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.
Photo of police forces standing behind barbed wire on the Poland-Belarus border.
Monika Olejnik

The Train Wreck That Is Poland Right Now

Everything is collapsing: The zloty is sinking, a virus is spreading, diplomacy has disappeared, and so has the rule of law. And the government claims everything is going just fine.


WARSAW — Everywhere we look, there is a disaster.

The zloty is sinking because of inflation, which we owe to the head of Poland's central bank Adam Glapinski, a political ally of ruling PiS party leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski since the early 1990s when the pair demonstrated against then President Lech Wałęsa and joined in burning his effigy.

At the same time, we also have a COVID-19 catastrophe. As we've witnessed, 25,000 daily cases and hundreds of deaths are not enough for the government to introduce any kind of restrictions. The Prime Minister is afraid of demonstrations that could lead to deaths from COVID-19, while tens of thousands of people recently attended the National Stadium without masks and nobody checked whether anyone was vaccinated.

Watch Video Show less
Photo of a migrant woman in a sleeping bag, sitting in a forest in Michalowo, Belarus, next to the border with Poland.​
Migrant Lives
Wojciech Czuchnowski

The Other Scandal At The Poland-Belarus Border: Where's The UN?

The United Nations, UNICEF, Red Cross and other international humanitarian organizations seem to be trying to reach the Polish-Belarusian border, where Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko is creating a refugee crisis on purpose.

WARSAW — There is no doubt that the refugees crossing the Belarusian border with Poland — and by extension reaching the European Union — were shepherded through by the regime of Alexander Lukashenko. There is more than enough evidence that this is an organized action of the dictator using a network of intermediaries stretching from Africa and the Middle East. But that is not all.

The Belarusian regime has made no secret that its services are guiding refugees to the Polish border, literally pushing them onto (and often, through) the wires.

Watch Video Show less
Polexit Is Path To Dictatorship, A Cry To Keep Poland Free
Marek Beylin

Polexit Is Path To Dictatorship, A Cry To Keep Poland Free

EU membership is not in line with Poland's values, say the current ruling party. Will that mean Poland's Exit (Polexit) from the European Union? Everything is riding on where the long-serving conservative government of PiS leader Jarosław Kaczyński will do as they run counter to popular opinion on the EU question.


WARSAW — They left it to Julia Przyłębska, President of Poland's Constitutional Tribunal, to state where the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) stands: the country should no longer be in the European Union since EU values are contrary to the party's rule.

This was the decision reached by this pseudo-Constitutional Tribunal last week, while nearly 90% of the public wants to remain in the EU — according to a recent Ipsos poll for Gazeta Wyborcza and It means that on this fundamental issue in Poland, the PiS is looking to bypass the absolute majority of Poles.

According to the same Ipsos poll, more than half of us fear that the PiS is preparing a Polexit for us. After the decision of the pseudo-CT, this fear is likely to grow.

Watch Video Show less
Spiderman To Jewish Stars: Global Vaccine Protests Get Ugly
Rozena Crossman

Spiderman To Jewish Stars: Global Vaccine Protests Get Ugly

More protests are bound to spread after President Biden announced that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of U.S. workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

Vaccines used to be a quiet thing: someone getting a flu shot or UNICEF shipping off jabs to children in a faraway country. No longer. COVID-19 has put vaccinations at the center of both global health policy and national partisan politics — and plenty of noise has ensued.

After some initial demonstrations earlier this year critical of slow vaccination rollouts, protests are now firmly focused on local and national policies that require vaccines, including obligatory jabs for medical workers and the so-called "green pass" vaccine-required access to certain locations and activities. No doubt more protests are bound to spread in the United States after last week's announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

Still, the protests have been nearly as global as the pandemic itself. Throughout much of the summer, France has had a weekly rendezvous on Saturday to protest against vaccine requirements. In Berlin, thousands took to the streets last month chanting, "Hands off our children!" In New York City, a smattering of nurses, doctors and other medical professionals protested compulsory vaccination, chanting "I am not a lab rat!"

Here are some of the typical and atypical ways the anti-required-vax protesters are being seen and heard:

CANADA: Upside down flags + stars of David + hazmat suits

World Wide Walkout Protest, Sept 1, 2021 — Photo: GoToVan

Canada has witnessed steady, and often offbeat or controversial, forms of protest against the vaccine requirements in provinces and cities for those who want to enter restaurants, theaters and workout classes. On Sept.1 a large crowd in the northwest city of Vancouver expressed their displeasure with vaccine requirements by marching on City Hall carrying their nation flag upside down, which according to the Canadian government, is a "signal of distress in instances of extreme danger to life," the Vancouver Sun reports.

