This was, I think, one of the longest breaks in the Cuckooland series so far. First I was on holiday, then I decided to join the efforts of my friends who were helping some Ukrainian refugees – and, as I live in Britain, the only reasonable way to do it is to work extra time and send money where it’s needed, so I’ve been maxing my legal hours driving trucks from Glasgow to Liverpool and back every night. And then, I got COVID and got it badly. But as I feel better now, this gives me an opportunity to step back and look from a distance on what were the newest developments in Poland over the last month.
And the biggest news is – of course – the enormous mobilisation of the ordinary Poles to help Ukrainian refugees. I wrote about it last time and one could think that in the month the lion’s share of the burden will be taken by the state but, alas, no. Yes, local councils are doing what they can and try to coordinate efforts and the government also tries to do something, but, to the surprise of absolutely nobody, they are really bad at this.
The changes in the law, allowing refugees to register in Poland, are full of holes and lead to absurdities – for example only people who entered Poland from Ukraine were initially given that right. That meant that those who, for example, came to Poland via the safer Moldova-Romania-Hungary- Slovakia route were not recognized by the system. There was also a case of the Ukrainian family who, when war broke out, got stuck in Poland en route from their holidays in Egypt. I heard about a Ukrainian family who travelled back to the Ukrainian border from Jelenia Góra (nearly 650 km each way) just to cross back into Ukraine and back to Poland, so they could get a stamp on their passports. This bill was soon changed, but the law still does not recognize Ukrainians who were living in Poland before the 24th of February and now can’t go home as refugees.
The government also created special grants to help refugees. As usual, though, there are two sets of rules. If you are hosting a refugee and you’re Caritas, for example, or a rich company, you can expect to be paid 150 zł per capita per day. But if you decided to take strangers into your own home, you’ll only get 40 zł. And only if you took them through some scheme organized by the local council, and not just stepped in when your help was needed. Some people also point out that it is humiliating for refugees that the money is given to people who host them, and not to the refugees themselves.
The government is of course bragging about how wonderful Poland is that – unlike some other European countries – there is no need for a single refugee camp. It is used as official narration to promote Poland – even ambassadors in other countries brag about it. But the problem is that refugee camps – or other forms of government-organized housing for refugees – IS needed and we should be ready for it for weeks, as the Polish government was warned by US Intelligence well in advance about oncoming war. It is only due to the extreme hospitality of Poles that the humanitarian disaster could be avoided, but you can’t expect strangers unable to speak Polish, often with PTSD and traumas, living on the sofas and spare bedrooms of thousands of Poles to be a long-term solution. Many of the good-willing Poles had begun to struggle already after realising they took too much weight on their shoulders. My own parents, who took a family of refugees into their homes, we’re really happy to see back of them after they were moved to the nearby church buildings, as my father just had serious cardiological surgery and is recovering from it at home – which was not easy when it was overcrowded by strangers with kids. The government needs to do more.
And then, of course, there is an issue of two kinds of refugees. The problem on the Belarussian border became less prominent over the winter – after Lukashenko allowed them to spend the coldest months of the year in the makeshift camp in the old warehouse, but with the spring coming, more and more people tries to cross into Poland from Belarus, hoping to be able to do it before the infamous wall will be building. The Polish border guard and the army are still mercilessly breaking their rights, pushing them back to Belarus to die in the frosty forest – even sick and paralysed ones. Even reports about Belarussian soldiers raping refugee women in the forests fall on deaf ears and the push-back is still conducted even after the court deemed them illegal. Those same activists – often the very same persons – who are hailed as heroes when helping refugees at the borders with Ukraine, are harassed by police and deemed criminals when doing the very same thing at the border with Belarus. Even the Pope – who, still, 40 days into the war, refuses to clearly name who the bad guys who attacked Ukraine are – had some doubt about the treatment of refugees, luckily Andrzej Duda happened to be in the Vatican and he kindly lectured his holiness about what is the difference between those two kinds of refugees and while we strive to save ones while sending the other ones to be raped or die in the forest.
So what the government is actually doing? The infamous trip of 3,5 prime ministers, in which Kaczyński and Morawiecki joined prime ministers of the Czech Republic and Slovenia in their trip to Kyiv was of course just a PR stunt. Those politicians needed that trip to demonstrate that they are not as close supporters of Putin as they look. Of course, Kaczyński, who almost never travels abroad, were well out of his depth, and it was sad to look at this lost, demented old man who clearly knew he is dealing with events out-of-his league. His completely random proposition of NATO peacekeeping forces was of course not agreed with our NATO partners and was in fact playing into the hands of Russians, who even before tried to claim that Poland can’t wait to take control over Western Ukraine again – and, according to Lavrov, the NATO mission would be only the pretext, as it would be in fact Polish army on the Ukrainian soil.
But while the trip to Kyiv was a political disaster, at least it was not a real-life one – former officers of the secret services had been shocked about the lack of security precautions during that trip. Some say, though, that Kaczyński had nothing to be worried about, as Putin would not shoot at his own people. And they might be right: Kaczyński’s actions in Poland clearly show that he is still working hard towards Putinisation of Poland. For several weeks now PiS repeats like a broken record that the change of constitution is needed in order to seize the property of Russian oligarchs. As PiS has no constitutional majority, the opposition would be needed to do that, and they won’t fall for it – Kaczyński tries to convince them that the change of constitution is needed under every pretext for years now. With a lack of arguments, he resorted to blackmail, saying that “those who won’t raise their hands to change Polish constitutions, are accomplices in Putin’s crimes in Ukraine”. What they can’t achieve by the changing of the constitution, they are trying to sneak through the back doors. The new proposed bill on the defending of Poles not only destroys the completely existing system of civil defence based on local government but also gives the government right to remove inconvenient mayors and regional administrators during unconstitutional quasi emergency states similar to this that is still illegally in place along the border with Belarus. They also tried to sneak the paragraph that would virtually make embezzling money legally, as long as the thief is still able to claim that he was acting to deal with the emergency – they have already tried it during special COVID laws.
