First Polish reactions to the Brexit vote

So she lost. May is over, it feels as if it was the longest month ever. Winter is coming.

Now, let’s get serious on the issue. The House of Commons voted down the Withdrawal Agreement tonight by a landslide, 432 against, 202 in favour. Will May finally end tomorrow with the Labour motion of no confidence?

What will happen next? Will Britain stay in the EU? Is the hard Brexit avoidable? Will the European Council postpone the 29 March deadline? Will the British government – led by whomever – call on the Second Referendum, or withdraw the notification on triggering Article 50 of the Union treaties? There are more questions than answers tonight and tomorrow morning. For now all we know is that a 585 pager is a no-go.

The Polish reactions

Poland was a partisan of the Withdrawal Agreement. It fully supported the late compromise negotiated by Michel Barnier. The most important issue for Poland in relation to Brexit are the citizens rights. Polish nationals are the largest group of EU nationals in the UK. Some 1 million of Poles reside in Britain. Ahead of the today’s vote, prime minister Morawiecki announced that the Warsaw government was ready “for the plan B of no-deal”.

Morawiecki in December 2018: “We have a bilateral agreement about mutual treatment of our citizens with full respect of their social and civil conditions”.

Plan B: The Ministry of Interior just laid out their proposal for a law which regulates the presence of British citizens in Poland. Some 6,000 people are concerned. They will have 12 months to legalise their presence in Poland.

The economic impact of hard Brexit on Poland could be big. In September there was a report about how much countries can lose due to Brexit. Impact on Poland is significant; only Ireland is expected to lose out more from among the EU-27. According to the Oxford Economics study from September 2018, the Polish economy could lose out even 0.8% of its GDP until 2020.

Prime minister Morawiecki tweeted: “Hard Brexit is a bad solution for the UK and the EU. Together with our EU partners we will react to the new British proposals. We will do everything possible to ensure maximum of predictability and security for our citizens and companies”.

Donald Tusk, president of the European Council took to twitter, too:

Katarzyna Lubnauer, the leader of a small opposition party .Modern (.Nowoczesna, a member of ALDE) tweeted her letter to Jeremy Corbyn  from October backing the Second Referendum.

The Europe minister Konrad Szymański talked to the PAP press agency: “Ordered Brexit is the best solution for the UK and for the EU. After the lost vote in the House of Commons the British government should present a plan of the next steps. We await for the new British proposals on this issue. We will continue to work with the EU partners on the detailed and possibly constructive response to the proposals.”

Szymański outlined a constructive approach, but noted that first the British need to know what they want. The Polish government is preparing for the Plan B. Apart from the above-mentioned legal proposals a few more proposals are in the pipeline and shall be presented soon. Also, the customs and veterinary services receive reinforcements due to the potential hard Brexit.

Et alors?

Actually… we know not much more than before. Prime minister May may survive the no confidence vote tomorrow. Maybe out of three options (the deal, the hard Brexit, the second vote) two are remaining in the game, possibly there are more options and possibilities out there.

Hard Brexit is more likely by the day, but European politics is rich with experiences of last minute deals and twists. The ECJ awhile ago has paved the way for a simple trick: withdraw your notification of 29 March 2017 and consider having the second referendum!

A new role for Poland in the Trump’s World

Over a few last days two simultaneous geopolitical events took place. It would be fair to treat them separately, but as they have a rare joint actor, we won’t. First, Mike Pompeo announced that there will be a Middle East conference – Iran being the most important topic – in Warsaw. This triggered an outcry in Tehran against Poland, with whom Poland has had traditionally good relations.

Second, Chinese espionage scandal took place in Poland, hitting Huawei and the Chinese diplomacy in Central Europe. This triggered anti-Chinese repercussions in Poland and Chinese criticism of Poland.

What is going on?

Iran

First the facts. In May 2018 the United States triggered a new conflict with Tehran by withdrawing from the agreement about the Iranian nuclear program supervision. The new American anti-Iranian sanctions were infuriating for the European diplomats, who continue to work on countermeasures. Yet the Europeans do not attempt to withdraw from the agreement with Iran. Mogherini in January 2019 wrote on her blog: “I confirmed the international community’s determination to preserve the deal and its implementation” and “European countries have started preparations to create a mechanism to let our firms continue their legitimate business with Iran“. A little reminder: the European top diplomat never crosses any of EU member states, Poland included.

