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Apr 20, 2024

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News Bytes from Poland

By Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent


Lech Wałęsa hospitalized in Gdańsk heart ward for circulatory problems;
illness prevented him taking part in an anti-government protest
Former Polish president Lech Wałęsa, 73, was taken to the cardiology ward of a Gdańsk hospital with circulatory problems. His son Jarosław told reporters his father had felt faint and was overcome by a general sense of weakness. Wałęsa, who suffers from diabetes, looked unwell with an unnaturally red and puffy face when he attended President Donald Trump’s recent speech in Warsaw. He was booed by many in the audience for his bitter feuding with the current conservative government and continued denial that he had briefly been a paid informer of the communist regime in the 1970s. Wałęsa’s indisposition prevented him from attending an anti-government protest in Warsaw against a monthly observance of the 2010 Smolensk air disaster that killed all 96 people on board. Among them were many senior military and political leaders including President Lech Kaczyński, the twin brother of the leader of Poland’s ruling conservative Law and Justice Party.


Free publicity from anti-government opponents contributes to
record turnout at July’s Smolensk observance;
police set up metal barriers to prevent repeat of violence
Ever since the April 10, 2010 Smolensk air crash, family and friends of the disaster victims as well as sympathizers of the conservative Law and Justice party have held commemorative observances on the 10th of each month. It starts with Holy Mass and is  followed by a march to the Presidential Palace where a memorial assembly is held. Since last December a group calling itself Citizens of the Polish Republic began disrupting the commemoration with bullhorns, noise-makers and loud chanting meant to drown out the proceedings. Opponents of the government tried to block June’s March of Memory by sitting in the road and were forcibly removed by the police. Former Solidarity activist Władysław Frasyniuk was charged with attacking a police officer during the scuffle. turned into a clash as dozens of protesters staged a sit-in to disrupt the event. “I wish to thank those who want to deprive us of our civil right (to peacefully assemble). We have not had such a turnout and so many priests con celebrating the mass for some time,”  Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński said. “We will continue our commemoration until a monument is erected to the late President Lech Kaczyński and another to all the victims,” he explained. Police set up metal barriers along both sides of the procession route, preventing a repeat of June’s disruption.


Polish reforms on track;
pro-birth child benefits stimulate economic growth
Last year, when Poland’s conservative government launched its pro-birth Family 500+ program, every second child and subsequent children in a family began receiving a monthly cash benefit of 500 złotys ($133), The opposition warned it would break the budget, and lowlifes would drink and smoke away the extra cash. But the government’s economic boss Mateusz Morawiecki said better tax collecting would bankroll the project and he has delivered on his pledge. As a result of the previous administration’s slipshod enforcement of tax laws. Scamsters made off with 22 billion złotys (nearly $5.9 billion). Not only have the benefits increased child-bearing but have actually stimulated economic growth by increasing consumer spending and creating new jobs. The quality of life of millions of Polish families has also improved. Last year, some parents could afford to take their kids on vacation for the first time.


President Andrzej Duda is Poland’s most trusted politician, survey finds
Polish President Andrzej Duda enjoys the trust of 62% of Poles, followed by Prime Minister Beata Szydło – 56%, Former rock musician Paweł Kukiz, head of the anti-establishment parliamentary group Kukiz’15 is trusted by 50%, according to the survey conducted by pollster CBOS. Duda’s trust rating grew by 4 percentage points in June. Only 27% of respondents said they did not trust the head of state. Defence Minister Antoni Macierewicz was the most distrusted politician, with 52% respondents viewing him skeptically. Macierewicz, the hero of a 1992 effort to reveal the communist-era collaboration of many top political figures including Lech Wałęsa, has been the target of an extremely vicious. 25-year-long  smear campaign.


European Commission launches proceedings against Poland,
Hungary and the Czech Republic
The European Commission, the EU’s executive branch, has launched legal proceedings against Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic over their refusal to accept Brussels-imposed migrant quotas. Poland has not accepted any asylum-seekers under an EU program to relocate Middle Eastern and African migrants from refugee camps in Italy and Greece. Dimitris Avramopoulos, European Commissioner for Migration, said: “I regret to say that despite our repeated calls to relocate, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland have not yet taken the necessary action. The Commission has therefore decided to launch infringement procedures against these three member states.” Poland has so far stood its ground and is ready to plead its case before the EU’s Tribunal of Justice in Luxemburg. According to Polish Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski, “most of these people are not refugees, only immigrants who have illegally entered Europe.”


