Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
The past week saw the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość government’s numbers in the Sejm fall just below the halfway mark following the defection of three members to form their own parliamentary group. Jarosław Kaczyński had, in retrospect, well prepared the ground for such an eventuality with his recent cooperation agreement with Kukiz’15. The government, of course, would be at real risk of falling only in the event of a pull-out by Porozumienie, which often looks quite possible, or, in a less likely scenario, by Solidarna Polska. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Morawiecki found himself embroiled in some sharp exchanges with Israel’s Foreign Minister, over the government’s attempt to implement a Constitutional Tribunal ruling to time-limit historic property restitution claims. It was but the latest example of the way in which the burden of history has cast a dark shadow over relations between Poland and Israel.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• The Polish government is formally reduced to minority status in the Sejm as three ex-Prawo i Sprawiedliwość members form Wybór Polska
• Israel’s Foreign Minister accuses Prime Minister Morawiecki of making an ‘anti–Semitic allusion’ in a bitter row over a proposed time limit on Second World War property restitution claims
• Polska 2050 faces criticism over a plan for a guaranteed income without having to work until retirement, later clarified as only for miners, and
• Poland marks the 65th anniversary of the 1956 Poznań uprising during communist rule.
The Mateuz Morawiecki-led government was officially reduced to minority status last Friday when three members left the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość parliamentary caucus in the Sejm, as well as the party itself. Their move reduced the government’s formal strength to 229 in the 460-member lower house. There’s no immediate threat to the government’s survival as it can count on the support of members not formally in the Zjednoczona Prawica bloc. Just last month Jarosław Kaczyński tied up an alliance with Kukiz’15 for the support of their four Sejm members on an issue-by-issue basis. However, the move is symbolic of the recent tensions within the governing bloc and of something of a decline in their overall political fortunes. In 2015, and again in 2019, the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość electoral list was the only one in the history of Poland since the fall of communism to secure an overall majority.
The three members involved, Zbigniew Girzyński, Małgorzata Janowska, and Arkadiusz Czartoryski, cited energy policy as the direct motivation for their move, and in particular what they claimed was Prawo i Sprawiedliwość rollback from the strong support it had expressed for the coal industry at the last election. Janowska, who will head the new group, commented that ‘Prawo i Sprawiedliwość went into the elections with the slogans of ‘Polish black gold’ and was going to base our energy sector on conventional sources’. She added that ‘now the government is moving away from them’. The two others also criticised the Polski Ład, saying it would harm small businesses. The three will now form their own parliamentary group called Wybór Polska or Poland’s Choice. A Prawo i Sprawiedliwość spokesperson commented that ‘we have a stable majority although it is not formally visible’ adding that ‘what matters is how MPs vote’.
Above: Chamber of the Polish Sejm (Picture: “Polish Foreign Policy for 2011 17” by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Poland is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0)
While in reality the three Sejm members may well continue to support the government in many votes, their attitude could become crucial should Jarosław Gowin lead Porozumienie out of the Zjednoczona Prawica. In such a scenario the short-term survival of the government would depend on the attitude of individual Porozumienie Sejm members and that of small groups on the right.
Ridicule for Polska 2050 Over Guaranteed Income Plan
Meanwhile, Poland’s most popular opposition party, at least according to the opinion polls, Szymon Hołownia’s Polska 2050, this week faced ridicule from its political opponents for urging the introduction of a guaranteed income paid until retirement, with the party chairman claiming it would encourage people to look for a better job. Hołownia subsequently clarified that the proposal was only intended for ‘miners and employees of the mining-related industry’. Konfederacja’s Krzystof Bosak commented that ‘The head of his party has just announced that they want to pay everyone the minimum wage without the obligation to work! Unfortunately, they did not say where they would like to get the money from. Probably print it’.
Poland Rejects Israeli Criticism of Proposed Restitution Law
A shared tragic history has once again this week served to drive a wedge between Poland and Israel. As on many occasions in the past the issue has been one of differing perspective on historical justice. The current issue is the Polish government’s proposed restitution law which aims to bring certainty for property owners who run the risk of claims arising against their property alleging that it was illegally expropriated during the Second World War or later.
The law is intended to implement a 2015 Constitutional Tribunal ruling that there should be a deadline beyond which administrative decisions cannot be challenged. The bill doesn’t specifically reference claims from Jewish families arising from the Holocaust but rather imposes a 30-year statute of limitations, the longest allowed in Poland, on appeals against administrative decisions. Critics in Israel as well as among international Jewish organisations, maintain that the bill will make it impossible for Jews to recover property that’s rightfully theirs, having been taken by the Nazis and not returned by Poland’s postwar communist government.
