That moment in 1972 when president’ Nixon’s people were caught when trying to install a piece of eavesdropping equipment in the Democratic Party’s electoral HQ in the Watergate building, it was the pivotal moment that led to Nixon’s demise. Will the Pegasus affair be PiS’ equivalent of Watergate? We’ll see.
What do we know so far? We first heard about the PiS government obtaining access to this Israeli hacking tool, allowing virtually unlimited access to the suspect’s mobile phone back in September 2019. Two years later, in November 2019 we’ve learned that Israel has cut Poland’s access to that tool and put our country on the list of authoritarian regimes. Initially, we thought that this is due to the fact, that a prosecutor investigating the matter of public money wasted on an attempt to organize an illegal postal election during the peak of the COVID pandemics has been spied upon. There were rumors before, like in July 2020, that some opposition politicians could be spied upon with Pegasus, but it was still just in the realm of rumors and speculations. But in recent weeks a lot has changed. The Canadian research group Citizen Lab operating at Toronto University confirmed that two other prominent figures had their phones hacked. “I have never seen such aggressive operations and so many hacks in so short period of time like in the case of the Polish lawyer” – said Citizen’s lab expert. This lawyer was Roman Giertych – a coalition partner and a deputy prime minister in Kaczyński’s 2005-2007 government, who left politics and returned to practicing law but remained an adamant critic of PiS. But moreover, he is one of the lawyers that represent an Austrian businessman accusing Kaczyński of financial fraud. PiS tried to get to Giertych many times, they tried to frame him into some financial crime (including trying to illegally charge him when he was lying unconscious in a hospital bed). There are also unconfirmed rumors claiming that Giertych might know who killed Andrzej Lepper, another former coalition partner of Kaczyński, whom the PiS politicians tried to frame him into corruption scandal (the boss of the anti-corruption bureau, Mariusz Kamiński had been sentenced for the abuse of power related to this, but then was illegally pardoned by Andrzej Duda when PiS got back to power and is now again in charge of secret services). This very complicated story led to Kaczyński losing power, and not soon later Lepper allegedly committed suicide in suspicious circumstances… The whole story would make a good thriller.
But there is material for at least one another movie, as another victim of Pegasus hacking turned to be one of the prominent politicians of the main opposition party. During the election campaign in 2019 Krzysztof Brejza, campaign chief for Platforma Obywatelska, had been hacked 33 times. “We observe for years how dictators and authoritarian regimes spy on the opposition, but this is really concerning: such operation has been carried against the key figure of the opposition party in European democracy. This is unprecedented. So far the cases we” – told Wyborcza John Scott-Railton from Citizen Lab who compared Brejza’s case to that of Navalny in Russia.
Such thing brings us again to the question if elections in Poland since PiS first took power were really democratic and fair? We’ve already know that TVP was extremely biased – some materials promoting President Duda were at the truly North Korean level (see here). Now we know that private messages from Brejza phone that were broadcast in TVP were most likely obtained with Pegasus (and then doctored to make Brejza look bad). All leads indicate that the most likely Brejza was hacked by the Central Anti Corruption bureau (despite this institution had no basis to investigate him, as he is not suspected of any crime that would validate such interest) and then leaked to Samuel Pereira, chief of TVP.info and one of the leading propagandist of PiS. Pereira denies it, but he probably feels the heat, as he himself prepared that material and openly admitted his source and Brejza sued him for that, but for two years Pereira avoided accepting the lawsuit. According to the documents published by Brejza’s wife, most recently when the messengers arrived at his door to deliver the lawsuit, they were informed by a little girl that Pereria is in the bath, but as the messengers waited at the doors, there were finally informed by a male voice of someone who claimed “to definitely not be Samuel Pereira” that Pereira does not live at this address…
So what started like Watergate, quickly turned into a goofy comedy. And, knowing Poland, it might as well end there, as the ruling party still does not seem to be too concerned. Why would they be? They have control over the special services (illegally pardoned criminal Mariusz Kamiński still pulls all the strings in that field) and their most radical coalition partner Zbigniew Ziobro is a minister of justice and the chief prosecutor, so he has virtually total control on all potential investigation. True, Ziobro might one day want to use his knowledge to attack PiS, but it is unlikely to happen anytime soon, as with Ziobro’s party polling at around 1%, he knows that his only chance to stay in power is to stick to Kaczyński. Morawiecki’s response to the whole affair seems to be a paraphrase of Putin from the time of Crimea invasion: he knows nothing on such things, and such Pegaus hacking systems can be bought in any computer store. Some say that if Samuel Pereira published materials provided to him by the intelligence of another state, as Morawiecki suggests, that would be even worse, but somehow I don’t expect any serious investigation in the matter as long, as PiS is still in power.
