On August 31, 2023, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki dismissed Piotr Wawrzyk from the position of Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. And it was only the beginning of a large scandal involving Polish foreign service. According to the liberal opposition, employees of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were selling Polish visas, going as far as to permit selling signed papers on an outdoor stall in an unidentified African country. The entire procedure – according to some – involved a significant part of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. According to others, it was about a dozen or so people. Moreover, data on the number of these supposedly sold visas also differ. The opposition says 300,000, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs admits no more than 300 to 400 documents were improperly attributed. So what has actually happened? What impact will this have on the elections in Poland on October 15?
After the expulsion of Piotr Wawrzyk out of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the media and politicians started lurking into the environment and context of the action. Swiftly it started to be clear, also thanks to the government’s officials that there is an investigation conducted by The Central Anticorruption Bureau, Centralne Biuro Antykorupcyjne in Polish, regarding all the abnormalities in the visa-processes.
In all of this, we have seen much misinformation from the Civic Platform, which started a real anti-migrant campaign for their own electoral purpose over a month ago. With electoral spots dangerously reminding of Wagner Group or Azov Battalion recruiting reels, Donald Tusk and his team claimed that the Law and Justice is the most pro-immigrant government in Polish history, which is, according to them, a real disaster. While the numbers of migrants coming to Poland under Law and Justice might really be record high, it is far away from illegal immigration or joint-families programmes that we know from France or from the Mediterranean. The people coming to Poland are workers and many of them are not planning to stay too long. There are also no signs of the new migrants threating Polish society in any way. Nevertheless, Tusk and his team keep mixing data regarding Ukrainians and Belarusians coming to Poland to work with supposedly dangerous “people from the Muslim countries”. Their rhetoric referring to this group of migrants is absolutely disgusting at points.
After the parliamentary inspection in the Foreign Ministry, Marcin Kierwiński and Jan Grabiec from PO talked about “250-350 thousand visas that were to be obtained by migrants from Nigeria, Iran, Iraq, Bangladesh, and Pakistan”. The liberal media repeated these numbers, although they are quite different from the number of people who entered Poland. The notion concerning the “large number of residences permits” awarded to foreigners in 2022 is being manipulated by Civic Platform lawmakers and the media – Poland has been among the leading countries issuing such permits for years. While PO was in power, too. And all the time the overwhelming majority of permits were issued to Ukrainians and Belarusians.
We do not currently have access to materials that would offer such data. Statistics on the issue of work visas are not made public. However, in July, following Donald Tusk’s loud ads about “bringing tens of thousands of people from Muslim countries to Poland,” the Konkret24 page requested a list of the 15 countries whose nationals were awarded the most work visas in 2022 from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The figures apply to both type “C” visas – a Schengen visa valid for the entire zone or only selected countries, allowing you to stay for a maximum of 90 days (about 3 months) within 180 days (about 6 months) – and national type “D” visas, which allow you to enter Poland and stay for more than 90 days (about 3 months) and up to one year during the visa validity period.
In the provided data, we could see that a total of 98,074 work visas were issued in 2022 and 2023 to citizens of the countries that opposition politicians like to focus on recently – i.e., those where the dominant religion is islam.
What is more, in the pro-Tusk media we read that other Schengen countries, concerned about the “mass issuance of visas to people from countries where there is a terrorist threat, have contacted the Polish services to investigate the matter.” Which is also not true. Poland issued far fewer visas to citizens of such nations than, say, Germany. Countries like Bangladesh, frequently highlighted in this context, rank low on the list of countries most vulnerable to terrorism.
The first signals regarding irregularities in issuing visas reached the CBA in July 2022, said Stanisław Żaryn, the government plenipotentiary for the security of the information space of the Republic of Poland, at a press conference. What is more, in March 2023, an investigation was initiated into paid protection in the acceleration of visa procedures in the case of several hundred visa applications submitted over a year and a half.
During the same press conference, Żaryn stated that seven individuals were charged and three people were temporarily arrested in the case of the so-called in the visa crisis. Those charged include no government officials.
However other impressions have been given by Witold Jurasz, a person who worked as a diplomat in Belarus and Russia, in an interview for Onet, one of the most popular news websites in Poland, with clear anti-Law and Justice leanings.
He said that the problems with visas are not new. As he said, they were going on even during the rule of the Civic Platform in the years of 2007-2015.
The visa system, which was computerized, was not working properly even then. Which was pointed out by him many times – as he said in the interview.
The main lead here points out to the Polish secret services, especially the Foreign Intelligence Agency (Agencja Wywiadu). To one of the questions, which was: “Where were the secret services in all of this?”, Jurasz replied “In the middle of all that”. And his knowledge of secret services issues is not superficial.
Should the agents of the Polish deep state acting against the interest of the state be involved in the visa scandal, it would not as new as it might look like. Anyone interested in Polish politics has heard of the “Olin” scandal – a scandal that broke out at the end of December 1995 after Andrzej Milczanowski accused the incumbent Prime Minister Józef Oleksy of collaborating with KGB residents in Poland. Those who are interested in political history even more remember also ‘The Mother of All Scandals’, or the story of Foreign Debt Service Fund (FOZZ). It was a special purpose fund established in 1989 with the aim of repayment of Polish foreign debt and the collection and management of financial resources intended for this purpose. The actual task of the fund was to purchase foreign debts of the Polish People’s Republic on the secondary market at significantly reduced prices resulting from low debt quotations. The activities of FOZZ led to one of the largest embezzlements of public funds in the history of the Third Polish Republic and a court trial that lasted several years. Until the end of 2014, FOZZ operated as an institution “in liquidation”, the maintenance costing about PLN 1 million per year.
In all these scandals, we have seen fingerprints of agents and secret services here too. Witold Jurasz summed all of this up, paraphrasing; “If someone could do it, he needed backing from agents.”
My guess is that, apart from electoral campaign buzz and conspiracy theories, we will never know the truth about the whole affair. Except that Piotr Wawrzyk is most probably not guilty, or not the sole responsible. According to people who know him, he would not be able to run a mafia-style network of visa-providers. After being expelled from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs he tried to kill himself, stating in the suicide letter that he does not want to live with a stigma of a corrupt official. What is more the socliberal analytical portal Oko.press, which debunked most of the Civic Platform anti-immigrant scare rhymed with the affair, is right now called out as a pro-Law and Justice media outlet. All of this will not help in sorting out the whole case.
Almost 40 percent of Poles believe that the visa scandal will not affect the ratings of Law and Justice – according to a survey conducted by United Surveys for “Dziennik Gazeta Prawna” and RMF FM. 30% have a different opinion. respondents who claim that the scandal will weaken PiS’s results. United Surveys also asked how credible PiS’s demands “regarding limiting the inflow of immigrants to Poland” are. Almost half of the respondents (48%) assess the credibility of the ruling party in this matter poorly. 39 percent have the opposite opinion.
However, as it was put by catholic commentator Tomasz Terlikowski:
“When assessing the campaigns of political parties, it is worth remembering that the elections will end and the hostility or reluctance towards migrants, fugitives and refugees generated by the spots will remain. Just like those who have already come here will remain. And this is not noble and naive thinking, but realism. Hostility, reluctance and aggression last longer than the elections. And this is my comment on the latest PO spot. It hits refugees much harder than PiS.”
Cover photo: Polish embassy in Nigeria which has frequently been linked to the visa affair irregularities.