Poland is in the midst of what is intended to be a three-week national lockdown involving the cessation of economic and social activity which the government deems ‘non-essential’. It follows a continuing rise in reported Covid-19 cases despite many severe measures already introduced included regional lockdowns in four of the country’s sixteen provinces. Critics might well term it doubling-down on failure. Meanwhile the trading of allegations over responsibility for the Smolensk air crash has once again flared up with the airing on national broadcaster TVP of new claims about the initial investigation. Also, two major public figures – one each associated with the government and opposition, have faced allegations of serious wrong-doing – which they deny.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Poland’s regional lockdowns go nationwide from last Saturday and is due to run until April 9th, with much non-essential activity halted
• Reported total Covid-19 cases go over the 2 million milestone with a record daily case figure of nearly 30,000 on Wednesday
• Senate Marshal Tomasz Grodzki and PKN Orlen President Daniel Obajtek both deny claims of past wrongdoing, and
• TVP airs fresh claims of an inadequate initial Polish investigation into the 2010 Smolensk air crash by the then Donald Tusk-led government.
As of last Saturday Poland has entered three weeks of near-total national lockdown effectively involving the extension of measures already in force in four Voivodships nationwide, which is due to run until April 9th. Hotels have been closed with some exceptions for the facilitation of certain types of travel, as have cinemas, theatres, museums, art galleries and sports facilities including swimming pools. Curbs have been imposed on shopping malls involving the closure of non-essential shops. Distance learning has been resumed for classes 1 to 3 of primary school which had previously returned to in-person schooling.
Making the announcement Health Minister Adam Niedzielski warned that ‘If this move does not put an end to the epidemic, or at least slow the third wave, then the next steps will be a typical lockdown, a situation where we will completely close everything’. The decision was announced by the government on Wednesday of last week in response to the escalating number of Covid-19 cases. The following day Poland reported 27,278 new cases which at that time was been the highest daily total since last November. Niedzielski said on Sunday that that the so-called British variant now accounts for 80% of Covid-19 cases in Poland. The government is expected to imminently announce further restrictions potentially impacting Easter family and religious celebrations, traditionally regarded as very important in Poland.
On Wednesday Poland reported 29,978 new Covid-19 cases which represents the highest figure to date surpassing the previous peak of 27,875 on November 7th last year. The reported death toll of 575 was the highest this year. Of the 575 reported deaths 460 were of people with pre-existing medical conditions. Officials had reported 16,741 cases on Tuesday and 14,578 on Monday. Wednesday’s figures brought the total number of cases reported in Poland since the outbreak began to 2.12m and the number of reported deaths at least partially attributed to Covid-19 to 50,340.
The latest figures announced on Wednesday show that to date 5.19m Covid-19 vaccines have been administered. This figure is comprised of 3.39 million people who’ve received one dose and 1.81m whose received two shots. Since Tuesday those aged 60 to 64 years old are now eligible to sign-up for Covid-19 vaccination. Last weekend Michał Dworczyk, the cabinet minister in charge of the vaccination campaign, said that ‘people who do not report for the AstraZeneca jab or do not sign up will drop to the end of the queue’. Last Thursday the European Medicines Agency reaffirmed its support for the vaccine. The government maintains that public confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine is returning following the recent suspension of its use by a number of European countries, and following earlier reports of a high proportion of no-shows for the AstraZeneca vaccine, whose use Poland didn’t suspend.
In the face of the rise in the number of Covid-19 cases and the decision to introduce further restrictions, the ruling Prawo i Sprawiedliwość party decided to postpone the launch of their future economic and social development strategy known as Polski Nowy Ład or ‘Polish New Deal’ which had been due to take place last Saturday. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told reporters that ‘Today there is no matter more important than allocating 100% of everyone’s time, especially of those in government, to saving lives’. A party spokesperson, Anita Czerwińska, said a new date for the launch would be disclosed at a later stage.
A leading opposition political figure in Poland Tomasz Grodzki of Platforma Obywatelska, the Marshall of the Senate, is facing potential criminal prosecution with the completion of an investigation into allegations against him. Claims that he had alleged accepted bribes surfaced shortly after he became Marshal following the ruling bloc’s loss of their Upper House majority in the 2019 general election.
Above: Marshal of the Senate Tomasz Grodzki (left) and PKN Orlen President Daniel Obajtek (right).
