Saturday, September 29, 2007


As you see, the blog has a slightly new look. It was not me what did it, however, but someone called Peter North and it is part of a few new initiatives at the beatroot.

Peter is son of Richard North, who together with Helen Szamuely, co-edit the EU Referendum blog from the UK.

Richard was one of the first to encourage me to keep blogging in the early days. The blog he runs is one of the most read in the UK and not only reports on what is going on in the MSM but also helps set its agenda, occasionally (I should do their PR!).

Anyway, EU Referendum blog has now sprouted a few new branches, one of which is called Umbrella Blog. It’s really a group of different blogs collated in one place.

So the beatroot is now part of that (slightly dysfunctional) ‘family’ of blogs.

As you can see there are slight changes to the way the beatroot looks – it has a new ‘head’ and the side bar is more logically laid out.

Part of the deal, I was told by Peter, was for the blog to get a new ‘make over’.

Gulp! A blog ‘make over’ to me sounded like one of those TV shows where two bitchy women force you into a room full of mirrors and then slag off the way you look.

‘Does my blog’s arse look big in this new ‘head?’…etc

beatroots, beatroots everywhere…

There are a couple of other projects I have been asked to get involved with.

Clive – a.k.a. Nosemonkey (again, another one of the UK’s top bloggers) – has asked me to help out at the dLiberation blog, part of the openDemocracy group. This is all part of the EU’s Tomorrow’s Europe initiative, which describes itself thus:

Tomorrow’s Europe will help understand citizens’ vision of Europe’s future. How? By selecting a truly representative sample of ordinary citizens from all 27 countries in the EU; providing them with objective information about possible options for Europe’s future; then bringing them together for several days of discussion in the European Parliament, on the 12-14 October…

I will be doing posts on EU, Poland and post-communist central Europe as part of that project.

And the guys at Pajamas Media in the United States have asked me to contribute as Polish/central Europe correspondent. Once I sign and send off the very long contract ( I have discovered I am allergic to fax machines) I will be doing a few posts for them, too.

All of the above moves are simply to further extend our reach in Europe and the US, and get us more readers.

Apart from that, it will be the same old gibberish down at the beatroot.


I should say that all the above blogs have come from many different political traditions, and the beatroot does not necessarily agree with any of the opinions you will find in them.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Polish government hung up about death penalty

The UN Assembly, this autumn, will try to pass a motion calling for a worldwide ban on the death penalty. The European Union wants to show support by having a European Day Against the Death Penalty on October 10. All 27 countries supported the idea, accept one – Poland, who vetoed the initiative stone dead.

Oh, no! Not Poland again!

BBC News

Polish Deputy Justice Minister Andrzej Duda said that the EU "should approach the subject in a broader way and debate the protection of life".

"The death penalty is only one element of the debate; there are more - for example, abortion and euthanasia."

The Polish government also complains that since the death penalty is not practiced in any state in the EU then what is the point of having a ‘day’ against it.

Krzysztof Bosak, of the League of Polish Families (LPR), who is also a member of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly (and currently in the cheesy Polish version of Dancing with the Stars!) - "I think it is hypocritical on the part of the EU to promote abortion, destructive lifestyles and euthanasia and at the same time to pretend to care about the right to life in only one case - death penalty," he said.

President Lech Kaczynski is thought to be in favour of the death penalty, but against euthanasia and abortion. Confused?

He’s not the only one

Amnesty International is one of the main cheer leaders of the worldwide campaign against the death penalty.

Amnesty’s campaigner Martin Macpherson:

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases and without exception, believing it to be a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment. The death penalty legitimises an irreversible act of violence by the state and will inevitably claim innocent victims. Amnesty therefore demands unconditional and worldwide abolition of the death penalty.

I completely agree. But if Amnesty are calling for ‘worldwide bans’ on the death penalty, then you would expect, would you not, that they would have a ‘worldwide’ policy on abortion – either for it, or against it, right?

Well, yes and no. Until very recently Amnesty – not wanting to upset the Catholic Church, with which it has had close links in the past - didn’t have a policy on the issue, at all. It left that one, ‘up to individual countries’.

