Poland has this week drawn itself into the current wave of tit-for-tat diplomatic expulsions between the U.S. and its allies and Russia, while expressing strong support for the action of the Czech government over the alleged Russian role in a 2014 ammunition depot explosion in the country. The Constitutional Tribunal has moved to set a time limit on how long the controversial Adam Bodnar can continue effectively as an acting Human Rights Commissioner. Poland has once again commemorated the anniversary of the 1943 Warszawa Ghetto Uprising.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Poland backs new U.S. sanctions on Russia expelling three diplomats with Russia retaliating in kind
• Morawiecki hints at a wider reopening of the Polish economy at the end of May or early June, as there is some easing of restrictions in eleven provinces
• Constitutional Tribunal ruling means Adam Bodnar cannot continue beyond another three months as Human Rights Commissioner, and
• Poland marks the 78th anniversary of the 1943 Warszawa Ghetto Uprising.
Last Thursday Russia’s Ambassador to Poland, Sergei Andreyev, was called to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warszawa to be notified that three employees of the Russian Embassy were being declared ‘personae non gratae’ and expelled from Poland for what was termed ‘detrimental activities’. It was part of Poland’s expression of support with new sanctions imposed on Russia by the Biden Administration last week. Poland said the diplomats were being expelled for ‘the violation of diplomatic status and carrying out activities to the detriment of Poland by the indicated persons’. In a statement on Friday the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it would expel five Polish diplomats from the country in retaliation.
Poland expressed strong support for Saturday’s action by the Czech government in expelling 18 Russian diplomats over the alleged involvement of Russian agents in an October 2014 explosion at a Czech ammunition depot. They were allegedly the same two people accused in the notorious 2018 Novichok nerve agent poising case in Salisbury. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs commented ‘Allied solidarity and immediate reaction – this is what makes us strong. Poland fully supports the Czech Republic’s decision to expel 18 Russian diplomats connected to the 2014 ammunition depot explosion’. Russia responded on Sunday by expelling 20 Czech diplomats.
Meanwhile, Poland is continuing to vocally support Ukraine in the face of the Russian military build-up on its eastern border. During a videoconference meeting of EU foreign ministers on Monday, Poland’s Zbigniew Rau called on the EU to ‘take concrete steps to support Ukraine’ and avoid a ‘further escalation of tension’. He also called for the preparation of ‘possible response scenarios should Russia decide to escalate’.
On Monday the very limited relaxation in some Covid-19 restrictions announced last week came into effect with playschools once again open to all children, not just to those of essential service personnel, and outdoor sports facilities reopening. A staged easing of restrictions is anticipated over the coming weeks. The recent stabilisation and indeed overall downward trajectory in reported Covid-19 cases in Poland has continued over the past week. On Wednesday officials reported 13,926 new cases and 740 deaths, at least partially attributed to Covid-19. Wednesday’s figures brought the total number of reported Covid-19 cases in Poland to 2.72m with 63,473 deaths.
Poland is continuing its aggressive vaccination strategy with the opening on Monday of a pilot network of 16 mass public vaccination centres throughout the country, one in each province. The plan is that ultimately around 600 such facilities will be brought into operation, in addition to the existing 6,700 vaccination sites. As of Wednesday, Poland reported that a total of 9.21m people had received a Covid-19 vaccination, of which 6.87m had received one dose and another 2.34m are fully vaccinated either with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or two doses of another vaccine.
Speaking in Gdańsk last Friday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said that it was ‘highly likely’ that Poland will develop what is termed as ‘herd immunity’ to Covid-19 by the end of June. He said that ‘Today we stand a chance to defeat the pandemic, but first we all should want to get vaccinated’. Morawiecki announced that by May 10th all adult Poles who want one will be able to schedule an appointment for vaccination. On Tuesday cabinet minister, Michał Dworczyk, announced the detailed timetable. From April 26th those born in 1974 and 1975 will be allowed to register and each subsequent day until May 9th people born from 1976 to 2003 will be allowed to register on a staggered basis.
Morawiecki also told Monday’s press conference that Poland may within the next two months be able to reopen large parts of its economy that remain closed or severely restricted. He said that ‘We are getting closer to the turning point’ adding that this ‘may in the coming weeks lead to a situation in which, at the turn of May and June, it will be possible to unfreeze a significant part of the economy’. On Wednesday Health Minister Adam Niedzielski announced a further modest easing of restrictions in 11 provinces with fewer Covid-19 cases from next week. Beauty parlours and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen and a system combining online and on-site schooling for younger pupils will be introduced.
Last Thursday Poland’s controversial Human Rights Commissioner, Adam Bodnar, had his continued tenure in the post likely truncated by a Constitutional Tribunal ruling that a provision allowing the Commissioner to remain in office after the end of his term pending the appointment of a successor is unconstitutional. Bodnar’s term officially expired on September 9th last year. A successor to Bodnar has yet to be approved by the Polish parliament. Announcing the unanimous ruling Judge Julia Przyłębska, the President of the Constitutional Tribunal, said the provision would cease to have legal effect three months after the ruling is published in the Journal of Laws.
On Tuesday President Duda signed into law a new measure giving increased pension rights to former government opponents during the Communist era or those who were victims of the repression. They will be entitled to state pension or disability payouts of 2,400 złotych per month. Duda commented that ‘It is thanks to their hard effort, their suffering, their struggle, and of course that of their loved ones, that we can enjoy freedom today’.
The latest monthly CBOS political opinion poll has repeated the recent pattern of support for the ruling bloc having fallen to the low 30% range. It gives Prawo i Sprawiedliwość with their coalition allies 32%, followed by Szymon Hołownia’s Polska 2050 movement on 16% still ahead of the Koalicja Obywatelska bloc, primarily Platforma Obywatelska, the main opposition party currently in parliament, on 14%. However, the Civic Coalition is up 3% compared to last month. Amid continuing speculation about even the medium, let alone the long-term future of the Zjednoczona Prawica ruling bloc, especially the continuation in it of Porozumienie, the poll can be viewed as mixed news for the government. While their support has clearly been significantly dented in recent months, so long as the main opposition centrist vote is almost equally divided between Koalicja Obywatelska and Polska 2050 they would still be well positioned in the event of an early general election.
Above: Memorial to Warszawa Ghetto Uprising (Photo: “memorial Warsaw Ghetto Uprising” by seven_resist is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Last Monday, April 19th, marked the 78th anniversary of the 1943 Warszawa Ghetto Uprising in which the Jewish community, who had been herded into a ghetto in central Warszawa, rose-up against their Nazi German oppressors. Commemorative events were muted due to the current restrictions but as in previous years sirens wailed throughout the capital to mark the start of the ill-fated uprising. President Andrzej Duda wrote on Twitter ‘They chose to fight. They chose bravery. Praise and glory to the heroes’. The President took part in a ceremony honouring the uprising fighters in central Warszawa.
The uprising, in which an estimated 13,000 fighters died, lasted until May 16th in what was the first major uprising in Nazi-occupied Europe, as well as being the largest act of armed resistance by Jews during the Second World War.
That’s all for this week.