AP

Surging prices imperil Polish govt ahead of vote next year

Dec 21, 2022, 12:21 AM | Updated: 1:02 am

People visit the Christmas market in the Old Town in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. Prices...

People visit the Christmas market in the Old Town in Warsaw, Poland, Saturday, Dec. 3, 2022. Prices are surging in Poland, making it among the European Union nations with one of the highest inflation rates. (AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)

(AP Photo/Michal Dyjuk)

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — With a backpack slung over his shoulder, Jacek Kryg walks down one row and then another of outdoor vegetable stands at Warsaw’s historic Hala Mirowska market. The 72-year-old Kryg already knows which one has the best prices on carrots, broccoli, mushrooms and his other staples. But he is keenly aware of what he spends, so he double-checks all the prices.

His pension, after 30-plus years as a writer and teacher of Chinese metaphysics, is just 2,000 zlotys ($450) a month. Given how inflation has surged, he can’t live on that. He’s already stopped buying clothes, he travels home to Krakow less frequently to visit his wife and daughter and he needs to keep teaching his workshops.

Kryg expects the frugal habits he adopted under communism to get him through hard times. But he’s deeply frustrated, and he blames Poland’s populist right-wing government for the dramatic cost-of-living increases, which he believes could have been more contained.

“I see the rising prices at every step,” Kryg said. “All my favorite products are going up.”

While prices are accelerating across Europe, Poland is saddled with one of the continent’s highest inflation rates — 17.5% in November compared with 12 months earlier, Poland’s state statistics office said last week. That marked a slight easing from October’s 17.9% rate, but it still exceeds the 11.1% average across the 27-member European Union.

It is a painful situation for people in a country like Poland, whose economy has boomed since the fall of communism in 1989 and its entry into the EU in 2004. Yet wages and other gauges of economic well-being still haven’t caught up with measures of prosperity in the West.

Now, the rising cost of living is eroding hard-earned savings, squeezing people on limited incomes and causing the bankruptcy of some restaurants — a sector badly hit by spiking utility and food costs from the energy crisis caused by Russia’s war against Ukraine.

As interest rates have risen, some distressed mortgage-holders have had to take second jobs. Many people in the emerging middle class are giving up holidays abroad, regular manicures or other pleasures.

Kryg says the number of students signing up for his Warsaw workshops on Feng Shui and astrology has dropped sharply.

Warsaw is trying to achieve savings by reducing the hours of the city’s Christmas illuminations this year, even though it’s using eco-friendly LED light bulbs.

The rising costs are a particular burden for the many Belarusians and much larger number of Ukrainians who fled their homes in recent years and found refuge in Poland.

With a large majority of Poles saying that inflation has harmed their quality of life, according to opinion polls, inflation has emerged as perhaps the greatest challenge to the ruling conservative party, Law and Justice, which has governed since 2015, as it heads into elections next fall.

The vote offers the pro-EU opposition its best chance in years to unseat the populist government. But even if it does, it will inherit heavy public debt in addition to the painfully high inflation.

The assessments of Poland’s economic situation are often in line with political leanings. The socially liberal Gazeta Wyborcza newspaper, which is highly critical of the government, recently ran an interview with an economist, Boguslaw Grabowski, who suggested that the combination of high inflation, rising state debt and populist policies have made Poland’s prospects bleak for many years to come.

“In the next decade or two,” Grabowski said, “we will not return to the path of civilizational development that we were on before 2015.”

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki argues that the economic situation is as good as it could be given the crisis sparked by Russia’s war against Ukraine. Until recently, he noted, Poland had enjoyed strong growth.

“The energy crisis, the war in Ukraine, and the global financial crisis — this is the reality of many countries, with many of them being in a much worse situation than Poland,” he said in an interview with the Sieci weekly.

His government has taken steps to try to ease the pain of rising prices. It has given mortgage holders a “credit holiday,” allowing them to suspend their payments for eight months, four this year and and four next year. It also suspended value-added taxes on food, gas and fertilizer as a way to soften the blow of rising prices.

