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NEWS  / POLAND IN THE NEWS, MAY, 2015
02.06.2015


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.

 This resource was featured in the free SRAS monthly newsletter. Want the newsletter?


 Poland in the News
March, 2015
By Josh Seale

 
 Study Abroad
in Poland!

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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.

 

Economy

Poland to Slowly Ease its Dependency on Coal Energy

At the opening ceremony of a newly modernized coal power plant in Bogatynia on the Polish-German-Czech border, Polish Prime Minister (PM) Kopacz said that coal, an abundant resource in Poland, is important for Poland’s energy security and that Poland will continue to invest in the resource but that multiple coal plants (with a total capacity of 12 gigawatts) will be phased out by 2030, due to the environmental requirements and aging technology. Likewise, Deputy Economy Minister Jerzy Pietrewicz stated earlier this month that Poland will not increase the number of coal power plants but will rather focus on making existing plants more efficient. There are also fears that the EU will raise the price of CO2 emission permits and Poland is scrambling to look into alternatives.

Since this is an election year in Poland, there is no clarity on which direction Poland will take in finding alternative energy sources. Poland’s national energy company signed a preliminary contract last fall to research building the country’s first nuclear power plant by the mid-2020s. Japan is particularly keen on getting the contract but Poland is also still looking into drilling for shale gas. Moreover, the country’s first LNG terminal is set to be operational by the end of this year, which will allow Poland to further diversify its energy market.

Record Levels of Polish Opposition to Euro

In the wake of right-wing candidate Andrzej Duda’s election as Polish president earlier this month, Polish opposition to joining the Euro has reached an all-time high with 70 percent of Poles against joining the single currency, according to a recent poll. Duda campaigned on a strongly anti-Euro platform that emphasized the chasm that would exist between prices and wages in the country if Poland were to join the Eurozone. Duda claimed that if the incumbent candidate Bronisław Komorowski (who wanted to put Poland on the path to joining the Euro) were reelected, that prices would soar, while wages would remain stagnant. Komorowski argued, on the other hand, that even just putting Poland on the path to joining the Euro would give Poland more political clout in the EU and bring the country financial stability in the middle and long-term. Earlier this month, German Economic Minister Sigmar Gabriel supported Komorowski’s position, stating that Poland’ joining the Euro would be good for both Poland and the Eurozone as a whole.

Local Transportation in Polish Cities to be Overhauled

Over the next six years, local authorities in Poland will receive approximately 13 billion PLN (around 3.4 billion USD) from the EU to upgrade local transportation services across the country. Warsaw alone will receive 2.2 billion PLN from the European Union, which will be used to buy 180 new trams and modernize over 20 km of track. Nationwide, Poland will buy around 600 new trams, lay 100 km of new tracks, and modernize over 200 km of track.

 

Politics/State Security

New Political Parties Shake up Political Landscape

In recent years the Polish political scene has been dominated by right-wing parties – i.e. the far-right Law and Justice Party (PiS) and the more moderate Civic Platform (PO) – while the Left vote has been splintered into a number of small parties. The Polish left has failed to recover and manage a governing coalition since the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)’s fall in support after its high point in the 2001 election. In this month’s presidential election, the SLD suffered its worst showing ever (2.4% of the vote), and as a result, a number of academics have announced the formation of a new Leftist grouping called “Freedom and Equality.”

Paweł Kukiz, a rock-star-turned-politician that came in third in this month’s presidential election with 20% of the vote, has also announced the creation of his own “Civic Movement” (as he is against political parties, per se) in advance of the upcoming parliamentary elections this fall. According to a recent poll by the Rzeczpospolita daily newspaper, his “movement” would get 18% of the vote, if elections were to happen now. His support has seriously cut the majorities enjoyed by the PiS and PO parties in recent years, which would get 32 and 24 percent of the vote today, respectively. Moreover, economist Ryszard Petru, a free-market liberal who masterminded Poland’s painful but ultimately successful reforms in the early 90s, has also founded a new party he calls “NowoczesnaPL,” which translates to “Modern Poland.” In the poll by Rzeczpospolita, NowoczesnaPL came in at 11% of the vote. Meanwhile, the SLD and the Polish Peasants Party (the current junior partner in the governing coalition), would not even make it into the Sejm, the Polish parliament.

Andrzej Duda Elected President of Poland

This month right-wing challenger Andrzej Duda of the Law and Justice party (PiS) made his way into the Polish presidential palace with 51.55% of the vote in the second round of voting. According to Polish law, if no presidential candidate is able to gain 50% of the vote in the first round of voting, then there is a second round of voting between the top two candidates in the first round. (In order to be a candidate, you must be a Polish citizen, 40 years of age or older, and gain the signatures and support of at least 100,000 Poles).

Duda won a surprise victory in the first round of voting with 34.76% of the vote, beating even incumbent Bronisław Komorkowski, who polled in at 33.77%. Komorkowski squandered a strong lead (as high as 75% of Poles said they would reelect him earlier this year) with a lackluster campaign, opposed to the fiery campaign of Andrzej Duda. President-Elect Duda will be sworn into office later this year in August.

