Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Just when Poles can finally afford to fly…

… a coalition of homeowners, eco-anarchists, NIMBYs and ‘internationalists’ want them to stay at home.

It’s only been three years since ‘no-frills’ budget airlines started operating to and from Poland. And the Poles love ‘em.

During communism they didn’t have freedom to travel. When the Iron Curtain came down most Poles still couldn’t travel very far abroad as they couldn’t afford the air ticket. If they wanted to go to western Europe many had to endure a 24 hour plus coach journey - I’ve done it, and it’s nasty. The Iron Curtain had been replaced by the Money Curtain.

And then the cheapies came along and suddenly travel became much easier.

Enter the environmental lobby, turning up just as Poles were checking in their luggage, with an apocalyptic message of global warming and impending doom.

One of the most fanatical of the Green warriors is the British columnist for the Guardian, George Monbiot (photo). Our George doesn’t like air travel, apparently. I remember one article at the time of the 100th anniversary of that great human acheivment, the first heavier than air vehicle flight by the Wright Brothers. George wasn’t impressed, however. Not at all. His article had the headline A weapon with wings.

Today he’s at it again. This time his column has the headline, We Are All Killers Until We Stop Flying.

What a twat.

After telling us that all technological solutions are hopeless to the climate change problem, he starts having a go at his mates.

"This [impending eco-disaster] is now broadly understood by almost everyone I meet. But it has had no impact whatever on their behaviour. When I challenge my friends about their planned weekend in Rome or their holiday in Florida, they respond with a strange, distant smile and avert their eyes. They just want to enjoy themselves. Who am I to spoil their fun? The moral dissonance is deafening."

He really is a twat. But he isn’t finished yet. He starts blaming global warming for the famines in Africa (nothing to do, of course, with colonialism and other outside interventions, wars, a lack of infrastructure, a lack of civil society, lack of government…) and then finishes with the flourish:

Flying kills. We all know it, and we all do it. And we won't stop doing it until the government reverses its policy and starts closing the runways.

Don’t be holding your breath, George.

I have no idea of the extent of global warming and how much humans have had to do with it. I would like a bit more debate about the subject in the media, instead of the usual panic and doom. Maybe we are just going to have to adapt to the Earth as it changes.

But if Monbiot thinks that people from Central and Eastern Europe, and the less well off in Britain and the rest of developed world, are going to give up the new found freedom of travel, then he is going to be in for a bit of a shock. Does he think Poles are going to go back to travelling about the place in a horse and cart? Cheap airlines have helped tear down the Money Curtain. Monbiot and his eco-nostalgia will not be putting it back up.

Polish market may become cheaper for airlines, Puls Biznesu, Feb 28

Euro vodka wars

A row has broken out in Brussels and Strasburg over the definition of what constitutes vodka. Polish vodka purists, needless to say, are not pleased.

You would think Euro deputies and Eurocrats would have something a little more weighty on their minds at the moment.

What with the EU Constitution being confined to Euro-limbo after it was rejected last year by France and the Netherlands; what with arguments over freeing up the service sector re-igniting fears that the Polish plumber will come and take away French, German or Austrian jobs; and with interest in EU matters in general at an all-time low, defining what constitutes the ingredients of a humble glass of vodka seems slightly marginal, to say the least.

But food regulation has always been top of the agenda for EU bonkerscrats, and the vodka battle is just one of a long list of arguments where national sovereignty has clashed with standardizing ingredients and labeling across national borders.

Another Euro divide

Perhaps one of Donald Rumsfeld’s greatest achievements – perhaps his only achievement – has been his contribution to the English language. Apart from his ‘unknowable unknowables’ he has also coined a phrase for a new divide in Europe: between an Atlanticist ‘New Europe’ (including the one thousand year old Poland) and ‘Old Europe’, including France and Germany.

Vodka has managed to open up a new cleavage in continent.

The Polish delegation at the EU Agriculture Council, supported by the Danish, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Finnish, Swedish and German delegations drew attention last week to the importance of restricting the current, promiscuous EU definition of vodka.

The Polish side says that vodka should only be defined as an alcoholic beverage derived from cereals or potatoes. Any loosening of this definition, argues Poland, leads to ingredients such as grape marc being used, which result in a final product that has different ‘organoleptic characteristics’ – which I think is Euro-speak for ‘a change of taste’.

The argument has managed to pit Rumsfeld’s ‘New European’ countries against each other. In Hungary they make vodka from the aforementioned grape marc, but also from molasses.

Poland wants this definition tightened up. Vodka made from cereals and grains – as it has been done for centuries in this country – is the only recipe for vodka worth using.

Vodka liberalizers

Britain is on the side of the vodka liberalizers, however. András Nagy, head of the Hungarian guild of spirits manufacturers told Pestiside.hu:

“There is a lot of politics involved in a decision like this - the British government raised the issue that any change would be extremely difficult to justify to the WTO, for example. In any case, modern active filtration techniques mean there is little or no difference in quality, taste or production cost, whatever the vodka is made from. We believe it is best for the market to decide on what is and isn't good vodka."

Poland disagrees and is pushing for a purer definition. They are asking why vodka should have a more watered down definition than, say, whisky or rum.

The matter is being taken very seriously by Polish vodka manufacturers. The luxury end of the vodka market has been struggling of late due to a change of drinking habits among Poles. Many of the young are turning their back on spirits in favour of beer and wine. But, at the same time, the sale of cheaper vodkas has soured.

Wyborowa – the manufacturer of up-market vodkas for domestic and export markets - announced last September that they would be laying off 99 workers from their distillery in Poznan, western Poland and are planning further cuts in jobs and pay.

So keeping some sort of purity in the manufacturing process is important to producers here – especially for export, where Polish vodka has one of the best reputations.

Before Poland joined the EU there were fears that Brussels would be interfering with food and drink. For instance, rumours went around that the beloved Polish pickled cucumber could fall foul of EU regulations as they were simply too small to be called cucumbers. Maybe they should be called ‘cucumber-ettes? Nothing, sadly, has come of this rumour.

But the drunken Euro-brawl over vodka is for real. As the European Union expands, new divisions seem to open up everyday: between the Europhobe, the Eurosceptic and the Europhile; between the ‘new Europe' and the old; and, more importantly, on what constitutes a good glass of vodka.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Operation Orange Blossom

Seventeen Polish pedophiles have been arrested along with over 100 other suspects in worldwide anti-kiddie porn raids in 15 countries.

The sting was initiated by the Spanish police using a computer program called Hispalis, which trawls the net looking for anyone downloading child pornography.

Polish police spokesman, Kamil Tomaszczuk told the PAP agency that the raids in Poland took place over three days earlier this week in Krakow, Gdansk and Lomza. The Police scooped up over 1000 discs and 66 computers.

"We seized several hundred pictures and several dozen short films of a pornographic nature involving children of less than 15 years of age. They included pictures involving animals."

All rather revolting, of course.

Pedophilia has grown steadily as a news story over the years in Poland since the end of communism, when this sort of thing just wasn’t talked about.

A few years ago one tabloid followed the example of a British counterpart by exposing the names and addresses of convicted pedos.

But due to the fact that this subject was a bit of a taboo for so long, primitive stereotypes abound among some of the simpler members of the community, who think that all pedophiles are gays, and all gays are pedophiles.

This belief was reinforced a few years ago by several high profile cases involving the Catholic church in Poznan.

Unfortunately for these fools, one of the people arrested this week was a woman.

They also ignore the fact that most pedophiles are rather warped heterosexuals.

If the kids in the photos and films were under the age of consent and had been forced or lured into posing for this material then, for sure, that is a crime and the person who uploaded the stuff should be chucked in jail and the key thrown away.
But should it be a crime just to look at this stuff? Looking at sick photos is disgusting and pathetic, but is it really a crime?

I’ve been tagged!

Someone did it to me, now I have to do it to four others…saucy!

The excellent left wing US blog, Renegade Eye, is responsible for this. It’s a bit like that game you played in the playground – tag. I was linked with three others and now I link to four other blogs. They have to mention me when they nominate four more.

But first I have to answer the following questions...

1: Black and White or Color; how do you prefer your movies?
Black and white – like that George Clooney film about McCarthy with lots of silences in it.

2: What is the one single subject that bores you to near-death?

3: MP3s, CDs, Tapes or Records: what is your favorite medium for prerecorded music?

4: You are handed one first class plane ticket to anywhere in the world and ten million dollars cash. All of this is yours provided that you leave and not tell anyone where you are going … Ever. This includes family, friends, everyone. Would you take the money and ticket and run?
Yup! Waiter, mine's the Bollinger…

5: Seriously, what do you consider the world’s most pressing issue now?
The way governments use fear as a way of disciplining us with ever more authoritarian laws.

6: How would you rectify the world’s most pressing issue?
Through argument and debate. Humans have to remember that we are the authors of our own destiny and the subjects, not the objects, of history.

7: You are given the chance to go back and change one thing in your life; what would that be?
I think I would like to have been born a gorgeous woman (but don’t worry, I am not considering any radical surgery). That way I could go to the cinema and sit in the back row all by myself! And then I would take myself out to dinner.

8: You are given the chance to go back and change one event in world history, what would that be?
We could have done without the Holocaust.

9: A night at the opera, or a night at the Grand Ole’ Opry –Which do you choose?
Dolly Parton as Madame Butterfly!

10: What is the one great unsolved crime of all time you’d like to solve?,
Jack the Ripper - and in one fell swoop put an end to a rather prurient industry.

11: One famous author can come to dinner with you. Who would that be, and what would you serve for the meal?
Marquis de Sade – Pot Noodle

12: You discover that John Lennon was right, that there is no hell below us, and above us there is only sky — what’s the first immoral thing you might do to celebrate this fact?
I think I have just about done all the immoral things I could have already.

OK, so time to tag 4 other people. They are all from Central and Eastern Europe.

* Warsaw Station
* Orange Ukraine
* Registan
* Kurczeblader – best Polish language blog. Let’s get this thing going on the Polish blogs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Revolutionary undies

Ever considered why the Russian revolution ultimately failed? Maybe it was something to do with the state of their underwear.

The Guardian reports on research by Soviet pants expert, Dr Olga Gurova.

In the 1920s, Soviet magazines touted a "regime of cleanliness" for the proletariat. "Underwear," explains Gurova, "was a compulsory part of that regime." A goal was established: everyone should have at least two sets, and should change sets at least once every 7-10 days. Mass production was cranked up, underclothing the populace in officially healthy, comfortable, hygienic long johns, boxers, undershirts and bras. Gurova's research shows that most of these items were "spacious", and that "there was no big difference in design between male and female underclothes".

Seven to ten days in one pair of smalls? Nasty. I bet they had a Ministry of Underwear, and a Five Year Plan for raising production of long johns.

I don’t expect that the dirty underwear situation helped keep alive the revolutionary spirit, however. And can you imagine what it must have been like at bedtime? "Hello, my sweet, but my, your knickers look like they have been run over by a collectivized tractor!"

Polish T-shirts not so ‘armless

Freedom campaign at university ‘offends many’.

Freedom of speech and expression is now hot news in Poland. Yet another story on the subject. When word got out that the organization Foundation for Freedom was taking their T-shirt for Freedom (Tiszert dla Wolnosci) campaign to Lublin University, the Archbishop of the city called on the Rector of the university to ban the exhibition.

So he did.

Why? Well, some of the slogans on the t-shirts might upset vulnerable people, apparently. Slogans written on the black shirts include: I am gay; I am a lesbian; I masturbate (are you offended yet?); I am an Arab (scary!); I don’t go to church; I had an abortion (you can't say that!); I am having a period (eeek!!!); and, I never cried when the Pope died

OK, you can come out from under the table now.

“The texts printed on the T-shirts could have offended the feelings and beliefs of many people," Wieslaw Kaminski, president of the student union at the University of Lublin, told Rzeczpospolita.

“To write ‘I’ve got Aids’ or ‘I’ve had an abortion’ on a T-shirt, you would have to be devoid of all human feelings,” added Lublin bishop Jozef Zycinski.

Still, a campaign that had, so far, not made much impression in the media – the originator of the idea, Antoni Adamowicz, has been trying to provoke the authorities with his T-shirts, to my knowledge, since at least last November - is now splashed all over the front page and being talked about in the news programmes.

The show, which would have included celebrities modeling the offending garb, was partly sponsored by the human rights NGO Helsinki Foundation, but they cancelled the stall they were going to have alongside the offending T-shirts after the campaign was banned from campus.

But it’s another indication that the ‘don’t be offensive’ mentality is spreading in Poland, as it is in the rest of Europe.

It's also good to see that academic freedom and independence is alive and well and studying in Poland.

But it’s also doing no end of good for human rights campaigners here and keeps the issue very much in the news.

A poll by PBS pollsters today found that 48% of Poles think that freedom of speech is under attack from the new PiS government. The feeling is that religious groups, outside of the Established Church, are having an unhealthy influence in the governing of the country.

You can see the T-shirts at the Foundation for Freedom web site if you click down the righthand sidebar.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Looking for the Iranian Lech Welesa

Regime change in Iran – Polish Solidarity style - is now officially on the Whitehouse’s agenda.

The Christian Science Monitor reports:

With Poland's Solidarity movement of the 1980s as its model, the Bush administration wants to boost support for opposition groups inside Iran as a way to counter the actions of the Tehran government.

Maybe (though I doubt it) having learnt from the disastrous effort to try and ‘liberate’ Iraq from without and set up democracy from above, the Bush administration is now looking at ways of fermenting groups within Iran to do the regime changing for them. Which is a small step forward, I suppose. The Monitor continues…

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told Congress this week that the administration is seeking $75 million in emergency funding to immediately begin ratcheting up support for pro-democracy forces inside Iran. Currently, $10 million was budgeted for such efforts, and little of that money has been spent.

But what was the extent of the US involvement in the ‘Solidarity Revolution’? What kind of convert action can we expect the US to take?

Washington, the Vatican, Warsaw

The Solidarity Trade Union was officially recognized in August 1980. By the following year, however, the pressure on General Jaruzelski from Moscow to do something about Walesa and his chums was becoming intense.

But the US knew little of what was to follow. On the Centre for the Study of Intelligence, Central Intelligence Agency web pages it says:

Probably the mildest public statement to this effect by a US official came from Secretary Haig himself. He noted that although the US government had received what he considered “a fair, acceptable level of intelligence” on what the Polish regime “might” do, Washington had been surprised by the Polish army’s willingness to carry it out.

When martial law began in December, the US, like everyone else, was totally surprised. One Defense Department official described the episode to the press as a “collective failure in intelligence gathering and assessment.” Sounds a little familiar, don’t you think?

But the US had been receiving information on preparations for the crackdown from Col. Ryszard Kuklinski, a military officer in the commie authorities – though why the US Intelligence services didn’t pass on this knowledge to anyone in the government or in Solidarity is unclear to me.

Following the communist government's outlawing of the Solidarity movement, which the Pope had publicly and covertly supported, Reagan suspended Poland's Most Favored Nation trading status, costing the already cash-strapped country some $6 billion a year in sales.

In May 1983, Ronald Reagan issued the NSDD 32 Defense Policy Directive, which included authorization for U.S. aid to be given to the then illegal Solidarity union for the express purposes of creating clandestine Polish newspapers and broadcasting operations.

Of course, the Vatican and the Whitehouse worked closely together on this project.

Reagan later told Carl Bernstein, then at Time magazine (March 1992):

"We [Reagan and John Paul] both felt that a great mistake had been made at Yalta and something should be done," Reagan explains. "Solidarity was the very weapon for bringing this about because it was an organization of the laborers of Poland."

To this end, Time wrote that “Tons of equipment--fax machines (the first in Poland), printing presses, transmitters, telephones, shortwave radios, video cameras, photocopiers, telex machines, computers, word processors—were smuggled into Poland via channels established by priests and American agents and representatives of the AFL-CIO and European labor movements."

The magazine goes on:

"Books and pamphlets challenging the authority of the communist government were printed by the thousands. Comic books for children recast Polish fables and legends, with Jaruzelski pictured as the villain, communism as the red dragon, and Walesa as the heroic knight." Radio messages proclaiming "Solidarity lives" and "Resist!" were broadcast by Solidarity with "a transmitter supplied by the CIA through church channels."

The clandestine U.S. support using the Vatican's Catholic network grew to $8 million a year during the mid 1980s. High tech communications equipment was smuggled in along with printing equipment, supplies, VCRs...

Thanks to the Vatican's covert connections, over a seven year period 1,500 underground newspapers and journals and 2,400 books and pamphlets were circulated.

So this is the kind of thing - along with probable covert military raids to disable nuclear reactors, and even airborne bombing raids - that might be expected over the coming months and years in Iran. What is crucial, however, is how free internal groups in Iran will be to try and change the system from below – which is the only guarantee of a successful regime change.

There are two problems with comparing communist Poland with Iran today. Firstly, the Iranian state is not nearly as weak as the communist regime was back in those days, when the economy was in freefall and the communists and Jaruzelski had no legitamacy at all. The Iranian president has just won an election. Secondly, Solidarity had a pretty positive view of America and its involvment in its affairs. But, as Bahman Baktiari, a specialist in Middle East politics at the University of Maine told CSM, because of the disaster in Iraq, "Any group identified with the US loses credibility."

Better let the Iranians deal with it by themselves, then. Regime change has to come from within. The US assisted Solidarity, but that movement grew from Polish roots.

There is no doubt, though, that the Iranian regime is not that tolerant of the opposition. Here are photos from an Iranian blog of the suppression of an apparently peaceful demonstration by Nematollahi Sufi Muslims in Qom on 13 February (see pro-war, marxist Normblog).

Friday, February 17, 2006

Holocaust deniers must be encouraged to talk rubbish

That way it is easier to prove that they are idiots. And they really are idiots - some of them can't even get their sums right.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (pictured) repeated his view this month that Nazi Germany's mass killing of Jews was a "myth" and that Palestinians and Iraqis were suffering a "real Holocaust".

Foreign ministry spokesman, Hamid Reza Asefi, followed up the remarks by saying that it was "necessary to determine the scale" of the Nazi Holocaust, implying that all the historical work done on this subject since WWII has been utter gibberish. Historians made the whole thing up, apparently.

The Tehran Times reports that, in this new scholarly spirit, Iran is planning to have a ‘special conference’ on the Holocaust. And, here's the best bit, Iranian experts, scientists and officials intend to come to Poland and 'investigate' and gather 'evidence' and compile 'a report' that will show the true numbers who perished.

Bless their cotton socks.

"It is necessary that historians meet, discuss and give their opinion, talk about numbers and this conference could happen this spring," Ambassador to Portugal, Mohammad Taheri [and one time Ambassador to Poland] said in an interview with public radio Antena 1.

The ambassador said he had personally visited Nazi death camps in Poland and had concluded it was not possible for six million Jews to have died during the Holocaust.

"When I was ambassador to Poland I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau twice and I did my own calculations. To incinerate six million people you would need 15 years," he said.

Mr Ambassador, you are a moron and not really fit for any sort of public office at all. Not because you deny the Holocaust – you have the same right of freedom of speech as I do – but because nobody has ever suggested that six million Jews were incinerated - Jews died and were disposed of in many horrible ways. Nobody has ever claimed, either, that six million Jews died in Auschwitz during WWII. The six million figure comes from the total deaths at the hands of the Nazis in all concentration and prison camps in Poland, Germany and elsewhere, and during the failed uprisings, etc.(though there is some controversy about the figures from some groups).

The number of people who died in Auschwitz is closer to one and a half million.

The stupidity of these people should convince everyone that instead of imprisoning cranks like joke historian David Irving for denying the Holocaust, we should let them speak and deny all they like. That way we can see easily what morons these people truly are.

The only people who have anything to fear from freedom of speech are liars, those who talk bullshit for a living, and the intellectually challenged.

Which one of those is you, Mr Ambassador?

More? See Even bigots and Holocaust deniers must have their say by Ronald Dworkin, Guardian, Feb 14
Or, Freedom of Speech on the Defensive, AWOT blog

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Death metal band cancels Polish tour

Due to what they call the ‘political scene’ in Poland at the moment, the Swedish group Dark Funeral are canceling their tour in fear of legal action and protest.

Their lyrics are the usual childish nonsense. For instance:

Sin stand for beauty, sin stands for life.
Sexual sin is every man's right.
He will exalt the wicked of man,
Our king the Antichrist.

Blah, blah, blah. But do to recent developments (see Poles find satin offensive, apparently) the band are not going to risk a court case in order to satisfy their juvenile audience in Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk…

A press release by the band says:

We understand this has really nothing to do with DARK FUNERAL alone as a band, but by a musical scene the Polish Catholics obviously wish to forbid. To us this is just another proof of the hypocrisy that lies behind organized religions. They happily promote tolerance, yet, as soon as they see something they dislike, they are fast as a shark to call for censorship. The thing is, reactions like this will most certainly give the opposite result, it always does! We would however like to apologize for all inconveniences this has and will cause our Polish fans, but this is unfortunately beyond our control."

While music lovers will no doubt not be mourning the passing of an opportunity to get to see Dark Funeral, when bands stop coming to Poland because they are scared of the consequences this is not a good thing for freedom of expression, and very much a sign of the times in Europe at the moment.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Boycott protest over the not-so-Black Madonna

Web site urges readers to boycott magazine that readers had abandoned three years ago, anyway (photo: image taken from Madonna’s Like a prayer video).

Tolerancja.net is a Polish web site with apparent religious affiliations. It is currently campaigning for a boycott of the relaunched pop culture magazine Machina, which this month has caused controversy by featuring a doctored photo of Poland’s most revered icon, the Black Madonna, on its front cover (see previous post).

Tolerancja.net is also urging those insulted by Machina’s front cover to boycott all products that have a connection with the magazine, including advertisers.

The web site has issued a letter in Polish and English that can be used as part of the protest. It says:

To whom it may concern:

This is to let you know that I am forced to temporarily cease purchasing your products due to the fact that an advertisement for your products appeared in a Polish magazine that has grossly offended me as a Catholic and as a Pole.

The magazine in question is called "M a c h i n a" and is published in Poland by Media Point Group (http://www.point-group.pl).

I am writing to inform you that, until you officially withdraw your advertising from the infamous "M a c h i n a" magazine and other publications by Media Point Group, I will not only personally boycott your company, but will encourage others to do so as well.

Also, as Poland is a largely Catholic country, and my letter is part of an organized effort, do expect a noticeable effect of this campaign.

Yours faithfully,
where you live

It will be interesting to see by how much the sales of Machina will be affected by any boycott (the mag closed down three years ago because virtually nobody bought it).

Though the campagners at tolerancja.net can’t seem to tolerate anyone with different beliefs from themselves, this is a much healthier reaction by the religious in Poland than most of the protests over the ‘cartoon controversy’. So far, nobody has had death threats, yet.

Hat tip to Stefanmichnik (see comments) for this one

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Polish Black Madonna gets a make-over

Religious groups outraged as magazine tampers with image of the Virgin Mary.

The pop culture magazine Machina has relaunched after a three year break this week with the perfect PR stunt – wind up religious people by superimposing the face of pop diva Madonna onto Poland’s most holy icon, the Black Madonna of Jasna Gora monastery in the southern city of Czestochowa.. News.com reports:

Pop magazine Machina published a photograph [on its front cover] of the sacred icon, with singer Madonna's face transposed over the face of the Virgin and one of the singer's children in the place of the baby Jesus, on the cover of the issue which hit the news stands today after a three-year publishing hiatus.

"The icon, along with the crucifix and the Bible, are key symbols of faith for all Christians," the monks said in a statement on their website.

"Current events have shown us where abuse of religious images and symbols can lead," the statement said, referring indirectly to the wave of protests that have hit the Muslim world since the publication of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in several European newspapers.

The Black Madonna icon was brought to Poland in 1382 from Byzantium or the Orient.
Besides being credited with many miraculous healings, Poland's faithful attribute several battleground victories to the icon, including the halting of Soviet Russian troops at the doorstep of Warsaw on May 3, 1920.

That’s when the Poles beat back Trotsky’s Red Army, thereby foiling the Bolshevik attempt at world revolution.

But will the protests over the Danish cartoons unleash a biblical-sized flood of complaints from all sorts of religious groups demanding special treatment and protection from being offended?

Q: Why is the man shaking hands with President Bush so happy?

A: Because he is a Pole who doesn’t need a visa to get passed immigration officials in Washington.

Neither did President Lech Kaczynski have to queue round the block to get a visa application form from the American Embassy in Warsaw, as hundreds of hopefuls do every week, before his trip to the White House on Friday.

Nor did Kaczynski have to go through the interview process, when slightly intimidating American officials grill you on the purpose of your visit, and then check under your eye lids to see if you are carrying any Improvised Explosive Devices on your person (I made that last bit up).

Kaczynski’s visit to the US is only his second outside the country since he was elected president last November. His first was to the Vatican.

That Kaczynski should choose to go and see the Pope and George W. on his first trips abroad shows the direction he sees Polish foreign relations taking. The Vatican is there to defend Catholic Poland’s spiritual needs against the confusing plethora of belief systems coming in from western Europe. The Atlantic alliance is crucial for Poland’s defense needs. Poland simply can’t defend itself. And nobody takes the EU defense thing very seriously, except, maybe, for a few deluded Brussels eurocrats after one too many expense account lunches.

Bush, as he always says he does, has already established a deep, meaningful relationship with his Polish counterpart (like the one he has with Putin – stop sniggering!). They’ve only just met, after all.

"I asked the {Polish} president his advice on Ukraine," Bush said according to The Associated Press. "That's what friends do - they share information and share strategic thoughts."

I don’t know how many ‘strategic thoughts’ you have shared with friends recently. I have to admit to sharing very few. But the Kaczynski-Bush relationship sounds like it’s pretty hot. I hope they weren’t left alone together in the Oval Office. That place can do strange things to grown men (and Bill Clinton).

Of course, the ‘sharing’ and ‘advice’ was probably mostly one way. Kaczynsii must have whispered in his new best buddy’s ear: Yes, Poland will be keeping its troops in Iraq for an extended period – possibly into 2007, George. Yes, it was a bit embarrassing about that ‘CIA gulags’ business, but we have had two official an enquiries – the results of which are top secret - so feel free to drop by with a few of your ‘renditioned’ friends anytime you want, George. Although, I have never heard of any such camps in Poland. Have you? And Iran? George, our position on Iran is…the same as yours! What, exactly, is the American position on Iraq, George..?

In return, Kaczynski doesn’t want much. Just give Poles visa free travel to the US. O, and those offset deals. More of those please. And have you got a pen and we’ll write that letter to the Iraqi oil ministry about those deposits rights

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The Polish version of those cartoons?

Insult religious feeling in Poland and you get six months community service.

In 2003, installation artist Dorota Nieznalska was convicted under Section 196 of the Penal Code, which prohibits 'offending religious sentiment'. The heinous offence relates to when the artist, for twelve months in 2001/2002, exhibited at the experimental Wyspa Gallery, Gdansk, a work called Passion (pictured above). According to Artliberated.com the piece consisted of:

…A photograph of a fragment of a naked male body, including the genitalia, together with the projection of an image of a man’s face in the course of a hard training exercise. The artist has concerned herself for several years with the problem of maleness and of the connection of its models with the Christian paradigm of culture. This work was a natural extension of this trend.

I should mention that the image was projected on a cross. Ooops!

Though arty critics may have just loved it (installations are still cool, apparently), for the Christian-nationalist League of Polish Families – who forced their way into gallery after they heard about Passion in the media - this was clearly blasphemous and an insult to Catholicism and Poland.

On 18 July, 2003, the judge agreed and sentenced Nieznalska to half a year community service, and a criminal record.

The artist is appealing against the conviction and the case is still going through the courts.

The Wyspa Gallery, which has been showing ‘challenging’ work since 1985, was forced to close down.

Artliberated.com comments:

The conviction of Dorota Nieznalska on the charge of insulting religious feelings is shocking proof that the fundamental statute of the Polish Republic is not respected in a country which until recently seemed to be a symbol of freedom. The principle of the freedom of expressing one’s views has been totally violated and has made the artist a victim of an ideologised vision of a religious state, which the League of Polish Families is attempting to impose on Polish society.

The PiS government is 100 days old today. What has been most characteristic, so far, of the new regime has been developments which seem to show that the League of Polish Families is not the only party to share the vision of a new Polsh constitution with Catholicism playing the moral foundation of the state.

Using the law as a way of stopping the media offend anyone has not been limited to works of art. See here, here and here.

More? See Dorota Nieznalska web page

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Mohammed on celluloid?

Only two directors have dared...sort of.

Just think: Muslims have never had the Islamic equivalent of The Greatest Story Ever Told, Jesus of Nazareth, The Passion, or any other religious blockbuster with white people playing the role of someone from what we now call the Middle East (how could have Jesus looked anything like Mel Gibson?).

That’s because – as we now all know only too well – depiction of the Prophet in any image but that which God has made Himself is defiantly not allowed.

But what if you want to make a film about the life of Mohammed? How to make a biopic without the person the film is about being in the movie?

Now that’s what I call a casting problem!

For decades Hollywood wouldn’t touch it. No director was that silly. And then came along Moustapha Akkad, a Syrian-born Muslim-American who decided that someone had to grasp the nettle. But though The Message (1977), is about the life of Mohammed, we never actually get to see Mohammed. Whenever He is in a scene we watch the action through His eyes. That way, the director can have the Prophet in the scene, but never in the picture.

Unfortunately, Moustapha’s carefully thought out dramatic device was all in vain. Word got out during shooting that the film was going to be showing Mohammed on screen! What was worse, for some, Anthony Quinn was going to be playing the starring role!(Quinn was in the film, but played the evil Uncle Manza.)

Islamic fundamentalism was on the rise back in the late nineteen seventies, so you can imagine that quite a few people went into one of those televisual frenzies that we are seeing nightly in the news at the moment.

In March, 1977, Black Muslims in the US took 149 people hostage and demanded that The Message be banned. The siege ended with one reporter dead and loads of hostages beaten, stabbed or shot.

To make matters worse, the movie, er… bombed at the box office.

Only one other director has been as silly as poor old Moustapha. In 2002, Richard Rich made an animated film called The Last Prophet (was the guy on drugs?), which was only released in the Middle East and employed the same ‘He’s in the film but He isn’t’ technique as Moustapha did. The movie still hasn’t made it to DVD.

Mooutapha Akkad went on to make zillions as the producer of the Halloween horror movie series.

But he still wanted to make a great Islamic movie. In the last few years he came close to finalizing an $80 million deal to make the story of Saladin, starring Sean Connery, no less. He said about the film:

...Saladin exactly portrays Islam. Right now, Islam is portrayed as a terrorist religion. Because a few terrorists are Muslims, the whole religion has that image. If there ever was a religious war full of terror, it was the crusades. But you can't blame Christianity because a few adventurers did this. That's my message.

And then last November he was attending a wedding at the Hyatt hotel in Amman, Jordon, with his daughter when they were blown to pieces in one of a series of suicide attacks in the capital by ‘al-Qaeda in Iraq’. The daughter died immediately, Moustapha two days later in hospital.

So woe betide any movie ‘moguls’ thinking about doing an Islamic version of The Passion.

Mohammed will defiantly not be appearing at a cinema near you.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz says sorry...

…after a Polish newspaper added to the long list of European titles to publish the cartoons that have sparked off violent protest all over the place.

After the up market daily Rzeczpospolita printed the oh-so-unfunny images, Catholic Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz showed solidarity with the religious everywhere. The Syrian Arab News Agency reports:

"It is a duty to apologize to those who felt offended when seeing the cartoons in the paper," the Premier Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz said in a statement distributed by the Polish embassy in Damascus today.

Marcinkiewicz underlined that media's role is not to provoke hatred or aggression among people, noting that many Polish social circles and the Catholic-Islamic Council also condemned such behavior.

He underscored that Poland respects all other religions and wish to develop the friendly ties with Arab and Islamic countries.

He also said: “It is my conviction that the bounds of properly conceived freedom of expression have been overstepped.”

Polish editors be warned.

The editor of Rzeczpospolita, Grzegorz Gauden, says that the media cannot be blackmailed by the aggressive and threatening noises coming from the Middle East, Asia and some European cities.

But most of the media are either supporting religious sensibility, or wisely – given the present political climate here, with religious groups in the ascendancy - but a little sheepishly, keeping their heads down.

The Polish Muslim Association , which represents 25,000 Muslims in Poland, is considering taking legal action against the newspaper for inciting religious hatred.

What has outraged Muslims so much is that the cartoons reproduce an image of Mohammed - strictly a no-no with Islam. But EU referendum blog points to a page that shows that there have been many, often beautiful, images of the prophet created over centuries. This is a must see site, with loads of examples, including cartoons in recent periodicals that have not received the same publicity and so have not created so much anger.

Princess Ann in Poland: talks to horses, an ex-president and the First Lady

Her Royal Highness rides in to visit a hydrotherapy centre in Gdansk and has a chat with Lech Walesa.

Also on the Royal’s busy agenda was a meeting at the presidential palace. Monsters and Critics is suitably superficial (note tabloid journalese, my italics):

The brunette royal met with Poland’s first lady, Maria Kaczynska, to discuss charity organizations in the UK and Poland [well, what else do women do when they meet each other on official visits?]

The horse-loving princess also visited the Hydrotherapy Centre for the Assistance of handicapped Children where she attended a dramatic performance of Don Quixote, which involves horses.

Princess Ann does indeed love horses: she represented the UK in the Olympics on one of them and many have noticed that she, like many British royals, has a certain equine beauty of her own, if you catch her in the right light.

Our equine Royal Highness also met up with Maria, wife of the anatine President Kaczynski. Apparently, over tea and cakes (and a bag of oats?) they discussed the ‘role of women in the twenty-first century’.

O, to have been a fly on the wall for that one. What the conservative wife of Poland’s most conservative president yet thinks about the ‘role of women’ is anyone’s guess, but it would be reasonable to assume that her views are ‘traditional’.

But how traditional? Well, consider the views on this topic by Kasia Tusk, the 18 year-old daughter of so-called ‘liberal’ politician Donald Tusk, Kaczynski’s main rival in the recent presidential elections.

Kasia’s views about a woman’s place in the twenty-first century turn out to be more applicable to the turn of the twentieth century, and would probably make Princess Ann’s views sound like a raving feminist. Kasia Tusk told a woman’s magazine recently: “After my studies I don’t want to work and have a career. I want to stay at home and look after the children.”

And that’s the daughter of a Polish liberal politician! Excuse me while I go and lock the girlfriend in the kitchen.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Polish cockles mafia in UK

Some Poles are falling into dangerous jobs in their search for the good life in the UK.

Two years tomorrow, 18 Chinese immigrants drowned when poaching shellfish off the English coast.

Last week a gang of Polish workers had to be rescued – on two different occasions - off the coast of Solway Firth in Scotland, digging for cockles in the sands when the tide cut them off from the shore.

At night, when the tide is low, immigrant workers go out with buckets – sometimes as much as eight miles from the shore line, and look for cockles.

Sometimes, however, the cocklers get trapped by the returning tide. The BBC:

South of Scotland MSP Mr Morgan said he fears an incident where many lives could be lost.

He said: "The potential dangers of the upper Solway cannot be overstated when we are talking about large numbers of people undertaking such operations miles from the shore in the middle of the night.

"Some of the gangs have ventured as much as eight miles offshore.

"Add to that the treacherous conditions underfoot and the ease with which someone who does not know the area could lose their bearings in the dark, as well as the notorious tides and we have without doubt a recipe for disaster."

But Poles – who have gone to Britain but not found a decent job – are also involved in twenty different gangs operating in the same area of Morecambe, England, where the Chinese cocklers died two years ago.

Polish gang masters team up with local ‘business people’ and recruit from the new, and out of work, community. Open Democracy reports:

Each day on Knott End and Pilling Sands, where the bay's flatness guarantees fast tides, two hundred Polish workers can be seen working in pairs. Many of them work two exhausting shifts a day, getting paid £10 per 25-kilo-bucket by the Polish gangmasters.

The cockles are sold for 1,000 pounds a tonne, processed in Wales, packaged in Holland and then retailed mainly in Spain and…Poland.

Friday, February 03, 2006

How free is free speech?

Answer: completely free, even when it’s infantile.

Should the religious be protected from being offended? Or, why should the religious be protected from being offended?

Should atheists be protected from being offended?

Last year a controversial Polish editor was fined for insulting John Paul II. The law suit was not brought by the pontiff, of course, but by the religiously offended.

A play in Britain was closed down because Sikhs got offended by its content.

A Dutch director was shot two years ago because he dared to offend the religious in Holland.

Now we have a set of cartoons, published by the Danish Jyllands-Posten newspaper, depicting Muhammad with a bomb in his turban, and much more.

Two of the cartoonists have gone into hiding following death threats. Libya has closed its Embassy in Denmark in protest. A large consumer boycott has been organized in Saudi Arabia.

And now the Head of the United Nations has waded in. Stephane Dujarric, the UN's chief spokesman, said on Thursday: "He (Kofi Annan) believes that the freedom of the press should always be exercised in a way that fully respects the religious beliefs and tenets of all religions."

Personally, I think these types of ‘satirical’ cartoons are not funny and therefore are not necessary. But we must stand for the right of journalists, cartoonists, anyone – even if they are infantile cartoonists – to ‘publish and be damned’.

I thought twice before putting, even a small version, of the cartoons on the blog - and I notice that many blogs are discussing them but only giving links. And it is a matter of taste, I suppose. But, in the end, if you are talking about something like this then you have to show it - just giving a link could appear to be a cop-out. I'm sorry some people feel offended, but they'll get over it.

Are people so easily threatened, with so little confidence in their beliefs, that they have to be protected from having them being insulted? Are we becoming like children who have to be protected from pain and distress?

The Danish prime minister has said, "The government refuses to apologies because the government does not control the media or a newspaper outlet; that would be in violation of the freedom of speech". And he is right. But maybe governments in Europe should look at how they have had a hand in producing this type of special pleading by various ‘identity groups’.

But it is not, and should not, be a crime to offend someone.

Check out my new posts at the P3 blog.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Unstable stability pact means no election - yet

Extraordinary scenes today as two populist parties sign a pact with the Law and Justice (PiS) government, and the mainstream media boycott the press conference.

After the election two minority parties must have dreamed of forming a coalition with PiS and having nice little jobs in the executive. Or they could force the government into an early election. And then their opinion poll ratings took a dive and it’s no longer in both parties’ interest to have an election. Radio Polonia reports:

The ruling conservative Law and Justice party has signed a stabilization pact with two opposition groups – the far-left Self-Defence and the nationalist Leaque of Polish Families. Law and Justice leader Jarosław Kaczynski has said the agreement ends the parliamentary crisis and paves the way for creating the Fourth Republic. The stabilization pact, concluded for an initial period of 12 months, provides for wide-ranging state reforms, including the establishment of a new anti-corruption body and of a special committee to re-examine Poland’s post-communist past. The document is said to include a commitment of the three parties to push over 140 bills through Parliament.

So they have signed a stabilization pact with the government which, effectively, acts as a gagging order. For 12 months they must refrain from criticizing the government, and have signed up to vote for over one hundred different government laws and proposals before they have even seen the final version of those laws and proposals.

When PiS originally offered them a pact it was only for six months, and they rejecting the offer, trying to call PiS's king deal maker, Jaroslaw Kaczynski's bluff (photo). But as PiS’s poll ratings got stronger, Kaczynski was able to force a one year agreement. The alternative was to go to the electorate – and that’s last thing Self defense (Sb) and League of Polish Families (LPR) wanted.

But PiS is not the only political force to see its stocks rise. The nationalist, catholic voice can now be heard deep within the government. PiS offered the ultra-catholic Radio Maryja (17% audience share?) and its televisual equivalant TV Trwam exclusive coverage of the signing of the pact. One government spokesman said that, “There are unreliable media [everyone but Maryja] and reliable media [Maryja]'. Period.

So incensed were public and private TV, radio and print journalists that they boycotted the press conference afterwards.

The government has effectively declared war on the media in Poland. Kaczynski said that the action of the media was ‘rude’ and they would have to 'take the consequences.'


They are also packing the new TV and Radio Council, which oversees media in Poland, grants licenses, etc, with their members, and reps from Sb and LPR.

So things are going to be interesting. It’s all starting to resemble a George Orwell novel.

But how long will the leaders of left-nationalist Sb – Andrzej Lepper - and the ultra-catholic LPR – Roman Giertych – be able to keep their mouths shut? Both are not known for their quiet and sensitive personalities. Both are in the habit of criticizing the government.

So how long has a stability pact got when the media are looking for blood, and two of the participants are volatile populists?

Answers on a postcard, please, to the usual address.

I have justed noticed that the wiki article on Radio Maryja is a contested one. This means that as soon as someone, say a anti-Maryja edits it, Radio maryja comes on and re-edits back in their favour. It's great stuff - read here.

President Putin says that Russia ‘highly respects Poland’...

…and manages to keep a straight face.

The president of Russia has used the Katowice tragedy as an oppotunity to calm down what have been rather fractious relations between Poland and Russia recently. After offering Poles condolences for the loss of life, he said at a press conference Tuesday:

"The Poles and the Russians are in fact one family. We have common roots. We never forget about it and have high respect for Poland for its contribution to world culture, economy and the present day affairs of Europe and the world.

There were many problems in our relations, a usual thing in relations between close relatives. I will not name all of these problems to avoid drowning in mutual charges, starting from the seizure of the Kremlin [by the Polish forces in early 17th century].

I will say absolutely openly and sincerely: there are sentiments in both the Polish and Russian societies that I would describe as 'mutual distrust'. Politicians in both countries are aware of this but rather than look into the future and build future-oriented relations for the benefit of their citizens, they resort to problems of the past and do it for their particular domestic reasons,"

So Poland and Russia have had stormy diplomatic relations because they are like sister and brother, husband and wife, and have been throwing their best crockery at each other because they love each other so much.

How sweet.

But it doesn’t really address the issues that have caused all the arguments in the first place. I’m thinking of Russia’s refusal to come to terms with their role in the Katyn Massacre, the inability to see that people do not have such fond memories of the Soviet period as Putin seems to (he did have a nice and cushy job in the KGB, after all) the Gazprom pipeline that will bypass Poland, and much else besides.

If Polish-Russian relations were simply like a marriage, then Poles would have issued divorce proceedings quite some time ago.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

British conservatives want some Polish law and justice

The British opposition Conservative party aims to team up with the Polish Law and Justice (PiS) in the European parliament. I suggest that this will not fit in with the party’s new ‘trendy’ image.

In a desperate attempt to get back in government after nine long, cold years on the opposition benches in the House of Commons, David Cameron (pictured) the new leader of the Conservatives, has gone to some lengths to distance himself from the old Thatcherite past by making environmentally friendly noises, and trying to appear ‘right on’ whenever he gets the opportunity.

So he risks confusing his new liberal constituency by indicated that he wants his party to leave the current, center/right EPP-ED grouping in Strasburg (which includes Germany’s ruling Christian Democrats) and join up with more Eurosecptic parties such as Law and Justice.

Unfortunately, this move will not fit in with the Tories’ drive to be seen as a modern conservative-liberal party, as Law and Justice - under the leadership of the ‘Terrible Twins’ of Polish politics, and well-known homophobes, Jaroslaw and Lech Kaczynski – are not exactly what you would call ‘liberal-conservatives’.

British Labour MEP, and gay activist, Michael Cashmore, said yesterday: "The omens are deeply worrying. Cosying up to the Law and Justice party indicates to me proof positive that David Cameron is using the tactics of George Bush's compassionate Conservatism in order to achieve power, at which point he will reveal his true colours,"

There are currently seven political groups in the Euro Parliament:

·European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED) with 268 members,
·Group of Socialists in the European Parliament (PES)with 200 members,
·the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe (ALDE) with 88 members,
·the Greens and European Free Alliance group (Greens/EFA) with 42 members,
·European United Left and Nordic Green Left (EUL/NGL)with 41 members,
·the Independence and Democracy group (IND/DEM) with 32 members
·the Union for Europe of the Nations group (UEN)with 27 members
·34 remaining members will sit as non-attached MEPs

Law and Justice are in the 27-member Euroscpetic grouping, UEN.

Homosexuality has become one of the centerpieces in the culture wars currently going on in Brussels and Strasburg since the expansion of the EU last year. As one Christian web site puts it:

Conflict between the newer Eastern European member states of the European Union is increasing. Poland, Latvia and Estonia have refused to permit homosexual unions. Italy also voted against homosexual unions, while Britain, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany and Spain have legalized them. Poland's prime minister, Kazimeierz Marcinkiewicz, a founding member of the Christian-National Union Party [a very rightwing outfit formed during the 1980's, though now he is with PiS, of course], called for state protection against homosexual "contamination" of Polish culture. And Polish President Lech Kaczynski refused permission for "gay pride" demonstrations when he served as mayor of Warsaw. Lativa also disallowed homosexual-themed parades.

So David Cameron, the new British Conservative leader, had better decide which side of the EU cultural divide his party belongs to.

Just one word of warning: if he really wants to get back into Downing Street then he had better pick his Euro-friends carefully. Just about the only thing that there is a moral consensus about in the UK these days is the view that ‘homophobia is a very bad thing’.