Meanwhile in Cuckooland 208

A couple of days back a picture of the new razor wire line on the bank of the river bordering Belarus has circulated around the Polish internet. On one of those pictures a priest apparently blessing them had been visible (see here). Apparently, it is not the case – this is an Orthodox priest that was blessing the water as a part of an orthodox Christian tradition.

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I have to admit, I also assumed it’s just a picture of a priest blessing the razor wire. It would be nothing out of the ordinary – after all Polish priests are blessing everything that falls under their aspergillum (see some pictures here). Actually, one of the funniest – and at the same time saddest – stories of last week was related to this. A Catholic charity organization that helps the homeless created a laundry for them. Henkel, a laundry detergent producer, supplied this laundry with a huge supply of its products but – more importantly – also with industrial-grade washing machines. During the opening ceremony a local bishop wanted to bless the machines, to which the company opposed, as while they are happy to help people in need, they want to remain religiously impartial. The bishop took offense and stormed out. That sparked an outrage in the Catholic press and amongst Catholics on the social media that in the scale of Polish Catholic Outrage would be probably somewhere about the level of outrage caused by a discovery of, for example, 800 new paedophile priests. The charity had no other option and decided to return the washing machines to the donor in order to stress their Catholic roots (and they showed integrity with that step – after all, this is what the Catholic church does: tries to please the bishops in any way possible while ignoring the needs of the poor). But as the company issued a statement which could be basically translated to “WTF just happened? We just wanted to help the poor, and we are still happy to supply this equipment”, the charity took it as an apology and decided that in their grace they will accept the donation after all (and bless the washing machines later).

But back to those razor wires at the border. I can’t confirm if those were blessed (but I would not be surprised after all the army employs 130 chaplains (further 33 work for the Territorial Army) but blessed or not, they are illegal, unnecessary, and dangerous. First of all, the law only allows to use of razor wire on the top of at least a 180 cm high fence, so just rolling the wire out of the ground (or in the river) is not OK. The reason for it is that the wires are dangerous and can cause serious harm, so placing it in a way that makes it possible for a man (or animal) to run into it accidentally is just wrong. The wires planted in the river – as in the aforementioned pictures with the Orthodox priest – also pose a problem, as this is a natural river, with regular floods that carry trees, branches, and other materials, which will be inevitably entangled into the wire, or, perhaps even worse, break it and push it downstream. Not that the government carries about the environment – they have just approved chopping down roadside trees so the soldiers serving at the border can warm themselves at the bonfire… But the border with Belarus belongs to one of the wildest areas in Europe – Puszcza Białowieska is UNESCO listed last remaining bits of a primeval forest, and the environmental activists point out that new fortifications will make animal migrations impossible.

True, there are already some fortifications on the Belarusian side, but as they are located deeper into Belarusian territory (up to 2 km), the no-go zone between the actual Polish border and the Belarusian fence became a safe haven for many animals, including the European bison. As the Polish army spread another line of fortifications on the border itself, those animals became trapped between two lines, and are unable to venture further for food. An environmental journalist and a resident of the area published a picture of a dead bison, calling to the government for action before the rest of about 20 animals trapped there will meet the same fate. The Deputy minister of environment denied Wajrak’s claim and published her own picture of the dead bison, claiming that it just died of old age. But not only the picture shows clearly that the animal is very emaciated, but it is also clear that those are not the same animals – so basically the minister just proved that the problem is serious and we know now that at least 2 of those mighty animals died because of the Polish government anti-migrant hysteria. It’s worth mentioning that those are extremely rare animals – those 2 constitute about 1% of the Polish population of this species in the wild…

The situation is dramatic, but there is a hope that PiS has already progressed to the second stage of their usual process of reaction to the problems. As usually they:
1. deny the problem exist,
2. then they admit it exists, but it is completely natural and the scale is minuscule.
3. Then when faced with the fact they admit the problem is much bigger, but still claim it’s nothing.
4. Only then do they admit the problem is serious, and sometimes they take action, although it’s rarely the right one.

We can observe it in relation to so-called Pegasus affair (see more here), where various opposition politicians, independent prosecutors, and other activists were spied upon with that Israeli software.

They only confirmed they have it after a long time of denials (stages 1 and 2). Then they started admitting they use it, but say it’s nothing (Marek Suski during just one interview went up from “dozens” to “hundreds” of people who were spied upon) (stages 3 and 4). But when they still new evidence comes up, like when the chief of the National Audit Office confirms that the government was eavesdropping on the opposition during the election campaign or when independent experts confirm new victims that became a target to Pegasus hacks, it’s finally time to act.