 

 
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Władysław Bartoszewski Passes Away

This past month Władysław Bartoszewski passed away at the age of 93. He was Auschwitz survivor, a member of the Polish resistance in WWII, a participant in the Warsaw Uprising, and a former Polish Ambassador and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He dedicated the latter part of his life to improving Polish-German and Polish-Jewish relations and his funeral this month in Warsaw was a grand affair – attended by a number of high-ranking officials with the President of Germany Joachim Gauck and European Council President Donald Tusk among them.

 

International relations

Poland Critiques EU Refugee Plan

One of the critics of the European Commission’s new quota system for distributing refugees, Poland’s Interior Ministry is hesitating to taking on more refugees. According to the EC’s plan released on May 27th, Poland would be required to take on 2,659 refugees from Syria and Eritrea in a show of solidarity with and in order to ease on the burden on Mediterranean states such as Italy and Greece. The redistribution quota is based on each country’s GDP, population, unemployment rate, and current number of asylum seekers. At the moment the Commission’s plan is only a recommendation to be implemented on a voluntary basis but the EC is looking into ways to make its resolution binding.

Poland’s Interior Ministry spokeswoman Małgorzata Wożniak argued that the acceptance of refugees should be applied on a voluntary basis and that the ministry is maintaining its previous position that each member state should decide respond to the Commission’s proposal according to its capabilities.

NATO’s Presence in Poland Grows

The multinational corps in Szczecin in northeast Poland will double from 200 troops to 400 hundred and will operate in a new structure as of next week. General Lutz Niemann said that that the changes in the corps were introduced in connection with the crisis in Ukraine and that the goal is to raise the readiness of combat units, so that the forces commanded by it can react quickly. Soldiers from 15 countries are currently stationed in Szczecin but more than 20 countries will be represented in the new restructuring of the corps.

WWII Celebrations at Westerplatte

Poland's controversial WWII commemorations were held this month on the Westerplatte peninsula in Gdańsk, where Nazi Germany launched its attack on Poland in September 1939, thus beginning World War II. The event was attended by the presidents of Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Lithuania, Romania and Ukraine. Also in attendance was Slovakia’s prime minister and the head of the European Council, Donald Tusk. The event was controversial as it conflicted with Russia’s celebrations in Moscow, which are usually the central celebrations, but which were boycotted this year by a number of Western leaders over Russia’s role in the Ukraine crisis.

Nonetheless, Polish President Komorowski emphasized that “this is an event that is not a test to see who is our friend, but to carry out a joint reflection on the history of Europe.”

The climax of the event, according to President Komorowski, was the panel attended by the presidents and other representatives of European countries, who reflected on what the conclusion of World War II did for their own countries, societies, and the whole of Europe. The high profile panel of historians included: Timothy Snyder from the US, Yuriy Afanasiev from Russia, Norman Davies from the UK, Georges-Henri Soutou from France, Andrzej Paczkowski from Poland, and Stefan Troebst from Germany.

According to the New York Times, Yuri Afanasyev of Russia talked about a new kind of Stalinism he saw growing in Putin’s Russia, which he described as “criminal from the bottom up,” while Polish Andrzej Paczkowski denounced the persistent myth of Poland as “the messiah of nations that dies for everyone.” British historian Norman Davies said that “the past is too big, there is too much of it. Mythology is what is created because people prefer a simple, straightforward explanation of what happened to this awful, complicated mess.”

 

Culture and Religion

Polish History Museum to Open in 2018

This month, Polish Culture Minister Małgorzata Omilanowska confirmed that the new Polish History Museum is scheduled to be opened on November 11, 2018 - the 100th anniversary of Poland regaining its independence. The museum will be located inside Warsaw Citadel, a 19th-century fortress in Warsaw.

The project will cost 310 million PLN (82.5 million USD) and will be financed from the federal budget.

Philharmonic Hall in Szczecin Wins Top EU Architectural Prize

The EU prize for contemporary architecture, known as the Mies von der Rohe Prize, was awarded to Szczecin’s mayor this month. The Mies van der Rohe Award was established by the EU in 1987, and it is given once every two years. Studio Barozzi/Veiga received EUR 60,000 for the victory.

Warsaw’s Jewish Museum wins Branding Award

This month, Warsaw’s new Museum of the History of Polish Jews received the Culture.pl Superbrands Award for promoting Poland worldwide and becoming a city icon. The prize is awarded by The Superbrands Ltd., an independent arbiter on branding which operates in 80 countries, including Poland.

At a ceremony in Warsaw, Wednesday, Paweł Potoroczyn, the director of the Adam Mickiewicz Institute (Poland's official cultural institute), which co-sponsors the award, described the Museum as "a place of reflection, culture, education and nostalgia, which in a record time has become an international brand…”

This branding prize reinforces the idea put forward by Michael Meng in his book, “Shattered Spaces: Encountering Jewish Ruins in Postwar Germany and Poland,” in which Michael Meng coins the term, “redemptive cosmopolitanism” to describe what his recognizes as a performative embrace of the Jewish past that celebrates the liberal, democratic nation-state rather than thinking critically about its past and present failures. To quote Meng, “the new Poland – democratic, tolerant, cosmopolitan – showcases its normality by recovering the Jewish past.”

 


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