What Happened Recently in Poland

Juan Gris: Still Life with Newspaper (1916) // Public domain

Dead River

Hundreds of tones of dead fish have recovered from the Oder river. First dead fish were spotted already in late July. In early August, some anglers and local politicians from Lower Silesia alarmed regional authorities. There was no reaction. The mass die-off was detected when locals came across thousands of fish corpses near the village of Widuchowa on 11 August.

Environmentalists fear that the mass die-off will wreak havoc on the entire ecosystem of the river. The Lower Oder Valley has some of the greatest species diversity in Poland. It is home not only to forty fish species, e.g., perch, walleye, pike, catfish, bream or roach, but also to numerous bird species. The ecosystem will probably need years to regenerate.

Poland’s government is offering PLN 1 million (ca.  EUR 210.000) to anyone with information what or who caused the disaster in the river. “Probably enormous quantities of chemical waste was dumped into the river in full knowledge of the risk and consequences,” prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki said. The main suspects became mines in Silesia and big factories, in particular a paper mill. But laboratories did not confirm that.

“None of the samples tested so far has shown the presence of toxic substances,” minister Anna Moskwa said.

Polish scientists said tests found only elevated salt levels. And salt could encouraged golden algae – found in the river – to flourish. The toxins, including ichthyotoxin, algae emitted could kill the fish. The rotting corpses then further reduced the water quality…

Golden algae is the explanations used most frequently by PiS politicians as it suggests a natural cause of the disaster, something that the authorities are not responsible for. However, the key questions are: Why golden algae flourished in the river and where does the salt come from? The truth is that despite weeks of investigation, experts from both Poland and Germany have been unable to establish exactly what is to blame. Sadly, investigators have discovered nearly 300 unregistered outflow pipes and are investigating nearly 60 of them in connection to the fish deaths.

Local authorities have warned residents, along with their pets and livestock, not to touch the river water. It has harmed regional tourism, as swimming and canoeing are now forbidden. It is suspected that nobody will be willing to buy fish from local fishermen for a long time. The government has prepared financial aid to some of the economic victims of the disaster, but it is commented as insufficient by the opposition and local entrepreneurs.

The government is under heavy criticism for failing to take prompt action. So far, the only political victims of the scandal are the CEO of Polish Waters, the state-owned company in charge of water management, Przemysław Daca and the head of the Environmental Protection Inspectorate Michał Mistrzak. The latter one was actually the only person from the authorities who took some action before 11 August. The opposition demands resignation of minister Moskwa. ‘Marches of mourning’ have been held in the biggest Polish cities to underline that what is happening now in the Oder is a consequence of years of neglect of the environment in Poland.

As the Oder is a natural state border, the catastrophe became another reason to exchange punches between Poland and Germany. German officials have accused Polish governments of failing to inform them about the situation, and were taken by surprise when the disaster reached their land. German environment minister Steffi Lemke said the disaster had killed an estimated 36 tons of fish tallied in Germany alone.

The lack of communication from Poland was slammed by Till Backhaus, the environment minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. Polish officials oddly – as the disaster started in the Polish part of the river – suggested that it could be caused by Germany and that German authorities equip Polish opposition with false information about the causes of the disaster, like the one about mercury found in water (it turned out to be a misinterpretation).

The European Commission welcomed the establishment of a joint German-Polish task team and said it was prepared to send its own experts to work with the group. “In future, we must improve the early detection of pollution and take coordinated measures in the event of cross-border incidents,” said EU Environment Commissioner Virginius Sinkevičius


HiT Happens

A textbook for a new school subject introduced by the PiS government has caused a wave of criticism and announcements of lawsuits. The book in question is ‘History and the Present’ (Historia i Teraźniejszość; HiT) by Wojciech Roszkowski. Roszkowski is a 75-year-old history professor and former MEP. It focuses on the criticism of modern social changes, in particular in areas of reproductive rights and civil liberties.

The most controversial passage talks about IVF. It reads:

“Increasingly sophisticated methods of separating sex from love and fertility lead to the treatment of sex as entertainment and fertility as human production, one could say breeding. This raises a fundamental question: who will love the children thus produced?”

Even if the term ‘IVF’ does not appears in the book, author’s views about modern fertilization techniques are known. Some years ago, he commented that “the effects of this in vitro ideology have not yet been completely revealed, but I think they will be nightmarish.”

This part of the book was reproached by the opposition and experts.

