What are Ziobro’s people playing at ? by Anna Dąbrowska, Wojciech Szacki – „Polityka” weekly

What are Ziobro’s people playing at[1]

by Anna Dąbrowska, Wojciech Szacki

Solidarna Polska [United Poland][2] is presenting itself as a true, hard right wing party. They see hope for another term of office in the cultural war against the social left wing.

Either just before the presidential elections or shortly after them – here the versions of our interviewees diverge – Zbigniew Ziobro asked Jarosław Kaczyński for his consent to the merger of Solidarna Polska with PiS. And again, because this was not the first such discussion, he heard the answer ‘no’. The reason seems obvious. Today, Ziobro is the leader of a small party that is financially and organizationally weak, which brought 19 MPs into the Sejm from the PiS list – less than 10 percent of PiS’ parliamentary resources. The Minister of Justice is, of course, a powerful politician, but in the final reckoning, he is just an add-on to the most important chairman (Kaczyński).

But if he were to join PiS, the situation would be different – Ziobro, as vice president of the party, would immediately become one of the most important contenders to succeed Kaczyński, who is 21 years older than him. Of the 19 MPs, it would soon become a few dozen oriented towards Ziobro, seeing him as the future leader of the right wing group.

Kaczynski’s refusal is the original source of the current, ever clearer rift between the larger and smaller coalition partners. This is the context that makes it easier to understand what has happened in recent weeks, when Ziobro’s people were constantly emphasizing that they are the part of the ruling camp that is more ideological, less technocratic and have a better understanding of the needs of right-wing voters. The fight against LGBT, the Istanbul convention, screening the finances of non-governmental organizations, the war against the ‘leftism’ at universities, opposition to the EU climate policy and linking EU funds with the rule of law, waste management – Ziobro’s party presented itself as a hard-right wing party in all these areas, namely PiS on steroids and designer drugs.

This is as if Ziobro’s people decided that Kaczyński had given PiS to Mateusz Morawiecki, that they lost the war with the prime minister. And that in such sad circumstances they have to remind the voters that the United Right is not only PiS and that Solidarna Polska is a group with its own ideas for Poland. Capable of existing independently if they had to enter the next elections on their own.

‘We and PiS are two streams that are currently flowing in one trough, but this will not last forever’, this is how one of the members of Solidarna Polska sees the situation. ‘Ziobro decided that it is worth fighting with us for the right-wing voters, that thanks to the radical slogans, he will tear out these 8% of votes that are sufficient for him to have a political life’, claims a PiS MP. He admits that Ziobro’s actions, including his media offensive – interviews for Radio Maryja, Rzeczpospolita and Polsat News – are inciting growing irritation for the PiS headquarters in ul. Nowogrodzka.[3]

Therefore, in July, the head of the PiS club, Ryszard Terlecki, announced that the coalition partners from the Jarosław Gowin Porozumienie[4] and Solidarna Polska would lose one ministry each as part of the September government reconstruction. This is how the banal fight for positions arose in the dispute over the programme of the United Right.

Ziobro’s forces

With which forces is Ziobro entering this game? Who can he count on? It is not only 19 MPs without whom Kaczyński would not have a majority. He also has influence in state-owned companies and the right-wing media, with Tadeusz Rydzyk[5] and the Karnowski brothers.[6] It is also a multitude of prosecutors who are dependent on Ziobro – grateful because he gave them a spectacular, professional and financial promotion – and knowledge about the investigations conducted by the prosecution service. Collecting dirt has long been a part of Ziobro’s political practice and he shows particular interest in those matters involving names of politicians, even from his own camp. There are several investigations in the prosecutor’s office in which Morawiecki and his closest associates ‘star’ (including the GetBack scandal[7]).

Ziobro’s resources also include friendly PiS politicians who either share his vision or – like Jacek Sasin[8] – see him as an ally in the fight against Morawiecki. Ziobro has established numerous tactical alliances, looking for people in PiS who, even if they do not share his views, see him as a more or less temporary companion. Even Gowin, who is ideologically distant from the minister of justice, joins forces with him in negotiations with PiS.

Jacek Kurski[9] has been Ziobro’s ally in recent years. Until recently the right hand man of the president of TVP, Paweł Gajewski, who looks after the political message on television, was the head of the Solidarna Polska youth group. State television promoted Solidarna Polska’s politicians as much as it could by inviting them to TVP Info programmes and broadcasting their press conferences. This irritated PiS MPs who felt under-represented.

According to our interviewee from Kaczyński’s circle, this has already calmed down. ‘One of the conditions imposed on Kurski before returning to power at TVP was to stop promoting Solidarna Polska,’ we hear. Indeed, in recent weeks there have been far fewer Ziobrists on state television. But the interviewee points out that Kurski ends his four-year term of office in October: ‘And then Nowogrodzka will choose him again and the Ziobrists will feel at home again on TVP.’

