Notes from Poland is a leading English-language source of news, insight and analysis on Poland, with a combined 50,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter. We are now expanding, with a new website that will feature daily news coverage, original journalism, and content from expert authors.
Thanks to the success of our fundraising efforts, we have secured resources to launch the new service later this year. As such, we are seeking to:
- hire two paid editorial staff members
- build a network of freelance contributors and partner institutions
- offer opportunities for interns and volunteers
See below for more on each of those positions. Learn about our history, our plans and our team here. And familiarise yourself with our current activity via our Facebook and Twitter feeds (which is where our work until now has been focused) and the articles on this, our old website (which will soon be replaced by the new one pictured above). Continue reading
by Daniel Tilles
Poland’s European elections resulted in a clear victory for the ruling national-conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, which won by an even greater margin than polls predicted. Their 45.5% share of the vote was the highest any party has ever received in an election in post-1989 Poland, and put it seven percentage points ahead of the European Coalition, an alliance of opposition parties, on 38.5%.
The only other party to pass the 5% threshold required to wins seats was the social-democratic Spring, founded by Robert Biedroń earlier this year, which took 6%. That left the far-right Confederation alliance (4.5%), anti-establishment Kukiz’15 (3.7%) and left-wing Together (1.2%) with no representation.
As the dust settles, and following a frantic few days of commentary and debate in Polish political and media circles, here are five takeaways from the vote and a look ahead to autumn’s vital parliamentary elections.
Notes from Poland is expanding, to create a new service offering comprehensive news and analysis. But we can only do this with your support. If, like us, you think that informed and independent reporting on Poland is more important than ever, please read more about our plans and join our crowdfunding campaign here: https://igg.me/at/notesfrompoland
The controversial memory law, though amended, is still in place, the Polish government’s historical narrative is stronger than ever, and Israel and the US appear to have accepted it.
One year ago, Poland triggered an international diplomatic crisis and months of bitter debate when, the day before international Holocaust Remembrance Day (HRD), it passed legislation criminalising the false attribution of German crimes to the Polish nation or state. This year’s official HRD ceremony at Auschwitz highlighted the fact that the Polish government has emerged victorious from this dispute. Continue reading
By Stanley Bill
Poland is faced with a stark choice: either it will be smaller and poorer or it will be more diverse. This is the inevitable conclusion to draw from the country’s present demographic situation. With a fertility rate of just over 1.3 – one of the lowest in the world – Poland’s population will shrink without increased immigration, bringing negative consequences for economic growth and capacity to support an ageing society. At present, there may be as many as two million Ukrainians working in Poland, filling gaps in the labour market. Many of them could soon leave for other European destinations, with Germany already preparing to liberalize its rules to attract them. Poland will need to find replacement workers from further afield, even if some Polish nationals also return home from Brexit Britain. The problem will only intensify as the effects of the demographic crisis become more severe.
Polski rząd pragnie czerpać korzyści ekonomiczne z imigracji, jednocześnie przekonywając swoich sprzymierzeńców, że jest jej przeciwnikiem. Biorąc pod uwagę rekordowe liczby obcokrajowców przyjeżdżających do Polski, ta próba pogodzenia sprzecznych interesów przypomina balansowanie na linie, z której akrobata prędzej, czy później spadnie na łeb na szyję – przekonuje Daniel Tilles. (Ten artykuł został przetłumaczony z oryginału w języku angielskim przez Sarę Wacławik.)
W 2016 roku krajem Unii, który wydał najwięcej pierwszych dokumentów pobytowych obywatelom spoza UE była Wielka Brytania. Podczas gdy ta informacja nie jest specjalnie kuriozalna, państwo na drugim miejscu jest z pewnością dla wielu osób zaskoczeniem. Krajem tym jest mianowicie Polska, która wydała 586 000 pozwoleń, czyli jedną piątą wszystkich pozwoleń wydanych w UE, znacznie przewyższając liczbę pozwoleń wydanych w Niemczech (505 000), które uplasowały się na trzecim miejscu. Continue reading
by Daniel Tilles (również w języku polskim)
Poland’s government wants to reap the economic benefits of immigration while persuading its supporters that it remains opposed to it. With foreign workers coming to the country in record numbers, this is a balancing act that will inevitably collapse – with potentially dangerous consequences.