“There is no limit to villainy for them. There is no line for them they will not cross”, Donald Tusk commented. “[Education minister Przemysław] Czarnek has come up with such a textbook to teach our children about history and the present. There are all sorts of very strange, sometimes terrible theses in there. Today I discovered a tiny chapter on in vitro babies. In this textbook, Czarnek and his associates included such words that children from in vitro, this is human breeding”, said Tusk.

A group of parents launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance a lawyer to sue the education ministry. Minister Czarnek, known for his ultra-conservative views, said that there is nothing about IVF in the book, and that he is not responsible for the book. However, after a lot of public pressure, he admitted that the controversial sentence would be removed. The publishing house said that that it disagreed with the criticism and the “wrong interpretation” of the paragraph but that “taking into account the social good (…) we decided with the author to remove the controversial fragment from the textbook.”

But there is more flavor in the book. In general, it is railing against the perceived threat of Marxism-Leninism. It explains that Nazism was a left-wing movement, as Nazis “based their views on social Darwinism and racism, which were never accepted by the right” and their “methods of political struggle, which went to the point of mass murder, had their origins in utopian concepts of socialists and communists.”

Opposition MPs call the book an ‘intellectual violation’ of students. Katarzyna Lubnauer, MP from the liberal Nowoczesna party, commented that a textbook “should educate and not be an object of ideological indoctrination of young people.” Many school principals and local governments said that they wouldn’t be using the textbook at all.

Right now it is the only textbook for history and the presence subject, two others have not received the approval of the ministry. Luckily, teachers are not obliged to use any textbooks at all; they can use different materials and tools, including these prepared by civil society organizations.

Mysterious Death of Arm Dealer

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki has appointed Col. Bartosz Jarmuszkiewicz for the position of the Head of the Foreign Intelligence Agency. Jarmuszkiewicz had earlier been approved by the president, the Council for Special Services at the Chancellery of the Prime Minister and the Special Services Committee of the Sejm.

His predecessor Piotr Krawczyk handed in his resignation a week before due to “personal reasons”. But the opposition and commentators have no doubts that Krawczyk had been forced to leave after the scandal around the Andrzej Izdebski.

Andrzej Izdebski, a notorious arm dealer involved in a scandal-tainted procurement of medical ventilators in Poland, has died unexpectedly in Albania. Izdebski, during the Communist era in Poland, had worked for the secret police. Later, he claimed to smuggle rifles and ammunition into Croatia despite an arms embargo in the 1990s, and have sold dietary supplements to North Korea.

Moreover, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Izdebski won a contract to deliver ventilators to Polish hospitals. He was obliged to equip the hospitals with over 1.200 ventilators but he delivered only 20% of them. And, according to the press, they are all in a storage, not in hospitals. He received EUR 35 million of advance from the health ministry.

A court granted a health ministry request to order Izdebski to repay EUR 12 million of the advance as well as ca. EUR 3,6 million in fines. The scandal with the arms dealer and non-existing ventilators greatly angered Polish public opinion in 2020 and cause, among others, a resignation of a deputy health minister.

In August this year, Izdebski suddenly died in Tirana. According to the media, his body was immediately cremated and no post-mortem examination was possible (including the one to prove his identity). The problem is that there is no crematorium in Albania. Albanian police said that they were not aware of Izdebski’s past and his death was due to suspicious circumstances.

According to the polish opposition, the situation proves incompetence of state authorities and shows how vulnerable Polish citizens are in the time of war in Europe. The government could not afford prolonged publish discussions about special services and forced rapid replacement of the leadership of one of the agencies.


No Fertilizers, No Beer

Grupa Azoty, Poland’s biggest chemicals company, halted production of nitrogen fertilizers and trimmed output of ammonia because of record gas prices. “The current situation on the natural gas market that determines profitability of production is exceptional”, Grupa Azoty said in a statement. Anwil SA, a petrochemical unit of PKN Orlen, also halted fertilizer output citing unfavorable prices.

Grupa Azoty describes itself as the second-biggest producer of mineral fertilizers in the European Union. The group is among the largest buyers of natural gas in Poland, consuming more than 20 gigawatt hours of the fuel every year. The Puławy plant, that belongs to Grupa Azoty, is Poland’s largest single gas consumer with an annual demand of about 1.1bn m³/yr.

Grupa Azoty will reduce its ammonia production to just 10% of capacity and will continue to produce a limited number of products including AdBlue as well as humic acid, condensed nitric acid and catalysts. While production is suspended, Azoty will conduct maintenance and modernisation works.

