It seems that the New Years’ concert organized by TVP (see last week’s chapter) really left a huge impact upon society. Zakopane, the mountain resort where that event took place (and located within the region inhabited by highlanders, who are amongst the most anti-vaccine groups in Poland) noted 159 % raise in COVID infections. No wonder, as only the concert brought 40 000 spectators and over 100 000 people visited the city – and apparently, most of them were ignoring COVID restrictions.
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I am dying to read a deep analysis of this phenomenon coming from the leading experts of the anti-vaccine community such as dr Zbigniew Hałat (yes, he is a real doctor, he even served as a deputy health minister in the early 1990s), but he is apparently too busy with his other field of research. It had emerged that he has become a virginologist, self-appointed expert on virginity and, I guess (it’s hard to say from his website) a chair of the Virginology Organization Global that aims to “protect the moral, psychological and psychical integrity of young virgins to preserve a universal value of virginity until marriage, which is a source of world’s harmony. Within the frames of universal values, exceptionally, the European civilization has been fueled by amazing grace beauty of bold female virgins”. This website, along with many other internet projects of dr Hałat, are full of disturbing pictures of young girls and women that look like random pictures taken secretly in public places (but dr Hałat calls them “fine art pictures”). There are also links to the information that my hometown of Wrocław is a “world virginity until marriage capital”, but the links appear dead. I hope it is not because of my private activities with my then-girlfriend when I still lived there…
Dr. Hałat is an epidemiology expert of the right-wing party Konfederacja. I would be happy to read if they have anything to say on their Facebook, but unfortunately, they got banned from it: both the party and the personal profile of prominent nutcase Janusz Korwin-Mikke had been blocked (despite having hundreds of thousands of followers). Facebook quoted breaking T&C by promoting pseudo-science related to COVID-19.
It was pretty fun to watch how Konfederacja politicians on Twitter were writhing to express their outrage while having the whole Twitter community flooding them with their earlier statements in which they praised the companies freedom to provide their services only to those they like (the most prominent example was a famous case of a printing shop that refused to print some materials for LGBT organization) or when they were angered that Facebook allows the profile of the Polish Communist Party. After a few days they decided to open a new account, but this one was also promptly taken down by the Facebook administration.
One thing is sure: while they might not be the smartest tools in the box, the anti-vaxxers surely go far and stick to their beliefs. The police captured a murderer who was on the run for 20 years after being sentenced to 25 years in prison. How? The police patrol stopped the man for not wearing his face mask in the shop. This man literally had a perfect excuse to wear a mask that would cover most of his face and make the police ignore him, and yet he decided against it!
The church also continues in their well-carved ruts. During a court case in which a victim of church pedophilia sued the church for damages, the curia demanded that his sexuality would be determined, arguing that if he was gay, then the “intimate relationship” with the priest could give him pleasure. This one makes me want to scream:
THIS KID WAS 12 AT THE TIME, YOU BUNCH OF BLOODY PERVERTS!
No wonder the Polish church has virtually no moral authority in Poland. In a recent poll for oko.press while local priest can be a moral authority for up to 20% of respondents (and Pope Francis for up to 50%), the Polish bishops are the moral authority of only approx 2% of Poles (even amongst the PiS voters only 4% considers bishops to be so). And yet Politicians of all options seems to be brown-nosing the bishops in every way possible. A recent investigation by oko.press shows us how the former president of Warsaw, PO’s Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz overruled the city zoning plan and despite protests of the local community allowed the church to build a 170 m high office tower in the area where the maximum height was set at 42 metres. And the regular readers of this series will know, that this is nothing unusual in Polish politics.
But that’s the old news. The recent weeks were dominated by the complete disaster that the new PiS tax reform and economic program “Polski Ład” turned out to be. After it has emerged that the vast majority of people are going to be worse off (some pointed out that take-home pay of junior teachers is to drop below minimum wage!), the government instantly pushed the blame on bookkeepers and payroll clerks. Apparently, it’s their fault that the employees have received less money than before (and even despite that even the civil servants admit that the new rules are so confusing that they have no idea how to work them out). So on Friday evening, the government simply changed the rules, so the payroll clerks and bookkeepers of the most Polish companies (usually the salaries are paid on 10th of every month, which happened to be on the following Monday) had to basically drop everything and work all weekend to do monthly salaries all over again.
