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Josh Seale is pursuing an MA in interdisciplinary German and European Studies at Georgetown University with a specialization in German-Polish relations. He holds a BA in Germanic Studies from the University of Chicago and has interned abroad in Germany and studied abroad previously in Poland. He is currently serving as an SRAS Home and Abroad Scholar in Warsaw, Poland.

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 Poland in the News
February, 2015
By Josh Seale

 Study Abroad
in Poland!


Poland has been a focal point of European and US foreign policy since the fall of the USSR. Billions in foreign aid and investment has poured into the country, creating a dynamic economy, rising middle class, and a young European democracy. Poland has historically been a borderland for conflicts between European powers and Russia, giving it a complex relationship with all its neighbors and unique perspectives on state security.

Poland, however, despite its historic and strategic importance is often overlooked in most media reports and treated as background in many histories and current analysis of the European situation. This resource from SRAS serves to introduce a wider audience to Poland's modern economic state, culture, politics, and society. 


I. Economy

Poles Support Trade Pact with US

The Polish Economic Ministry recently argued in favor of the American-led Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) before the Polish parliament and anticipates it having an overall positive effect on the Polish economy. Deputy Economics Minister Andrzej Dycha nonetheless advocates ensuring protective measures in the agriculture and chemical sectors, which the ministry identified as particularly vulnerable to American competition.   

TTIP enjoys strong support in Poland with nearly 75% of Poles in favor of signing the free-trade deal with the US. The EU average is less than 60 percent. One potential reason for Poland’s strong support of TTIP is that it would abolish visa restrictions for Poles traveling to the US.

Poland has Most Polluted Air in EU

According to the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Polish air is the most polluted in the entire 28-nation EU bloc. The newspaper contends that 2.5 million Poles suffer from chronic lung disease due to air pollution.

The European Commission recently sent another environmental warning to the Polish government. The EC’s Environment Press Officer Iris Petsa was quoted saying, “there are constant infringements and Poland isn’t doing anything about it.” Poland now has two months to initiate legislation to combat the country’s increasingly unsafe air. Otherwise, the European Court of Justice will impose fines of up to 1 billion Euros.

According to recent survey, 77% of Poles favor the development of renewable energy in Poland. However, fear of dependency on Russian gas has increased Poland’s dependency on dirty coal. The government's proposed long term solution to this problem is an active role as advocate of EU solidarity in energy security and for an EU energy union.

Poland at Economic Crossroads

Consulting firm McKinsey and Company has recently released a report arguing that Poland’s future in the next decade could fork in two vastly different directions. In the ideal scenario, if Poland undergoes reforms and chooses an accelerated growth path to 2025, the country could “move from the eighth to the seventh largest economy in the EU,” “become the third-largest process manufacturer in the EU,” and, crucially, “attain levels of Italy, Spain, and Portugal in GDP per capita.” In the “business-as-usual” scenario, however, Poland’s GDP would grow at a modest rate of 2.6 percent per annum and the state would be unable to catch up to the living standards of its EU neighbors.


II.    Politics/State Security

Poland Holds Large Natural Gas Reserves

After Russia’s state-owned Gazprom threatened to cease gas deliveries to Ukraine earlier this week, Poland’s own state-controlled natural-gas monopolist PGNiG stated that it holds reserves equivalent to more than 30 days-worth of consumption, barring a sudden drop in temperatures.

Poland Increases Support for US-led Coalition against Islamic State (ISIS)

Deputy Minister of Defense Maciej Jankowski pledged further support to the US-led coalition but emphasized that Poland will not take part in combat operations. Jankowski stressed that the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is Poland's prime concern at the moment.

Polish President: Poland under Threat

Polish President Bronisław Komorowski recently urged Poles to remember that the world immediately around them is unsafe and that Poland's first and foremost priority is to strengthen its own defenses, while at the same time warning against warmongers. "We must be wary of developing war sentiments and statements that Poland needs to go to war. At the same time we cannot pretend that nothing is happening in Ukraine.”

The President also added that EU members are not seeing eye-to-eye when it comes to assessing the danger and that Poland will continue to attempt to convince the West of what is at stake.

“We are trying to convince Western Europe about our outlook on Russia's actions. Because the changes that happened to our neighbor are permanent. It seems that not all of the West sees this issue as painfully as Poland and Ukraine,” Komorowski said. 

US Donates Military Equipment to Poland

The Polish Army received a shipment of used surplus military gear from the US mission in Afghanistan. It included, among other equipment, 45 armored vehicles with less than 3,000 km on the odometer, assessed at a value of more than $7.5 million. The US Ambassador to Poland, Stephen Mull, celebrated the gift as proof of US commitment to Polish security as well as “one of the many benefits of a partnership between Poland and the US.”

III.    International Relations

 Study Abroad
in Poland!


Poland Aligns with NATO on Arming Ukraine

Despite previous signals from the Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak that Poland “saw no issue with selling weapons to Ukraine,” the Defense Ministry confirmed this month that there is no chance that Poland will provide Ukraine with heavy weaponry.