‘Poland will certainly not pay for German crimes, not a złoty, euro, or dollar’
After the Sejm passed the bill last Thursday, Yair Lapid, Israel’s new Foreign minister, who also serves as Alternate Prime Minister in the country’s power-sharing government, described the bill as a ‘disgrace’. In response Prime Minister Morawiecki said that ‘as long as I am the prime minister, Poland will certainly not pay for German crimes, not a złoty, euro, or dollar’. Lapid hit back saying that ‘we are not interested in Polish money and the allusion itself is anti-Semitic’.
As well as the series of sharp political exchanges each country summoned the others top diplomat in their country to the Foreign Ministry for discussions about the matter. On Sunday, Poland’s Ambassador to Israel was called to hear of Israel’s ‘deep disappointment’ with the bill. On Monday, Israel’s Chargé d’Affaires in Warszawa, Tal Ben-Ari Yaalon, was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Undersecretary of State, Paweł Jabłoński, said that the Israeli diplomat ‘did not provide any new information’ during the discussion. Jabłoński told reporters that the political discussion in Israel ‘is dominated by attitudes that are either critical of Poland, or even simply anti-Polish’.
Detailed Response by Poland’s Ambassador to Israel
Poland’s Ambassador to Israel, Marek Magierowski, responded in detail to the criticism of the proposed amendment to the Polish Code of Administrative Procedure on Monday. He claimed that it would end what he termed ‘wild reprivatisation’ and circumstances in which owners who had been in homes for decades faced huge uncertainty and the risk of eviction, when restitution claims, many of which may be fraudulent, suddenly arise. He wrote that ‘After 45 years of communist rule, and more than 30 years since democratic transition, people who had never had anything to do with the war and the Holocaust, now face eviction from the properties they had legally acquired and invested in’.
Magierowski added that ‘In 2015 the Polish Constitutional Tribunal issued a ruling which basically put an end to these predatory practices. Now it is being implemented in the Polish Code of Administrative Procedure. A 30-year, non-discriminatory statute of limitations has been imposed… the longest possible according to the Polish legal system. The administrative procedures will be terminated. Nevertheless, all interested parties will still be entitled to file civil suits and obtain compensation, in a fair procedure before the court of law’.
The restitution law was passed by the Sejm with many opposition members abstaining and will now be taken up by the opposition-controlled Senate, where the opposition have said they’ll fix problems with it.
Visegrad Group Summit Meeting in Katowice
On Wednesday, the Prime Ministers of the four Visegrad Group countries, including Poland’s Mateusz Morawiecki, held a summit meeting in Katowice. The meeting marked the conclusion of Poland’s rotating 12-month presidency of the bloc, before handing over to Hungary.
Poznań Marks 65th Anniversary of 1956 Uprising
This week commemorations took place to mark Monday’s 65th anniversary of the 1956 worker’s uprising in Poznań against the communist government, which was brutally suppressed. Flowers were placed at locations in the city associated with the events of the uprising, including the gate to the Cegielski engineering plant where the events commenced. On June 28th, 1956, a worker’s protest march demanding improved pay and working conditions turned into a mass demonstration in the city with over 100,000 people joining it. The government sent tanks and troops to suppress the protest movement, with 58 people being killed.
Poznań’s Mayor, Jacek Jaśkowiak, said that the events in the city were ‘the first attempt to fight for freedom, all the more courageous as it came after a period of Stalinist repression. The people of Poznań rebelled against an unacceptable authority in what was the first step towards the regaining of freedom and democracy’. He added that this was in the face of a threat from the then Prime Minister, Józef Cyrankiewicz, that ‘the hand raised against the power of the people will be cut off’. An open-air exhibition about the uprising is taking place in Poznań and the Instytut Pamięci Narodowej has produced commemorative material in Polish, English and German.
5 People Die in Collision With Truck
In a tragic accident on Tuesday afternoon five people were killed including three children when the car in which they were travelling collided with a truck in the village of Elżbietów, west of Warszawa. The truck driver was uninjured.
Zasada (91) Completes Safari Motor Rally
Well if anyone is feeling tired or overwhelmed by some of the hot and stuffy summer weather there has been in Poland recently, and to a lesser extend here, we’ve found a motivational item on which to end that should shake off any lethargy.
On Sunday a 91-year-old Polish driver, Sobiesław Zasada, finished the Safari motor rally in Kenya. It’s regarded as one of the most gruelling such events in the world. The achievement makes Zasada the oldest competitor in the history of the World Rally Championship. Motorsport Poland commented that ‘His fight and determination on the toughest event in decades has been nothing short of inspirational. Never give up’. Zasada has been active in the sport for nearly seven decades, taking part in his first auto rally in 1952. He’s a three-time European rally champion.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.