GAZETA WYBORCZA
Gazeta Wyborcza ("Election Gazette") is a leading daily newspaper in Poland, and the country's most popular news portal. Founded in 1989 by Adam Michnik and based in Warsaw, the paper is now owned by Agora SA, and is described as center-left.
Society
Anna Mierzyńska

Poland, A Case Study In Modern Political Tribalism

Poles are divided into hostile tribes. Radicalization is on the rise, and institutions do little to support those trying to tame it.

-Analysis-

WARSAW — If you're not with us, you're against us. The enemy must be destroyed. He has no rights or dignity. This way of thinking is, unfortunately, becoming more and more popular in Poland. It justifies hate speech and violence. And even though we know that polarization and radicalization is a growing problem, almost no one is working to slow down the process. Those who are trying to confront the issue get little support in Poland.

On April 12, the Facebook page of the Anti-Polonism Monitoring Center (AMC) — a foundation created by Dariusz Matecki, the head of the right-wing, Catholic and nationalistic party United Poland in Western Pomerania and an associate of the party leader Zbigniew Ziobro — published a photo of a young girl "jumping on the graves of Polish soldiers."

In reality, she was standing on a gravestone cross. And yet, after receiving the photo from an unknown source (most likely before the girl posted it online) the AMC decided to notify the prosecutor's office.

"This time, the case is about desecrating a resting place. It is likely that a minor posted a picture on social media of her jumping on the graves of Polish soldiers killed on August 18, 1920, during the Battle of Brodnica Polish victory against the Soviets." The AMC also reported that the girl faces up to two years in prison for doing so.

Among the words use to describe the 12-year-old girl were: monster, imbecile, idiot, retard...

The fact that the girl in the photo wasn't actually jumping didn't stop numerous media outlets, most of them right-wing, from echoing the "jumping on the graves of Polish soldiers' refrain while hyping up the so-called "scandal at the cemetery." The police investigated the case and identified the perpetrator, who turned out to be a 12-year-old girl from Brodnica. The Anti-Polonism Monitoring Center announced on Facebook that her case will be taken to the juvenile court.

The AMC's posts themselves aroused strong reactions: at least several dozen comments appeared under each entry, and more than 800 under the first one. The most popular was a call for the restoration of caning. Its author, Rita, explained her proposal this way: "I think a hundred lashes on the ass will cure her of her affliction."

Other comments included:

Andrzej — "Her parents should be publicly flogged." Krzysztof — "It's the product of a laxist education and Jurek Owsiak's popular song Do Whatever You Want!" Agnieszka — "She needs a good beating!" Zosia — "I would beat this one so bad that she couldn't walk straight." Zenon — "She is one of those degenerate left-wing individuals." Ryszard — "This is the rainbow anointed youth of the women's rights activist Mrs. Lempart."

Among the words use to describe the 12-year-old girl were: monster, imbecile, idiot, retard, dumbass, parasite, savage, jackass, mutt, moron, and test-tube embryo.

This was not the work of Russian or paid trolls. Behind the comments are Poles — ordinary ones, from all over the country, and with the obvious approval of the moderators of the AMC page, who do not react to such comments. They do not delete them, do not block those who call the girl names or wish her dead. The commentators dehumanize the 12-year-old because she is, in their eyes, a "leftist" or "a rainbow anointed youth of Mrs. Lempart." She belongs to the opposite tribe, towards whom hostility, violence and dehumanization are, from their perspective, justified.

Rising radicalization

This is how Poles get radicalized. And the Brodnica incident, sadly, is just one of many examples of this process. Similar discussions in social media happen every day, and not only among supporters of the right wing.

The same mechanism was at work when the account of the Young Left called professor Leszek Balcerowicz, former chairman of the National Bank and deputy prime minister of Poland, the "Mengele of the Polish economy" and published a photo where he was represented blindfolded, in a post inviting to a debate with him. In that case, fortunately, the post was removed, and the youth group took action against its author. The comments under the AMC posts, in contrast, are still there for everyone to see.

Social polarization is a process that has been visible for several years in the Polish public debate, and one that gained a lot of momentum after the informal conservative political alliance United Right took power.

A pro-LGBT protester wearing the rainbow flag makes a gesture at a demonstration in Krakow, Poland — Photo: Cezary Kowalski/SOPA Images/ZUMA

"One of the consequences of polarization is radicalization, and in Poland, it happens mainly towards the right," says Stanislaw Czerczak of the Gorzow-based foundation CODEX, which works towards preventing radicalization. "I am convinced the boundary between polarization and radicalization has already been crossed: It happened when those in power together with some clergymen of the Catholic Church started to dehumanize LGBTQ people. Poland is a very radicalized country."

Although we have already begun to talk about the dangers of social divisions in Poland, there is still a lack of ideas and willingness to counteract this process. Those who try to discuss it are alone. For example, the Catholic magazine Więź, Polish for "believe," has been inviting people to discuss how to rebuild the community for the past months.

Activists working on the de-escalation of conflicts, such as the aforementioned CODEX foundation or the Institute for Social Security, are more and more often denied money for their projects. Although their leaders belong to the EU's Radicalization Awareness Network (RAN), which brings together European experts to prevent extremism, they have very limited opportunities for action in Poland.

