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.

Facebook bans 13 Polish pages

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On Europe Day, 9 May, the news about Facebook’s new elections operations centre in Dublin hit the wires. This time it is different. This time the social platforms take the fake news threat seriously. The European elections is particularly vulnerable to foreign manipulation.

In April, Facebook goes serious and bans the pan-European campaigns altogether. After all, one of the elements of the new Facebook policy is that no cross-border campaign on Facebook is possible. Remember the foreign involvement in the US 2016 elections? Consider the Chinese or the Russian threat.

The European political parties protest and are exempted from the practice. The big European families can pay for online continent-wide campaigns. The social initiatives, like #Gimme5EU, are not exempted. Our five blogs portrait the situation in our European countries for the wider European audience. Clearly this blog targets the non-Polish speakers interested in the Polish EU campaign. Still, I cannot promote it on Facebook outside of Poland, as it contains political information.

My Facebook readers figures go down. Thank you Google for not forgetting my blog as most of my current readership comes from search engines.

Fake news foreign and domestic

Facebook is worried with misinformation, fake news, etc. It should be. EU is worried, too. The EU has decided it is time to act. There are great and important initiatives, inside and outside of the European Institutions. Just to give here three examples: first is the EU vs DisInfo is working on disinformation originating from Eastern Europe since 2015. This is an official task force put together by the EEAS, European External Action Service, or the EU foreign office.

The problem of the European institutions is that it is possible to agree on the external disinformation, yet it is much more difficult to agree on combating the internal disinformation. Or, the disinformation originating in our member states. In the context of this elections, the FactCheckEU.info is probably one of the better sources for fact checking. It is developed by the The International Fact-Checking Network that deals with fact checking for a longer while.

The IFCN problem? It covers 19 media outlets in 11 languages: English, French, German, Danish, Spanish, Italian, Greek, Croat, Portuguese, Swedish and Lithuanian. No Polish partner in the project, also no Finnish, Estonian, Latvian, Dutch, Czech, Slovak, Slovene, Hungarian, Bulgarian and Romanian. Irish and Maltese equally are not included. C’est la vie. #Gimme5EU is also limited to a few countries, even if in recent weeks we have welcomed two new sister blogs: on the Lithuanian elections and the Portuguese vote.

Who fact checks in Poland in the context of the EU campaign? The best source for you is probably the Wojownicy Klawiatury, the Keyboard Warriors. There are already 6,700 warriors! The difference between the KW and other fact checkers is that Warriors are active directly on the Internet and they are regular Internet users, not journalists or officials. This cooperation is supported by the European Commission and backed up by certain EU officials and academics. Highly recommended.

Facebook bans pages

Facebook’s main tool of interfering with fake news or disinformation is to close down a page or an account. Oko.press, a liberal online magazine is actively monitoring all the political actors with their Internal activities. 17 May Oko.press informs about their latest success: following the Oko.press and Avaaz investigation Facebook just banned 13 pages with about 1.13 million subscribers.

Their main fault? Misinformation. Those pages start as i.e. photography lovers, and slowly transition to political issues. The wider Oko.press investigation identified 80 pages of 4.9 million subscriptions.

Oko.press: “fans who have been operating since 2016 have increased their ranges, including portals with anti-Western, anti-Ukrainian and anti-NATO fake news”. They perpetrated also pro-Russian views, according to the website.

The closed pages also promoted three politicians: ultra-right-winger Janusz Korwin-Mikke, a far-right deputy minister Adam Andruszkiewicz (who is responsible for the Polish relationship with… Facebook) and Leszek Miller, who is a left-wing former prime minister. Mr Korwin-Mikke and Mr Miller run for the European Parliament, Mr Korwin-Mikke is a candidate of Confederation, and Mr Miller of the European Coalition.

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?

Abascal in Warsaw

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Santiago Abascal, leader of the Spanish party Vox arrives in Warsaw for a meeting with Jarosław Kaczyński, the chairman of Law and Justice (PiS). The purpose of the meeting? To meet and study each other, as both actors do not know each other too well. Exploration ahead of the next European Parliament. Vox, after all, entered the European political scene only last December after the surprising Andalusian elections, which saw Vox receive 11% of the vote.

The latest opinion polls suggest Vox can receive over 10% of the Spanish vote in the May European elections as well as a month before in the national poll.

Vox is as a very conservative party protective of the Spanish nation and statehood. It stands against migration and multiculturalism (‘purity’). It voices opposition to same sex marriage (‘tradition’). In Spain it supports recentralisation of power against regions (‘unity’). The party also voices strong anti-feminism and anti-women rights arguments. As for the EU it seems to endorse the sovereignist approach. Mr Abascal in 2015: “Spain must be in Europe without complexes, claiming the historical, industrial and agricultural role that we deserve. We should not be vassals of Merkel or Tsipras.”

On Wednesday the Vox leader met with the leadership of PiS. In the official communication after the meeting it seems there was a mutual understanding. Both parties are interested in defending nation states against the federalists “which implies the loss of national sovereignty“.

Vox statement also voices opposition against Macron’s vision.

A happy face of Santiago Abascal after meeting PiS: “We have a lot in common with Poland, Law and Justice”. Clearly this exploratory meeting shows that those two parties are close to each other. Mr Abascal expresses the conviction that the talks are going “in the right direction” regarding a possible future alliance with PiS in the European Parliament.

