Poland’s Choice 2019: Elections Stakes

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It is 14 September. In a month, on 13 October, Poles will go to the polls to chose their parliament. The Sejm has 460 members and there are 100 Senators. Who will rule Poland for the next four years? What are different political actors fighting for in this elections?

The stakes could not be higher. The ruling Law and Justice (PiS) fights to continue to rule alone. The party received 37.6% and a majority in the Sejm last time round. This was possible as the Left failed to meet the 8% threshold for coalitions. The last time turnout was only 51%.

Since Law and Justice took over the government the politics became highly controversial. The opposition accuses the ruling party and the President Andrzej Duda of breaking the Constitution, compromising the independence of judiciary, partisan take over of the public administration and turning the public TV into a propaganda machine propagating hate speech and smear campaigns. At the same time the quality of public education and public healthcare decreases under the PiS rule.

The carrot

With the use of public money and private money of state-controlled companies the Law and Justice rules with a tactics of carrots and sticks. It introduces massive social policies like the 500 zł payment per child per month. It’s latest reform included payments for all the children, including the first ones. PiS increased the minimal wage from 1750 zł (in 2015) to 2250 zł (in 2019), which is an increase of 29%. In the same period the inflation was minimal. The minimal pension increased by 25% and in 2019 the pensioners received a 13th pension just before the EU vote.

The stick

PiS does not rule with a Marianne Williamson’s love message. Au contraire, the politicians of Law and Justice engage in smear campaigns against their opponents, be it political or societal. It is a distant memory today that the 2015 PiS scare tactics against the imaginary migrants coming to Poland was an important element of the victorious campaign. Over the years there were smear campaigns and vilifying against feminists and what PiS calls “gender ideology”, against the judges (with the latest instalment of the Piebiak affair), the handicapped persons, the teachers, the paramedics, the entire opposition, green activists, bikers, vegans and the LGBT community.

The allies

Law and Justice does not reach out to the other side. It does not have to. It has a propaganda machine (TV station), where a few days ago in one of the regional studios the PiS rule was debated. Invited guests: PiS politicians only.

TVP3 Lublin studio: PiS candidates in elections “debate” the PiS years in government.

PiS has its allies, most notably the Catholic bishops, some of whom have been exposed earlier this year as covering up the paedophilia cases. “The Church is under attack” and PiS is its prime defender.

Among the clergy is Tadeusz Rydzyk, who runs his small media empire based on Radio Maryja and receives major subsidies from the state.

Another ally is the legendary Solidarność trade union, which won PiS for their motion to close down shops on Sundays. Ever since this motion was adopted, Solidarność in PiS’ debt. The move, however, remains highly controversial with the general public.

The stakes

PiS runs to win. It wants to maintain its 230+ seats in the Sejm. It wants to control the Senate. It dreams to reach the 2/3 majority to change the constitution, yet it’s 2015/16 taking over the Constitutional Tribunal has effectively subjected the Tribunal to the political will of the ruling party. As the constitutional majority might be desired, it is not necessary to control the “eradication of post-Communism”, to use the PiS leader’s words.

The Opposition fight for the Senate

In the process PiS win is largely expected (the party is polling 40-45%). The opposition is divided. There are three groups running parallel campaigns: the centrist Citizen Coalition (KO) is the biggest of them, the Left is on the one side of the KO, while on the other is the conservative Polish Coalition (KP) composed of mainly the farmers party PSL, as well as the remnants of anti-system Kukiz’15 and a few liberals of the ALDE member Democratic Party.

The three coalitions agreed to support a team of 99 candidates for the Senate. In the European elections earlier this year they realised that going together they were an easy target for PiS, who was able to play out the internal divisions of the opposition. Then, they hoped to run on a pro-European platform against a Euro-sceptic Law and Justice. PiS adjusted its message, put EU flags everywhere during the campaign, moved the debate to other issues divisive for the opposition and, won.

This time round KO, the Left and KP run separately. Their messages and stakes vary individually. The KO fights PiS and hopes for a majority in the new Sejm of KO-Left-KP. In this process the leader of the KO changed, surprisingly. Grzegorz Schetyna, the leader of the Civic Platform the party and the entire Coalition announced that the KO candidate for the prime ministership is not him, but Małgorzata Kidawa-Błońska. The move was a surprise for PiS. The public took the decision with a relief, energising the KO campaign. Ms Kidawa-Błońska is a politician who has not been as vilified by PiS as often as others. Her message is to take a step back from hostilities in the public discourse. KO polls at 22-27%.

The Left coalition is a group of three leaders: Robert Biedroń, MEP and leader of the new party Spring, Włodzimierz Czarzasty of the traditional left-winger SLD and Adrian Zandberg of the Varoufakis-leaning party Razem (Together). Unlike 2015 this time the threshold the Left is facing is 5%. The Left’s fight is to return to the Sejm, from which they have been absent for four years. The Left polls at 11-14%.

Incidentally the next Sejm can see also first Green MPs as the Green politicians are running from the KO list.

The Polish Coalition’s stakes is survival. If PSL fails to enter the Sejm this will be the next step in PiS successful campaign to replace PSL in the Polish countryside. Kukiz’15 failed to win a seat in regional elections in 2018 and in the European elections 2019. Hence Paweł Kukiz decision to enter this coalition. The KP polls at 5-6%.

Collectively the united Opposition knows that it will be difficult to stop PiS from winning the Sejm. They know, however, that the fight for the Senate is open. As there are 100 electoral districts for the Senate and “the winner takes it all” it helps that in 99 of them there is one candidate supported by all three opposition forces. They hope for well over 50 mandates.

In some districts there are independent candidates, too, so the vote is not PiS-Opposition always.

The other opposition

The Confederacy of ex-MEP Janusz Korwin-Mikke is also in the mix. Their message is anti-system and openly adversary towards minorities and foreigners. This far-right group polls at up to 6%.

PiS Electoral Offer: minimal wage at 900 Euro

Knowing that PiS carrots and sticks approach works, in this campaign the ruling party politicians demonise LGBT people, portray themselves as defenders of a traditional family, and have a new social offer.

Jarosław Kaczyński says that PiS will raise the minimal wage from the current 2250 zł to 4000 zł (equivalent of 900 Euro in today’s money) by the end of next parliamentary term. The country debates now how realistic his plans are for the state budget and for the economy, over all. Will this move force the companies to modernise? Will it mean that Poles move to the grey economy? What about inflation? Etc. The Polish average salary in 2019 is about 1,150 Euro, yet the median salary is at 980 Euro, and the dominant salary at 580 Euro (current minimal wage, 2250 zł is about 520 Euro).

Et alors?

The political wars are best for politicians and political commentators. The society is interested in something else.

As divided the Poles might seem between the Law and Justice and the opposition, there is a general agreement on what the Polish society next goal is. This goal is taking the society out of a transition fatigue, many argue the society was caught up with in the first half of the current decade (Tusk II government and its famous inertia). PiS divisive rule has mobilised a society on both sides of the public discourse to realise who they are and what they want.

In the process PiS kills the political inertia. Poles broke the national records in regional elections last year as well as this year’s European vote. The October 2019 turnout should be significantly higher that 51% four years ago.

So, what do Poles want?

The Poles want their welfare state. PiS is the first party to realise this dream and tries to make it happen. The PiS rule thus far was concentrated on assisting the groups underprivileged in transformation since 1989: undereducated, less mobile, workers in smaller towns, unemployed, technologically and territorially marginalised, and the farmers.

PiS might be blind, or slow to realise that the underprivileged are also the women on the labour market, the handicapped and their families, and other groups who have taken to the streets in recent years. Yet for time being the focus is on forging this new welfare state. Not for everybody, but definitely for “the Polish family”. And it works, at least at the level of public support.

This is why PiS is popular. PiS aspires to the inner dreams of Poles and tells them “it can happen”. PiS also says: “the alien, the different, the migrant, the non-believer is a threat to you, to the Church, to Poland. You are a Polish family and you are who and what we worship”.

A populist is a politician who does not recognise the power of nuance. Who says “good” and “bad” without seeing the details. As much as this can be understood in a campaign mode, it is unacceptable in governance. PiS is a populist party.

But the populist party argues the same way as the European Commission: for the ex-post legitimacy. What does it mean? “We deliver”, says PiS.

Will they deliver the 900 Euro minimal wage, 13th and 14th pension, as scheduled?

Or, will they fail to see the detail? Economy might be growing, but the inflation of daily products is noticeable in recent weeks. Education is a key for economic growth, too. Instead of improving the quality of schooling, schools are now politically indoctrinated and mid-schools operate in logistical chaos. Healthcare waits to be financed. And there is all this rule of law debacle, the issue which is minor for the elections, but a major issue to rule the country effectively in the future.

The Ministry of Hate

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It is evening, 19 August 2019. Another sunny, hot day. The climate change shows its positive side for holiday-makers, as there are thousands of people on the sunny sandy beaches over the southern Baltic coast and thousands more hike the hills and mountains of south Poland. 30 degrees in the shade, and the political campaign ahead of the 13 October elections is only about to begin.

With high temperatures storms are expected. The big storm will hit the popular Giewont mountain in the High Tatras in a few days. 4 people will die and 150 further will suffer. This will be the largest tragedy in the Tatras in the recorded history. Here’s a recorded lightening of 22 August.

The lazy summer day ends at 6 PM on 19 August. Onet.pl, the largest online news portal in Poland, publishes an investigation story that will be read over 40 million times in the next seven days.

It is a story that makes people drop their jaws. Remember Cambridge Analytica? Go and see the Great Hack on Netflix. The Onet.pl story is the Polish equivalent.

Poland is a country where the political discourse has been poisoned with hatred for awhile now. The deep divisions have led both sides of the political argument to far-reaching accusations of lies and misinformation. There were victims, like the late mayor of Gdańsk Paweł Adamowicz, brutally murdered in January.

Onet.pl reveals that the deputy minister of justice, a judge Łukasz Piebiak, is running a coordinated hate speech group that chooses as its targets judges opposed to the judicial reforms introduced by the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party.

Once again: a deputy justice minister was involved in preparing smear campaigns against people who were in disagreement with them. Onet.pl talks to a woman, Little Emi, who shares stories how things were done. She shares WhatsApp conversations with the journalists, where the minister is seen as giving instructions, rewards, sharing burden with Emi, who is the executioner of the hate campaign.

Among the victims are some 20 judges, including judge Krystian Markiewicz, who leads the work of an independent association of lawyers “Iustitia”, and Małgorzata Gersdorf, head of the Supreme Court.

Over the next days it becomes public that there was a WhatApp group where coordinating action took place. The group’s name: “Kasta”, or “The Cast”.

The Gang Talk

Emi: Good morning Minister. Is the information useful? What should we do with it?

Piebiak: I have received the material some time ago, but I had no idea how to use it, so I didn’t use it. If you have ideas, that’s splendid!

Emilia: I have the following idea. Send it anonymously to all the branches of Iustitia. And to the addressee. The newspapers are off as we have no proof. I have a phone number to the husband of the mistress. We could use one of the Internet gates or a sim card, but I do not have one and I do not have anyone to register it with. I can talk to R. [a tv journalist of a pro-government TVP]. Maybe he can go through it but there is no source and proof. It doesn’t look good. What do you think? And more generally, will it help us?

Piebiak: I think it will help us. It is important to drive over Iustitia, we have to deal with them. People will talk, and Markiewicz will go down a little bit knowing what we have on him. Maybe Kuba [another Ministry of Justice employee] has ideas how to disseminate it without any traces?

Emilia: Welllllll

Piebiak: The journalist and the material would be great, but I am not sure if there is such a courageous person.

Emilia: I think Kuba is a little afraid. Those are his ex-pals, you know. Ok. I will do what I can.

Piebiak: Thank you.

Emilia: I’ll talk to the journalists and will send the papers around. Anonymously, by email. And by post. The one problem is I do not have the addresses and the emails. I will do everything as I can, as always. I cannot guarantee the final outcome, but I will try. I hope I will not go to jail for this.

Piebiak: We do not put people in jail for doing good.

The fallout

Minister Piebiak resigns. Other justices involved resign or are fired from the Ministry of Justice. The ruling party says that all that scandal is a proof that the judicial system in Poland is degenerate and that Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, the architect of the PiS judicial reforms, did not know a thing about the hate group.

The judges come to the streets to demand Mr Ziobro’s resignation. Either he did know and is complicit. Or he did not know and is an ignorant. In either way, there is a political responsibility for the ministry one runs.

Over the summer a suicide of Dawid Kostecki, a criminal who was once a boxing champion, draws more questions than answers. Mr Kostecki’s suicide is questioned, and his testimony was instrumental in another of Law and Justice scandals. Mr Ziobro oversees the entire justice system and safety of prisoners is his political responsibility, too.

Will the people care? The elections are in little over a month and a half. The first opinion poll suggests that PiS enjoys its dominant position, regardless of the scandals. Majority of the public would like to see Mr Ziobro go, but they will not punish the entire party for one person’s mistakes, clearly.

Et alors

The nightmares of many became a reality. Hate speech is procured in Poland, not only in the churches by priests talking about the LGBT community. Hate speech is crafted and targeted against individuals who are on the opposing side. It is not only a group. It is an individual. Be warned, for you can be next. Is this an EU member state or Russia? Clearly there is no one who can prosecute this situation properly, because the Ministry of Hate is the Ministry of Justice and the Public Prosecutor is the Justice Minister and all the prosecutors below Mr Ziobro fear him for he has a history of rewarding the loyal and punish the insubordinate.

