Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
This week we’ll be covering developments over the past few weeks which have seen a continued high level of diplomatic activity involving Poland concerning the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, including a visit to Warszawa by President Zelensky. There have also been some significant internal political developments most prominent among which has been the replacement of the country’s Agriculture Minister in the face of protests by farmers over low grain prices and a subsequent temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports and even transit through Poland.
The main developments over the past fortnight have included:
• the Polish government moves decisively to resolve the issue of low-cost Ukrainian grain imports after farmer protests bring about the exit of Henryk Kowalczyk as Agriculture Minister
• Eurostat reports that as of the end of February 989,000 Ukrainian nationals had been granted temporary protection status in Poland
• there’s continuing fallout from the Franciszkańska 3 television program attacking the late Pope Saint John Paul II, and
• tennis star Iga Świątek is named on Time magazine’s 100 most influential people list.
One of the side effects of the war in Ukraine has been an inflow of Ukrainian grain onto the Polish market severely depressing prices for Polish farmers. Demands for compensation for this situation sparked a series of farmer protests in cities across Poland during the second half of March. Agriculture and Rural Development Minister, Henryck Kowalczyk, held talks with the leaders of farmer organisations at the end of March, but on the same day as President Zelensky’s address in front of the Royal Castle in Warszawa on April 5th Kowalczyk suddenly announced his resignation as Agriculture Minister.
Above: New Polish Agriculture and Rural Development Minister Robert Telus.
Even before the crisis over the grain protests Kowalczyk was already perceived to be an unpopular minister among the farming constituency, partly due to not being a farmer himself and also for not been seen to fight hard enough on their behalf. So with a general election pending in the autumn and the party heavily dependent on strong support in rural areas and small towns, it was no great surprise that the top leadership of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość opted to make a change.
Robert Telus Named New Agriculture and Rural Development Minister
The following day a swearing-in ceremony took place at the Presidential Palace for the new Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Robert Telus. He’s a farmer by background and up until now had served as the chairman of the Sejm’s Agriculture committee. However, Henryck Kowalczyk was also present at the ceremony to retake his oath of office as a member of the Council of Ministers, this time solely as a Deputy Prime Minister. In addition to the retention of Kowalczyk as a minister now without departmental responsibilities, the Council of Ministers was further expanded by the appointment of Janusz Cieszyński as Minister of Digitalisation, a role which had up until then been held by Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki himself. At 27 members-strong, Poland now has one of its largest cabinets in recent memory.
The new Agriculture minister wasted no time in promising additional measures, including compensation, to alleviate the plight of the Polish grain farmers. On Saturday Poland announced a ban on the import of Ukrainian grain and other agricultural products to the country, as well as on their transit through Poland, with the ban coming into effect on Saturday night. Hungary later joined in the Polish action. On Sunday the European Commission said that unilateral action on trade by member states is unacceptable. A statement said that ‘We are aware of Poland and Hungary’s announcements regarding the ban on imports of grain and other agricultural products from Ukraine. In this context, it is important to underline that trade policy is of EU exclusive competence and, therefore, unilateral actions are not acceptable. In such challenging times, it is crucial to coordinate and align all decisions within the EU’.
Telus: Grain Ban Necessary To ‘open the eyes of the EU’
Polish government spokesperson Piotr Müller said that his country was in constant contact with the EU Commission over the grain issue and claimed that the ban was allowed under a security clause. Minister Telus said that the ban was necessary to ‘open the eyes of the EU to the fact that further decisions are needed that will allow products from Ukraine to go deep into Europe, and not stay in Poland’. The grain issue arose partly from the war-related difficulties exporting grain through ports on the Black Sea resulting in large quantities of Ukrainian grain, which is cheaper than that produced in the EU, ending up in Poland and other central European states, depressing prices.
