Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
President Duda will tomorrow confer with top Polish political leaders under the umbrella of the country’s National Security Council over the Ukraine crisis, which threatens the stability of the entire region. Over the past week the U.S. and other NATO members have spoken even more firmly of their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity; at the same time it’s clear than none of them, Poland included, wants to risk an armed confrontation with Russia, whatever President Putin does in Ukraine. Meanwhile, the Polish government has been concentrating its Covid-19 strategy, such as it is, on planning new discriminatory measures against citizens who’ve exercised their own judgment not to be vaccinated.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• President Duda calls political leaders from across the spectrum for consultations on the Ukraine crisis
• older school pupils are to move to distance learning as the government moves to implement new Covid-19 measures
• Jarosłow Gowin returns to the political fray with an attack on Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, and
• a film about 1970s Polish leader Edward Gierek opens in cinemas across Poland.
President Andrzej Duda has this week been centre stage in Poland, as the country considers its options as to how it can best navigate the ongoing crisis between Russia and Ukraine. A meeting of the country’s National Security Council, which includes opposition politicians, has been scheduled for Friday at which Duda has promised to provide as full an update on the situation as possible. He commented on Monday night that he was convening the National Security Council to ‘share with the most important participants of the Polish political scene my knowledge and the picture of the situation that arises as a result of all meetings and talks that I have recently held’.
Last Monday Duda joined the leaders of the US, UK, France, Germany, and Italy, as well as the Presidents of the European Commission and European Council and the NATO Secretary-General on a video call to discuss the security challenge posed by the Russian military build-up on its border with Ukraine. Duda commented afterwards that ‘I want to emphasise the unity of the North Atlantic Alliance’. He added ‘There is no ally at the moment that would break the solidarity with Ukraine, with the rest of NATO’. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted after the online meeting saying ‘We agree that any further aggression by Russia against Ukraine will have severe costs’.
While several NATO members have announced plans to send military reinforcements to fellow member states in eastern Europe the response has been relatively small-scale. It’s very clear that in the event of a large scale Russian military operation against Ukraine, the country cannot expect external military intervention. On Monday President Duda’s national security adviser, Paweł Soloch, said after a meeting between the head of state and the country’s Defence and Interior ministers, as well as their top officials, that Poland would not be sending troops to Ukraine – at least for now.
Opinion polls suggests that while a large majority of Poles agree with the government’s political stance in support of Ukraine, an overwhelming majority don’t believe that Polish troops should be sent there.
New Discriminatory Legislation Planned After All-Party Meet
The government this week held an all-party meeting on measures to combat Covid-19 in Poland amid indications it’s planning new restrictive legislation – something much of the opposition has been pressing for, but which will likely pose its own challenges to implement. On Tuesday government spokesman Piotr Müller said that there would be new legislative proposals after the meeting with opposition parties, and that they would be unveiled later in the week. Opposition politicians from Platforma Obywatelska and Lewica were critical of the government after the all-party meeting claiming it had no strategy in the face of a rising number of cases.
On the other hand, former presidential candidate and prominent Konfederacja Sejm member Krzysztof Bosak, said the government’s likely proposals went in the wrong direction. Konfederacja is opposed to restrictions on unvaccinated people or other mandatory measures. Bosak claimed the government is focused on matters ‘that are completely irrelevant from the patient’s point of view’. He added that ‘The government, seeing the failure of its centralism, has decided to go further into centralism and healthcare management through penalties. It will bring us no good, it’s the completely wrong direction to go’.
Pupils Aged Over 11 Return to Distance Learning
As part of the government’s response to the recent spike in the number of cases, Education Minister Przemysław Czarnek announced on Tuesday that older elementary school children and high school students, so general those aged 11 and over, would revert back to remote learning from today until the end of the winter school break at the end of February. Czarnek said that ‘In practice, this means two weeks of distance learning’. Remote working for government employees, where this is possible, had already been made mandatory until the end of February.
Also on Tuesday the Covid-19 quarantine period was shortened from 10 days to 7, and free tests are to be made available through pharmacies from Thursday. Last Friday Health Minister Adam Niedzielski claimed that the number of Covid-19 cases would hit record levels over the coming weeks, exceeding 60,000 daily cases and possibly approaching 140,000. On Wednesday Poland reported a record number of new daily Covid-19 cases at 53,420.
Gowin Hits Out At PiS on Political Return
After two months of political inactivity the former Deputy Prime Minister and current leader of the much shrunken-in-size Porozumienie party, Jarosław Gowin, this week resurfaced on the Polish political scene. It followed a period of hospitalisation for mental health issues. In a series of social media posts on Tuesday Gowin said he had been suffering from depression. He cited as one of the reasons what he termed the ‘brutal attacks’ he’d suffered at the hands of his former coalition partner, Prawo i Sprawiedliwość. He said that ‘I have overcome the illness’ and that he now feels ‘stronger than ever’. Gowin said he was determined to work ‘to remove PiS from power’ before the party can further ‘harm the Polish national interest’.
Sejm Committee Votes to Lift Banaś Immunity
In the latest episode of a very long-running saga, on Wednesday the Rules and Deputies’ Affairs Committee of the Sejm voted by 9 to 7 to recommend that the President of the Supreme Audit Office, Marian Banaś, be stripped of his immunity from prosecution. This would mean he would have to face various legal cases including for allegedly giving false asset declarations. The recommendation still has to go to the full Sejm. In another twist in the saga on Tuesday the district prosecutor’s office in Warszawa said that a Vice President of the Supreme Audit Office had notified it of alleged crimes by Banaś including abuse of power, using auditors for duties beyond their legal remit, and disclosing confidential information.
Unemployment Stable At 5.4%
A major concern for Poles at present is undoubtedly the ongoing high rate of price increases including for essential everyday items. The other side of the coin though is that the Polish economy has continued to grow strongly, as reflected in a consistently low unemployment rate. On Wednesday Główny Urząd Statystyczny, or Statistics Poland in English, announced that the rate of unemployment remained stable at 5.4% in December compared to November. The state statistics agency reported there were approximately 895,000 people out of work at the end of December, marginally down from the end-November figure of 899,000. Eurostat, using different methodology, puts the Polish unemployment rate even lower.
Błaszczak: ‘Poland Is Not Just A Consumer of Security’
On Tuesday Poland officially became a framework nation for the multinational Eurocorps military group. A member since 2002 Poland becomes the sixth framework nation, giving it a voice over the composition and tasks of the multinational group which can be used in humanitarian, rescue and peacekeeping missions by international organisations including the UN, NATO and EU. Defence Minister Mariusz Błaszczak attended a ceremony to mark the occasion in Strasbourg, France, where Eurocorps in based. Błaszczak commented that ‘By stepping up our involvement, we are demonstrating that Poland is not just a consumer of security, but also guarantees security’.
New Biographical Film About 1970’s Leader Edward Gierek Opens
Finally, I guess many of us are guilty of being nostalgic about the past, even when we know the past was far from wonderful. In subsequent decades some Poles have been accused of the same concerning the Edward Gierek – era in the country. The PZPR First Secretary ruled Poland from 1970 to 1980 – a period which was initially one of economic expansion and relative prosperity but fuelled by foreign loans, and which paved the way for the economic and political crises of the early 1980s. Last Friday a biographical film entitled simply Gierek opened in cinemas across Poland.
Heathcliff Janusz Iwanowski, who co-wrote and produced the film, commented that the movie is ‘not a hagiography’ and that ‘’We have depicted the mistakes, the reprehensible things he did as a politician’. He added that ‘It’s a truthful movie, a movie about a human being’ and that ‘everyone will draw their own conclusions’.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.