Czerczak, founder and leader of CODEX and an extremist himself in the 1990s, when he belonged to a neo-Nazi group, used to his experience (as a warning) with students in school meetings. He participated in dozens of such gatherings, but the last one took place three years ago. It was decided that allowing outsiders into schools was controversial, and teachers stopped organizing such interventions.

"I was convinced that after the 2019 assassination of the progressive mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz, which, in my opinion, was an act of politically motivated terror, professional steps would be taken to prevent radicalization," Czerczak says. "But so far not much has changed."

No easy fixes

In other European countries and in the United States, awareness of the negative effects of polarization has long prompted initiatives that teach how to resolve conflicts without violence, de-escalate social tensions (e.g., during street protests) and create a safe space for meetings between people with opposing views.

In the Netherlands, students created the "Dare To Be Gray" initiative, which addresses "people in the middle," namely those who have not yet succumbed to polarization. In 2016, it won an international competition in Washington D.C. for ideas on how to reduce extremism through social media.

In Ireland, an organization called the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation runs so-called dialogue circles, which are not about reaching an agreement, but about seeing people with different views as human beings, rather than enemies, monsters or people lacking brains. "The message is not that everyone should be "together," but that by creating new ways to understand each other, we can move forward and transcend the legacy of conflict," the activists explain.

I realized that harboring hatred for other people was most of all self-destructive.

There are also projects, including the international organization Woman Without Borders, aimed especially at mothers, since they can take the first depolarizing actions in their local communities or families. And in the United States, there are organizations such as the DC Peace Team that teach volunteers how to de-escalate conflicts in the streets. Activists trained by them minimized social tensions just recently, in the period between the attack on the Washington Capitol on Jan. 6 and the swearing-in of President Joe Biden.

Here in Europe, experts of the EU RAN network prepared a handbook four years ago on preventing polarization. It is a set of specific tips, addressed to teachers, local government officials, politicians and police officers, and it's available online in Polish. And yet, does anyone in Poland even know about it?

"In Western European countries, de-escalation had already been dealt with seriously, because of fears over Islamic terrorism," CODEX's Stanislaw Czerczak says. "This meant that they already had the tools to work on the problem of right-wing radicalization when it appeared. In our country, those kinds of tools don't exist. There are a few community organizations working on it, but it's always been on the margin. And for the last few years there has been no will to make even this scale of activity happen."

So what we can do right now to reduce divisions in Poland? The Czerczak is quick to admit that there are no simple recipes.

"We need many small activities, but on a mass scale — at schools, when working with young people, but also, for example, in the media," he says. "We need to talk about it as much as possible, to educate, to debunk the myth that there is no radicalism in Poland, to give testimonies of people who became radicalized and came out of it."

The other key, the activist explains, is to think about ways we, as individuals, can change our behavior on an everyday basis. "I remember what I used to do," Czerczak says. "And then I realized that harboring hatred for other people or just constantly judging them was above all self-destructive. So I decided to be kinder to people. And it worked."

* Anna Mierzynska is a social media analyst and public sector marketing specialist.

Geopolitics
Marek Beylin

The Cracks In Kaczyński's Grip On Poland Are Starting To Show

The right-wing leader is struggling to appease his coalition partners, raising the possibility of a realignment among the country's various political factions.

-Analysis-

WARSAW — Polish leader Jarosław Kaczyński of the hard-right Law and Justice Party, the PiS, has long followed one simple rule: "I am Kaczyński and I can do anything I want."

He's taken a similar approach with regards to the Reconstruction Fund, as the EU's multi-billion-euro proposed recovery package is called. "We will take the money and do whatever we want with it."

These declarations no longer hold the same weight, though, now that Kaczyński's coalition partners are refusing to ratify the Fund. To get his way, in other words, the Polish leader will have to pact with the opposition, but he has no clue how.

Journalist Michał Karnowski recently suggested on the liberal news website Polityka.pl that a cross-party Monitoring Council should be set to work with the prime minister and oversee government spending with regards to the so-called National Reconstruction Plan (NRP).

Clearly this proposition came directly from the PiS headquarters. But it's a poor substitute to real negotiations with the opposition. And that's because it ignores the most important issue: the participation of the opposition and local governments in shaping the NRP.

Still, that such a proposition would even be aired shows that Kaczyński feels weaker and more and more cornered. Rightly so.

During a recent gathering of the conservative Agreement party, one of the PiS's coalition partners, party leader Jarosław Gowin presented a program that landed like a slap in Kaczyński's face: a strong middle class, warm relations with the EU, a friendly separation of Church and State. These are demands that clearly diverge from Kaczyński's program.

There's a growing awareness that Kaczyński can't cope with the crisis of power that he himself created.

"This is a further step away from PiS," said Rafał Chwedoruk, a political scientist sympathetic to the PiS party.

Gowin also made direct overtures to the more moderate Polish People's Party (PPP) and to conservatives from the Civic Platform party, claiming that they can all act together. Kaczyński's PiS, he said, is sinking and faces inextricable crisis. The time has come, in other words, for change.

