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Posts tagged ‘Patient Land of Poland’

Poland: Time abroad, in finance seen as assets of PM nominee

December 07, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, a former banker, would bring to the office of prime minister economic and international experience seen as assets while the country faces criticism from other European Union members for policies that have aroused concerns of democratic backsliding.

Morawiecki, 49, is widely considered one of the Polish government’s most competent Cabinet members and has the trust of ruling party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski even though he is a relative newcomer who became Law and Justice member only after he joined the government.

As minister of finance and economic development, he has been given credit for overseeing an economy that has boomed in the two years since Law and Justice assumed power, with growth at over 4 percent and unemployment at a record low of under 7 percent.

The question remains if Morawiecki will take direction from the powerful Kaczynski as outgoing Prime Minister Beata Szydloto did or try to pursue an independent path. His background in many ways makes him an unusual choice for the populist Law and Justice.

Before joining the government, Morawiecki ran the bank BZ WBK, which is controlled by Spain’s Santander Group. The ruling party on whose behalf he will be leading Poland’s government seeks to limit foreign influence and global capitalism, and has increased state spending on welfare programs.

Morawiecki is the son of a prominent pro-democracy activist of the 1980s who is now a lawmaker, Kornel Morawiecki. His political activity began in an independent students’ union and his father’s anti-communist organization, Fighting Solidarity. For his activism, he says he was arrested and beaten by communist security forces.

He studied history in his hometown of Wroclaw in southwest of Poland, graduated from the Business and Administration Department of the Wroclaw University of Science and Technology and obtained an MBA degree from Wroclaw University of Economics. He later studied at Central Connecticut State University and also in Germany, Switzerland and at Northwestern University in the U.S. state of Illinois.

With his foreign studies and professional experience, Morawiecki, who speaks English and German, could be better prepared than Szydlo to represent the country abroad as Poland faces off against the EU over a proposed overhaul of the judiciary and other policies seen as anti-democratic.

He was on the government team that negotiated the financial terms of Poland’s 2004 accession to the European Union and then went into the banking sector eventually serving as the chairman of the board of managers for the BZ WBK.

He was an adviser to former Prime Minister Donald Tusk, which apparently did not block his political rise even though Law and Justice considers Tusk a foe. Before taking on his government position in the fall of 2015 he served as honorary consul for Ireland.

Earlier this year, he became the first finance minister from Poland to be invited to a meeting of G-20 ministers in Germany.

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Polish PM sends tweet seen as a sign she might be replaced

December 05, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s Prime Minister Beata Szydlo sent a tweet early Tuesday that seems to read like a farewell, amid rumors in Warsaw that she might be replaced by Finance Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Szydlo sent the tweet after midnight following talks in her conservative ruling Law and Justice party on reshuffling the government. There have been rumors for weeks that party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski could become the next prime minister though recent Polish reports suggest the most likely new leader will be Morawiecki, a deputy prime minister who is also the minister for development and finance.

Kaczynski is widely seen as the real power behind the government, guiding its decisions from his party headquarters and from his seat in parliament where he serves as one of 460 members of the lower house, or Sejm. This is not expected to change even if Szydlo is replaced.

Szydlo wrote: “Regardless of everything the most important thing is Poland. One that takes care of family and values (and is) safe. That grew from the foundation of Christian values, tolerant and open. Modern and ambitious. That is my country. An example for Europe and the world. That’s who we Poles are.”

The rumors that Szydlo is likely to be replaced have been reported for weeks in pro-government media outlets, as well as those critical of the government, including the Polish edition of Newsweek. The daily newspaper Rzeczpospolita reported Tuesday, citing unnamed sources, that that Kaczynski has presented to party lawmakers his plan for Morawiecki to take the helm of the Cabinet next week.

Morawiecki, 49, has won praise for overseeing an economy that has boomed in the two years since the Law and Justice party took power and he is widely considered one of the government’s most skilled and competent members.

Critics, however, say the boom is largely thanks to the fiscal discipline of the previous centrist government and growth across Europe that is improving conditions in many places. Morawiecki is a former international banker who ran Spanish bank Santander’s operations in Poland before Law and Justice won power. It seems an unlikely background for someone who has played a key role in a nationalistic party that opposes foreign influence in the country and global capitalism.