In a country without an effective independent prosecution, in a country with a paralysed justice system, the public loves the government of Mr Morawiecki because of the economy and social give aways.

PiS may well win the elections in October as all the scandals make the party even more scandal-proof. But the question is not on who wins. The question is about the low standards of public life. Can we go lower? Yes we can. Expect the worst, work for the better, dream for the best.

Jarosław Kaczyński: we need to limit the LGBT ideology

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Poland is in the middle of the national political campaign. The ruling party, Law and Justice (PiS), enjoys a 40-45% support, has chosen its lists of candidates for the Sejm who are spread around the country campaigning. In the meantime the opposition parties only finish up deciding their lists of candidates. Their campaign is rather reactive to the PiS campaign. They are about two weeks behind the ruling party.

As for the main topic of the campaign, it seems PiS is able to close the flights scandal of the ex-Speaker of the Sejm with no major loss of the public support. The PiS campaign is largely focused on defending the national values. Apparently the Church and the Polish moral values are under threat.

Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS leader, sums best his and his party position on the LGBT rights. On Sunday Mr Kaczyński at a local rally in Zbuczyn, Eastern Poland, is asked what he intends to do about the so-called equality parades. Equality parades are Polish equivalent of the gay prides elsewhere. On Saturday another march takes place in Płock, a city of 120 thousand people. In early July there are riots in Białystok with far right hooligans attacking the equality parade. Mr Kaczyński response leaves some people jaws-dropped while others hear confirmation of their deepest fears:

You know, the problem is, if it was up to me, it would be simple. My late brother, a Varsovian, when he was a mayor of Warsaw, he banned it. But here it is about the EU rules. They will repeal our bans. The courts will also repeal, because the courts are completely influenced by this ideology. This has to be done differently, calmly limit it. In such a way that it does not destroy the Polish culture or damage the Polish Church. And we will fight for it

Jarosław Kaczyński, 11 August 2019
Jarosław Kaczyński in Zbuczyn, 11 August 2019, source: TVN24

Et alors

Why are my jaws dropped? According to the most powerful person in Poland:

  1. Human rights are irrelevant.
  2. Rights of people belonging to minorities are irrelevant.
  3. Right to protest should be limited.
  4. There is a Polish national Church.
  5. This Polish Church is under attack from the LGBT ideology.
  6. Independent judiciary is a threat. It is influenced by the LGBT ideology.
  7. There is a conspiracy between the EU and LGBT and the judiciary against the Polish culture and the Polish Church.
  8. Mayor Lech Kaczyński banned the Warsaw Equality Parade in 2005 and that was a good thing. Quick fact check: Poland was an EU member already. EU laws applied. Polish Constitutional applied – on the basis of the Polish Constitution that ban was considered unlawful in 2006. The Strasbourg-based European Court of Human Rights (not an EU body) considered the ban illegal in 2007.
  9. The cover up of paedophilia among the Polish priests is not an issue worth paying attention to.

Jarosław Kaczyński has a history of anti-LGBT statements. He seems to believe there is an LGBT ideology and he calls it evil.

This is scary for LGBT people, for an average hooligan does not distinguish the nuance between the “LGBT ideology” and “LGBT affirmation”, and for an average hooligan a gay person is gay. Not Polish, not Catholic. A threat to the national culture and national religion. The Polish leader is feeding the violent radicals who take to the streets against the minority that is demonised. The minority which without the PiS demonisation already witnesses a mountain to climb to be a contributing member of the society. One study has shown that 70% of Polish LGBT youth has suicidal thoughts and half – suffers of depression.

Last days of the campaign

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If you think Law and Justice (PiS) is anti-European, anti-systemic, anti-liberal democracy, think again. Not because Law and Justice presents itself as a modern, pro-European party with a logo “Poland at the heart of Europe” and with the European flag behind their backs. Law and Justice is a conservative party arguing in favour of Christian values in modern societies, less tight European integration, favouring the de-politicisation and degrading of importance of the European Commission. You may be critical of Law and Justice for their terrible reforms of the judicial system (challenging the independence of the courts) or the mismanagement of the school system. You may not like their closeness to the Catholic Church or cutting support for liberal NGOs. But this is what democracy is according to PiS: rule of the majority. In this logic there is no room for the respect of the minority rights. You can disagree with that, too.

However, many Poles like what they see. The courts are not important for the average voter. The schools are a problem, but not a reason to take the PiS government down. What’s good about the PiS rule are the give-aways, the 500 zł per child benefit and… the fact they are against those ‘dangerous’ liberal values and policies coming from the West. What comes in the package is a national rhetoric and strong historical links. The omnipresence of history in schools and public debate makes many Poles more aware about what are the important issues of 1944, 1945 or 1946 that of what are the issues of 2019 or 2020.

The focus on history and on the nation’s fate, on the defence of the national sovereignty and the lack of the subtle nuances in the discourse (“no to migrants”, “no to Euro”) gives a paradoxical effect.

Ahead of the Sunday vote the sociologists say there is no fluctuation between the electorate of PiS and of the European Coalition composed of PO, PSL (members of EPP in the European Parliament), SLD (member of S&D), .Modern (an ALDE member) and the Greens. The two blocks are in a virtual deadlock: most opinion polls predict PiS to come out first just an inch ahead of the Coalition (37% to 35%).

For the last four years the Law and Justice has recognised that the liberal opposition is the threat to their rule, especially the biggest party, the centrist Civic Platform (PO). In the last days ahead of the 26 May, however, that’s not exactly the case.

The challenge

Since there is no fluctuation between PiS and the EC electorates, this means the outcome of the Sunday vote is left to two factors: first is the mobilisation of your own electorate, and second, to the performance of two parties to the right of PiS.

For a long time it seemed that the main party to the right of Law and Justice is Kukiz’15 led by a popular rock star. Mr Kukiz movement prefers direct democracy, but proved futile as it failed completely last year in the local elections. The opinion polls give Mr Kukiz between 3 and 6%.

The real threat for Law and Justice is elsewhere. Every day now gives the Confederacy a greater support, even up to 8%. Confederacy is a coalition in their own right, of extreme views. Openly nationalistic, xenophobic, anti-LGBT (i.e. Kaja Godek talks about same sex couples adoption ‘real purpose’ being to abuse children) and anti-Semitic (what drives the support up in recent days is a protest against the American law Just Act-447 about the Holocaust victims restitution of property).

Sexualisation of children

It is Law and Justice who put the subject of sexualisation of children on the political agenda in February by blowing out of proportion the LGBT declaration signed by Warsaw mayor Rafał Trzaskowski. Today Ms Godek is more “credible” on the issue and her fellow confederate Grzegorz Braun wants to punish gay people with flogging.

Even worse, the issue haunts PiS with the Church paedophilia scandal that the whole country talks about since it aired on Youtube two weeks ago. The issue demotivates the PiS electoral from showing on Sunday, most likely.

Is Trump’s America stubbing PiS in the back?

Law and Justice is unquestionably pro-American. Every visit of the Polish officials in Washington is reported with a fanfare in Poland. Earlier this year Poland hosted the US-sponsored anti-Iranian propaganda summit. A few weeks ago the Polish government purchased the HIMARS defence system. For the first time a major defence system like this has been purchased with no off-set financial system to make sure that some of the funds spend would be re-invested in Poland. President Trump is expected back in Poland for the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the start of World War 2, come 1 September.

Law and Justice is not anti-American. A few years ago the PiS government withdraw its anti-private TV station campaign (TVN) after the owner of TVN, the American company Discovery Inc., raised the issue with the US ambassador in Warsaw.

And now Confederacy runs protests against the Just Act-447.

Law and Justice tries not to be anti-Semitic and over the previous 18 months has failed in this regard a number of times. Every time the ruling party fails it tries to make amends. This is not as easy since the PiS electorate is unaware with the notion of ‘nuance’ and the Israelis, on their side, also use easy anti-Polish sentiments popular among some sectors of the society. At the same time the business links and tourism between Poland and Israel flourish. The Polish airline LOT offers flights to Israel from 5 airports in Poland.

Freedom

Another important value PiS tries to use this spring against the European Coalition is freedom. Law and Justice argues that EC is anti-freedom since it wants to censor the Internet (the copyright directive)… Again, Confederacy is more ‘credible’ in defending the ‘freedom’ understood as anarchy and absence of rules. The champion of this topic is Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a leading face of the Confederacy.

Krzysztof Bosak, one of leaders of the Confederacy, is No. 1 candidate in Warsaw. Many consider him the winner of the debate among the candidates hosted by the public pro-government TVP.

Krzysztof Bosak, the Confederacy no. 1 in Warsaw on Thursday: “the climate package should be terminated as soon as possible by Poland”, “the government closes the mines”, “Public opinion is not told this is the fault of EU regulation”. The bad guys? PiS and the EU.

More of Mr Bosak on same sex unions: “We disagree for the EU to dictate to us the conditions. We will defend our cultural autonomy. In our opinion, there can be no consent for the EU to promote deviations and dictate our values. Europe is not multiculturalism and the blurring of our values. No one can censor us”.

Et alors

If you are a conservative voter, you have a problem. Every time the populist government of Mr Mateusz Morawiecki and the populist party of Mr Jarosław Kaczyński procures a new ‘line to take’ on sovereignty, on LGBT, on Israel, on judges, on freedom, on the Church, on history, on economy, it is the Confederacy who can out-bet the ruling party, not the European Coalition.

The European Coalition survives the attacks from Law and Justice largely untouched. But by focusing on EC, PiS has allowed for the Confederacy to grow in popularity. Only in recent days the government proves how unprepared they are against the Confederacy attacks (especially on the Just Act-447).

Yet the main goal of the European Coalition is to win with Law and Justice. Will they? We shall know for sure only after 9 PM Sunday night. Their struggle has been largely with the consistency of the offer: united in diversity as they are, their may struggle is to remain attractive to a variety of voters, conservative, liberal, centrist and progressive as they may be, as long as they are democratic.

The EC has a liberal challenger, too. Robert Biedroń’s Wiosna, the Spring, has been showing a decent support in the recent weeks, of between 9 to 14%. Yet the last week of the campaign is not as positive for the party, mainly due to a niche-scandal-blown out of proportion about a leading Spring candidate getting rid of her dogs (she gave them away to a shelter; the animal right lovers are in shock). Some polls show Mr Biedroń’s party enjoys only as low as 6% of support. Still, the main messages of the Spring are: to end the dominance of two mega parties, to ‘energize’ the opposition on social issues, women’s rights, gay rights, secularisation of the state and decarbonisation of the Polish energy sector.

Let me play a prediction game. Following the polls and the trends and the public debate this is what I’d like to predict as an outcome (it is NOT a poll). I may be completely wrong, but this is my prediction:

  • European Coalition 41% (the higher the turnout the better for EC)
  • Law and Justice 29% (the higher the turnout the better for PiS)
  • Spring 12% (the higher the turnout the better for the Spring)
  • Confederacy 10% (the lower the turnout the better for Confederacy)
  • Kukiz’15 4.5% (the lower the turnout the better for Kukiz’15)
  • United Left 3%
  • Others 0.5%

The overall turnout at 35%.

Rostowski: Brexit is the worst event in Western Europe since WW2

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Brexit puts the details of the European elections in limbo. It looked like there will be 705 MEPs. Now it seems we will see the same number of MEPs as before: 751. With Britain or not, for the Polish MEPs it makes a difference of one mandate: with Britain in the EU there will be 51 MEPs elected in Poland. If Brexit takes place, there are 52 MEPs to be elected from Poland.

51 or 52 makes a difference if you are one of the last people to be elected from Law and Justice (PiS), the European Coalition (KE), the Spring (Wiosna), Kukiz’15 or the Confederacy, as those political forces have real chances for a mandate in the 26 May elections.

However, Brexit makes for a twist in those calculations. It appears that Jacek-Vincent Rostowski, a former finance minister and deputy PM under Donald Tusk, is a candidate in… the United Kingdom for the Change UK party.

Jacek-Vincent Rostowski

Jacek Rostowski is a London-born politician of dual, Polish-British nationalities. As a finance minister 2007-13 he was key in safe navigation of the Polish economy through the difficult high waters of the European and global economic downturn. He was named Europe’s best finance minister 2009 by The Banker magazine.

As a former ECOFIN member he is a perfect ECON candidate. Despite his credentials, in 2014 Mr Rostowski was a disappointment for his Polish party, the EPP’s Civic Platform, when he did not win a seat while being a leading candidate in the Bydgoszcz region. In Britain, his first political party was the Conservative Party. Today it is Change UK.

Today Mr Rostowski is deeply troubled with Brexit. He says in Business Insider, Brexit is “the worst thing that has happened in Western Europe since the Second World War” and would like to see it undone. He says that the 2016 referendum was a one big lie. Rostowski: “I know just how incredibly good the British were at getting their interests across the line within the European Union. They were absolutely the best negotiators” and saw even one French minister cry because he was out-negotiated by the British minister.

