The struggle with Coronavirus continues. The government and parliament are very busy. They have to ensure, that despite the fact, that the government response to the pandemic is on the path to end in a total disaster, they are going to stay in power.
The whole burden of the fight is put on the arms of the health service, NGO’s and ordinary citizens. Due to a lack of proper security measures, a hospital ward is being closed every few hours. The health system is falling like domino bricks: hundreds of doctors and nurses tested positive with COVID-19, thousands more are quarantined (some of them in scandalous condition – a team of paramedics that delivered a patient with suspected COVID-19 have been told to stay in their ambulance for more than 18 hours without food or drink and released after a total of 34 hours… The Ministry of Health does not even track the situation amongst the health workers – the numbers above are provided by trade unions. The situation is not helped by the fact, that many poorly paid health professionals were forced to go self-employed, so they often have two or more jobs in various hospitals, which further helps to spread the virus.
The supplies to the hospitals are provided by Wielka Orkiestra Świątecznej Pomocy, local governments and private donors and the government only makes things more difficult or even tries to seize most critical products. If only it had own stock of the masks and so on! Unfortunately, as recently as in February 2020 the government’s emergency reserves agency has sold 63 000 of high-class breathing masks at 10 zł a piece. The reason for the sale was that those masks were nearly out of date – but if serviced properly, they could still be up to May 2021. Brand new ones cost as much as 700 zł now, and even those unserviced ones are now being re-sold online for 110 zł… But the agency has no money, as recently the coal miners were threatening with strike again, so the agency was ordered to stock Polish expensive coal that nobody wanted to buy so the mines can give them a raise. So no masks, but if by any chance someone discovers a COVID-19 treatment made of coal, we have enormous heaps of it!
Meanwhile, the government COVID-19 response seems to be focusing on curbing citizen’s freedoms. Of course, everyone would understand by now why the lockdown is needed, but the fact that instead of introducing emergency state, PiS is pushing new, chaotic laws through parliament or issuing ministerial ordinances can make one wonder if such limitations aren’t to stay with us for good. The other issue is that not only those regulations are chaotic and often contradictory to each other, but also many do not make sense. For example, the government banned entry to the forests (with one exception that can probably be guessed by the regular readers of the series: hunters). Then after the public outcry, the ministry issued information, that hunters aren’t allowed to enter forests as well – which was contradictory to the higher law. It ended in a total mess, and with the government trying to provide the correct understanding of the law on Facebook and Twitter, which only adds to the confusion (as Facebook entries are, so far, not a source of law in Poland).
There is chaos everywhere. The government seems to be unable to decide how many people can safely participate in a Holy Mass – the numbers are oscillating between 5 and 50. Police officers are looking into people’s shopping bags to check if they were really out for “essential groceries”. The fines are amongst the highest in Europe, yet still many Poles refuse to observe the quarantine, arguing that those laws are against the constitution. Of course, they’re right, but defying the quarantine laws is like chopping one’s own hand to prove someone wrong. Police helicopters have been used to patrol the cities in search of bigger groups of people, but since the police have only very few of them, drones are also put to work. As this is still not enough, the government calls for drone owners to help in this task. Radical invigilation measures are also being established.
But while even Holy Mass attended by 40 people has been targeted by the police, nothing is being done about Amazon warehouses, where thousands of people work in the conditions that make social distancing nearly impossible. According to its employers, the giant does nothing to tackle the virus. The fact that about half of the warehouse staff is employed via agencies of temporary work is making the situation even riskier, as those are afraid to call in sick in fear that they are to lose their jobs. The warehouses keep running despite that first coronavirus cases have been found among employees weeks ago.