Under Morawiecki, Poland has taken steps to “re-Polonize” the banking industry, for example by re-taking control of one of the country’s largest banks, Pekao SA, formerly controlled by Italy’s UniCredit.

Law and Justice also launched a hugely popular welfare program that pays monthly cash bonuses to families with at least two children.

French, Polish leaders start to mend strained ties

November 23, 2017

PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron and Poland’s prime minister took a first, key step Thursday toward mending differences that are weighing on the whole European Union. After talks in Paris, the two leaders remained at odds over their main dispute — workers from Eastern Europe posted by their employer in richer EU countries — but said they were looking for compromise.

“It was a good, much-needed meeting. We were able to explain many questions to each other and we agreed to hold more talks,” Polish Prime Minister Beata Szydlo said. “I trust that it will be possible for us to find a compromise” on the issue of truck drivers and posted workers, she said.

Bilateral ties are tense after Poland canceled a major deal to purchase French-made helicopters and after Macron criticized Szydlo’s government and bypassed Poland during a visit to the region in the summer.

Macron gave Szydlo a warm welcome at the Elysee Palace on Thursday, and afterward said he would go to Poland next year. He said they remained in disagreement over the posted workers, but worked to “remove misunderstanding and evolve toward a position of convergence.”

He also sounded a slightly softer line on judicial reforms in Poland that critics see as an authoritarian power grab. “No member of the EU should judge reforms that another country is leading,” Macron said.

But he said France fully supports a European Commission examination of the reforms, and if they’re found to violate EU treaties, then “we will draw all the consequences.” Szydlo said, “We were able to clarify many doubts, but, naturally, there remain issues that still divide us, which is a natural thing, because the interests of France are different from the interests of Poland.”

The two also discussed defense cooperation and armaments, the future of the EU after Britain leaves the 28-member bloc, and Poland’s concerns over Russia’s plans for a second gas pipeline on the Baltic Sea bed.

Monika Scisclowska reported from Warsaw.

Turkey leader arrives in Poland for talks on security

October 17, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has arrived in Poland for talks on international security and on his policies at home. Erdogan is to meet Tuesday with Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, Prime Minister Beata Szydlo and parliament speakers. He is expected to attend a Polish-Turkish business forum with Duda.

Duda’s adviser Andrzej Szczerski said there will be no “taboo” themes and the talks will include the situation in Turkey, where tens of thousands of people have been arrested or dismissed from their jobs since last year’s coup attempt.

Szczerski argued on radio RMF that it is important to maintain relations with Turkey because it is an important NATO member and European Union’s partner with a key role in the migration crisis and in Middle East politics.

Polish far-right march goes global, drawing people from afar

November 10, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Fascists and other far-right extremists are set to assemble Saturday in Warsaw for a march that has become one of the largest gatherings in Europe and perhaps beyond for increasingly emboldened white supremacists.

The march held on Poland’s Nov. 11 Independence Day holiday has drawn tens of thousands of participants in recent years. Extremists from Sweden, Hungary, Slovakia and elsewhere now join Polish nationalists in a public display of xenophobic and white supremacist views since the event began on a much smaller scale in 2009.

The slogan for this year’s event is “We Want God,” words from an old religious Polish song that President Donald Trump quoted in July while visiting Warsaw. Trump praised Poland for what he described as the country’s defense of Western civilization.

Rafal Pankowski, head of the anti-extremist association Never Again, says that despite the reference to God, the march shouldn’t be viewed as inspired by religious beliefs. Far-right “neo-pagans” plan to take part along with Roman Catholic groups.

“We know that Donald Trump is not the most religious man, and I think that most of the organizers are not very religious, either,” Pankowski, a sociologist, said. “But they use Christianity as a kind of identity marker, which is mostly about being anti-Islam now.”

The Warsaw march has grown so large it might be the world’s biggest assembly of far-right extremists, he said. The organizers include the National-Radical Camp, the National Movement and the All Polish Youth, radical groups that trace their roots to anti-Semitic groups active before World War II.