Agriculture minister Henryk Kowalczyk said that Grupa Azoty has enough inventory to provide fertilizers for the autumn sowing season. However, the prices of fertilizers are a huge concern of Polish farmers as they have increased already and are about to raise. Such scenario will increase inflation, which is record high already. The government has announced that Grupa Azoty will soon produce fertilizers again.

Extremely high prices of natural gas created also difficulties for other sectors of Polish economy, including meat industry and beer production. Carlsberg announced it may need to “significantly reduce” or halt beer production in Poland due to a shortage of liquid CO2.

Records on Tracks

PKP Intercity, the main long-distance train carrier in Poland, announced that it broke its record. In July it served 6,5 million passengers, that is 34% more than in the same period before the first COVID-19 year. On average, each day in July 209.000 people used one of 436 PKP Intercity trains.

Since the beginning of the year, PKP Intercity sold over 32 million tickets, 15 million more than during the first 7 months of 2021. Popularity of trains in Poland has risen significantly, mostly due to the record high prices of gas. When they reached a psychological threshold of PLN 8, more and more people decided to change a car for a train. Most of the trains operated in the summer between popular destinations were fully booked, and it was hardly possible to book seats in intercity connections, e.g. Warsaw-Cracow.

According to experts, the demand will be still growing but Polish train companies are not able to monetize it, as there have not been enough investments in previous years. In 1990s railroads were neglected and underfinanced (tracks were removed and small stations closed); after the accession to the EU, Polish authorities creatively redirected railroad funds to build highways, and only recently – when the European Commission insisted – millions of euros have been used to upgrade the infrastructure.

Unfortunately, Poland, being one of the key producers of trains in Europe, has a very old and insufficient fleet. Without new comfortable train wagons PKP won’t be able to grow and attract new customers.

One of the symbolic investments of Polish railways will improve communication between Poland and Germany. PLK, a company responsible for the train infrastructure, is planning work on the railway lines between Szczecin and the Polish-German border to shorten travel times and offer better access to trains. Comprehensive modernization of the entire section is planned, with the addition of a second track on the previously single-track sections. It will shorten journeys between Szczecin and Berlin but also improve commuting in the agglomeration of the capital city of West Pomerania.

Poland & Ukraine

Walk of the Brave

President Anrzej Duda visited Kyiv. He offered more support for Ukraine and called for an end to the occupation of Crimea. Duda became the first person honored in the new Walk of the Brave. It was a gesture of gratitude for his personal commitment to helping Ukraine, president Volodymyr Zelenskyy stressed. Anrzej Duda “played a particularly important role in strengthening the defence capabilities of our country”, Zelenskyy’s office reported.

European Affairs

Stop Bullying Poland

Małgorzata Manowska, the president of the Supreme Court of Poland, has accused the European Union of “bullying” Poland by demanding further changes to its judicial system in order to receive money from the recovery fund (ca. EUR 35 billion). “After Ursula von der Leyen’s recent statements, I get the impression that this is not about the rule of law”, Manowska stressed.

According to the chief justice she “would simply like this bullying of Poland to finally come to an end”. She also added bitterly: “The Commission has crossed a red line by demanding that every judge in Poland be able to check the status of another judge at will. (…) I don’t know whether the president of the European Commission has a legal education, but I treat her words as a kind of slip of the tongue”.

Małgorzata Manowska was appointed to her current position in 2020 by Andrzej Duda. In the past, she was a deputy justice minter under Zbigniew Ziobro, the mastermind behind the PiS’s court reform.

Earlier in August Commission’s president warned that the new law on the Supreme Court (read more in the previous issue of the Newsletter) itself does not meet the requirements as it does “not ensure that judges are able to question the status of another judge without risking being subject to disciplinary offence.”

“This issue still has to be addressed to unlock the first payment,” von der Leyen concluded. Poland has yet to reinstate the suspended judges, and the country is still facing fines of EUR 1 million a day for ignoring rulings on the judicial system from the Court of Justice of the EU.

The comments of top PiS officials are almost identical to the ones of Manowska.

“The president has already announced that he has ended his activity in this area, the law was adopted, it was presented to the institutions of the European Union”, announced Andrzej Duda’s chief of cabinet. “The president believes that this money should be granted to Poland”, he added.