The other important news was the short career of the Polish ambassador to the Czech Republic. After Poland struggled for a long time to find someone willing to represent our country in Prague, they finally managed to convince a man, whom everyone welcomed to see as the Polish ambassador: Mirosław Jasiński was an opposition activist in 1980s and co-created the Solidarność Polsko-Czechosłowacka, an organization that ensured cooperation between Polish and Czechoslovak anti-communist opposition. He was a personal friend of Vaclav Havel and worked in the Polish embassy in Prague in 1990s and then in the 2000’s he was a director of the Polish Institute there. But, unfortunately, he proved to be too honest to be an ambassador during PiS time after in the interview for Deutsche Welle he admitted that conflict around the Turów coal mine has been blown out of proportion by “lack of empathy, lack of understanding and unwillingness to undertake the dialogue, mostly from the Polish side”. The PiS understood it as a criticism of the Polish government (“hit the table, and the scissors will speak”) and sacked him after just 17 days on the job.
But the most interesting thing is the two competing realities when it comes to the explanation of the rising prices of gas and energy. If we believe PiS and its coalition partners (especially well-known lover of coal energy, Janusz Kowalski MP), it’s the European Green Deal is the reason behind the rising prices. And, as usual, Donald Tusk personally is to blame. First, as a prime minister, he agreed to the deals to reduce emissions, that are harmful to Poland. And then, as president of the EU Council, he forced all those terrible regulations onto the EU. The government propaganda is pushing that narration as well, calling the sudden rise of energy prices “the Tusk effect”.
But if we look at the facts, the story is quite different. Poland is supplied with gas from Russia under so-called Yamal contract since the 1990s. During the previous PiS government, then minister of energy Wojciech Jasiński signed a new iteration of this contract with Gazprom. It was very unfavorable for Poland. As a result, we were supposed to pay much more than other European countries. Jasiński admitted, that he had “no time to read the contract” before approving it. The contract ends in December 2022 and if it remained in its original form, Poland would have overpaid 16 billion złoty.
No wonder that after the change of the government, Donald Tusk decided that this deal has to be renegotiated. In 2012 Poland and Russia came to an agreement – the price had been lowered, some of the money was returned to Poland, and the price of the gas was tied to the average price of oil. This resulted that Poland still paying a slightly higher price than on the free market, but thanks to the mechanism tying it to the oil, which is a much more stable market than that of gas, we were safe from price fluctuations and Russian blackmail.
But then PiS came back to power, they needed some propaganda success. That’s why they went to the arbitrage tribunal when they managed to overthrow those agreements. From now on, Poland was supposed to pay the market price of gas, as in the exchange market in the Netherlands. It worked fine short term, as long, as the market price was lower than the price in the contract. But then Putin reduced the amount of gas sold to Europe. The prices in the Dutch exchange skyrocketed. Of course, we are still provided our gas as per the Yamal contract, but this time the price is indexed as per Dutch exchange, not the average oil price. And while the price of oil remains only slightly higher than in last year, the price of gas went up on average by 400% and at some point even as much as by over 900%. Yes, thanks to the Yamal contract we won’t get short of gas. But we have to pay those prices.
Life in Poland becomes really hard now. As usual, the small entrepreneurs – like local shopkeepers PiS promised to protect – will suffer the most. One of them shared his experience on the social media site wykop.pl in the following form:
– imagine you run a small convenience shop.
– your electricity bills to keep the lights and fridges on went up 40%
– your gas bill to heat your shop went up 400%
– your suppliers keep calling you all day to inform you they had to put their prices up.
– meanwhile, your bookkeeper informs you that thanks to the new government program your health and national insurance contributions are going up (and, by the way, she has to charge you more now as well)
– when you are about to close, your employee approaches you and asks for a pay rise, as everything becomes more expensive and he needs to earn more.
– you go home to rest to find that your mortgage is going up by 500 zł per month
– you sit down and put your TV on
– there is a Prime Minister’s press conference. He says he scrapped 5% VAT tax on food products, so he encourages the public to “keep eye on the shopkeepers to ensure they lowered their prices”.
If people won’t get to the streets now, then I can’t think what would have to happen for the Poles to raise their heads…
This piece was written for Britské Listy
Illustration: screenshot from virginology.org