Thursday, December 27, 2007

Bhutto – the Polish connection


The assassination of Benazir Bhutto was the top news item on Polish TV this evening, as it probably was in many countries. Pakistan will get more unstable still as a result. But she was always a controversial figure – mainly due to allegations of corruption. One of her alleged scams involved Polish Ursus tractors...


In 2004, a Swiss court looking into alleged corruption deals by the Bhutto family during the 1990s concluded:

"Mrs Benazir Bhutto, the then prime minister, her husband, Mr Asif Ali Zardari, her mother, Nusrat Bhutto, are suspected of having collected in the course of 90s corruption commissions on several government contracts concluded with foreign companies dealing with arms, agriculture material and merchandise inspection," the court orders said.

[…] The State vs Benazir Bhutto and nine others…suspected that the accused persons in connivance with each other indulged in acts of corruption and corrupt practices by purchasing 5,900 Russian and Polish made URSUS Tractors at a cost Rs150,000 each under the Awami Tractor Scheme (ATS) in violation of law, rules and regulations of the Agriculture Development Bank of Pakistan, presently known as the Zarai Taraqiati Bank Limited (ZTBL).

Those kind of deals sound familiar to Poles. This summer the BBC reported that the evidence given by the Polish government contained details of bank transfers, and copies of fax communications between the Polish tractor company and middle-men helping to secure the contract.

Benazir had launched the Awami Tractor Scheme for the welfare of poor farmers in Pakistan and allegedly received 7.15 percent commission in the purchase of tractors through their front men – Jens Schlegelmilch and Didier Plantin of Dargal SA – who received about 1.969 million dollars for supplying the Ursus tractors.

The Bhutto family had their international assets and interests in the UK, US, Belgium, Switzerland, Pakistan and elsewhere - conservative estimate 1.4 billion dollars - frozen in 1997.

The charges by the Pakistan government were dropped to enable her return – the families’ assets were also released, plus interest. With values of property growing massively over the years, the family fortune was spilling over.

The Bhutto family – her father was hung for conspiracy to murder charges in 1979 – has always claimed that the charges were trumpted up and political in nature.

The Bhutto family regards itself as socialist, so the corruption scandals hang over the dynasty and how people will remember her and her father.

I don’t think she was assassinated for anything to do with Polish tractors, however. She was a secular politician in a country where religious extremism is growing – particularly since the region was further destabilized after the invasion of Afghanistan.

She was also a woman. She got away with being a female prime minister twice – but you can’t get away with that anymore, as secular, if not sometimes democratic - governments in Muslim countries tumble – or are overthrown by outside intervention.

The future for Pakistan looks pretty grim. It was only a few months ago the Polish Consulate General in Kurachi was telling an audience:

In Poland we highly appreciate Pakistan's continuity of its economic growth, fast economic development, the structural and comprehensive reforms in various sectors. Pakistan at present stands among the top 4 Asian countries. All economic indicators point to the fact that Pakistan will sustain acceleration in the growth of 6-8% over the next 5 to 10 years. As such investors should look to Pakistan as a potential hub of economic activity in the region.

Pakistan is about to become ‘a hub’, but not for the economy.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Polish Christmas is a time for family, not religion


Contrary to the stereotype, an opinion poll reveals that the festive season is a time where family and traditions take precedence over the religious nature of Christmas in Poland.

The poll by CBOS finds that only 5 percent of Poles say that religious rituals give them most joy at Christmas, whereas 71 percent say that family gatherings give them most satisfaction.

Churches do fill up at Christmas time, with midnight mass being an important part of the traditions of this time of year. But the poll shows that the stereotype of Poles as first and foremost a religious people is wide of the mark.

The poll also reveals that there is a small minority for whom Scrooge is a role model. Three percent told the pollsters that they feel no joy or satisfaction at all from the Christmas holidays. Bargh! Humbug!

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas and the ultimate gift


One of the most heart warming stories this year has been of Polish boxing and kickboxing champ Przemyslaw Saleta donating one of his kidneys to his sick baby daughter.

It was a no brainer, I suppose. Your daughter needs a new kidney, and you have two of them.

So Saleta went into surgery last week knowing he was doing the right thing.

After the operation the daughter was doing well, though her dad rapidly went into a coma.

Fortunately the boxing champ came through and is now at home with his wife.

The case has highlighted the lack of donors in Poland, though the country has one of the lowest family refusal rates in the EU – where relatives block the removal of organs after death.


Family refusal
46% Greece
42% United Kingdom
30% France
29% Italy
21% Estonia
19% Latvia
17% Slovakia; Spain
9% Hungary; Poland
Source: European Commission; Council of Europe

So Saleta will no doubt head the campaign for Poles to carry the new ‘Euro cards’, which, when carried in your wallet or handbag, allow for organs to be removed after death without having to ask permission from grieving family.

But what better Christmas present could a dad give his daughter than a new kidney?

The story puts back my faith in humanity.

And let me wish the hundreds of thousands who have passed this way in 2007 a very, very Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Simon Mol charged with infecting 12 Polish women with HIV


Almost a year after he was first detained by police in Warsaw, the Cameroonian ‘refugee’, poet and human rights activist is finally charged by the prosecution service, and faces a long jail sentence.

Mol’s case, as it was revealed in a blaze of outrage in the Polish media in January this year, is a tabloid journo’s dream.

An African who had won refugee status and had become a well-known media figure, campaigning on human rights and race issues in Poland, was accused by numerous women in Warsaw of infecting them with HIV, while all along knowing that he was carrying the virus.

But the case is not just about whether he knew, or not, that he was HIV positive (although that is what the court, when he finally comes before a judge, will be deciding). When asked by the women to use protection before sex, he had refused, claiming that they were only asking him to wear a condom because he was ‘an African’.

When the Rzeczpospolita daily went to Cameroon and Nigeria to examine whether Mol’s claims of political persecution in those countries was true, they found that his family, friends and work colleagues knew nothing about it. It seems that Mol was an economic migrant, not a political refugee. Mol's side of the story is here.

So, in one case we have a deadly combination of sex, race and politics. If you had to write a prototype tabloid shock, horror story, then this was it.

Of course, if the prosecution can prove that Mol knew he had HIV and had deliberately infected women as some kind of political ‘revenge’ – and this has been suggested in the press coverage here – then this is a very, very nasty crime, indeed, and nobody would be too upset if they slung him in jail and threw away the key.

Simon Mol and the ‘Warsaw Salon’

Many of the women who slept with Mol seem to come from artistic, liberal circles, known here as the ‘Salon’. Mol was a poet and writer (though not a particularly good one) who was a member of many cultural societies and political organizations in Poland. He was allied to the small Green Party, but also a member of an ex-pats’ writer’s club based in Warsaw.

After I was asked to join the same writer’s club, this summer, I was talking to one of the organizers about the Mol case. The guy told a familiar tale, of feeling ‘betrayed’ by Simon. Everyone was taken in by him, and not just the 12 women infected with HIV, and the many others who were lucky enough to get away with the encounter.

I also took part in a UK documentary about the culture of Polish soccer fans, which was filmed in Warsaw and Krakow late last year. One of the other contributors was Simon Mol, who was involved in the ‘Kick Racism out of Football’ campaign. I got a slightly worried email in March, this year, from the British producers of the film, asking whether Mol’s presence in the documentary would damage its credibility. It was too early to say yes or no, as nothing has been proved in a court of law, one way or another (and we should remember that it still hasn’t). I don’t know whether they have kept Mol in the film, but if I was the documentary maker, I probably would have left him on the cutting room floor.

I met Mol a few times, and he was a convincing character. He seemed genuine. And what he talked about – the inadequate refugee services in Poland, the racism he and other Africans encountered, remains, despite the fact the Mol himself allegedly appears to have been charlatan, essentially true.

Mol has left many angry, disappointed, and sick people in his wake. What is also worrying is the damaged image of genuine African refugees in Poland. They have joined the long list of victims of the actions of Simon Mol, the man whose poetry seduced a nation.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Poland slips down the index


Two rankings released his week – the FDI Confidence Index, and the Migration Integration Policy Index – show Poland performing poorly.

The real shock is the FDI index – Poland has slipped from 5th to 22nd in just 12 months. India and China are the sexiest for the investor.

