This week we’ve had the spectacle of a government minister threatening a reversal of the modest recent easing of the Covid-19 restrictions, on the pretext of a rise in the number of ‘cases’ and also much condemnation of allegedly ‘irresponsible’ behaviour in Zakopane at the weekend; it might perhaps be expected that creating pent-up frustrations among the population would end-up finding some outlet. We’ve also seen a continuation of the internal power struggle within Porozumienie, casting into further doubt the long-term survival of the current government, as well as the death of a leading academic and opposition political activist during the Communist era.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
· New government warnings of a potential roll-back on the easing of Covid-19 restrictions amid a rise in case numbers
· Vaccination campaign continues with the number of vaccines administered passing the 2 million mark
· In-fighting within Porozumienie leads to fears for the stability of the Zjednoczona Prawica ruling bloc, and
· Zdzisław Najder, a former head of the Polish section of Radio Free Europe, who was once sentenced to death in his homeland, has died.
Last Friday a further relaxation of Covid-19 related restrictions involving the opening of hotels, outdoor sporting facilities, and entertainment venues had come into force. However, on Monday Health Minister Adam Niedzielski warned that the number of new cases was now once again on an upward trajectory. On Monday Poland reported 2,543 new cases, still relatively low compared to previous peaks (the highest daily figure to date was 27,875 back on November 7th) and relative to the country’s population, but Niedzielski said that ‘there is a trend that has not occurred for many, many weeks, because up to now we have mainly been seeing a reduction in the daily number of infections’. On Tuesday 5,178 new cases were reported and on Wednesday the figure was 8,694.
Officials condemned what they termed ‘irresponsible’ behaviour on the part of some individuals after the restrictions were eased. There were rowdy scenes in the mountain resort town of Zakopane in southern Poland over the weekend which cabinet minister Michał Dworczyk termed ‘absolutely irresponsible’ adding that ‘restrictions have been lifted for a period of two weeks and if the situation worsens, they may come back’. Large crowds gathered in the popular resort after hotels and ski slopes were allowed to reopen and on Saturday night police were called to dozens of public order incidents.
Above: A view of Zakopane with the Tatra mountains in the background. (Photo: “Tatry — Zakopane” by ipernity.com/doc/d-f [hat Suckr verlassen] is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Poland is pressing ahead apace with it’s national vaccination campaign. Officials said on Wednesday that up until then a total of just over 2.23m vaccine doses had been administered. This comprised over 1.5 million first doses and a further 690,000 people who’ve received a second shot. As of Wednesday the total number of reported Covid-19 cases since the outbreak began was put at 1.61m with 41,308 deaths being attributed to the virus, although the vast majority were already suffering from serious underlying health conditions.
Last week we extensively covered the internal power struggle within the ranks of Porozumienie, one of the two smaller parties, along with the dominant Prawo i Sprawiedliwość, making-up the ruling Zjednoczona Prawica bloc, between Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin and MEP Adam Bielan, whose regarded as close to the leadership of Prawo i Sprawiedliwość. This week there has been considerable speculation that Gowin may be about to lead his centrist and economically liberal party out of the governing coalition, or is at least looking for an excuse to do so, possibly endangering the parliamentary majority of the Mateusz Morawiecki-led government. It’s thought, however, that in such a situation a significant portion the party’s seventeen Sejm members would remain with the Zjednoczona Prawica.
It was reported on Wednesday by the news website Onet.pl that PiS President Jarosław Kaczyński has refused to agree to a request from Gowin to dismiss three Porozumienie members of the government, who he wants removed from their ministerial posts for siding against him in the power struggle within the party. Such a request in any event could only be actioned by Prime Minister Morawiecki. Over the weekend the party’s internal court removed eight activists aligned with Bielan from Porozumienie.
