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In Poland’s recent general election, the opposition parties have gathered enough votes to remove the ruling right-wing populist Law and Justice (PiS) party from power. The National Election Commission confirmed PiS’s victory with 35.38% of the vote, surpassing the centrist opposition Civic Coalition led by Donald Tusk, which secured 30.7%.

Donald Tusk, with the support of the center-right Third Way and New Left parties, is likely to form a broad coalition, thus ending PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s eight-year rule. With 248 seats in the 460-seat Sejm, Mr. Tusk’s coalition would exceed the 231-seat threshold required for a majority.

Despite PiS losing 41 seats compared to the last election, their potential coalition with the far-right Confederation party would still fall short by 19 seats. The opposition had alerted Poles that this election was crucial in safeguarding democracy. Voter turnout was reported at 74.38%, the highest since the fall of communism in 1989.

Celebrations erupted in Warsaw, with Mr. Tusk addressing enthusiastic supporters, emphasizing that Poland and democracy had emerged victorious. Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski praised the power of civil society, highlighting the significant voter participation in the capital.

Poland’s stock market surged more than 6%, and the Zloty, its currency, also strengthened on the anticipation of a new government. International observers noted that although parties were allowed to campaign freely, PiS had an advantage due to biased state media coverage and the misuse of public funds.

PiS’s tenure has been characterized by an emphasis on Catholic family values, increases in the minimum wage, and enhancements in child support and pensioner payments. It also imposed a near-total ban on abortion in 2021 and faced criticism for politicizing the judiciary.

Mr. Tusk has pledged to improve relations with the EU and unlock €36bn of EU Covid pandemic recovery funds, frozen due to disputes over PiS’s judicial reforms. His coalition also aims to liberalize abortion laws.

Poland’s strong support for Ukraine since Russia’s invasion and its acceptance of a million refugees are expected to continue under the new government. However, the process of forming a new government might extend until December, following President Andrzej Duda’s announcement that the winning party would be given the first opportunity to form a coalition, adhering to Polish tradition.

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According to an exit poll, Poland’s Law and Justice party, led by Jaroslaw Kaczynski, is projected to secure the most seats in the general election but might not secure a third term. The party is estimated to receive 36.6% of the vote, with the Civic Coalition, led by Donald Tusk, closely trailing at 31%.

The high turnout, possibly the highest since the fall of communism, reflects the gravity of the election. While the initial results indicate PiS’s lead, it falls short of the majority needed.

Tusk aims to improve relations with the EU and unlock frozen EU Covid recovery funds, while Kaczynski maintains anti-migration policies. The final government formation depends on potential coalition building, with the fate of Poland’s political future at stake.

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In the old Lenin shipyard in Gdansk, where striking workers were once the catalyst for major political change, young Poles now debate how to protect democracy in their country.

They worry that the rights and freedoms won by the Solidarity movement over three decades ago are at risk, as the ruling right-wing Law and Justice party, or PiS, campaigns to secure a record third term in office.

“It’s a very important election. We’re deciding whether we’re going back to being a democratic country,” was student activist Julia Landowska’s stark take on this weekend’s vote.

“This is our last call, to go to the election and fight for a better future in Poland.”

The event she helped organise was held under the slogan In My Day, Things Will Be Better.

A mixture of discussions and live music topped off with a silent disco, it was designed to encourage reluctant younger voters to the polls.

The activist’s worries are echoed by others in Gdansk, who point to the shrinking independence of the courts under a PiS government and backsliding on women’s rights, including a near-total ban on abortion.

There is also concern about media freedom – publicly-funded TV becoming a government mouthpiece – as well as acrimonious wrangling with Brussels on issues from judicial reform to migration.

That is why many Poles are now hailing the election on 15 October as the most important since 1989, when Solidarity candidates swept the board in the first partially-free vote since communist rule.

Freedom City The story of Poland’s struggle for freedom dominates the northern port city of Gdansk.

There is a Solidarity museum in the shipyard once occupied by strikers and billboards through the city centre that recount the momentous changes brought by their protest, led by an electrician named Lech Walesa.

This year, his son is running for re-election.

“We have to make sure we win, to reform all that has been destroyed in eight years,” Jaroslaw Walesa explained, referring to the two terms PiS have held office so far.Representing the opposition Civil Coalition, like fellow Gdansk-native and party leader Donald Tusk, he is most worried by Poland’s increasingly antagonistic relations with the EU.

Like Brussels, he is also concerned about the politicisation of Polish courts.

“If you look at what has been done to our democracy, we took a huge step backwards. That’s definitely not what my father fought for,” Mr Walesa told the BBC this week, wandering the paths of the handsome Oliwki park, greeting voters with leaflets and a promise of change.