The consultancy that produces the report says emerging economies are the most attractive. Of ‘Eastern Europe’ it says:

While executives see opportunity in Eastern Europe's lower labor costs and proximity to Western Europe, they remain concerned about corruption and the lack of reform in the region.

The perception of Poland has taken a dive at a time of rising confidence in the region, in general. Investors think that Poland still has poor infrastructure, is conflictual with Moscow and Brussels, still corrupt and, crucially, the cost of labour is going up.

Now, the above sounds, of course, like a description of how critics see the performance of the previous PiS government.

From Poland with love

Another index, this time the Migration Integration Policy Index, produced by a Very Big Brussels Think Tank, doesn’t rank Poland too highly, either. Out of 28 European countries measured, Poland struggled in at number 21.

Oh, bugger.

Ranked on anti-discrimination initiatives, access to the labour market, etc, Poland falls down on its …migration, integration, policy.

The above are both examples of how the previous government alienated the rest of...well, Planet Earth, quite frankly. It was a bit of, what they call in the trade, A Big PR Balls Up.

Will the next government improve Poland’s battered image? Well, if the body language between Tusk and Frau Merkel was anything to go by when they met in Berlin yesterday, then things could get steamy!

But one cold shower for Tusk could be a sign of things to come. Coal miners are getting restless.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Pole sues Wikipedia for calling him ‘a troll’!


Buy perfect Christmas ‘Metka by Traczka’ present – as mentioned in Przekroj magazine - here…if you don’t my girlfriend will kill me…

Arnold Buzdygan (photo) – sometime wannabe presidential candidate, and a regular on usernet sites in Poland – went to court in Wroclaw, southwestern Poland, last week, to sue Wikpedia Polska for deformation of character.

Is the victim/litigation culture entrenching itself in Poland, as it has done in the United Kingdom? Let’s hope not.

Buzdygan claims that his fiancée’s mother refused to let the marriage go ahead because of an entry on the Polish version of Wikipedia, which, in the ‘controversies’ section, calls him ‘a troll’ for his vulgar interjections on blogs and forums. thenews.pl reports:

Buzdygan claims that calling him a “troll” is offensive. “This is a very grave offense among Internet users. Something like a paedophile elsewhere”, says Buzdygan, quoted by the tvn24.pl news portal…

“Mr. Buzdygan’s claims are ridiculous. Wikipedia is not our product, it is being created by Internet users. Basically, anyone can contribute. The administrator’s role is solely to prevent vandalism”, said a Wikipedia editor…

However, Andrzej Malicki, at the Circuit Bar Council in Wroclaw, disagrees: “Internet media should adhere to the same rules as newspapers, for instance. If offensive material is published, the editor should bear in mind the possible consequences.”

Troll? ‘Offensive material’?

Wikipedia’s own entry on the word says:

Someone who intentionally posts controversial or contrary messages in an on-line community such as an on-line discussion forum or group with the singular intention of baiting users into an argumentative response.[1] It often has a broader meaning referring to any shady trouble making Internet activity.

So, it is possible to waste precious Polish court time – and it is precious: cases can take years to get as far as court – by claiming that saying someone is a ‘troublemaker’ on the internet is 'offensive'. LOL, as troll-types say.

It is bad enough when big business use the courts to shut people’s opinions up which they don’t like, but when internet users go to the same lengths, then it is about time we called cranks like Buzdygan something worse than a ‘troll’. How about 'dickhead timewaster'?

His fiancée’s mother is a very wise woman, indeed.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Polish guns and crime


Another teenager goes on the rampage in the US. Lucky, many say to themselves, as they shake their heads, we don’t have a gun culture in Poland like those crazy Yanks. Well, some Polish MPs want to ‘liberalize’ gun laws, using the argument that it will actually reduce crime.

In general, Europe is getting more panicky about guns. The EU parliament.com magazine reported at the end of November:

MEPs have backed plans which are expected to severely restrict the circulation of firearms that can be converted into handguns.

It means that such weapons will in future be subject to the same strict minimum EU rules which currently apply to all firearms.

Some countries, such as the UK, currently ban firearms that can be converted into handguns, but today's decision means that severe restrictions on the supply and circulation of such weapons will apply throughout the EU.

The plenary in Brussels has today also endorsed a proposal to raise the age for obtaining firearms to 18, subject to certain conditions.

Deputies voted by 588 votes for the proposals, with just 14 against, and the European commission's directive is now expected to come into force across the EU by 2010.

European legislators (although they don’t really legislate anything) are unanimous that we do not want to go down the US route with people walking around like gun slingers.

And yet, there is no correlation between gun ownership and murder rate. Spiked has a provocative article which points out that...

It may sound shocking to note that in 2004 there were 11,624 gun-related homicides in the United States. However, the overall US homicide rate (0.043 deaths per 1000 people per year) is lower than many other countries, including EU members Poland (0.056) and Bulgaria (0.045).

So maybe gun ownership actually reduces crime? Some law makers in the present Polish ruling party Civic Platform certainly think so. Political Gateway reports:

A Polish private magazine, with support from criminal law experts and some politicians, has launched a campaign to make gun licenses easier to obtain.

The Giwera (Gun) magazine, shooting clubs and fire arms fans, appealed to police to make more liberal gun possession for ordinary Poles, Polish Radio said Monday.

The idea is to make guns available to people in case they might need to defend their families and properties. However, restrictions on carrying guns in public would be upheld.

Cezary Grabarczyk, infrastructure minister, said he might support the idea. He was appointed minister Friday when a new coalition government was formed by Prime Minister Donald Tusk of the liberal pro-EU Civic Platform.

The latest police data published in June said out of Poland's 38 million population, some 23,000 people have registered fire arms.

Polish experts said laws liberalizing gun possession lessen a crime rate in a country, giving an example of the United States where a murder rate is much higher in states with restrictive laws than in states with liberal gun possession, the radio said.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Polish fire safety drill


I work in a large public institution in Warsaw and it was ‘Fire Drill Day’ today, when we all practice what would happen if a fire really did break out in the building. And if this comical farce was anything to go by, then we are all going to fry alive.

Yesterday afternoon, someone from administration gave me a tip off. She said: “Listen, don’t tell anyone, but there is going to be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock tomorrow.”

So I went and told everyone that there would be a surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock.

This was useful news. The mornings are particularly intense where I work and this would help us organize a little better if we all had to troop out of the building and stand around in the cold for heaven knows how long, while firemen inside ran around pretending there was a fire.

Come the morning my immediate boss was told there would be a surprise emergency fire drill at 11 O’clock. So he told all the staff…who already knew, of course.

As 11 O’clock approached the atmosphere became expectant. At 10.30 the lifts stopped working. By 10.45 people had stopped working. By 10.50, when downstairs buying sandwiches (who knows how long this would last?) I saw people in coats and hats waiting in reception for the alarm to go off. It reminded me of the Fawlty Towers episode where all the hotel guests did the same thing, hanging around reception half an hour before the alarm. Basil Fawlty told them to go “back to their rooms and act normally.”

But nobody where I work was acting ‘normally’.

And then 11 O’clock finally came. And then 11 O’clock finally went. No alarm.

The only surprise left of the ‘surprise fire drill at 11 O’clock’ was that it didn’t happen at 11 O’clock.

By 11.15 it still hadn’t happened, either.

The Director came in to the office and told me that the reason why the surprise fire drill was late, was that the fire engine had gotten stuck in the heavy Warsaw traffic!

A bad comedy script writer wouldn’t have dared to make this up.

Finally, at 11.20 the Director reappears, walking down the corridor, opening each of the doors to offices, saying: “Ok, it’s started.”

People emerging into the corridors, confused. If the fire drill had started, then where was the fire alarm?

Meanwhile, fake ‘smoke’ started to appear from the corridor around the corner.

Who was not down stairs already on the third floor where I work, trooped their way down, with fake smoke hot on their heals.

Except …our department had a problem. One of us, Wlodek [all names are changed except when it is their real ones] is disabled, and cannot walk down stairs. And the lifts stopped working forty minutes ago.

Earlier the boss had rang security, asking what to do about this. We were told that four of us had to ‘bring him down in a stretcher.’ My boss asked them if they ‘had a stretcher?’

