Poland Yesterday II: one last look at 2019 through the news

Commemoration of the 80th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War II
A lot can happen in one year – and fast. But before we leap into the new decade, we’ve decided to take one last look at the year through five more newsbites, from the 80th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War II, Poland’s inclusion in America’s Visa Waiver Program and the re-election of the Law & Justice party to Olga’s Nobel and the release of The Witcher series on Netflix.      
Poland stopped 80 years since the outbreak of World War II

Poland commemorated the 80th Anniversary of the outbreak of World War II with events throughout the country, including the main ceremony in Warsaw attended by distinguished guests, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe and US Vice President Mike Pence. On the Baltic Coast, Polish and international leaders attended a symbolic cornerstone laying ceremony to mark the start of construction of the Museum of Westerplatte and the War of 1939. This open-air museum will be a part of the already existing Museum of the Second World in Gdańsk and will be located on the Westerplatte peninsula where the first battle in Germany’s invasion of Poland took place, sparking the outbreak of WWII in Europe. The Battle of Westerplatte began on September 1, 1939, when a German battleship opened fire on the Polish Military Transit Depot. The Polish crew managed to fight for seven days before surrendering to the Germans.

Poland finally included in America’s Visa Waiver Program

On September 30 Poland finally met the requirements for the USA’s Visa Waiver Program. For the first time in history, the percentage of tourist and business visa refusals to America for Polish citizens dropped to 2.8%. To join the Visa Waiver Program, the percentage of refusals must fall below 3%. The Visa Waiver Program allows citizens to travel to the USA for tourist and business purposes without a visa for up to 90 days. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) was made available for applications by Polish citizens in November, just one month after the US White House announced that Poland had officially been nominated to join the programme. 

Law & Justice won re-election to continue majority government

The ruling Law & Justice party (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – PiS) won re-election in October as the governing power with 43.5% share of the votes for the lower house of parliament (Sejm), as confirmed by Poland’s National Electoral Commission. The opposition Civic Coalition (Koalicja Obywatelska, KO) came in 2nd position with 27.4% support. A group of left-wing parties under the ‘Lewica’ banner – including SLD (Sojusz Lewicy Demokratycznej) and Robert Biedroń’s ‘Spring’ (Wiosna) party – polled 3rd with 12.5%, followed by the agrarian PSL party – allied with the Kukiz 15 party – with an 8.5% share. The far-right Confederation (Konfederacja) had just over 6.8%. Law & Justice had over 8 million votes, enabling it to continue as the majority government. The party has 235 seats in the 460-strong lower chamber (Sejm), surpassing the threshold of the 231 seats needed. Civic Coalition has 134 seats, SLD/Lewica has 49 seats, PSL/Kukiz 30 seats and Confederation 11 seats. Although the ruling party has the upper hand in the Sejm, it lost the Senate – the upper house of parliament which has the power to amend and delay lower house legislation and block changes to the constitution. The Senate has 100 seats and PiS won 48 in this election.

Olga Tokarczuk took home the Nobel Prize in Literature
Olga Tokarczuk receives the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature during the Nobel Prize award ceremony at Stockholm Concert Hall. Photo: PAP/EPA.

Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk became the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2018. Two awards were announced this year after last year’s awards were suspended due to the academy’s internal affairs. With this win, Tokarczuk is the 15th woman to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, compared to 114 men. During the ceremony in December, Tokarczuk accepted the award and made a powerful speech about her childhood, how to narrate stories and the current challenges facing the world. “The world is a fabric we weave daily on the great looms of information, discussions, films, books, gossip, little anecdotes,” said Tokarczuk. “Today the purview of these looms is enormous—thanks to the internet, almost everyone can take place in the process, taking responsibility and not, lovingly and hatefully, for better and for worse. When this story changes, so does the world. In this sense, the world is made of words.”

The Witcher TV series hit Netflix

Following the success of The Witcher video game by CD Projekt, which is based on the novels by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, the world-renowned legend was released this December as a Netflix TV series over eight episodes. The plot follows more closely the story presented in Sapkowski’s novels rather than the game, with the author hired as a co-writer and script consultant. Filming took place in Central Europe and on the Canary Islands. Set in a mythical realm, The Witcher tells the story of a lonely beast hunter, Geralt of Rivia (Henry Cavill), who doesn’t fit in a world where monsters are evidently less evil than people. His life changes unexpectedly when he encounters a feisty sorceress (Freya Allan) and a young princess (Anya Chalotra) carrying a dangerous secret. 

PTnewsBites: latest news about Poland at a micro-level mixed with the bigger nationwide trends, with something extra on the side – all bundled up in one weekly bite-size news package. All Bison. No Bull.

December 23, 2019
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Written by: Poland Today Team