Above: Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin. (Photo: ‘Jarolsław Gowin’ by DrabikPany is licensed under CC BY 2.0)
On Wednesday Wawel Castle in Kraków hosted a special summit meeting of the prime ministers of the Visegrád Group, along with the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, to mark the 30th anniversary of the four-nation regional cooperation body. This week’s gathering of heads of government follows last week’s two-day summit of the presidents of the four countries held in Jurata on the Hel Peninsula. In a joint project with the postal services in the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia, Poczta Polska has issued a special stamp to mark the anniversary.
On Monday the death was announced of Zdzisław Najder, a prominent Polish literary historian best known for his studies on the writer Joseph Conrad, and who served as head of the Polish section of Radio Free Europe from 1982 to 1987. Having decided not to return to Poland having been abroad as a visiting scholar at Oxford University when martial law was declared in December 1981, he became chief of the Polish Broadcasting Section of Radio Free Europe, based in Germany, in April 1982. As a result, he was sentenced to death in absentia by the Warszawa Military District Court as a U.S. spy the following year and subsequently stripped of his Polish citizenship. Under his stewardship Radio Free Europe was sharply critical of the Communist regime in Poland. The death sentence was lifted after the fall of Communism.
In subsequent years he faced claims he had collaborated with the secret police, something which he denied had taken place in the sense of meaningful or willing cooperation as opposed to contacts which many individuals were forced to have. In 1992 he was at the centre of a major political controversy when it was claimed that a former SB agent with the codename ‘Zapalniczka’ (cigarette lighter in English) was within the entourage of Prime Minister Olszewski, himself a noted and principled opponent of the former regime, with the implication being that this person was Najder. In an article in Rzeczpospolita in 2005 it was claimed that the historical documentation did not support the version of events given by Najder in 1992. His death at the age of 90 was announced by his son, Krzysztof, who in a tribute described him as ‘The most famous conradologist in the world, university professor, former director of Radio Free Europe, sentenced to death by the communist authorities. An outstanding man, but also controversial and full of contradictions’.
In another case of friction within the ruling bloc, on Wednesday Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin, who also serves as Minister of Development, Labor and Technology, said at a press conference that he expects the Finance Ministry to withdraw or radically amend the controversial proposed new tax on media advertising. The proposed tax has worried the media industry in Poland and led on Wednesday of last week to many popular news sites in Poland being symbolically blacked-out in a protest against the tax. Gowin promised that he would be holding consultations with the e-commerce industry and advertising agencies in the coming days and said that he hoped that his ministry’s position on the tax would be clear ‘within a dozen or so days at the latest’.
In a preliminary estimate published on Monday the Główny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) or Central Statistical Office said that the annual rate of inflation stood at 2.7% in January. GUS said that compared to the previous month prices had increased by 1.2%. The annual rate of inflation was 2.4% in December. In it’s 2021 budget the government targeted an inflation rate of just 1.8%. On Wednesday GUS reported that average employment in Polish firms was 2% lower in January in year-on-year terms.
Eurostat has reported that industrial production in Poland rose by an impressive 6.1% in December compared to December 2019 making it the second fastest rate of increase in the EU exceeded only by Slovakia at 6.8%. By contrast Belgium reported a 4.6% year-on-year decline and there was a 0.4% fall in the EU as a whole.
The Polish government is planning to change the law on ID cards so that in future they’ll contain fingerprints and a signature in what’s being said is a move to reduce the risk of forgery and to comply with EU standards. The new identify cards will be valid for ten years while those issued to children under the age of twelve will be valid for five years.
In sports news Polish tennis star Iga Świątek, winner of last years French Open women’s singles, was on Sunday eliminated in the fourth round of the Australian Open, losing out to Romania’s Simona Halep 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Świątek is currently ranked 17th in the world by the Women’s Tennis Association. On Tuesday Świątek, along with her doubles partner, Łukasz Kubot, was knocked out of the mixed doubles, ending Polish involvement in the Grand Slam tennis tournament.
That’s all for this week.