Some say that PiS aims to reconstruct the communist system in Poland. While this is not a perfect analogy, there seems to be a lot of similarities between Poland then and Poland now. If you want to understand Poland today, you might want to watch some of the old Polish movies depicting the absurdities of the communist system. One of them would be a cult comedy by Stanisław Bareja – Miś” (“Teddy Bear”).
The bear that the movie owes its title to was a monstrous figure made of straw, constructed by the movie main protagonists, chiefs of the state-controlled institutions. In a cult scene (about 1h 08’ into the movie) one of them shares his ideas to save public money on that project only to be told down by his colleague, who demands that everything would be done “properly”, at full price and with involvement of as many other state institutions as possible. When the first one gets annoyed of it, the latter reminds him that they are paid 20% consultancy fees, so the more expensive the bear gets, the more earning they can expect. And what about the bear itself? It’s made of straw, it will rot by autumn anyway. And nobody will ask what is the point of it, because nobody knows.
Remember that ferry that Mateusz Morawiecki has personally put the keel for back in 2017? It seems this was one of such teddy bears. The keel has rotten away by now, and after a brief appearance in the media when it has been discovered that it wasn’t actually a ship’s keel but just some random piece of metal that happened to lie around in the shipyard, everybody has long forgotten until now. A recent report of the Supreme Audit Office found that the cost of the whole project so far came to almost 14 000 000 zł. The project involved many activities such as project, its modification, research, analysis of the stage of completion of the project, research into estimated future Ro-Ro traffic from Polish ports, or even creating a special state-controlled company “Polish ferries”, that would be tasked with “coordinating construction of ferries for both Polish ferry companies”. But it seems that project was deemed to fail from the beginning – there was no money to ever construct the vessel, and even if there were, the shipyard in Szczecin was too small to construct the vessel of this size anyway. But I am sure several consultants tasked with changing the project constantly and then analysing its stage of completion make really good money there.
The Supreme Audit Office is clearly going to war with the government. Its chief, Marian Banaś, formerly the man of PiS, has been found to be having some shady businesses with criminals. PiS tried to force him to step down – directly, or indirectly, like when they sent Central Anti-Corruption Bureau to harass his family – but he decided to stand his ground and suggested that if he’s going down, he is to drag some of the most important people in PiS with him (see more here and here). Finally, he decided to act and started high – by accusing the prime minister himself of abusing the law when he tried to organize illegal postal presidential elections last year (see more here). The case is in the prosecutor’s office already.
The problem is that the prosecutors are controlled by Zbigniew Ziobro, who claims that when it comes to those illegal elections, it’s the opposition that broke the law. So don’t hold your breath for any investigation or anything, it does not work like that in Poland anymore. Ziobro locuta, causa finita.
Luckily this is not always the case. After one of Ziobro’s men has been caught by police when drunk driving (it would be hard to miss, as he was driving all over the road with an already damaged wheel), the state prosecutors wanted the case to be conditionally dropped. The court refused and the prosecutor has been sentenced, which means that he is no longer able to be a prosecutor (and for some years, work in law at all). Still, I doubt he would be struggling to survive, I am sure we’ll find that he was given some cosy job here or there.
Another cult scene from “Miś” was a scene from the border crossing, where a returning citizen is charged for each kilo of his body weight he lost. As a man with a university degree, he is charged extra, because “EACH KILO OF A CITIZEN WITH UNIVERSITY DEGREE IS ESPECIALLY VALUABLE FOR THE NATION” as the slogan on the border crossing says. This scene is often recalled recently when the Catholic radicals came with still new ideas of punishing women who would go abroad for an abortion, as obviously there would have to be some kind of border control introduced in order to check if the returning woman hasn’t been pregnant when going abroad.
Meanwhile under existing law women are tortured in Poland. Oko.press described a situation of a woman who had been refused an abortion despite the fact, that her fetus has been found to be dead three weeks earlier. She is still expected to give birth in a “natural” way. As it seems to be the rule in Poland, a private hospital has no such moral objections, and at for just a few thousands of złoty performed the procedure…
In another scene from “Miś”, the militia constructed a fake town in order to issue penalties to drivers speeding in built-up area. The police under PiS seems to be acting in a similar way, using loopholes to punish anti-government protesters. Despite courts dropping nearly 100% of cases of “participating in illegal gathering” raised by the police, they keep harassing participants of such protests on regular basis. The government supports them by the way the COVID restrictions are relaxed. So you can go to the crowded church, then take a crowded bus to the city centre, walk on the crowded promenade and so on, but if you want to protest against the government, any gathering over 5 people is illegal (by the way, it isn’t, the constitution guarantees right to protests, every attempt to curb that law is unconstitutional – but of course we no longer have Constitutional Tribunal to take care of our rights).