In a sign of the rally’s international reach, American white supremacist Richard Spencer was scheduled to speak at a conference in Warsaw on Friday — until the Polish government said Spencer wasn’t welcome in the country. The far-right conference still is being held.

The emergence of Central Europe as a crucible for neo-fascism carries a number of paradoxes. The region, once stuck behind the Iron Curtain, has seen impressive economic growth since Poland, Hungary and other countries threw off communism, embraced capitalism and joined the European Union and NATO.

Few of the Muslim refugees and migrants who have arrived in Europe since 2015 have sought to settle in that part of the continent, preferring Germany and other richer countries in the West. Nonetheless, anti-migrant views run high.

Political scientist Miroslav Mares, an expert on extremism at Masaryk University in the Czech Republic, said Central Europeans hear about attacks by Islamic extremists in France, Germany and England and fear that “beyond the borders is a state of chaos and war” that could envelop them.

While extremist movements often thrive during hard times, the quality of life is better than ever now in a region that has known wars, occupation and oppression. “Central Europe is living the happiest time in its history,” said Grigorij Meseznikov, president of the Institute for Public Affairs, a think tank in Slovakia. “Never was life in this region as prosperous as it is today.”

But like others in the era of globalization, many people feel frustrated that the improving economy hasn’t benefited them. There are complaints that wages remain much lower than in the West while inequality has grown since the end of communism.

“If you look at Slovakia, the situation 25 years ago was much worse. There was high inflation and unemployment higher than 20 percent, yet we didn’t have a fascist party in the parliament,” Meseznikov said. “Today, we really have a functioning economy, low inflation, declining unemployment; we are in the EU and NATO. … And nevertheless there are fascists in the parliament.”

Mares thinks a lot of the disappointment stems from a tendency by Czechs and their neighbors to compare their financial situations to those of Germans and others in the West, rather than looking east to much poorer Belarus and Ukraine and feeling encouraged by how far they have come.

The frustrations, combined with a souring mood toward established elites, have helped far-right parties in recent elections in Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic. In Poland and Hungary, right-wing governments promote tough anti-migrant policies and historical whitewashing to glorify their nations.

Meseznikov also sees Russia’s encouragement of anti-European Union and anti-American views that spread on social networks as part of a “toxic mixture” behind the growth of the far-right. It could be years before the tide ebbs and reverses, according to Pankowski, the Polish expert.

Sociological data show that the generation of Poles that only has known democracy is more prone to xenophobic and far-right nationalism than their parents’ generation, with younger Poles paradoxically “turning their backs on democratic values,” he said.

“I think many of them will keep those far-right views inside them for decades to come,” Pankowski said. “It’s not an issue that will disappear.”

Poland’s president signs divisive law on civic group funding

October 14, 2017

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poland’s president has signed into law a bill on funding for non-governmental organizations that critics fear the conservative government may use to undercut groups with missions that conflict with the ruling party’s positions.

International human rights organizations and a federation of Poland’s NGOs had appealed to President Andrzej Duda to veto the bill, which they saw as setting back the development of formerly communist Poland’s civic organizations.

The law establishes at the prime minister’s office a new National Freedom Institute that will distribute public funds from the government and the European Union among Poland’s 100,000 NGOs. It also adds 40 million zlotys ($11 million) to the existing pool of 60 million zlotys.

Duda’s office said he signed the bill late Friday. The new law’s main proponent, Culture Minister Piotr Glinski, said the institute overseeing the dispersal will focus on small regional projects, local academies, volunteer activities and consumer protection.

Glinski said the new system would be “fair and well-balanced,” noting that NGOs would be “watching our hands” as money is allotted. Opponents said the law was intended to put NGOs under the political control of a government that has worked to consolidate power. A recent state television campaign that undermined the reputations of some groups and a raid on a women’s rights organization that took part in anti-government protests have contributed to the concern.

