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Hello Irlandia News 18th June 2020

It’s been another busy week on the news front with the presidential election campaign of course now in full swing. Our main news stories this week have included:

• Presidential candidates criss-cross the country in a frantic campaign for votes ahead of the first round ballot

• Andrzej Duda hits back at international press criticism of his stance on LGBT rights

• 330,000 Poles living abroad register to vote in the presidential election including a record numbers in Ireland and

• Ryanair unveils an extensive schedule of flights to Poland from the UK and Ireland as Poland further relaxes travel restrictions.

With a total of 11 candidates confirmed for the first ballot in the presidential election, the contenders have been busy criss-crossing the country in the hunt for the votes needed to get into the second round. The polls continue to point to incumbent president Andrzej Duda and RafałTrzaskowski, the candidate of the main opposition party Platforma Obywatelska, as most likely to secure those two spots.

This week President Duda faced considerable criticism in the international media following a speech he gave in Brzeg last Saturday in which he spoke on the subject of LGBT rights – one of the hot-button issues in the contest.

In his speech, which his opponents claimed was designed to play the anti-LGBT card to mobilise socially conservative votes behind him, Duda spoke of what he termed ‘LGBT ideology’ and drew comparison between it and Soviet-era communist indoctrination. The speech was extensively reported on including by amongst others Reuters, the AP news agency and the Financial Times.

The Polish state news agency reported Duda as saying that throughout the communist era that followed the Second World War, Polish children were forced to embrace communist ideology in schools’ adding ‘that was Bolshevism. Today, there are also attempts to force our children into an ideology, but different, a completely new one. That is neo-Bolshevism’.

Duda hit back at the foreign criticism with a series of Twitter posts in English on Sunday in which he said that ‘Yet again, as part of dirty political fight, my words are put out of context. I truly believe in diversity and equality. At the same time beliefs of any minority cannot be imposed on a majority under the false pretense of tolerance. In our times Truth has become a scared little creature that hides from much stronger Correctness.’ He finished with the comment that ‘I believe in tolerance to any views, so please stop distributing fake news.’

On Tuesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministerstwo Spraw Zagranicznych, reported that around 330,000 eligible Poles living outside the country have registered to vote by absentee ballot in the presidential election, for the vast majority of electors by means of postal ballot due to restrictions imposed by the authorities of the countries in which they’re resident. A total of 169 voting districts have been created abroad in which postal voting only will be possible in 74 districts. Deputy Foreign Minister Piotr Wawrzyk said on Monday that postal voting will be the only option in countries including the US, UK and Germany with large number of Polish nationals. This is of course also the case in Ireland.

The 330,000 figure includes over 22,000 Poles living in this country who’ve registered for the presidential election which is approximately 20% of those eligible. Such relatively high figures for those voting from abroad were last seen in the 2007 parliamentary elections when 21,333 people registered to vote and in the 2010 presidential election when 20,403 people registered to vote. More than 100,000 Poles living in the United Kingdom have registered for the election along with 50,000 in Germany and over 25,000 in the United States.

As the easing of restrictions continues apace in Poland, as of Wednesday it was officially reported that the number of people who’ve tested positive for Covid-19 now stands at 30,701 with 1,286 deaths being attributed to the virus, most of whom had pre-existing medical conditions. There continues to be concerns over Poland’s mines – of the 506 new cases confirmed on Wednesday 209 were in the Silesia coal producing region.

On Tuesday the Polish and German foreign ministers, Jacek Czaputowicz and Heiko Maas respectively, held talks in Warszawa on a wide range of topics reportedly ranging from EU affairs, to bilateral relations, Coronavirus and historical questions between the two countries. The meeting came after Poland moved to reassure Germany over suggestions it wanted U.S. troops moved from there to Poland. On Monday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told the BNS Baltic News Service that he wanted to increase U.S. troop levels in Poland, but said ‘It is not our intention to achieve this goal at the expense of reducing the American contingent in Germany’. The Wall Street Journal had reported the U.S. planned to cap troop number in Germany at 25,000 where 34,500 U.S. troops are currently deployed.

Meanwhile last Friday the presidential chief of staff, Krzysztof Szczerski has strongly rebutted as ‘total disinformation’ a Reuters press agency claim that plans for an enhanced U.S. military presence in Poland – dubbed Fort Trump – have stalled, due to arguments over paying for the deployment and the location of the U.S. presence, with the Polish side seeking a location in the east of the country.

The U.S. Ambassador to Poland, Georgette Mosbacher, said last week that discussions over an increased U.S. military presence in Poland are ‘on track’ and to expect an announcement ‘soon’. She tweeted “More fake news! Negotiations are on track! President Trump … and President Duda’s vision for increased US presence in Poland will be even greater than originally outlined. Announcement coming soon.”

On Wednesday there were unconfirmed reports that President Duda may hold talks with President Trump at the White House as early as next week. Such a meeting would likely take place in the context of the announcement of an increased U.S. military presence in Poland, and if prior to either the first or second rounds of the presidential election would we viewed as designed to provide a boost to his re-election campaign.

On Tuesday, the Secretary of State (or junior minister) with responsibility for strategic energy infrastructure, Piotr Naimski, warned that the money Poland pays for Russian gas supplies is later used to finance that country’s military expenditure. He repeated that Poland would stop buying Russian gas after it’s current long-term contract with Gazprom expires in 2022. On Monday officials had confirmed that Gazprom would return around US$1.5bn to Poland by July 1st it had overcharged for gas supplies following a ruling by an international arbitration panel.

In a tragic incident a 48 year old man set himself ablaze outside the Polish parliament building on Tuesday afternoon. According to press reports the man was conscious when taken to hospital. The man’s exact motives are unknown but before setting himself on fire he approached reporters and enquired if they were involved in investigative journalism and shouted ‘there is no justice in this country’.

Poland remains set to go nuclear. On Monday, the Minister of Climate, Michał Kurtyka, said that construction of Poland’s first nuclear power plant is expected to commence in 2026 with the first reactor operating in 2033. He said that the majority of the country’s coal-fired power plants are coming to the end of their lives and major decisions need to be taken about the energy sector.

Ryanair has announced the resumption of 79 routes from the UK and Ireland to Poland as part of it 2020 summer schedule. Ryanair’s Alejandra Ruiz said that ‘Ryanair, Europe’s No. 1 airline, is pleased to offer a total of 79 routes to Poland from the UK & Ireland this summer. These routes will operate from 21 June as part of our Summer 2020 schedule.’ He added that ‘Customers in UK & Ireland can now book seats on flights to Poland for June, July & August and finally begin to restart Europe’s economies and reunite families and friends’.

From yesterday Poland allowed the resumption of international flights to most European Union countries having suspended scheduled international flights on March 15th. No date has yet been given for the resumption of scheduled long-haul flights. Domestic flights were resumed on June 1st.

On Tuesday it was announced that a series of commemorations including a special website and film premieres will take place in August to mark the 100th anniversary of the victory of Polish over Soviet Russian forces in the 1920 ‘Miracle of the Vistula’. Culture minister Piotr Gliński said that a new museum marking the life of Józef Piłsudski will be opened in Sulejówek near Warszawa. A series of cultural, religious and military events are expected to be held to mark the 100th anniversary.

To wszystko na ten tydzień.

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