A year ago Poland entered into a diplomatic controversy with Israel, another country it traditionally kept good relations with. In order to smooth things out, Polish diplomacy rushed to Tel Aviv and Washington. Apparently, the Americans smelled an opening on how to challenge the European unity. In May 2018, Gazeta Wyborcza reports, the minister of foreign affairs received an offer to host a conference in Warsaw about peace and security in the Middle East. Warsaw was already taken into consideration to host the Trump-Kim summit last year. Clearly, Poland under PiS is welcomed in Washington, DC, as a relative ally among allies, that is. North Korea summit took place in Singapore, now the Iran summit is taking place in Warsaw.

Back in December I have heard from multiple Poland’s MFA sources that Poland “plays to be the closest to the Americans among the Europeans without breaking the EU unity”. Iran was to be – and now is – the showcase which illustrates this new situation.

Mike_Pompeo_official_photo
Mike Pompeo. Source: Wikipedia

Poland tries to position itself as a bridge between the Europeans and the Americans on the Middle East problems. It is great to attempt it, but the problems are obvious. Iran reacted with fury: the Polish charge d’affaires was called in, the Iranian minister of foreign affairs called the event “hostile” and some unknown counter-measures have been announced. For now, the festival of Polish movies in Tehran has been cancelled. Better not to plan a trip to Iran if you are a Polish national.

The Polish diplomats play their cards… diplomatically. So closely and so privately, that the news about the Iran event came not from the host, but from the American State Secretary Mike Pompeo. As if it was the Americans, who initiated it. Oh, they are the initiators. Poles are the hosts, not the players between the Americans and the Iranians, but at best between the Americans and the Europeans. As for the Iranians the players are the UN Security Council permanent members (US, Russia, China, France and UK) as well as Germany and the EU.

The event is scheduled now for 13-14 February 2019. Some 70 delegations have been invited, but not the Iranian delegation. The question is this: Poles probably have enough credit with the Americans and the Europeans for the US-EU potential rapprochement on Iran, but will that be at the expense of the Polish relations in the Middle East?

China

The same day another news came: a Huawei employee in Warsaw and a French telecom Orange employee (a Polish national) in Warsaw were arrested on the charges of espionage. The details of the case are well covered here. What came afterwards, was interesting. The Chinese foreign office just calmly called for the investigation to be conducted “justly”. The Chinese newspaper Global Times was more outspoken: “If Poland wants to destroy its relations with China, it will lose much more, because China has trade advantage over the country” (Zhao Junjie, Chinese expert) and “is there anything worth stealing by Huawei in Poland?” (Hu Xijin, the newspaper editor).

The last question is a clear flexing of muscles. “The Pope? How many divisions has he got?”, asked Stalin once, and this is the same argument. To put it bluntly: sometimes it is not about the argument of power, sometimes it is about the power of an argument. In situations like this one behind any European state there is the rest of the Union. It is the European Commission who considers steps against the United States because the US has not lifted its visa regime for some of the EU citizens. Unity is a value Europeans respect highly. There might be talk of disunity and populism, but every six months the European Council renews the Russian embargo despite individual voices contrary by some European governments. There was no major European disunity since the Iraq war; the Americans, the Chinese and the Russians were unable to break the Europeans. Minus the Brexit, that is, whoever did this deserves a credit. What can Warsaw do? For starters the Polish intelligence agency recommended to all the government officials not to use Chinese technology. Huawei faces a real threat of being banned from the Polish IT market. As small as it may be, it is a part of a larger European and trans-Atlantic cake. It may be that a Polish cough can turn into a mortal blow to the Chinese giant. Just speculating.

Western media covered the arrest and perceive the action as an element in a larger proxy war between China and the West about the technological espionage. Recently Canadian nationals were detained in China as a follow up to the espionage arrests in Canada. Huawei is probably among the most technologically advanced company in the world when it comes to the implementation of 5G. Extending their standards in Europe and the US could mean a technological edge for the Chinese company over the American companies in the future. True or not, a local Polish analyst took an interesting turn. Krzysztof Bogacki wrote an op-ed in the IT magazine “Chip” with the following quote:

“when we say ‘spying Chinese’ we should also remember about the ‘spying Americans'”.

As the American ambassador in Warsaw has a major impact on the Polish government, for the better of the companies like Uber and Discovery Communications.

There is one more angle here: for about 6 years now there is a format of cooperation between China and the countries of Central and Eastern Europe called “16+1”. There was some controversy about it in Western Europe; suddenly a major donor appeared in a region it was previously absent. Instead of sharing experiences of how to deal with the new Chinese presence, the approach was that the Chinese presence constituted a threat and competition to Western European businesses and model. The approach was wrong on two accounts: first, the Chinese investments are welcome anywhere, if they are genuine, and they can be genuine if the local governance system is not corrupt or prone to corruption. And second, Central Europe – the one that is in the EU, at least – is a part of the EU and there is no particular reason to see Central Europe as an area of “competition” for influence of the Chinese and the Western Europeans. This war is artificial; Central Europeans’ exposure towards the Chinese investments and political relationship is just new.

