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Mushrooms cloud Polish election campaign

by editor

Wild mushrooms are a tempting treat but dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing. That’s true whether you’re eating them or using them to score political points, Jarosław Kaczyński has found.

The Polish éminence grise, who leads the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party and is arguably the country’s de facto ruler, on Sunday accused the opposition of allowing the EU to dictate forest management policy, which he said would trample on the national pastime of foraging for fungi.

“A huge amount of Poles go mushroom picking. We go mushrooming to rest, to go for a walk, for all sorts of purposes. And this … is part of our freedom and we will not let this freedom be taken away from us,” local media reported Kaczyński as saying, adding that the EU “wants to make decisions” on forest management.

But within a day, the vice president of the Association for Mushrooms, whose activities include teaching amateurs how to spot a poisonous morsel, said it was in fact the ruling party’s policy that had decimated Poland’s wild mushroom populations.

“What is happening in the forests is genuine robbery. I’m talking about cutting down trees,” Ryszard Ziętkiewicz told Polish news website Wirtualna Polska in an interview published late Monday. “Mushrooms are everywhere, including in agricultural fields, but logging certainly affects the richness of mushroom species that require specific conditions.”

In 2018, the EU’s top court ruled that the Polish authorities had breached EU law by deciding to increase logging rates in parts of the protected Białowieża forest, which contains traces of the last primeval forest in Europe.

More recently, in March, the same court ruled that Poland’s policy to allow tree cutting during birds’ breeding season went against EU nature conservation rules.

Poland — the largest mushroom producer in Europe — will head to the polls next fall for a general election in which PiS, which has been in power since 2015, is facing significant hurdles to win an unprecedented third consecutive term in office.

PiS is still Poland’s most popular party, according to POLITICO’s poll of polls, but the opposition has gained ground.

Kaczyński’s speech on Sunday also sparked sarcastic comments from the pro-EU Civic Platform opposition party.

“Kaczyński stated that what is at stake in these elections is the freedom to pick mushrooms. I feel a bit strange having such a rival,” former prime minister and Civic Platform leader Donald Tusk said.

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