On social issues like gay marriage, Mr Rostowski changed his position. The British media have uncovered his anti-gay statements from the past. “My views have fundamentally changed,” he says today, “I’m a Conservative and Conservatives change their views.” Polish gay news-wire Queer.pl called for other PO candidates, who expressed anti-gay views in the past to follow Mr Rostowski’s footsteps.

Mr Rostowski is clearly canvassing the European voters, who are not British, on his twitter account. He wrote in Polish and in French a little info:

Mr Rostowski is 2nd on the Change UK list in London. Change UK is polling at about 6-9%.

Et alors?

It may be that with or without Brexit there are 52 Polish MEPs, after all, which is an interesting nuance.

More importantly, the candidacy of Mr Rostowski is a living proof of the truth about the European elections: that it is about the Europeans, not the states. Mr Rostowski voters will be Brits and all the other European citizens, who are not UK citizens. There are about 17 million Europeans who reside in another EU member state. In Poland there is only about 30,000 of them, but in UK alone there are about 800,000 Poles. In London alone there are about 200,000 French citizens.

It is your vote, if you are European, you can vote wherever you live.

The Euro question…

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Poland is outside of the Eurozone, together with Sweden, Denmark, Czechia and Hungary. Bulgaria, Romania and Croatia joined the EU later and are on their way to the Eurozone, at least this is what one hears

“Should Poland join the Eurozone?” is not the question on people’s minds this elections. At least, not until Saturday, 13 April, when Law and Justice (PiS) holds its weekly convention. On Saturday we are in Lublin, a region resourceful when it comes to support for PiS.

Jarosław Kaczyński in Lublin
talks the Euro (non) accession

Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS chairman: “We will adopt the euro one day, because this is our obligation, but we shall do this when it is in our interest. And it will be in our interest when we reach the level of GDP, the level of livelihood, similar to the German one”.

Mateusz Morawiecki, prime minister: “It is not in our interest to adopt the euro, especially today. We want the European salaries, not the European prices. The way to achieve this is to maintain the zloty”.

The ruling party dismisses the experiences of the Euro-accession of countries of similar economic output, Slovakia or Lithuania. “Those are not good experiences”, claims PiS MEP candidate from the region, Elżbieta Kruk, in a right-wing newspaper, Gazeta Polska.

Et alors

The eurozone accession is a non-issue. Yes, there are occasional voices in favour of the accession, but the eventual accession is not in sight. Then, why? PiS accuses the opposition, the European Coalition, that “it wants to join the Eurozone as fast as possible” and joining the Eurozone is pure evil, or a catastrophe: inflation, hyperinflation, low salaries… blah, blah, blah.

Front page of Gazeta Polska, PiS-supporting daily, covers the strike, not the Euro-talk of PiS Chairman.
At least it is critical of the teachers.

Why? Well, the real issue is the strike. The pro-PiS newspaper, Gazeta Polska today says: “You want more money? Work more!”. Then it covers the strike with news that the teachers are lazy because they work fewer hours than the rest of the EU. I am no expert in education, but I know that the fewer hours of Polish teachers is related to how the system is organised, not how many hours they truly work. Zbigniew Dolata, PiS MP says in Gazeta Polska: “the public knows that the protest broke out when the teachers have received salary increase, and at the same time the public does not support the strike. This means that teachers do not gain in the eyes of public opinion”.

Really? Over the weekend there were dozens of protests like below in Warsaw, in support of teachers. On Wednesday there is scheduled a new protest in solidarity with the teachers, for 15 minutes people working for the public sector will manifest their views. There are 3 million złoty collected over last days for the “Strike Fund“. At best, the society is divided, not against the teachers.

“In solidarity with the teachers”

Should Poland join the Euro? There is a legal obligation for it (the Accession Treaty), but there is a Constitutional limit on it, too (the currency emitter is the Polish Central Bank, NBP). So it is a non-issue until there is a constitutional majority in the Sejm for the Euro adoption. Until then, this is a non-issue.

Fake issues, fake news, fake facts. The ruling party is unhappy with the reality so it tries to create its own. Will it succeed?

The Group of Souverenists in the making

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Remember the Salvini visit in Warsaw in January? That’s past. On Wednesday, PiS Chairman Jarosław Kaczyński met with the delegation of Brothers of Italy, a ECR party from Italy with no MEPs yet.

The Brothers of Italy joined the ECR back in November. This seems to be a pattern: PiS looks for sovereignist partners in other EU member states to build up a new group after the elections. Take the Italian party. FdI does not have any MEPs (yet), but already joined the ECR and it’s support in Italy is on the rise.

After the meeting, the Italians provided feedback from the meeting. Carlo Fidanza, who attended the meeting of FdI leader Giorgia Meloni and Jarosław Kaczyński, says: “It was a very positive meeting that took place in Warsaw […] and during which we recorded a profound harmony on all the main topics on the agenda and a horizon of common values: those of a modern social and national right, which wants to help those who do business and those who produce but do not forget the reasons of the weakest. This is the government sovereignty that we want to build by strengthening the ECR group which will also be the largest family of European sovereigns in the next European Parliament “.

The Spanish sovereignist party Vox, on the other hand, chose not to join the ECR group just yet, even if the recent meeting between two leaders, Abascal and Kaczyński, was quite successful.

Earlier this year in Paris a new popular Dutch party Forum for Democracy was also admitted into the ECR. No audience in Warsaw for Mr Thierry Baudet of FvD or the Frenchman Nicolas Dupont-Aignan of Debut-la-France just yet.

Souverenist talk Constitutions (national)

FdI wants to remove the EU from the Italian constitution. Meanwhile, the Polish small agrarian party PSL (member of the EPP) just proposed to mention the European Union in the Polish constitution as an attempt to check on the Law and Justice if the party is truly against the so-called Polexit.

Beata Mazurek, PiS spokeswoman reacted: “We do not say ‘no’. Let’s talk about it” before linking the issue of inserting the “EU” in the Polish Constitution with a major Constitutional review. Mazurek: “I think this is a good moment to empower the family, or to write in the Polish state sovereignty over EU institutions involvement into our internal business”. She ended: “We’ll talk”.

Et alors

The souverenist group is in the making, that is clear. This is a different group from the nationalist group of Ms Le Pen. Those two strings of thought seem to be prevailing on the right side. The “direct democracy” crowd of M5S and Kukiz’15 is losing steam.

A new debate started about the change of the Polish Constitution. Ever since Law and Justice took confrontational positions on many issues, a serious debate on the Polish constitutional law was not possible; no party has had a constitutional majority or a constitutional coalition since 1997, when the law of the land was approved.

Brexit unexpected fallout in the Court of Justice

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All EU institutions have to prepare for the post-Brexit reality. The British Commissioner will lose his position on the day the UK leaves the EU. After the European Council last week the chance there will be British MEPs is reduced to almost 0%. Hence most likely there will be 705 MEPs come July. In the Council and the European Council the British participation is already reduced and will cease to exist completely the first day UK is out of the Union. The scheduled British Council presidency was scheduled for 2017 and it was scrapped in the first weeks after the Brexit 2016 referendum. The EU institutions have been internalising Brexit for years by now.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) is facing its own Brexit challenge. The issue concerns the participation of the British judges and the Advocate-General (AG) in the works of the Court. Each of them is nominated according to different rules and following a different calendar.

There should be no problems with ending the term of office of the EU Court of Justice member. The mandate of Judge Christopher Vajda is linked with United Kingdom’s EU membership. The mandate of judge Ian Stewart Forrester of the General Court ends in August 2019.

Meanwhile, the bigger issue is related to the Advocate-General Eleanor Sharpston. The number of Advocates-General is not related to the number of EU Member States. This number is specified in the Statute of the CJEU as part of the treaties. Among the Advocates-General there is no “one country one AG” principle, which is applied among other higher ranked public such as members of the European Commission or judges of the Court of Justice. The mandate of AG Sharpston ends in October 2021.

There are currently 11 Advocates-General in the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice. Their work is coordinated by the First AG Maciej Szpunar. Six AGs come from the six largest EU nations while the others are rotated.

AG Maciej Szpunar

During a recent event in Warsaw AG Szpunar admitted the Court is faced with the dilemma of Brexit’s impact on its functioning: “First of all, the question should be asked if Brexit – for example in the event of UK exit without an agreement – means automatic expiration of the British AG mandate? It would be advisable for the Member States to make appropriate arrangements in this regard, taking into account the specificity of the functioning of the Court. And secondly, and this question is also for Member States to address, should the British AG post be moved to rotation?”.

Et alors?

The pending issue of the status of the British AG is a minor issue in the larger fallout of Brexit – with or without the May-negotiated agreement. But this small issue of an internal ECJ cuisine is indicative that Brexit has important consequences not only on the UK. The impact of Brexit on the rest of the Union and its institutions is as important and even more relevant for the rest of us who are outside of the United Kingdom.

It is my understanding that this is a developing story. Many of the shocks of Brexit – i.e. the financial contribution of the major net payer, the UK, into the EU budget – shall be absorbed by the other member states. Yet it does not solve all the issues.

It is a well-shared expectation that in short-term Brexit pushes the United Kingdom into a recession. The agreement question is largely only about the degree of the recession Britain is facing.

The big question out there is if Brexit pushes the rest of the Union into a recession, too.

PiS EP tactics: buy & scare

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23 February, Jarosław Kaczyński, PiS chairman enters the stage to present PiS’ new political offer. On the agenda are five key points, which soon are labelled “the Kaczyński Five”. In the following days the details come in.

Are votes for sale? Or the Kaczyński Five:

The most radiant is the extension of the PiS government signature social programme, “500+”. This programme was first introduced in 2016. It offers every family extra 500 zł (circa. 116 Euro) a month for every 2nd, 3rd and subsequent child until the child turns 18. The new extension of the programme will include payments for the 1st child. The new rules are expected to begin in July. Hence this is not a strategy to win the European elections; this is a preparation for the power confrontation in the fall national parliamentary elections. The first point has a title: THE FAMILY.

The second point of “the Kaczyński Five” is a major new give-out. At first even the PiS chair does not know if what he says is a one-off give-out, or a regular programme. When he introduces the 13th retirement payment a year to the pensioners, he adds this should be a permanent programme “if possible”. In the next days it appears PiS is ready to turn this payment into a regular programme. The pensioners should expect an extra payment of 1,100 zł, or 250 Euro already in May 2019, ahead of the European elections.

The third element of what PiS presents as equalisation of income is a tax relief for the young employees. Everybody who is under 26 years old is relieved of direct income tax. This solution is not expected to enter into force before the May elections. THE YOUNG.

The next element is for the general public – the direct income tax is reduced from 18% to 17%. This solution shall be translated into reality for the next fiscal year. LABOUR.

Last element concerns another issue of the society: Mr Kaczyński wants to double the density of bus connections in the country to serve better the countryside. INFRASTRUCTURE.

The costs of all those programmes are estimated at about 40 billion złoty (9,3 billion Euro) additional annual expenditure. Mr Morawiecki, the prime minister is certain the state budget is able to sustain the extra costs. How? Tax tighter controls, economic growth, cutting the bureaucratic and administrative burdens.

The Fallout

Poles like the government plans. According to the latest surveys more than half of the population supports each of the proposals. At the same time they worry about the financing of the new spendings.

The Civic Platform’s response by Izabela Leszczyna MP, former deputy finance minister on the TOK FM radio: “Law and Justice stole and twisted our ideas” about the 13th pension to the pensioners, but the action was “rushed” in order to “cover up” the K-towers scandal. PO most likely will support the extension of the 500+ programme to first children, the relief of the direct taxation of the young and the support for the pensioners.

Following the five proposals a wave of criticism goes through the country: the economists, the political scientists, the Internet memes, the historical vote record of Law and Justice which shows PiS voting down first children back in 2016, the amount of “dislike” buttons on the web: in a rare occasion Law and Justice seems to loose the internet debate. It finds itself on the defensive with a need to continuously justify the costs of the projects.

Leszczyna on TOK FM: “This is no check-mate [for the opposition]. People are smart. Everybody knows PiS has stolen our ideas to cover the scandals of Srebrna and Jarosław Kaczyński [K-towers], Kazimierz Kujda, Marek Chrzanowski, the Polish Financial Supervision Authority, the National Bank of Poland, Adam Glapiński, and all this terribly scandalous society, which unfortunately rules Poland. PiS put our ideas on the table and thought that they can move on”.

Voters to scare in the Heart of Europe:

On 9 March another PiS convention takes place. This time it is about the candidates of Law and Justice in the EP elections. The meeting’s title: “Poland is Europe’s Heart”. There is also the programme in the “European Declaration of Law and Justice” that PiS leading candidates sign. The document reads:

  1. Europe of Freedom: the original EU values
  2. Europe of Family: the right of parents to bring up children;
  3. European support for the Polish Countryside
  4. EU Budget good for Poland
  5. European Internal (Common) Market: equal treatment of Polish companies;
  6. Secure borders of Europe: security and defence of EU’s external borders;
  7. Europe independent energetically
  8. The same quality of goods across Europe
  9. Europe of equal opportunities: equality of nation states in the European Union;
  10. Just climate policy of Europe
  11. Sustainable development – the source for a strong EU: the cohesion policy
  12. STOP the illegal immigration

The LGBT scare

The 12 points are accompanied with speeches. Prime Minister Morawiecki: “Our political competitors understand Europeanness as a moral revolution, for us Europeanness is a better life of Poles”.