In an aggressive tone, Jarosław Kaczyński added that “[t]here was an agreement – kept to on our part, broken from theirs”. “It is time to draw conclusions. We had to try, if only to make the issue clear. And today it is clear – everyone can see what the game is about”, he concluded and demanded to release of billions of euro from the COVID recovery funds for Poland.

“Some cynically count on fortunes that they will earn by enslaving Poland”, Kaczyński commented the proposal of Poland joining the Eurozone. “Opposite [us] are forces that reject democracy, ruthlessly using their accumulated resources, institutional advantages. They want a weak Poland, submissive to neighboring powers”, PiS leader added. “We do not fit into the German-Russian plans to rule over Europe. (…) An independent, economically, socially and militarily strong Poland is an obstacle for them. From a historical perspective, this is nothing new”, he concluded.

Poland & Germany

Union of Poles in Germany’s Centenary

Union of Poles in Germany (Związek Polaków w Niemczech; ZPwN) celebrates centenary. It was created in Berlin in 1922 to represent hundreds of thousands of ethnic Poles who remained in Germany after the Treaty of Versailles re-established Poland as a sovereign state. “We, in Germany living as citizens of the German state, must join to work together if we do not wish to lose our mother faith, our Polish language, our native culture”, ZPwN founders wrote in an appeal in 1922.

In 1924, the union initiated collaboration between other minorities, including Sorbs, Frisians and Danes, under the umbrella organization Association of National Minorities in Germany. In 1938, the Union held the First Congress of Poles in Germany, passing the ‘five truths’ that were the pillars on which its activity was based. They are as follows:

“We are Poles”, “Our fathers’ faith is our children’s faith”, “A Pole is a brother to other Poles”, “A Pole serves his people every day”, and “Poland is our mother – you do not speak ill of your mother”.

The symbol of the organization is Rodło (“ród” means family, and “godło” means coat of arms) and is among the most well known national symbols in Poland. It was designed ten years after ZPwN was funded as a response to the imposition of the swastika in public life. It is a stylized representation of the Vistula River and Kraków as the wellsprings of Polish culture.

The organization was outlawed between 1939 and 1945 by the Nazis. After the WWII it had lost some of its influence; in 1950 the Union of Poles in Germany split into two (one that recognized the Communist government in Warsaw, and another that did not).

Polish leaders congratulated the ZPwN its anniversary in special letters and used this opportunity to comment on current issues.

President Andrzej Duda called funding of ZPwN “one of the most important events in the history of Polish emigration”, adding that it was “not just a symbolic, but a practical expression of national pride and attachment to Polishness”.

Jarosław Kaczyński commented that “the years go by, the times change, but old problems remain unresolved”, referring to the fact that Poles are not recognized ad minority in Germany.

The ZPwN demands from German authorities institutional funding the same principles on which it says the Polish government supports the German minority in Poland, along with greater protection of national minorities.

PiS and German Imperialism

Polish foreign minister Zbigniew Rau warned of German imperialism. He said that the European Union is threatened not only by the external, Russian imperialism but also by “imperialism within”, especially on the part of Berlin. “The EU needs not German leadership, but German self-restraint”, he wrote in an article for the daily Rzeczpospolita.

His comments are partially related to the resolution of the EP from June that called for the change of the treaties, e.g. switching from unanimity to qualified majority voting among member states. According to the Polish MFA, such reforms would empower the biggest states on expense of freedom of other members. He defined internal European imperialism as “the desire to dominate partners, impose a rationale on them, ignore their rights, interests and needs, as well as their protests”, and pointed out at German policy about gas as an example of such policy (both before and after the Russian invasion that started on February 24).

Rau has not been isolated in such rhetoric in recent weeks. His article was proceeded by Mateusz Morawiecki’s interview for Die Welt. Polish prime minister warned from imperialism within the EU. He also called the EU an “oligarchy in which the strongest hold power”.

But the main and the most bizarre attack against Germany came from Zdzisław Krasnodębski MEP, known as one of key intellectual leaders of PiS. Krasnodębski said that Poland faces a greater threat to its sovereignty from the West than from the East; in other words, the EU is worse for Poland than Russia.

“Of course Russia is brutal, Russia can declare war on us. But I believe the threat to our sovereignty from the West is greater than from the East…You need Abrams [tanks] for Russia but to deal with the EU requires more effort”, said PiS MEP.

Krasnodębski shocked the public opinion. Leaders of the democratic opposition commented that such words are not acceptable, especially in the time of war in Ukraine, when the Western world shows solidarity against the Kremlin, and this also solidarity guarantees Poland’s security.


