Warsaw brief news 12 Jan 2019

1. Spy story in Warsaw: a Huawei employee and an ex-ABW officer (Internal Security Agency) have been arrested for alleged spying.

2. Teachers on strike: following ZNP, a second trade union FZZ announced they will join the strike. Teachers demand increase of salary.

3. Mike Pompeo, US Secretary of State announced that on 13-14 February there will be a conference in Warsaw dedicated to the situation in the Middle East.

4. Wild boar shooting controversy: the Polish internet is full of stories about people, who are protesting against the wild boar shooting. Yet, the reality is… there is nothing abnormal about this season wild boar shooting. The stories about forced shooting of pregnant wild boars turn to be fake news.

5. Poland’s National Central Bank (NBP) President, Adam Glapiński is a new problem for PiS: apparently his “angels” make about 15,000 Euro a month.

6. Soldiers unhappy: apparently not only teachers are unhappy about their salaries. Rzeczpospolita writes about their disappointment.

Teachers strike in Poland this spring?

What might happen and what may be a major blow for the ruling party: the powerful Teachers Union (ZNP) just called for a massive strike in schools to take place during the exams season.

What’s the problem? Salaries.

Sławomir Broniarz
Mr Broniarz announces teachers’ strike, Warsaw, 10 Jan 2019.

Currently the starting salary for a teacher in Poland is the country’s minimal wage, 2250 zł, or 520 Euro. If you are a cashier in one of a leading shop chains, your entry level salary is about 2650 zł, or 615 Euro, and it increases annually. To become a teacher you need to study and graduate, your qualifications need to be excellent. And your salary is just a friction of your competence. Voila, welcome to the Polish schools in 2019.

Yes, teachers salaries increase with time and experience, too. There are extras, too. Yet, all is too little too slow. Low income of teachers has massively driven teachers of physics, chemistry or biology out of schools. Many schools, especially in smaller towns, have problems recruiting foreign language teachers. Warsaw schools alone lack some 200 teachers as of January 2019.

A few years ago there were some 670 thousand teachers in Poland. Today there are fewer than 500 thousand teachers.

Some local governments, concerned with the low level of salaries in schools, have started to complement their income. In 2019 every young teacher in Warsaw receives about 250 zł (about 60 Euro) more from the city budget. Rafał Trzaskowski, a former MEP and Warsaw mayor said a few weeks ago when the city decided to increase the city contribution to teachers salaries: “The costs are growing with the deform of the education. The government subvention is insufficient, the costs are enormous. We promised increase of salaries, we want to keep the youth in their jobs [of teaching]”.

The frictions between the teachers unions and the Education Minister, Anna Zalewska (PiS) have a long history. It concerns how teachers are promoted and remunerated, the school curricula, and the ongoing school reform. Last talks ended yesterday. Sławomir Broniarz, ZNP leader, said: “The minister failed to propose a rational proposal to improve teachers’ situation” and accused the minister of empty talk. ZNP wants 1000 zł salary increase across the board.

Instead Minister Zalewska proposed a 250 zł salary increase and more flexibility for school directors to allocate resources. Excellent results would also mean higher wages. She wants to continue to talk with the unions.

Broniarz: “The strike will mean no activity at schools. We will not pretend to take care of children”. Last December some 10,000 teachers took a sick leave to mark their protest.

Part of the frustration of the Teachers’ Union comes from the fact that the PiS minister first talked separately with the Solidarność trade union (education branch) and the 70+ representation of ZNP had to wait two hours for the minister.

Hence the potential of the strike is massive. First, there are some 500,000 concerned individuals, who are educated, voting, underpaid and frequently local community leaders.

Second, the timing could not be worse for the ruling party – just weeks before the May elections, or maybe even during the vote.

Third, the strike could have a devastating impact on the timing of school exams, especially for those graduating high schools. They will be also first time voters. Already in December and January first test exams have been cancelled due to no show of teachers.

Fourth, the impact of closed schools would be massive on all parents, should the schools be closed and there would be no place to leave the kids behind.