The movie “Miś” even mentions the hijacking of planes (or perhaps horse-drawn carts, that have then to be replaced by planes, the main character is not really sure how it works). This happens to be a hot topic in Poland recently as well. On Monday this week a PLL LOT plane from Moscow to Warsaw had been forced to come back to the gate so the opposition activist could be removed and arrested. I am sure Russians would be able to arrest him before he boarded the plane, forcing the Polish plane to return was just a show of force. This is just a week after another Polish-registered plane, Ryanair flight from Athens to Vilnius had been hijacked by the regime of Alexandr Lukashenko so the opposition journalist Raman Pratasewic could be kidnapped. By the way, despite earlier reports, it turned out that Pratasiewic has NOT been granted asylum in Poland. Why? Because of Polish bureaucracy. They sent him a letter to the wrong address, and as they haven’t received any response, they simply closed the case without investigating any further or trying to contact him via other means.
But there is good news as well. Just as the broken clock shows the right time twice a day, PiS sometimes manages to do something right. The changes to the highway code mean that from the 1st of June drivers are obliged to give way to pedestrians at the zebra crossings. This will put the end to blaming pedestrians killed on the crossings for their deaths because they “suddenly walked onto the road in front of moving vehicle”. This mentality is so deeply rooted in the mind of Polish drivers, that recently the Polish police after a pedestrian has been killed published a meme with a view from behind the windscreen of the car driving towards blinding sun with depiction “dear pedestrian, this is how much I can see when I drive towards the sun. So please, do not walk under my wheels, because even if I go 50 km/h, I might not be able to see you.”.
Yes, that was their message. No “driver, slow down if you can’t see where you’re going”. Because 50 km/h is the maximum legal speed in built-up areas during the day and, after the aforementioned changes, also during the night.
Other changes are also aimed at improving safety – for the first time minimum distances between vehicles on expressways and motorways are introduced (half of the value of speed in metres), but the pedestrians also have new obligations: they now have to look up from their mobiles when attempting to cross the road or tram tracks.
I have my driving licence since 1998 and I lost track of how many times the highway code has been changed since there, but this is actually the first time when the changes are in the right directions and can actually improve safety, rather than just complicate the rules and require new pointless signs to be placed on the side of the road.
Speaking of safety and pointless things, a bunch of leading papers received a dramatic anonymous letter from the Polish submariners (allegedly). Its authors want to bring to the public attention the tragic condition of the only Polish submarine that still remains in active service. They claim that during the recent exercise the technical difficulties almost prevented them from getting back to the surface. “It’s a miracle that ORP Orzeł still floats” – they wrote, pointing out that the 35 years old Soviet submarine hasn’t been fixed properly after the dramatic fire that took place in 2017 (see more here) and had been brought back to service despite their protests. The authors of the letter claim, that the only reasons ORP Orzeł is still in service are prestige and propaganda: it was not technically possible to keep the only two remaining submarines, Kobben class vessels: those heaps of scrap from 1960s are incapable to engage in any modern naval tasks and therefore were dangerous only to their crews and, at best, belong to the museum. And if Orzeł would also be taken out of service, that would mean the end of the Polish submarine force, bringing attention to PiS’ failure to deliver a new submarine fleet (then Minister of Defence Antoni Macierewicz even drivelled something about submarine aircraft carriers). Meanwhile, the submariners are ready to risk their lives to defend the Polish seas, but not to keep PiS ratings high. (The army spokesperson suspect that the letter is fake and claims that ORP Orzeł is safe and thanks to further repairs on its ways to regain its full battle worthiness).
But it’s not like all of the PiS promises fail. Perhaps it would be too risky for ORP Orzeł to submerge, but at least it will soon be able to sail to Elbląg using the newly dug canal through Vistula Split. The canal makes no economical or military sense and it’s already well over budget. This brings me back to that scene from Bareja’s movie “Miś”:
– Tell me, what is that bear for?
– Exactly, what it is for?
– That’s the point. Nobody knows, so you don’t have to worry that someone will ask. Do you know what that bear does? It answers the vital needs of ours society. This is the bear to the scale of our abilities. Do you know, what we do with that bear? We open the eyes of disbelievers! Look, we say, this is ours, done by us, and it is not our last word yet!
And of course, there will be a fair payout to the consultants.
This text was written for Britské Listy
Picture of bear (copy of the one from the movie): Wikipedia user Hiuppo (CC 3.0)