In recent months, Ziobro lost his CEOs in PZU,[10] Pekao[11] and PGNiG[12] in a duel with Morawiecki, but this does not mean that he has completely lost his influence in these companies. ‘They are coalition partners who are used to the fact that they have access to high positions and money in companies. They are in supervisory boards, in managerial positions, they even have deputy minister Janusz Kowalski in Sasin’s company ministry,’ – the PiS MP lists. SolPol (that is how they refer to Solidarna Polska) has, among others Paweł Śliwa in the management board of PGE, Marcin Szczudło, husband of a Solidarna Polska MP, in the management board of PGNiG Obrót Detaliczny, Bartłomiej Litwińczuk in the management board of PZU Życie and Maciej Zaborowski in the supervisory board of PZU.

Another consolation after the recent losses is the promotion of Ziobro’s wife, Patrycja Kotecka to the management board of Link4, a subsidiary of PZU. Kotecka was the marketing director at Link since 2016. They say in PiS that she willingly places advertisements where in media that write well about her husband. ‘It is not only a matter of money; she contacts journalists and media owners without any inhibitions, she tries to influence texts about Ziobro and SolPol. She and Zbyszek’s brother, who has managed to survive in Pekao, are the brains of all SolPol operations. Kotecka has great ambitions to be the first lady of the right,’ says our informant.

For whom is the Justice Fund[13]

Ziobro’s and his team’s opponents resent Chairman Kaczyński that despite his promises, he has not taken control of the Justice Fund from the Ziobrists. ‘This is their greatest financial resource at the moment. During the election campaign, our MP candidates came to the headquarters complaining that Ziobro’s people were buying votes for themselves from the Fund’s money. The chairman promised he would deal with it, I hope he will come back to it. It would be good if at least a part of this money was spent on helping victims of crime,’  says our interviewee from PiS. Last year, the Justice Fund budget was as high as PLN 454 million. Ziobro, as a minister, issued a regulation that gives him great freedom of donation. Much has already been written about the fact that this is primarily a Ziobrists’ assistance fund. They handed out large cheques to volunteer fire brigades, schools and hospitals in the campaign, in front of the cameras. They also got into the Sejm thanks to this generosity.[14] Additionally, as calculated by OKO.press, 10 organizations the authorities of which are associated with Solidarna Polska received grants from the fund for almost PLN 50 million.

This is how the Ziobrists build their base. Ziobro recently awarded the municipality of Tuchów  a quarter of a million zlotys from this Fund (which was three times more than the EU funds taken away from the municipality for proclaiming itself an LGBT-free zone). A councillor of Tuchów stated that this money ‘enables them to protect values ​​such as defence of the Polish family.’ The pandemic also strengthened the Ziobrists. Mariusz Gosek, MP from Solidarna Polska, on Facebook: ‘12 million PLN will go to hospitals in the Świętokrzyskie Voivodship to purchase equipment to save patients’ lives and health. This is thanks to the cooperation with the Ministry of Justice – the administrator of the Justice Fund’. In early April, the Minister of the Environment, Michał Woś, wrote: ‘The difficult situation of the hospital in Wodzisław Śląski after confirming 46 infections at night and a quick decision to donate PLN 100,000 for personal protective equipment’. Of course, also from the Justice Fund.

Later this year, the Ministry of Justice wants to spend PLN 15 million on media support of the Justice Fund. ‘These are to be sponsored articles in the media, but – as was also done in the tabloids or in Wirtualna Polska – instead of information on how to obtain help, Marcin Romanowski, the Deputy Minister of Justice, who supervises it, will once again talk about the Fund’s successes. This is yet another way of promoting themselves,’ says our irritated interviewee from the Nowogrodzka area. He adds that Ziobro and his deputy ministers defended themselves at ul. Nowogrodzka that the ministry did not have any agencies to allocate, such as the Ministry of Agriculture, so ‘they simply deserved this money’ from the fund.

Co-workers

Quite substantial resources, which also allowed the Ziobrists to grow, are located in the Ministry of the Environment, headed (until the autumn reconstruction) by the deputy chairman of the Solidarna Polska, Michał Woś. Ziobro is fighting for Woś to become a deputy minister in the ministry that takes over the responsibilities of the Ministry of the Environment. He is one of Ziobro’s closest associates. ‘Zbyszek has great confidence in him. He cut himself off from the Jakist faction, which Patryk[15] tried to construct for a while in the party. Woś is not yet 30 years old, but Ziobro has already made him a minister as a reward for his loyalty,’ says a PiS politician. The Jakists in PiS include: Jacek Ozdoba (deputy minister of climate), Janusz Kowalski (deputy minister of State Assets) and Sebastian Kaleta (deputy minister in Ziobro’s ministry). Jan Kanthak, MP and former press officer of the Ministry of Justice is sometimes with them, but sometimes closer to Ziobro. Deputy ministers of justice Marcin Warchoł, Marcin Romanowski and Michał Wójcik, who is very active in the media, are Ziobro’s closest associates. The latter is appreciated, as they say in PiS, for his loyalty and media hyperactivity. ‘He often bursts out with something that is not appropriate for Ziobro to talk about. He recently said their party has 5% support. Meanwhile, voters think Ziobro belongs to PiS and they do not really know what Solidarna Polska is,’ we hear in PiS.

