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Polish News Bytes – August

Compiled by Robert Strybel
Warsaw Correspondent

Poland warns against Belarus-based Russian mercenaries
Poland fears that  Russian mercenaries, exiled by Putin to Belarus, may try to to destabilize the region by waging hybrid warfare against neighboring Poland. PM Mateusz Morawiecki warned that the mercenaries could pose as migrants or Belarusian border guards to enter Poland. The 18-foot metal barrier, topped with coils of razor wire, stretches the length of Poland’s border with Belarus, but there are sections accessible by water. Known as the Wagner Group, the mercenaries tortured and murdered civilians and POWs in Ukraine and committed similar atrocities to prop up pro-Russian dictators in Africa and the Middle East.

Belarusian choppers violate Polish/NATO border
Villagers in Poland’s forested Białowieża area  had reported two Belarusian military helicopters flying overhead and posted photos and videos of the incursion on social media. Belorussian officials dismissed the allegation “far-fetched,” but upon further investigation the Polish authorities confirmed the border violation. Belarus had informed the Polish side that training exercises would be taking place near the border but did not mention overstepping it. It was not immediately clear whether this occurred due to a pilot error or a deliberate provocation. Washington warned that any attack on Poland or its allies would be regarded as a Russian attack on NATO.

Poland prepared to ensure NATO’s eastern-flank security
Poland is prepared and ready to ensure the security of NATO’s eastern flank in response to the deployment of Russian mercenary troops in Belarus, Polish Defense Minister Mariusz Błaszczak. He was speaking at a meeting of Polish commanders and soldiers  in the NE city of Białystok, not far from the Belarusian border. In response to an illegal Belarusian incursion into Polish airspace, Poland has sent extra troops and combat helicopters to the border.

Poland detains 16th suspect of Russian spy ring — interior minister
Polish Interior Minister Mariusz Kamiński has announced the detention of the 16
th  successive suspected member of a Russian spy ring operating in the country. A Belarusian named only as Mikhail A., 39, he is suspected of carrying out reconnaissance tasks on Polish military facilities and ports and of spreading pro-Russian propaganda, Kamiński wrote on X (formerly Twitter). In the past, the suspect he had lived in Russia, where he spent six years behind bars.

Polish-Ukrainian ties cool over grain-export row
Poland and other countries bordering Ukraine have been pressuring the European Commission to extend a ban on Ukrainian grain imports beyond mid-September. Much of the Ukrainian grain, which was to go overland in transit to the nearest port not blocked by Russia, ended up on the Polish market and sent prices nosediving. Polish grain farmers were up in arms, potentially alienating the government’s rural electorate. But Ukrainian President Zelensky was in panic, since a ban extension would slash Kyiv’s revenues needed to fund its resistance to Moscow’s aggression. The controversy has cooled Kyiv’s ties with Warsaw, a leading pro-Ukrainian lobbyist and provider of humanitarian and military assistance.

Poles successfully complete fire-fighting mission in Greece
A Polish volunteer contingent has won the admiration of the people of Greece for helping bring raging wildfires under control. Exacerbated by strong winds and unseasonably high temperatures, the blaze had left huge swaths of forestland and olive groves burned to the ground. Polish TV showed Greek citizens expressing their gratitude to the 150 Polish fire-fighters who had protected their nation’s capital Athens from the blaze. In recent years, Polish fire brigades have helped extinguish wildfires from Sweden to Turkey and many points in between.

Poland shows biggest economic growth in post-pandemic period– Morawiecki
Although like other countries, Poland’s economy slowed down in the wake of the the COVID-19 pandemic, it has nevertheless scored the European Union’s highest growth rate since then, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said recently. Donald Tusk, the leader of Poland’s “total opposition,” had predicted that bread under the conservative government he hates with a passion would cost 30 złotys (nearly $8) a loaf, but it has remained in the 4-5 złoty ($1-$1.24) range. Poland was also the first county to eliminate its reliance on Russian energy sources, so its gasoline is among Europe’s cheapest. Inflation was expected to fall below 10% by year’s end but it dropped into the single-digit range months earlier than expected. The National Bank of Poland is now likely to lower the interest rate which will make for more affordable credit.

Poland may sue Germany over illegal waste dumping
A huge blaze of some 5,000 tons of chemical waste in the western Zielona Góra area has revived the Polish government’s long-standing accusation against the previous administration of Donald Tusk for allowing the unimpeded import of hazardous waste. The Polish fly-by-night firms that accepted it for payment did not always store it properly and let toxic chemicals contaminate ground waters. Since much of the waste comes from Germany, Warsaw wants Germany to take it back. Polish officials say they may be forced to sue Berlin over what it called illegal waste dumping.

European Parliament slams Poland over Russian-influence bill
Poland plans to set up a commission to investigate Polish politicians belonging to the Kremlin-bankrolled worldwide web of pro-Russian influencers. The measure has been slammed by the EU and pro-Biden US circles even though the commission cannot punish collaborators or prevent them from running for office. Poland’s conservative government insists that the Polish people have a right to know who governs their country. The previous government of Donald Tusk tried to “reset” relations with Moscow and was pressured by Putin into backing out of the Bush-era anti-missile shield based in Poland and the Czech Republic.

PM Morawiecki pays tribute to victims of Ukrainian nationalists
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Moralistic recently paid tribute to some of the up to 100,000 ethnic Poles butchered by rampaging Ukrainian nationalists during World War II. Accompanied by Dr Leon Popek, the  grandson of massacre victims, Morawiecki planted a gnarled, wooden cross in an open field where the village of Ostrówki had once stood. In a nearby locality he laid flowers and lit votive lamps. Believing they were helping establish an independent Ukraine, roving nationalist bands, armed with axes, pitchforks and assorted bludgeons, mercilessly slaughtered every Pole they met.

