This week has seen government calls for the Covid-19 vaccination campaign to be put above party politics as pressure mounts for the easing of restrictions on economic activity from the end of the month, as well as the main opposition party, Platforma Obywatelska, marking twenty years since its foundation in the aftermath of the unexpected defection to Polska 2050 of leading figure Joanna Mucha.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Calls for unity following all-party meeting on Covid-19 vaccination campaign as rollout commences for over 70s
• Platforma Obywatelska marks twenty years since its foundation but in the aftermath of the defection to Polska 2050 of top leader Joanna Mucha
• Polish man who was in a coma in a Plymouth hospital and whose case aroused emotions after his life support was turned off, has died, and
• Paulo Sousa is named as the new Polish national soccer team head coach.
On Tuesday Poland’s government and opposition parties held an all-party meeting on the Covid-19 immunisation campaign, organised by Michał Dworczyk, the cabinet minister whose been put in charge of the government’s vaccination programme. On Monday Dworczyk called for the question of vaccination to be put beyond normal political discussion saying ‘Let’s meet to talk about facts and focus on real problems, while keeping vaccinations out of day-to-day politics’. He added that ‘There are many other areas where we can argue, sometimes very sharply, but let’s put this particular issue outside the bounds of political dispute’. Dworczyk said that the meeting had agreed that the top priority is to ‘vaccinate the largest possible part of the Polish population as quickly as possible’.
On Wednesday officials said that 905,457 people have so far been vaccinated against Covid-19 in Poland. The government is aiming to vaccinate just under 3 million people during quarter one of this year. Vaccination of those aged over 70 years has been underway since Monday.
Commenting on social media after Tuesday’s meeting Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that the Covid-19 vaccination campaign is the top challenge and priority for Poland, adding that it required the government and opposition to work together ‘beyond all political divisions’. He said in a Facebook post that ‘The National Vaccination Program against Covid-19 is the most important challenge that the Polish state is currently facing. This is a question beyond all political divisions, which is why today, on my initiative, another meeting with representatives of all parliamentary groups devoted to the fight against Covid-19 was held. I always have been and am open to dialogue with anyone who cares about the good of Poland. Solidarity and unity are our greatest weapons in this war’.
Amid ongoing pressure due to the economic impact of the current lockdown, the government has said that some easing of the restrictions may be announced this week, with the additional measures which came into force on December 28th due to run to the end of January. Prime Minister Morawiecki said last week that such a move was being considered but warned that the end of the month might be too soon. As of Wednesday, the total number of Covid-19 cases in Poland since the outbreak began is put at 1.49m with over 36,000 deaths.
Above: A Winter scene in Kraków, January 2021.
Poland’s main opposition party, Platforma Obywatelska marked twenty years since its foundation in 2001 on Sunday. The centrist PO has been one of the most successful start-up parties in Poland, having been in power from 2007 to 2015 – for most of that time under the leadership of Donald Tusk prior to his departure to become President of the European Council. However, the anniversary didn’t come at a particularly happy time for the party, with the departure from it’s ranks last week of former leadership contender and ex-Sports minister, Joanna Mucha. She left to join the ranks of Szymon Hołownia’s new Polska 2050 party bringing their parliamentary representation to three, following also on their acquisition of the independent senator, Jacek Bury, who had caucused with Platforma Obywatelska. While Mucha was diplomatic about the reasons for her departure saying the two sides had taken ‘different paths’ and that ‘nobody is to blame’, Bury was far more critical saying that ‘Can anyone say if PO has a programme? After a year of being in their caucus I don’t see one’. He said that the party is fixated on criticising the government rather than offering constructive solutions.