Fifth, minister Zalewska is tipped to be one of PiS’ frontwomen in the European elections. Faced with a major strike of the unions, this may complicate her chances.

Et alors?

Poland has a long history of public education. World’s first education ministry was created in Poland in 1773 (the Commission of National Education). During the founding act of the Zamojski Academy in 1600 (opening of the third university in the country) Jan Zamoyski, a leading political figure of the time and a visionary, said: “republics are as good as the education of their youth”.

Today, the Polish schools are placed on the edge. Not only the schools and teachers are underfunded, they are also faced with a growing nationalistic narrative: European education and civic education have been either eradicated or sidelined from Polish schools.

We shall come back on this blog to the issue of the quality of Polish European education in due time.

Overview of Polish political parties, Jan 2019

Who will run in the European Elections from Poland in 2019? Here’s a quick preview of the political actors.

The Sejm with 460 members. Photo: Wikipedia.

In 2019 there is one dominant party in Poland, Law and Justice (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, PiS). PiS’s is a ruled by Jarosław Kaczyński, a former prime minister (2006-7), party co-founder and leader since 2002. PiS is a nationalist-conservative party with a predominant focus on the nation. It was created on the popularity of the then-ousted Justice Minister Lech Kaczyński, who was the party’s main front man until his death in 2010. Lech Kaczyński was elected Warsaw’s mayor (2002-2005) and Poland’s President (2005-2010).

Since the Smoleńsk tragedy (on 10 April 2010 96 people died in a plane crash in Russia, including Poland’s President along many other political figures and veterans) Law and Justice has been re-focusing its center-right positions into more nationalistic and populist stance. Antoni Macierewicz, party’s vice-president, was a leading voice in criticizing the official investigation insinuating that the tragedy in fact was an orchestrated successful assassination of the head of the Polish state. Mr Macierewicz served as Poland’s Minister of Defence between 2015 and 2018.

By combining a policy of national narrative and a strong social redistribution (lowering retirement age; introducing a new financial support for parents) the Law and Justice is able to remain a solid popularity with a support at about 35-40%. Current European affiliation of PiS is ECR.

As a side note, PiS has two junior coalition parties within its coalition. The first is United Poland (Solidarna Polska, SP) under the leadership of Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro, a former MEP. The second is the Agreement (Porozumienie) under the Science Minister Jarosław Gowin, who once was the Civic Platform’s… Justice Minister.

The main opposition party is the Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO). Following its loss of power in 2015 the PO’s leader is Grzegorz Schetyna. Before him the party leadership was Donald Tusk’s (prime minister 2007-14) and Ewa Kopacz (prime minister 14-15). For many years this party was in government pursuing centrist policies. Sometimes the Civic Platform advocates unpopular policy choices (during Tusk’s term the retirement age was risen, salaries in the public administration frozen) and is openly pro-European. One of its leaders, Rafał Trzaskowski, mayor of Warsaw since late 2018, campaigned on a platform of inclusiveness and openness, stability and continuity. Nationally, the current PO support is about 25%. PO’s European affiliation is the European People’s Party (EPP).

A second smaller EPP member in Poland is the Polish People’s Party (Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe, PSL). PSL is an agrarian party and enjoys about 6% of public support. It’s leader Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz is among the most respected across the entire opposition. Hence he is sometimes mentioned as potential future prime minister, should the Law and Justice fail to win 50% of seats in the Sejm following the fall 2019 elections.

The left in Poland is divided. The biggest party is the Democratic Left Alliance (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej, SLD). This is a party that used to be a dominant force in Polish politics until a major corruption scandal in 2002/3. Since then the party has never recovered and enjoys about 7% support today. Among its most prominent leaders are Aleksander Kwaśniewski (former President of Poland, 1995-2005), Leszek Miller (prime minister 2001-4) and Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz (prime minister 1996-7, MFA 2001-5). Currently SLD has no MPs in the Sejm. The SLD MEPs seat with the S&D group.