Resolution to Grain Imports Issue Announced After Bilateral Talks
On Tuesday following two days of bilateral talks between Poland and Ukraine the Agriculture Minister announced at a press conference that the embargo on the transit of Ukrainian grain and other food products would be lifted on condition that shipments are ‘sealed, escorted and monitored’. He explained that conveys going through Poland would have ‘electronic GPS seals’, be escorted by Polish authorities, and be monitored via the SENT electronic system of transport to ensure that ‘not a tonne’ remains in Poland.
Telus added that ‘We were forced to close the border because the European Union had its eyes closed on large amounts of grain flowing into Poland, but at the same time we continued talks with Ukraine on how to enable transit, but with a guarantee that grain would not be stuck in Poland, and we managed to find a solution’.
Ukrainian First Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Svyrydenko emphasised at the news conference in Warszawa that the underlying cause of the grain issue was Russia’s aggression against her country. She expressed confidence that Ukrainian food exporters would respect the terms of the agreement with Poland. Svyrydenko said that ‘We are very grateful to the Polish nation. We are very grateful precisely for the support and solidarity. Together we’ll win’.
Zelensky Visit Reaffirms Close Relations Between Poland and Ukraine
Prior to the grain row, the general bonhomie in relations between Poland and Ukraine had been more in evidence with an official visit to Poland by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at the beginning of the month.
Shortly after U.S. President Joe Biden’s visit to Poland, it was announced that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky would also visit Poland for talks with government leaders and to thank the Polish government and people for the support they’ve provided, including to Ukrainian refugees in Poland.
Zelensky’s visit included meetings with President Andrzej Duda and Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki. The highlight was an address to a large crowd, including many Ukrainian refugees in Poland, in front of the Royal Castle in Warszawa on Wednesday, April 5th. Poland pledged during the visit to further increase its level of military support to Ukraine.
Eurostat: 989,000 Ukrainians Granted ‘Temporary Protection’ Status in Ukraine
The scale of Poland’s humanitarian response to the war in Ukraine has been shown by new figures from the European Union’s statistics agency Eurostat released on Monday. It reported that Poland as of the end of February has granted temporary protection to 989,080 Ukrainians who’ve fled the country in the aftermath of the Russian invasion. Germany has provided temporary protection to just over 1 million Ukrainians, the highest figures in the EU, according to Eurostat.
The agency also said that in February alone Poland granted 24,905 temporary protection statuses to Ukrainians fleeing the war, just behind Germany with 25,125 cases. Czechia was in third place on 9,775. Eurostat said that temporary protection is the formal procedure used in cases of a mass influx of displaced persons from third countries who are unable to return to their country of origin.
Marchers Condemn TVN and Opposition Over Attack on Saint John Paul II
There is continuing fallout in Poland from the controversial TVN24 documentary Franciszkańska 3 which claimed that Saint Pope John Paul II had failed to take appropriate steps against three priests while he served as Archbishop of Kraków. On Sunday, April 2nd, protestors braved bad weather conditions to march in towns and cities across Poland in defence of the good name of the late Polish pontiff.
The marches were strongly supported by various organisations associated with the Catholic Church in Poland, and also by political figures from the ruling Zjednoczona Prawica bloc. Protestors condemned both the broadcaster TVN for the program itself and also the main opposition parties for not supporting a resolution in the Sejm introduced by the ruling bloc to defend the reputation of John Paul II.
Świątek Named on Time’s 100 ‘Most Influential’ People List
In sports news a year after reaching the top of the WTA rankings Polish tennis star Iga Świątek has been included on Time magazine’s list of the world’s 100 most influential people of the year. The profile of Świątek describes her ‘as an athlete, and more importantly as a human’ who ‘embodies the kind of confidence that everyone should emulate—the confidence of action over mere talk’. The profile added that ‘She has ignited a nation and given the next generation a reason to believe they can also achieve something incredible. She reminds us all that it’s OK to feel disappointment—and it’s also OK to feel proud of ourselves’.
A good note on which to conclude.
That’s all from the Hello Irlandia Weekly News for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.