Poland’s biggest annual charity fundraiser, the Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity (WOŚP), has once again broken its record for the largest amount of money raised by the end of its grand finale.

As every year, the majority of the money will be devoted to supporting healthcare in Poland. But this time some of the funds will also be used to help victims of the Australian bushfires.

The event’s founder and frontman Jerzy Owsiak announced last night that the preliminary total for its 28th annual edition stood at more than 115 million zloty (over 27 million euro). This smashes the declaration from the same stage at last year’s event, which was 92 million zloty, continuing a marked rise in donations in the last few years.

The final total for the year’s event, including proceeds from various charity auctions, will be announced on 8 March. Last year the final amount was almost 176 million zloty.

The Great Orchestra of Christmas Charity was founded in 1993. Every year, it raises money to support healthcare in Poland as well as other programmes, and it is particularly known for purchasing medical equipment for children’s hospitals.

The fundraiser’s grand finale takes place annually on the second Sunday of January. Free concerts take place throughout the country, while volunteers, many of them children, patrol the streets rewarding donors with distinctive heart-shaped stickers. Also synonomous with the event is Owsiak himself, a colourful personality in trademark red glasses and also the man behind Poland’s biggest music festival, Pol’and’Rock.

The Great Orchestra is, however, not popular among many of Poland’s conservatives, who dislike Owsiak’s secular, liberal values and have often accused him and his family of benefiting financially from the event. The ruling conservative Law and Justice party (PiS) has previously made efforts to undermine the event’s success.

In 2017 the government decided that the fundraiser would no longer be screened on public TV, and private channel TVN became the event’s official broadcaster instead. Such efforts appeared only to bolster WOŚP’s success, however, with a big increase in donations since 2016, following the change in government.

There has been little evidence of such hostility this year. Despite a minor controversy in the city of Kielce – where district authorities announced that they would not be providing a stage, with a local PiS official explaining that he has a “different worldview” and prefers to support Catholic charity Caritas – thousands of people watched shows on three stages in Kielce, according to Onet.pl.

President Andrzej Duda supported the fundraiser by auctioning a signed T-shirt. The highest bid currently stands at 2,700 zloty.

Last year’s fundraiser was marred by tragedy, when the mayor of Gdańsk, Paweł Adamowicz, was stabbed on stage during a WOŚP concert, later dying from his injuries. Owsiak stood down as head of the organisation in response to the murder, before a public campaign persuaded him to reverse his decision.

Among the most characteristic hallmarks of this year’s event was the giant Australian flag passed across the crowd in Warsaw as the country’s national anthem was played. Last week, Owsiak wrote to volunteers among the Polish community in Australia asking them to keep the money they raised to support the victims of the ongoing bushfires.

Speaking at the finale, Owsiak emphasised the need for solidarity, as embodied by the 30 Polish firefighters who have travelled to Australia to support the operation.

Main image credit: Adam Stepien / Agencja Gazeta

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