Most Poles prefer to leave the European Union than accept Muslim migrants
A survey conducted by Poland’s Ibris polling organization has shown that over 56% of Poles would prefer to lose European Union funding and a slim 51% would actually prefer to leave the EU rather than accept imposed quotas of Muslim immigrant aliens. Poland had been repeatedly attacked by the EU for refusing to admit the 7,000 so-called “refugees” accepted by the previous liberal government. Syrian war refugees account for a tiny minority of the asylum-seekers, most of whom are able-bodied males in the 18 to 30 age group seeking a better life in Europe. Poland provided refuge to some 90,000 Chechens forced by the Russians to flee their country. And, following Russia’s 2014 aggression against Ukraine, one million Ukrainians fled to Poland. Poland is also providing aid to Syrians in refugee camps. “Our conscience is clean. A country’s first obligation is to ensure the safety of its own citizens,” explained Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczyński in reference to the growing crime and terrorist threats accompanying the Muslim influx.


Protesters face court for disrupting commemorations
honoring Smolensk disaster victims
Police have asked courts to punish several dozen protesters who disrupted commemorations in Warsaw of the 2010 crash of the Polish presidential plane in Smolensk. Russia. Since then, a commemoration is held in Warsaw on the 10th of each month to honor the 96 crash victims. Since late last year, anti-government protesters have been coming to drown out memorial speeches with bullhorns and heckle those mourning their loved ones. The protesters have also blocked participants trying to approach the presidential palace where the memorial gatherings take place. Police dragged off some of the protesters, among them Solidarity hero Władysław Frasyniuk who openly sides with the anti-government faction.


Baltic Pipeline initiative and US liquid gas are attempts
to lessen Poland’s dependence on Russian gas
During her talks in Denmark with Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen,, Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydło called a Baltic Pipeline initiative a key to Poland’s energy security. According to Poland’s Gaz-System, the operator of the Świnoujście Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal in northwestern Poland, the Baltic Pipe may be operational by October 2022.  Poland’s Deputy Foreign Minister Konrad Szymański said the Baltic Pipe would be another “window to the world of gas” for Poland. “This way we can diversify gas supplies, specifically non-Russian ones, to our market, which is still too strongly dependent on that supplier,” Szymański said. In a bid to reduce dependence on Russia for gas, Poland has since 2015 been receiving gas from Qatar and recently received its first shipment of gas from the US.


Previous government suspected of involvement in huge scams
New facts continue to emerge about major financial scandals implicating Poland’s  previous government led by the liberal Civic Platform (PO) party. According to Mateusz Morawiecki, economic chief of the ruling conservative Law and Justice government, the VAT (tax) evasion scam had cost the Poland an estimated 22 billion złotys (close to $5,9 billion),while the proper authorities looked the other way.  Former prime minister Donald Tusk (now European Council chief) failed to do anything about the Amber Gold scam until the pseudo-bank had robbed 19,000 Poles out of their life’s savings: 851 million zł (about $227 million). The Mayor of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz has been accused of allegedly covering for a property scam in which fraudsters, including her own husband, had acquired formerly Jewish-owned apartment buildings after evicting some 400,000 of their residents. Investigations are under way.


Files incriminating Lech Wałęsa as a
paid communist-era informer were not falsified – IPN announces
The Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) has dropped its investigation into the alleged falsification of Lech Wałęsa’s incriminating police files. When shown the documents found at the home of the late communist security boss Czesław Kiszczak, he claimed they had all been falsified by the communist secret police.. The graphologists who studied his signature and handwritng found beyond a doubt that they were written in his own hand. He had signed a pledge to collaborate with the SB and had submitted handwritten reports about the people he had snitched on. Many Poles feel m that brief several-year episode in the 1970s does not undermine Wałęsa’s role in Poland’s peaceful Solidarity revolution.


Poland hosts its first UNESCO World Heritage Committee session
Some 3,000 participants from 140 different countries attended the 41st session of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee held in Kraków – a first for Poland. During the ten-day session, the Committee reviewed some 200 cases pertaining to natural and cultural heritage sites world-wide. Poland already has numerous UNESCO-approved cultural heritage sites including the old town districts of Warsaw, Kraków and Zamość, the historic Kalwaria Zebrzydowska Pilgrim Complex and Park, the medieval salt mines of Wieliczka and Bochnia and the wooden country churches of southern Poland’s Małopolska region. Its latest candidate was a historic lead, silver and zinc mining complex in Tarnowskie Góry, southern Poland: But so far, the country has only one natural heritage cite – primeval Białowieża Forest in eastern Poland. UNESCO has asked the Polish authorities to stop logging in Białowieża, one of Europe’s last natural habitats of its kind. Polish officials have replied that only trees damaged or threatened by the spruce-bark beetle are being felled to stop the spread of the disease.