But perhaps those times will come sooner than we expect. Even Andrzej Duda, after several years of being Kaczyński’s puppet, felt brave enough to veto Lex-TVN – proposed bill that was aiming to curb media freedom in Poland. That came as a surprise to everyone – both in PiS and in opposition, as it was expected that the most he can do is to pretend to be independent and send it to the Constitutional Tribunal, which would of course approve the bill straight away. Instead he straight-out vetoed it, knowing that PiS has not have enough MP’s to overturn his veto in parliament.
But for now, PiS is behaving as PiS does. The boss of TVP Jacek Kurski went to Paris to take part in Eurovision Junior even despite testing positively for COVID-19. He got positive test on the 14th of December, so he should self-isolate for 10 days, yet just 5 days later he was in Paris, mingling (without his face mask) with journalists and standing next to the Polish contestant. Kurski informed on his Twitter that he was indeed sick with SARS Cov-2, but on 14 XII he was deemed to be fully recovered and so he was free to travel. The hospital issued a statement saying that his result was indeed positive, but the experts interpreted it as being the late stage of the infection, and so they advised for his self-isolation to be canceled. It’s nice to see that the TVP boss has such a special treatment in the times when thousands of Poles struggle with pandemics (at the moment of writing the official daily report shows 9843 new infections and 549 covid-related deaths – yes, we are having several hundred deaths per day recently) but it still leaves some questions: for example: if he was sick BEFORE 14th of December, then why he participated in the event, speaking from the stage on 13th of December? Well, I guess the answer is simple – he is a bloody hypocrite, and I have proof of that in his own tweet, when he calls the fact that onet.pl published results of his Covid test “a bandit and criminal act”. Let me just remind you that a year earlier his own TVP published results of the COVID test of one of the self-appointed leaders of Women’s Strikes, Marta Lempart (even despite the fact that after testing positive, unlike Kurski she observed the law).
But, since we are already on that topic, the COVID-19 is rampant in Poland and the government, that was closing forests and parks, forcing people to stay at home for weeks when the rate of infections was about 30 times lower than today does nothing. It’s probably partially due to the fact that due to those idiotic decisions earlier today Poles no longer trust the government’s mandates, but more likely it is to appease anti-vaxxers who are a significant part of PiS electorate and might switch to more right-wing Konfederacja if PiS decides to introduce further restrictions. But Kaczyński claims the reason is much simpler: “we need to be realistic – it’s a question of enforceability. There is no point introducing restrictions if it’s impossible to ensure people will observe them” he said in the interview for the pro-government propaganda paper. Let me remind you, this is coming from a man who came to power claiming he needs to end “Polish impossibilism”. I wonder what will come next? Perhaps he should abolish speed limits, as everyone in Poland drives too fast anyway?
But apparently, education comes first. Apparently, PiS decided that Poles are stupid (they might have a point, we elected them twice!) and so there is no point in trying to educate us. This task has been given to minister Czarnek, who might already be known to the readers of that series. In the most recent developments minister Czarnek took part in the funeral of a known exorcist, during which he made a speech saying that “father Pęzioł taught us how to win with Satan” as he was, with Jesus’ name on his lips and support of the local clone of the Holy Mary, winning direct battles with Satan, that managed to convince the majority of the humanity that he does not exist but he’s real and lives in a small village of Wąwolnica apparently. After making that speech, the Polish minister (of education, I remind you), decided to award the exorcist posthumously with a high medal for his merits for the Polish education.
Minister Czarnek seems to be a very busy man. Recently he again manually amended the level of points awarded to academics who have their paper published by academic magazines. And so a small periodic Pedagogika Katolicka (Catholic Pedagogy) is now worth 100 points (after recently being awarded 40 points, as just a year ago publication in this periodic was worthless in the academic world). The publishers of Pedagogika Katolicka welcomed this decision and wrote on their website that since they are now so respected academic journal, they have to change the admission rules and so from now on, they expect the submissions to be “based on the original research of their authors and not just copied from the Internet or other sources, should be of academic standard and will be checked with anti-plagiarism software (…) and will also be peer-reviewed before publication”. Which is nice, except for one thing: the points are awarded retrospectively. So if you have copied some stuff from the Internet and published it in Pedagogika Katolicka in the last two years, “your work” is now worth 100 points in the academic word. 2.5 times as much as if you have published in London Based Nature Sustainability for example.
Which is in line with the current trends in Polish academia. In the recent 10 months only, according to the official point lists of the Ministry of Education, the worth of journals in disciplines such as history or “cultural and religious studies” gained well over 10 000 points in the system. The list ends with mathematics and astronomy with gained respectively 960 and 840 points. So if you want to make a career in Polish academia today, forget studying supernovae or Banach’s space. Just write some papers about the role of exorcism in education, and you’re going to be a tenured professor in no time!