Poland's state-owned Janow Podlaski stud farm is famous for its world-class Arabian pure-bred horses
Janow Podlaski - Arab Today
Nostrils flared and tails thrust high, a glorious herd of Arabian purebreds gallops across a paddock at Poland's world-renowned Janow Podlaski stud farm, which insiders charge is the latest state enterprise threatened by political horse-trading.
The 200-year-old facility in the EU country's poorer east holds an auction every August that attracts an array of wealthy Gulf state sheikhs and notables including breeder Shirley Watts, the wife of Rolling Stones' drummer Charlie.
Prized for their speed, endurance and good looks, the ancestors of Poland's Arabians were first bred by Bedouins centuries ago in the deserts of the modern-day Middle East.
They arrived in Poland in the 16th and 17th centuries as war spoils from battles with the Ottoman Empire and have since stolen hearts as icons of elegance and freedom.
Pepita, a buxom dappled white-and-grey broodmare, fetched a cool 1.4 million euros ($1.5 million) at the 2015 "Pride of Poland" auction.
But the record price was apparently not high enough for internationally acclaimed breeder Marek Trela to keep his job as Janow Polaski's director, a position he held for nearly two decades.
After just four months in power, Poland's right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) government unexpectedly sacked him in mid-February along with Jerzy Bialobok, an equally respected breeder and head of the Michalow state stud farm.
Marek Skomorowski, an economist close to PiS who admits he knows nothing about horses, was appointed new director at Janow Polaski.
The moves triggered outrage at home and abroad, sparking street protests and petitions for the reinstatement of both men -- who had quickly received a flood of job offers from leading Gulf state breeders.
"I'm humbled and overwhelmed by the support I've received from top breeders across the globe," Trela told AFP. But he insisted he prefers to "stay at home".
The state Agricultural Property Agency (ANR) supervising the stud farms initially said it let him go for failing to save top broodmare Pianissima, worth an estimated three million euros. She died suddenly from intestinal complications in October.
PiS Agriculture Minister Krzysztof Jurgiel, who oversees the ANR, later filed a complaint with state prosecutors over alleged "financial irregularities" at the stud farms linked to recent lucrative auctions.
But the ANR reacted very differently when a similar intestinal ailment finished off Preria, a prize mare that owner Shirley Watts had entrusted to Janow Podlaski's new management.
ANR head Waldemar Humiecki asked prosecutors to investigate, but insisted the fatal condition "apparently happens quite often in horses".
The respected European Conference of Arabian Horse Organisations (ECAHO) , based in Switzerland, is bewildered.
Its president Jaroslav Lacina issued an open letter stating his "personal confusion about the situation and the measures adopted in Poland", and insisted that horse breeding requires practical experience.
"I am not aware of any such experience gained by the persons newly responsible for the breeding of Purebred Arabian horses in Poland."
- 'Good Change'? -
The stud farms are just the tip of the ice berg since the PiS won October's general election.
Its populist government wasted no time installing loyalists in key state-controlled enterprises under the PiS' much-vaunted "Dobra zmiana" (Good Change) policy.
The companies include heavyweights like top regional insurer PZU, leading domestic utility PGE, European copper and silver heavyweight KGHM and the PGNiG oil and gas company, among others.
State sector firms generate around a fifth of the GDP in Poland, a central European heavyweight of 38 million people blessed with steady economic growth since it shed communism in 1989, OECD figures show.
Critics also accuse the PiS, led by ex-premier Jaroslaw Kaczynski, of attempting to stack the Constitutional Court and public television and radio with loyalists.
The moves have triggered a series of mass protests and an unprecedented EU probe into the health of Poland's democracy.
While the PiS insists its "Good Change" deal promotes social equality, analysts say the results are more akin to pork barrel politics.
"The 'Good Change' is a paternalistic-type of policy in which the state takes a stronger role in the economy," Witold Orlowski, a Warsaw-based consultant for PricewaterhouseCoopers, told AFP.
"There's a feeling in the PiS that in the 27 years since communism, and especially in the last eight years under their free-market rivals, the Polish state became very weak, notably regarding big business."
With "Good Change", Orlowski said, the state wants to be "an equal partner with business and not allow itself to be cheated on taxes and so on."
But "the PiS has a very weak portfolio of professionals to put in all those positions," he asserted.
"Unfortunately, there are also a lot of poorly qualified but shall we say 'clever' people around the PiS ready to use any opportunity to simply promote their own careers."
A March Newsweek Polska survey found that 53 percent of Poles thought the PiS was choosing the wrong people as top managers.
A business insider who spoke to AFP on condition of anonymity compared the PiS managers installed in top firms to "computer gamers trying to fly Dreamliners", adding that the situation has triggered an "exodus of top managers".