Meanwhile in Montreal, protesters compared governmental health rules to the Holocaust by wearing yellow Jewish Star of David patches; while in Toronto, Fairwiew Mall regulars would have spotted protesters in hazmat suits and white masks entering the premises. They carried a loudspeaker that blurted out a deep voice uttering eerie slogans: "Questioning masks is murder," "Big business is essential," and "Everyone loves pharmaceutical companies."

FRANCE: ‘Spiderman" scales office tower

Alain Robert and others climbers scaling up a tower in Paris — Photo: Midi Libre

As much of France was returning to work after summer vacation, one of the nation's tallest office skyscrapers was the sight of an unexpected protest against the country's stringent vaccine requirements. Alain Robert, dubbed the "French Spiderman" for his free solo climbing of urban landmarks, led the way up the 187-meter (614 foot) headquarters of energy giant TotalEnergies to protest the health passports currently required to enter bars and restaurants. "It's an attack on fundamental liberties," said the 60-year-old, who was subsequently arrested for endangering the lives of others.

ITALY: Anti-vaxxers arrested

Police car in Rome — Photo: Wikimedia Commons

"If they find out what I have at home, they'll arrest me for terrorism," an Italian man named Stefano boasted on Telegram, the encrypted instant messaging platform. He was one of about 200 Italian anti-vaxxers preparing for a violent demonstration in Rome, where they were talking about using Molotov cocktails against TV trucks and attacking parliament with a drone.

Police not only found what Stefano packed at home — a katana sword, several pepper sprays and a nightstick among other things — but also what the others allegedly hoarded: brass knuckles, guns, as well as smaller weapons, such as razor blades to be hidden between fingers. ("They're not visible, but cut throats open," a Telegram user said.)

Alas, Stefano was right: he and seven other anti-vaxxers were arrested on Sept. 9, La Stampa reported.

POLAND: Anti-vax terrorism attack at vaccine point


An Aug. 2 arson attack on a COVID vaccine point in the Polish city of Zamość, which follows other acts of aggression by opponents of vaccination in Poland, has been condemned by the health minister, Adam Niedzielski, as an "act of terror." During the night, both a mobile vaccination point in the central square of Zamość, a city of 65,000 in southeast Poland, as well as the local headquarters of the health authorities, which are responsible for enforcing coronavirus restrictions, were set alight.

Marek Nowak, a sociologist at Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, told Gazeta Wyborcza that the pandemic has "intensified the formation of radical movements" and led "anti-vaccination movements to use terror to convince others to share their views."

U.S.: Pro-Trump group piggybacks COVID protests

Proud Boys confrontation — Photo: Flickr

A growing number of mask and vaccine mandates in some U.S. states are being met with protests, which have occasionally turned violent. This is in part due to the reappearance of some far-right groups behind the Capitol Hill insurrection in January like the Proud Boys gang, who after lying low for a few months have begun attending rallies, according to USA Today.

Some of the starkest scenes were observed in Los Angeles in August: Proud Boys members and other agitators attacked counter-protesters and journalists, sending a veteran reporter to the hospital. But some non gang-affiliated civilians are also responsible for the violence: in northern California, a parent fuming after seeing his daughter come out of school with a mask barged into the building and assaulted a teacher.

NEW ZEALAND: Down Under, one is the loneliest number

Plenty of sheep show up in New Zealand

Photo: Pixabay

Other nations have seen anti-vaccine protesters gather by the thousands, and the police in Auckland, New Zealand were ready when posts on social media alerted them about a potential gathering. They successfully managed to engage in talks with the protesters and shut down the demonstration — or, rather, the protester, as only one person showed up.

Crowds gather in Warsaw, Poland to protest against a near-total ban on abortion
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.


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.

A protester in Warsaw holds a placard with an image of Jaroslaw Kaczynski
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.


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 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.

A smoking ban on balconies has already been introduced in Lithuania
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.


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.

Churchgoers pray at St. Joseph's Cathedral
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.


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.

A demonstrator rises a cloth hander during a pro-choice protest in Warsaw
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?


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.

An estimated 6,000 Moroccan migrants have reached Spain's Ceuta enclave

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.

Watch Video Show less
Inter Milan supporters are celebrating outside the Duomo di Milano after the Italian soccer team won the Serie A title for the first time in 11 years, ending Juventus’ nine-year reign in Italy.

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.

Watch Video Show less
In Semarang, Indonesia, residents wash mosque prayer mats (and have some fun) in a river to purify them, a tradition in preparation for the Ramadan fasting month that will start tomorrow.

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.

Watch Video Show less