The State Forests are under the authority of the Ministry of the Environment. He quickly mentioned the directors of the regional forest directorates. The two new ones are Solidarna Polska politicians. As Adam Wajrak recently said in ‘Newsweek’, in the State Forests under PiS, ‘employment has increased, salaries and positions have to be given to wives and friends’. He added that, last year, State Forests generated 10 billion in revenue and absolute freedom in spending this money. ‘They can sponsor a monument to the cursed soldiers, pews in churches, sports competitions and a road for a friendly municipality. Wherever they see a political interest in doing so,’ states Wajrak. Woś promoted Józef Kubica to the position of head of the Forests in Katowice in May, having been associated with the forests for 40 years, and with Solidarna Polska for several years (he is a councillor of the Silesian voivodship council). He took part in the European elections and as early as that, wrote on his election flyer what has recently been put on the banners of the Ziobrists: ‘with all firmness foreign ideologies which are unacceptable to our Christian culture must be resisted, the model of the family, in which parents – namely the father and the mother – decide about their children’s future, should decidedly by defended.’

Hunters and the ‘Right-wing Internet’

The minister of the environment also strove to have good relations with the hunters. As noted in February on the Polish Hunting Association’s website, ‘for the first time in our humble thresholds, we have the pleasure and honour to host two ministers of the Polish government for the nomination of a new national hunter’. On the photograph, Woś and his deputy. ‘The association is quite an affluent organization, so it is a tasty morsel for the Ziobrists, but they will not have it easy with the hunters, they have already found this out,’ we hear in PiS. The Polish Hunting Association’s revenues are about PLN 300 million per year, while profits are several dozen million, including from the sale of venison. In 2018, PiS amended the Hunting Law increasing the government’s control over the Polish Hunting Association and gave the Minister of the Environment a strong influence on the appointment of its authorities. In June, shield 3.0[16] contained a provision allowing the use of the Polish Hunting Association’s money in the battle against the epidemic. ‘The hunters decided that Solidarna Polska wanted to make them another source of political promotion after the Justice Fund. They rebelled,’ says our interviewee. Woś reassured them that he was not going to take money from the Association. ‘It should be clearly emphasized that the minister’s intention was by no means to interfere with the property of the hunting clubs,’ they wrote on the Polish Hunting Association’s website, but reportedly the hunters do not feel reassured and are watching their money.

When asked about the key resources of the Ziobrists and the areas in which they are building their strength, our interviewees from PiS say that they are ‘ploughing through the internet’. It is not just about Patryk Jaki’s popular entries which have impressive coverage. ‘Dariusz Matecki, Szczecin councillor of SolPol, is cranking up the internet for them and is building a community of loyal fans. They taunt and present themselves as those who are most attached to Christian values,’ says the PiS MP. Matecki, among others, runs such profiles on FB: ‘Anti-Polonism Monitoring Centre’ (37k followers), which sets itself the goal of ‘fighting all manifestations of anti-Polishism and Christianophobia’, the profile ‘I do not want to Islamize Poland’ (almost 90 k followers) and ‘Right-wing Internet’ (135 k followers). He was also a co-organizer of the ‘Disinfection of Szczecin from LGBT ideology’ happening. He wanted to disinfect plac Solidarności in Szczecin, from which the Equality March was to start. Even PiS politicians decided that this was detrimental to the image of the United Right camp (more about Matecki’s activities in the article ‘Collusion on words’).

War or peace?

It is difficult to say today whether the tension between Ziobro and PiS will ease. Kaczyński sent emissaries to PSL[17] with an offer of a coalition (with the position of deputy prime minister for Władysław Kosiniak-Kamysz); such a deal would have taken away Ziobro’s position as a point guard, because PiS would have the majority even with a possible rebellion by Solidarna Polska. PSL rejected the proposal. ‘Well, it’s probably a no deal coalition with PSL, although the prime minister was trying very hard to obtain it. All that remains is to return to Ziobro with remorse,’ said one of the pleased politicians from Solidarna Polska.