The arrest of the Chinese spies is a proof of strength of the Polish state, that is not prone to political corruption from the Chinese. Not to say there is none; clearly there are attempts. Yet the state works as well as Canada to spot the problem and deal with it.

Robert Lewandowski is a face of Huawei
Robert Lewandowski is Huawei’s Ambassador in Central-Eastern Europe, Baltic and Scandinavia

Et alors?

Why it matters? Contrary to the popular belief, the Polish state is more advanced and more nuanced that many partners give it credit for. The Polish civil society has shown that it is capable of forcing a quasi-totalitarian government to talk and make compromises. The Polish state is able to oppose to unwanted practices of a foreign power, as long as it is not an ally. And the Polish state is willing to engage in a delicate game of international diplomacy.

This “new Poland” is not what many may recognise. Yes, it has its problems and limitations. But it has its aspirations, too. Its current strengths would not be possible without the European integration: the economic growth and the security comfort allowed for maximising not only economic power, but also a diplomatic one.

Somehow today the outlook for the rest of the day is positive.

In my next blog entry this afternoon I shall follow the Brexit vote in London from the Warsaw perspective.

Paweł Adamowicz, RIP. We remember [i][i][i]

Gowin take on Europe

On Sunday, 13 January 2019, Jarosław Gowin hold the first congress of his small political party, the Agreement of Jarosław Gowin (Porozumienie Jarosława Gowina, P) in the ancient Polish city of Kraków. The party has been given this name after rebranding in 2017 (previous name: Poland Together, Polska Razem, PR). As PR became P, it lost “R” following plenty of re-shuffling of individual politicians between this party, PiS and Solidarna Polska of Zbigniew Ziobro. In 2014 PR campaigned in the European elections under a slogan “Great Poland in a Small Union”. The party fell short of 5% threshold and did not win any seats in the European Parliament. This time it will be different.

Mr Gowin in February 2014: “We want a great Poland in a smaller, but more effective Union“. PR was a party of Euro-realism, not kneeling before the EU, like the Civic Platform (PO), or offended by everybody, like PiS. EU was not an object of “love or hate”, but an instrument one needs to be effective in using to maximise the national interest of the country. “We want the Union of equal opportunities, freedom of action and less bureaucracy. The Union without borders, as a free market, that was a wonderful project. The problem is this idea of Europe is lost, betrayed and perverted by thousands of silly and harmful rules that smother economic freedom“. That’s Gowin back in 2014. His views could easily fit those of ALDE’s Mark Rutte, or ECR. PR fell short of any MEP.

By 2019, P has been in government for three years, alongside PiS and SP (more on Polish political parties). Mr Gowin is Poland’s minister for science and higher education and deputy prime minister. The second government minister of P is Ms Jadwiga Emilewicz responsible for entrepreneurship and technology.

P is a part of the larger United Right under the massive leadership of Jarosław Kaczyński. It has been hardly distinguishable from its partners over the last three years. At best what the P ministers could master was to show a little bit more civility than the other two components of the ruling coalition. How? A little dissatisfaction here and there, calling for unity, but also respect for higher standards in public life. After all, Mr Gowin is a former rector of a private university in Kraków, and has been close to the Catholic Church intellectuals in Poland. No room for brutality in his actions.

In 2019 the P’s first congress was focused on the issues. The policies matter more than the politics. So what P wants from the European Elections and the national elections later this year? First, Mr Gowin presented his philosophy. Mr Gowin in January 2019: “The values Poland and united Europe need today: freedom, tradition, faith, patriotism“. And all of them are represented, according to the speaker, by Kraków, the place they met. He called on the United Right coalition and the government “to be aware of the greed and arrogance of power“.

Jarosław Gowin on Twitter: Some try to limit the economic freedom in the Union. We have to object to such practices. Poland will take over the UK role as the guardian in the EU.

The smog

Second, the issues. Air pollution, or as the problem is known in Poland, the smog. Kraków is the Polish city suffering most of the bad air quality. P wants to go green and has an array of solutions presented by Ms Emilewicz, dressed white, under one logo “Energy+”. She talked green about the renewable energy sources, about lower energy prices, about people becoming energy prosumers (producer and consumer), about subsidies to buy photovoltaic installations. Later on she has clarified, that she was not trying to deny the reality – Polish energy is based on coal – but wants to “speed up the transition”. Well played.