Gowin's words coincided with shifts taking place within the opposition. Recently, Piotr Zgorzelski, deputy speaker of Poland's lower house of Parliament and a leading voice in the PPP, raised the idea of creating a new party, called the Polish Christian Democrats, to form a new parliamentary majority by bringing together conservative elements in the opposition, Gowin supporters, and sympathizers from the PiS. Likewise, Senate Speaker Tomasz Grodzki called on Kaczyński's opponents to take power and jointly develop a National Reconstruction Plan.

Not long ago, such calls would have sounded like the delusions of a madman. Today they are becoming an actual possibility.

During a protest against the PiS party and censorship in Warsaw in May 2020 — Photo: Aleksander Kalka/NurPhoto via ZUMA Press

Kaczyński himself makes them even more likely, and that's because he can't abandon his principle of "I can do anything I want." A case in point is the recent ruckus over Adam Bodnar, Poland's human rights commissioner (ombudsman), who is being forced out — at the government's behest — by the supposedly independent Constitutional Tribunal, the country's highest court.

Why would that go to such lengths at a time when Kaczyński is dramatically losing ground and when this kind of scandal will only weaken him even further? It's precisely because Kaczyński is losing his grip. He wants to send the message — to his backers and opponents alike — that: "I can do anything I want."

The problem, though, is that within his camp, there's a growing awareness that Kaczyński can't cope with the crisis of power that he himself created. Recent comments by Józef Orzeł, a PiS loyalist and member of Kaczyński's inner circle, were telling in this regard.

"Bit by bit, the PiS party is repeating all the mistakes made by its predecessors, especially those committed by the Civic Platform from the end of its second term," he said. "It's only a matter of time before the opposition reaches its breaking point."

It's also a matter of time, it appears, before more PiS activists realize that the biggest obstacle to saving the ruling camp is Kaczyński himself. From there, more and more will leave PiS, and the leader's days will truly be numbered.

Geopolitics
Piotr Beniuszys

A Smoking Ban On Balconies? Warsaw Tests The Edges Of Freedom

Proposals to ban smoking on private balconies are led by activists trying to modify citizen’s lifestyles and fight 'ideologically different phenomena,' even when the real harm of these divergent behaviors is negligible.

-Essay-

WARSAW — Could there soon be a ban on smoking cigarettes on balconies in Warsaw? Or maybe one day even smoking inside private apartments? A smoking ban on balconies has already been introduced in Lithuania, so there is a precedent and nothing seems to stand in the way of a Polish version. Renata Niewitecka, a council member of the city of Warsaw decided to consult the residents on the issue. If the majority wants to ban the minority from smoking on balconies, will the council democratically vote for such a ban? Only time will tell.

The majority voting to impose a ban that will only affect the lives of a minority and deprive them of certain rights, whether trivial or important, is a fundamentally debatable issue.

Liberal thinkers have long warned against a democracy based only on enforcing the opinion of the majority because it is just another form of dictatorship. It brings up two old ideas that need to be repeated time and time again. The first is that any democracy bearing the adjective "liberal" is a democracy where the inviolable rights of the minority put a limit on the power of the majority. The second is John Stuart Mill's definition of the scope of individual liberty. According to him, no one (including, of course, the democratic majority) can limit the liberty of a citizen as long as his actions in exercising that liberty does not affect the liberty of another citizen who has an identical scope.

And, regarding smoking cigarettes on a balcony, there is a dilemma that can be translated into the question: "What would John Stuart Mill say?" The limitation of the freedom to poison everyone around with cigarette smoke has been debated since times immemorial and it is indisputable that not only smoking poisons one's body but also that passive smoking is also a thing (that is, the smoker limits the freedom of another person by poisoning them). That is why smoking in enclosed public spaces (transportation, offices, clubs, pubs, stores, restaurants, railway stations, etc.) is unacceptable. But what about private spaces and open air? Since a complete smoking ban is unthinkable, it has to be allowed somewhere. Tenants often agree not to smoke inside their apartments: the balcony then seems like a reasonable choice.

So what would Mill say? He would probably point out that almost all of our behaviors affect other people in some way, and most of the time, neutrally. Though whether the effect is neutral or negative can depend on the sensitivity of the recipient. Whether something falls within the scope of legitimate freedom or goes beyond it depends not so much on the potential to create a negative impact (because that can always happen), but on an objective assessment of the real inconvenience imposed on another person.

That is a nuisance, but maybe harmless.

The case of the smoking ban on balconies is an important dilemma. Can the smoke from one balcony harm a neighbor on another one, or even get through an open window into the apartment and cause a stench there? Of course. And that is a nuisance.

But is it also possible that the smoke from another balcony, because of the way the building is designed, and of the direction of the wind, turns out harmless? Yes, this is also a possibility. Therefore, the validity of a total ban on the entire city is questionable.