(Photo of Grodzi “Marszałek Grodzki z wizytą w Rydze na Sesji Zgromadzenia Bałtyckiego i Rady Bałtyckiej” by Kancelaria Senatu is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 and photo of Obajtek “File:Daniel Obajtek.JPG” by PetroNews is licensed under CC BY 3.0)
The claims relate to his time as a medical professor and head of the thoracic surgery department. Prosecutors are now proposing to charge him. However, if he does not voluntarily agree to the lifting of his immunity from prosecution the case will likely be delayed for years, potentially until after the next elections scheduled for 2023; a majority vote of the Senate would be required to lift Grodzki’s immunity from prosecution and the chamber is opposition-controlled. They’re likely to argue that that actions of the prosecutor’s office are politically motivated. Grodzki, who denies any wrongdoing, hasn’t said if he’ll voluntary face the charges but hinted that he won’t saying ‘The honour, decency and reputation that we have built together in the Senate of the Republic obliges me to work in the Senate to achieve final victory over the authoritarian rule of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość’.
The leading Polish business and political figure, Daniel Objatek, president of the state-owned oil giant PKN Orlen has launched legal proceedings against the liberal-leaning newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza over its publication of an article alleging that political interference by Prawo i Sprawiedliwość figures led to the discontinuation of a criminal case in which he was the alleged recipient of a bribe while he was mayor of Pcim. Objatek is viewed as a particular favourite of PiS Chairman, Jarosław Kaczyński.
The internal power struggle within the ranks of Porozumienie is continuing with the leading figure of the faction opposed to Deputy Prime Miniser, Jarosław Gowin, the MEP Adam Bielan denying that he’s planning to form a breakaway party. He said he and his supporters are awaiting a District Court ruling on their application for a declaration that Gowin’s term of office as party leader has expired. Bielan said that ‘We do not assume that the court’s decision will not be in our favour, because the law is on our side’. However, on Wednesday Rzeczpospolita reports that individuals associated with Bielan have already registered a new grouping known as the Republican Party.
Last week Poland got a new combined political party to be known as Nowa Lewica, or New Left, comprising the former Democratic Left Alliance, and the Wiosna party founded in 2019 by Robert Biedroń. It followed a somewhat protracted merger process.
In a case which has drawn wide attention, on Tuesday an Appeals court in Kraków ruled the producer and broadcaster of the drama series Our Mothers, Our Fathers accused of depicting Polish Second World War resistance fighters as anti-Semitic must apologise. It upheld a lower court ruling that UFA Fiction and German public television ZDF should apologise on German and Polish television, saying that the depiction had breached the personal rights of members of and association of former members of the Armia Krajowa (AK). Counsel for the producers and ZDF had argued that the makers of the series had exercised artistic license to create a feature film which was not intended to be a historical documentary.
The tragic story of the 2010 Smolensk air crash in which then President Lech Kaczyński and 95 other people died is never long out of the news in Poland. This week state broadcaster TVP aired claims that the government of then Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, didn’t sufficiently resource the initial investigation allowing the Russian authorities to gain a head start. The TVP program Magazyn Śledczy or ‘Investigative Magazine’ fronted by the journalist Anita Gargas, who has conducted extensive research into the Smolensk tragedy, disclosed a previously unknown recording of a meeting which included Tusk and the lead Polish investigator dispatched to Smolensk in the wake of the crash, Edmund Klick. The meeting took place on April 23rd, 2010, thirteen days after the crash. The program maintained that the recording showed the negligence of the then Platforma Obywatelska-led government in that the Polish investigative team was inadequately resourced and the government didn’t seek a more extensive role in the initial investigation, thus allowing the Russian side an advantage.
Whenever we’re looking for some positive news on which to finish we can always count on Polish soccer ace Robert Lewandowski. On Monday he received a Polish state award, the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta, from President Andrea Duda at the Presidential Palace in Warszawa. Presidential spokesperson Błażej Spychalski said it was in recognition of his ‘outstanding sporting achievements and for promoting Poland in the international arena’. In presenting the award Duda thanked Lewandowski for representing Poland ‘in an extraordinary way’ and for ‘always emphasising’ that he is Polish saying ‘you represent us all – you are helping raise Poland’s profile worldwide’.
That’s all for this week.