The time of Mateusz Morawiecki’s two weeks government came quite uneventful on the political front. As it was obvious to everyone, his appointment served only one purpose: to delay Donald Tusk’s appointment.
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But of course, life was going on even without any governmental activities. A trucker’s blockade of the roads leading to Ukraine made headlines all over the world. The government inaction allowed not only pro-Russian activists to hijack the narration regarding the protest on the Polish side, but also for Ukraine to accuse Poland of betrayal and stabbing them in the back. No wonder that the haulers, who raise genuine issues regarding discrimination of European haulage companies in Ukraine, corruption and chaos of the border as well as Ukrainian competition bending the rules of the EU-UA agreement to gain unfair advantage over their EU-based competition felt left abandoned by everyone (the matter is truly complicated, I won’t go into it here, but I wrote a detailed explainer that can be found in English here). Let me just reiterate that Ukrainian accusations of protesters blocking access for humanitarian and military transports seem to be largely untrue: this is being enforced by the Polish police and the official statistics of the Polish government confirm that, if anything, the number of transports declared at humanitarian that crossed the border has risen. Although it seems that the word “declared” as might be the key one here, as apparently Polish trucker’s accusations about corruption in Ukraine are not as unfounded as Ukraine wants us to believe: recently a customs agent had been arrested for taking bribes there. In exchange, he was declaring commercial shipments as humanitarian transports.
It is worth mentioning, that some of the postulates of the Polish truckers (like allowing empty lorries to cross without having to queue) are supported also by their Ukrainian counterparts, and even the most pro-Ukrainian people like Exen, a Polish activist that provided nearly 200 4×4 prepared for the Ukrainian army so far, are not hiding, that most of the delays on the border are caused by Ukrainian customs.
Dość! Sytuacja na granicy z terenówkami dla wojska jest HORRENDALNA! Mam kierowców, którzy drugą dobę stoją 🤬 99% winy leży po stronie ukraińskich celników. Takiego burdelu nie ma nigdzie indziej na świecie. Państwo w państwie. ZSU będzie jeździło rowerami, jeśli tego nie ogarną
— Exen 🇵🇱 (@Exen) December 17, 2023
But it’s not like Polish uniformed services are operating as they should. A 14-year-old girl died in Andrychów and the Police is blamed for her death. She was on her way to school when she called her father saying she was not feeling well, then collapsed mid-call. According to her father, the police ignored his reports for several hours and the girl in a state of deep hypothermia (it was a really frosty day) was found by a family friend after 5 hours. The police deny this accusation, an investigation is taking place.
It won’t be the first investigation that could end with police being blamed for someone’s death. New data shows that since 2018, 111 people died in police custody. The Human Rights Ombudsman is investigating 33 such cases that took place between 2018 and 2021 and 78 in the last two years. Even in this series, we wrote several times about how the quality of policing dropped due to PiS’ politicization of the force which saw experienced officers being removed or leaving on their own will. I guess this might be a visible result of this.
But even if the police do their job right, it can come to nothing. President Andrzej Duda just pardoned a couple of neo-nazi activists sentenced to jail time for attacking a person carrying a bag in LGBT colours.
But while Andrzej Duda wants to take us back to 1930’s Germany, other things prove, that we’re already living in the future. A recent big scandal involved hackers hacking a train. After an independent train service company was met with unexplained faults despite doing everything as per manual and was at the verge of losing the contract, in desperation they hired a group of hackers to reverse-engineer the train’s software. The discovery was astonishing: according to them, the code instructed the train to come up with imaginary faults in case it had been serviced in certain locations, that all happened to be workshops of the servicing companies other than the train’s manufacturer. This would be a clear breach of the right to repair, so the train manufacturer, Newag, denies the accusations, basically saying “They know nothing about it, and no wonder trains come up with imaginary faults if they were hacked”, completely ignoring the timeline of the events. This can be a problem for the company, as it has been growing fast and gaining huge markets all over Europe – just recently it won a tender to deliver up to 80 trains for a French train operator.
One thing is true: the Polish railway industry needs hackers for more things than just hacking some geo-locks on the trains. A new train, Inter-City Chopin, connecting Warsaw with München via Ostrava and Vienna began its journeys completely empty, as due to computer issues it was not possible at all to buy tickets for it.
But let’s go back to politics. While Mateusz Morawiecki was still pretending he believed he could get a majority, his ministers still had time to obstruct the proceedings of the new parliament. As the Sejm’s statute allows members of the government to take the rostrum at any moment, his ministers were abusing this privilege to filibuster. The new speaker Szymon Hołownia decided to limit their time to 3 minutes, which resulted in PiS MP’s crying about him stepping on the freedom of speech (how soon they forgot how they were switching off the mic every time the opposition was saying something they didn’t liked). Hołownia’s calm responses, topped with some snarky remarks, made him a very popular figure, and the parliamentary channel on YouTube amassed hundreds of thousands of followers. In a couple of places, people hired cinemas just to watch together the parliamentary proceedings during which Morawiecki’s government fell and Donald Tusk was nominated as the new prime minister.
The new government was sworn in on 13 December. I believe this was deliberate, so PiS can call them “the 13th of December” coalition, as the Martial State in 1981 was introduced on that day. But, regardless, the new government has begun work instantly. And they were for a big surprise.
It had emerged that computers and printers disappeared from the prime ministerial officers. Apparently, Morawiecki signed a document that allowed his employees to purchase them at a fraction of the price when leaving – even those, who were there only for two weeks. It quickly emerged as well that the budget is 3,000,000 zł short, as redundancy payments for the two-week ministers ate a large chunk of the salaries budget (Morawiecki also for some reason employed an extra 100 people just before the elections).
Some personal changes were introduced immediately not only in the ministries. Infamous Kraków education superintendent – a radical ultra-Catholic PiS activist – had been instantly sacked by the new Education Minister. But not everything went smoothly – Minister of Defence liquidated Antoni Macierewicz’s “subcommission for investigation of the Smoleńsk plane crash”, a bunch of loonies that at great expense to the taxpayers spread conspiracy theories, but Macierewicz ignored his decision saying the “subcommission was supposed to work well into 2024 and so it will be”. He came to work and ordered soldiers not to let the journalist in. He is now bragging in the media that he is the only person with the keys to the safes that contain “top secret documents”.
Other institutions are also putting up a fight. After Jacek Kurski – the man who turned public TV into PiS propaganda and was for that rewarded with a cosy job as a Polish representative in the World Bank had also been sacked. The National Bank of Poland (also controlled by the PiS nominee) instantly rushed to his defence, tripping over its legs in the process. They have issued a statement that can be summed up as “The law says it’s up to the NBP chairman to decide who represents Poland in international financial institutions unless the government decides otherwise, therefore the government has no right to decide otherwise”. This is a quite stupid line of argument even for them.
They got the headlines recently for placing a gigantic banner on their building saying “Our actions are within the law”. (wasn’t it Margaret Thatcher who said that if you really are a lady, you don’t need to go around telling everyone that?”). I propose they put up another one saying “Jacek Kurski represents us in World Bank”. This might be some kind of cult cargo or something, but apparently works for them…
Also, the chief of the Anti-Corruption Bureau was not willing to give up without putting up a fight. During the parliamentary commission on special services he announced that “loss of trust of the Prime Minister is not sufficient to sack the chief of the Anti-Corruption-Bureau” and just left the room, but, as the other option for his dismissal would be accusing him of politicizing the bureau and place him under investigation, so apparently, he finally gave in.
De-PiS-isation of the public broadcaster will be even more tricky. They even drafted the constitutional tribunal that in the line-up that included two ex-PiS MPs and a man of Zbigniew Ziobro decided that the government has no right to make any changes in TVP and Polish Radio – because, according to them, while those are state-owned companies, the law about companies does not apply to them. Meanwhile, employees of TVP in their swan song try to drum up the support of their viewers crying about how the highest standards of objectivity and media freedom are being crushed by the new government. There are even some rumors that they are willing to “handcuff themselves to the radiators” in their offices.
So, hopefully, for the last time, let’s remind ourselves what the “free and impartial” media looks like according to PiS by watching this north-Korean style clip about president Andrzej Duda that was broadcasted during their flagship news night program just before the presidential elections:
Jak Tusk przejmie TVP to weźcie mi powiedzcie, gdzie będę mógł znaleźć takie obiektywne i bezstronne dziennikarstwo? pic.twitter.com/FeGx8yZM3a
— rzep (@rzep8) December 19, 2023
Unfortunately, despite expectation of many voters of the Left (Razem, a young social democratic party that was a part of the Left coalition decided to do not enter the coalition government as they believed they can’t give up on their postulates) Donald Tusk’s government seem to be backtracking a bit when it comes to some expectations they set. New Education Minister for example announced that the number of religion lessons in schools will be cut to one per week and they will have to be the first or the last class on the day (which is, basically, as it should already be under the current law). She also confirmed the catechists will still be paid from the public purse, even though there is no reason for that – in the concordat the state agreed to organize the lessons, not to pay for them. If that’s any indicator for the future, it might show that Donald Tusk will still try to sit on the fence, just as the last time he went to power promising he won’t kneel to Bishops only to backtrack on everything later.
So it seems my Absurdistan series will not run out dry of the things to write about. Especially since right-wing Konfederacja still has a strong presence in the parliament.
The stunt of pro-Russian anti-Semitic, anti-vaccination MP Grzegorz Braun who used a fire extinguisher on Hanukkah candles seems to be just the beginning. His party colleague – who failed to get elected to the senate – tweeted that a bomb would blow up in the parliament. As soon as he realised what he did, he reported to the police that his account was hacked. But the cops didn’t believed this (as this is a very common excuse on the Polish right when someone writes something stupid) and charged him attempting to false bomb alarm.
So don’t worry. PiS might not be in power anymore, but the Absurdistan is here to stay.
This piece was written for Britské Listy
Picture: Public Domain