No smoking sign at Hala Koszyki, Warsaw, Poland — Photo: Kgbo

The criterion of a real nuisance is crucial in assessing the idea of a ban—i.e. if it's limiting someone's freedom. It helps to identify situations in which there is an actual and serious limitation of one person's freedom by another one's behavior from situations where exaggeration, oversensitivity and hysteria prevail. The problem with this criterion, however, is that it can be utterly subjective, vary from case to case, and even escape the judgment of a potential Solomon.

What else to ban?

There are plenty of potential bans that are at the very least problematic in terms of deciding how real of a nuisance they are. How about a ban on talking on the phone on the bus, or one on "insulting religious feelings' at a ticketed event, on being shirtless in the street in hot weather for men who do not resemble Adonis, a ban on drinking alcohol in urban recreational spaces, the abolition of the first class in trains, an implementation of one day a week of forced veganism in canteens, a ban on meat sales at promotional prices, ads for candy and cars, the abolition of zoos, paintball, SUV sales, shops opening on Sundays (even online), underage dog walkers, balloon sales, strawberry sales in the winter (and tangerine in the summer), fishing at night?

Many of these ideas have not yet been mooted in Poland. But local activists in various parts of Europe have already raised them—like the Lithuanian activists banning smoking on private balconies.

The subjective nature of assessing the nuisance of a given phenomenon is, of course, related to the ideological motivations of the activists advocating particular bans. It is often the case that a given behavior hardly ever really bothers anyone, but the "pain" is caused by the very awareness that someone somewhere lives a different lifestyle based on values the activist considers contrary to his beliefs.

A better direction would be a certain tolerance.

The properness of an era is based on the fact that most activists consider certain phenomena ideologically correct (that are then privileged, and pointing out their real inconvenience is poorly looked upon, and even rude—how dare you criticize urban cyclists?!). Other behaviors are stigmatized as inappropriate, arousing the disapproval of activists (then every slightest pretext is used to exaggerate their alleged inconvenience—like smoking or eating meat). All these minor bans add up to a general idea of modifying the citizens' lifestyle, fighting the "ideologically different" and limiting the diversity of lifestyles of people in the community.

This is not the way to go. A better direction would be a certain tolerance, whether towards the heathen, the Jesus freak, the bougie or even the pinko.

We live together, side by side, sometimes close to each other. We are different, we like diverse things and dislike others. We make choices, sometimes stupid, sometimes wise (though some of us make stupid decisions more often than others). We watch each other and now and then we instinctively get hurt when we see someone choose what we consider to be more stupidly or just different from us. It hurts us, but it's not always bothersome enough to immediately wish that the other person would be forced by some authority to change their behavior.

"Live and let live" used to be the flagship principle of British society (though it has changed somewhat nowadays). It is worthwhile, for the sake of harmonious coexistence, to sometimes give it priority over the impulse of holy indignation or the desire to make things right.

Geopolitics
Eliza Michalik

Religion In Times Of COVID: A Polish Story Of Mass Hypocrisy

The presence of the faithful at Mass, regardless of the threat to their health and lives, is essential for the Church to physically survive. And the state is an accomplice.

-Essay-

WARSAW — We're going through another complete lockdown in Poland, which costs the economy 1.3 billion zlotys (280 million euros) a day — and churches are still open. What's more, before Christmas, the nation's Catholic bishops issued a statement encouraging the faithful to attend mass "out of concern for their health."

Unfortunately, they fail to mention what the "concern for health" is supposed to be, or what specifically should be done to preserve it. That's a pity, because I sure would like to know.

I don't understand the difference between attending Mass for health reasons, and having dinner in a restaurant, meeting with one's family, going to the movies or museums, or even going skiing. "Out of concern for one's health" ... whose health exactly?

I would very much like some representatives of the PiS ruling conservative party and the Church to explain this to me, because I really don't understand.

I must admit that such statements in the time of the third wave of the epidemic, in the face of a record number of deaths and the collapse of the health service, at a time when Polish businesses are falling into debt and going bankrupt, families facing poverty.

This is an exceptional impudence on the part of the Episcopate, even by its already flagrantly low standards. It is also an expression of a complete lack of attention to the world at large, a lack of sensitivity to the needs of not only its own believers but to the whole of society. This has been the case for too long with the Catholic Church in Poland, a complete egoism and lack of concern for anyone other than themselves and anything other than their own interests.

St. Joseph's Cathedral in Krakow, Poland — Photo: Dominika Zarzycka/NurPhoto/ZUMA

The reasons are, of course, clear. The attendance of the faithful at Mass, regardless of the risk to their health and lives, is essential for the Catholic Church to maintain its rituals so that this deeply sick institution can physically survive. When I say deeply sick institution, I mean an entity completely devoid of a deeper interiority and content, without values as its foundation — such as authenticity, truth and righteousness, respect for others, compassion and integrity.

I think that the Polish Catholic Church has been like that for a long time: empty, false, greedy and filled only with meaningless rituals and gestures, as well as discourses devoid of value. This explains why it needs the sacrifice of believers' lives to survive, because if they don't show up in churches, nothing will conceal the truth about this institution. The truth that the Polish Church has nothing to do with spirituality or God, but is an unscrupulous, cynical, greedy and law-ignoring soulless corporation, which is only interested in profit and its own survival.