Those criticisms feed into a widely held view that PO has lost its way in terms of having clear policies and decisive leadership since the departure of Tusk. It can take hope from the fact that political fortunes can change very quickly and PO is not the first party to go through a long period in the political wilderness. Those that have been down that route include PO’s great rival Prawo i Sprawiedliwość itself. However, the party is seen as having failed to capitalise on a dip in PiS support towards the end of last year that was attributed to the reaction to the Constitutional Tribunal ruling further restricting Poland’s abortion laws as well as over the handling of the Covid-19 situation. PO has seen its support ebb downwards over recent months averaging little over the 20% mark, while it’s been Hołownia’s Polska 2050 that’s been the big winner, rising as high as 16% in recent polls. Bury predicted that there would be a mass exodus of lawmakers from PO in advance of the next general election, scheduled for 2023.
The European Parliament has joined in condemnation of the Russian authorities over the arrest and jailing of the top Russian opposition activist, Alexei Navalny, on his return to the country. A resolution passed last Thursday called for the completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, long opposed by Poland, to be halted. The Polish Foreign Minister, Zbigniew Rau, said that Nord Stream 2 could still be blocked, added that ‘If the project is blocked and eventually aborted, this will be triggered by the U.S.’. On Monday a Deputy Foreign Minister said that Poland was in talks with other EU countries with a view to seeking an urgent debate in the UN Human Rights Council. Last Thursday the Sejm passed a resolution calling on Russia to stop the ‘repression’ of Navalny and his supporters and urging his immediate release.
In a case which had involved exchanges between Poland and the United Kingdom at a diplomatic level, and also calls for assistance from the head of the Polish Roman Catholic Church to his England and Wales counterpart, a Polish national who had been in a coma in a Plymouth hospital and whose life support had been withdrawn, has died, his family said on Tuesday. Archbishop Stanisław Gądecki had written to the President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales seeking the help of the Catholic Church there to save his life, saying that the man has been ‘sentenced to death by starvation’. The man went into a coma after suffering permanent brain damage due to a cardiac arrest last November.
Polish diplomatic representatives had been in Plymouth to monitor the case and the Polish government reportedly had an aircraft on standby to fly the man home to a specialist hospital in Poland. The man’s wife had consented to the turning-off of life support on the basis that the middle-aged man, known only as RS, wouldn’t have wanted to be a burden. However, this was against the wishes of his mother and sister who argued that due to his Catholic faith he wouldn’t have wished for his life to end in such circumstances. President Duda’s chief of staff, Krzysztof Szczerski, had discussed the case with the UK’s Ambassador to Poland, Anna Clunes, on Monday of last week, tweeting afterwards that ‘It was a difficult conversation’.
Following last week’s inauguration of Joe Biden as the new U.S. President, Poland has repeated its invitation to him to make an official visit to the country at an early stage. Speaking last Tuesday senior presidential adviser, Andrzej Dera, said arrangements would be made for a meeting between the two presidents but that it was too early to say when. He told Polish Radio that ‘we will try to make this meeting happen because it is also in the interests of the United States’.
Poland’s national soccer team has a new head coach following the sacking of Jerzy Brzęczek, who had fallen from favour with many Polish soccer fans despite having led the team to qualification for the European Championships. The President of the Polski Związek Piłki Nożnej, Zbigniew Boniek, announced last Thursday that Portugal’s Paulo Sousa would take over. He said that the national side needed a new manager to end what he termed ‘a sense of malaise’ in the side and boost performances ahead of the forthcoming European Championships and qualifiers for the 2022 World Cup in Qatar. He said that ‘The upcoming matches, both World Cup qualifiers and the Euro tournament, require that the squad steps up its game’. Sousa, whose aged 50, had previously managed teams including England’s Leicester City, Italy’s Fiorentina and France’s Girondins Bordeaux.
In an update to a story we covered a few weeks back concerning the possibility of the Kościół Mariacki in Kraków getting its first female bugler for the famous Hejnał Mariacki trumpet call from the church tower – well it was not to be and the seven centuries old tradition of all-male buglers has survived. Following bugle playing tests carried out by the Kraków Fire Brigade, who are in-charge of the competition to find two new buglers, six have advanced to the final stage and they’re all men. Three of the thirty applicants had been female.
Well maybe next time!