Poland in the News
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 serves to introduce a wider audience to Poland’s modern economic state, culture, politics, and society.
The State of Media Freedom
Since the beginning of the year, there has been a growing concern for the state of media freedom in Poland. After taking a supermajority in the parliament, the ruling Law and Justice party has expanded governmental control over public media outlets. Last month, the Party introduced a “national mission” for the reformation of public media, and in early January, signed bills into law which will place the content of state media under government control.
On January 7, President Andzej Duda signed legislation which gives the Treasury Minister power to appoint all senior officials in public radio and television. Before, they were hired by the National Broadcasting Council.
The president argued that state media should be “impartial,” and that this reform would help ensure “objectivity.”
The Treasury Minister is a cabinet position which is appointed by the Prime Minister, and then approved and sworn-in by the President. This change in the structure of media control is part of the significant expansion of the Law and Justice party’s influence into Poland’s most powerful institutions, a series of calculated movements which critics claim to be steps that compromise democracy and European Union values.
The day after the new law was signed, a new head of the Polish public broadcaster was appointed under the new process. Deputy Culture Minister Jacek Kurski, formerly a Member of Parliament for Law and Justice, took the position.
The day after his appointment, protests took place across Poland. These demonstrations were set up by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy, an independently organized multi-city opposition group that is speaking out against the current government’s actions. In Warsaw, the demonstration took place by the main office of Telewizja Polska (Polish Television), a public broadcasting corporation. Many protestors voiced concerns that it will become a tool for propaganda and censorship under the new controls.
The Committee for the Defense of Democracy has organized several weekend demonstrations in response to decisions made by Law and Justice, notably after the December changes to the constitutional court, which placed Law and Justice supporters there as well. Each of these events was peaceful and involved thousands of people.
PM Szydło Announces Major Change in Refugee Plan
At the end of the Civic Platform’s term in September, agreements were made to accept up to 7,000 refugees under the European Union’s crisis plan. Poland’s new government, however, has said it will accept “no more than 400 refugees this year,” according to Prime Minister Szydło. In a press conference, she cited the need to prioritize governmental stability as a reason to postpone or reduce the number of migrants accepted.
This change in plans also comes with other stipulations. The Prime Minister also said that Poland will exercise “the right to choose which groups of refugees are to be sent to Poland.”
Additionally, the leader of a separate political party has made a call for Poland to hold a referendum regarding accepting refugees. “If I am to receive guests I should decide on who I am going to receive, as I am the host,” said the head of the party, Paweł Kukiz, better known for his rock music career prior to politics. His party, the right-wing Kukiz 15 Movement, has 42 deputies in Poland’s 460-seat parliament.
On January 15 Poland’s parliament passed new regulations on how the police are able to access detailed reports of suspects’ internet and phone use. The Deputy Security Services Chief of Poland has said that the government and courts have “accessed data of internet users some 60,000 times” over the last year, and the new regulations will allow for courts to “oversee how internet data is accessed.”
Thousands of Poles attended demonstrations in the main squares of several major cities on January 23. These protests were organized by the Committee for the Defense of Democracy. According to an article in the Krakow Post covering the protests, “Poland’s online media laws are some of the most invasive in Europe. Polish law requires telecom companies to retain metadata on its users and allows nine different law enforcement agencies (an exceptionally large number) to demand it. According to the digital rights group Panoptykon Foundation, nearly two million requests for user data are made by the government yearly, whereas in most EU countries it is less that [sic] half that number.”
Thus, the protesters see the new law as a further encroachment onto the liberties and privacies that ought to be present in democracy, and their concern is not isolated. The European Union has now launched an investigation into the legislation to check whether or not it violates EU standards, in addition to assessing the changes in the constitutional court and public media.
In addition to the EU, the United States has also been following the developments of Poland “very closely,” according to US Trade Representative Michael Froman. While Representative Froman said the concern is for a “fellow democracy,” a secondary reason for US interest is Poland is its role in NATO’s plans for handling Russia.
Poland Gets Netflix
At the beginning of January, streaming giant Netflix expanded its services into Poland as part of an expansion to over 190 countries.
The streaming content now offers subtitles in 17 languages including Polish, and offers services that range from 7.99 to 11.99 euro, about 8.71 to 13.07 USD.
A New Treasure Hunt Begins for Supposed “Buried Nazi Gold”
Although the search for the famous “Nazi gold train” in the Fall of 2015 turned out to be a bust, new stories have emerged about the possibilities of buried trucks filled with valuables. The trucks are allegedly located in Wałbrzych, an area of Poland that used to be a part of German territory before the borders were moved in 1945. It is said that the information about the trucks is originally from a Wehrmacht soldier, though stories of the buried vehicles have been around for quite a while.