It is outrageous, however, that the state authorities allow such a double standard, blatently supporting the idea that priests and the Church are above the law and tolerating this shocking lack of solidarity.

Indeed, solidarity is essential now more than ever, not only because it allows us to survive a pandemic, but because it is also pragmatic and egalitarian. Indeed, in a church, one gets infected just as much as in a cinema or a restaurant. Moreover, if shopkeepers and services providers are going bankrupt, the Church too could bear the discomfort of empty temples.

This hypocrisy also exposes the true intentions of the PiS party: If the government cared about citizens and their health and lives, it would close down the churches, just as it's closed everything else.

Society
Paweł Wroński

What Ireland Can Teach Poland About Abortion Rights

The 2012 death of Savita Halappanavar, who was unable to get an abortion in Ireland, set off nationwide opposition to a ban on the procedure. What happens when a similar case arises in Poland?

-Analysis-

WARSAW — Have Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his PiS political party allies ever heard about the tragedy that happened in Ireland eight years ago? Do they know what unfolded in a waiting room of the Galway Roscommon University Hospital?

They will remember that Irish anti-abortion laws had always been as restrictive as they are in Poland right now. But they know those laws changed two years ago — and it can be traced back to that hospital in central Ireland in 2012.

The patient was named Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old dentist and amateur Indian dance instructor. She was 17 weeks pregnant. She said she was in pain and felt there was a problem with her pregnancy. Doctors found that the fetus was in very poor condition, but its heart was still beating. Irish law at the time only allowed abortion if the woman's life was in danger.

Savita's husband, Paraven Halappanavar, an engineer at a medical instruments company was told that "Ireland is a Catholic country and we can't terminate a pregnancy..." His wife was sent home, where she experienced excruciating pain for four days straight. Paraven demanded an abortion, pointing out that he practiced Hinduism and that the tenets of Catholicism did not apply to him or his wife. The doctors refused, fearing prosecution and imprisonment (in Ireland, a doctor faced possible life imprisonment for an abortion, though it usually turned into a 10-year sentence).

On October 28, 2012, Savita died from sepsis caused by the complications that followed her spontaneous miscarriage.

Paraven Halappanavar sued the Galway University Clinic, as well as the Irish government. Soon after, 20,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Dublin, demanding the lifting of the ban on abortion in the Irish Constitution.

Savita Halappanavar died from sepsis caused by the complications that followed her spontaneous miscarriage — Photo: Karl Burke/DPA via ZUMA Press

This ban had been quietly violated for years through abortion tourism practiced by Irish citizens traveling to Britain. The Catholic Church in Ireland remained steadfastly opposed to the lifting of the abortion ban, even while it extended its sympathy to Halappanavar's family. Bishop John Fleming explained that putting the life of an unborn child and its mother on the same level takes root in the teachings of the Church. According to the Bishop, this is why Ireland has the lowest rate of infant deaths: four per 100,000, while in the U.S. and the rest of the European Union, the number rises to 14 per 100,000.

Yet Savita's case awakened the conscience of the Irish public and, in 2018, in a referendum, 66.4% of the participating citizens voted to remove Article 8, banning abortion from the Irish Constitution. In 2019, a new law was introduced, giving women the choice to have an abortion until the 12th week of pregnancy. Savita Halappanavar's story had become a key element of the pro-choice campaign that led to the new legislation.

Here in Poland, because of the October 2020 ruling by the Constitutional Tribunal of Poland, the PiS party is opening the way for tragedies like Savita's.

There is a risk that doctors will fear recommending an abortion even in cases where there is not necessarily a "threat to the life" but also the health, of the patient. In such cases, they face a three-year prison sentence and may feel safer not taking any decision.

There is a risk that doctors will fear recommending an abortion

Poland's ruling party plans to create perinatal hospices where women with difficult pregnancies can be kept under medical surveillance – proof that the PiS party is preparing for a scenario similar to the one Savita endured.

Another argument: the projected allowance of 20,000 zlotys ($5,300) for giving birth to a child with a severe defect. This allowance, called a "coffin payment" by some, is supposed to encourage women to give birth – and probably to take unnecessary risks.

The situation in Ireland doesn't always translate into Polish conditions. The two societies, although Catholic, are different. In Ireland, despite the strong position of the Church in 2012, the government did not have the same chance to use the media as the Polish government does to influence society. And this, I fear, will soon create a new pop culture model for women: modern saints. The ones who wanted to "give birth at all costs' in order to prove their faith.

Jarosław Kaczyński, who has spent years manipulating fundamentalist circles of the Polish right-wing to serve his own purposes, has for the first time become their hostage.

Geopolitics

The Latest: Biden Pushes For Middle East Ceasefire, Migrant Exodus, Mafia Math

Welcome to Tuesday, where Biden calls for Gaza ceasefire, 6,000 refugees reach Spanish shores in a day, and a Sicilian Mafioso takes grandparenting to a new low. We also tune in to Hong Kong-based digital media The Initium for some *strait talking* about the stakes in Taiwan.

