• Three million Polish Zloty (about €650,000) is the value of land bought by Iwona Morawiecka, the wife of the Polish Prime Minister, journalists have revealed. The total value of PM Mateusz Morawiecki’s wealth is unknown.

    Before turning into politics, the prime minister was the CEO of a large foreign bank in Poland. He has savings and bonds worth almost five million zlotys (over one million euros), plus several houses and apartments. Polish law does not oblige family members of politicians to submit a declaration of their assets.

    The Prime Minister’s critics say that if the wealth of the Prime Minister and his family were made public, it might not go down well with the voters for his Law and Justice party, ahead of next month’s parliamentary election.

    “We will not allow Ukrainian grain into Poland after 15 September even if the EU is against this. The interests of the Polish farmer are of the highest importance to us,” stated Robert Telus, the Polish Minister of Agriculture.

    The EU ban on imports of Polish grain will expire in mid-September and the Polish government should lift all barriers from this moment. But the ruling Law and Justice (PiS)-led government is not planning to do so.

    One reason for this refusal is that the Polish market was flooded with Ukrainian grain last May. Polish farmers could not sell their homegrown grain, which lay unwanted in warehouses.

    At that time, Ukrainian grain was only supposed to transit Poland, but most likely some Polish companies decided to bring it to the local market. Inspections showed the grain was low quality, and the Polish prosecutor’s office is now investigating what happened.

    But the whole case has a strong political background due to the upcoming parliamentary election in October. The issue of grain imports has caused discontent among farmers, without whose support the ruling Law and Justice party will not win the crucial vote.

    PiS also has to compete with the far-right Confederation party, which is in third place in the polls, and adopts an anti-Ukrainian stance. This is why the Law and Justice politicians are determined to block the import of Ukrainian grain.

    The government is willing to maintain this ban, even if it turns out to be in contravention of EU law. It is likely that the European Commission will then impose financial penalties on Poland. The cost of this challenge will likely be borne by the citizens.

    After all, for reasons of political wrangling with Brussels, Poland has still not received funds from the Recovery Fund.

    Poland’s courts are having problems staffing incompetent judges. This is the result of the governing Law and Justice’s “reforms” since the party won an outright majority in 2015.

    The epitome of these problems is Julia Przyłębska, the chairwoman of the Constitutional Court, whom Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the leader of Law and Justice, called “his social discovery”. He often met her privately and praised her culinary skills.

    Przyłębska became a judge in 1987. She passed the state exam with ‘barely sufficient’, the lowest possible grade for admission to the profession. There are many similar examples. The Association of Independent Judges “Iustitia” published a report showing that the Minister of Justice, in the first years of the “reform,” replaced 160 court presidents with his appointees, despite many lacking qualifications. As a result, the waiting period for resolving cases in Polish courts has increased. 
    The purpose of such operations is for the governing party to gain the loyalty of judges. The Constitutional Court under Przyłębska’s leadership issued rulings in accordance with the will of the authorities. An example was in 2020, when the judges ruled that abortions previously allowed in cases of fetal damage or defects were unconstitutional. This led to huge protests.

    But resistance to top-down changes imposed by the authorities is still strong in Polish courts. Ziobro’s nominee judges are being dissected by the “old” part of the judiciary, making it impossible for the former to rule smoothly.

    Also, the work of the Constitutional Court is frozen. Some judges are demanding that Przyłębska leave, recognising that her term has expired. They do not want to come to court sessions. The court under her leadership has become a de facto dysfunctional institution.

    The EU is the last guardian of Polish courts’ independence, and it should not hold back in its efforts to defend this key principle of the 27 member-bloc.

    It is an unpopular truth: in Poland, few people can count on a decent pension in the future.

    A decade ago, Minister of Economy Waldemar Pawlak said bluntly: “I don’t believe too much in state pensions. I try to secure my future through savings and a good relationship with my children. This will be more secure than these various state chimerical solutions.”

    The belief that the state will pay a decent pension after 1989 has never been particularly strong in Poland.

    Many Poles have taken matters into their own hands, just as the capitalist system had taught them to do. Knowing they won’t have a decent pension, they invested in the property market.

    After the fall of communism, pouring capital in real estate has become the national sport of Poles. Prices have risen at a tremendous rate, especially in Poland’s largest cities. Cheap loans have made it possible to buy a flat without a lot of capital. Many treated it as an investment. Some individual buyers had more than a dozen flats on credit. But this process has made another problem worse: access to housing.

    More and more flats were built, but as many as two million of them are standing empty. A large proportion of these are flats that people have bought as an investment, with a view to selling them off at a profit.

    As a result, rental prices have also risen. Today,only a small minority can afford a mortgage. Therefore, the majority of Poles will be condemned to whatever pension the state will offer them in the future.

    An even bleaker future awaits those who are currently entering the labour market. By 2060, they will barely receive the equivalent of 25% of their final salary as pensioners.

    This weekend, Russia has announced that it will cut all oil and gas supplies to Poland. The Polish government claims this will not harm the economy because it is already importing oil from other countries. If this is the case, why has Poland been importing raw materials from Russia for months, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, allowing Russia to finance the war in Ukraine?

    Russia first cut off Poland completely from gas in the second quarter of last year, and then did the same a few days ago with oil.

    Before this happened, Poland was the largest importer of Russian oil in the European Union. Hypocrisy ensued: while the government loudly criticised other EU countries, especially Germany, for importing raw materials from Russia, it quietly did the same.

    When Germany stopped all oil supplies from Russia from the 1 January 2023, the government in Warsaw continued to allow the black gold to flow from Moscow.
    Why this discrepancy?