Jarosław Kaczyński focuses on the family because the family apparently is threatened: “This threat is an attack on the family, an attack on children. A specific social engineering is used. It is difficult to call it upbringing – to change a human. What’s at its core? Very early sexualisation of children, from the earliest age of life”. PiS chairman continues with an awe: “It is unbelievable, but it is to start from the birth of a child up to the age of four. The more you read it, it makes your hair curl. The very issue of boys and girls identity is questioned. This entire process of social preparation of children for the future role of a woman and a man, a mother and a father, is challenged. In the name of what? It’s hard to guess”. Clearly he refers to the Warsaw Declaration of LGBT+ rights.

PiS, like most Poles, is tolerant, but you can not confuse tolerance with affirmation. Affirmation is support.

Jarosław Kaczyński
The Warsaw LGBT+ Declaration signing in February

The latest Jarosław Kaczyński speech is an echo to many previous other Law and Justice politicians’ and conservative organisations’ speeches, comments and statements in the last three weeks. They all are outraged by the declaration the Warsaw mayor signed on LGBT rights. Rafał Trzaskowski signed the Warsaw LGBT+ Declaration [Polish only] on 18 February to fight the discrimination against the LGBT community. Among the items in the declaration most contested is the issue of sexual education according to the WHO standards. Those standards are highly controversial among the PiS politicians. PiS accuses the LGBT+ community, Warsaw mayor and the WHO standards of abnormal sexualisation of children. Some call it directly: paedophilia.

On 6 March the web portal Oko-press accuses the ruling party of running an incitement campaign against the LGBT+ community the same way PiS run a successful anti-migrant campaign in 2015.

The leading PiS politician who is running the accusations and scare tactics is Partyk Jaki, deputy justice minister, a former candidate for Warsaw mayorship and PiS candidate in the European elections. The potential MEP says about his motivation to run for office in the EP: “Last term the European Parliament spoke about 250 times about the LGBT issues. Gigantic resources are invested into something I fundamentally disagree with and I want to fight against”. Also the education minister Anna Zalewska, who is PiS candidate for the EP protested against the LGBT+ declaration: “there is no room for it in the schools“.

Another angle of the anti-LGBT hysteria is to accuse the agrarian, conservative party PSL of siding with its coalition partners of the European Coalition on the issue, even if PSL is not pro-LGBT. This is a PiS classic attempt to scare the voters away with the “guilty by association” logic.

https://twitter.com/PiS_KujawskoPom/status/1100104087759130624

The far-right magazine is warning about the “homo-terror”; the 2012 Olympic medallist Zofia Klepacka accuses the Warsaw mayor of promoting LGBT and she is against it; the Legia fans turn out to be extremely homophobic:

Et alors?

It is impossible to say if PiS is successful. Clearly Law and Justice confuses promotion of LGBT+ issues with prevention against LGBT+ crime and youth suicide, which is high. According to the 2017 report 69% of the members of the LGBT community were confronted with some kind of violence, 64% were verbally assaulted and 13% physically attacked. According to the same report 69% of the Polish LGBT+ youth were thinking about suicide. Are we talking assistance or privilege?

Recent polls suggest Poles are more relaxed about homosexuality. The issue is no longer a taboo. Robert Biedroń is probably the most recognisable gay person in Poland; also the Warsaw deputy mayor Paweł Rabiej (of .Nowoczesna) is openly gay. Mr Biedroń has proven time and time again that he is electable. There are celebrities who are out in music, film, TV and literature industries. Openness towards the LGBT+ among the youth is most visible.

On the initiative of the 17/18 year-olds in Warsaw…

This is what makes the LGBT+ issue so much different from the migration issue. LGBT+ are visible. Migrants were not. If Mr Kaczyński or other PiS politicians believe LGBT+ people are not discriminated against in Poland, they are denying reality. Nor for the first time.

As for the economic pay-outs let me quote a Polish saying: “if they give you something, take it, if they beat you, run away”. To take a gift from the government does not necessarily mean that the voters feel contractually obliged to vote Law and Justice. Maybe PiS can win with the argument that the party always lives up to its promises. More likely the latest moves will change very little in the partisan support: Law and Justice and the European Coalition are in a virtual clinch, each has about 35% support.

Meanwhile, when PiS is busy giving out millions to virtually everyone their credibility is compromised (at least partially) as teachers unions have called for a general strike, demanding a 1000 zł salary increase…

The Spring is coming

When on Sunday Robert Biedroń entered the main stage in Warsaw’s Torwar stadium, he had his Macron moment with the Ode to Joy playing in the background. Is Biedroń Poland’s Macron the same way as the French president stopped the rise of Marine Le Pen in 2017? Can Biedroń be the response to the nationalist government of Law and Justice and it’s far-right challengers?

There are more questions than answers for now. The biggest question is if Poles can entrust their future with this 42 years old former mayor of Słupsk in Northern Poland. On Sunday we received some first answers. The biggest secret of the new party was its name. As of today the pollsters can use the name “Spring” to check on its popularity.

If the Spring was to come indeed, it would bring Poland Robert Biedroń as a prime minister later this year. At least this is what the Spring’s leader aspires to. He also promises to end the Polish-Polish war between PiS and PO, the two of which ruled Poland since 2005. On the policy front there are so many issues and proposals… let us just name a few that are likely to resonate with the society:

Church’s place

Spring does not like the current division of labour between the State and the Catholic Church. Biedroń wants to renegotiate the concordat Poland has signed with the Vatican in 1993. The financing of the Church in Poland should change (the Church received about 36,5 million Euro in 2018 from the state budget). Priests should pay taxes. Religion should not be taught in public schools.

Abortion

Spring proposes liberalisation of the current law. The 1993 rules say that abortion is forbidden except for 3 extreme cases (rape, when the woman’s life or health is threatened, or if the fetus is irreparably damaged). Plus, under the PiS government some doctors started to use the conscience clause to avoid performing the procedure.

Biedroń proposes legal abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy.

Civil unions

Gay marriage is not legal in Poland, so Biedroń and his partner, Krzysztof Śmiszek, one of many other leading faces of the new party, cannot marry one another. Civil unions were proposed on a few occasions and the best chance was when Donald Tusk government attempted to fill the gap in the Polish legislation on the issue. Yet even on the Tusk government initiative the progressive proposal failed with the conservative Polish lawmakers.

Social policies

The new party would like to see a minimum pension at 1600 zł (375 Euro), tax free. That would be a major increase. They would like to expand the children benefits (500+ programme) to cover first children and single parents. The minimal salary should be at 60% of the average one in a few years. There should be free public transport, a bus should reach every commune and a train every county. Healthcare (doctors’ conscience clause should be illegal; in vitro should be reimbursed) and education (i.e. English for everyone, sexual education, hate speech prevention) are also two big policy areas for the Spring. Among other issues – the animal rights should have their spokesman, there should be more crèches and kindergartens.

End of coal

Biedroń wants Poland to have the best air is Central Europe. To do this, the country should decarbonise, which Spring would like to see done by 2035.


Robert Biedroń quoted important people. John Paul II: “We will change the face of this place”. If he is to succeed with the energy and liberal policies – that would indeed be a different country altogether.

About Paweł Adamowicz he said “We have to make his testament reality”. Clearly he is competing with Schetyna’s PO for the political heritage of the late mayor.

And he quoted Jacek Kuroń (Poland’s first minister of labour after 1989): “Do not burn committees. Create your own”. Yet some observers rightly pointed out Biedroń did not reach out enough to the unions, the farmers or the Silesia region, where all that coal making takes place. There, coal is associated with the Polish national interest.

He is ready to do politics. He wants to appoint the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to investigate the PiS rule and bring those responsible for the judicial reform and breaking the Constitution in front of the state tribunal.

Et alors?

The Western media are full of stories that a gay politician, a non-believer takes on a deeply Catholic nation. The domestic media are more cynical, give him a slim chance of about 7% electorate. One popular political scientist said: “It will be a party that will target directly the liberal-metropolitan electorate, people aged 30-40” (Rafał Chwedoruk). Others are more generous painting him as a socio-liberal third force in the upcoming European and national elections.

Everybody deserves a chance. Spring is new, they have been successful in building the momentum and running the Sunday show. It is true, Spring looks like other parties that came and went over the last decade. Will Spring be like the Palikot Movement, or the .Modern? A lot of people who came to Torwar on Sunday were first time engaged in a civic or political activity. Like Kukiz, another leader-based party, who also motivated many first time voters. Can Biedroń reach out beyond the disillusioned?

Everybody is threatened. The urban electorate of .Modern and PO is looking closely at Biedroń moves. As Biedroń said himself: he wants to “energize” PO leaders, Schetyna and Kopacz. But he kills also .Modern and Petru initiative Now with another reason: he is fresher, newer, more magnetic. This is also something that may pull people away from Kukiz, however conservative the electorate this party has.

Spring potentially is a threat for SLD. Old ex-PZPR (Communist party) officials and the retired military personnel will remain with SLD, but the capacity of this party to reach out to new voters is tempered.

Biedroń also pulls in new people who were discouraged with the hate speech and the Polish-Polish war, but were re-engaged with the local 2018 elections and outraged with the Adamowicz murder and now many of them start to believe again with the new party emergence.

There was a notion on Sunday absent in other recent new parties. .Modern wanted to be truly liberal economically and to challenge PO on the issues. Exactly the same story was with the Palikot Movement. Kukiz was gathering a protest vote and libertarian alter-globalist voices at the same time.

Biedroń does not only reach out to the PO, or the new voters. He wants to challenge the PiS in its core. Many participants of the Torwar meeting on Sunday were mentioning how “inspired” they felt and that Spring “is the third way”.

Then there is Law and Justice with their massive 3-3,5 million solid voting base. Spring is someone credible who tries to challenge Law and Justice on their social policy – PO, .Modern were untrusted; SLD has this image from Leszek Miller times as prime minister – to take away a glass of milk per kid per day from schools. Biedroń doesn’t have those limitations. He openly says all his Sunday proposals are expected to cost about 35 billion złoty.

He tries to be transparent and realistic, not to fall into the trap of easy populism. This is the way to reach out to many of the 3 million who were convinced to vote for PiS with their social policy platform.

The fact he is gay and takes on the Church? Most Poles are conservative, but most Poles do not care for private lives of their leaders. Homosexuality is a non-issue for most of the voters, unlike the media, for whom being “gay” is a no-starter in the national politics.

And the Church? Poland voted for a non-believer before (Aleksander Kwaśniewski, President 1995-2005) , there was a Lutheran prime minister in a Catholic country – Jerzy Buzek. The personal set of beliefs is a part of the package people buy or not. The people will not vote for Biedroń because he is or not gay. They will vote for him if he convinces enough people that he has the best shot at improving the average Polish live.

There is a reason for a green (Germany) or centrist (France) or citizenry (Spain) wave in many countries in Europe. People want to believe and people want to trust. But the candidates and the parties have to be trustworthy and believable. How long can we vote only for a lesser evil? How long a vote is a protest vote?

The Church is not as powerful as it used to be. Last year over 5 million people saw the movie “Clergy” about paedophilia in the Polish church. It shocked many. 5 million is more than 3 million PiS voters. There is room in Poland for Church-critical activities and opinions.

Yet, at the end of the day, Macron was possible also because of the weakness of the traditional centre-left and centre-right in France. Biedroń does not have the same situation: PiS and PO go strong, even if lately the ruling party was more on the defensive side of arguments.

 

Human rights today: under attack in Poland, in Europe, in the world.

I talk with Mr Bogusław Stanisławski, who is a nestor of the Polish human rights defenders. Mr Stanisławski (born 1930) is a World War II survivor, was a diplomat during the Helsinki process in 1970s, member of the Solidarność in 1980s, co-creator and leader of the Amnesty International Poland (1999-2001).

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Bogusław Stanisławski

It seems that human rights are in crisis in the West. Not only they are challenged by war and misery, there is a new wave of populism in many Western countries. What is the state of human rights in the world today?

Bogusław Stanisławski: Human rights are violated all over the world. You can’t find a country, where they are fully observed and protected. Human rights are violated everywhere. But cutting this super long story short, let us land in our country.

They were also violated in Poland in the past years. Since the last parliamentary election when the actually ruling party took over they are violating deliberately and systematically, according to the guidelines of the adopted political line: divisive, pointing at critics as at the “worse part” of national community.

I am very sorry about this situation. With deep regret I have to say that the idea of human dignity and equality is coming under assault from the narrative of blame and scapegoating, sometimes even xenophobic.  At the background of all the moves in internal policy there is the bargain:

Promise of security and betterment in exchange for surrendering established civil rights and liberties.

There is a growing number of critics, people undermining the universality of human rights. Some populists question the value of human rights. What is your response?

The question itself implies that there are doubts about it and the very fact of existing doubts is the alarming signal of the crisis of fundamental values. And there are two possible ways of reacting to this crisis: either to surrender and to go back to the times when human dignity in all its aspects was not protected by international law or to face the challenge and to intensify the struggle for the protection of fundamental rights deserved by every human being. In my opinion, answer to the question, which way to go is to be given not by anybody – a philosopher, a sociologist or any sort of an academician; it is to be given by the historical experience. Human rights were defined not as any philosophical construction. They were defined as the reaction to all the horrors of the 20th century and as a safeguard: never again! I am one of those  who lived through the most cruel Second World War and who is fully aware of its dramatic inheritance and – may be – this is why any doubt in answering the question which way to go is for me nothing else but blindness.