• Biden calls for Israel-Gaza ceasefire: The U.S. President Joe Biden has called for a ceasefire after eight days of a bloody conflict between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza has left more than 200 Palestinians dead, including dozens of children. Ten Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets. European leaders are meeting today for a special summit on the conflict.

• Thousands of migrants reach Spanish enclave: More than 6,000 migrants have reached the Spanish enclave of Ceuta from neighboring Morocco by swimming or sailing, a record number over a single day. The Spanish government has deployed troops to patrol the border amid heightened diplomatic tensions between the two countries.

• Myanmar toll since the military coup: At least 800 people have been killed by security forces since the Feb.1 coup, according to the activist group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Some of the most intense fighting is now taking place in northwest Myanmar, close to the Indian border.

• Samoa to appoint first female leader: The Samoa Supreme Court validated Fiame Naomi Mata'afa's shock April election win, making her the first female prime minister and replacing the world's second-longest serving prime minister who has been ruling the country since 1998.

• U.S. Supreme Court to hear major abortion case: The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a challenge to Mississippi's 15-week ban on abortion in a historic case that could undermine the constitutional right to abortion. It will be the first abortion case heard by the new Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a Catholic conservative who was appointed by former President Trump in 2020.

• Rising tensions between Hong Kong and Taiwan: Hong Kong's government suspended operations at its representative office in Taiwan on Tuesday. Tensions have risen since Beijing imposed a controversial national security law last year in the city that encouraged many pro-democracy activists to leave.

• Havana puts on a giant rainbow flag: Cuba's health ministry was draped with a gigantic rainbow flag on Monday to celebrate the International Day against Homophobia, amid recent moves that could lead to the legalization of same-sex marriage.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: Modi’s Defeat, Cryptocurrency Spikes, Colosseum’s New Floor

Welcome to Monday, where Modi loses a key state after COVID backlash, a different cryptocurrency record is broken and the ancient Colosseum gets a high-tech remodeling. Warsaw-based daily Gazeta Wyborcza also looks at how Poland's long-time right-wing leader Jarosław Kaczyńsk may be losing his grip on power.

• Modi's ruling party loses key state amid COVID surge: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party has been defeated in West Bengal. Campaign rallies and voting have caused a new surge in COVID cases, with daily cases topping 300,000 for ten days in a row.

• Philippines Foreign Minister attacks Beijing over South China Sea: Manila's top diplomat used harsh language to threaten China as the running regional territorial dispute escalates.

• U.S. denies Iran nuclear deal sealed: After Iran announced Sunday that a new accord had been signed with Washington that included an exchange of prisoners for billions of dollars, U.S. officials said "no deal" had yet been reached to halt Tehran's nuclear program.

• Eight more killed in Myanmar protests: Security forces in Myanmar opened fire on demonstrators on Sunday, leaving at least eight people dead in one of the biggest protests against the junta in recent days.

• 26 killed in boat accident in Bangladesh: At least 26 people died and others went missing after an overcrowded boat crashed into a sand carrier. Five people were rescued and sent to the hospital.

• Colombia's president withdraws tax bill: Colombian President Ivan Duque announced on Sunday the withdrawal of a controversial tax reform bill following days of massive protests across the country.

• New floor for the Colosseum: The Italian government has announced a €18.5 million plan to furnish Rome's ancient Colosseum with a new floor. Cultural events could be held there once the floor is rebuilt.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: Iran Vows Revenge, New Ecuador President, Remembering Gagarin

Welcome to Monday, where Iran vows revenge for the attack on one of its nuclear sites, Ecuador elects a new president and Russia celebrates the 60th anniversary of its pioneering space mission. French daily Le Monde also takes us on the Myanmar-Thailand border where the military coup has reignited a longstanding simmering war.

Black man shot by police in Minneapolis: Protests erupted after a Black man, identified as Daunte Wright, was shot and killed by a police officer at a traffic stop in a suburb of Minneapolis yesterday. The incident comes amid the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Iran vows revenge for attack on nuclear site: The Iranian foreign minister blamed Israel for an attack on the underground nuclear site Natanz, and said his country will "take revenge." According to US intelligence officials, it could take more than nine months to resume enrichment in the nuclear facility.

England eases lockdown as COVID surges in India: Pubs and restaurants begin serving outdoors as lockdown restrictions are eased in England, while across the Atlantic protests erupt in Montreal after the city's toughest COVID curfew went into effect. Meanwhile, India overtakes Brazil for the world's highest daily tally of 168,912 COVID-19 infections, amid fears of a surge in cases as crowds gather for a ritual bath in the Ganges river.

Four dead in a migrant boat: At least four people were found dead on a migrant boat near the Canary Island of El Hierro. The Spanish Red Cross also reports that 16 of the 23 persons on board were in "serious condition."

Ecuador's new conservative president: Former banker Guillermo Lasso has won the presidential elections in Ecuador, defeating leftist economist Andrés Arauz.

60th anniversary of Gagarin maiden mission: Thousands of people gathered in Saint Petersburg to celebrate Russian astronaut Yuri Gargarin, who became the first human to enter space on April 12, 1961.

