Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
Last Tuesday the ongoing confrontation on Poland’s eastern border with Belarus between migrants trying to enter the European Union and Polish security forces erupted into violent clashes. Polish security forces were viciously attacked with the head of the Polish police accusing members of the Belarusian security services of being the prime instigators. Subsequently, there have been some indications that the Belarusian side may be moving to deescalate the confrontation.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
- Violence escalates on the eastern border with Belarus as migrants attack Polish security forces
- Diplomatic efforts intensify to bring about a resolution to the crisis with Belarus now evacuating migrants from the Kuznica encampment
- Justice Minister Ziobro announces plans for a radical shake-up of the courts system, and
- Poland secures a play-off place in the battle to qualify for the 2022 soccer World Cup.
The past week’s news in Poland has once again been dominated by the worsening migrant crisis on the country’s eastern border with Belarus. The standoff has turned increasing violent with attacks on Polish security forces defending the border by groups of would-be immigrants into Poland. The Polish government as well as the EU and US maintain the migrants are being effectively used as weapons by the Russian-backed Lukashenko regime in Belarus in retaliation for earlier sanctions imposed on the country.
Prosecutors have opened an investigation into a particularly vicious attack on Tuesday, according to Poland’s police chief. Tuesday’s incident happened at the Bruzgi / Kuźnica border crossing where a large group of migrants had assembled in a camp since the beginning of the week. Polish officials said that migrants became aggressive and began throwing stones and other improvised missiles at Polish forces guarding the border, who responded with water cannon during the two-hour confrontation.
Police chief Jarosław Szymczyk said that ‘We are collecting all the objects which had been thrown towards those who stood guard on the Polish border, and repelled this brutal attack’. He added that ‘This will show what we were up against’. Szymczyk said that 12 Polish officers had been injured including nine members of the police force, two border guards and a soldier. Speaking about the attackers Police Inspector General Szymczyk said that ‘In my assessment, the most aggressive among them were people from the Belarusian security services, who were the instigators’.
On Sunday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki called on NATO to take ‘contrete steps’ to resolve the migrant crisis, and said that Poland, along with Latvia and Lithuania, might request formal consultations under Article 4 of the NATO treaty. This article states that ‘The Parties will consult together whenever, in the opinion of any of them, the territorial integrity, political independence or security of any of the Parties is threatened’. Morawiecki said that ‘It’s not enough just for us to publicly express our concern; we now need concrete steps and the commitment of the entire alliance’.
In an interview with Polish Radio on Wednesday Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak warned that ‘the situation on the Belarus border will not be resolved quickly’. He addd that ‘We have to prepare for months, if not years’. Błaszczak pointed out that there were ongoing multiple attacks on the frontier, not just in Kuźnica.
Turkey to Clamp-Down on Flights to Belarus
Efforts to at least ameliorate the crisis at source in the Middle East, where most of the migrants originally come from, remain ongoing. Iraq’s national airline said on Wednesday that it would organise a repatriation flight to brings its nationals home. Last Friday Polish officials confirmed that Turkey would stop selling airline tickets to Belarus to nationals of Iraq, Syria and Yemen.
Jakub Kumoch, President Duda’s top foreign policy adviser, tweeted that ‘The Directorate General of Civil Aviation has now officially stated what the Turkish side told us yesterday. Once again, warm thanks to everyone involved in working out this compromise. Polish-Turkish relations are too important to be held hostage by Lukashenka’s quarrels’. The Turkish announcement said that ‘Due to the problem of illegal border crossings between the European Union and Belarus, it has been decided that the citizens of Iraq, Syria and Yemen who want to travel to Belarus from Turkish airports will not be allowed to buy tickets and boarding until further notice’. The ban covers both Turkish Airlines and the Belarusian state airline Belavia.
‘Poland Won’t Accept Any Decisions Taken Above Our Heads’
Diplomatic efforts aimed at finding some resolution to the crisis have also continued. These efforts have included an intervention by the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who made direct contact with the Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko.