Some economists have argued that the party’s policies have themselves fueled inflation. They have pointed, in particular, to the party’s flagship policy of 500 zloty ($113) monthly payments to families for each child under age 18, and additional transfers to senior citizens, a key constituency for a party that embraces conservative views and welfare spending.

The Law and Justice party, which is closely tied to the Catholic church, is conservative on social issues: It opposes abortion rights and same-sex unions. But it has also sought to reverse many of the market policies of earlier governments. It favors, for example, restoring greater welfare spending in hopes of narrowing economic inequality, a stance popular with older generations who remember the protections of the communist era.

Poland’s central bank has also faced accusations of waiting too long to begin raising interest rates. Higher rates are a key tool to fight inflation. But they have also imposed higher payments on borrowers that could eventually trigger an economic slowdown.

A government standoff with the EU has exacerbated Poland’s problems, freezing over 35 billion euros in pandemic recovery aid. The EU is withholding the money over changes to the judicial system which have tightened government control over judges in a way that the bloc says is an anti-democratic attack on judicial independence.

In the meantime, as some people struggle, some also find ways to survive in the harsh new reality.

Uladzimir Kurbatau, a 62-year-old Belarusian man who, with his family, fled political repression in his country and opened a small Warsaw restaurant six years ago, says that even with government tax relief, onions cost five times as much as they did then. Potatoes cost three to four times as much, and flour has tripled.

All those ingredients are vital to the most popular offering on their menu — pierogi, traditional Eastern European dumplings stuffed with savory fillings or fruit.

Kurbatau and his wife have managed to keep the business going by doing without several staffers they had before the pandemic, and doing most of the work themselves, which involves rolling out dough and stuffing the dumplings. With pierogi a Christmas staple in Poland, they have been extremely busy.

Kurbatau acknowledged that it’s been a “very hard time,” but also says he is always mindful of the war in Ukraine and repressions of his homeland, and says he doesn’t want to complain.

“When I think of what it’s like in Ukraine, without electricity, I don’t see this as difficult,” he said. “Here there is light, I have work. And I can make some money, so I can’t say that it’s difficult for me. I see that when the refugees from Ukraine come to me, they cry.”

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday.

16 hours ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

17 hours ago

Arizona judge declares mistrial in case of rancher who shot migrant...

Associated Press

Arizona judge declares mistrial in the case of a rancher accused of fatally shooting a migrant

An Arizona judge declared a mistrial in the case of rancher accused of killing a Mexican man on his property near the U.S.-Mexico border.

17 hours ago

Donald Trump appears in court for opening statements in his criminal trial for allegedly covering u...

Associated Press

Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York over alleged hush money payments started with opening statements on Monday.

1 day ago

This satellite image from Planet Labs PBC shows Iran's nuclear site in Isfahan, Iran, April 4, 2024...

Associated Press

Israel, Iran play down apparent Israeli strike. The muted responses could calm tensions — for now

Israel and Iran are both playing down an apparent Israeli airstrike near a major air base and nuclear site in central Iran.

4 days ago

Speaker of the House Mike Johnson, R-La., talks to reporters just after lawmakers pushed a $95 bill...

Associated Press

Ukraine, Israel aid advances in rare House vote as Democrats help Republicans push it forward

The House pushed ahead Friday on a foreign aid package of $95 billion for Ukraine, Israel, Taiwan and other sources of humanitarian support.

4 days ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

DESERT INSTITUTE FOR SPINE CARE

Desert Institute for Spine Care is the place for weekend warriors to fix their back pain

Spring has sprung and nothing is better than March in Arizona. The temperatures are perfect and with the beautiful weather, Arizona has become a hotbed for hikers, runners, golfers, pickleball players and all types of weekend warriors.

...

Collins Comfort Masters

Here’s 1 way to ensure your family is drinking safe water

Water is maybe one of the most important resources in our lives, and especially if you have kids, you want them to have access to safe water.

Surging prices imperil Polish govt ahead of vote next year