Outside of parliament, the direction is also clear. Kaczyński, along with PiS, tries to pose as a defender of the Polish interest, claiming that if not for PiS, the LNG terminal in Świnoujście would never be built (which is an exceptionally idiotic claim, as the decision to commence its construction was indeed made during the previous PiS government, the actual job was actually done over 8 years of Platforma Obywatelska rule and the terminal was ready just in time for them to come and cut the ribbon after they got back to power). While Poles run to help Ukrainians in thousands, and schools have to deal with a record influx of over 140 000 traumatised Ukrainian children and teenagers, Minister of Education Przemysław Czarnek refuses them the right to sit Ukrainian matures, or even Polish ones in their language, forcing them to sit exams in Polish on the Polish literature instead, claiming that he just wants to be sure that Ukrainian pupils are not getting any privileges over their Polish peers. Meanwhile, Kaczyński’s coalition partner, Zbigniew Ziobro and his Solidarna Polska party threw off their masks and they leave no doubt that they are Putin’s little helpers. Beata Kempa MEP for example teamed up with Czarnek to organize a school competition aiming to popularise knowledge about the Volhyn massacres amongst pupils. Zbigniew Ziobro himself openly cheered for Victor Orban’s victory in the recent Hungarian elections and his faithful side-kick Janusz Kowalski obviously had his medicine taken away, so he can indulge in his hate and conspiracy theories about Tusk who, surprisingly, is no longer German, but Russian agent. He went as far as to claim that a Ferrari parked outside the Polish parliament belonged to Tusk who paid for it with the money he stole (the actual owner of the sports car answered that if Kowalski did some honest job in his life then one day perhaps he could buy himself one too).
Beata Kempa and Przemysław Czarnek are not the only ones to suddenly feel an urgent need to remind everyone about Vohlyn’s massacres. Jacek Międlar, a priest-turned-hate-preacher is now alarmed about the Ukrainisation (or even Banderisation) of Poland, yet Zbigniew Ziobro still supports him to such an extent that it was not him, but the prosecutor who tried to arrest him, that is now in trouble. Międlar openly slags and threatens her – which is a crime prosecuted ex officio – but a pro-Ziobro prosecutor found no grounds to continue the investigation in the matter, and turned its interest to revoking her immunity after Międlar accused her of overstepping her prerogatives.
But while the government protects its hateful minions, it is not so keen to support its pro-Russian competition. Some leaders of the right-wing Konferedacja – like Janusz Korwin-Mikke – openly support Putins’ actions in Ukraine and yet when Grzegorz Braun – either Russia’s agent or a useful idiot – tried to obstruct activities of the parliamentary commission for defence he was kicked out of it – 438 MPs supported that motion while only 10 were against it.
Meanwhile, the court ruled that judge Igor Tuleya, suspended by the illegal Disciplinary Chamber of the Hight Court, is free to return to work. Yet, his superior – and one of Ziobro’s nominated – refused to observe the ruling of the court and still prevents him from returning to his duties.
Apparently, the Putinisation of the Polish courts has to go on – just as Orbanisation of the Polish media: for yet another year we hear reports of the record-high advertisement spending directed almost exclusively to the media supportive of the government. The government is also still very muddy when it comes to cutting its economic ties with Russia: many Polish companies still operate in Moscow and don’t plan on withdrawal, the purchase of Russian gas and oil continues and it took over a month to block the import of Russian coal, even despite the fact that, unlike with gas or oil, Poland is not reliant on it. Mateusz Morawiecki tried to blame European Union for making it impossible, but the actions of other countries – like Lithuania, which completely cut import of Russian gas at the beginning of April – proved him to be a liar again.
Other economical ties with Russia also turn out to be hard to impose – the government says they are doing it to protect Polish trucks that are travelling to Russia. But ordinary citizens have enough and – inspired by one of the Ukrainian refugees – took the matter into their hands and regularly block border crossings, preventing Russian and Belarussian trucks from shipping goods to the east.
There are some victories, though. The courts finally ruled that driving a van plastered with homophobic slander on a public road (more about it here) is illegal. But meanwhile, Kaja Godek, a disgusting anti-abortion activist, distributes leaflets amongst Ukrainian refugee women to lecture them, that abortion is the biggest crime and the worst danger to world peace. One of the bishops also somehow came to the conclusion that during the terrible invasion of the brute war criminals on our neighbours it is necessary to tell the faithful in his sermon, that “abortion is the worst thing on this planet”. I guess we still have a long way ahead of us. The official Twitter account of the Constitutional Tribunal (hijacked by PiS) for example on 2nd April informed – with a promoted tweet – that “on this day 17 years ago in Vatican Pope and a Saint John Paul II, a great pole, Karol Wojtyła died”. Only after the public outrage dominated discussion on the Polish twitter-sphere they published a less prominent tweet on the evening of this day agreeing with the fact, that the 2nd of April is also the day on which 25 years ago the current Constitution of The Republic of Poland had been established… When observing PiS’s actions, one can just say on that occasion “it was nice while it lasted…”
This piece was written for Britské Listy
Picture: Martyna Sokołowska