The 1989 slogan – Don’t sleep, or they’ll outvote you! – has been resurrected in Gdansk for this election, all part of pitching it as another critical moment for Polish democracy.

The city is expected to vote solidly for the opposition, as usual.

But opinion polls put the governing Law and Justice Party ahead nationwide, although probably without a big enough majority to form a government.

So the last-minute battle for votes is intense.

PiS and Security In the town of Elblag, a short drive from Gdansk, campaigners spent Saturday canvassing for the governing party at a food market.

Between piles of potatoes and giant pumpkins, they dished out bags printed with the PiS logo and leaflets promoting the city’s main candidate, who didn’t show up.

“PiS have a good programme for us young people and for my children. I have twins and they’ve got a good programme for our future,” party activist Monica explained, referring to the 500 zloty (£95) monthly child benefit the government now pays.

It is set to rise to 800 next year if PiS win.

“In Poland, this amount can solve many things,” her husband added.Neither accepted the opposition’s fears for the future of democracy in Poland. “Democracy is good for us,” Monica said – and she wants to stay in the EU.

The pair both talked about security, including the government’s slogan that it is “protecting the future of Poles”.

“We’re not ready to accept immigrants. Muslims,” Monica clarified, adding that Poland had already taken in “a lot of Ukrainians”, meaning those who came in 2022 as refugees.

The Russian exclave of Kaliningrad is nearby and there is a new barbed-wire fence along its entire length.

The activists’ pro-government message was not universally welcomed by marketgoers, even though the Elblag regional vote was strongly pro-PiS at the last election.

Several shoppers thrust the free bags back when they realised which party logo was printed on them. Others retorted that PiS had been so good for Poland that their children had moved abroad for better opportunities.

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Since the outset of Russia’s full-scale invasion, Poland has been a staunch supporter of Kyiv, providing military aid and making a passionate case for this support as crucial to Poland’s own defense against Russian aggression. However, there has been a notable shift in the Polish government’s stance on Ukraine.

Recently, a change in tone has emerged, raising questions about Poland’s commitment to Kyiv. Some Polish officials have suggested that Ukraine should show more gratitude for Poland’s support. Poland’s prime minister even hinted at the possibility of ending weapons transfers to Ukraine, though others in his party tried to backtrack on that message.

Polish President Andrzej Duda made a particularly controversial statement, likening Ukraine to a drowning man who could potentially pull down his rescuers. Moscow seized upon these remarks with enthusiasm.

The downturn in relations between the two neighboring countries began over a dispute about grain imports that remains unresolved. Ukraine needs to export its harvest, and land routes are vital since Russia has been deliberately targeting ports on the Black Sea and the Danube River. However, Poland, in a bid to protect its own farmers, has restricted cheaper Ukrainian grain from entering its domestic market, only permitting it to transit to the rest of the European Union.

This shift in Poland’s stance is not occurring in isolation, as “Ukraine fatigue” is looming over election campaigns in various countries. Poland’s governing Law and Justice party (PiS), which is leading in the polls but faces tight margins, is positioning itself as the defender of Polish interests. PiS aims to attract conservative voters who may be sympathetic to the idea that Ukraine is not showing enough gratitude for Polish support.

Despite criticism from opposition politicians who label this shift as dangerous nationalism, Poland’s changing tone reflects a broader trend. Ukraine is concerned about maintaining strong Western support as it faces Russian forces, making this shift in Poland’s stance a cause for worry. However, Poland emphasizes that international aid will continue to reach Ukraine’s frontlines through Rzeszow in the east, a critical transit hub for military supplies. Talks between Ukraine and Poland regarding the grain dispute are ongoing.

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One of Ukraine’s steadfast supporters, Poland, has declared that it will cease its weapon supplies to its neighboring country, Ukraine, citing a diplomatic dispute regarding Ukraine’s grain exports as the primary reason. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki emphasized that Poland’s current focus is on bolstering its own defense capabilities with more modern weaponry.

Poland had already provided Ukraine with significant military assistance, including 320 Soviet-era tanks and 14 MiG-29 fighter jets. However, their willingness to continue such support has dwindled, coinciding with escalating tensions between the two nations.

The recent diplomatic rift was triggered when Poland, along with Hungary and Slovakia, extended a ban on Ukrainian grain imports. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s comments at the United Nations, characterizing their actions as political theater, added fuel to the fire. Poland viewed these remarks as unjustified, given their longstanding support for Ukraine.