California's Sugar Rush theme park: A pop-up theme park has recently opened in Los Angeles displaying giant lollipops, cupcakes and other treats. Visitors are allowed in only if wearing a face mask.

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Geopolitics

The Latest: 3 Million COVID Deaths, Nuclear Deal Revived, Soviet LOTR

Welcome to Tuesday, where global COVID-19 death toll surpasses 3 million, the Iran nuclear deal is back on the table, and a Soviet-produced Lord of the Rings is unearthed. Thanks to Die Welt, we also look at how the German auto industry is trying to keep up with Elon Musk.

• Iran nuclear talks back on: Iran and the United States are to start indirect talks in Vienna to try and restore the 2015 nuclear accord that Washington abandoned three years ago under the Trump administration.

• COVID global death toll hits 3 million: The pandemic continues to weigh on world events, as Reuters reports global death toll has reached 3 million. Meanwhile, amid national efforts to accelerate vaccination campaigns, Australian and New-Zealand residents will be able to travel without having to quarantine between the two countries starting April 19.

• Southeast Asian flood death toll tops 100: Rescuers are searching for dozens still missing after floods and landslides on Sunday killed more than 100 people in Indonesia and East Timor.

• Tokyo Olympics' no-show neighbor: North Korea has announced it would skip the Tokyo Olympic Games this year due to COVID-19 concerns. This decision is likely to undermine South Korean's strategy to use the Games to revive suspended peace talks.

• Putin could stay in power until 2036: Russian President Vladimir Putin signs law allowing him to run for two more terms as president.

• Kosovo's new female president: Kosovo's parliament votes as president Vjosa Osmani, the former speaker of parliament and ally of a leftist-nationalist movement.

• The Weeknd donates $1 million to Ethiopians: Canadian R&B singer The Weeknd has promised to give $1 million to Ethiopians ensnared in the Tigray crisis. The star's parents are Ethiopian immigrants.

Malaysian daily The Star reports on the government's proposal that would make it compulsory for employers to grant their workers a day off to get the coronavirus vaccine.

Achtung Tesla! German automakers try to compete with Elon Musk

Volkswagen and other German car companies want to develop their own software systems and thus close the e-car technology gap with Tesla. But success will depend on a cultural change in the established auto sector, writes Daniel Zwick in German daily Die Welt.

It's all systems go in Ingolstadt, where Volkswagen has invested billions of dollars in setting up a new subsidiary. The plan is for the organization Car.Software to soon employ 10,000 people and become the "second largest software company in Europe, after SAP," according to CEO Herbert Diess. The subsidiary's main aim is for in-house programmers to develop a single operating system for all VW cars, the automotive equivalent of Apple's iOS, used across all its smartphones.

It's a nice idea, but it's still unclear whether traditional manufacturers such as Volkswagen, BMW or Daimler are capable of developing the best operating systems for modern cars. And it's make or break: After battery technology, this software is the next most important criterion for future success. But so far their efforts in this area have been far from impressive. There are already competitors who are years ahead when it comes to building computers on four wheels. And not only Tesla, the favorite of so many electric car enthusiasts. There are new suppliers springing up in its shadow, which have the potential to shake up the industry.

In the future, the programmers will take on a larger role in product development. The main advantage of Tesla's cars is that they are built with the driver's experience in mind, going from the starting point of the software — how the product is used — to the hardware, the physical components. In German cars, it's the other way round. To change this, the companies will have to change themselves. Car manufacturers are at a crossroads, says Frank Ferchau, managing partner at ABLE Group. "The culture of the car manufacturing industry is bumping up against the software development culture, and the two don't go together," he says.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

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Coronavirus

Coronavirus — Global Brief: Why Are So Many Doctors Dying?

For the coming weeks, Worldcrunch will be delivering daily updates on the coronavirus global pandemic. The insidious path of COVID-19 across the planet is a blunt reminder of how small the world has become. Our network of multilingual journalists are busy finding out what's being reported locally — everywhere — to provide as clear a picture as possible of what it means for all of us at home, around the world. To receive the daily brief in your inbox, sign up here.

SPOTLIGHT: WHERE ARE THE MASKS? THE ALARMING RISE OF DOCTORS DYING

Italy's overall COVID-19 death count, currently above 7,000, is stunning enough. But another number is no less disturbing: 30 doctors who have died, after they contracted the virus working to save the lives of others. Yes, the doctors, nurses and other medical staff are the heroes — and martyrs — of this global crisis, much like New York firefighters who rushed up the Twin Towers just before they came crumbling down.

But this disaster is different, as it unfolds day after day, and often in contrasting conditions for the medical crews. The World Health Organisation has reported a global shortage of the medical masks, gowns, gloves and eye protection that are recommended for treating COVID-19 patients, and also reduce the chance of infection for the caregiver. In Italy, some 5,000 health workers have been infected, and are dying at a rate of two per day since the first doctor died on March 11. Criticism has been growing over the shortage of protective equipment, with doctors often wearing the same face mask for over a week. La Repubblica reports that in the city of Palermo, doctors and nurses have even launched a fundraising drive to purchase masks. In India, a leading doctors' association has written a letter to authorities pleading for more surgical masks and gloves.