    Perhaps the issue is about the huge profits which the state-controlled company Orlen has made thanks to cheap oil from Russia. Last year this amounted to 21.5 billion zlotys, or 5.2 billion euros.

    This money goes into the state budget and towards the political projects of those in power. Thanks to this cash, Orlen has purchased several regional newspapers. Local media is often a propaganda vehicle for those in power and a vital tool in the upcoming parliamentary elections this year.

    For those in power, staying in power is the overriding value. Poland could have diversified its energy resources much faster, and not had to rely so much on its old rival in the east. It is good that Poland is no longer importing Russian oil and gas, but this did not happen because of a decision by Warsaw. Ultimately, this was Moscow’s choice.

    “I quit France in 2005: too many trade unions. Too many strikes. Too much complaining. Too much labour protection”
    – these words belong to Grégoire Nitot, founder and CEO of Sii, an IT company that operates in Poland.

    Nitot wrote them in an email in November to one of his employees, Krystian Kosowski, who wanted to establish a trade union in Sii. For the CEO, Kosowski was “attacking Sii”, and “motivated” his colleagues “to fight against Sii as well”. Eventually, the IT company fired him.

    The level of unionisation is low in Poland, barely at 12.9%. But the country has a rich tradition of trade unions. In the 1980s, more than 10 million citizens belonged to the opposition “Solidarność” (Solidarity) movement, which overthrew the communists in 1989. However, the end of communism and the collapse of many state-owned enterprises led to the exclusion of trade unions.

    Thus, Poland, where unions are lacking or poorly organised, is again starting from scratch when it comes to defending workers’ rights.

    “You have to burn with everything at the moment, except of course tyres, or things like that. Poland has to be warmed up.”

    This is what Jarosław Kaczyński, leader of the ruling Law and Justice Party, said last September, after the EU embargo on Russian coal entered into force. Since then, the price of firewood has doubled in the country, where 28.8% of households heat with wood.

    A 34-year-old resident of northern Poland took Kaczyński’s words to heart. When a municipal police patrol knocked on his door to penalise him for burning unauthorised materials, the man claimed that Kaczyński had publicly allowed him to do so, and refused to pay a fine of 500 Zloty (about 105 euros).

    The case will end up in court, which will probably pass a guilty verdict: The words of the Law and Justice chairman have no legal value.

    Looking to rent an apartment in Poland? Be prepared for high costs. Last year, rents rose by nearly 18%. In the five largest cities of Warsaw, Krakow, Wroclaw, Poznan and Gdansk, the increase was even higher, at 30-40%. A two-bedroom apartment of 45 square metres in a major Polish city costs €800 per month, while the average income over the same period is €1,050.

    Prices were already rising rapidly before the war in Ukraine, but when more than a million Ukrainian refugees arrived in Poland, the housing market became even more difficult. Inflation, fuelled by the energy crisis, is making matters worse.

    The roots go back to the housing shortage of the communist era, but even after the fall of communism, no government has built enough social housing. The effects are still felt today: according to Eurostat, Poland has the lowest number of rooms per person in the European Union (just 1.1). At the same time, Polish families are the most numerous (2.8 people on average per family).

    There are no signs that the situation will improve. The recent construction boom helped to alleviate the housing market deficit, but it wasn’t enough. Last year, the Central Bank raised interest rates due to inflation, making credit expensive and difficult to access.

    This had a massive knock-on effect: mortgage applications fell by 63% in 2022. Investment is also slowing down: developers are building less and less, affected by the skyrocketing interest rates. Only if inflation falls will there be a rate cut, but the market has already changed. Now the Poles are not only stuck in literal tight rooms, but there isn’t really a way out for the housing market in sight.

    2.2 million Poles lived and worked abroad for more than three months during the last year. In parallel, the number of Ukrainian workers is rising in Poland, many replacing the missing Polish labour force.

    Even before the war, Ukrainians came to Poland in large numbers in search of work. Last year there were 1.5 million. After the Russian invasion this number more than doubled.

    Ukrainian workers have become crucial to the Polish economy, which continues to grow, despite skyrocketing inflation.

    Ukrainians coming to Poland are first hired for the lowest-paid jobs, like the Poles when they arrived in west European countries.

    The knowledge that Qatar most likely won the right to host the World Cup using bribes is widespread in Poland. Yet neither the Polish Football Association, nor anyone from the national team has ever seriously considered boycotting the championship because of this.

    An important reason for this silence might be that for years the Polish Football Association (PZPN) tolerated corruption in Polish football. Some of its members were even involved. Investigations are still ongoing. Last week, police detained two high-ranking Polish Football Association board members at Warsaw airport, who were on their way to Qatar for the Poland-Mexico match. The charges: fraud and money laundering.

    Polish national coach Czesław Michniewicz is also a controversial figure. The media revealed that in the past he had been in telephone contact more than 700 times with the representative of a Polish football team who was in charge of fixing matches during the first football league in the early 2000s.

    This was a huge scandal in which more than 600 people were charged: among them, footballers and coaches. A network pre-determined match results over the phone, with players dropping bribes to referees and the opposing team in the locker room before the game. Michniewicz was never charged, but he also never explained why he was in such frequent contact with the main suspect.

    Then again, the Polish public does not seem to require this of the coach. The calls to boycott the championships are quiet and the viewing figures for the matches on TV are record-breaking. Cezary Kulesza, CEO of the Polish Football Association said: “Teams can always boycott any tournament and simply not go to it, but how many of those will you find? No one will go as far as that.”

    It seems that neither ethics or transparency count at the World Cup, only results.