Europe moves away from fundamental Christian values, accepts mass immigration and interferes too much in the policy of sovereign states

Santiago Abascal

The Vox leader continues: “We are looking for an understanding and alliances with other parties in other countries. Besides, we are big fans of Poland, Spain is a sister country with Poland, we have a lot in common: today Poland and other countries represent the core of Europe, including Hungary.”

Presenting his party in Poland Mr Abascal says about Vox: his party “speaks truth and defends common sense”, which is why many Spaniards identify with this message against “the dictatorship of political correctness of the left”. “In Spain there are many people tired of politicians who dictate what to think and interfere with the Spaniards’ religious, patriotic or family feelings”. “Vox transformed into a huge wave that began in the south of Spain”, he concludes.

In his earlier tweet, Mr Abascal described the Wednesday meeting with the Polish partners fruitful. “A very fruitful meeting with the Polish government aimed at analysing common policies based on respect for the sovereignty of European states, Christian values ​​and migration control”.

Et alors?

So far chairman Kaczyński met Matteo Salvini in January. In February there was an ECR summit in Paris hosted by Debut-la-France of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan. Now Vox leader is in Warsaw.

It is easy to dismiss every party on the continent right of the EPP as far-right. It is easy to be scared of the mass and amount of the far-right in the European Parliament. I won’t, because there are certain key actors within this crowd and there are important limitations for some of the actors. There are reasons why there are two groups in the EP now (EFDD and ENF), not one. There are reasons why some parties were even too toxic for other far-right-wingers out there (Jobbik from Hungary, Golden Dawn from Greece).

In the large pool of right-wing parties the crucial for future EP will be the popular parties in the populous states: AfD in Germany, National Rally (RN), which is the current party of Marine Le Pen in France, the Italians – La Lega and M5S, the Spanish Vox and the Polish main actor: PiS.

Clearly the Hungarian Fidesz enters the pool of seeking potential new allies as of today. Also the Dutch party PVV of Geert Wilders is widely known, the Swedish Democrats and the Austrian FPO, too.

Can we expect a wide coalition including all those actors?

PiS seems to have two major limitations in seeking out new partners. The first problem are the Russian money. It will be very difficult for the Polish governmental party to be associated with a partner who is not only dependent on Russian support, but who is perceived in Poland as an agent of Russian (unwanted) influence in Europe. This means it will be very difficult for PiS to cooperate with actors like RN or La Lega.

The PiS government policy towards Russia is frozen since 2015. The latest stint: invitations for the 80th anniversary of the start of WW2 are out. The war broke out in Gdańsk on 1 September 1939. Vladimir Putin of Russia has not been invited by the Polish head of state Andrzej Duda.

The second argument is a bit more subtle. PiS presents itself as the sovereignist party, but also as the defender of the European integration. That is, PiS wants to change the EU and reclaim sovereignty (especially in the rule of law area), but is far away from advocating exit from the EU or dissolution of the Union. Hence, those who are openly hostile to the membership are not likely to be considered partners.

Last, minor, is the obvious statement, that the Polish party calls for respect. PiS is not going to be associated with parties of anti-Polish rhetoric (PVV).

Unless people make corrections in their policy, that is. Matteo Salvini January visit was an attempt to prove himself in the eyes of Jarosław Kaczyński of being free of La Lega’s Russian links. Two months on it seems the criticism towards la Lega among PiS is growing. Still, it may change by May.

With La Lega (maybe), Vox (probably) and Fidesz (likely) the biggest challenge for PiS in their attempt to win the European elections is to win votes for their group (ECR or a new one) in France and Germany. Relations with AfD are dire since the 2016 split. Today AfD is close with the Austrian FPO – anti-European and sometimes disrespectful of Poles. It is very unlikely for any German MEP to be included in the upcoming PiS-led group.

France is another story. RN is a no-go for PiS, but in Paris Law and Justice announced its large block to include the Debut-la-France party of Nicolas Dupond-Aignan, which is polling currently at 5%.

In the Netherlands passing by the Wilders’ PVV there is a new actor, too, who has been reached out to: it is Forum of Democracy (FvD) of Theo Baudet, who just came second in the Dutch provincial elections beating every party except for the VVD of Prime Minister Rutte. It means there is a reservoir of support for the future PiS/ECR+ group in the Netherlands.

If the four parties (PiS, La Lega, Fidesz and Vox) are the core of the next group in the European Parliament, they come from four different houses: PiS is an ECR party today. La Lega is in ENF. Fidesz is/was in EPP. Vox is not yet associated. Together they could amount to over 60 MEPs with each of the parties contributing at least 10 (Italians and Poles at least 20) members. This could be a good start for building of a larger sovereignist group right-of-the-EPP, including the parties of DLF and FvD and alike.

Yet it is very clear: there will be more than one group on the right side of the European Parliament. The other group, openly anti-European could be based on RN, AfD, PVV and FPO.

Where will M5S go?

Children in the middle of the EP campaign

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  • Law and Justice runs a campaign against the LGBT+ community accusing the opposition of an ideological war and “sexualisation of children”;
  • Teachers’ unions go on strike: derailment of the spring exams in sight and maybe even graduation;
  • The Youth Climate Strikes hit the Polish streets;
  • The Catholic Church in Poland releases its statistics about paedophilia.

Law and Justice fights the LGBT+

The main theme of the current EP campaign in Poland is not quite what every major political actor wants. The Law and Justice crafted its offer to the public with a major program of give-aways and a campaign of lies against the LGBT+ community. PiS talks of fears of “sexualisation of children”.