They hadn’t. So did they expect that we would have one?

By the time we got to the stairs, Head of Security emerged with two mates. They told Wlodek to ‘go back to the office and wait till it’s over.’ So I watched Wlodek and Security disappear back down the corridor and into the fake smoke gloom.

When we got outside, the fire engine had just pulled up, watched by a few policemen who had been posted on duty by the gates. Someone heard the Chief Fireman ask one of the hundreds of people hanging around, “Which entrance is the main one?’ He hadn’t even consulted plans of the building before turning up!

We were told the performance could last ‘up to two hours’, so I was glad of my sandwiches. I was even thinking of popping home. In the end, thankfully, it only lasted about 15 minutes, when we were called back in again.

The lifts didn’t work for another hour and a half, so we drudged back up the stairs, through the fake smoke, to find Wlodek hard at work in his office.

All in all, a totally pathetic performance by all public services, and…well, a little dangerous that public buildings should be in the hands of a bunch of fools.

Still, I haven’t laughed so much in ages.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

In a flap over bird flu in Poland


Turkeys on two farms near Plock, central Poland, have been detected as suffering from the H5N1 strain of avian flu.

And two in the northern Pomorze region, meat containing the potentially deadly strain of the virus have been found in shops coming from two warehouses, in Żukow and Sierakowice.

Lithuania has put a ban on poultry being imported from Poland [correction - see comment 1]. The Polish government claims that this is against EU rules.

Is it a risk to human? Well, the virus has been around at least since the early 1090s and humans have been infected since 1997. Just over 206 people have died over the years, even though millions of birds have caught the virus. Not one case has been detected of being transmitted from person to person – meaning a pandemic is unlikely with the virus in its present form (though it does mutate).

The humans that have contracted the decease usually live within close proximity of poultry – on small farms in southeast Asia, for instance.

If meat is cooked normally then it can not be transmitted that way, either.

So it will be interesting to see the newspaper’s reporting of these two cases tomorrow. Are we in for more doom and gloom headlines about a bird flu pandemic heading our way?

More panic?
See Survive the flu!
Deadly avian flue - official, the beatroot, March 2006

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Polish conflict, not cohabitation, over Russia


The new prime minister, Donald Tusk, has announced that he will be dropping Poland’s opposition to Russia joining the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). President Lech Kaczynski complains that he has not been consulted, and only found out about this u-turn in foreign policy when he turned on the TV to watch the news.

And so we have the first spat in what will be a long running battle between president and government.

Presidents in Poland don’t have much of a role, day to day, but on foreign policy they do. The Kaczynski side is saying that by ignoring him, the new Civic Platform/Peasant’s Party coalition has acted unconstitutionally.

Platform’s Bronisław Komorowski responded that according to his interpretation, the constitution gives the government power to set foreign policy and stressed that it was premier and foreign minister who conducted Polish foreign policy, while the constitution only mentioned that the president should be consulted.

Well, they obviously forgot to consult him.

Relations with Russia – which goes to the polls in what looks like will be a not very free and fair election this weakened – have not been good over the last two years of the Law and Justice government, led by the President’s brother, Jarolsaw. When Donald Tusk was elected he vowed to improve them. So the OECD block will be dropped as a gesture of a more constructive Warsaw. Tusk obviously thinks it is better to have a bear in the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in.

He’s probably right.

It’s clear that foreign policy, however, will be one of the main battle grounds in this awkward ‘cohabitation’. It was announced today that the former government’s foreign minister, the hapless Anna Fotyga, will now head the Presidential Chancellery. I don’t think Donald Tusk should worry too much about that, though. Being politically attacked by Fotyga - who will advise Kaczynski on foreign affairs - will be like being savaged by a dead poodle.

Much talk has turned to the OECD – an organization that few gave a thought to in Poland before. What does it do? Who is in it? Is Poland in it?

One group of Poles that should know, however, are the nation’s politicians. But when asked by journalists what, in English, the letters OECD actually stand for (in Polish it’s OWGR) the results, as you can see in this video clip (it comes after a few seconds of two guys talking in the studio), were rather amusing.

Though, saying that, I bet quite a few British politicians couldn’t tell you either.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Polish convicts to build soccer stadiums?


Hard labour for convicts will return to Poland, if the new government gets its way.

Poland has to build six new stadiums before co-hosting with Ukraine the Euro 2012 football tournament. Problem is, many of its construction workers are in the UK and Ireland. Damn! How to make up the labour shortage?

Bus in the convicts. Brilliant, isn’t it?

But the idea doesn’t just have an economic rationale, I detect. Justice Minister Zbigniew Cwiakalski (photo...scary!) told RMF FM radio that he wants to restore a ‘sense of punishment’ to prisons which will be ‘visible’ to the general public.

Why does this all sound a little...um...Victorian?

Prisoners would be bussed into public construction sites to get their pick axes and stuff out. Isn’t that a bit...you know…dangerous?

“I don’t mean all types of prisoners. Not murderers or paedophiles,” chuckled Cwiakalski, member of the liberal Civic Platform. Feeew! “There are some prisoners sentenced for unintentional crimes [running down grandma, while driving sober?]. Nothing stands in the way of them building the stadia,” he explained.

It’s basically community work for minor criminals, with pneumatic drill thrown in as an added bonus.

It’s also a way of dealing with the tens of thousands who the penal authorities can’t find places in prison for. The homeless ‘unintentional’ criminal and mates with time on their hands.

Getting prisoners – and would be prisoners - to break rocks and stuff for the new football stadiums is actually one of the ideas his predecessor Zbigniew Ziobro and the Law and Justice government were kicking around earlier this year.

But wait a minute. Didn’t Poland used to get convicts to do hard labour? When was that, then? Oh, yeah – it was one of the methods of justice under the People’s Republic of Poland – meaning, the communist era. My girlfriend remembers passing gangs of them on the streets. She said it was ‘scary’. Now she thinks it’s a good idea.

“It gives them something to do,” she explained, bemused why I found this a funny idea.

So why don’t they try and educate their cons and crims, get them to read books and stuff? Teach them a skill, or two.

“It does teach them skils. Construction skills...The problem is, the system doesn’t have enough money to do that,” now catching on this was one of those times when she was going to have to explain something about Poland very simply, as if talking to a confused, but well meaning person. Or child.

“It’s sensible. And they get money for sandwiches.”

The Justice Minister remembers back then, too, fondly, it appears.

“Paradoxically, punishment worked better, in those days,” Cwiakalski told RMF FM.

Polish liberals. Don’t you just love em?

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Sun…in Polish?


Yes, there is a Polish edition of the UK’s ‘favourite’ tabloid.

Check out the story here.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Why shouldn’t Oxford Union debate with fascists?


Head of the neo-fascist British National Party, Nick Griffin, and loony historian David Irving (photo) are debating at the prestigious Oxford Union tonight. Many on the knee-jerk Left get upset.

Protests flooded in to the offices of the Oxford Union before the debate demanding that ‘Fascists should not be given a platform.’ Why, they say, should Holocaust deniers and generally nasty fascist types like Griffin and Irving be allowed to air their disgusting views?

For instance, high profile human rights activist Peter Tatchell writes at the Harry’s Place blog that:


I am instinctively pro-free speech and against bans and censorship, but I also believe in defending human rights and the right of minority communities to be spared prejudice and intimidation…

Griffin has a conviction for inciting racial hatred….. David Irving was branded by a British judge in 2006 as “a racist, an anti-Semite and an active Holocaust denier.”
The issue basically comes down to this question: Are fascists entitled to free speech? Or are some people so threatening and dangerous – especially to minority race, sexuality and faith communities – that it is legitimate to limit their freedom of expression?

I met Tatchell once, and he is a brave and principled guy. But if that is his central argument, then I do not think it is a very good one.

For a start, everyone is entitled to free speech. If not then free speech does not really exist: when some have the right of free speech and others do not, then that is ‘privileged’ speech’, which is not ‘free’ at all.

By banning these people from airing their views you make them ‘special’ – they can, do and will claim that they are being ‘victimized’, and this can be used by them to try and win over a few more to their side. Why give them such a gift?