EU is Us

Adam Bielan,the P vice-speaker of the Senate, and also a former MEP (2004-2014), where he served as a vice-president of the house (2007-9), presented the party position on the EU elections. P disagrees with the multi-speed Europe, and wants to keep the Union united. He wants to maintain Poland in the centre of the EU: “EU is us“. At the same time, it is opposed adherence to the Eurozone. Bielan: “Poland has all the economic arguments to remain outside of the Eurozone currently. Thanks to having our own currency we have all the autonomic instruments of the monetary policy that prevent the Polish economy from losing out competitiveness“.

Probably the most interesting was the aspiration pronounced by Mr Gowin in Kraków:

“if the British leave the EU soon, I want to declare that Poland under the United Right rule will take up the role of the guardian of economic freedom in united Europe”.

Decentralisation

The third topic covered was the idea of decentralisation of the Polish state. In short, P wants to send out some of the ministries and central agencies around the country “to free the energy of those cities”, as one speaker nicely presented the idea. This was an important message: one of its main hashtags on the day was #EnergiaMiast (Urban Energy)

Absence of Jarosław Kaczyński

As the United Right is a coalition, Jarosław Kaczyński was not only invited. He was expected at the meeting. Is his absence an offence to Mr Gowin party? Probably not. Kaczyński’s health problems seem to be real; last year he spent months in a hospital. On Sunday, the PiS leader (aged 69) had a cold. Replacement was provided by a former prime minister and current vice-prime minister Beata Szydło, who talked about the need of unity in the ruling coalition.

The Incidents

Despite P being the “civilised” of the three parties, the first incident was about a brutal and vulgar approach of the event security services towards a local photographer. Gazeta Wyborcza reported it was not the first time their employees were attacked in Kraków. Minister Emilewicz and Senator Bielan apologised later for the incident.

Another incident took place earlier. The car Mr Gowin was coming to the event in, had a minor road accident. Fortunately nothing serious happened. Unfortunately for the party public relations, today (Monday, 14 Jan 2019) the most popular message reported from the congress in the popular press is precisely this incident. The take: AGAIN. Since 2015 the government officials had numerous car accidents.

Et alors?

Does it matter? It does. Mr Gowin was unsuccessful back in 2014, but his people will enter the European Parliament in 2019 as part of the larger coalition with PiS – United Right. Will it have a positive impact on PiS in the EU? That’s a promise I doubt. I would, however, bet that the next bunch of MEPs that the United Right brings to the European Parliament will be more committed to the issues they believe in: more renewable energy in the Polish energy mix; cutting of the EU red tape and empowering the smaller member states for whom EU membership is an opportunity to maximise their world presence.

Still, no mention on the rule of law during the congress.

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

Andrzej Krajewski
Andrzej Krajewski

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

 

Are the public media in Poland free?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wiadomości are losing viewership, is that correct?

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

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

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

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

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

ALERT! Mayor of Gdańsk attacked UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE MONDAY 14 Jan 2019 7:30 hrs.

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

Mayor Adamowicz

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

Paweł Adamowicz is married with two children.

Europe’s biggest charity takes on the government

Last year (2018) the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity collected 126 373 804 zł, or some 29 million Euro, making it one of the largest charity events in the world. This year final figures are still unknown, the provisional figure is… well, check the status here in real time.

Jurek Owsiak started this charity project 27 years ago to help children, as the Polish hospitals were in a terrible state in early 1990s. Number one problem of the hospitals back then was: lack of modern equipment. The solution: provide financial support for the medical equipment needed by most vulnerable, the newborns.

wosp2019.jpeg
Young WOŚP volunteers in Warsaw, 13 Jan 2019

In 27 years Owsiak has risen an army of volunteers. Last year there were some 120,000 volunteers selling the hearts with “WOŚP” logo on them. Some of them are young people born with equipment purchased from WOŚP charity. The circle of hope.

PiS v WOŚP

The fairytale lasted for 25 years. WOŚP cooperated with the public television for its January grand finale since its inception in 1993 until 2016.  In 2017 for the first time the society event was turned political. TVP refused to cooperate with the great orchestra. The event was non political until end of 2015, when Law and Justice won elections and begun to change the country with its revolution in which there was no room for independent institutions, officials or civic organisations. Stanisław Pięta, PiS MP tweeted in December 2015: “if somebody employed in the public sector engages with the great orchestra, the following day they should resign from their job” and the bomb exploded.