In his interview, Prime Minister Morawiecki underlined that while Poland remains committed to assisting Ukraine in its struggle against Russian aggression, it could not allow its own markets to be destabilized by Ukrainian grain imports. He pointed out that Poland was already replacing its depleted military hardware, which had been significantly reduced through transfers to Ukraine, with modern Western-produced equipment.

While arms exports to Ukraine will not cease entirely, only previously agreed deliveries of ammunition and armaments, including those from existing contracts with Ukraine, will be fulfilled. This decision reflects Poland’s commitment to its own security and stability, while the future of its assistance to Ukraine remains uncertain.

The ongoing grain dispute arises from Ukraine’s need to find alternative overland routes for grain exports due to Russia’s full-scale invasion, which nearly closed the main Black Sea shipping lanes. Consequently, large quantities of grain flowed into Central Europe, leading the European Union to temporarily ban grain imports into several countries. Despite the EU lifting the ban, Poland, Hungary, and Slovakia have maintained it, leading to Ukraine’s WTO lawsuits against these nations. Poland has signaled its intention to uphold the ban, while also hinting at the possibility of expanding the list of banned products should Ukraine escalate the grain dispute. However, diplomatic channels remain open, with discussions ongoing to seek a mutually beneficial solution.

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The Speaker of Poland’s upper house of parliament, Tomasz Grodzki, has urged the government to disclose its knowledge regarding an escalating scandal involving cash for visas. Grodzki expressed concern that the issue was damaging Poland’s international image as a responsible democracy.

Reports suggest that migrants paid substantial sums, up to $5,000 (£4,000) each, to expedite their work visa applications. While seven individuals have been charged in connection with the scandal, none of them are public officials.

The Deputy Foreign Minister of Poland, Piotr Wawrzyk, was dismissed last week in the wake of these allegations. His removal coincided with a search of the foreign ministry conducted by Poland’s Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA). The director of the ministry’s legal service was also terminated.

In response to the scandal, the foreign ministry announced the termination of all contracts with outsourcing companies responsible for handling visa applications since 2011. Opposition MPs allege that as many as 250,000 visas for individuals from Asia and Africa were irregularly issued through these outsourcing companies, a claim disputed by the government, which maintains that only several hundred were involved.

Donald Tusk, the leader of the opposition Civic Platform party, criticized the government’s migration policy, stating that anyone seeking to travel from Africa to Poland could easily obtain a visa at the embassy. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed these allegations, asserting that there is no widespread issue.

Speaker Grodzki characterized the scandal as the most significant Poland has faced in the 21st century, with corruption reaching the highest levels of government, posing a direct threat to the country. Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro downplayed the scale of the problem in an interview with state-run news channel TVP Info.

The Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) became aware of the matter in July 2022 and has been conducting investigations since then. This scandal has the potential to cast a shadow over the Law and Justice party’s (PiS) anti-immigration stance ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for the next month. While PiS currently leads in polls, it remains uncertain whether they can secure the outright majority required to continue governing for a third term.

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In Poland, a beatification Mass ceremony was held to honor a Catholic family killed by Nazis for hiding Jews during World War II. Over 30,000 pilgrims and Poland’s president attended the outdoor service, led by an envoy of Pope Francis. This marked the first time an entire family has been beatified, a significant step toward sainthood.

The Ulma family, consisting of Jozef and Wiktoria Ulma and their six children, hid eight Jews in their farmhouse in Markowa, southeastern Poland, driven by their Christian values during late 1942. Among those sheltered were Saul Goldman and his sons, Baruch, Mechel, Joachim, and Mojzesz, as well as Golda Grunfeld, Lea Didner, and her daughter Reszla, as documented by Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance.

Contrary to Nazi-occupied western Europe, aiding Jews in occupied Poland carried a penalty of immediate execution. In 1944, it is believed that a Polish police officer betrayed the Ulma family, leading to their capture. German gendarmes killed the Jews hidden in the attic and then executed the Ulma family, including Wiktoria, who was seven months pregnant, in front of their young children, the eldest of whom was eight, and the youngest, just 18 months old. Subsequently, members of the Polish underground resistance executed the police officer responsible for the family’s betrayal.

The outdoor Mass on Sunday was presided over by Pope Francis’ envoy, Cardinal Marcello Semeraro. During the ceremony in Markowa, the Pope referred to the Ulma family as a “ray of light” amid the darkness of war and called for applause in St. Peter’s Square. President Andrzej Duda expressed gratitude to Pope Francis for the extraordinary beatification of the entire family, highlighting the importance of acknowledging the historical truth about that era.