Still, to have any chance of limiting the overall death rate, countries need even more doctors on the front lines. In the U.S., where the crisis appears to be reaching a peak, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has called for retirees to help staff the hospitals as the amount of emergency beds needed is predicted to double. Despite the obvious infection risk for older people, the call was answered by 30,000 former health professionals as of Monday. The first doctor to die from coronavirus in France was a recent retiree, 67 year-old Jean-Jacques Razafindranazy. A colleague in the northern French town of Compiègne told Le Parisien daily: "We didn't ask to die. We assume our responsibilities, but people don't realize the gravity of the situation."

— Carl-Johan Karlsson

THE SITUATION - 7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

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Geopolitics

The Latest: Myanmar Police Joins Protests, 'Constitutional' Trial, 116 Year-Old COVID Survivor

Welcome to Wednesday, where Myanmar police side with protesters, the Senate votes to continue Trump's trial and Europe's oldest person survives COVID. We also look at the reasons why the "capital of Canadian humor" isn't laughing so much lately.

• COVID-19 latest: Ghana parliament shuts down over outbreak that leaves 17 MPs and 151 support staff ill. The U.K. releases new quarantine guidelines that includes possible £10,000 fine or 10 years in prison for unauthorized travelers. South Africa cuts distribution of AstraZeneca after research shows its lack of efficacy on the South African variant. Healthcare workers in Bolivia go on strike to demand stricter lockdown measures, facing an average of 1,000 daily COVID-19 deaths.

• Myanmar update: Police officers join protesters in the state of Loikaw calling for the reversal of the coup, while some 100,000 gathered in the commercial capital of Yangon. One woman is in critical condition after being shot in the head while attending protests.

• Trump trial: Democrats presented sharp words, video footage of the Capitol mob and Trump's own tweets, while Trump's legal team argued that it was unconstitutional for a former president to be impeached. Six Republicans joined all 50 Democrats in voting in favor of the constitutionality of the trial, but 11 more will be needed to convict Trump.

• "They were clearly warned, and yet they went ahead": Experts from the People's Science Institute told the Indian government back in 2014 that the construction work in the Himalayas could lead to avalanches and landslides. The death toll in the glacier collapse disaster currently stands at 31, with another 165 still missing and at least 30 still stuck in a tunnel.

• Eight extremists sentenced to death: Eight members of a local branch of jihad in Bangladesh have been sentenced to death over the murder of a publisher in 2015.

• Kobe Bryant crash probe: The National Transportation Safety Board has determined that the fatal helicopter crash carrying the basketball superstar was the result of the pilot's decision to fly in cloudy conditions considered "legally prohibited."

• Catty trial on Zoom: A Texas attorney was forced to say (for the record) "I am not a cat," after he was unable to remove a cat face filter on the Zoom court proceedings.

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Geopolitics
Marek Beylin

Why Kaczynski Isn't Smiling: Poland's Mixed Election Results

WARSAW — Poland's ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) won last weekend's parliamentary elections. So why was longtime party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski so obviously glum during his victory speech?

The first answer is in the performance of other Polish political parties: combined, the three main blocks of the democratic opposition received more votes in total than the conservative forces of PiS. This outcome is the clearest sign that Kaczynski's plans to cement total political control over the country will be harder to achieve than he hoped.

The PiS victory is there, but it is not a crushing one.

Since 2015, PiS has had a majority in both the lower house of parliament (Sejm) and the upper house (Senate). Since 2005, all of Poland's presidents have also come from PiS — including the current one, Andrzej Duda. But Sunday's parliamentary elections have changed the equation. True, PiS retained its majority in the Sejm. But While Kaczynski was dreaming of destroying The Polish People's Party, its primary opponent, even those parties who reached only 8% are talking about success ... The PiS victory is there, but it is not a crushing one.

Moreover, PiS failed to take the majority in the Senate, which means that essential staff changes will be impossible without the approval of the united opposition. The new Senate may also publicly criticize any unlawful activities of PiS, which will further weaken the party.

Opening ballot boxes in Lubin, Poland on Oct. 13 — Photo: Piotr Twardysko-Wierzbicki/ZUMA

But the real reason Jaroslaw Kaczynski may have been so gloomy the day after is that his party's drop in support came despite powerful propaganda in state media and support from the always influential Catholic Church hierarchy — and may mean PiS could lose the presidency when voters return to the polls to choose the head of state in May.

No doubt, PiS will spend the next six months doing everything it can to weaken the opposition. With the new campaign already up and running, PiS promised further benefits to citizens and tougher pressure on opponents. PiS will use the courts, free media, and local governments. It will intensify propaganda attacks on elites, minorities, and political opponents. It will convince the public that there are enemies of Poland in the foreign service.

The hope it that it will all backfire.

It will be a campaign of political violence, which is increasingly likely to spill over onto the streets, as PiS will intensify hateful attacks against its opponents. Kaczynski's party will count on the fact the European Union will probably be paying less attention to its acts of authoritarianism.

The hope is that it will all backfire — that PiS's radical actions will mobilize opponents rather than intimidate them into passivity.