 2007 he left politics, officially to leave space for political development of his wife, Nelly, PiS MP and advisor to president Lech Kaczyński. It was reported that he had some financial problems and PiS politicians offered him help. According to Duda, the idea regarding Rokita´s nomination has not been consulted with PiS and it is difficult to say if he was an acceptable candidate for the party

Economy

Cyberfailure

According to specialists and game players, in 2020 one video game ruled the gaming world – Cyberpunk 2077. When CD Projekt Red, the studio from Warsaw, announced the title in 2012, it provoked high expectations. And as it was a new outcome of the developer of The Witcher, the world best seller game based on medieval fantasy saga created by Andrzej Sapkowski (read more in November 2018 issue of the Newsletter), excitement literally sky rocketed.

The game is set in a dystopian future where digital nomads navigate a high-stakes world of corporate espionage. Gamers were promised a total experience, with extensive character customization options and an extensive universe to explore. Cyberpunk 2077  was heavily advertised in many countries. Keanu Reeves became its ambassador and the motion-captured frontman in the game. Eight million people pre-ordered copies ahead of its December release. Cyber-hype drove up the share price of CD Projekt Red by more than 50% making company cofounders billionaires. However, a troubled development cycle with many postponed release dates worried commentators in the industry.

And the release day was a disaster. The game has been a big disappointment, especially for players with older gaming consoles. Multiple glitches and bugs have been exposed. Microsoft and Sony said they would refund player who wanted to return the game and pulled Cyberpunk from their digital storefront. Later also CD Projekt Red announced that it would refund disappointed customers “out of our own pocket if necessary”. According to media, investors in Warsaw are circling the situation, contemplating a class-action lawsuit against CD Projekt Red for what one attorney described as potential criminal “misrepresentation in order to receive financial benefits”.

The CD Projekt Red share price began to drop a few days before the game’s release. In one week in December, company’s shares tumbled 28%, wiping a combined USD 700 million. In total CD Projekt Red’s stock lost 41% in one month.

The producer is expected to at least try to release online updates that get the game into playable shape in the months to come. 

On the sidelines, fans of Cyberpunk 2077 have been left relishing the prospect of acquiring a limited edition, commemorative coin minted by Mennica Gdańska (Gdańsk Mint) in honor of this controversial game. 500 of those will be manufactured. The coin’s flip side depicts… the bust of Queen Elizabeth II. Why? Because it was legalized by the South Pacific island nation of Niue (1.500 inhabitants; member of the Commonwealth). It was given the equivalent of 5 New Zealand dollars (the official currency on the island) but it’s actual value is PLN 1.499 (ca. EUR 340).

Watch the gameplay trailer:

Negative Interests

For the first time, a Polish bank has introduced negative interest rates on deposits. The move has been made by state-owned lender Pekao, the second-largest bank in the country, which has set interest rates of as low as -0,8% on large deposits by corporate clients.

Negative interest rates on bank deposits have appeared around Europe, largely affecting corporate clients and financial institutions since the European Central Bank cut its base interest rate to below zero for the first time in 2004. Poland has not gone that far. National Bank of Poland (NBP) record-low reference rate of 0,1% is “appropriate and best suits the situation”, the central bank may reduce it further, its Governor Adam Glapiński said. Polish rate setters cut the official rate by 140 basis points and started a quantitative easing program in the first half of this year as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the economy.

Bloomberg believes that NBP probably will hold its benchmark interest rate at a record-low rather than negative interest rates, as it remains the preferred tool to buoy the economy. “While a 7,7% quarterly rebound in GDP between July and September helped offset much of the slump that resulted from the spring Covid-19 lockdown, Poland’s economy remains on track for its worst year since communism collapsed three decades ago,” Bloomberg comments.

Culture

No Audience Award in Gdynia

Because of the pandemic, the Gdynia Film Festival had been postponed from September to December and was organized online. The jury, headed up by Lech Majewski, watched all 14 films in cinemas. Unfortunately, not all of the competition titles were available to holders of industry and press badges, including Małgorzata Szumowska and Michał Englert’s Oscar entry Never Gonna Snow Again and the much awaited Maciej Bochniak’s Magnesia.

For the first time in the history of the Polish Film Festival in Gdynia, the award for the best film went to a full-length animation. Kill It and Leave This Town is a debut feature by acclaimed Polish animator Mariusz Wilczyński, who spent 11 years crafting a dreamlike journey into the subconscious and the past. Produced by Agnieszka Ścibior for Bombonierka and Academy Award winner Ewa Puszczyńska (Ida, Cold War) for Extreme Emotions, it features the voices of Krystyna Janda, Andrzej Chyra, Maja Ostaszewska, Małgorzata Kożuchowska, and Barbara Krafftówna (read more in the May edition of the Newsletter).

Silver Lions were awarded to the film Sweat by Magnus von Horn. This film shows three days in the life of fitness motivator, a social media celebrity surrounded by loyal employees and admirers, who is really looking for true intimacy.

The Golden Claw award in the Visions Apart category for the film Magnesium went to director Maciej Bochniak and producers: Leszek Bodzak and Aneta Hickinbotham.

For obvious reasons, the Audience Award was canceled this year.

Visit the Festival’s website: https://festiwalgdynia.pl/en/

The Oldest Mosque Renewed

The oldest mosque in Poland has been renovated with help of public funds. The wooden building in Kruszyniany was built at the end of 18th century in a village, which was given to Tatars by king John III Sobieski for their contribution in a battle against Turks.