Kids also do not have it easy. In the last chapter, I wrote about issues with distance learning. To help families with limited internet access, TVP begun transmissions of hastily prepared classes, which quickly became the main topic for memes and ridicules. Some ask to do not have a laugh at the expense of those poor teachers who were given an impossible task by government-controlled TVP (some even suspect, that it was done deliberately to show how bad Polish teachers are, which can be used if they will think about going on strike again) but I personally believe, that teachers who don’t know how much 11+4 is, who fail to exponentiate negative number properly or who mix circumference and diameter (one of many of similar compilations can be seen here and here), who claim that all metals are always solids etc. deserve to be laughed at. Yeah, everyone can have a slip of the tongue, but at least PowerPoint slides should be checked before going on national TV… One of the bloggers found 60 major mistakes in one lesson only.
TVP, of course, informed us that both kids and the experts are very pleased with the results. Because there is business as usual. A rainbow flag in the background has been decolourized. The first lady spoke with the students on the video-conference – she used one computer, 30 students and their teachers were squeezed in front of the other – so much for social distancing. And of course, if you listen to state media, the government’s “anti-crisis shield” is the best thing ever. If only those pesky entrepreneurs stopped picking holes in it to prove that it is, in fact, pretty useless for most. Some business owners have even organized a motorized protest in Warsaw’s city centre. But at least they got something. Employees not only got nothing but saw employee’s rights drastically reduced.
But the government, of course, has more important things to worry about: presidential elections. The ideas change like in kaleidoscope: one day the elections will take place as usual, the other day there will be a universal postal vote. This will be handled either by the Polish Post, or by the army, or by some hybrid between the two (deputy minister of defence has been just appointed as Polish Post’s CEO). No matter what the result will be, the speaker of the parliament knows, that the president will sign it (she has been recorded saying so when she thought her mic is off).
More and more local councils refuse to participate in this farce (here is a map of those, notice the division between anti-PiS west and pro-PiS east of the country), to a great surprise of everyone also deputy prime minister Jarosław Gowin refused to support the idea.
Here a word of explanation: formally speaking Poland has a coalition government. Dominant PiS has satellites: two tiny parties: Solidarna Polska of Zbigniew Ziobro, who after storming out of PiS and denying a possibility of working with Kaczyński’s ever again returned with his tail between his legs, and Jarosław Gowin’s Porozumienie. Gowin used to be in the conservative wing of Platforma Obywatelska, he has been even a minister in Donald Tusk’s government, but after playing only on himself left to establish his own party and when it failed, decided to go along with PiS.
So a few days back Jarosław Gowin had enough. He said, that it is impossible to carry on with the elections safely in the time of the pandemic – even if the elections were to be postal only. He refused to support PiS on that but denied to support opposition’s calls to invoke the state of emergency. According to him, the government – you know, the one, that he is a deputy PM of, the one with the best-balanced budget in Europe, and the one overflowing with cash after five years of PiS rule – could not afford it. So the only way to save lives is to change the constitution to allow Andrzej Duda’s term to be extended to 7 years. He called for the opposition to support him, but it was of course no-go to everyone, so to protest he resigned as deputy prime minister.
After allowing Gowin to make a fool of himself, Kaczyński came back to forcing the postal vote. But to everyone’s surprise, the vote on the new bill came to a draw, so the bill failed. That would conclude the parliament session, but with PiS being PiS they only adjourned it. Later in the afternoon a new bill, which has been almost identical to the one that failed just this morning, had been brought in. It has been processed in record time and by 22:00 it has passed by the majority of just a few votes. Jarosław Gowin did not take part in the vote. He was too busy giving interviews, telling the media how he would vote “no” if he hasn’t been giving interviews during the vote.
This was probably the most exciting week in Polish politics for a long time. Alas, apart from Gowin making an idiot of himself twice within just a few days and gaining absolutely nothing, there were no unexpected developments. PiS drive to destroy democracy in Poland continues. Luckily the Polish Radio had something ready for Poles to wind down during the Holy Week in the wait for the Easter: “a full phonographic compendium of knowledge the presidency of Lech Kaczyński”. To celebrate the issue, for the whole week they are going to broadcast Lech Kaczyński’s archival speeches. You might start getting familiar with the Great Wisdom of the Beloved Leader’s Brother. It might soon come handy.
This piece was written for Britské Listy
Pictures: Public Domain