Power Struggle in Porozumienie; Further Easing of Lockdown; Poland Expels Russian Diplomat
This week an extraordinary, or maybe indeed more accurately bizarre, power struggle has rocked Porozumienie, one of the two smaller parties that are part of the Prawo i Sprawiedliswość – led government, with claims that the senior partner in that coalition may have a hand in the goings-on. Back in the world of Covid-19, the Polish government has announced a further easing of the ‘national quarantine’ effective as of this Friday with hotels and entertainment venues among those reopening but with restaurants and gyms to remain closed for longer.
The main news stories over the past week have included:
· Jarosław Gowin faces open rebellion within Porozumienie led by MEP Adam Bielan with both claiming to be leader
· Hotels and entertainment venues are allowed to reopen from February 12th in a further easing of Covid-19 restrictions
· Poland and Russia engage in tit-for tat expulsions of diplomats triggered by the Alexei Navalny affair, and
· Legendary Polish actor Krzysztof Kowalewski dies at the age of 83.
The ruling Zjednoczona Prawica bloc has seen a large amount of political in-fighting between it’s three component parts since winning a second term in October 2019, but over the past week there has been an almost comical outbreak of internal dissent within Porozumienie, a party that most people understood was led by Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin. However, not everyone agrees as MEP Adam Bielan, supported by at least some other members of the party’s parliamentary caucus, claim that under the party statutes he’s now the leader in his role as chair of the party’s national convention. This he says is because Gowin neglected to get himself formally re-elected leader at the last party congress and even allowing for a permitted extension in such extraordinary circumstances as now, his term of office as leader has expired.
The row surfaced in the public domain last Friday when Bielan, one of the small centrist party’s most prominent figures especially in the aftermath of the recent departure of another former leading light, Jadwiga Emilewicz, was suspended from the party by its presidium along with MP Kamil Bortniczuk. Some commentators believe wider coalition politics may be playing a role in the current standoff where a party with a miniscule support base has two prominent figures both claiming to be its legitimate leader. They suspect that Prawo i Sprawiedliwość may be using Bielan to stir-up trouble for Gowin; Bielan himself is regarded as being much closer politically to the senior coalition partner than Gowin. Others believe Gowin’s move against Bielan may be a way for him to rid Porozumienie of its pro-PiS wing.
Speaking on Monday Bielan said the conflict within the party had been smouldering since October and that last Thursday the party’s internal court, itself the subject of dispute as to how its constituted, decided that Gowin cannot be considered the president of the party. Bielan claimed that he’s been in regular contact with Jarosław Kaczyński and other United Right leaders, and he’s consistently stressed that there’s no threat to the future of the government. Prawo i Sprawiedliwość is however understood to be inclined to stick with Gowin for the present on the basis he appears to have greater support and the votes of Porozumienie deputies are needed in the Sejm to keep the government in office. Informed sources say that Gowin has the backing of 12 of the party’s 17 Sejm members, two support Bielan and three are on the fence.
Meanwhile the main opposition party, Platforma Obywatelska, which recently marked the 20th anniversary of its foundation in the aftermath of the defection to Polska 2050 of Joanna Mucha, on Saturday had its long promised political relaunch presided over by leader Borys Bodka and Warszawa Mayor and former presidential candidate Rafał Trzaskowski. The theme was once again opposition unity - dubbed Koalicja 276 - with the rather exacting goal of building a coalition with the support of 276 members of the Sejm – the three-fifths majority needed to override a presidential veto. The obvious problem is than many of the other parties which Platforma Obywatelska wants as part of a coalition led by itself, want no part of it.
Last Friday Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced a further easing of the restrictions on economic and social life in Poland as of February 12th. The new announcement came following an earlier relaxation involving the opening of shopping malls, museums and art galleries on Monday of last week. This time hotels, outdoor sporting facilities such as ski slopes, and entertainment venues including cinemas have been allowed to reopen, but restaurants and gyms will have to wait longer. Morawiecki said that the further relaxation was for a trial period of two weeks which would allow an evaluation of the impact on the number of Covid-19 cases. He said the situation remained too fragile to allow any more extensive relaxation.
The former Polish President Aleksander Kwaśniewski (67) and his wife Jolanta (66) are the latest high-profile figures confirmed to have contracted Covid-19. The director of his presidential office said that initially he had been suffering from an increased temperature and a tiring cough, and tests conducted last Saturday confirmed both were Covid-19 positive. Their condition at home in Switzerland, where they went for Christmas to support his sister whose husband had recently died, is reported to be stable.
Above: Scenes from the recent so-called Strajk Kobiet demonstrations in Warszawa at the end of January 2021.
Last Friday Russia announced the expulsion of diplomats from three countries - Poland, Germany and Sweden - for alleged activities incompatible with their diplomatic status – in this case attendance at illegal rallies in Moscow against the detention of the leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny. One member of the Polish consular staff was ordered to leave the country. Given Poland’s strong expressions of support for Navalny, and the dire state of bilateral relations between the two countries in recent years, it was certainly no surprise that Poland was caught-up in the action.
The expulsions were announced while the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, and the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, were holding a press conference in Moscow. The timing of the visit by the EU’s top diplomat was already regarded by many as ill-judged in light of recent developments, especially the Navalny case, and the expulsions must have caused Borrell considerable embarrassment. Some members of the European Parliament called for his resignation over the trip.
Poland retaliated on Monday announcing that it had ‘decided in accordance with the principle of reciprocity to consider an employee of the Consulate General of the Russian Federation in Poznań as a persona non grata’. Russia’s Ambassador to Poland had earlier been summoned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to receive a protest at the expulsion of the Polish diplomat who Warszawa maintained had simply been performing her official duties. The ministry said that the expulsion would ‘contribute to the further deepening of the crisis in bilateral relations between our countries’.
President Andrzej Duda hosted a two-day summit this week of the heads of state of the four-nation Visegrád regional cooperation grouping at his vacation home in Jurata on the Hel Peninsula on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast, which commenced on Tuesday. The in-person meeting marked the 30th anniversary of the foundation of the body comprising Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Slovakia. The talks focused on plans for economic recovery post-Covid-19, EU affairs, and relations with the U.S. as well as other topics including energy cooperation.
More new economic data has been published by the Główny Urząd Statystyczny (GUS) or Central Statistical Office. On Tuesday it reported that average wages in Poland rose by 1.75% in real terms in 2020 compared to the prior year. The average gross monthly wage was 5,167.47 złotych or around €1,217.
One of Poland’s best known and most popular actors, Krzysztof Kowalewski, died in Warszawa last Saturday at the age of 83. Kowalewski had been the recipient of many honours for his work including the Knight’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta. He starred in over 120 films and television series including the cult comedies Nie ma róży bez ognia, Miś and Brunet wieczorową porą, as well as radio and theatre plays.
Finally if we thought the weather in Ireland has been bad over the past week, we’re not alone. Poland has been experiencing a deep freeze of its own with forecasters predicting that often double-digit sub-zero temperatures at night will continue for at least another week. Monday saw particularly heavy snowfalls including in Warszawa disrupting public transport and slowing traffic on major arteries into the capital.
That’s all for this week.