What we need now to save our future is not any philosophical deliberation. What we urgently need now, in this unstable world, is the global commitment for core values. What we need now is the global action to affirm humanity and fundamental dignity of every human being. What we urgently need now are the courageous voices standing up against injustice and dehumanization – the voices of human rights heroes.

And that is my answer to your question: definite and univocal.

HumanRightsLogo.svg
UN Human Rights logo since 2011

Coming down from the global level locally. Can you give me examples how the government violates human rights in Poland?

Under these circumstances the three-partite division (separation of powers) is systematically broken and voice of parliamentary minority is commonly ignored. The independent Civil Service Corps was dissolved in favour for party nominees. The authorities systematically attack judicial independence subjecting the judiciary to political interference. Constitutional Tribunal was made subordinated to parliamentary majority. National Judiciary Council was deprived of its autonomy.  The Supreme Court is under strong attack of blame widely spread by party-controlled media and the legislation has attempted to limit its independence through the exchange of its judges what is contradictory to constitutional provisions and is in the agenda of the European Court of Justice. The space for dissent is shrinking due to expanded surveillance powers enjoyed by law enforcement officers. Hundreds of unjust prosecutions are taking place and judges who openly oppose political interference into their independence face harassment and disciplinary proceedings. Mechanisms and guarantees for protecting human rights are drastically undermined.

There is an opposition to the government actions. You are an active participant in the opposition activities. Can you tell more about those actions?

The citizens’ opposition is still active and efficiently slow down the implementation of government policy in the areas hostile to the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Much hope is given to the coming parliamentary election and as an active participant in civic protests I dare say and I hope that it will change Polish political scene alongside with the decision-makers who shape the approach to fundamental human rights.

Here is a case. A civil society activist Lyudmila Kozłowska, a Ukrainian citizen and wife of a Polish activist Bartosz Kramek, was arrested when she was landing last August in Brussels. She was deported because the Polish government had issued the highest alert about her being a persona non grata in the EU. A month later, she spoke at event in Bundestag in Berlin and in the European Parliament in Brussels on the invitation of MEPs. She entered the EU on a German and Belgian visaI am asking myself: either the Polish government is engaged in political prosecution of the Polish opposition or at least it is completely unsuccessful in convincing its allies and partners about its security concerns?

For the first time I met Lyudmyla, an Ukrainian living in Poland for a long time, a human rights defender, many years ago, I think – in 2011, when she asked me as the Amnesty International activist to meet a group of refugees from Kazakhstan at the time of mass protests of workers in the Zhanaozen oilfields and heavy crackdowns from the side of Kazakh authorities. I met her again in 2014 while she, as the chair of the Open Dialogue Foundation, was one of the organisers of public demonstrations in Warsaw in support of Euromaidan protesters in Kiev. A warm personality, deeply involved in what she was doing, she was always in the front line of what was going on. It was then when I was asked to join the Foundation Council. As its member, I had a chance of learning more about the Foundation activity and I was under much impression of its broad scale and efficiency in disclosing human rights abuses in Kazakhstan, Moldova and Ukraine at international forums – in Brussels and Strasbourg in particular. As a peak achievement of the Foundation lobbying I regard the report of PACE (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) on the abuses of Interpol and the lack of international control over the “red notes” resulted in the overuse of the alert system by the non-democratic regimes aimed at harassing the flying dissidents: the report contributed to introducing positive changes in Interpol internal regulations.

Soon after the rumour started to circulate that the Foundation is financed by “dirty money” flowing from Crimea and that it is connected with Russian security service. As I had access – as a Council member – to the Foundation financial reports, I was fully aware that the Foundation was largely supported by Lyudmyla’s  brother, a businessman in Sevastopol, what was clearly said in the reports and was fully accepted by Council members. However – as it is commonly known – any rumour lives its own life and that one burst with new power when Lyudmyla’s husband, a Polish citizen, joined the street protests in July 2017 against breaking the Polish Constitution and limiting civil liberties. He was just an average protester but was soon recognized as the author of the revolutionary manifesto published on his Facebook wall and I don’t believe it happened without inspiration from the side of security forces to drop distrust towards the whole opposition movement.

However, they showed their faces when Lyudmyla included Poland into her lobbying targets in Strasbourg in defence of the rule of law. Then she was publicly considered as the one who is dangerous for state security and – as such – introduced into the Schengen Information System (SIS) what is synonymous with the entry ban to Schengen zone. No proof of any guilt was given anywhere, no court procedure was introduced – everything was covered up by top state secret and only the rumour of “dirty money” joined with contacts with Russian security service was more widely spread. The presumption that the whole affair around the SIS was unlawful and possibly based on fabricated documents was deepened after she received the short term entry permit to cross the German border to speak in Bundestag and – soon after – the permit to enter Belgium where she applies for permanent stay permit as the wife of EU citizen. And I wish her luck in her endeavours to be fully accepted again in the EU territory and to regain all the possibilities of further activity on behalf of the protection of human rights and fundamental EU values.

I have no doubt that her absence in European capitals and parliaments would be the loss for the fight for the rule of law and established civil liberties in post-soviet and East European countries and I can’t stop thinking that introducing the name of Lyudmyla Kozłowska into the SIS was, first of all, the warning addressed to Polish opposition against looking for support in international forums and the EU institutions through saying: “look, we have got the tools and we are powerful enough to harass those who will dare doing it”.

Bogus2018

Now, the next difficult topic. The hate speech. You have been a diplomat during the Helsinki process, you have been a co-creator of the Amnesty International, and at the age of 88 last November you found yourself a victim of a hate speech!

The victim of hate speech? You mean this incident with Madame professor, MP, who noticed me standing with the banner of constitution and perceived me as a poor, old man who should be taken home, fed and taken care of. She offended me by saying “poor old man takes money for standing here with the constitution”.

Did you take the money for coming to the protest?

Well, you are kidding. But I didn’t feel offended very much, because she has no moral qualification to offend me personally. What is terrifying is that she – as a Polish MP – offended the Polish Constitution calling it „piece of garbage”.

Last, but not least: we are facing the European elections in May. Are human rights at stake? Do they matter?

They are of utmost importance! At the time of populist invasion the elections are the main battlefield in the fight for fundamental European values included in Art. 2 of the Treaty on European Union and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU. And that is why I think that the main slogan widely spread by European Parliament for the sake of the election “This time I am voting” is simply too short. I would be happy if it is extended by adding what I am voting for: freedom, equality, solidarity, rule of law.

The Kaczyński Tapes

On Tuesday morning yesterday news feel like last winter Olympics: long gone. Monday is full of corruption stories. This week’s Monday is an entrée for the big story, as announced, which is scheduled for Tuesday. Tuesday comes, people wake up early. People buy Gazeta Wyborcza paper edition for the first time in years. They read the story. Here’s what they read.

The news breaks ahead of dawn

Tuesday, 29 January, 4.44 am.

Gazeta Wyborcza is out. It publishes one bomb shell article after another. Corruption story after corruption story. Poland is not as corrupt as some other countries in EU. GW has a long history of investigative journalism. They changed history not once, not twice. Back on 27 December 2002 the story they broke, about a corruption of the SLD leaders, brought down the government and the entire political system. Today the news people of this power house have a similar objective. They have been chasing stories about misbehaving of the Law and Justice politicians for years. Today’s the day of the biggest news. Today’s the day.

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Jarosław Kaczyński

Today main story: Jarosław Kaczyński (69 years old), the leader of Law and Justice, the political mastermind known for his strategy of ruling by conflict, has been caught on tape. The tapes are called “the Kaczyński tapes” and there is a series of articles about the issues on hand. The core of the news is this: politicians and sympathisers of Law and Justice want to build a couple of skyscrapers in Warsaw. Their initial names are “K-towers” for the Kaczyński twins, or just – “the Twins”. The investor who is going to do it is the company “Srebrna” (Silver), named after the address of its real estate. The Srebrna‘s owner is the Foundation Institute of Lech Kaczyński, which has been created after Jarosław’s identical brother Lech, who was Poland’s president 2005-10, has perished in 2010 in a plane crash. Jarosław Kaczyński is a member of the Institute’s board.

Srebrna’s strength is land, but it lacks capital to build up the towers. Srebrna owns parcels in the Warsaw city centre; they are worth millions. The political entourage of the first Jarosław Kaczyński party, the Centre Agreement (Porozumienie Centrum, PC), received this piece of land in early 1990s. It was a shady business back then, but now the dust has settled. Srebrna is the owner of the parcels.

The partner of Srebrna is an Austrian businessman and a Kaczyński distant relative, Gerald Birgfellner. Together they plan to construct two skyscrapers of about 190 meters tall. Warsaw is full of high-rise buildings and there is plenty of room for new investments. Building skyscrapers is a good business.

Hurdle number one: the money. No problem: the state-owned bank, Pekao S.A. is expected to grant a loan of 300 million Euro to finance the investment.

Hurdle number two: “wuzetka”, or a permit to begin the construction. The city can give the permit, but the city needs an OK from a conservator of historical buildings. It is necessary to ensure that the building which exists on the parcel Srebrna owns has no historical value. It is disputable; the building is about 100 years old. In Warsaw, a city destroyed during the second world war, most buildings predating 1944 are usually protected. Newsweek Polska published the story back in 2017: the conservator who issued the OK to take down the building was a PiS nominee. Still, the OK from the conservator is there. The city, however, is delaying its permit. Politics becomes an issue.

Kaczyński says on 27 July 2018: “If we don’t win the Warsaw elections, we will not build the skyscrapers“.

Summer 2018. There is a new political problem, hurdle number three: “the Śpiewak operation”. Jan Śpiewak is a left-wing independent candidate for mayorship of Warsaw. His “operation” is in fact an attempt to publicise the PiS plans to construct a skyscraper in the centre of Warsaw. Śpiewak says today in natemat.pl: “We simply publicised the issues of this construction, we pointed out that this is an initiative out of the ‘Bantustan’. In Europe it is out of people’s mind to think that a political party would build their position through real estate development.

In summer 2018 the construction is put on hold. Mr. Birgfellner is unhappy. He has had 160 business meetings related to the investment, including 16 with Jarosław Kaczyński. He has had costs. He has been promised 3% commission, or about 9 million Euro. Srebrna refuses to pay the bills. Birgfellner takes the case to court. The tapes are published.

Kaczyński tries to calm down Birgfellner. He says he has no direction over the Srebrna management and that the only way for Birgfellner to recover his costs is to sue Srebrna.

Sue us, we will settle the issue, we will get a title [reason] to pay and we will pay the money.
Jarosław Kaczyński to Gerald Birgfellner, 27 July 2018

Instead, Birgfellner sues Kaczyński. A number of other cases come to the prosecution and the courts. Mind you, the Polish courts independence is… well, how to say this? Questioned. One of Birgfellner lawyers says: we consider to sue chairman Kaczyński in Austria, as the Austrian law so allows.

SrebrnaPiS
Visualisation of the skyscrapers nicknamed “K-Towers” or “Twins”

What’s wrong?

First and foremost, the political parties in Poland cannot run economic activity. If Srebrna is PiS (which chairman Kaczyński suggests when he talks about Srebrna “us”) this is a violation of the law. Also, if Kaczyński didn’t represent Srebrna in those negotiations, whom did he represent?

Second, and probably the most important: the public message. PiS is supposed to be clean. PiS is supposed to fight with “deals”. PiS is at odds with the wealthy and the powerful; PiS is a friend of the underprivileged and disenfranchised. Yet in July last year chairman Kaczyński offers a settlement, or a deal, to his Austrian business partner. Kaczyński says he cannot allow for newspapers to write stories like “Party builds a skyscraper” for this would not be acceptable for the general public. For his electorate.  This explains the frontal attack Law and Justice led in local elections 2018 in Warsaw. The party lost the vote, massively. Today we know, they really tried their best to win the city back. PiS may try again, soon. Once PiS lost, it was clear the party – or, simply, Kaczyński – could not pursue the construction deal.

Third, the double standards. Gazeta Wyborcza concludes Poland is not Russia, even if Putin does what Kaczyński contemplates. “Considering the fact that Putin was never caught when he admits to breaking the rules; while Kaczyński – is caught”. Yet Poland is not a country where people are equal in front of the law: if this was any other political leader, “he would have a visit of ladies and gentlemen of the CBA accompanied by the cameras of the TVP”. A footnote: CBA is the Central Anti-corruption Bureau and TVP is the public TV station.

Michał Danielewski of Gazeta Wyborcza concludes in his opinion piece: “So we came to a place when a big scandal is when an [opposition] politician swears at a dinner, while a trifle when [Jarosław Kaczyński] ostensibly admits breaking rules and paragraphs”.

First reactions

First hours after the publication: PiS is silent. PiS cancelled their politicians presence in all the morning media the evening before. A media embargo on all its politicians until one message is worked out and communicated jointly. Then, the counter-offensive begins: the tapes prove that Warsaw is full of problems.