While admitting that he sees no obstacle to future cooperation between Polish and Ukrainian defense industries, Siemoniak nevertheless referred to German Chancellor Angela Merkel's reservations concerning arming Ukraine. “Chancellor Merkel has argued that the decision to supply weapons to Ukraine does not frighten President Vladimir Putin, because it will be difficult for Ukraine to achieve a level that is comparable to the Russian military, and it will only further exacerbate the situation,” he said.

Two weeks later, Polish President Bronisław Komorowski praised British Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision to send British military advisors to Ukraine. Then, a few hours after the President’s remarks, the Polish Defense Ministry announced that it too will send military advisors to Ukraine.

The Polish Defense Minister refused to categorically rule out future weapons deliveries while adding that “like the US and the UK we believe that this is not a good moment [to transfer weapons], as it would escalate the conflict. That is why other forms of assistance are more important.”

Russia "Uneasy" about Joint Regional Battle Group

The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed concern about the recent formation of the joint Polish-Lithuanian-Ukrainian battle group, LITPOLUKRBRIG. At a press conference in Warsaw, Russian Foreign Ministry press spokesman Aleksandr Lukashevich questioned why the group was being created and added that “joint military efforts instead of searching for a political solution is absolutely counterproductive and dangerous from the point of view of the heightening of tensions in the region.”

Poles and Russians Spar over History

Last month, Polish Foreign Minister and historian Grzegorz Schetyna pointed out that the first Red Army soldier to drive a tank through the gates of the Auschwitz concentration camp was actually Ukrainian. This month President Bronislaw Komorowski has refused an invitation from Moscow to the festivities surrounding the 70th anniversary to the end of WWII in the Russian capital and has instead suggested (with the support of the parliament), much to Moscow’s annoyance, that that celebrations be held in Gdansk, where the German invasion started the war in 1939.

According to the Economist, the Poles have also irritated the Russians by repeatedly pointing out that the Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact in 1939 with Nazi Germany to carve up Eastern Europe between themselves, and by keenly reminding eastern Europeans that the Red Army brought them oppression rather than freedom. Foreign Minister Schetyna says he is trying to counter Moscow's highly effective “historical politics” propaganda campaign, which he has highlighted as a "challenge" for Poland.

A Russian state-controlled TV station aired a 10-minute commentary against Schetyna, caricaturing him as a Russophobe.

Poland to Pay Compensation to Black Site Victims

The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has ordered Poland to pay compensation to the victims of torture at a former CIA “black site” in Poland. The two terrorism suspects are currently being held in the US prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

Leszek Miller, the leader of the opposition party Democratic Left Alliance, or SLD, in the Polish parliament (and prime minister at the time the torture took place on Polish territory), contended that any payments to the victims would be tantamount to financing terrorism.

The Polish Foreign Minister has nevertheless confirmed that Poland will pay the compensation and that “the money would be paid into an escrow account and all steps would be taken to prevent it from financing terrorism.”

IV.    Culture and Religion

Soviet-era Monument Disappears from Warsaw

Warsaw’s city council announced the permanent removal of the “monument to the Polish-Soviet Brotherhood-in-arms” (popularly known as the ‘Four Sleepers’) from the capital’s eastern Praga district, in a near-unanimous decision by both opposition and ruling parties. It will be transferred to a museum.

The chairman of the right-wing Law and Justice Party grouping of city-councilors, Jarosław Krajewski, told Polish Radio that there are still some 300 memorials in Poland that are the legacy of the communist system. “Today the glorification of communism, and of other totalitarian systems, is forbidden,” he stated.

The monument was originally planned to be only temporarily moved during the construction of Warsaw’s second metro line, but as the construction phase reached its conclusion, thousands of Warsaw residents protested against its planned return, saying that it was a symbol of Soviet oppression and that it should be removed from the city.

The Russian Embassy’s Press-Attaché Valeria Perzhinskaya told Polish Radio that the Russian Embassy sent a letter in December 2014 to Andrzej Kunert, the head of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites, regarding the monument’s proposed location following the completion of the metro construction but never received a response.

Location for Smolensk Plane Crash Victims Monument Suggested by Mayor

Mayor of Warsaw Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz has suggested that the new monument to the victims of the Polish President’s plane crash near Smolensk in 2010 should be located in Warsaw’s central Piłsudski Square near the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but that the design for the monument itself should be selected through an international competition.

Polish Roma mark Anniversary of “Gypsy Camp” at Auschwitz

This past Thursday the representatives of Poland’s 30,000 strong Roma community laid flowers and lit candles before the monument to the victims of the extermination of the Roma in Auschwitz. On the 26th of February, 1943, the first Roma were interned in the “Zigeunerlager,” or “Gypsy camp,” set up as part of the Auschwitz concentration camp. Twenty-one thousand of the 23 thousand Roma interned in Auschwitz were exterminated with the majority of the others transferred to other camps.

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