It seems I am a really, really bad journalist. For nearly 200 chapters of that series I tried to keep a close eyes on developments in Poland and somehow I missed a very important fact: that every worker in Poland in recent years got a 60% pay raise. Surely, I don’t know how it is possible that I trawl the news and e-mails from my readers and this huge news slipped through my nets. Because it could not be that prime minister Morawiecki is simply and barefacedly lying when he says that 60% pay raise for MP’s means that “they are being treated like any other professional group”, right?
So what is the deal with those pay raises for MP’s and some government officials? The story goes back to 2018, when it had emerged that then-Prime Minister Beata Szydło awarded herself and her ministers with record-high bonuses (see chapter 63 of this series). That has of course sparkled an outrage, so Szydło fiercely defended her decission saying “they well deserved those bonuses!” but Kaczyński decided to do some damage control and ordered the ministers to donate those bonuses to charity. Some pesky journalists tried to check, if they have indeed donated money to Caritas, as they declared, but it was deemed to be “invasion of their privacy”, so we don’t really know how many of them actually did it.
Meanwhile to punish the opposition who was so opposed to the PiS politician’s enjoying their taxpayer’s founded El Dorado, Kaczyński decided to cut MP’s salaries by 2000 zł per month. Of course his MP’s would not be at loss, as thanks to unprecedented levels of nepotism all of their friends and family could get cosy jobs in government institutions and state controlled companies. At the same time this ensures their obiedence, because who would stand up to Kaczyński if at the first sign of independent thinking half of your family becomes unemployed?
Kaczyński used the MP’s salaries to play the opposition again, when his party proposed pay rise last year, during the heat of the pandemic. The main opposition group, Koalicja Obywatelska, jumped the bandwagon, causing outrage of not only the other opposition parties but also their own voters, so while they voted it through the Sejm, lower chamber, they then had to make a u-turn and in the Senate, where opposition has majority, they had to shot the bill down.
But now Kaczyński has a problem. The scale of nepotism becomes a burning issue in the Polish politics. They tried to patch the problem by voting a special resolution during their party conference, saying that their MP’s will not be allowed to employ family members. This failed to work: not only their party was ridiculed as the party, that needs to make a special rule to prevent their MP’s to behave decently, but also the MP’s themselves openly expressed their discontent, or even started to seek loopholes. “Father-in-law is not a family” – claims Jacek Sasin’s father-in-law for example. Meanwhile after PiS publicly announced that they will “track all those fat cats”, the opposition rushed with a kind help, providing a list of hundreds of family members and PiS activists employed in the state institutions or government controlled companies. It was obvious that this bomb needs to be defused. And so to keep his troops happy, Kaczyński had no other option but to give them a pay raise. But of course he could not hope that the opposition fall for the same trick again and vote for it, so he ordered president Duda to issue a decree. And so the MP’s and government officials will receive a pay raise of up to 60%, which, as Morawiecki claims, is perfectly normal and long time delayed, as while all the Poles are enjoying all the milk and honey flowing through the rivers of their country during PiS rule, the politicians were, allegedly, left behind. And by the way, just look how much money Donald Tusk made!
But if Morawiecki is right, then why paramedics are protesting? Was that 60% pay raise not enough for them? Apparently, as they seem to be quitting their jobs en-masse (most of them have been pushed into self-employment years ago, so they have no right of strike, so this is the only way for them to protest), especially that due to Covid-related pressure, they have more and more responsibilities often having to do doctors work. Media from all over Poland report that a result many ambulances are parked up as there is simply not enough crews left to man them. In Leszno for example three of four ambulances were parked up due to shortage of staff. The government is doing everything they could, as the Facebook profile “To nie z mojej karetki” informs, some units even order all ambulances ti use their sirens at all times to create ilussion that there is more of them going out to urgent cases.
Apparently those pay raises haven’t been received by the workers of the ZUS, the Social Security institution, as their employers are also planning to go on strike – they are poorly paid and overworked due to understaffing.
So perhaps it’s not me. Perhaps Mateusz Morawiecki just speaks utter bollocks. Like when he said that “PiS, unlike their political opponents have no media [that support them]”. In case you were self isolating in a cave for over half of a decade, PiS not only changed the public media into a blunt propaganda machine, but thanks to re-directing advertising budgets of the state controlled companies is throwing money at government supporting media while trying to starving the independent ones. No wonder that even the biggest players have been recently cosying up to the government – like one of the biggest TV stations in Poland, Polsat. When the Polish women’s rowing team won silver at Tokyo olympics, one of them caused a scandal (well – at least by the Polish standards, that is), as she thanked her girlfriend on air while being interviewed by government-controled TVP. To be on a safe side, Polsat interviewed only three heterosexual ones, meanwhile President Duda, who is usually very quick to congratulate Polish athletes (let’s be frank, it’s not that he has much to do anyway, how many times you could provide publicity to a producer of “patriotic” clothing proud of its anti-EU stance?) had to think for two days what to do before writing that he keeps his fingers crossed for EVERY athlete, and respects ALL of them, so he congratulates rowing team as well.
The EU and LGBT are now the major fields of conflict between the right and the rest of Poland. It was visible even during annual celebration of the Warsaw Uprising, which was, as usual in recent years, dominated by the far right. It’s representatives removed EU flags from under the monument to the insurgents:
Narodowcy wyrzucili flagi Unii Europejskiej stojące przy Pomniku Powstania Warszawskiego.
Nacjonalizm to nie patriotyzm! Tak jak 77 lat temu Powstańcy Warszawscy stanęli do walki z faszyzmem, tak i my dzisiaj musimy powiedzieć faszyzmowi dość! pic.twitter.com/IvTZwuRWCM
— KrzyszKrzysztofg Krukowka (@KrzyszKruk) August 1, 2021
Also the wreath placed by LGBT activists to commemorate queer insurgents (yes, there were some, like a homosexual and drag queen Sylvin Rubinstein (who, strangely enough, has Wikipedia entries in three languages, none of them Polish for some strange reason)) was stolen and was later found in a nearby portaloo. There were also banners demanding that Poland would be free from totalitarian systems – communism, nazism and LGBT. A participant of the event was also spotted sporting a t-shirt saying “Fuck Tusk, the Russian Whore”. But that’s OK, none of them required intervention, unlike a rap concert during a festival organized by Jurek Owsiak, during which the public shouted “Fuck PiS”, where Owsiak received a phone call from the local government official demanding the public to stop being not-nice to the ruling party.
I guess everyone just gave up. The Warsaw Uprising had been hi-jacked by right wing and the symbol of the Polish Underground – stylised letter P with an anchor at the bottom, symbolising hope but also reading as Polska Walcząca – Fighting Poland – omnipresent today on so called “patriotic clothing”, bumper stickers or, very often, tattooed (see here) today became more a way to recognize a right winger than a historical symbol. While the decision to go ahead with the Warsaw uprising is widely criticized by historians as the futile struggle that ended up in carnage, countless deaths and total destruction of the Polish capital city, the right wing “heroes” proudly declare that they would go to fight. But due to lack of German occupants recently, the right wing thugs have to settle on setting the vaccination centres on fire. Many of them claim, that their grandparents were fighting in Warsaw in 1944. It might be true, it might be not. But judging from their grandchildren behaviour, I sometimes wonder if those grandfathers were amongst the insurgents, or in the ranks of Waffen-SS.
This text was written for Britske Listy
Picture: Krzysztof Białoskórski via Kancelaria Sejmu (CC 2.0)