In 1995, Israel’s Yad Vashem recognized Jozef and Wiktoria as “Righteous Among the Nations,” and the beatification process began in 2003. Beatification is a significant step in the Catholic Church toward canonization or sainthood, signifying that those beatified are deemed “blessed” and deserving of public veneration.

Poland was home to Europe’s largest Jewish community in 1939, and more Poles (over 7,000) have been honored by Israel for aiding Jews during the war than any other nationality. However, it’s important to note that some Poles also participated in the persecution and murder of Jews under the brutal Nazi occupation. Approximately six million Polish citizens lost their lives during the war, with half of them being Jews.

Prominent members of the Polish government, including Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, attended the Mass. The government has faced accusations of attempting to reshape historical narratives by emphasizing Polish suffering at the hands of the Nazis and the aid provided to Jewish neighbors while suppressing research into cases of Poles who committed crimes against the country’s Jewish population.

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Amid growing concerns about the presence of Wagner forces in the region, Poland is making preparations to deploy approximately 10,000 troops to its eastern border with Belarus. The Wagner troops, affiliated with Russia and stationed in Belarus, were reportedly involved in a brief rebellion. Poland’s Defense Minister, Mariusz Blaszczak, revealed that out of the total troop count, 4,000 soldiers will directly support border guards, while the remaining 6,000 will be in reserve.

Blaszczak cited alleged instances of Polish airspace violations by Belarusian military aircraft as a justification for the deployment. Belarus dismissed these accusations, labeling them as unfounded. Blaszczak emphasized the significance of such airspace violations and termed them a provocative act.

Blaszczak further asserted that events in Belarus are closely coordinated with Russia’s actions. Additionally, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu discussed plans to bolster Russian forces along its western borders, attributing the decision to increased militarization in Poland.

Poland has recently raised concerns about Wagner forces within Belarus. Notably, heightened activity has been observed in the Suwalki gap, a narrow land strip between Poland and Lithuania. Wagner forces appear to be moving in that direction, possibly to exert pressure on NATO and EU member states. Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki even warned about the possibility of Wagner fighters disguising themselves as migrants to cross the border.

Lithuania, another neighboring country of Belarus, has also fortified its borders, citing the threat posed by Wagner fighters.

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Italy is currently experiencing extreme heat, leading to red alerts being issued for 15 cities, including Rome, Florence, and Bologna. This heatwave is part of a larger trend of increasing temperatures and longer heatwaves globally due to global warming.

The European Space Agency (ESA) predicts that Italy, Spain, France, Germany, and Poland may face extreme conditions, with potential record temperatures. Greece has already been experiencing temperatures of 40°C or higher, leading to the closure of tourist attractions like the Acropolis. There are concerns about the increased risk of wildfires in Greece and other areas with high winds.

Central parts of Europe, including Germany and Poland, are also affected by high temperatures. In contrast, the UK is experiencing heavy showers and cooler weather due to the southern shift of the jet stream. The current heatwave in Italy, named Cerberus, is expected to be followed by another heatwave called Charon, pushing temperatures above 40°C.

Heatwaves are also occurring in other parts of the world, including the US, China, North Africa, and Japan. The increasing frequency and intensity of extreme weather events due to global warming have become the new normal, according to the World Meteorological Organization.

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Poland has become increasingly cautious of its neighbor Belarus due to the possibility of Russian Wagner group mercenaries relocating there as part of a deal to end their mutiny. In response, Poland has fortified its border with miles of fencing, thermal cameras, and spotlights, which were initially installed after Belarus encouraged migrants to cross into Poland.

Poland is deploying extra officers as reinforcements ahead of the NATO summit, expressing concerns that the Wagner forces could instigate further trouble. The unpredictability of Belarus is seen as the biggest threat, with uncertainties surrounding the motives and preparations of the Wagner group. Despite the intended disbandment and exile of the mercenaries to Belarus, there are indications that the group is still operating within Russia.

Online contacts with Wagner revealed that recruitment was ongoing, and detailed instructions were provided to find the mercenaries’ training camp in southern Russia. However, the whereabouts and future plans of the Wagner group remain unclear. While some Belarusians express concerns about the group’s potential arrival, others see their recent mutiny as a sign of weakness within the Kremlin, fueling hopes for change.

There are doubts that Wagner will relocate to Belarus in large numbers or that their leader, Yevgeny Prigozhin, would settle there due to potential scrutiny from the Russian FSB security service. Polish worries and warnings about Wagner’s presence in Belarus could be influenced by domestic politics, with some suggesting it as a political tool to enhance the government’s security credentials ahead of upcoming elections.

The situation surrounding the Wagner mutineers remains shrouded in mystery, leading Poland to maintain heightened border patrols and surveillance.

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