Weekly Round-Up of Polish News Developments
Not quite all parliamentarians from the ruling Zjednoczona Prawica bloc are in support of the Polish government’s aggressive stance on Covid-19 vaccination. This week Anna Maria Siarkowska, who had earlier criticised the lockdowns imposed in Poland, extended her support to a new movement set-up to campaign against sanitary segregation and any moves to discriminate against people based on their Covid-19 vaccination status.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
• Prawo i Sprawiedliwość Sejm member Anna Maria Siarkowska is part of new Polska Jest Jedna movement opposed to any mandatory vaccination requirements
• the state of emergency on Poland’s eastern border with Belarus is to be extended for a further 60 days in the face of record numbers of attempted illegal border crossings
• bilateral efforts continue aimed at resolving the dispute with the Czech Republic over the Turów lignite mine as Poland faces a €500,000 euro a day European Court of Justice (ECJ) fine, and
• a regional court in Szczecin imposes a 25-year prison sentence in a case of murder and alleged cannibalism.
As the Polish government continues to emphasise the importance of vaccination against Covid-19 a new movement opposed to any mandatory vaccination requirements called Polska Jest Jedna (‘One Poland’ in English) was launched last Sunday, and lists among its supporters a Sejm member, Anna Maria Siarkowska, who’s part of the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość parliamentary caucus. The movement was launched in the town of Siemianowice Śląskie. The town’s Mayor, Rafał Piech, is another of the movement’s founders and he commented that ‘We are here to fight for freedom, for our rights, and for our dignity, to fight against sanitary segregation’.
The group issued a video message, which included Siarkowska, in which they called on President Andrzej Duda to ‘veto all legal acts that violate civil rights and freedoms’. The chairman of the Prawo i Sprawiedliwość parliamentary caucus, Ryszard Terlecki, said last week that parliamentarians who openly oppose the government’s vaccination policy could be dropped from the ruling bloc’s electoral list for the next election. Siarkowska has a long track record of taking an independent stance which has often found her at odds with the leadership of the ruling bloc.
60 Day State of Emergency Extension ‘Justified at This Moment in Time’
On Tuesday President Andrzej Duda said that he would ask parliament to approve a request by the government to extend the state of emergency in force in parts of two provinces that border Belarus due to the continuing migrant crisis, including attempts at illegal crossings of the border into Poland. The cabinet had earlier asked the President to extend the special measures in force since September 3rd by a month. After meeting with top security officials including the Interior and Defence ministers Duda told a press conference that an extension of 60 days was ‘justified at this moment in time’. He added that ‘Sadly the pressure on the frontier is mounting, with a record 354 illegal attempts to cross the border today alone’ and that the state of emergency means ‘that our officials and troops are able to carry out their tasks effectively’.
Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania have long accused the Alexander Lukashenko regime in Belarus of deliberately sending illegal migrants, many of them from conflict-torn Syria and Afghanistan, across the EU common border in retaliation for EU sanctions imposed on Minsk – something the Polish government has termed a ‘hybrid war’. On Monday a spokesperson for Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński claimed that approximately one in ten illegal immigrants apprehended by the Polish authorities on the border with Belarus ‘have possible links to terrorist groups or organised crime’. Kamiński himself also claimed that ‘uniformed Belarusian officials have staged provocative incidents and there have been mass attempts to disrupt the integrity of our border’.
Przydacz: ‘No Legal Basis’ for Freezing Recovery Funding for Poland
Relations between the Polish government and the European Union institutions have gone from bad to worse in recent weeks with the Polish government responding angrily to the daily fine being levied by the European Court of Justice over the Turów lignite mine case and suggestions that funding for Poland under the EU’s economic recovery fund could be blocked.
There’s also a view among many political commentators that the outcome of Sunday’s general election in Germany, which looks likely to lead to a new government led by the centre-left SPD, will only add to Poland’s difficulties.