The Poles watch the recent developments of the Pegasus affair with awe. The senate, in where the opposition has a majority, established an investigative commission that uncovered some scary truths not only about the use of Pegasus itself but also – thanks to the testimony of Ewa Wrzosek, an independent prosecutor that became one of the first targets after she investigated wrongdoings of the current government – the astonishing scale of the politicization of the Polish justice system and how Zbigniew Ziobro and his minions are aggressively trying to cover up the corruptions and other crimes carried by the members of the government. Also, the sudden death of the man who oversaw the introduction of the Pegasus system for the Polish secret services sparked some conspiracy theories. But the scariest thing is the recent wave of spoofing, in which opposition activists – or members of their families – receive calls that either threaten them or inform them about the sudden death of their loved ones. In some cases, the spoof calls are made from THEIR phone numbers. And so the phone of senator Brejza’s wife sends bomb threats to the institutions all across Poland. Daughter of Roman Giertych – another victim of Pegasus hacking – received a spoof call from her dad’s friend and lawyer’s phone number, during which a metallic voice threatened her with death if they won’t stop talking about Pegasus. Professor Marcin Matczak, a lawyer and an opposition activist (and a father of a popular rapper who attacked TVP’s boss in one of his songs) received a phone call from the Central Anti-corruption Bureau in which someone falsely informed him that his son is dead. Several PiS critics and opposition politicians report numerous similar incidents. And this does not stop there – the man who started a crowdfunding action to help de-funded helpline for children (see last week’s piece) received death threats and so did the businessmen and women whose only sin is that they have agreed to meet with Donald Tusk. So basically everyone can become a victim.

Of course, I can’t say if PiS is really behind this recent wave of spoof calls. I have no evidence to support or deny this claim. The PiS itself claims it’s an attack of Russian hackers and this is also possible. The thing is – they are to blame either way. Even if they don’t do it themselves, the fact that under their rule the counter-intelligence services virtually ceased to exist (mostly thanks to Antoni Macierewicz’ obsession with seeing former communist agents everywhere). Actually, under PiS all of the state’s institutions are falling apart – recently, for example, it has been announced that hundreds of people might have to sit their driving exam again after it has emerged that the 41 new questions added to the database for theory test had had wrong answers. But how the things are supposed to work, if the professionals are ousted from work – the most recent example is the new conservation officer for Kraków who was sacked after just one day on the job after it had emerged that she does not support PiS on her social media and – what’s probably even worse – her PhD dissertation was about adapting heritage churches to the new functions. The only way to make a career now is to be a PiS supporter. Just look at Karol Rzęsiewicz, a former insurance salesman and airline steward who obtained his legal degree during part-time studies. Just after PIS took power he decided to come back to Poland and start his career in the justice system. After a short stint as a judge’s assistant, he got promoted to work in the ministry of justice and now is to become a judge of the regional administrative court in Wrocław. He won the recruitment process over judges with 20 years experience and despite the fact that even heavily politicized judiciary council gave him a negative opinion, pointing out that he does not meet a formal qualification that requires at least 8 years experience in a relevant position.

Luckily, not everything is lost in the legal system yet. You might remember Roman Sklepowicz, a man who commented on woman’s protests on a live program on online TV with the words “I look on them and wonder, which one of them I would like to fuck… This one? Oh, God… That one? God forbid! And so I stood there and, believe me, I thought to myself all this time: who is desperate enough to fuck those? And I concluded that nobody. And this is why they go to those protests”. (we wrote about it here). After a 5 years-long court battle he had been sentenced by the court of the second instance to pay 5000 zł fine, donate 10 000 zł to the Women’s Right Centre and cover legal costs of the woman who sued him – although he hasn’t exhausted his right to appeal yet.

Yes, there are some positive changes. Look at this local councilor from Słupsk that spoke during a consultation related to some local changes in city boundaries. She was outraged with an internet meme that somebody created to show that the city and its neighboring parish are stronger together. The meme uses a template of two men holding their hands together:

What is her problem with that? Well, her parish is represented on the meme by a black’s man arm. “Look how they see us! They see us as niggers! That’s racism! You can’t compare people to niggers, that’s racism!” – she said in her passionate speech.

Some people say the worst thing about that is that she got applauded for her words. But I always try to be optimistic and I see a light there: she knows that racism is bad. She does not yet comprehend what racism is, but she already knows it’s bad. That’s an important first step…

This piece was written for Britské Listy




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