It has three towers, two in the front and one in the center. Their roofs are topped with crescents.  The temple in entirely covered with wooden paneling. From the outside it was painted green. The mosque was renovated in 1846. During the World War II the mosque was hit by a bomb which did not explode, though. It also housed a German field hospital for some time. Part of the mosque equipment in Kruszyniany was stolen during the war.

In 2020, the Office of Monument Conservation in the Podlasie Region, where the mosque is located, awarded a grant of PLN 80.000 (ca. EUR 18.000) to renovate its interior, included laying a new floor, the reinforcement of the window lintel in the partition wall between the men’s and women’s prayer rooms, and additional support for the mezzanine floor. Last year, another grant from the same source was provided to renovate the fence of the mosque’s mizar.

Read more about Kruszyniany: http://www.kruszyniany.pl/szlak_eng.html

UNESCO Beekeepers

Each year, UNESCO adds more aspects of traditional culture to its Intangible Heritage list. In December 2020 some more from the Central European region were added, including Zlakuska hand-made pottery from Serbia and handmade blown glass Christmas decorations from the Czech Republic.

Poland was included with its tree beekeeping culture. Tree beekeepers collect honey from wild bees that live in hives in hollowed out tree trunks. They take care of the bees by trying to recreate conditions that existed in Europe’s primeval forests and without interfering with the natural lifecycle of the bees.

As this tradition is shared by Poland and Belarus, both countries have advocated for its promotion. The inscription on the list is the result of joint work of the national commissions for UNESCO, the culture ministries of Belarus and Poland, local beekeeping communities, non-governmental organizations and experts of the two countries.

Read more about tree beekeeping on the UNESCO website: https://ich.unesco.org/en/RL/tree-beekeeping-culture-01573

Poland and Germany

Cross-Border Workers in the Pandemic

Germany and Poland have concluded an agreement to provide relief to cross-border workers who have been affected by Covid-19 restrictions on movement.

In line with agreements signed among many European countries in recent months, the deal provides that days spent working from home as a result of Covid-19 will be considered to be spent in the contracting state where the workers normally exercise their employment for tax purposes. The agreement does not apply to days that would have been spent working from home prior to the introduction of the crisis measures.

Gift Boxes from Görlitz

Görlitz, a German town on the border with Poland, a partner city of Zgorzelec, with dwindling population is attempting to lure back Polish emigrants who may feel uncertainty due to Brexit. Faced with labour shortages and an ageing population, Görlitz has launched a unique advertising campaign to attract Polish people back to the area. The campaign has included adverts in British newspapers, a Facebook page and a website with an FAQ in three languages where Poles can find answers to questions such as “Can I transfer my company’s headquarters”, “Will my health insurance cover me when I arrive in Görlitz”, and “Can I work in Görlitz without any language skills?”.

Together with its Polish partner city Zgorzelec, Görlitz launched a Christmas campaign, sending gift parcels to Poles from the region and beyond. In the boxes they’ll find dried mushrooms, spiced cake and an offer from the city mayors to enjoy the best of both worlds in Görlitz-Zgorzelec: a UK standard of living in Germany, but with the comforts – and contacts – of being home in Poland.

Some 7% of the city’s 57.000 inhabitants are Polish, and many others commute across the border every day, drawn by the more generous salaries on the other side of the Nysa/Neisse river.

Polls and Trends

Party Support

IBRiS, 18.12.2020

PiS                                                       33%

Civic Coalition                                  22,3%

Poland2050                                       11%

Left                                                     7,1%

PSL                                                      6,1%

Confederation                                  4,9%

Agrounia*                                         2%

*) Agrounia is a radical agrarian movement known for organizing protests and demonstrations in Poland; lead by Michał Kołodziejczyk.

Google 2020

Google has revealed the most popular searches of 2020 by users in Poland in a number of different categories.

Most common Google search terms of 2020 in Poland

  1. Koronawirus (coronavirus)
  2. Koronawirus w Polsce (coronavirus in Poland)
  3. Wybory USA (US elections)
  4. Koronawirus porady (coronavirus advice)
  5. Google Classroom
  6. Microsoft Teams
  7. Koronawirus mapa (coronavirus map)
  8. 365 dni (365 Days)
  9. Joe Biden
  10. Kobe Bryant

Most common Google topics in Poland in 2020

  1. Coronavirus
  2. Presidential elections in the US
  3. Presidential elections in Poland
  4. Tourist vouchers
  5. Iran
  6. New restrictions
  7. Fires in Australia
  8. Anti-crisis shield
  9. Explosion in Beirut
  10. Lockdown

Most searched people

  1. Joe Biden
  2. Kobe Bryant
  3. Paweł Królikowski
  4. Iga Świątek
  5. Rafał Trzaskowski
  6. Donald Trump
  7. Kim Jong-un
  8. Dariusz Gnatowski
  9. Krzysztof Bosak
  10. Ewa Żarska

Most searched politicians

  1. Joe Biden
  2. Rafał Trzaskowski
  3. Donald Trump
  4. Kim Jong-un
  5. Krzysztof Bosak
  6. Andrzej Duda
  7. Kamala Harris
  8. Boris Johnson
  9. Szymon Hołownia
  10. Margaret Thatcher

Most searched terms with the phrase “ideas for…”

  1. Pomysł na makaron (ideas for pasta)
  2. Pomysł na pierś z kurczaka (ideas for chicken breast)
  3. Pomysł na zupę (ideas for soup)
  4. Pomysł na cukinię (ideas for courgette)
  5. Pomysł na obiad bez mięsa (ideas for lunch without meat)

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.