A Women on a Journey

Poland’s first ever monographic exhibition devoted to the Polish painter Tamara Łempicka has closed in the city of Lublin. It was one of the most expected and successful art exhibitions in Poland this year. Over 80.000 people visited the National Museum in the biggest city of Eastern Poland.

The exhibition titled A Women on a Journey focused on the important influence of travel on Łempica’s art. It showcased 60 paintings from the full spectrum of her career, including the famous Young Lady in a Green Dress, alongside her memorabilia.

Łempicka was born in 1898 in Warsaw in an aristocratic family. She was forced to flee St. Petersberg in order to escape the Russian Revolution in 1917 and she reinvented herself as a painter in Paris. She became a renowned for an Art Deco style and was nicknamed ‘the baroness with a paintbrush’. Portraiture was her genre – she often used herself as a model. All 10 of Lempicka’s highest selling works feature depictions of women.

Lempicka’s Portrait de Marjorie Ferry (1932), set an auction record for her work, selling for USD 21,1 million. It beat out her previous record, set only three months ago when La Tunique Rose (1927) sold for USD 13,3 million at a Sotheby’s sale in New York.


Polish Language Official in Brazil

The Polish language has joined the official languages of the Municipality of Áurea in the State of Rio Grande do Sul, alongside Portuguese, the official language of the Federative Republic of Brazil.

According to the Polish Community Association, this is an unquestionable recognition of the contribution of Poles to the social and cultural development of Brazil, especially in places where there is a large number of descendants of Polish emigrants. Founded in 1906 by Polish immigrants, the town of Áurea has a population of around 3.600 people, of which 90% have Polish heritage. Polish traditions are still visible here. Local authorities are now looking to support the use of the new official language through courses and cultural activities.

The project, initiated by Fabricio Vicroski, an activist representing the Polish ethnic group in the Sectoral College for Linguistic Diversity in the Rio Grande do Sul state, is part of a larger initiative aiming to acknowledge the Polish language as Brazil’s intangible cultural heritage, and consequently to include it on the national list of intangible cultural heritage.

Party Support

IBRiS for Radio ZET, 5.09.2022

PiS                                        33,2%

Civic Coalition                   26,9%

Poland 2050                      14,5%

Left                                      7,3%

PSL                                       5,4%

Confederation                   4,2%

Ukrainians about Poles & Job Market

Sapiens for the Mieroszewski Centre, 11-15 August.

Over 80% of Ukrainians have a good or very good opinion of Poles.

46% respondents said their opinion of Poles now was “very good” and a further 37% said it was “good”. 15% had a neutral view and less than 1% a negative one.

73% of Ukrainians said their view of Poles had improved for the better, and only 1% that it had worsened, with 23% saying it had not changed since the Russian invasion started. In comparison: less than 30% said they now thought better of Germans, while almost nine out of ten had a worse opinion of Russians.

33% of respondents said Poles played “mainly positive” role in Ukraine’s history; 38% said that it was “negative up to the Second World War and then mainly positive”; 8% answered “mainly negative”.

The Volhynia massacres, very important in Polish historical policy, is not well known in Ukraine. Only 5% of respondents agreed that it was ethnic cleaning carried out on the orders of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army; 9% described it as “the murder of Poles carried out by some UPA units against the orders of the UPA leadership”. 27% sees it as a reciprocal war between the Polish and Ukrainian underground armies that resulted in both Polish and Ukrainian civilian deaths;  9% saw it as reciprocal murder of Polish and Ukrainian peasants and 8% as an action by the Polish underground against Ukrainians, who had to defend themselves.

EWL employment agency and Warsaw University, 24 March-3 April.

The average age of the polled Ukrainian war refugees is 38, while 5% are of pensionable age.

34% are aged 36 to 45; 26% are between 26 and 35 years of age; 23% are over 45, and 17% are aged between 18 and 25.

37% of respondents arrived in Poland without children; 37% said they came with one child, 18% with two children, 8% with three or more children.

45% of the Ukrainian refugees who responded to the poll speak very little or no Polish; 9% declared a good, very good or excellent command of Polish. 90% are able to communicate in Russian and 55% in English.

63% of the surveyed Ukrainians declared a willingness to take up employment in Poland.

55% have a university degree; 8%t have a higher education degree; 22% underwent vocational education, and 16% finished their schooling at secondary level.

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Milosz Hodun
Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom