Meanwhile in Cuckooland 61

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Finally, some real good change! Poles no longer have to work on Sundays. On some Sundays, that is, as the new law only applies to two Sundays per month. Anyway, two Sundays to be able to spent with your family sounds fine, right? But, again, this only applies to you if you work in retail. And only as long as you don’t work in the shop that is attached to a garage or a shopping mall connected to the railway station. And if you have energy to spend time with your family after you were working late on the day before and don’t have to get up at 2am on Monday morning to get to work.

In general, new ban on Sunday shopping is met with mixed reviews. Those, who demand that on religious grounds, argue, that limiting it to two Sundays per month for a limited group of workers only is just a half measure. Others point out flaws in PiS reasoning: if, as they claim, this is to improve quality of family lives, then why those families of shop assistants are now encouraged to go to cinemas or cafes – don’t people who work there have families? Even Chief Labour Inspectorate itself has to do some extra Sunday work to police this new ban…

Prosecutors are also getting busy. With all those neo-nazi stuff going on in Poland, they have decided to check, if certain organizations don’t spread totalitarian ideas. They went straight to work and as a starter targeted social democratic party “Razem”. There is a reasonable suspicion, that they are trying to spread a totalitarian version of communism: Adrian Zandberg, one of its leaders, as a teenager wore a T-Shirt with Karl Marx

In Politics, prime minister Morawiecki committed yet another gaffe during his speech in Munchen, when he blamed Jews for the Holocaust. His father, former Solidarity legend, says that it is because “he speaks English too well”. Well, if that is the explanation, then listening to what most prominent politicians of PiS say, one could think that the main problem is that they can speak any language at all. President Andrzej Duda for example expressed his grief that the controversial law, that resulted in the conflict with Israel had to be put in place “in this form at this point of time”. If we remember that as a president he had right to veto it, does it mean that he admits his mistake?

In any way, the relations with USA are worst since 1989. Portal obtained a document from Polish Embassy in Washington, that suggests that that both Duda and Morawiecki are now not welcome in the White House. The government first denied existence of this document, then proceeded to accuse the author of publishing secret document. Apparently it was so secret, that it was non-existent. Meanwhile US Government denied, that there are any sanctions against Poland, so PiS triumphantly announced, that the whole matter is fake news, and relations with Trump’s administration are better than even. They have missed the fact, that the Americans message was “while there are no sanctions, we don’t plan having meetings with Polish president or prime minister any time soon”. But it’s a language of diplomacy – for PiS, it is a bit too tricky…

In Poland meanwhile, there were changes to the infamous hunting laws. Sejm, lower chamber of the parliament, listened to NGO’s and environmental activists (notable Kaczyński, who don’t like hunting and is said to have intervened in the matter) and put some limitations on the hunter’s omnipotence. If we believe the chief of the hunting association, it will be now impossible to fight pig’s disease. I don’t know since when issues like presence of kids during killing animals are crucial for successful hunting, but apparently I am not an expert. Unlike former minister of environment, who said, that this is example of placing constituted law over “natural law” and attempt to limit parenting rights, as hunters will no longer be able to show their children how to “obtain good food in a very humanitarian way”. According to him, regulations regarding animal cruelty will also mean the end of Polish cynology…

But when the bill went to be proceeded by Senat, upper chamber of the parliament, it turned out, that there is one, more important issue: the bit, that prevented people, who cooperated with the communist regime, from holding top positions in Polish Hunters Association, suddenly disappeared. That means top fat cats of the Hunting Association, known to have history of being informers of the communist regime, can hold on to their jobs for longer.

But if you think Hunting Association is a state within a state, just wait until you see Polish State Forests. This institution is living in limbo: from one hand, it’s a state institution and it’s job is to take care of the state owned forests. On the other hand, it works as a business, trading timber, providing hunting grounds and so on. There is a small catch though: they are quite independent from the government, so apart from paying some small, fixed rate tax on their profits, they don’t have to share their profits with the rest of the Polish population. Despite that, they are still trying to bend the law in order to avoid paying other taxes like VAT or property taxes.

In short words: the business model of State Forests is that they sell the timber that belongs to everyone and keep the profits for themselves. As a result, it is really good to be a Polish forester. Average salary in the institution is reported to be nearly 8000 zł (nearly twice Polish average). Foresters have benefits galore – from so call “functional allowance” which on itself can be well over average pay in Poland, through a winter fuel allowance, petrol allowance, uniform allowance, company computers and mobile phones to free housing. And even despite the fact, that Poland has twice as much foresters as Czech Republic per hectare of the forest, the queue for those cosy jobs is enormous, so no wonder that State Forests are commonly known for their rampaging nepotism and corruption.

The previous government wanted to do something about that, proposing introducing some real economy into the industry, but their proposed reform of State Forests was torpedoed by PiS, crying that Tusk is going to sell Polish crown jewels, allegedly in order to give money to American Jews. Now it has become clear, why PiS was so desperate to prevent that reform: instead of bringing State Forest back to the economic reality, they wanted to take control over it themselves – and no wonder: is there any other company, where by default expenses and losses are public, but profits are to be shared only by a narrow group of company employees?

And there are some losses. Or rather, should I say, there would be, if State Forest were not operating in the magic bubble of fairly land economy. The burden of excessive number of overpaid employees seems to take toll on the State Forest financial situation, which might explain why they are so desperate to chop trees even in protected areas like Puszcza Białowieska. But even despite the controversial cuts in there and the fact, that the State Forests in Białowieża made over 4 000 000 zł on hunting fees and sale of the game, it had to rely on grants – in 2016 local district of State Forest in Białowieża received nearly 23 000 000 zł – it is about as much, as the total budgets of Białowieża and Hajnówka parishes.

The recent report of the NGO’s paints a grim picture: while 151 foresters of Białowieża district chop trees in Białowieża in order to make some extra money, the local population of 24 000 people suffer from the forester’s actions impact on the tourist market. This seems to be a general pattern for the PiS government: they don’t openly steal or defraud public money. They just take over state institutions and make them work for the benefit of their own people, placed in strategic places, while showing total disregard for the well-being of the general population.

As if people in Poland had not enough problems yet. For example, if you were thinking about opening business in Poland, think twice. Poland is known for its constantly changing law – in 2016 it has been estimated, that to keep up with rapid changes in legislation, one would have to read the new legal documents for four hours per day, every day. As a result, navigating through Polish legal or tax system is like walking the minefield (even more so now, as due to the way PiS introduces new laws – without public consultation, without any discussions in parliament, simply voted in bulk using brute force, often late at night – the quality of the new law is appaling). Since the law is often contradictory to itself, and can be interpreted in many ways, a few years back business were given the option of obtaining (after paying a fee) an official interpretation from the fiscal services. This interpretation was binding… Until now. Mateusz Morawiecki’s government is of the opinion, that it’s a entrepreneur’s job to make sure, that they are in line with the regulation, and even if they paid to obtain official interpretation from the fiscal services, they are not safe if the other tax officer interprets the law differently than the one, who issued official interpretation.

If you are a big business though, coming to Poland might be a big idea. The government just offered 20,2 millions to JP Morgan bank. Good to know, that prime minister Morawiecki, a former bank executive himself, is willing to help those poor bankers who, as we all know, usually struggle to make ends meet. JP Morgan, in return, is going to create 3000 workplaces. In Warsaw. Because Warsaw, with it’s 2% unemployment rate is exactly where creating new workplaces using government money is most important.

Luckily, some other people are making sure, that Polish money is to stay in Polish hands. There will be a sport event in Skarżysko-Kamienna, a 15 km “Constitution Run”. Remember that local PiS councillor from Świdnica, who was protesting against runners from Kenia winning all the marathons? Terms and Conditions of “Constitution Run” state clearly, that “due to patriotic nature of the event, only runners of Polish nationality can be awarded”. He should be happy to hear that. There will be no Kenians scooping medals and prizes this time!

But at least here everything is clear. Because in Poland, absurds are everywhere, not only in politics. In Wrocław, for example, there was until recently a great system of distributing tram and bus tickets: apart from kiosks and ticket machines on some stops, every single vehicle was fitted with the device that allowed passengers to buy full range of tickets using contact-less card payments. This is now being replaced with ticket-less system – validators were replaced with card terminals, and you will no longer receive paper ticket. This causes issues, for example it is impossible to buy more tickets in advance, or to buy tickets for people who go to different places using one card, as with there being no paper tickets, the only way for ticket examiner to confirm you paid your fare is to scan your bank card. This of course poses a significant safety problem. Last but not least, the whole system is also simply illegal, as by law, the client has to be issued with a proof of purchase either on paper, or via e-mail, and here you got nothing, apart from a sum on your bank statement. The new system is so complicated, that the town had to publish a guide in a form of FAQ, in which it tells the passengers how to buy a ticket. Here it is: “How to buy a ticket” guide. Only 69 chapters. Nearly 45 000 signs – four times the length of this piece. The system went online a few days ago and it all ended in disaster. Terminals keep crashing and infuriated people hear from the operator’s spokesperson that “there aren’t any problems”, as “everything was working fine during tests”. She said that “we in Wrocław simply need a few days to become friends with our new system”. The question, why there was a new system needed in the first place if the old one was loved by everyone and worked fine, remains unanswered.

Sometimes I hear, that I should not call this series “Meanwhile in Cuckooland”, as it is offensive to my country. But I am just saying how it really is. You want to argue? Please, have another look at this guide explaining how to buy a tram ticket… I rest my case.

This piece was written for Britske Listy
Photo of Wrocław Tram – Radosław Drożdżewski (CC 4.0 via Wikipedia)