Saturday, 16 March Jarosław Kaczyński in Katowice: “Get away from our children” in a response to an interview Warsaw deputy mayor Paweł Rabiej gave to Dziennik Gazeta Prawna (DGP). Rabiej in DGP: “Let’s not change the society by force. First the civil unions, then the marriage equality, then the possibility of adoption”. The PiS politicians took to Twitter to show how they agree with their leader. The conservative pundits took it further to the same areas where a week before the speaker of the Senate Stanisław Karczewski took it:

The liberal Gazeta Wyborcza soon accused the PiS Senator for copying the far-right activist and a former priest Jacek Międlar, who tweeted in 2017 using the same motif about the migrants:

PiS accused Rabiej of honesty. Michał Dworczyk MP and head of the PM Chancellery talks about an “idealogical war” that the Polish opposition is leading on the Polish family.

All looks good, except… the teachers’ strike (see below).

The European Coalition: how to manage diversity?

The European Coalition (KE) has a problem. The coalition’s main idea for a unity is its opposition to the Law and Justice rule. In the European elections context, it is the opposition to the Polexit, which could be incidental. The KE wants to fight the Law and Justice on the pro-EU v anti-EU rhetoric.

Instead, the KE confronts a dilemma of how to defend a diversity. Ever since the KE has been created Law and Justice exposes its weakness: lack of coherence on issues. For the Coalition to be successful at the end of the day it will be important to convince the public that diversity is not a handicap, but an advantage. Meanwhile PiS accuses the conservatives of PSL and PO of being pro-gay…

Teachers on Strike

PiS may have led the debate so far with false accusation of the Coalition that wants to “sexually educate” the children, but the real issue is looming. It seems impossible to square two facts. First, apparently the state budget is in excellent condition, since PiS just offered major new proposals with billions being spend on 13th pension, support for first child within the 500+ programme, lowering the taxes, etc. Second, the teachers are asking for a raise. They are negotiating with the education minister Anna Zalewska (also a PiS candidate for the European Parliament) for months.

Mr Broniarz
announces teachers’ strike,
10 Jan 2019

Teachers are outraged. Why? Apparently the minister offered 120 zł raise per teacher (gross) “this is the optimal amount from the point of view of budget constraints”, according to Sławomir Broniarz, the teacher union ZNP chief. As the negotiations continued, PiS offered 10 billion Euro spending for other programmes… clearly the “budget constraints” are quite flexible, should there be a justified need.

Hence the strike. Currently there is a referendum going on in schools. The general strike is scheduled to begin on 8 April, right ahead of the exams period. In Kraków 15 teachers have been occupying the local Board of Education HQ already for a couple of days.

The teachers strike is expected to be massive. The general public has been confronted with a simple comparison: an educated 26 year old has better salary and financial prospects in a local grocery store than as a teacher. The head of ZNP says on Sunday, 17 March:

A strike is not all. We have a powerful weapon in our hands: the graduation of students. If we do it, the education is faced with a complete cataclysm. We would like the government to be aware.

Stanisław Broniarz

PiS first response is disbelief. Then denial. Krzysztof Szczerski, head of the Chancellery of President Duda and a former PiS MP: “Teachers don’t have to live in celibacy. The transfers, like 500+, are for teachers, too. PiS gives money to all Poles, teachers included”. Another PiS leader, Marek Suski, head of the Prime Minister Chancellery, proves to be out of touch by comparing salaries of teachers with that of MPs. According to Mr Suski basic salary of a teacher in Poland today is some 5000 zł and an MP’s basic salary is some 8000 zł. “That’s not a big difference”. 37,5% to be precise, should the minister be correct. He is not. The basic salary of a teacher is 3500 zł. Is the difference of 56% small? Mr Suski apologises.

The teachers outrage continues.

The Youth Climate Strike

Teachers on strike, so is the youth. On 15 March in over 30 cities in Poland the youth marches in protest against the climate change.

The protests are global. Once initiated in Sweden, the issue of motivating the young, whose future is stolen by the irresponsible adults, takes Europe by storm. The initiative also arrived in Poland. The local context is apolitical. The youth does not want to be seen political, hence instead of a policy the main focus is awareness raising among the general public. “I am here on strike against the destruction of nature” says an 8-year-old protester in Wrocław.

The Church lurks into its dark side

The Catholic Church has a global problem with paedophilia. Hence the recent meeting in Rome. Meanwhile in Poland the situation is as dramatic. It could be that the Catholic Church in Poland, where over 90% of people identify themselves as Roman Catholics, is exemplary of the problem.

Two weeks ago I wrote about the debate. Since then the monument of the alleged child predator in Gdańsk is removed and the name of the square patron’s is changed. That’s the good news.

The new official report of the Catholic Church shows the figures of registered cases of paedophilia. Apparently there are 382 cases since 1990, and the trend is not on the decrease. There are about 625 victims in the process:

The number of registered cases of paedophilia annually, source: Episcopal Conference of Poland

The Polish experts as well as the Vatican expert as quoted by Wirtualna Polska (WP), denounce the report prepared by the Church. Apparently the archbishop Jędraszewski, who is supposed to lead the work on the issue, is not impartial. The unnamed Italian voice: “This is scandalous. Abp Jędraszewski used to defend abp Paetz accused of molesting young priests. It is simply awful”. He also refers to more recent situation during the last conference convened by Pope Francis: “Archbishop Jędraszewski has just arrived replacing archbishop Stanisław Gądecki. Even before the official ending of the conference he went on a pilgrimage to Fatima! He just left, instead of sitting here to the end together with Pope Francis in a penitential service. So what are we talking about here?”.