Speaking during an official visit to Montenegro on Wednesday, President Andrzej Duda warned that the matter should not be resolved by others. He said that ‘Poland won’t accept any decisions taken above our heads’ and that ‘Any settlements that would be binding for Poland and for our authorities can only be made by ourselves’. Duda said he had communicated his concerns to the German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during a phone conversation on Tuesday.
Kuźnica Camp ‘Is Slowly Emptying’
Yesterday, in a sign of some progress, Belarus said it had provided temporary shelter for around 1,000 migrants camped on the Polish border in a transport and logistics centre near the Kuźnica border crossing. The Polish authorities confirmed that a large migrant camp was emptying. Deputy Interior minister Maciej Wasik said that for the first time buses had been sent to collect migrants from the border and that ‘The camp near Kuźnica is slowly emptying’.
On Monday EU foreign ministers had given approval in principle for a further extension of sanctions against Belarus. On Wednesday the Sejm adopted a resolution in support of the government’s handling of the crisis on a 245 to 167 vote with 25 abstentions.
Ziobro Unveils Plans for Courts System Shake-Up
The Polish government is to embark on a new round of reforms to the country’s judicial system. Speaking in front of the slogan ‘nowesprawne sądy’ or ‘new efficient courts’ Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro on Monday announced plans to simplify the court structure and release thousands of judges from administrative tasks.
Under the plan the current division into district, provincial and appeals courts would be replaced by a streamlined system of county and regional courts. Ziobro said that ‘By making this change, we aim to free 2,000 judges from bureaucratic, paper-pushing duties, so that they focus on judging cases, which is what the public expects’.
As part of the changes all 20 regional courts would be able to hear appeals while special court information points would be established in every municipality.
Opposition politicians claimed that the move was another attempt to undermine the independence of the country’s judiciary. Ziobro confirmed that his reform proposal does not deal with the controversial Disciplinary Chamber of the Supreme Court, which is at the centre of a major dispute with the European Court of Justice and which the government has already said it will abolish. Ziobro said that discussions on this topic with President Andrzej Duda remain ongoing.
October 6.8% Inflation Rate Confirmed
The shock flash inflation estimate for October of 6.8% which triggered a rise in the key reference interest rate has been confirmed in the final estimate published by Główny Urząd Statystyczny (or Statistics Poland in English) on Monday. The September rate of inflation was 5.9%.
GUS also reported that average monthly wages in Poland in quarter three rose by 9.4% compared to the same quarter last year, or 2.8% up on the second quarter of the year. The average gross monthly wage in the third quarter of 2021 was 5,657 złotych.
Kaczyński – Salvini Meet to Focus on ‘New ‘Balance of Power in Brussels’
It’s been reported that Matteo Salvini, the leader of Italy’s right-wing League party, is to hold talks with Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość during a visit to Warszawa from December 3rd to 4th. A statement from his party said the talks would be about a ‘new balance of power in Brussels’ as well as the ‘protection of Europe’s borders’. The visit as well as that of other right-wing party leaders is thought to be part of plans for the potential formation of a new national conservative grouping in the European Parliament.
Poland Secures Soccer World Cup Qualification Play-Off Spot
Poland, unlike Ireland, is still in with a chance of qualifying for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. Paulo Sousa’s side secured a play-off spot with a 4-1 away from home win against group minnows Andorra last Friday. Poland claimed second place in their qualifying group behind group winners England – who’ve now qualified outright for the finals. Poland will face a playoff over two legs next March for a finals spot. On Friday two of Poland’s four goals were scored by captain Robert Lewandowski who in the process took his international goals tally to 74 during a record 128 appearances.
On Monday, with effectively nothing to play for, Poland finished off their qualification campaign with a 2-1 loss to Hungary at the National Stadium in Warszawa. Poland rested several key players for the match including Robert Lewandowski, who was given a pass on the game in view of his hectic schedule.
Poland will find out who its play-off opponent will be on Friday of next week when the draw is held at FIFA headquarters in Zurich. The World Cup itself will take place in the controversial venue of Qatar from November 21st to December 18th, 2022.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.