Ukrainian refugees increasing; 13.5 ml have crossed into Poland
Since Putin’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine, some 13.5 million refugees have crossed into Poland. Officially, 1.5 million are living and now working in Poland although some estimates give double that figure. The remainder have moved to other countries, including Germany, the US and Canada, or returned to Ukraine. The  influx of refugees into Poland has increased by about 1,000 a day to roughly 3,800. Figures for those returning to their homeland are rarely given.

Attendance at catechism classes in Poland declines
Attendance at religion classes in Poland’s public schools has dropped by 3.3% to 82% in the 2021-2022 school year. Some parents complain that schools schedule catechism lessons as the first class of the day, requiring pupils to go to school an hour earlier, or as the day’s last class, when students are tired and look forward to going home for dinner. Polish school children and teens who do not attend catechism class are required to sign up for secular ethics. The highest catechism attendance is in SE Poland’s Podkarpackie region, encompassing the Dioceses of Tarnów (97%), Przemyśl (97%) and Rzeszów (96%). The lowest is in SW Poland’s Wrocław Archdiocese and Warsaw (66%).

Sejm overwhelmingly adopts 14th social-security payout
The Sejm, the main lawmaking chamber of Poland’s parliament, has adopted a measure introducing a 14
th social-security payout during the year. A 13th payout has already been in force for some time. Although Donald Tusk’s liberal-left opposition party calls the government’s new welfare benefits “vote-getting gimmicks,” its MPs nevertheless overwhelmingly supported it so as not to alienate the some  10 million senior-citizen voters in this election year. Under the conservative Law and Justice government, the average monthly social-security payout now comes to 3,483 zł ($871), up from 2,903 zł ($726) a year earlier.

20,000 young Poles see Pope at Portugal’s World Youth Day
Some 20,000 young Polish Catholics traveled to Lisbon, Portugal to take part in World Youth Day with Pope Francis, attended by 1.5 million youths from around the globe. During the six-day event, they took part in liturgies, prayer vigils and religious retreats, sang, danced, made new like-minded friends and displayed their unrestrained youthful exuberance at embracing Christ. The Holy Father urged them to beware of “the illusions of the virtual world” where algorithms used their names for market research but could never understand a person’s uniqueness. “God is not a search engine that gives simple, straightforward answers.” He also said there was room in the Church for everyone, including those who stumble and err.  Created in 1985 by the Polish Pontiff, now St John Paul II, the event is held in a different city every three years. The  next is due to take place in Seoul, S. Korea.

Polish prelate among new cardinals appointed by Pope Francis
Grzegorz Ryś, the Archbishop of Łódź, was among the 21 senior churchmen scheduled to receive their red cardinal’s hats shortly. He is recognized for for his exceptional preaching skills and dedication to organizing regular meetings and retreats for young people. Ryś, 59, has also played an active role in fostering ecumenism and inter-faith dialogue. Eight of the new cardinals are from E
urope, Asia has six,  Central and Latin America have four, Africa – two and North America – one.

Vandals attack New Polish Home in Jerusalem – Jerusalem Post
Two male residents of Jerusalem have been arrested on suspicion of attacking the New Polish Home in that city, the Jerusalem Post reported recently. Originally establish in 1931 to look after Polish pilgrims coming to the Holy Land, it is run by the Polish Sisters of St Elizabeth. A decade later a New Polish Home was built to handle the growing pilgrim traffic. 

TV blockbuster docudrama marks 1410 battle
TVP (Polish Television) recently broadcast its own high-budget docudrama highlighting one of the greatest battles of the Middle Ages. The combined forces of Poland, Lithuania and  Ruthenia defeated the aggressive Teutonic Knights and their foreign mercenaries who had taken control of extensive swaths of Polish-Lithuanian territory. Great pains were taken to recreate the authentic costumes, armor and weaponry of the clash which was shown through the prism off Poland’s King Władysław Jagiełło, Grand Duke Witold of Lithuania and the Teutons’ Grand Master Ulrich von Jüngingen who fell in that battle.

Polonian folk groups dance up a storm in Rzeszów
Twenty Polish folk-dance groups from ten countries took part in the 19
th World Festival of Polonian Folk Ensembles, held in and round the city of Rzeszów. Kicked off by a traditional parade of folk-costumed groups through the streets of the SE city, the event highlighted  participation and fellowship rather than competitive rivalry. The festival was not held in post-pandemic 2022, an additionally  tense and apprehensive year due to Putin’s February invasion of Ukraine. Participants included groups from the US, Canada, Brazil, Britain, Germany, Australia  and Lithuania.

Impressive military parade marks Polish Army Day
Poland celebrated Polish Army Day with the biggest military parade in 30 years. Marching in it were thousands of soldiers from Poland, the US, Britain and other NATO countries. The latest weaponry was on display amid a fly-over by Polish warplanes. Army recruiting stands were set up providing information on military careers, and young boys were particularly thrilled at being  able to inspect tanks and armored vehicles close up. Military picnics were held around the country featuring the traditional “grochówka żołnierska “ (soldier’s yellow split-pea soup).

89 years at the keyboard and still going strong
Music teacher and concert pianist Lidia Grychtołówna, 95, had her first piano lesson at the age of six. She studied piano in Poland and abroad and won awards at the Fryderyk Chopin and Robert Schumann piano competitions. Grychtołówna has performed around the globe and held a professorship at the Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany. All told, she has been tickling the ivories for 89 years and does not appear likely to stop any time soon. Recently she performed a number of Chopin selections on Polish TV, showing that he hands were as limber as ever.