Contrary to expectations –  Warsaw is Poland’s safest city
Warsaw leads other Polish cities in  the Safe and Open Cities survey carried out by the Polish Robert Schuman and Konrad Adenauer foundations, The southern cities of Kraków and Rzeszów were ranked second and third in the survey, It was based on such criteria as the crime rate,  transport safety and the situation of foreigners in Polish cities. That does not mean that Poland’s capital has no dangerous neighborhoods that are best avoided, especially after dusk.


Museum honoring Polish Jew-savers
during the Holocaust opens in SE Poland
The village of Markowa in SE Poland’s Podkarpackie (Sub-Carpathian) region is the site of a newly independent museum honoring Poles who saved Jews during the Holocaust.  It bears the name of the Polish Ulma family who were shot to death there during World War II by Germans for sheltering Jews. e museum. Until now, the museum was a branch of the Castle Museum in nearby, but now it has become an independent entity. Over 6,600 ethnic Poles are commemorated in Israel’s Garden of the Righteous in Jerusalem for aiding Jews during World War II.


Blaze damages historic 700-year old cathedral in Gorzów. western Poland
While mass was underway at the Cathedral of the Assumption of the blessed Virgin Mary in the city of Gorzów, thick smoke began billowing out of the building’s bell-tower. Worshipers were safely evacuated and 20 fire-fighting units battled the blaze for 48 hours to bring it under control. As they directed their fire hoses at the 160-foot tower, townsfolk removed heavy antique confessionals and religious art not knowing whether the fire would spread to the main nave of the 700-year-old Gothic cathedral. The tower will have to be rebuilt but the rest of the building survived the conflagration remarkably well. Gorzów (formerly German Landsberg) was among the cities ceded to Poland after the war by the Big Three Allies.


5,500  sportsmen competed in 31 non-Olympic sports
at Wroclaw’s World Games
Some 5,500 athletes and thousands of fans descended on the Polish southwestern city of Wrocław for World Games 2017. The Olympic-style opening ceremony highlighted  the history of Wrocław and featured artistic performances. The Games’ most popular events included speedway (cinder-track motorcycle races), floorball, billiards and squash. First launched in 1981, the World Games are held every four years in disciplines or events within a sport not contested at the traditional Olympics.


Polish taxi drivers stage slow-downs to protest
against unfair Uber competition
Licensed taxi drivers in Warsaw and several other Polish cities caused huge rush-hour traffic jams to protest against the low-cost Uber drivers who are winning away their customers. Uber provides budget-priced transport in private unmarked cars which are summoned by customers using an online app. Some 3,000 drivers took part in the Warsaw protest. The head of the Warsaw Taxi Drivers Union said the protests were against unfair Uber competition as well as ordinary motorists who unofficially transport passengers for cash.  Ordinary citizens caught in the artificial congestion  said taxi drivers should find other ways of protesting without punishing average citizens on their way to work.


Germany prevents Polish kids from speaking Polish
Germany’s Jugendamt, a youth welfare agency, continues to prohibit Polish kids from speaking Polish during visits with their parents. During such visits the parents are not allowed to speak about going home to Poland nor tell their kids they love them.  Polish families complain that the agency is intentionally hindering them from contacting their children and is even taking Polish children and placing them in foster care with little or no legal basis. A snoopy neighbor’s allegation that he/she heard “raised voices” or a child crying often suffices for social workers to seize children.


One of  Poland’s largest museum exhibitions should appeal to PolAm visitors
Aside from general sightseeing and visitng relatives, this year’s visitng Polish Americans are in for for a special treat. The old royal capital of Kraków is hosting one of the largest museum exhibitions ever held in Poland. It will include art works, antiques and historic artifacts, some of which have never been exhibited. The oldest item on display is the original denarius of Bolesław Chrobry (Boleslaus the Brave), Poland’s ruler from 992 to 1025. The coin contains the oldest surviving image of the Polish eagle. Also on exhibit is Polish modern art. “I want visitors leaving the exhibition to feel optimistic about Poland’s rich heritage, to see they are the heirs to a wonderful past and a great culture,” remarked the exhibition’s curator, Krzysztof Szczerski.


Fifty-five beer makers, mostly craft brewers,
display their wares in Wrocław;
Although it is a far cry from Germany’s world-famous Oktoberfest, the southwestern n Polish city of Wrocław recently held its own annual beer festival, first launched in 2010. Hanna Hylińska from the festival’s press office said that, in addition to Polish and foreign beer stands, there were also food stalls and even beer toiletries on offer. “Beer toiletries include shampoos or shower gels produced from beer. But the focus was on the beer stands, where 55 brewers – mainly craft brewers – made 500 beer varieties available,” she explained.