The law is an “Orwellian idea” to regulate civic activity and its true purpose is to “watch if all NGOs follow the line” of the ruling Law and Justice party, pro-democracy activist Henryk Wujec said. “Of course, many fantastic initiatives will get financing, just like now, but all actions politically undesired will not get the means,” Wujec said, citing women’s and LGBT rights organizations as examples.

The Helsinki Foundation for Human Rights called the bill a “departure from the idea of support for the civil society and a systemic threat to the independent operation and development of NGOs in Poland.”

Poles pray en masse at border; Some see anti-Muslim agenda

October 07, 2017

GDANSK, Poland (AP) — Polish Catholics held rosaries and prayed together Saturday along the country’s 3,500-kilometer (2,000-mile) border, appealing to the Virgin Mary and God for salvation for Poland and the world in a national event that some felt had anti-Muslim overtones.

The unusual “Rosary to the Borders” event was organized by lay Catholics but was also endorsed by Polish church authorities, with 320 churches from 22 dioceses taking part. The prayers took place from the Baltic Sea coast in the north to the mountains along Poland’s southern borders with the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and all along the border of this country of 38 million where more than 90 percent declare themselves Roman Catholics.

Organizers say the prayers at some 4,000 locations commemorated the centenary of the apparitions of Fatima, when three shepherd children in Portugal said the Virgin Mary appeared to them. But the event also commemorated the huge 16th-century naval battle of Lepanto, when a Christian alliance acting on the wishes of the pope defeated Ottoman Empire forces on the Ionian Sea, “thus saving Europe from Islamization,” as organizers put it.

Prime Minister Beata Szydlo showed her support by tweeting an image of rosary beads with a crucifix and sending greetings to all the participants. While organizers insisted the prayers Saturday were not directed against any group, some participants cited fears of Islam among their reasons for praying at the border.

Halina Kotarska, 65, traveled 230 kilometers (145 miles) from her home in Kwieciszewo, central Poland, to express gratitude after her 29-year-old son Slawomir survived a serious car wreck this year. She described it as a miracle performed by St. Mary.

She said she was also praying for the survival of Christianity in Poland and Europe against what she sees as an Islamic threat facing the West. “Islam wants to destroy Europe,” she said. “They want to turn us away from Christianity.”

Poles also prayed in chapels at airports, seen as gateways to the country, while Polish soldiers stationed in Afghanistan prayed at Bagram Airfield there, the broadcaster TVN reported. A leading Polish expert on xenophobia and extremism, Rafal Pankowski, saw the prayers Saturday as a problematic expression of Islamophobia coming at a time of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in Poland, a phenomenon occurring even though the country’s Muslim population is tiny.

“The whole concept of doing it on the borders reinforces the ethno-religious, xenophobic model of national identity,” said Pankowski, who heads the Never Again association in Warsaw. At the Polish-Czech border near the town of Szklarska Poreba, hundreds of pilgrims arrived in buses and cars to pray at the Karkonosze mountain range. The procession, which included young and old and families pushing children in strollers, was made up of pilgrims who held rosaries and prayed to the Virgin Mary, braving the cold and rain.

“It’s a really serious thing for us,” said Basia Sibinska, who traveled with her daughter Kasia from Kalisz in central Poland. “Rosaries to the border means that we want to pray for our country. That was a main motive for us to come here. We want to pray for peace, we want to pray for our safety. Of course, everyone comes here with a different motivation. But the most important thing is to create something like a circle of a prayer alongside the entire border, intense and passionate.”

In the northern city of Gdansk, people prayed on a beach lapped by waves as seagulls flew above. Krzysztof Januszewski, 45, said that he worries Christian Europe is being threatened by Islamic extremists and by a loss of faith in Christian societies.

“In the past, there were raids by sultans and Turks and people of other faiths against us Christians,” said Januszewski, a mechanic who traveled 350 kilometers (220 miles) to Gdansk from Czerwinsk nad Wisla.

“Today Islam is flooding us and we are afraid of this too,” he added. “We are afraid of terrorist threats and we are afraid of people departing from the faith.”

Janicek reported from near the town of Szklarska Poreba at Poland’s border with the Czech Republic.

This story corrects the spelling the name of the town of Kwieciszewo.

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