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Overshadowed by the World Cup
July 4, 2014   
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The World Cup in Brazil has turned out to be a rather fortunate event for Polish politicians. Watching the world’s best soccer players in live broadcasts until late at night, Poles have been too busy to be bothered by other areas of life. The day after, they feel drowsy at work and if there is anything they want to discuss with their colleagues, it is the match from the night before—even though Poland’s national team did not make it to the World Cup. For one month, politics and social affairs have been pushed to the back burner. But after the referee blows the whistle to end the final game in Brazil, political affairs and the rest will be all over the news again.

The scandal over the secret recordings of politicians’ private conversations is being compared to the “Rywingate” affair of 2002, a corruption scandal involving prominent film producer Lew Rywin. Some aspects of that scandal still remain a mystery, but the point is that as a result of the Rywingate, the left-wing government at the time suffered a defeat in parliamentary elections. Now the talk of the day is an early election or the lower house deciding to cut short its term. Top state officials caught on tape in private conversations by so far unknown eavesdroppers have sent shockwaves across Poland and tarnished the reputation of several politicians and the governor of Poland’s central bank. The media has also been shocked by a visit that Internal Security Agency (ABW) agents paid to the editorial offices of the popular weekly magazine that published transcripts of the recordings. A scuffle ensued when the agents tried to wrestle a laptop out of the hands of the magazine’s editor-in-chief. In response, journalists from practically all titles have expressed their solidarity with the magazine, saying loud and clear that they need to protect their sources and freedom of speech as such. Everybody agrees that the raid on the magazine has no precedent in the last 25 years in Poland.

The public has also been outraged and divided over a Declaration of Faith signed by thousands of physicians, nurses and paramedics in Poland. In the past several years, ostentatiously Catholic doctors have often cited the so-called clause of conscience that allows them to refuse to perform abortions, prescribe contraceptives and offer prenatal diagnostics to pregnant women. The solemn declaration states that divine law is superior to laws made by man and that has raised concerns among some patients. Pro-choice activists believe that a situation where a doctor is entitled to refuse a patient treatment whenever doing so would clash with his or her beliefs jeopardizes the functioning of the healthcare system. This dispute concerns fundamental issues and people on both sides of the debate seem to be trying to outdo their opponents with harsh and radical judgments.

Things are not looking much better when it comes to foreign affairs. Following threats and ultimatums, Russia has shut off its natural gas deliveries to Ukraine. Russian gas monopoly Gazprom stopped pumping gas to Ukraine June 16 following an argument over prices (Russia demands that Ukraine pay more for natural gas than any other Gazprom customer in Europe), advance payments and liabilities that Ukraine has not paid. Both Russia and Ukraine are threatening to take the case to an international court of arbitration. It would be extremely naive to think that this conflict does not concern Poland. After all, the president of Russia (known to be the one who makes all strategic decisions, including those concerning the economy) has warned that Ukraine’s attitude could disrupt natural gas deliveries to western Europe. These developments have shed new light on Warsaw’s proposal for the EU to adopt a new, common energy policy. The proposal has been put forward in Brussels and other European capitals, but not much has been happening in this department so far, and European partners are, in fact, divided over many of aspects of the natural gas issue.

The eyes and ears of most television viewers and newspaper readers will remain fixed on news from soccer stadiums in Brazil for another week or two, but after July 13 all problems the World Cup has made look unimportant will come to the fore again. If weather forecasts are to be believed, this will be a record hot summer, which probably also applies to Polish politics.
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