Tatchell also says that these people are ‘dangerous’. But what he really means is that what they say is dangerous – and so they should be shut up. That way the danger will just go away. Won’t it?

That argument patronizes the Oxford University students who will be subjected to the ‘dangerous’ words of Irving and Griffin. Ideas are only ‘dangerous’ or effective if they are contain some kind of truth, and in conditions which help them thrive. Irving’s historical work has been successfully ridiculed and proved to be false (see previous post) in a court of law and in the court of public opinion. So when he tries to debate these ‘ideas’ – that Auschwitz was not a ‘death camp’, for instance - then it will not be too difficult to discredit him.

That would not have been possible, if the Oxford Union had given in to ‘No Platform’ arguments, which are a favourite of the SWP and ‘liberals’ who no longer believe in free speech at all.

It shows a massive cultural shift among liberals in the UK and much of the West when words and ideas, per se, are seen as dangerous weapons. As late as 15 years ago I remember being at university where those – mainly conservatives - who wanted to ban this and that, and censor this and that, were laughed at. Not any more they aren’t. In fact, the liberal left has taken over the cause for censorship and bans.

But we are not so vulnerable as individuals that we need protecting from words, from speech. If the West had a bit more confidence in itself then it would not be banning, or trying to ban, fascists and Islamo-fascists from spouting their rubbish.

It’s only a very insecure culture that would be afraid of a few idiots like Griffin and Irving.


More?
Irving speech called off in Warsaw, the beatroot, May 2007

Carp shortage shock!


Carp, the traditional centerpiece of the Polish Christmas dinner, is in short supply this winter.

It’s not to everyone’s taste, is the carp – not even to some Poles. But most just love to tuck into one of the slimy beasts on Christmas Eve, when the main meal is eaten here.

So it was with alarm that many read an article in the Fakt tabloid last week pointing out that the low temperatures Poland experienced last Spring hit Mr. and Mrs. Carp’s ability to produce lots of little, nipper carp.

Only half the usual amount survived the cold months of April and May. And what fish there is this Christmas will be significantly higher in price than usual.

This raises the grave possibility that Poles living in the UK will be not just be sending home money this Xmas.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

'England – it’s the foreigners what is to blame…'


I’m talking about football, but it could be about pretty much anything, these days. England got thrown out of the European Championships on Wednesday, as they went down 2-3 to Croatia, because there are ‘too many foreign players in the Premier League,’ apparently.

Nothing to do, then, with the fact that England, it’s players, it’s coaching, are just not good enough? The panic in English football mirrors the panic elsewhere. It's just another example of not facing up to the truth.

And just look at this bit of bilge from ‘comedian’, celebrity ex-junkie, Russell Brand in the wibbly, liberally Guardian. Russell was at the game, supporting England. And then they lost, after looking like rabbits caught in headlights as the Croatians turned up to teach them a lesson in how to play top, technical, attractive, counter attacking football.

I bumped into a Croat in the lavvy straight after the match and was still unready for good-natured prittle-prattle so I neglected to ablute to avoid handshakes [?]. I bore them ill-will even before the final whistle because of what I perceived to be a needlessly fascistic form of chanting throughout the match. Perhaps this says more about my prejudices than the philosophy of those fans but it did seem terribly well organised - two huge, adjacent sections of the stadium spent the entirety of the match indulging in a terrifyingly simplistic call-and-response mantra that unnerved me…

Sensitive soul, isn’t he?

I was transfixed by [Croatian coach, Slaven] Bilic - he has menace in his eyes, and in my nervous mind I likened him to an Eastern bloc pimp masquerading as a mini cab operator in Soho. I berated myself for being so racist, whilst my head still hung; ashamed by the comical escapades occurring on the pitch and my own misuse of stereotypes, the Croatian fans again brimmed over into their regimented yawp.

Of course, the only time you will see that kind of crap written about a nation of people, it is going to be about central and eastern Europeans. The PC code doesn’t travel as far as Zagreb or Warsaw.

Since that night, straws have been grabbed for. The reason why England are crap at football is because there are too many foreign players in the Premier League in England, say many. All those talented guys from Africa, Spain, mean our Jonny can’t get in the team.

They are calling for a ‘quota system’ of no more than, say, five foreign players in a team of 11, at any one time. That will sort it out. That will win us the World Cup.

Quotas? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it, you Romanians and Bulgarians?

It also sounds like a variation of new hapless, helpless PM, Gordon Brown, when he reassured trade unionists he was going to create ‘British jobs for British workers.’ Many have pointed out that, that little slogan comes straight out of a British National Party rally.

In soccer terms, foreign players have added immensely to the football being played in the Premiership. These players have raised the game, technically, to a new level. They are not a liability to English football, they are an asset.

English footballers were crap before all the foreigners turned up 10 to 15 years ago. Remember when England failed to qualify for the 1974 World Cup? Why? Because they lost to Poland in Chorzow and drew at Wembley. Before the match in October 1973, the British press aped a prominent manager’s comments that Polish goalkeeper Jan Tomaszewski was a ‘clown’. And then he played the most magnificent game of his life and denied England a much needed goal.

English problems have English roots. All of them.

Tomaszewski could be a bit of a clown, though – and certainly a much better one than Russell Brand.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Tusk drones on for three hours


Meanwhile Kaczynski, Gosiewski and Dorn lose consciousness, as did most of Poland.

It was agony. Like listening to paint dry. Donald Tusk, the new prime minister, delivered his ‘expose’ – or policy statement – outlining his government’s policy in parliament, this morning.

He went on and on and on and on…for three hours and five minutes.

At one point someone sent him a note: “It’s time to sit down..’. But he wasn’t finished yet.

The main points were that he would be reducing taxes but increasing wages for public workers[!].

He would be getting troops out of Iraq next year (as they probably would have been anyway) but staying in Afghanistan.

He will be more cooperative within the EU and will even be nicer to the Russians.

And there was some other stuff too, but I...fell asleep half way through.

Who does Tusk think he is, with these long, long speeches? Fidal Castro?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Private Eye on Daily Mail ‘Parking Poles’ scam


After someone contacted me from the magazine, this week's UK's Private Eye [no.1198] has printed the beatroot story about how low the Mail will go to get a ‘story’ (see here).

Most of Private Eye is off line, but their journalist Adam Macqueen sent me the text to show you, which appears in the ‘Street of Shame’ section:


Back in April, Daily Mail investigations editor Sue Reid had a problem. She knew that foreign visitors who committed traffic offences in Britain were not being penalised because parking and speeding fines cannot be enforced on cars registered overseas - but she needed photos to demonstrate it. What to do? Simple! She set out to entice someone to break the law on the Mail’s behalf.

“I am overseeing an investigation into how foreign drivers in Britain are evading fines,” she wrote to Peter Traczewski, who lives in Warsaw. “We want to prove it by having a foreign car here with a foreign driver for five days and driving/parking in London, Kent, East Anglia and Portsmouth. We would hide your identity and the number of the car when we publish the piece, which would be lots of pictures of the car in various situations and my story about what we found. Obviously, if you do get a ticket we will pay it immediately. We will pay you £800 and we will pay for you to come over. If you wish to have accommodation in London itself then please do stay at my house in Fulham, London, which has five bedrooms and very central.”

Sadly for Traczewski, he was denied his free holiday when Reid emailed to tell him another Polish couple had beaten him to taking up her generous offer. Sadly for Reid, Traczewski is actually a British blogger known as Beatroot, who put full details of her methods up on his blog last month.

Thus far, the Mail has failed to print any story about Poles evading parking tickets.

If you missed how the story developed then see what Sue Reid said to the Economist when they confronted her with the story.

Guardian prints something useful – shock!

Well, it had to happen one day. What journalist Tim Dowling has done is collect together the type of stories that much of the British press has been full of since Poland and others joined the EU in 2004.

Under the headline, “They come over here...” the stories claim that (deep breath):

Eastern Europeans are catching all our carp; take all our benefits; steal our unwanted clothes; eat our swans; cause a shortage of £50 notes; increase unemployment; increase bad service in restaurants; when they are not driving down wages they are drive drunk and cause lots of car crashes; grope women; fill the UK with cheap guns and heroin;...and are responsible for the rise of the far right in the UK (sse article here).

Really, you couldn’t make this crap up (although British journalists don’t seem to have any trouble doing so).

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Crown Prince Felipe, Kaczynski, just don't get the joke


Two Spanish cartoonists have been fined 3,000 Euros each for satirically depicting Crown Prince Felipe and his wife Letizia ‘procreating’. The cartoon mocks the policy where Spaniards be paid 2,500 Euro to have a kid. The case will ring (church and alarm) bells with Poles. (Speech bubble on cartoon reads: ‘Do you realise that if you get pregnant, this will be the closest to real work I’ve ever done?)

It’s not just when the Jaroslaw Kaczynski government introduced (minimal) financial incentives to have children to improve the ‘demographic deficit’ in Poland that will be familiar to Poles.

We have also had a head of state overreacting to a little playful criticism and mocking. In September a Polish google bomber felt the petulant anger of President Lech Kaczynski, a man undoubtedly suffering from a humour bypass. Under the headline ‘Willy Jibe’, this is how The Sun (UK), in its usual style, reported the case:

A COMPUTER programmer is facing jail after linking the Polish word for penis to the country's presidential website.

Marek W, 23, created a link that led to the official home page of the Polish President Lech Kaczynski to rank first in the list of results on the Google search engine when “kutas” was typed in.

The word is a vulgar term for a man's private parts [:-)].

Under Polish law the man's full name was not released by police and prosecutors.

The programme did something similar to a practice known as “Google bombing” that links the Web sites of politicians and companies to insulting words or phrases.

Marek has been charged with insulting the president and prosecutors said he could face up to three years in jail if convicted.

Andrzej Holdys, a Polish prosecutor, said: “This is not a matter of freedom of speech.

“If somebody uses a derogatory word to libel the head of state than it’s a clear insult which violates the law.”


But what happened to ‘Mark W’? Can’t find out what the judge did. Or is he languishing in jail somewhere, alone apart from his algorithms?

The president has also got upset in the past about German journalists calling him ‘a potato’ and when an inebriated homeless guy farted in protest against him in front of a police officer.

Kaczynski thought these might be criminal acts, and consulted lawyers. The homeless guy got convicted.

That Spanish royalty and Polish presidents are so insecure in their relationship with the ‘general public’ that they try and censor satire, comment, or just a spotty computer programmer’s little experiment/joke, is worrisome. OK, both the banned cartoon and the google bombing were a little childish – but the only folk afraid of a kid is another kid, or someone with the mentality of a kid.

It’s time to grow up lads. What you so scared of?

And anyway – Spaniard royalty might be able to squash press freedoms in his own country, for a while, but he can’t censor all of us, can he?

Sunday, November 18, 2007

What’s the best way to fund public media?


The new Polish government wants to abolish the license fee. Yippy? Not really. They want to fund public media via direct taxation. A step backwards? Back to the future?

Donald Tusk was finally sworn in as Prime Minister of Poland on Friday, and so was his new cabinet – mostly from Civic Platform, some from junior coalition partner PSL, plus a few unaligned ‘experts’.

How this new coalition will go is anyone’s guess. I was talking to Stanislaw Gomulka last week, the economist who worked with Leszek Balcerowicz during the ‘shock therapy’ following the demise of communism.

Gomulka was one of the names touted as possible finance minister in the new government, before it was announced that Jacek Rostowski would fill the post. Stanislaw told me that even if he had been asked – and nobody from Civic Platform had approached him – he would have turned it down: “Too much politics involved...”, was the reason for not being interested.

Civic Platform have lots of plans to reform public services – privatize parts of the health system, etc...but as Gomulka said to me – “The political reality of the coalition [PSL are essentially a centre-left group, and is there , as in France, really a consensus in the country for such a radical change?] will put a stop to much of that.”

But one of the plans they do seem to be determined to go through with is the reform of financing public radio and TV. At the moment TVP and Polske Radio are funded from the license fee, just as the BBC is in the UK (though Polish public media runs ads as well, making up 25 percent of the revenue - at least there are no commercials on BBC domestic service).

But only 40 percent actually bother to pay the license. It is a very difficult ‘tax’ to collect.

So Tusk and co. want to fund the public media via direct taxation from various ministries’ budgets.

Law and Justice (PiS), now in opposition, do not like this idea. They say that this will tie public media - funded by central government - ever closer to that government.

It’s a reasonable argument – if it wasn’t being made by PiS, who have tried to use public media as a counter weight against most of the private sector, which they see as infested by a post-commie/liberal oligarchy.

And anyway, all post-communist governments have planted ‘their people’ in the top posts of the public media. It’s the Polish way. It’s just the way things are here.

So public media will always be seen as a plaything of whatever government is in power.

PiS are also not below using the EU (Euro-sceptics, so they are) to back up their arguments, occasionally. They point out that the European Commission has recommended the license fee as the best source of revenue for public TV and radio.

New times need new finance

The European model of having a private media sector and a public one was a good one, I think. It meant that there was a large diversity in programming.

But since the media has completely changed in the last ten years, with many new channels and methods of distribution – cable, saellite, internet, mobiles – the media scene looks very different now. So maybe the old European model has to go?

Diversity in programming is no longer an issue. And that diversity will continue to grow as new technologies develop.

Maybe it’s better to just privatize large chunks of it, and have a small budget left to broadcast the types of programming that private broadcasters could never, or would never want, to fill?

Or maybe Polish governments will remain stuck on a different wavelength from the rest of us?

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

No sex please...we’re Polish?


The Silver Ring Thing - the United States-based sexual abstinence program - comes to Poland.

Known here as a ‘purity ring’, the freebie paper Metro reported this morning that the Roman Catholic church is hoping they can make waiting to lose one’s cherry till after one is wed trendy in Poland.

The ‘movement’ was launched at the sanctuary of Blessed Karolina Kózka, near Tarnów in southern Poland.

Karolina Kózka was a 16-year-old girl who was murdered in 1898 when she tried to stop a Russian soldier from raping her.

She was beatified by Pope John Paul II 20 years ago and is now considered the patron of teenage chastity.

Inscribed on the Silver Ring Things in the US are verses from the Bible, such as:

"God wants you to be holy, so you should keep clear of all sexual sin. Then each of you will control your body and live in holiness and honor."

So does the church here stand a chance of making chastity trendy?

I would say that it is going to be a tough job

Many web sites have been running polls on whether it is really a rather good idea to hang on till you are married. The results, of course, show a clear majority for doing it before marriage.

And I remember when I first came to Poland and was living in Hotel Sokrates, the place they dump foreign university lecturers and PhD students in Warsaw. One of my fellow inmates was an American woman who had first came over to Poland as part of the Peace Corp. As usual, she was posted to a small town in the middle of nowhere, down south.

Now, my American friend liked to party – she liked the pleasures in life that nature, in its cosmic wisdom, has endowed us with.

I knew nothing of Poles and their attitudes to the pleasures of the flesh. It was a ‘Catholic’ country, after all. Maybe they all did wear chastity belts until the honeymoon?

So I asked the American woman – “You know...when you were in that small village, didn’t you get...you know...”

“Frustrated?” she said. “Oh, no. Poles love their sex!"

It was the best news I had heard all day.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Polish police force needs you!


As long as you are not too bright, that is.

Gazeta Wyborcza today reports that applicants who want to be a Polish cop are screened (by computer programs) for their intellectual capacities.

So far, so normal.

What’s different about the Polish police force is that what the devious psychologists at the Polish police force human resources department are on the look out for are not the dim, the half wit, the retarded; no, the psychologists are keeping an eye out for people thought to be too intelligent to be in the police force!

Yes, all those jokes Poles used to tell about how dim Polish cops are, were true!

(Polish cop joke from the 1980s: Old lady goes up to Polish cop. “Excuse me, officer, but have you got the time?

Cop looks at his new 1980s digital Casio watch. And stares, and stares..

Old Lady “So have you got the time?

Cop: “Give us a moment. It’s not so easy to divide 17:43, you know? “

A spokesperson for the police service said that the computer programmed aptitude and attitude tests are designed for the average person to pass. The personality profile must suit the average Kowalski. And anyway, intelligent people are ‘intellectuals’ and so would ‘not do their job properly.’

Um. So what are these people saying? That instead of patrolling the streets in search of criminals, and telling old ladies what the time is, the ‘intellectual’ copper would be sneaking down behind a hedge, or in the doorway of a disused shop, whipping out his copy of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations ?

Or, instead of asking for bribes – like those good old coppers used to/still do – our brainy cop would be asking the punters their opinions on the Neo-Kantian dualistic dimension of Kelsen's Pure Theory of Law?

Anyway:

A tourist in Warsaw asks a man in uniform, "Are you a policeman?"

"No, I am an undercover detective."

"So why are you in uniform?"

"Today is my day off."

Sunday, November 11, 2007

National Polish holidays – sorry, we are closed


Today, Independence Day, shops all over Poland are shut, due to a law made by the previous government demanding that all retail workers have the day off.

It’s the legacy of the Kaczynski administration. The Solidarity trade union, which was generally supportive of that government, now wants to extend the ban on retail working to every Sunday in the year, instead of just being limited to 11 national holidays.

Only petrol stations and a few other essential services are excluded from the current law.

And if the owner, not an employee, wants to go and open the shop and trade, then they are allowed to.

Going around the few local shops that were open today (all supermarkets have had to close, of course) the results have been a little comic.

Take the grocery shop under the block where I live. The owners and their two kids have been busy all day, serving a higher than usual number of customers, with no regular staff to help out. The problem being that these people may be the owners of the shop, but they appear to know very little about what is actually on the shelves.

The male shop owner is struggling the most, as his super bossy wife stalks the shop, directing operations like General Schwarzkopf.

He’s OK if you ask, as I did, for tomatoes. But when I asked him for the ‘Frontera Chardonnay, po prosze’, he was a little perplexed. I had to explain to him it was a white wine. He rushed into the back of the shop to ask his wife where to find it. After what sounded like a strangling noise for some moments - gurgglll - he re-emerged, red faced, and made for the wine shelves.

I then produced my debit card. He stared at it for a while, then went running back into the backroom to fetch the wife. He seemed wary and suspicious of the new fangled debit card machine. After a brief period of more violent activity, wife comes storming to the till, with husband following sheepishly behind...

And it so it went on...

I felt sorry for the guy. Whether his employees work on national holidays should be between him and his small workforce. This is simply not the State’s business. If employers are made to pay a decent rate at weekends – then shops and customers should be free to use days off as they see fit.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

The new ‘liberal’ Polish government?


Now Poles have thrown the conservative Law and Justice government out onto the streets, we can expect an end to the homophobia and other backward social policies that characterized Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s two years in power, right?

Well, most probably, wrong!

According to one member of the ruling ‘liberal’ - oh, how the Polish media loves to call them ‘liberal’ - Civic Platform party, prime minister-to-be-Donald Tusk has better things to do with his time than getting down with the sexually oppressed – and anyway, there is no discrimination against gays in Poland.

Thenews.pl reported today that:

"Tusk has no time for such tripe as meeting feminists, gays and lesbians", says Stefan Niesiołowski, Civic Platform’s newly elected deputy to Parliament.

Niesiołowski said that the lies about discrimination against homosexuals in Poland are the usual tactic used by certain organisations to achieve more privileges for gays and lesbians, such as same sex marriages or child adoption.

“It is also a way of advertising their lifestyle, which is frowned upon by the majority of society. (...) For me, marriage is a bond between a man and woman and no one will convince me to otherwise”, he told Rzeczpospolita.

“I have never seen them wave their tax self-assessment forms at the so-called equality parades”, he commented on the subject of unequal tax treatment of homosexual couples, and has added: “Instead, I’ve seen obscene mimicking of the Holy Father or a gay dressed up as a nun”.

PO deputy speaker complained that homosexuals “provoke society” by manifesting their contempt towards the Catholic Church and moral standards in general, and has pointed out that the circles demanding more tolerance display arrogant and intolerant behaviour themselves.

So if you think that the new Tusk government is going to be ‘liberal’ in anything but economic policy, then you should think (and vote) again.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fortress Poland


On December 21, Poland will enter the Schengen zone, enabling passport free travel and no border controls through most of the EU.

One of the pleasures of traveling across much of Europe is that when you cross a border – say between Germany and France – you don’t really know that you have crossed a border, at all. I once drove through Belgium without even realising I was in Belgium...um...well...

But then try and enter UK or Ireland, and you are suddenly reminded what it is like not to have signed the Schengen Agreement.

So it will make getting about the place for Poles all the easier. But what about Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians, trying to get in to Poland?

Well, it is going to make things much, much more difficult. To get into Poland, Ukrainians will need a Schengen visa – costing 60 euro – a third of a months salary in much of Ukraine – and they will have to prove that they will come back, and keep to all kinds of restrictions set in Brussels, not Warsaw.

Thousands of Ukrainians work as nannies in Poland – you are a social leper in some circles of Warsaw if you haven’t got your very own shiny, low maintenance, Ukrainian home help.

And it is not as if it is easy to get into Poland from these countries as it is.

Iza from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow sent me an email yesterday:

I decided to write to you about our recent experience coming back into Poland from a study trip to Lviv and Kyiv.

In our group we have 1 Polish passport, 3 American passports, 1 Canadian passport, and 5 Norwegian passports. This means nothing to the Polish border patrol. We sat on a bus for over 14 hours at the border.

Typical time usually runs around 5-6 hours. But for some reason (some claim the combination of the end of the Italian strike, All-Saints' Day traffic, and a truck falling over) it took over 14 hours. And this was just standing in line. The actual checking of passports and baggage (where there were no lines, because only one bus was allowed at a time) took in all about 30 minutes.

We believe that the real reason is Polish border patrol being assholes (pardon my French). I don't know if this is an interesting topic at all, but we definitely don't see how Poland and Ukraine would ever be ready for the 2012 Euro Cup if a bunch of Polish/EU (almost EU) citizens can't get back into the country in an orderly fashion.

How are the two countries going to co-host the Euro 2012 Football Championships if fans, players, officials...and ticket touts, can’t move freely between Ukraine and Poland? And since when has the EU, with its freedom of movement to visit, live and work from within, turned into some kind of fortress, putting up the barriers, manned by asshole border guards?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Poland out of Iraq by autumn next year


Prime minister-in-waiting, Donald Tusk, has said that Polish troops - a thousand or so have been part of the what the hell-are-we-doing-there-anyway-coalition of the increasingly no- so-willing – will be out of the war-torn carnage in around nine months time.

A Polish Humvee ran into a landmine in Iraq, Friday morning, killing 31 year old Andrzej Filipek. He is the 28th Pole to die there. In a poll taken by CBOS this week, 81 percent are against the nation’s involvement.

It was interesting to see how the Iraq war crept its way into the election campaign last month. For much of the time since the war began, anti-Iraq war sentiment was left to the political extremes of the Roman Giertych, Andrzej Lepper, Radio Maryja and the New Left (dogs on pieces of string optional) alliance.

Tusk supported the war back when it started. It’s only recently he has taken up the peace mantle. In the election debate just before polling day with Jaroslaw Kaczynski, he questioned the purpose of continuing Poland’s presence in Iraq.

So will the Americans be upset by Tusk’s announcement? I doubt it. The Kaczynski government has put off getting the troops out a couple of times, now, and was leaving its options open to get out as soon as he could. So he might well have tried for a withdrawal next year, too.

And anyway – getting out of Iraq means they have all the more troops to get bogged down in the latest mess in Afghanistan.

Pro-US, or anti-Russian?

But Tusk is being a little more cautious on sounding too enthusiastic about being too subservient to United States defense policy. While the Kaczynski government seemed quite eager to accept the anti-missile shield on Polish soil, Tusk – in line with public opinion – says that he must be sure that Poland’s receives greater security from the base, and not less.

Kaczynski has also being saying that Europe is generally pro-European now, pointing to the new German and French governments as proof.

But he knows that the general public in France, Germany and Poland are a little more wary and distrusting of US policy. So why is he so enthusiastic for the ‘war of terror’ project?

Maybe it’s to do with Russia. The more a Pole fears Russia, the more enthusiastic he will how the protective arm of Washington. For Kaczynski, with Russia growing ever more economically powerful, the world is becoming bi-polar again, pro-Atlanticism is the only answer.

The rest of us aren’t so sure about the Good vs. Evil worldview.

What the new Polish government should be doing is asking itself some basic questions: as Pakistan looks set to become the latest state to be destabilized by the consequences of the reaction to 9/11 – the ‘war on terror’ – was a there a better way? Is the US’s defense policy part of the problem, not the solution? And is it worth getting involved in?

Everyone aboard the UK anti-immigration bandwagon


If you thought that it was just our friends at the Daily Mail who were pushing immigration to the top of political agenda in Britain, then take a look at the latest article from the ‘liberal’ Guardian’s Nick Cohen.

In what is a comment piece about David Cronenberg's new film Eastern Promises (a movie about how globalization has brought throat cutting Kurds and human trafficing Russians to the UK capital), pro-war lefty Nick Cohen writes under the headline Why 'Ryanair migrants' make the UK uneasy:

The middle class, which was once delighted to have cheap Polish plumbers, now thinks that foreigners will be competing for its jobs. The working class - white, black and brown - has never liked that, and is as suspicious as ever of new immigrants. Everyone is frightened about Islamist attacks, including those who say they aren't.

The article is printed as Poland’s next prime minister to be, Donald Tusk, lands in London to thank all the Poles – around 3 out of 4 in the UK – who voted for his more liberal approach to Polish politics in the recent elections here. His message domestically has been ‘toleration’. Well, maybe he ain’t going to get much of it from London’s media folk.

Cohen’s article begins with a strange line for a writer who has been lecturing his old friends on the liberal left for being too soft on (Islamo)fascism:

If the BNP had been given a camera crew, it couldn't have produced a more revolting depiction of immigrant life in London than David Cronenberg's film Eastern Promises... The British barely feature in their own capital. Apart from Anna, a second-generation Russian, they are minor characters: police officers who examine mutilated corpses or passers-by who run for cover when Chechen assassins storm a public baths. Whether as victims or victimisers, Cronenberg's London is a city of foreigners...

After saying this, he goes on to point out the obvious: since when has a film by Cronenberg – much as I love his work – been about reality? His films are about a hyper-reality, where the camera explores his obsession with the connection between violence and sex.

But never mind – Cohen’s comment article throws all kinds of London’s new immigrants into the paranoid mix.

For instance, he seems to think that ‘Islamists’ equals ‘immigrants’ – ignoring the fact that the only people to cause al-Qaeada type carnage in the UK were second or third generation, born in British. Britain’s recent immigration policy has nothing to do with it.

Cohen also seems to think that the ,’working class - white, black and brown...is as suspicious as ever of new immigrants...’ – meaning both the ‘Polish plumber’ and weird beard Islamists.

Cohen is so typical of much the liberal left he riles against, seeing the working class as a pogrom waiting to happen.

Cohen is the author of ‘What’s Left?’ – and with him as part of ‘the Left’, I think he has a point. Lefties being suspicious of the working class is sooo very 2007.

The give away to the article is the title, of course – ‘Ryanair migrants’. Not many jihad seeking migrants hop on a no-frills airline to come to Britain: Cohen is referring to Poles and other ‘New Europeans’.

‘Ryanair’ has become synonymous in these people’s minds, not for easy, casual travel – something you would think they would be pleased about – enabling the masses to travel from all parts of Europe, quickly and affordably – but as harbringers of a break down of social cohesion, as well as scaring the environmentalists stupid with size 12 ‘carbon footprints’.

Such is the confusion of modern day politics in Britain: the rightwing fear the free flow of people as much as they welcome the free flow of capital; and their friends on the liberal left fear the free flow of anything and everyone, and are hunkering down in their parochial, localist bunkers, wishing the modern world would just go away.

A little more self confidence from what’s left of both left and right about the effects of globalization would be welcome in the UK. Instead, Little Englanders are turning into a rainbow coalition - Blue, Pink and Green.

More?
Tory sparks race row over Enoch Powell speech gaffe, Times online, Nov 4

Thursday, November 01, 2007

beatroot hits in October

The number of hits for this blog in October was 50,396, 'uniques' 39.993.

Cheers!

Poles should have been restricted entry, says Cameron


I am just back from the old home town, and London – with all the ‘New Londoners’ - is changing fast, just as the UK Conservative opposition are putting immigration top of the UK’s ‘political’ agenda: even though immigration per se is far from ‘the problem’.

What’s always been a cosmopolitan capital now positively teems with ‘diversity’. Londoners have never been as good looking, slimmer and better dressed. That’s because every other person you pass on the street is new to town.

It’s great. What I always have loved about London is its ethnic kaleidoscope.

And yet, the lack of preparation, and imagination, when opening up the labour market to Poles etc, has also opened a door to anti-immigration sentiment in the UK.

David Cameron, (photo above), the Tony Blair clone leader of the Conservative Party, has decided on a two track strategy: appeal to the liberal middle class with lots of tree hugging environmental policies – the modern British political equivalent of kissing babies at election time (why kiss a baby when you can hug a tree?) But at the same time don’t forget about the old conservative anti-immigration sentiment to prop up the electoral base.

The government hasn’t helped by admitting that their records on the amount of immigration have been completely wrong.

David Cameron exploited this on the BBC this morning by saying:


"Immigrants make a huge contribution to the British economy, but there are pressures from unlimited immigration on hospitals and schools. There are benefits in having immigration, but in having it controlled.... They should have done it with countries like Poland."

The lack of resources is not in dispute, neither is the lack of readiness for so many Poles and others arriving, post accession: the transport systems creeks, the education system struggles, the lack of cheap housing is exposed.

Beware weird alliance of new Malthusians

And yet, there is a consensus growing in Britain against the very idea of immigration and the free flow of people. And it’s not just coming from the usual suspects among the ‘Little England’, Daily Mail reading, xenophobes.

Environmentalists like the Optimum Population Trust – with its esteemed membership of Sir David Attenborough and others – have the same basic fear of immigration.

They think that Britain’s green and pleasant land can not 'sustain' so many humans and we should find ways to reduce population.

A consensus on the dangers of too many people is developing in Britain, ignoring the fact that immigrants are not just ‘consumers’ of resources but creators of them, too.

The new prime minister, Gordon Brown, has vowed to make sure there are ‘new British jobs for British workers’, even though unemployment is very low in Britain among potential ‘British workers’. So the anti-immigration card is going to be frequently played in the next couple of years by all parties, instead of realizing that immigration is a good thing, but a lack of resources and planning for when it happens, is not.

And to think that UK politicians most often campaign these days on their alleged ‘competence’. Or not.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Plans for Islamic cultural centre in Krakow


The usual suspects, on both sides, were at a meeting last Wednesday at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University to discuss the possibility of building an Islamic Centre, complete with prayer room, in one of Poland’s most Catholic of cities.

The Al-Fan Islamic Cultural Centre is the idea of a Krakow based artist of Albanian descent, Rahim Blak, based on plans drew up by architect Stanisław Deńko.

Someone I know who was at the meeting said proceedings started with an Imam chanting prayers as Blak theatrically drew off the cloth covering a scale model of the building, which the organizers want to build in the Zwierzyniec disctict in the heart of the old town.

Apparently, Rahim Blak said that around 500 Muslims, from 300 families, live in Krakow but the city didn’t want have a mosque. There are only around 200 Jews living in the city, on the other hand, he said, but they have a place to pray. Hmm.

The local media has been full of the usual scary type coverage, of a ‘Mosque to be built under the shadow of Wawel Castle...eeek!’ and raising fears that Krakow would turn into the new Afghanistan, and be inundated with al-Qaeda wannabe weird-beard extremists training for the Jihad and then running into the old Market Square to blow themselves up.

I am told that locals at the meeting were acting like the typical NIMBY, and saying that the cultural centre should not be built in the centre of town, but maybe on the other side of the river (and far away from built up areas, one presumes). Others couldn't understand why they were picking on Krakow to build the place in the first place.

I think it was a mistake by the originator of the idea to bring the number of Jews in Krakow into the argument – that is simply playing the multicultural numbers game – but there is already a beautiful Japanese cultural centre and museum housed on the banks of the River Wisla, so why not an Islamic Centre?

Could be good for tourism? Maybe?

And anyway, one of the symbols of Krakow is the Lajkonik - and you can’t get more Islamic than that.

More?
Don’t you think the CIA’s new logo to publicize its ‘war against terror’ - Terrorist Buster - resembles a popular 1980s movie? Are they serious?

Even more?
Mosque to be built in Krakow, thenews.pl, Oct 24

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The descent of (Ro)man II


Roman Giertych, former education minister and ex-vice PM, is retiring from politics. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry (photo: Roman with what's left of his electorate).

His party, the League of Polish Families, only got a miserable 1.3 percent in Sunday’s election. Will this mean the end of Poland’s curator of 1930s style nationalist politics? Does this mean the end of his type of nationalist politics?

He is going back to his old job and setting up a law firm in Warsaw. Journalists, he said, will ‘get a 20 percent discount.’ Which is nice.

Looking back at all the posts I have devoted to this guy, I don’t know where to start summing up the year and half he has been in Poland’s government.

So I’ll just content myself with reliving a few of his choices quotes and moments.

How about when he drew up a new school reading list – the latest wheeze to come out of the Roman Giertych Education Think Tank (subtle as a ‘tank’, very little ‘think’).

Off the reading list went Gombrowicz, Witkacy, Conrad, Kafka, Goethe, Dostoyevsky...and on the list, lots of books about JP II.

And then there was the assault on evolution (see Descent of (Ro)man).

Or how about his contribution to the Polish language, with the popularizing of the term Homoagitacja – homo-agitation?

He was a little obsessed about gays, was our Roman.

‘The propaganda of homosexuality is reaching ever younger children. In some countries it is even forbidden for children in hospital to talk or read about mommy and daddy, because this allegedly violates minority rights.”

Or how about Roman’s chief henchman, Wojciech Wierzejski, who after recommending that gays should be bludgeoned if they took to the streets of Warsaw, had some deep insights about homosexuality, with which he would like to share:

“Every police officer will confirm that homosexuals are a circle that is nearly 100% identical to the circle of pedophiles. It is a fact that does not require any research.”

What a charmer!

Or remember when Giertych, as education minister, took over the organization of exchange visits of Polish and ...Israeli school kids? Tel Aviv was not pleased.

The Israeli press repeated the well rehearsed view that Giertych was...well...you know...not really the right person get involved in Polish-Israeli relations.

But President Lech Kaczynski felt he had to defend Roman when on a trip to Israel.

"Giertych is not anti-Semitic, He only grew up in an anti-Semitic tradition. He is the son and grandson of Polish politicians. But recently he has undergone a change [spooky!]. Today he is certainly not anti-Semitic. There is no problem with him. The problem lies in the extremist elements in his party."

Um...

But Giertych is amazingly sensitive on this subject. He took the massive step – for him, anyway – of visiting the memorial to the Jedwabne pogrom. In his political tradition this was akin to treason.

On communists? Well, he had quite strong views on the subject.

We must go forward and chop, it's a knife fight! Otherwise we'll lose. If we stop, they will take everything from us. The tradition of bloodshed stands beside us. This is something different from the styrofoam tradition, of those who supposedly fought communism, those from the Workers' Defense Committee and other Trotskyites!

Is his demise the demise of his ‘movement’?

Is there Life After Giertych?

Now that he has stood down as leader of his party, does this make them the League of One Parent Families?

And who am I gonna write about for the next two years?

Still, I can console myself that his even more nutty dad, Maciej, still lurks in the endless corridors of Brussels.

More?

I have just seen that henchman Wierzejski will be the self styled 'face' of the 'New Endecja' - so League look set to remain bunkered down in the nationalist 1930s.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

How Kaczynski blew it


Two weeks before polling day Jaroslaw Kaczynski was ahead in most opinion polls and looked like pulling off a miracle victory. And then it all went horribly wrong. What’s worse, it’s all his own fault.

I bet when Jaroslaw went home election night he gave the cat a good kicking. Not that the cat had anything to do with the conservative’s thumping by Polish voters. Kaczynski has nobody to blame but himself.

The crucial moment of the campaign came in the head-to-head debate with the eventual winner, Donald Tusk. Immediately after the broadcast many on this blog saw it as a significant gaff by the prime minister, and a good performance by his challenger. Mike Farris said it was the ‘political performance of Tusk’s life,’ and the first time he looked like he had the balls for a fight.

Maybe. But though Tusk looked better, he got lucky: throughout the debate Kaczynski looked like he couldn’t care less.

On Polish Radio this morning he admitted that it was a crucial turning point and he maybe he should have avoided the whole thing altogether. British prime ministers would have warned him – debates are there for sitting PMs to lose – challengers usually get the upper hand as they have no record to defend and so cannot look to be on the defensive. Kaczynski spent the whole debate on the back foot.

But it finally gave Tusk some momentum and he took advantage of the gift Kaczynski had given him.

While liberals think that Kaczynski’s arch-conservative politics was the ultimate reason for the government’s downfall, many conservatives are claiming that he failed because he was not conservative enough!

For instance, columnist Paweł Milcarek told Polish Radio:

'The problem was that [Law and Justice] broke a kind of an agreement with conservative opinion. The so-called Fourth Republic was supposed to be built upon the values of ‘Civilization of Life’.

However, it turned out that when it came to the protection of life, pornography laws or coherent pro-family policy, Law and Justice contradicted its pre-election promises.

The second thing was that they tried to replace a real reform of the state with just the appearance of it. Conservative voters just have had enough.'

In other words, Law and Justice lost the election because they were too liberal.

But that argument just doesn’t work. More people voted Law and Justice in this election than in the ballot two years ago, which they subsequently won. So they mobilized more supporters this time around – problem for them was that Civic Platform mobilized even more of theirs.

Kaczynski also said this morning that he blames public television for his defeat. TVP ran a perfectly legitimate campaign to get young people out to the polling stations. In the last election only 40 percent bothered to vote at all, and the under 25 year olds were the most underrepresented back then.

The TVP ads said: ‘Get out to vote – go change Poland.’

Kaczynski said this morning on the radio: “The ‘go out to vote’ part was fine – but the ‘go change Poland’ thing was a clear suggestion that they should vote against the government.’

Try as he might, the blame for his defeat must lay with Jaroslaw himself and the boorish way he has spent two years in office. Blaming public media will not change that.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Warsaw prepares for a difficult cohabitation


Civic Platform (PO) have kicked Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski out of power – now they are getting ready to neuter his twin brother, President Lech Kaczynski.

Poland’s constitution and the relationship between parliament and the presidential palace is a bit of a mess. In 1989, when they were trying to work out what a democratic constitution would look like, they took bits from American and French systems, put them together and created...a dog’s dinner.

President Lech Kaczynski is not nearly as powerful as a George W Bush, or even Nicholas Sarkozy, but neither is he as powerless or as anonymous as ....well, who is the president of Ireland or Israel?

Those two are so weak that they virtually don’t exist – wheeled out at ceremonies to shake some hands, cut some ribbon, and then wheeled back to wherever they keep them for another day – like your best table cloth and cutlery.

Lech Kaczynski cannot make laws. He can’t appoint ministers (although Lech Walesa did). But what he can do is veto laws he doesn’t like.

He didn’t veto any of his brother’s laws, naturally, but you can imagine he was up all night last night, sharpening up his veto guillotine.

He could, theoretically, cause chaos for Donald Tusk and the new government. So Donald Tusk – probably the next prime minister – has a plan.

Euro battle ground
Civic Platform are determined to get Poland into the Euro Zone and adopt the Euro as the Polish currency as fast as they can. And they want to do it without having to have a referendum.

Lech Kaczynski, like his brother Jaroslaw, has indicated that before Poland gives up the zloty the country should have a ballot. So he would probably veto any parliament vote on the matter.

Civic Platform are talking of creating a permanent anti-veto coalition within parliament, with enough votes to overturn Lech’s veto.

Yesterday’s election has made things much easier for Platform. Kaczynski’s Law and Justice (PiS) is the only Eurosceptic party left in parliament, with just 166 members of parliament out of a possible 460.

But wouldn’t it be simpler to cut the powers of the president permanently, and turn Lech Kaczynski into a toothless Irish president, or an anonymous Israeli?
More?