In a nutshell, there are two Poland and each half got confirmation of their preconceived message. Half of the country shares the view of Jarosław Gowin: “This is a record of normal business negotiations. There is nothing abnormal there.” Beata Mazurek says there is nothing new, because gossip about the investment is “out there” for years now. A number of MPs are “surprised” and thankful that Gazeta Wyborcza praises the PiS chairman. They quote Kaczyński’s words from the tape “We are honest, everything needs a basis in papers, we don’t want to cheat nobody”.

PiS is relieved. The “bomb” is nothing new. They calm down the situation and smile to the cameras. Their signal to the electorate: we’ve got this under control. We are clean. Let’s move on to other business.

The other half of the country is outraged. People call it pathology, they accuse Kaczyński of cheating the public opinion. Biedroń quotes Kaczyński words of 2015: “One does not go to power for money. Who wants to monetise their political position has to leave” and probably hits the tone of the critical half.

Many people see a different, new face of Jarosław Kaczyński. A financial ascetic is capable of leading major business negotiations. Some take Kaczyński to the courts. Ryszard Petru (former creator of .Modern, currently leader of “Now”) sees a problem that Mr. Kaczyński uses his political influence for material gain.

Et alors?

What a possible entrée for a new political force! Gazeta Wyborcza did not remove PiS from the Polish political scene today. But GW did something else: they have shattered the public image of Jarosław Kaczyński and Law and Justice as a morally superior party representing an average, low-income Pole. As Jan Śpiewak said: “PiS and Kaczyński can no longer say ‘we are better than PO or .Modern'”.

Agreed, PiS is in retreat. Yesterday Bartłomiej M.’s arrest is a rolling stone that the opposition will thrive on for weeks to come. Now, PiS retreats its years-old-slogans about fighting the crime and secret deals. PiS upper hand seems visibly shaken. When Law and Justice politicians smile today they seem not to notice the following: yesterday they were worried something may come out. Today they are relieved nothing new came out. But their yesterday worry proves there is something else to discover!

At best, PiS is like everybody else. At worse, they are much worse. That’s the message even PiS supporters will read. If you are a PiS voter not because of your convictions, but because of your interests, the Tuesday main story is irrelevant. If you are a true Law and Justice believer, this story may shake you a bit, you may look around for someone else to support. Someone with a different look. You may look to the right of PiS to the far-right options (story 1, 2), or you may actually look to the centre, or the left.

This is where PiS retreat is interesting. Just a few days from now the new Biedroń initiative is to take shape. PO’s latest convention and focus on women’s rights was aiming precisely to out manoeuvre the new party. SLD has also been active as of lately to try to prevent outflow of their support to the new party.

Somehow everybody is afraid of this new force. What will it bring? What will it be? The expectations seem to be on the rise. Will Robert Biedroń deliver? Only PSL is at ease. PSL’s leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz has been talking lately about that party becoming a sort of “Polish CSU(link for the Polish readers only).

I shall come back to what’s up with PSL and SLD in the coming days, unless the big boys prevent me from focusing on the smaller players.


*A footnote of clarification. My name is Piotr Maciej Kaczyński, but for the purpose of this blog whenever I write “Kaczyński” or “Mr. Kaczyński” I mean Jarosław Kaczyński, not myself.

Far, far away on the right side

Where the horizon ends on the far, far right side, Sunday saw two new – marginal, I hope – developments in Poland. Both in the context of the European elections.

Żółtek’s Polexit

First, another new party was created. It is called Polexit and its driver is Stanisław Żółtek, MEP, former associate of Janusz Korwin-Mikke. Mr. Żółtek is a former deputy mayor of Kraków in 1990s and a current MEP with the Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF). Polexit will advocate for leaving the European Union altogether. Sounds similar? Remember UKIP and its difficult start?

The reason to leave the EU according to Mr. Żółtek is the recent vote in the European Parliament that links the rule of law with the distribution of the EU funds. Żółtek: “If [this] enters into force, and it is close, then we will lose our sovereignty completely, other countries will decide on our behalf. This is occupation”. Mr. Żółtek also dislikes ETS which makes the energy prices go up in Poland. He blames the EU for Poland’s increased energy prices.

The Nationalists March in Oświęcim

Second, the far-right march. 27 January is the International Holocaust Remembrance Day to remember the liberation of the largest German Nazi-era concentration camp, Auschwitz-Birkenau, located near the town of Oświęcim. 27 January 2019 there is an international commemoration led by the Polish prime minister and foreign dignitaries. The attention, however, is high-jacked by a group of radicals led by Piotr Rybak. Piotr Rybak is a convict who has burnt an effigy of a Jew awhile back. On Sunday he argues: “During the occupation years our countrymen died here for the liberty of our motherland. Today it turns out that over last 30 years the fact has been forgotten that all nations of the world, including Poles, died here.” If thus far what he says could sound reasonable, listen to the rest of his speech: “It’s time to fight against the Jewry and free Poland of it. Where are the rulers of this country? At the trough! This has to change.”

This causes an outcry in Poland and abroad. The Washington Times, the Haaretz, write their stories. In Poland the opposition (Paweł Rabiej, deputy mayor of Warsaw, Grzegorz Schetyna, PO leader, for example) accuses the ruling PiS of doing nothing, or little, to fight anti-Semitism. PiS responds that the PO is the guilty party here, as the mayor of Oświęcim is from PO and it was during PiS rule when Mr. Rybak was sentenced (that’s Jacek Sasin, deputy minister of culture and frequent media commentator, for example).

The police looks into the issue.

Chapeau bas to the interior minister Joachim Brudziński, Law and Justice (after throwing some anti-opposition comments beforehand): “I have said this before and I shall repeat once again: there will be never any OK from me for any activities affirming Nazism and anti-Semitism”.

As for Rybak, better bad press than no press.

Et alors?

It does not matter much if Żółtek runs. He’s always a candidate. Sometimes he is elected, like for the deputy mayorship in Kraków in 1990s, or as MEP in 2014. Most of the time he is not. He is not a very popular individual, unlike Mr. Korwin-Mikke. “Polexit” going solo has no chance. “Polexit” as a force within a larger, united anti-European platform on the right side of the Law and Justice, this could happen. United right, Polexit and the Rydzyk moves (or no moves) – there seems to be enough stirring on the Polish far, far right. Can someone unite them?

Brudziński and Sasin incidentally agreed that the Polish courts are politically motivated. They claim that Rybak’s sentencing took place “on this government watch”. If the courts were independent the arguments used by PiS politicians would be different. Hence, are the courts free? Earlier this month a case from the Netherlands, where a local court stopped a transfer of 11 suspects to Poland fearing they would not face a fair trial in Poland. That’s worrisome.

As for Rybak there is bad news and good news. The bad news: Rybak’s popularity re-emerged among the far-right. The good news: there is no more acquiescence for anti-Semitism. To see Law and Justice and the opposition competing for who is more against the far-right – that is how things should be. The unfortunate news is that it took Mr. Adamowicz to die for Law and Justice to be more critical of the far-right. Not self-critical, but critical. Maybe more self-aware. And viciously offensive towards the opposition – who continues to be vocal on those issues, too.

PO gears up for the European Parliament

On Saturday, 26 January, the Civic Platform (PO) and its remaining partner within the Civic Coalition, the small association Initiative Poland (Inicjatywa Polska, IP), held a congress. Its leitmotif: “Woman – Poland – Europe“. Now we know the main platform of the Polish leading opposition in the campaign ahead of 26 May: it’s the women’s rights.

First, a video on the importance of women’s rights. Among people on the video are recognisable faces from the European Parliament’s EPP, PO’s sister parties: Italian Lara Comi, Spaniards Esteban González Pons and Rosa Estaràs, Dutch Esther de Lange, Czech Michaela Šojdrova, Belgain Ivo Belet, Maltese Roberta Metsola, What is striking is a strong European message from the video: all the ladies and men speak about why and how women’s rights are important. The European MEPs are included in a video among the Polish MPs. Missing: the Polish MEPs and the Polish male MPs.

Second, a moment of silence for the late mayor Adamowicz of Gdańsk. Words about him, about the values he fought for. Values he died defending: freedom, solidarity, openness, equality. Values the opposition endorses as their own. There is just one question hanging unanswered: will PO consciously and tactically use the death of Paweł Adamowicz as a political weapon? There is a thin line that separates remembering a great man murdered from using his death and calling him a martyr.

One quote Adamowicz used during the 2017 gay pride in Gdańsk was re-quoted last Saturday: “when you hear that someone is a pervert, when you hear that someone is a deviant, then I say – a pervert, a deviant is a he who hates, someone who is hostile to others.” Adamowicz was Poland’s first mayor who had a deputy responsible for gender equality.

Can divided Poland be reunited?

Schetyna
Grzegorz Schetyna on Saturday

Grzegorz Schetyna, the PO leader quoted his daughter: “Poles killed Paweł [Adamowicz], Poles killed the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. Can Poles still do something together?” And continued with his own words: “after what happened, can we live as one community?” and answered “yes”. But this community needs to be renewed. It has to be inclusive, open, better than the previous one. Not later, it has to happen now. So that values of trust, solidarity, truth, love, decency can be restored. Poland needs independent institutions: the courts, the Constitutional Tribunal, the prosecution, media. Schetyna: “Only thanks to independent institutions an argument does not become a conflict”.

The PO leader continues: after we win, “there is no room for wild revenge, but this does not mean there is room for impunity”. And until the day comes when PO can restore its vision of independent institutions, the party – oops, the coalition – will “name every lie a lie, every act of villainy a villainy, every crime a crime”.

The PO will continue to boycott the public TV. Schetyna said, “we cannot pretend that one political party television is public”. A basic decency does not allow members of the PO to come to a place that “promotes hatred”. On the PO’s agenda is also delegalisation of the far-right organisations like the All-Polish Youth and other, who promote aggressiveness.

Grzegorz Schetyna promises “a new Polish house” that will be inclusive. Full equality for women’s rights? One by one: protection from violence, support for rape victims, equality in remuneration, equality of chances. Schetyna’s inclusiveness includes a diverse society, where equality means tolerance for diversity and individualism, where there is no room for discrimination.

As a rare gesture, the PO’s leader included the sexual minorities in his “new Polish house”.

PO’s left flank

Nowacka
Barbara Nowacka on Saturday

Barbara Nowacka is a left-wing activist, who has a long history campaigning for women’s issues. Her most successful action to date was probably the “black protest” against tightening of the already conservative abortion law in Poland. Nowacka was one of the protest leaders. In a rare occurrence, the PiS government has retreated from the move. She supports gay rights and has been included on the FP Top 100 Global Thinkers 2016 list as a “challenger”. Ms Nowacka’s mother, Barbara Jaruga-Nowacka, has died in the 2010 Smolensk plane crash.

On Saturday she remembered that exactly a 100 years before on the very day the first Polish female MPs were elected. Nowacka talked about the EU as a guarantor of citizen rights of equality and equal treatment. She spoke about women’s rights: the fight is on! “Those are our elections and our choices. Nobody will tell us how to live and how to be happy”, Nowacka said as a true feminist. She supported financing by the state of the in-vitro procedure for all those who have problems conceiving, sexual education in schools, the father leave (to complement the mother leave), among other issues.

Credibility problems

The PO’s biggest problem is the party credibility. How to gain trust of people who still remember the government 2007-15? Among the comments to the PO’s Saturday event were those like: “during their rule my hospital was closed and we all got fired, including single moms” or the vulgar words of former foreign minister Radek Sikorski (from a recorded private conversation) and former vice-speaker of the Sejm Stefan Niesiołowski.

Can PO be trusted? What is probably missing is a serious undertone: 2019 is not 2009 or 2014. What seemed right then does not have to seem right today. We know better post-factum… and only then: this is the plan for what to do next.

Also, Schetyna’s previous Civic Coalition failed after he performed a hostile take-over of the .Modern’s (.N) MPs back in December. Is he going to do the same thing today? Can and will other opposition forces trust him?

In this context, Nowacka is the new voice and the added value. She represents a power that drives this EPP member, conservative force of PO, towards the political centre of tolerance and inclusiveness.

The dividing line the PO is drawing is this: between an open society and an inward-looking society, between the future-oriented and the past-oriented, between people of open hearts and people of closed minds, between the equality for all and equality for like-minded, between those who embrace diversity and those who oppose it, between those who are for today’s Europe and those, who want to change it.

Will it gain the support it needs, or will people remember this party as a representative of the wealthy businessmen? Can PO regain the support it once had among the underpaid teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants?

The fight is on.

Et alors?

All is good, people gathered in this Warsaw hall could see a big crowd, half female, half male. They heard a lot about the problems the country has. They talked about women’s rights and Poland’s issues. But there was supposed to be a third element in the leitmotif: “Europe”. Unfortunately the message Mr Schetyna and Ms Nowacka gave about what kind of Europe they want is thin. I can deduce they are happy to embrace the Europe of today. Bad news for the Civic Coalition, then: Europe is changing and is changing fast. The Europe we know today  is facing a cementing and growing opposition. Keeping or defending the status quo is not enough.

I know, I know. First, they need to win. The message on Poland was credible. The message on women’s rights was asking for credibility. Yet the message on Europe was kind of – déjà vu.

Last, but not least, here’s the link to the January Declaration, as the adopted document is called.

EP Elections: This Time I’m Voting

Ever since 1979 the turnout in the European elections has been lower than five years before. In 2014 the first indications suggested the trend might have been stopped. Unfortunately when the final data came through, it turned out that the turnout was the lowest in history, once again. In 2014 only 42,54% of Europeans voted. And only 23,83% took part in Poland.