The new left-wing party is being established by Robert Biedroń, a former MP and a former mayor of Słupsk, a city of 90,000 people. Biedroń’s party is in their early stages, but the buzz suggests it may result with electing Members of the European Parliament.

On the right-side to the Law and Justice there is the Kukiz’15 formation, which does not have a European affiliation yet. Kukiz’15 entered the Polish politics in 2015 following the success of Paweł Kukiz, a popular rock star, who campaigned on an anti-establishment platform and introduction of directly elected MPs in the presidential race. Mr Kukiz obtained over 20% of the vote. Among his alternative candidates were some far-right politicians of the National Movement. Five of them became MPs in 2015. It was the first time when far-right politicians campaigning with racial slurs became members of the Polish Sejm. Since 2015 the 5 far-right politicians of the National Movement have left Kukiz’15. Kukiz’15 today polls at about 6%.

There are also some smaller parties with limited chances of success in the European elections. .Modern (.Nowoczesna) is a liberal party whose support erode from above 10% in 2015 to below 5% today. Its leader is Katarzyna Lubnauer, but the party was created by a banker Ryszard Petru, who has left the party since. Current Petru party is caller Now (Teraz). Both .N and Teraz best hopes are linked with creation of a major coalition of most of the opposition forces, which is expected to be prepared ahead of the European elections. This was the experience of the local and regional elections in late 2018; PO-.N and other partners campaigning together on a joint list were able to master a better result and push back the Law and Justice out of the cities.

There is also the party Together (Razem), which is a far-left formation, though not a post-communist one. The “new left” was created in 2015 and is polling at about 3%. Its leader is Adrian Zandberg. There is another small political force of Barbara Nowacka called the Polish Initiative (Inicjatywa Polska), which joined the opposition in the local and regional vote last November.

On the far-right there is a number of initiatives. The National Movement, now separated from Kukiz’15, runs under the leadership of MP Robert Winnicki. Janusz Korwin-Mikke, once an outspoken MEP, runs a party called… KORWiN. There are two side-movement from Kukiz’15. The first is called Liberty and Effective (Wolność i Skuteczni), while the next is called Free and Solidary (Wolni i Solidarni) – the last one’s interest steams from the fact that its leader is Kornel Morawiecki, father of the Polish prime minister.

The last actor that might be created for the European elections is the Movement of True Europe (Ruch Prawdziwej Europy, RPE). It has a leader – MEP Mirosław Piotrowski (ECR) and it has the political support of father Tadeusz Rydzyk, director of the omni-influential Radio Maryja. It is unclear if the RPE runs in the European elections. For now many commentators see the talk about its creation as a way to pressure Jarosław Kaczyński’s Law and Justice to include Rydzyk’s affiliates on PiS lists.

Orban supports Warsaw-Rome axis

…before it became a reality, the Rome-Warsaw axis has a new friend. Meet Hungarian prime minister and the country’s strongman: Viktor Orbán.

Today at a press conference in Budapest, the country leader supported the Italian-Polish initiative to tame immigration into Europe. He was super happy about it. Orbán said “as for the Polish-Italian axis, the Warsaw-Rome axis, the fact that it was able to begin to create at all, it is one of the greatest news! Therefore I place my hope with this initiative”.

The Hungarian leader said he hoped for anti-immigration majority in the European elections, and following that, anti-immigration majority in the European Commission and the European Council.

Why it matters

What Mr Orbán says matters. First of all, his FIDESZ party is still a member of the EPP. An important member – if it was not the case, the party would have been thrown away long time ago.

Secondly, Jarosław Kaczyński awhile back said he wanted Budapest in Warsaw. The two leaders do not agree on everything, but on many things, they do. What divides them is Russia. What unites them is Brussels and migration – in short. For PiS to have Orbán’s blessing is an important signal: the PiS-La Lega deal chances for success just went up.

Thirdly, Orbán may or may not leave the EPP following European elections. For him to have a convenience to chose which large political family FIDESZ joins is a luxurious situation. Should he be able to convince the entire EPP to adopt more anti-immigration position, FIDESZ stays in the EPP. Leverage of Mr Orbán goes up with the scheduled departure of Angela Merkel.

Should EPP stick to its current position of managing migration rather than stopping it, it is likely FIDESZ might depart the largest political family to date and be embraced by a new coalition of like-minded MEPs.

It may well be that Orbán becomes the king maker after May 2019. Maybe this is why Mr Weber (the EPP leader in the EP and its Sptizenkandidat for the Commission Presidency) has been so accommodating with the Hungarian leader?

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.

28 years old nationalist appointed minister

A gift from Prime Minister Morawiecki to the Polish’ far-right came late for Christmas.

Photo: Wikipedia

By the end of the year Adam Andruszkiewicz was appointed a vice-minister of digitalization. Who is this 28 years old minister? He is a former leader of the All-Polish Youth movement (organisation long known for anti-Semitic allegiance). In 2015 he was elected to the Sejm on the electoral list of Kukiz’15; representing then the radical National Movement. He holds anti-European and anti-Western views portraying himself as an isolationist. A native of Białystok he praises neighbouring Lukashenka’s Belarus. Mr Andruszkiewicz has a long list of criticism addressed towards Macron’s France. He is not shy of presenting his anti-Muslim and homophobic views to the world.

Why was he appointed? This action should be viewed as an attempt to attract far-right supporters to Law and Justice. If PiS truly wanted to reach out to the centrist voters this nomination was contradictory to what prime minister Morawiecki offered earlier last month. Clearly it was important to solidify the right-wing flank of Law and Justice before reaching out to the centre.

Mr Andruszkiewicz may be young, but he is resolute, especially on social media. His Facebook public profile is followed by 197 thousand people.

Some direct quotes from Mr Andruszkiewicz, vice-minister of the Polish government:

  • On Europe: “We have to speak with no complexes that we do not want any Europe and immigration here, we want no multiculturalism. We do not want it and that’s it. I see today how cities like Vienna, Brussels, London and Paris look like”.
  • On Belarus: “I think we should culturally, civilizationally and economically get closer with Belarus” and “the European Union tells us to argue against them”.
  • On migration and terrorist attacks: “Mrs Merkel and Mr Macron said we should take in immigrants and then had funerals of people murdered in attacks. It is not that the West is an oracle, God, who sits and says what Mr Timmermans says and we should pray to him, implement peacefully, because this is what he wants”. And in 2017 he added “I think that European politicians like Mrs Merkel or Mr Juncker today have blood on their hands of innocent people”.
  • On the US forces presence in Poland: “There is a geopolitical discussion in Poland what countries should be militarily present. Recently we got rid of the Soviet military. I respond: no military”.
  • On gays in Poland: “The healthiest tissue is in Eastern Poland. Not in any “Warsaw”. Not in any of those queer bars next to the rainbow. In there is no healthy Poland. Here is the healthy Poland”.

Now Mr Andruszkiewicz will be responsible for the relationship of the Polish government with Facebook and other social media.

Di Maio-Kukiz meeting: more direct democracy in Europe!

Luigi Di Maio of 5 Star Movement and Paweł Kukiz of Kukiz’15 just met in the shadow of the Salvini-Kaczyński meeting. The two men met in Brussels 8 Jan 2019 and talked about direct democracy and the idea of referendums in Italy and Poland. Both exchanged their perspectives on the artificial divisions between right and left in Europe and discussed how to accommodate their differences. Di Maio announced the platform for cooperation with the Polish party as well as Croatian Ivan Sincic and Finnish Karolina Kahonen to be based on direct democracy.

This was not the first time Kukiz and di Maio talked. Clearly they negotiate the platform and program ahead of the European Elections this May. Direct democracy is one; Kukiz added on his Facebook profile that what unites them is opposition to the domination of European politics by two nations.  Most likely he meant France and Germany,

The two politicians announced more news to come in the upcoming weeks. The French Gilet-Jaunes movement is expected to join the M5S-led initiative.