In 2016, the UK issued more first residence permits to non-EU citizens than any other member state. That’s not a great surprise; but ask people to guess which country came second in the list and few would get it right. The answer is Poland, which gave out 586,000 permits, almost a fifth of all those issued across the entire European Union and well ahead of third-place Germany, with 505,000. Continue reading
By Daniel Tilles
Critics accuse Poland’s government of seeking to introduce measures that would limit free speech. But it is often overlooked that they already have a powerful set of tools at their disposal to stifle debate, restrict artistic freedom and intimidate opponents.
This month, a 67-year-old man was charged with the crime of insulting a monument for placing a t-shirt reading ‘constitution’ on a statue of former President Lech Kaczyński (pictured above). Last month, prosecutors launched an investigation into whether two men at an LGBT pride parade who added a rainbow flag to the national coat of arms (pictured below) had publicly insulted a state emblem, an offence that carries a prison sentence of up to one year. Earlier this year, a poet, Jaś Kapela, was found guilty of contempt for the nation after changing some words of the national anthem (adding a reference to refugees). Although he successfully challenged the verdict, the appeals court instead found him guilty of contempt for the anthem of the Republic. Continue reading
First President of the Supreme Court Małgorzata Gersdorf addresses protesters in July 2018. Source: Reuters/M. Gocłowski.
By Stanley Bill
Since winning power in October 2015, the Polish government led by the Law and Justice (PiS) party has introduced a raft of changes to all levels of the country’s judicial system. Domestic opponents, along with the European Commission and the Venice Commission, have accused them of undermining the rule of law and flouting the Constitution. Protesters have filled the streets at regular intervals. Yet the abstract nature of the changes and the unappealing involvement of the parliamentary opposition have made it difficult for the resistance movement to gain any real popular momentum. Many Poles find the new laws excessive, but most also feel that the judicial system genuinely needs reform.
My aim in this article is to put the key changes and their consequences together to show the big picture. Both the expert Venice Commission and the European Commission have emphasized that the cumulative effect of the reforms significantly exacerbates their potential consequences. Most of the measures are concerning in themselves, but some are arguably defensible in isolation. Only when the changes are viewed together does the true scale of the threat to rule of law in Poland become clear.
Rywka Wajnberg and Małka Wakslicht, Polish Jews in hiding in Biłgoraj during the Second World War. Image Source: Gazeta Wyborcza.
By Stanley Bill
In 2018, the Polish government’s politics of memory have been a public relations disaster for the country. A declared intention to defend the good name of “the nation” against false accusations of collaboration in the Holocaust has instead created a wave of international outrage and negative media coverage of Poland’s past and present. From the misconceived formulation of the so-called “Holocaust law” to clumsy public statements from Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, Poland’s leaders have drawn international attention to the vexed question of Polish complicity with German crimes instead of clarifying a complex and painful history in which Polish Jews and non-Jewish Poles suffered on an enormous scale. It is true that Western understandings of Poland’s history under the German occupation are often inaccurate, but the government has only exacerbated the problem through a mixture of tone-deaf incompetence and cynical manipulation of domestic emotions. In belated response to the public relations fiasco, the Polish parliament ratified a hasty “correction” to the law this week, but the damage to Poland’s reputation had already been done.
Underground print shop during martial law. Unknown photographer from KARTA.
By Siobhan Doucette
In June of 1989 semi-free elections were held in Poland; the results surprised onlookers around the world in that they were an unequivocal victory for the Solidarity-led opposition to the ruling communist government. In Books Are Weapons: The Polish Opposition Press and the Overthrow of Communism (Pittsburgh University Press, 2017), I argue that this victory had been made possible in large part due to a nationwide network of activists who expressed themselves through the independent press, which between 1976 and 1989 mirrored and, at times, provided the sinews connecting the Polish democratic opposition. Continue reading