In the past the European elections were not the highest priority. Also the actors did not pay as much attention – their focus was elsewhere, on national or the local vote. In 2019 there are many reasons to vote, including the rule of law, the multi-annual perspective, the digital age rules, etc. But will the people actually go to the polls? Will the apathy win once again? Can the trend of a falling turnout be reversed?

For now there are no answers. It seems that in many countries, Poland included, the political temperature has reached new levels of polarisation. However bad it may be, high divisions are usually good for the turnout – and the legitimacy of the process the public participates in. Remember the 2016 Brexit referendum? What makes it so relevant is the fact that 72% of the public turned out to vote.

Will it be different in 2019? The European Parliament launched a new information campaign, “This Time I’m Voting” hoping it will make a difference.

The turnout data
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Will it be different this time? As the author of this blog I can only hope so, as I am craving for the increased legitimacy of the European project. This time I am not alone. The political climate is favourable for the increased turnout in Poland. The political actors are unwilling to compromise on their May 2019 performance – it may reverse the trend of winning elections by the Law and Justice… or continue the trend.

This time it’s different. This time I’m voting? Will it translate into a higher turnout? To talk about the challenge the turnout to the European election is I turned to Jacek Safuta, head of the European Parliament office in Warsaw.

SafutaQ: Mr. Safuta, come 26 May, what do you see as the biggest challenge?

Jacek Safuta: From my point of view, the biggest challenge is to persuade as many citizens as possible to vote in full awareness of the key role of the European Parliament in the EU and the impact its decisions have on everyday life of citizens. And vice-versa: we are drawing the attention of citizens to the fact that they can influence EU decisions – not only by casting their vote, but also by communicating with their MEPs between elections. We would like to question the main reason why Poles, exactly like citizens of other Member States, don’t participate in the European elections: most of them used to believe their vote would not change anything.

…and this time I am voting. Why? What changed?

The political and economic environment around Europe is becoming less friendly to say the least. Due to quick progress of technology, fierce economic competition and other global challenges, we need to cooperate closely to preserve our common values, such as solidarity, our rights and way of living. For this, we need more than ever citizens’ engagement in shaping common democratic, effective institutions and rules.

 

The Adamowicz Murder Fall-Out

The Adamowicz murder has stunned and shaken Europe.

The Compassion

The Gdańsk mayor has been stabbed on the evening of 13 January. He died the next day. The immediate reactions of condolences are beautiful and filled with compassion and sympathy. Marches against violence take place across Poland and in many places in Europe, where Polish communities live. Minutes of silence extend to hours as the memory of late Gdańsk mayor is respected throughout the continent, city halls, the Polish Sejm and the European Parliament.

The Threats

In the immediate aftermath a debate arises about the security of Polish elected officials. The Polish government underlining message for years is this: the terrorist attacks do not belong to Poland, a country of few Muslim migrants. At the same time, the high degree of polarisation of the society, the vicious language used in the Sejm and on the public TV against the opponent political forces creates an atmosphere in which unbalanced individuals take to violence.

This was not the first time. In October 2010, six months after the Smoleńsk tragedy in which 96 Polish state officials perished, including the president Lech Kaczyński and a former head of state Ryszard Kaczorowski, another attack took place. An employee of a local Law and Justice office in Łódź was killed and another wounded.

Many people draw parallels between killing of mayor Adamowicz with the murder of the first president of Poland Gabriel Narutowicz in 1922, just a few days after he took office. The Warsaw march against violence after the Adamowicz killing led to the Zachęta Gallery, where Narutowicz ended his life.

Back to 2019: there are new life threats discovered. Apparently safety of Donald Tusk and liberal mayors of Poznań and Wrocław is threatened by unbalanced individuals. For now, the police takes action.

The Great Orchestra Charity cries

The murder of the grand finale of the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity, Poland’s biggest charity event is screaming big: “security”. WOŚP, as the event is known, is controversial with the certain right wing circles, such as PiS MP Krystyna Pawłowicz.

Following the Adamowicz death, the charismatic leader of WOŚP Jurek Owsiak resigns from leading the organisation. In an emotional press conference he condemns the hate language of the right-wingers calling it a Nazi language. Owsiak: “I resign from being WOŚP boss. The hate speech is on for 25 years; maybe it will ease out a little bit. The police just arrested someone who threatened the mayors of Poznań and Wrocław. Until now threats like this were considered a criticism, not a threat. I’ll work for WOŚP not as its boss. Does anyone on the right has been convicted for the hate speech? I have a court conviction. I will appeal, but I have a court conviction. It was decided I use hate speech towards one certain MP. We’ve collected 1 billion zł over all those years. They say: the mayor died because of us.”

WOŚP is about saving lives. Every life is worth saving. A life was taken, and they say, it is because of us – Owsiak

Owsiak’s resignation is met with a protest. People continue to call on him not to give up. After all, the WOŚP tag line is: “The Orchestra will play until the end of the world and one day more”.

Mayors of Warsaw, Toruń and Wrocław announce there will be classes in schools dedicated to fight against hate speech. As an echo to the Owsiak words, the right-wing organisation Ordo Iuris and far right activist Kaja Gajek call on parents to object their kids attending those classes, because “under the cover of hate speech prevention instead we will have LGBT indoctrination in schools”. OKO.press has the whole story (in Polish).

Owsiak remains very popular. For the third year in a row he is already nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for what he has done for charity and for the children in Poland. This time he has been nominated by the right-wing MP of Kukiz’15 Andrzej Kobylarz.

Gdańsk remembers

Gdańsk is a special place. A port city of 500,000 people and a part of a larger conurbation of about 1 million is the city of freedom, where the Second World War started in Europe and the Solidarność took down the European Communism.

Yesterday the people of Gdańsk took to the streets and created a massive heart of candle lights. A heart for Paweł Adamowicz, for a heart is a symbol of WOŚP. The action was called “The Biggest Heart of the World”. Watch it here.

Widow of the mayor, Magdalena Adamowicz, appeals to Owsiak: “stay”. Magdalena Adamowicz: “Please remember my husband as a smiling, talkative person. He always wanted this city to be for all. Your skin colour, whom you love never mattered for Paweł. Please, continue this atmosphere in Gdańsk” and continues “today we grief. It will pass. Paweł frequently said we should love one another. I know Paweł is here with us today, he will be a good spirit protector of the city. His death will not go for vain. I know this because there are so many of you here today, and you are here for him – people of all ages, not only from Gdańsk. Thank you very much”.

The politics of it all

For now, the government respects the moment. Aleksandra Dulkiewicz, a vice-mayor, is appointed acting mayor. What may seem as a standard gesture, it is not abnormal in Poland for a government to install a PiS-friendly acting mayor when a siting mayor is removed. In the last local elections PiS candidates lost all elections to mayorships of cities with population of 100,000 people or more.

This time, Law and Justice behaves with the utmost respect. Ms Dulkiewicz, an Adamowicz’ partisan in opposition to PiS, has been appointed acting mayor. PiS says there will be no PiS candidate in the by-elections later this year.

My opinion is that other political forces should follow PiS: the best option that could happen is for Ms Dulkiewicz to be elected by acclamation, without any counter-candidate.

There is also a major outcry against the hate speech promoted on TVP, especially its information channel TVP Info. Leader of PSL Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz, wrote a petition online to the leader of PiS to have the TVP boss, Jacek Kurski, removed. The criticism of TVP is massive for the television did not respect the calls for non-political behaviour in the hours following attacks on Adamowicz. On Monday night, by when Adamowicz has died, in the evening news, on the TVP right wing commentators and journalists have accused the liberal media, the opposition politicians and Jurek Owsiak of hate speech.

The TVP, which is known for its partisanship, had many journalists and commentators stunned. Krzysztof Berenda, a popular RMF radio journalist is “speechless”. Even right wing journalists, like Łukasz Warzecha, were “ashamed” for what they saw. Apparently the Monday programmes were not welcomed also among the Law and Justice politicians. The media are reporting that among the critics of TVP is the prime minister Morawiecki.

For now, however, Jacek Kurski stays. Decision is with Jarosław Kaczyński.

Et alors?

Maciej Kisilowski of CEU published on Politico that “Poland’s ruling party will exploit Gdańsk murder“. I am sorry, but I cannot agree.

Poland is not Hungary. Yes, Poland is under siege from far-right propaganda and a quasi-totalitarian regime. Yes, Poland has its puppet master. Yes, Poles rights are threatened and in many situations have been compromised. Yes, the rule of law is questioned. Yes, there are more threats to come. Yes, the liberal values have been challenged and frequently compromised.

Just imagine this: a real-life situation in which the future of the president and CEO of ZDF, Fred Burcksen, depended on the will of Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, leader of Germany’s ruling party. Well, 80 km east of Berlin there is a country in which the future of the president of TVP, Jacek Kurski, fully depends on the will of one individual Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of Poland’s ruling party. AKK and Jarosław Kaczyński are not head of government.

But it is not the time to do politics. This is the time of grief.

Poland is not Hungary. There is the opposition capable of winning. There is the society that Law and Justice reads and interprets, for better or worse, but PiS tries to influence it and not take it for granted – they know their future depends on the nation’s will. There are some independent massive media. Yes, there are dictatorial aspirations and hate speech, but there is hope.

Just take the WOŚP message: Mourning turns into empathy. The spirit of WOŚP continues. Love trumps hate. Unity wins over divisions.

For all the politicking and future fights for our future, let us talk about it later.

The funeral of Paweł Adamowicz will take place on Saturday, 19 January 2019, in Gdańsk.

How MEPs are elected in Poland

Elections to the European Parliament in Poland will take place on Sunday 26 May 2019, together with 20 other EU countries. Only 6 countries have elections on Thursday, Friday or Saturday ahead of the Sunday vote. The Polish elections have their specificity. In this blog we outline the way the elections in Poland are organised.

There will be 52 MEPs elected in Poland. The Polish nationals who live permanently abroad have a choice: they can either vote in Poland for a Polish list, or in the country they reside in. Voting in two countries, however, is illegal. If you are a non-Polish EU citizen residing in Poland, you can – and you should – vote in the European elections. You have a choice, too. You can vote in Poland or in the country you come from.

You should not forget: if you are not a Polish citizen, you can also put yourself as a candidate, provided you reside in the country for at least five years (and you need to be at least 21 years old)!

Yes, 52 MEPs, not 51. There were 51 MEPs elected last time in 2014. The change is a result of the reshuffling of mandates among countries following the Brexit scheduled for 29 March 2019. There will be 705 MEPs from 27 member states. The share of the Poland-elected MEPs increases from 6.7% to 7.4%. The European Parliament becomes a little bit more Polish!

Poland, unlike most countries, is not treated as a single constituency. There are multiple constituencies in the country. The lists are closed, but there is a preferential voting. That means that your vote will a) determine which list gets your vote, and b) who on this list gets the seat, or if more than one seat is attributed to that list, who are the people and in what order the mandates are allocated among them.

European_Parliament_constituencies_Poland
13 constituencies in Poland. Source: Wikipedia

There is a 5% threshold for the lists, country-wide. You can vote if you are 18 or older. You wondered this is obvious? In Austria already 16 year old person can vote. And in Greece it is enough to be 17 years old to cast a ballot.

The mandates are allocated to the lists who got at least 5% of the vote. The method used to determine mandates is called the d’Hondt method, but there is another competition… it is a competition between the regions. If the turnout is particularly low in one region (see above) the region may end up with no mandate allocated to it! Clearly the Poles tried to be innovative and creative when this electoral law was adopted. To determine the mandates between the regions the Hare-Niemeyer method is used.

 

 

 

Poland’s public TV is a propaganda tube, confirmed.

Andrzej Krajewski
Andrzej Krajewski

The media freedom, especially the pubic media in Poland has been an on-going controversy since 2015. To understand this complex situation, I have sat down to talk to Andrzej Krajewski, a retired journalist, whose list of “former” is an inspiration for any aspiring journalist out there. For example, Andrzej was a correspondent of TVP (Polish state-owned TV) and the Polish Radio in Washington, DC during the crucial early days of Poland’s transformation (1990-1994) and the Gulf War. He is a former editor-in-chief of Poland’s Reader’s Digest and a former vice-president of the Polish Journalists Association (SDP) where he was a director of the Centre of Monitoring of the Freedom of the Press.

 

Are the public media in Poland free?

Andrzej Krajewski: In short, no. The part of the public media that provides information is a propaganda machine of the Law and Justice party. It is important to make a classification here. The public media in Poland is a massive institution. They are unique for many reasons. For example, the very fact there are strong public media in Poland is not a common feature across the former Communist countries. In Poland the public media remain an important actor. I am happy for that. I talk about the television, of course – TVP1, TVP2, TVP Info, but also the thematic channels of TVP on history, culture and others.

There are many good programs and valuable materials produced in the corners of the TVP empire. Still, when it comes to the information programs I monitor – mainly the Wiadomości (News), which is aired daily at 19:30, the situation is bad.

How did the electoral campaign in the recent local and regional elections (21 October/4 November 2018) look like in the public media?

