Poland enters the next stage of the fight with the pandemics. But it seems that the times, where everyone was working together is gone. Hospitals report a critical lack of PPE and other required materials. Doctors and nurses, or even the whole hospitals, are crying for help in social media, others reveal that the government is covering up the real number of COVID-19 related deaths. Instead of addressing the problem, the government decided to silence them – first a hospital director (and a local PiS councillor) sacked a specialist nurse for writing on her Facebook that they are out of gloves and face masks, leaving only one person with such qualification in the whole hospital. That was quickly followed by the blanket muzzle, allowing only the state medical consultants to speak about the health service condition, and that only after consultation with the Ministry of Health.
A CEO of state-controlled company spoke on his Facebook regarding nurse’s cry for better working condition and higher pay saying basically that “if she does not like her job, she can always retrain to work somewhere else. This job is for people with vocation, you don’t do it for the money”.
Meanwhile, the government is failing to cope with the problem. With the problem of actually helping the crisis that is, as they managed to ensure that their friends will make fortune on this. They banned importing masks and similar products from China to ensure, that the company ran by one of PiS’s activist, that managed to secure 10 000 000 of them has de facto monopoly on them in the country.
There are also important personal changes in the health service: a renowned specialist had been sacked and replaced as the head of the transplantation centre in Wrocław by a motorway construction specialist. In Kamienna Góra, chief of the physiotherapy centre has been replaced by a man with an MA in theology.
Even when the government is doing something right, it turns that they didn’t really think it through. The loudly announced hand disinfectant liquid manufactured by state oil giant Orlen has disappeared from the market almost instantly, and there are no new deliveries in sight. Rumours circulate that the production line has been damaged, as it was not designed to manufacture a product with such high percentage of alcohol (usually it produces screenwash), but to my knowledge, this information has so far been neither confirmed or denied.
No wonder that Poles, as usual in the times of crisis, turned to each other for help. The manufactures and co-ops pop out all across the country to sew face masks and 3D-print other equipment. One of the companies designed a prototype of emergency ventilators that can be manufactured using a 3D printer and commonly available parts and made the entire documentation Open Source for everyone to use/improve. Factories that halted production (such as MAN bus factory in Starachowice) have donated their stock of protection suits to the hospitals.
Trust in the government is very limited. Poles turn to other institutions for help. CD Project Red, a software company responsible for the extremely successful Witcher’s game franchise donated 4 000 000 zł to help to fight the pandemic – but to Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy, not to the government. WOŚP had been working on the matter for some time before already and they have secured shipment of medical supplies from China. Initially, Ministry of Defense promised to send planes to bring that stuff to Poland, but this cooperation had to be cancelled after the government placed a “surprising conditions” that were unacceptable to WOŚP (allegedly they wanted to seize control over the whole purchase). At the moment of writing, the foundation is negotiating transport with some commercial airlines.
Also, the homeschooling system turned out to be a disaster. The government that spent the last five years dismantling a well-working school system and reversing modern reforms suddenly expects teachers to single-handedly turn XIX century style school into XXI internet marvel within a week. This, of course, has no chance to succeed and the mandatory homeschooling turned into a farce, as the government seemed to be unaware, that not everyone has access to computers or printers at home – many families report, that parents, who were ordered to work from home are forced to share their computers with their kids. The targets placed before teachers are completely unrealistic, which results in kids being flooded with extreme amounts of homework from early morning to late-night hours. The only thing that has actually worked was to create a Minecraft server for the pupils to play, thanks to which those of them who do have computer access can spend long hours creating such marvels like recreating Tupolev’s crash site in Smoleńsk or design signs such as “FUCK PIS” or “FUCK KACZYŃSKI”. President Duda also responded with a bold move to the needs of going online – he opened his official TikTok account.
If only the government IT specialists had so much time in their hands! Perhaps they could work on improving the system needed for the remote parliamentary proceedings – due to pandemics PiS had forced this way of work, which is from the beginning ridden with technical difficulties. Not only the login and passwords were sent to people who are NOT members of parliament (like Warsaw’s mayor), but some MP’s are unable to log in, or that their connection is constantly dropped off, with some reporting that after logging back in they see their votes being counted opposite to what they were trying to vote.
Incidentally, the only MP’s who report such problems are those of the opposition, which is probably good, as PiS is trying to use this situation for their political gain – they still refused to invoke the state of the emergency so the presidential elections can go ahead (the postmen were just given the task of delivering leaflets informing about it to every single household). Under the pretext of changes in the law designed to help workers and businesses in the time of crisis, the electoral system is being changed as well. According to experts the whole program is pretty much useless or even worsens the situation of employees (unless you are a priest that is, as the priests, contrary to businesses, self-employed or workers, are going to be exempt from paying their national insurance contributions). Meanwhile, the tax authorities are apparently bored, as they are sending out a summons for the business representatives to give some extra information in person, which is impossible, as the tax offices are closed due to the pandemics. But if you fail to do so, you can be issued with hefty penalty charges.
But the electoral changes are significant. A few years back PiS had removed option for a postal vote (saying that it can be rigged too easily), making it impossible to many Poles abroad, who live far from Polish Embassies or Consulates to vote (incidentally, those were usually voting against PiS). Meanwhile, now they allowed everyone over 60 to vote by post, but only if you live in Poland (incidentally again, those over 60 are most likely to vote for PiS). Those under quarantine will also be allowed to cast a postal vote, provided that they will know that they are going to be quarantined in advance.
Those changes are of course illegal, especially that the election laws cannot be changed later than 6 months before the elections, but what you can do: report it to the Constitutional Tribunal, which is under the total control of PiS? Or go protest on the streets during the times of lockdown?
The opposition called for boycotting the election but PiS ensured that Andrzej Duda has someone to run against – it has been confirmed that signatures for Marek Jakubiak (see the previous chapter of the series) have been indeed collected by the PiS structures.
Still, more and more local councils, towns and cities – from small to big ones – refuse to organize elections during the pandemic crisis. PiS is not afraid of that – the speaker of the parliament warned that if the local governments won’t listen to the government, they will be replaced by the government-appointed commissaries.
So if the country is in turmoil, why the government won’t simply end it all once for good? Why don’t they answer the popular demand (some churches found such signs on their closed doors) or advice of the experts such as Antoni Macierewicz and simply open the churches again? After all, according to Father’s Rydzyk Catholic media, the God is holy, so it cannot spread the disease, and so cannot his priests, as their hands are consecrated, and thus virus-free. Why we just don’t ask bishops to consecrate the whole country and get rid of all of the viruses for good?
This piece was written for Britské Listy
Main Picture – a collage of public domain graphics and Andrzej Duda’s picture by Katarzyna Czerwińska (CC 3.0).