Marek Lisiński of the Foundation “Do Not Be Afraid” recently presented a report to Pope Francis showing how 24 Polish bishops, archbishops and cardinals abuse power to cover up for acts of paedophilia. He also talks to WP. In that interview he says there is no way the issue can be dealt with properly within the Church alone. The issue should be addressed by an independent commission with the state authorities involved. The Australian model has been proposed as for how to deal with the situation. The case of sentencing of Australia’s Cardinal Pell comes to mind. Mr Lisiński argues that as long as PiS is in power there is no way such a committee could be convened.

Et alors?

Gay or straight, conservative or liberal, federalist or sovereignist, rich or poor, at the end of the day only one fight matters: the fight for the survival of mankind. The youth takes to the streets of Europe and begins to be heard more than the French Yellow Vests. In Poland children are still children, largely voiceless.

Nobody asks the children about the teachers strike. If families are asked, it’s the parents’ worries that matter. Nobody asks the children about the LGBT rights or if they feel sexualised by the Warsaw Declaration or if there is too many history lessons and not enough classes on Europe. The focus on the paedophilia is about the victims who are now adults and ready (or not) to confront the past. The focus on the current and future victims eludes us all.

The elections to the European Parliament are about the future. Children are the future. Shouldn’t we engage the European youth more often about what kind of world matters to them? At least when they have something to say about the climate and the air quality. Instead the Polish saying “children and fish are voiceless” is as popular as ever.

Five Stars fakes a future EP group at a press conference

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Leaders of 5 parties from Italy, Poland, Croatia, Finland and Greece met in Rome to sign an electoral manifesto. The block has been in discussion for weeks. Initially 4 parties, today they are 5. M5S is likely to be one of the largest national delegations in the next European Parliament. Today it needs allies. The four allies of Luigi di Maio are Zivi Zid from Croatia, Liike Nyt from Finland, Akkel of Greece and the Polish party Kukiz’15.

The event starts with a little stumble. There are only five partners in Rome in a Union of 27. More partners shall come with time. After all, new groups are formed after the elections. At the press conference there is a minor sound problem.

Luigi di Maio

With a small delay Luigi di Maio delivers his message: this is not a far-right group. This is not a mainstream group either. We live in a post-ideological world. Di Maio: “We do not believe in the division into left and right. We believe in projects that we propose that will improve the quality of life of European citizens”. This is a group of parties who want to keep Europe, but they equally want to change it. Di Maio for months has been talking about Europa diversa, a different Europe. The Europe of banks is not a Europe of people di Maio and co. want.

One of the driving ideas of the new movement is direct democracy. On the action plan to change Europe are also other issues that define the cooperation: an honest Europe, new future, respect for national identities, anti-corruption, reform of the EU institutions, better quality of life, protection of health and environment. On immigration, there is talk about more “solidarity and protection”.

Ivan Sinčić

M5S is very popular in Italy. Not only Luigi di Maio is the country’s deputy prime minister, the party is polling at about 28%. It is a bit of a struggle to find partners of similar popularity in other member states. Still, the second to speak is Ivan Sinčić, MP from Croatia, leader of the Zivi Zid party, or Human Shield. Zivi Zid became popular with their anti-eviction stand. Today they poll at about 16%, which should translate into 1 or 2 MEPs from among the 11 Croat mandates. Sinčić condemns the political corruption, which continues to be a major problem in many South Eastern European countries.

Paweł Kukiz

The next to speak is Poland’s Paweł Kukiz. Once a popular singer he entered the political stage in 2015 with an anti-system message of reclaiming the democracy. In Rome Kukiz called: “Let us reject this Brussels aristocracy and build a new Union. Let’s build a Europe of equal opportunities”. Kukiz’15 is currently polling at about 5%, which is also a national threshold. Hence there is a real chance that Kukiz’15 could end with no MEPs. However, should the party increase its support by a few percentage points that could provide up to 5 MEPs.

Paweł Kukiz accused the EU of being ruled by a two countries, a Franco-German diktat and expressed a wish that Europe should not turn into a kolkhoz: “Twenty five years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, things haven’t changed much in terms of citizens’ rights and power management” and continued of the new group’s aspirations “let’s build a new Europe. Europe of liberty. Europe of nations. Not a Europe of bureaucrats and corruption”.

Europe! Wake up!

Paweł Kukiz in Rome, 15 Feb 2018

Karoliina Kähönen of a new Finnish political movement Liike Nyt had a short presentation and was gone from the stage before I could snap a photo of her. Unfortunately for the new European movement the Finnish partners seem to be political ghosts. Yes, the movement has been created in 2018 and there are two MPs in Helsinki and a number of city councillors. Yet as Finland is ahead of its parliamentary elections (14 April) and then the EP elections it seems awkward the Finnish pollsters are not even recording any Liike Nyt support!

According to the Finnish press, Ms Kähönen short presentation was linked with the fact that Di Maio got it wrong: Liike Nyt is not a partisan of the new initiative, but is “exploring its opportunities” in Europe. Kähönen said Liike Nyt did not sign anything and is not committed to anything, because it is unsure if it competes in the European elections in the first place…

Evangelos Tsiobanidis­

Evangelos ‘Vakis’ Tsiobanidis (Βάκης Τσιομπανίδης)­ is leading the Greek agrarian party AKKEL (Α.Κ.Κ.Ε.Λ). He spoke about the Greek sovereignty and agricultural independence. The party is against GMOs and against the Tsipras government in Athens. Tsiobanidis­: “Greece is a nation occupied like during the WWII” then by Nazis and today by “forces who care only about the externals’ interests” like NATO and the EU.

As this stage it is impossible to foresee what will happen in the Greek EU elections. In 2014 the results were the most volatile possible: all Greek MEPs were replaced by new members. The 2019 opinion polls suggest that the political scene has stabilised and is more predictable than five years ago. Today it is dominated by the EPP’s New Democracy (ND) and GUE/NGL’s Syriza. Other popular parties include Social-Democrats and Communists. There is not much information about the AKKEL campaign at this stage – unless AKKEL decides to run in a larger coalition (five years ago it received about 0.60%).

After one hour of EU bashing Luigi di Maio takes the floor for the second time. The message this time: we are pro-European! The group supports strengthening of the mandate of the European Parliament in EU affairs.

Et alors?

I don’t know if I am more upset with the fake news of Luigi di Maio or with the international press covering the staged “launch” event. I double checked each of the parties background and what comes out? There is one big party, M5S and one party which has a good shot at electing MEPs – Zivi Zid. Kukiz’15 is a major national party, but at this time in the political cycle it is rather on the downfall. The other two partners are a political plankton in their own member states. So what did the 100+ journalists gathered in Rome got, expected or reported on? A staged future EP group exercise! The message that so many outlets bought, including Politico and Euractiv Poland and many Italian sources, too – writing about the need for 25 MEPs and 7 member states to form a group when di Maio is effectively where he was a year ago – alone in Europe.

I can understand new actors on the European scene like Zivi Zid or Kukiz’15 because their strategies is the same as the tiny parties in Finland and Greece: internationalisation of their own presence, the stardom of Luigi di Maio, the deputy prime minister of the great and powerful country of Italy! (don’t think for a second that the stardom in European politics is limited to Macron – good looks and power often come together, for better or worse). By coming to Rome they send a message back home: “we matter, we have been noticed”. In this group only Finns are a little bit more cautious – not signing anything before they see with whom they actually cooperate. Still, the party has not decided if they are going to run in the elections in the first place… Clearly this is a joke Luigi has played on everyone else. I am surprised no one checked the Finns except for the Finns themselves.

The real European campaign di Maio does is elsewhere. His visit in France meeting they Yellow Vests and driving to Strasbourg criticising double seating of the European Parliament – that’s the campaign and that’s negotiations with a real partner – alongside the Zivi Zid, of course.

Last, but not the least important, is the group’s main the message. In the elections to the European Parliament the group asks the voters in a variety of countries to vote for them, because it supports direct democracy. What exactly does it mean in the EP context? Does the group want an EU-wide referenda on issues or a direct election of the College of Commissioners or an EU President? To strengthen the European Citizens Initiatives or more consultations of EU laws? To engage the EU citizens with technology? How about an e-vote in Europe? No, no, no. It supports widening powers of the EP – the representative democracy, not the direct democracy. If the group truly was credible about the European direct democracy there’d be more ideas in line of this book or at least this Carnegie Europe’s Richard Youngs’ article first. Instead Luigi and co. talk about a national direct democracy – they seem to believe the only democracy possible is at the national level.

“Watch out what you share”

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What one fake news can do is to seed a mistrust. A mistrust to another human being because of who they are, because of who they believe in, because of how they look like.

Here is a piece of fake news like many other fake news out there.

3 February 2019: “A woman in a burka photographing children at a primary school in Opole” with this picture as a feature image:

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Just under the image an important message: “sharing is caring”. I should borrow that idea for my blog! Yet for now my focus goes elsewhere.

The message

What is the news? A burka-dressed woman has been taking pictures of children. The local police has been alarmed, as the woman has been doing it for awhile and did not respond to a school’s teacher questions on what she was doing and why. The teacher’s name is Danuta. The author of the article – unnamed user “wmeritum” – talked to Danuta. Their conversation could be summarised this way: there is someone watching your kids. Stay alert. This could be an attempt to kidnap one of the children for a forced adoption in Western Europe. We do not even know if the person was a woman – the burka was covering the face up. The person refused to talk, hence we do not know if the voice was male or female, if the person was Polish or not. Be vigilant!

The website

The website we talk about is wmeritum.com. Yes, .com, as there is another website, wmeritum.pl, which is committed to quality news. Wmeritum.com on the other hand – oh well, they take news a little bit more lightly. Their main take on reality is SCANDALOUS! It is contradictory with the name, as “w meritum” in Polish means “in the merits”.

This is why I am not providing a direct link to the wmeritum.com – type it yourself, if you’re interested. Wmeritum.pl, on the other hand, is worth promoting.

The fake news goes viral

At the moment of writing this blog post the news about the burka lady photographing kids in Opole is viral and is cruising though the world wide web.

In three days it is shared 1135 times, according to the website itself. The website message under every news is “sharing is caring” inviting the readers to share the news – to stay vigilant.

How do we know the news is fake? For once, there is no “Danuta” in the school. Second, it is highly improbable.

Third, I asked Wmeritum.pl if they know Wmeritum.com and what do they think of them. Their answer to me is this:

We have nothing to do with them.

They impersonate us, which we have already reported to Facebook.

We are at the stage of determining who is behind this service, because we are going to take legal steps.

Alerted local professor from the University of Opole Błażej Choros wrote on his Facebook profile after having studied the piece of information: “watch out what you share”.

Et alors?

Wmeritum.com not only produces fake content, they manipulate other websites, too. This is a vehicle to promote stories of no value in the society.

In another article they claimed one story was on the front pages of the main national news, when it was only possible to trace it back to a far-far-right magazine NCzas.pl (official circulation 38,000).

This particular story is doing damage. The damage it is doing is to undermine the trust in the society. It portrays people who do not look like us as a threat. In fact, if this article wanted to alarm parents to watch out for potential kidnappers they should use a very different picture – a picture of a trustworthy person, who gains trust of their victim, the child or the parent. The news stories about kidnapping are stories about luring children with candies or letting a woman hold your beautiful child “just for a moment”.

Most kidnappers are parents who were not given parental rights following a divorce.

So why a burka lady? It is to perpetrate mistrust towards the unspoken, but surely meant – the Muslims, the terrorists, “the Other”.

This could be an attempt to introduce a ban on burkas in Poland.

Somewhere down the road, when the society is ready, there will be political parties campaigning against the Islam. There will be governments opposing migration for all the wrong – racist – reasons. There will be people willing to go and fight against the terrorists, where, in fact, there is no need.

Oh wait, we already have all that.

Because there is no burka kidnapper in Opole. Or anywhere, for that reason. Not only in Poland. In the whole of Europe!

My final message is this: sharing is caring. If you read this, click the “share” button!

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.

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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”.

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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.

Norway to expel Polish consul: EU reacts

Migrant families are particularly exposed in Norway to a powerful agency Barnevernet. Now one of their protectors, consul Sławomir Kowalski, is to be expelled. Polish and EU diplomats react.

Act 1: The accusation

21 January: the Oslo government officially requests for the Polish consul Sławomir Kowalski to be sent back to Poland. Norwegian MFA claims consul Kowalski misbehaved in a few situations when he acted in his consular capacity. Mr. Kowalski deals with Polish family affairs situation in the Norwegian courts since 2013. He is reported to have been involved in some 150 cases. Among his responsibilities are the Barnevernet cases.

The Norwegian Child Welfare Services, known as Barnevernet, is a highly controversial institution inside and outside of Norway. Czech president Zeman called their actions “Nazi-like”. There were protests about their lack of empathy and understanding towards young parents, especially the migrant parents. Officers of Barnevernet can appear any moment on your doorstep and take your child away for “misbehaviour” of the parents. Innocent until proven guilty? Not in Norway, a country where in 2005 a father has beaten his 8 years old son to death. Event has shocked the country and the agency has been given far-reaching competences.

Criticism of the Barnevernet is widespread: A BBC documentary here. The issue has been even taken to the European Court on Human Rights. In 2017 the ECHR decided there was no violation of the European Human Rights Convention. The 2018 cases are still pending.

Act 2: The defence

23 January: Polish MFA refuses the Norwegian request to recall the Polish consul. In fact, Mr. Kowalski has been recognised for his work: two years ago he was named “the Consul of the Year” by the Polish MFA. Apparently Kowalski was informed to leave on 18 January. He has been given three weeks to quit the country. Polish MFA wants him to finish his term in June. The Norwegian MFA in defence of its actions says it has informed the Polish ambassador about alleged irregularities many times before.

Among the situations the Norwegians recall is alleged aggressive behaviour of Kowalski. The Polish media are full of counter-stories. Here is one: in June 2018, a Polish boy is taken away from his parents. The consul intervenes and requests a meeting with the boy to check on his status. The Norwegian police makes this meeting impossible. The Poles and, apparently, most of European governments have a different reading of the international law.

A petition is initiated in defence of the consul by a Polish far-right organisation Ordo Iuris. To date, some 29,000 people support the consul in his fight against the expulsion and want him to continue defend the Polish families in Norway (26,000 in Polish and 3,000 in English).

Act 3: EU is interested

31 January: in the EU Delegation to Norway in Oslo a meeting takes place. Among the participants are the Ambassadors of EU member states accredited in Oslo. On their agenda is the situation with the Polish consul. European diplomats express interest in the Polish consul case against the Norwegian MFA expulsion. TVP Info, the far-right Polish television informs that among the supporters of Kowalski are diplomats from Italy, Bulgaria, Hungary, Britain, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia representing their countries in Oslo.

Et alors?

First, the obvious situation: there is a problem in Norway. Someone should deal with the situation and the Norwegians are the best placed to do it. Until then, people suffer. Many innocent people, even if very likely the agency sometimes is successful.

Second, the message in Poland has been hijacked by the far-right. The petition was initiated by the far-right NGO. The issue was picked up by the right-wing newspapers, and continue to inform the issue far more than the liberal media. According to far-right media Mr. Kowalski is some kind of super-human fighting for the Polish kids in the dark kingdom up North. His fate is linked with those, who defend him: the Polish MFA and PiS politicians who use this situation to scare the public. Just a little bit:

In the context of low natural growth rate in Norway, a high natural growth rate among the immigrants of a different skin colour, the possibility to assimilate the Polish children is very attractive. I think this is the pretext to take the Polish children and make them Norwegians, who are lacking in Norway. This is my personal thesis, but unfortunately fully justified.

Jan Dziedziczak, MP for Law and Justice (PiS), as quoted in: wpolityce.pl

Third, the European context. The Barnevernet criticism takes place everywhere. It is high time for the Union institutions to look into the situation. Not only into the specific context of expulsion of the Polish consul; though solidarity is welcomed. The issue of how to protect children and how to protect the families against too strict governmental oversight is important. The issue of rising your own children and their education clearly creates transnational problems, not only in Norway. The issue is related to the freedom of movement of workers and their families. This is an issue related to the social Europe and social rights.

The EU should be able not only to defend Kowalski, but to start the true debate about the issue of transborder families. Leaving this issue to be exploited by the far-right politicians is plain wrong.

Far-right begins EP campaign with a pro-gun ad

…clearly the electoral campaign has started.

Friday morning I am up, open my computer, turn on Facebook to see how our blog project #Gimme5EUblogs looks like. I am happy to see there are almost 400 followers of the page in a week. Nice.

I am back to Warsaw from Brussels, where we launched the project the day before. The following day I hit the road again. One coffee is not enough to open my eyes… Then I see this:Zrzut ekranu 2019-01-18 o 09.26.01.pngThe campaign is on.

Here is what the ad says: “Potentially world conflict is closer and closer and the Poles are unarmed… Occupation of Poland would be super easy. Read more…”

Before I read more, I am interested why do I see this add. I ask to see more, here is the answer, which is a screen shot from Facebook. Partia Wolność wants to reach men who can bear arms (aged 21-55) who live in Poland. The screen-shot:Zrzut ekranu 2019-01-18 o 09.26.19

There is a part of me who is appalled. If I am the target of their campaign, a campaign calling on people to want to bear arms.

Another sip of coffee and a perspective kicks-in: no way Poles will buy it. Well, we shall see.

Who is Partia Wolność?

All of the ultra-far-right united in elections for the European Parliament smile at me from a poster on their website. I shall not give you the link, you can find them yourselves, if you are interested: the National Movement of MP Winnicki, Partia Wolność of Janusz Korwin-Mikke (former MEP), Grzegorz Braun (a monarchist, who compares EU to the Soviet Union, former candidate for the state presidency with 0,83% support in 2015).

Partia Wolność is a new name for the activity of Janusz Korwin-Mikke. The party has 2 MEPs currently, who can be described as back-bencher MEPs. One is in ENF, another one is non-attached. Not that it matters much for the Euro-politics. It matters in the sense of the financial support for the reactive forces in Poland to run their campaigns.

Some Facebook figures: 194k people follow the Partia Wolność page on FB. Minister Andruszkiewicz who competes with Partia Wolność for Law and Justice, wins: 212k FB followers. His star on the far-right shines!

To put things in perspective: Robert Biedroń, leader of a new party on the left-side of the political spectrum, has 495k FB followers. President Andrzej Duda has 628k FB followers – all of them are or have been using Facebook in their political campaigns. Jarosław Kaczyński does not have a page.

It seems despite calls for death penalty reintroduction and now a new campaign to allow Poles to bear arms, the Law and Justice keeps an upper hand. Let’s see how long their alliance with the ultra-right continues.

The link

The link leads to an article written by the 28-year old Jakub Kulesza, MP of Partia Wolność in Najwyższy Czas paper (It’s the High Time). The author argues in favour of massive bearing arms. He is arguing Poland is vulnerable because the population does not bear arms. There are so many instabilities around the world: Russian intervention in the Kerch Strait, the Chinese-American trade wars… Mr Kulesza: “With the level of disarmament the occupation of our country would be child’s play, because Poles, despite their heroic mentality, would not have any tools to make the occupant’s life difficult”. 

And there is Switzerland. The world points to America to proof that guns are bad, while the Swiss do not have crime and there are guns in Schweiz, says the author. Intrigued with the argument, I’ve consulted Mr. Google. Here’s what came out: A Swiss article about bearing arms. It basically says this: yes, there are guns in Switzerland, but the Swiss heavily regulate bearing arms. There is, however, wrong perception: that the Swiss are thought to be gun-bearing but gun-incidents-free. That is false. There are relatively fewer guns in la Suisse then in the US, but there are fewer accidents than in the US. There are, however, relatively more guns in la Suisse than most of Europe and relatively more incidents with the use of guns. Data after GunPolicy.org in 2018: US has 120.5 guns per 100 people, Switzerland 41.28, while Germany 32 and Poland 2.5. And the data for gun deaths per 100,000? US is first with 11.98, Switzerland with 7.4, Germany follow with 1.01 and Poland 0.24. Somehow the data Mr. Kulesza, member of the Polish parliament, uses does not add up.

Than there is the Romanian argument: a country with no guns and plenty of crime. At least this is what Mr. Kulesza says. Data of GunPolicy.org says otherwise: Romanians have as many guns as Poles (2.5 in Poland, 2.6 in Romania per 100 people) but commit fewer crimes with their weapons (0.24 gun deaths in Poland compared to 0.12 in Romania per 100,000 people). Somehow there is something racist in saying there is a high gun crime in Romania. Even Wikipedia says “Another peculiarity of Romania is that gun violence is exceptionally rare”, and this is a source most popular to check for data.

MP Kulesza finishes his article with a statement that “there is not much more time left” and we need to get weapons. Well, it all sounds like a poor NRA-inspired leaflet than a serious argument, at the end of the day.

Only that, they are running for office. And Gdańsk mayor was just murdered a week ago. Imagine for a moment what would happen if the Gdańsk murderer had a gun in his hand.

When it comes to imagining I prefer to imagine something else.

Et alors?

There should be no room for the ultra-right on the Polish political scene. There should be no room for fake news. There should be no room for ignorance. Imagine a perfect democracy. To paraphrase Popper: if you are a democrat, you cannot tolerate the non-democratic forces. The flirting with ultra-right-wingers that PiS does is beyond democratic imagination: this is flirting with fire.

Karl Popper: In order to maintain a tolerant society, the society must be intolerant of intolerance (1945)

There is only one way to show the ultra-right-wing where they belong: out of the European Parliament and out of the Sejm. Two elections in 2019. Twice a red card.

I could hope one day there is an institution in Poland that does what the German Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) does.

Facebook manages bans with the Polish government

Last week Facebook banned 16 Polish pages due to irregularities. Earlier this week I’ve heard that Facebook plans to ban some 300 more pages in Europe in the upcoming days or weeks.

Did you know that the banned pages can appeal from Facebook’s ban in Poland? Here’s the situation.

Back in November 2018 Facebook and the Ministry of Digital Affairs of Poland signed a Memorandum of Understanding about how to react to controversial situations online. The points of controversy? “Nudity and sexual activity, hate speech and violence”. In the past Facebook was accused of promoting fake-news and banning free speech.

  • Fake news: Just think for a moment about the entire 2016 US elections controversy and the subsequent hearings of Mr Zuckerberg in the Congress and the European Parliament. More? Think the Brexit referendum in 2016. Have you seen Brexit the movie?
  • Free speech: Remember the story when the Flemish Tourism Organisation (Toerisme Vlaanderen) complained their beloved painter Rubens was banned from Facebook because his paintings were “promoting nudity”? Worse, frequently far-right organisations were accusing Facebook of censorship for taking down their websites allegedly for promoting hate speech. Well, if you live in a democracy, this is not a problem.

Adam_Andruszkiewicz_Sejm_2015
The far-right deputy minister for digital affairs

It is a different situation when in your government there are allies of the far-right. Say, Poland, who just appointed its first openly extreme-far-right deputy minister for digital affairs a few weeks ago.

The MoU bottom-line is great: if someone’s post is banned from Facebook, they should have the possibility to appeal to Facebook within 72 hours. Should Facebook uphold its negative decision, or fail to respond, there is a new appeal to the “contact point” in the Ministry.

All looks great! This was the first agreement of its kind in the world, it was praised by organisations who specialise with free speech in the digital age. Except… the first to applaud to the MoU were the Polish far-right organisations, who had history of pages and posts banned from Facebook.

As the system has been in place now for a short while, it is worth outlining this: this is the first system of its kind, where a social media action can be complemented with the authority of a state institution. Clearly an interesting development, my interlocutor – the Digital Affairs Ministry spokesperson – told me there is no political worry here, it is all thought of as support and reaching out to the citizens. What I heard and what was not explicitly mentioned on the phone was that there was no threat of the far-right deputy minister to help the radical or phony organisations…

On another note, it would be logical to take the issue one step up: to give the citizen and Facebook a chance to appeal from the Ministry contact point decision to a court.

As for the risk of being over-taken by the far-right deputy minister, thus far it has not happened. Should there be new developments – I shall keep you posted.

Facebook bans 16 Polish pages

Facebook deleted 16 pages for violations of its internal rules. Some of the pages were followed by up to 320,000 people. Facebook was fast to assure that it was not about the content of what the pages were publishing. It was about the pages evolution. They had started as hobby pages (on cars, football, etc.) and attract like-minded followers. Facebook: “These websites gave the impression of reliability and attracted hundreds of thousands of observers“.

Then, they would evolve. Their names would change gradually, and effectively at the end they would not resemble the hobby-lovers site it was at the beginning. Then, they would merge with politically-oriented pages.

So technically, this is not about fake news. This is about extortion and manipulation.

Say, you are a runner. You follow a page “I love to run slow”, then it evolves into “I love to run”, then “Running lovers”, then “Running lovers in Poland”, then “Group of Polish runners” and after some time… it merges with a page “The Polish Group”.

At first the information published is linked to slow running, and it evolves around running, but gradually it becomes limited to Poland and to being “Polish”, eventually dropping running altogether.

Gazeta Wyborcza calls this process “fan farms”. Expert on social media abuse Monika Czaplicka wrote on her blog this process has been a professional activity already in 2014. Following Brexit referendum campaign, the Cambridge Analytica scandal and Facebook’s new rules, the control over the process became tighter.

Today Monika Czaplicka says that fan farms are a norm in the business marketing. “Buying fake fans is a practice typical for business. This is social manipulation illegal on Facebook, but not necessarily in the Polish law”. As for political use, she adds that the Polish market is not developed as, say, Russian. “‘Farms’ may exist in Russia, while in Poland activities like these are done by PR agencies”.

Last September the Polish news revealed that similar techniques were employed by then-candidate and MEP Andrzej Duda team in his Internet campaign back in 2015 presidential elections.

A quick check on Allegro shows today anyone can buy promotion on social media. Prices are moderate, 100 Facebook likes costs 2.50 Euro…

 

Has Brexit already happened?

Am I dreaming?

Has Brexit already taken place? According to the EU rules, the geo-blocking is no longer allowed. Yet, when I wanted to see Brexit: The Uncivil War on Channel 4 this weekend, I was informed that the movie was accessible only in the UK. Why?

Britain is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019. Until then, it is a member of the single market and its rules, such as the geo-blocking ban.

Unless…

Geo-blocking is allowed! Oh, the Commission says it is not, but it is. The European Union banned the geo-blocking only for some online trade. Actually, there are more exclusions from the general geo-blocking ban:

  • transport, including airline tickets
  • financial services
  • audiovisual services

More details about what is and what is not included in the ban is available on the Commission’s Q&A.

So I can’t see the movie the Guardian dislikes while most other outlets like. At least until I travel to the UK, or the movie is shown where I am.

Wrong: I can see the movie. Online on HBO GO Polska.