Not everybody in the Law and Justice have the same radical approach. After all, this was primarily about helping the children. President Andrzej Duda (a former PiS MEP) and many PiS officials wore the recognisable red heart. The public TVP station, a long-time supporter of the great orchestra event, took nevertheless a radical approach: in 2016 the event was still aired on TVP. In 2017 not only WOŚP was banned from the TVP news (bare for 14 seconds on the main evening news), the TVP has censored the WOŚP red heart from one of its interlocutors, Arkadiusz Myrcha, MP for the Civic Platform (PO).

myrcha2017
Arkadiusz Myrcha speaking to TVP in 2017; edited/censored photo on the left; real shot on the right. Source: Twitter

In 2018 Law and Justice was not ready to give up so easily. The Ministry of Interior drafted a law, according to which the Minister could stop a public collection of funds whose purpose “is contrary to the rules of social coexistence or violates an important public interest”. Since the discretion would be with the minister the civil society organisations did not trust, the threat was real.

Yet by 2018 the Law and Justice changed. Embattled in many fights over the judiciary reform, Constitutional Tribunal, economic and social reforms, the party already faced its first defeats: it wanted to take over the control over the Nordic funds allocated to the Polish NGOs from the Nordic governments – the Norwegian government said NO; the fine given to TVN by the state supervisor was cancelled due to American investor pressure; and the same TVN aired a documentary about Polish neo-nazi organisation commemorating Hitler’s birthday. The Prime Minister changed, too. Mateusz Morawiecki was supposed to be a “lighter”, more approachable face of the government. And most importantly, the electoral marathon was looming over the party. Taking on the country’s last independent unifying event (WOŚP has a popularity among the general public at 85-90%) was no longer a priority.

wosp2018money
How much money was WOŚP collected, by year, 1993-2018. Source: Wikipedia

Since 2017 the WOŚP grand finale is aired on TVN. The event continues to grow, beating its previous year records. Law and Justice did not stop the show, and the orchestra continues to play. It became political as there was an attempt to take it over the same way the governmental party did with so many other independent institutions (the journalists association SDP, the TVP, or the general courts, to name a few).

Jurek Owsiak, however, started to be politically outspoken. He has defended WOŚP, the mid-summer follow up currently called the Pol’and’Rock Festival and the secular approach to charity. A few quotes from his interview back in November 2018 for Gazeta Wyborcza: “I just voted, and called on others to vote, too. It turned out many people felt the same way – those were key elections. On 21 October 2018 I felt partly the atmosphere of 4 June 1989. People were smiling, talking politics, they knew why they came to vote.” and added rhetorically that “today there is an open question about our membership in the EU. We wonder if Law and Justice truly wants to leave the Union. Can you imagine those topics being even discussed?”.

And he started to be attacked more and more. Already in 2014 the outspoken PiS MP Krystyna Pawłowicz said: “I have never given and I shall never give even a złoty for the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity. If you don’t want your money to be spend on wallowing in the mud, on the festival of hate towards the Church and the Catholics, on that demoralisation, then do not support WOŚP”. By summer 2018 Owsiak and Pawłowicz met in a court for the second time. Emotional Owsiak had to apologise for offending his idealogical arch-nemesis. For the second time.

In 2019 the TVP seems to haven toned down. A little bit. Ahead of the 2019 WOŚP grand finale the TVP Info aired a plastic figurehead show in which a character looking like Owsiak was fully controlled by a plastic figurehead looking like a former Warsaw mayor (and another hated person by Law and Justice) Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz. The NaTemat.pl website called the show “disgusting”.

owsiakHGWTVPinfo
“Owsiak” brings the WOŚP money to “HGW”, who fully controls him. Source: Twitter.

Under criticism of the show TVP has suspended cooperation with the plastic figurehead maker. In a classical style, not because it was offensive towards Owsiak or ex-Warsaw mayor. Apparently the show was accused of anti-Semitism as one of the banknotes presented the portrait of the adored-by-PiS former president Lech Kaczyński next to the Star of David.

Despite all this, the Great Orchestra continues to play. Its 2019 final accounts will be known in a few months. Will another record be smashed? The whole country awaits.

Can you help?

Yes you can. Today the Orchestra plays all around the world. In 2019 for the first time there are events organised for example in Russia. You can contribute in Brussels, Paris or London to any of the volunteers, or online here. The most interesting option is to participate in the auctions. Last year, a day spent with the President of the European Council Donald Tusk costed the winner some 172,000 Euro. This year, you can bid for your day with Mr Tusk here.

 

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…

 

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.

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.

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.

Sejm_22_grudnia_2015_01
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.

Adam_Andruszkiewicz_Sejm_2015
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.