On Wednesday, Marcin Przydacz, undersecretary of state in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told Polish Radio that the European Union institutions have not ‘voiced any policy objections’ to the country’s National Recovery Plan ‘and so there is no legal basis for freezing anything’. Przydacz added that if funding was suspended ‘it would mean the EU does not fully abide by the rule of law, because political criteria decide which member state is entitled to participate in a given policy’.
The EU has still to formally approve the Polish plan and there have been suggestions that funding could be dependant on Warszawa accepting the primacy of EU law and other conditions. On Tuesday government spokesman Piotr Müller said he hoped the National Recovery Plan, under which Poland stands to receive €57 billion in funding, would be approved ‘very soon’
Poland Still Aiming for Bilateral Deal with Czech Republic Over Turów
Since last week’s European Court of Justice ruling that Poland must pay a daily fine of €500,000 to the European Commission for defying a court order to halt operations at the Turów lignite mine pending a final adjudication in the case brought against Poland by the Czech Republic over alleged environmental damage caused by the mine, there have been further bilateral discussions between the two governments. Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński hinted at a political motivation on the Czech side as to why agreement hadn’t been reached earlier commenting that ‘I am aware that in a situation when parliamentary elections are approaching in the country it may be tempting from a political point of view to delay some matters’.
The court ruling has once again sparked outrage in Poland. Last Friday, the head of the Solidarity trade union, Piotr Duda, said they would mount a protest on October 22nd outside the ECJ building in Luxembourg. He commented that ‘Now, as trade unionists, not just Solidarity, we must take hard measures because the soft ones have run out’. Prime Minister Morawiecki described the daily fine ruling as ‘absolutely out of proportion’ and said that ‘We cannot allow the health and lives of the Polish people to be put in danger by a verdict like this’. The Polish side has stressed that it wants to come to an amicable settlement of the dispute with the Czech authorities.
25 Year Sentence In Alleged Murder and Cannibalism Case
Poland has this week had its first court verdict in a case of alleged murder and cannibalism since the end of the Second World War. On Monday a regional court in Szczecin convicted the chief suspect in the case, identified as Robert M., and imposed a 25-year prison sentence, albeit both the conviction and sentence are subject to appeal. Robert M. was the main accused in the case where a group of five were alleged to have been involved in the death of a man near Lake Osiek in 2002. One of the group, known as Zbigniew B., claimed to have been the actual killer, had died in 2017.
The three other defendants accused of ‘desecrating the victim’s corpse’ escaped punishment as the statute of limitations for the offence they were charged with had expired. Robert M. was found guilty of ‘masterminding the perpetration of a forbidden act’, namely the killing of the victim. His lawyer said afterwards that she would lodge an appeal against the 25-year sentence.
President Andrzej Duda last week undertook a four-day visit to the United States which included a speech to the U.N. General Assembly in New York, meetings with Polish community groups and a Fox News interview with Tucker Carlson in which he spoke about what he claimed are Poland’s pro-family policies.
On Tuesday the government formally approved the 2022 budget which is based on a forecast 4.6% growth rate with inflation forecast at 3.3%. The budget envisages a deficit of 30.9 billion złotych or around €6.7 billion with a general government deficit equivalent to 2.8% of GDP. Finance Minister Tadeusz Kościński commented that ‘The Polish economy is in good shape, but this is not yet the time for fiscal consolidation’.
Last Thursday Głowny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS), Statistics Poland in English, reported that unemployment in Poland remained unchanged in August at 5.8%. A total of 961,000 people were without work at the end of the month.
The good news story for Polish women’s tennis continues. On Monday the latest WTA rankings were released and Iga Świątek moved up two places to another career high of world number four. Last week the 20-year-old Pole reached the semi-finals of the Ostrava Open in the Czech Republic before losing out to Greece’s Maria Sakkari on a 6-4, 7-5 scoreline.
That’s all for this week.
William Murphy writes for Hello Irlandia on political and general news.