AK: In the Journalistic Society (Towarzystwo Dziennikarskie) – since I have left the SDP, as it is impossible to remain there [the SDP was taken over by the PiS-leaning journalists back in 2015], we have monitored the Wiadomości for a month in two two-week long sessions. We were comparing the program with the other two main programs of the private stations, Fakty (the Facts) of TVN and Wydarzenia (the Events) of Polsat. During the initial two weeks we were looking at the candidates presented by TVP, whose candidates’ statement were aired… and the result? 73% of the politicians’ statements aired were PiS politicians talk, including the PiS candidates.

Zrzut ekranu 2019-01-12 o 15.32.02And the other 27% to all the other candidates?…

AK: No, there was no plurality. Only the big cities mattered: Warsaw, Łódź, Gdańsk, Kraków, where PiS had its hopes high. The rest didn’t matter. What else came out was that it was an overwhelming holistic propaganda. For example: during a normal monitoring one can easily differentiate between the non-electoral materials and the electoral materials. In a normal monitoring situation there is no need to monitor the non-electoral materials. Here there were no non-electoral materials. Everything was linked to the campaign. Entire program of Wiadomości was subject to the propaganda; there were no neutral messages; every material was advocating to support the government candidates. This is exactly what a propaganda tube means.

For this reason, since we concluded that Wiadomości was a propaganda instrument, in the following two weeks we were comparing the messages of three main programs: Wiadomości of TVP, Fakty of TVN and Wydarzenia of Polsat. Here’s the outcome: Polsat has been largely neutralized. There is an important difference in commenting the political reality between the two private stations, TVN and Polsat. None of them has a holistic approach like the TVP. Polsat prefers to cover the social issues, neutral programs. They are of excellent quality, but they do not cover as much politics as, say TVN, since they know they can’t be overly critical of the government. Still, Polsat was so much better in covering the elections than what the TVP did.

Would you agree with the following: there are three main actors in the evening news and if the Wiadomości of TVP are the propaganda tube of the government, then, on the other hand the PiS could argue the following: it doesn’t matter, since Fakty of TVN are the propaganda tube of the opposition.

AK: I disagree for two reasons. First, you cannot compare directly a private broadcaster with a public one. The public broadcaster has certain legal obligations. Article 21.1 of the Law on Broadcasting precisely says what kind of conditions have to be met by a public broadcaster. It talks about the obligations of a public broadcaster: pluralism, impartiality, balance, independence, high quality and integrity of the message – no one precisely knows what the last element means. Six qualities of a public broadcaster. TVP cannot say we meet three of the six conditions, so we are fine. Those obligations have to be met. Their performance should be controlled by the National Broadcasting Council (KRRiT). The KRRiT is not providing the control function since its composition has been compromised. Just this case: Mr Witold Kołodziejski, the KRRiT chairman was a PiS candidate in recent elections. He became a member of the Mazovian regional council. If you asked me, TVP and Wiadomości are not meeting the six conditions of the Broadcasting Law.

The private broadcaster does not have to respect the six conditions. If someone says that TVN represents the opposition is false. TVN is critical of the government, as any media should be. The role of the media is not to make propaganda, but to represent the public. And the electorate should be informed, in a critical way, about what the government does, because the ruling power is controlled by the electorate only once every four years. In the meantime, the electorate should be confronted with critical information so that the electorate can make up its mind about how to vote.

To be critical of the government does not mean that they are representing the opposition.

The role of the media is not to be critical of the opposition but to check on the government. Its independence is not provided by an equal distance between the government and the opposition. There are additional standards for the public broadcaster on top of that. The third actor, Polsat’s Wydarzenia, is self-limiting its coverage of the politics.

AK: Polsat is running away from high politics as much as possible. This is what I can say on the basis on watching the Wydarzenia. There are other people watching the current affairs programs on Polsat – but I don’t watch them as much, so I won’t talk about it.

What I’d like to mention is this: there is a huge difference between how the reality is portraited by the Fakty and Wydarzenia on the one hand, and by Wiadomości on the other hand. The statistics I mentioned earlier – 73% – suggests what kind of opinions are aired. Fakty and Wydarzenia provided balanced opinions from all angles. The Wiadomości independent commentators are not independent. Professors who provide insight come from Catholic universities or marginal private schools and many of them are not independent. They frequently have a history of working with the PiS government by providing input and expertise.

In this context, what do you expect from the next political campaign – to the European Parliament 2019?

AK: More of the same. What was important was the December PiS conference in Jachranka: to stop or suspend the fight to tighten the abortion law and to self-limit of what the party members publish on the Internet.

Wasn’t there a reflection in the PiS corners to soften the message? TVP has suspended a program in which the EU flag was burnt…

AK: Wait a moment. The program was suspended not because of the EU flag, but because the host publicly insulted the PiS leader demanding full ban of abortion and his disappointment with PiS leader in this regard. Jarosław Kaczyński is a great strategic player who knows when to take a step back – he took a step back with the judges a few weeks ago, for example.

But I do not see any softening of the message of PiS or in the TVP. After the local elections they go on with business as usual.

TVP is a machine, which goes on with its own force, rolling on, and it is difficult to moderate the message when you were hammering it before?

AK: Those people will have no problem to report one day a victory for Donald Tusk. They don’t care. It’s water off a duck’s back. I hope they won’t be there – they are absolutely cynical about what they do.

Wiadomości are losing viewership, is that correct?

AK: Yes, there were about 3.5 million people watching the program a few years ago – 2-2.5 million people watch the TVP main news program today. Wiadomości used to be No. 1 news program, today they are either second or third; Polsat’s Wydarzenia are fighting for popularity with TVP; Fakty are regularly the most popular news program today in Poland.

Two million people receive the propaganda information. This is bad, but not the worst news yet. The TVP Info is a 24h news channel available everywhere, while their private competitors are not available everywhere. Those 24/7 channels are quite popular in Poland – each enjoys hundreds of thousands of viewers, sometimes over 1 million. And this channel is hammering propaganda not for 25 minutes of Wiadomości a day – they “inform” 24/7.

This is relevant, because the evening news programs are viewed by the general public, while the 24/7 news programs are watched by the militants – both pro and anti-government.

On the last point, are the European elections important from the perspective of a fight for the free public media in Poland?

AK: Very relevant. I think that the EU and its institutions should be interested in the state of democracy in its member states. There is some interest now with the Article 7 etc. Yet within this panorama of the state of democracy there is the media role, its reliability, independence, balance should be relevant for democracy. The right to information, which is a fundamental right, should be taken seriously. The citizen has a right to be informed. The Polish citizen has a right to be informed and his right is not being realised by the public media, hence the citizen is not informed properly – or, has been informed defectively. This citizen chooses Members of the European Parliament. This voter takes his decisions in limited conditions.

ALERT! Mayor of Gdańsk attacked UPDATE

At 20:00 on Sunday night Paweł Adamowicz (53) was stabbed in the stomach multiple times during a concert organised on the occasion of the 2019 grand finale of the Great Orchestra of the Christmas Charity. The attacker forced himself on stage and attacked the mayor with knife.

The attacker identified himself as “Stefan” and shouted off the stage: “I was innocently jailed. The Civic Platform tortured me. This is why Paweł Adamowicz is dead”, before the police arrested him.

Earlier that day Adamowicz collected money for the WOŚP charity. He informed his followers that he has improved on his personal best as a campaigning volunteer. In 2019 he has collected 5,613 zł (about 1,300 Euro) in his tin.

Prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and interior minister Joachim Brudziński were quick to denounce the attack. Morawiecki condemned the assault and expressed his prayers and thoughts to be with the mayor. He also called on the interior minister to keep him up to date with latest developments. Brudziński called the attack brutal and barbaric.

Donald Tusk, native of Gdańsk, expressed his emotions on Twitter: “Let us all pray for Mayor Adamowicz. Paweł, we are with you”.

Mayor Adamowicz was given first aid on stage before being taken to a hospital. His state is grave.

UPDATE MONDAY 14 Jan 2019 7:30 hrs.

  • Surviving 5 hour-long operation, the state of Mr. Adamowicz is stable, but difficult, confirmed the Gdańsk hospital doctors, who conducted the operation.
  • Blood supplies needed: In Gdańsk and elsewhere around the country the blood collection points open as early as 7:00 hrs.
  • There will be the March Against Violence later today, at 18:00 hrs in Gdańsk.
  • Next information about Mr Adamowicz state shall be given mid-day today.

Mayor Adamowicz

Paweł Adamowicz has been Mayor of Gdańsk since 1998. His first steps in politics were with the Liberal-Democratic Congress (KLD), the first party of Donald Tusk. He was among the founding members of the Civic Platform (PO) in 2001. Adamowicz won all the direct elections for the mayorship of Gdańsk since 2002. The Mayor fell off with the PO in 2015 when he was accused of irregularities in his financial statements. Despite problems in the last elections in November 2018 run-off, he has defeated the PiS candidate Kacper Płażyński.

Paweł Adamowicz is married with two children.

Matteo Salvini meets Jarosław Kaczyński

The leader of La Lega met with Jarosław Kaczyński.

Two leaders of two major political parties in two more populous member states. No wonder there was a buzz about this meeting that transcended borders and melted snow outside of the PiS HQ. Even Jarosław Kaczyński noticed Salvini’s popularity in Warsaw: “I see you are very popular, there are so many news people around here!”, he greeted his Italian guest.

What happened?

Mr Salvini arrived in Warsaw on a mission. The mission? To create a new major force in the European elections. What does he want: “Poland and Italy will be part of the new spring of Europe, the renaissance of European values” and “the Europe that will come to form in June will lead us all than the one that exists today and is run by bureaucrats.” Later in the day he said that he wants the new force to be the second, maybe the first in the EU vote.

Deliberately I shall not label Salvini or Kaczyński “Eurosceptic”, as major outlets have done. Let’s listen to their arguments.

The Interior Minister Business

First, Matteo Salvini met his Polish counterpart, the interior minister, Joachim Brudziński.

Brudziński, Polish Interior Minister and interlocutor of Salvini in the EU Council of Ministers: “Poland and Italy are not leaving the European Union. We are an integral part of the EU and we want to have an influence on how our common European house looks like. To those, who would like to see us on the fringe positions, anti-European, we can say only one thing: it’s mission impossible”.

Poland and Italy just don’t like migrants. Brudziński and Salvini agreed, the process of deportation needs to speed up. They also love “the family”. Salvini: “John Paul II talked about Europe that needs to come back to its identity and Judeo-Christian roots, and this is denied in Brussels madly. The family is negated, only other values dominate”.

The Future of Europe

The second meeting of the day – Polish prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki. During this meeting Mr Salvini used the most quoted words about the new “European spring” or a “Warsaw-Rome axis” replacing that of Berlin and Paris. According to Salvini, this European renaissance means recreation of the “true European values, where there will be less finances, less bureaucracy, more jobs and more family, and most of all – more security”.

If Brudziński and Morawiecki were the entrée, it was the Kaczyński meeting that was the main course. Apparently, the Italians have asked for the meeting for months. The Poles like to be courted, and hesitated. Their (PiS) natural instinct is: ALERT, ALERT! After all, their counterpart is all-the-way pro-Russian, Russian sanctions critic, his party is even affiliated with the Putin’s One Russia. As for the Poles – since 2015 no high-ranking visit of a Polish official to Russia or from Russia. When the Polish President Andrzej Duda shook hands with Putin at the UN one year, he was questioned for doing so…

So the Italians requested, courted. Why? La Lega is outside of European mainstream. La Lega is affiliated with ENF, chaired and created by the done-with-the-EU Front National, or whatever its current name is. PiS is very cautious about talking with the Euro-leavers. The Polish opposition accuses the government of a secret Polexit strategy. Salvini also is on the defensive: ever since coming into power he had to defend his positions. Just last December ha had to repeat once again: he does not want a “Brexit all’Italiana” or to leave the Euro. His government complied with the EU Commission about the 2019 budget figures, too.

La Lega is not a fringe party anymore. La Lega dreams big. In Italy and it needs partners.

PiS is not a fringe party, but like La Lega is outside the mainstream.

The two needed to talk.

Mr Salvini visited the Polish leader in the Law and Justice HQ on Nowogrodzka street in Warsaw. They talked for over 1:30 hours. We know little about the meeting, except for what the spin doctors of PiS want us to know, that the Polish leader is happy about the meeting and there will be follow up. There is the invitation for Kaczyński to visit Milan in March, should his health permit. There is a commitment: Salvini will commemorate the Monte Cassino II World War battle memory event, scheduled for 18 May.

They talked about what unites them. They talked about being accused of Euroscepticism, or even anti-Europeanness. They talked about Italian contribution to NATO and Polish-Italian business. They talked about family and religion and migration. Salvini repeated what he said elsewhere: “Because of that [migration] I have many enemies in my country, but the more critical they are, the more support I get among the society”.

They talked politics, too. The context is the European elections comes May. PiS is an orphan following Brexit, as the Tories leave ECR. La Lega wants to step up its participation in European politics from ENF. After all, they run a government now! Meetings about future cooperation will continue, the message stands.

Et alors?

My take is simple, La Lega and PiS made a deal, or are about to make a deal. A Polish politician was already making calculations: La Lega can become the largest national delegation in the European Parliament with some 30 MEPs. PiS’ own expectation – 24. Just those two partners and a simple math: 54 MEPs. This is a solid base to continue to dream.

PiS has one condition: La Lega cannot bring the Front National from ENF with them to their new group. That’s too toxic.