Our interviewee from ul. Nowogrodzka outlines two scenarios: ‘There will be a compromise, emotions will be extinguished and Ziobro will calm down and implement our programme. Or there will be an open war. Some of Ziobro’s MPs would be happy to join PiS, leaving their leader on the side line. He would not survive in politics labelled as a traitor. And even if PiS were to lose its majority as a result, there is a possibility of early elections,’ we hear. Another of our interviewees adds that Kaczyński only needs Ziobro to prevent him from entering the elections with his own list and taking a few percent: ‘Some part of our electorate needs this cultural and ideological radicalism. So that they do not follow the Ziobrists for the coming months, we will delegate some of our MPs to such work. MP Czarnek, who is loyal to the chairman, can lead this group.’

One way or another, there is a dispute that is crucial today on the right, which needs to be resolved. Ziobro and his people – the loudest of them being Patryk Jaki – see hope for the right wing for another term of office in the cultural war against the moral left. Morawiecki and his allies – even if they use a similar rhetoric – prefer to focus on investments and pragmatic agreements with the EU or the U.S. Kaczyński remains the arbitrator, while the shape of the reconstruction of the government and the bills planned for the autumn – such as the one on the deconcentration of the media – will show who is on top in the United Right. And whether the Ziobrists will remain part of it.

 

‘Polityka’ weekly No 37.2020 (3278) of 9 August 2020, p. 20

Original text title: ‘SolPol na dopalaczu’ [SolPol on uppers]

Link to the original publication in Polish:

https://www.polityka.pl/tygodnikpolityka/kraj/1970286,1,w-co-graja-ziobrysci.read

[1] All footnotes were added by the translator to facilitate the understanding of the text.

[2] Solidarna Polska (Eng. United Poland) – a coalition party with PiS, which currently has 19 deputies in the lower house of parliament (Sejm). Without it in the coalition, PiS would not have an absolute majority in the Sejm. The party is led by populist politician Zbigniew Ziobro who currently holds the position of Minister of Justice and Prosecutor General, who is the main author of the pseudo-reform of the Polish judiciary, which mainly boils down to subordinating the judiciary to the executive.

[3] The name of the street in the centre of Warsaw where the PiS party headquarters are located.

[4] PiS’ second coalition party (next to Solidarna Polska), led by conservative politician Jarosław Gowin, which currently has 19 deputies in the lower house of parliament (Sejm). Without it, PiS would not have an absolute majority in the Sejm.

[5] An influential Polish Roman Catholic priest, Redemptorist, doctor of theological sciences. Founder and director of a media empire that includes Radio Maryja and TV Trwam, which are popular among the Catholic-national electorate supporting PiS and Solidarna Polska.

[6] Jacek and Michał Karnowski – influential right-wing journalists supporting the current ruling camp, Jacek is, among others, editor-in-chief of the weekly ‘Sieci’.

[7] A great financial scandal with the features of a financial pyramid, one of the directors of which was supposed to have had frequent contacts with Mateusz Morawiecki.

[8] A Polish politician, member of PiS, one of Jarosław Kaczyński’s most trusted associates, was appointed in November 2019 to the offices of the deputy prime minister and minister of state assets in Prime Minister Morawiecki’s office.

[9] Polish politician and journalist, in the past a member of the Sejm, member of the European Parliament and a member of the government. Currently, the president of the board of Telewizja Polska, which is the main propaganda mouthpiece of the government appointed by PiS.

[10] Powszechny Zakład Ubezpieczeń (Universal Insurance Company) – a joint-stock company listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange that owns the largest insurance group in Poland (it has over 50% of the property insurance market in Poland), in which the State Treasury holds a controlling stake.

[11] One of the largest and oldest Polish commercial banks listed on the Warsaw Stock Exchange, in which companies controlled by the State Treasury hold a controlling stake

[12] The largest enterprise in Poland conducting exploration and production of natural gas and crude oil, gas imports and, through key subsidiaries, the storage, sale and distribution of gaseous and liquid fuels and the production of heat and electricity.

[13] Justice Fund – The Victims and Post-penitentiary Aid Fund is a state special purpose fund intended to help victims and witnesses, prevent crime and provide post-penitentiary assistance, administered by the Minister of Justice (definition from the official website of the Ministry of Justice).

[14] Lower house of parliament.

[15] Patryk Jaki – a Polish politician, a member of Solidarna Polska , a former Member of Polish Parliament, currently a European MP, known for his controversial speeches.

[16] The popular name of the third generation of the regulations passed by the PiS-controlled parliament within the battle against the COVID 19 pandemic.

[17] Polskie Stronnictwo Ludowe (Polish Peasants’ Party) – a Polish political party, currently in opposition to PiS, which mainly brings together people with agrarian, centrist and Christian Democrat views, a member of the European People’s Party