But now they have finally issued a demand insisting that abortion should be universally available in case of rape, incest, or if the pregnancy endangered the life of the mother.

That’s interesting. Amnesty – universal human rights liberal warriors - after all this time, have just adopted the same policy on abortion as the current arch-Conservative Polish government!

And does this mean Amnesty think that a women’s autonomy over her own body is not a ‘human right’?

Former UK foreign minister Jack Straw tried to help sort out the confusion - by being confusing:

"I think the death penalty is something people have intense debates about, but abortion and euthanasia are seen as a private matter."

Hmmm. Not convinced. People also have passionate debates about abortion, assisted suicide rights, etc. And terminations and euthanasia is a public matter if the state has decided to restrict behaviour on these matters – which all states do. .

I am a pro-choice, anti-death penalty, don’t-know-where-I-stand on euthanasia, type person. So me and the Polish government are at complete opposites on these issues, and many more. But I think if you are going to call for universal rights then you had better be consistent over which rights you have in mind. The Polish government is right, but for all the wrong reasons.

Capital punishment is actually in decline in worldwide

In 2006 Amnesty recorded 1,591 executions, compared to 2,148 in 2005. ‘These figures demonstrate that there is now a real momentum to end capital punishment,’ they say.

So why is the EU as a collective body getting so excited by the whole thing, now, at a time when less regimes (China, Saudi…US) are using this method of ‘punishment’?

Why is it so keen, now, to campaign on banning things that don’t occur within its own borders?

Well, maybe it’s still on the road it has always been – trying to find a reason to be. Brussels can’t find many things to get the different nations together over (Constitution, anyone?) so why not pick something as safe – in Europe – as being against the death penalty? That’s a sure fire winner!

And then the Polish government goes and spoils it all.


Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Andrzej Lepper – Poland’s Che Guevara?

In one of the worst articles I have read for some time about Poland, John Cornwell writes for the Times (London) that:

The Kaczynskis and their uncomfortable political bedfellows, the extreme right-wing Self-Defence party and the League of Polish Families party, backed by Radio Maryja, believe they have inherited the mantle of the late Pope, but they have their own version of what has led to the state of the nation he so deplored.

Check out the bit about Andrzej Lepper’s Self defense as being – ‘extreme rightwing…’ One mistake among many, sadly.

Lepper was a member of the Communist Party during the 1980s, and has since forged links with people like Lukashenko in Belarus. He has tried to style himself, a little, as the Polish version of Hugo Chavez.

Lepper has certainly been out to prove his populist leftist credentials in recent days.

The election lists for the October 21 election are now finalized and Self defense has bagged itself a couple of old lefties.

OK, ex-prime minister (2001 - 2003) Leszek Miller is no revolutionary, but he was a member of the post-communist SLD (the old Communist Party) until they told him they didn’t want him to stand for them in this election, as he was associated with corruption and…well, the past in general. SLD want to appear a new, cleansed party, so getting rid of baggage like Miller is essential.

Miller did a moody and joined up with Lepper.

And today Lepper unveiled his latest recruit: Piotr Ikonowicz of the New Left.

Ikonowicz is a veteran anti-communist socialist, regularly imprisoned in pre-1989 Poland for subversive activities.

The New Left are the type of party you see here on marches and demos against the war in Iraq, globalization, etc.

So Lepper, the old Stalinist, is positioning Self defense way to the left, trying to pick up any votes he can. He needs them. Opinion polls are so low for Self defense he might not make it back into parliament.

So what was that about ‘extreme right’ Mr Cornwell?

(Blimey. I think that John Cornwell is this John Cornwell!)

Monday, September 24, 2007

Bad press for Poles in UK

Negative stories about Poles in the UK are a little like the London No 68 bus: you don’t see one for a while, then a load of them come along all at once.

The Sunday Telegraph yesterday:

More than one crime in five in London is now committed by a foreign national, raising fresh fears over the impact of immigration.

Around a third of all sex offences and a half of all frauds in the capital are carried out by non-British citizens.

Poles, who have entered Britain in record numbers since they joined the European Union in 2004, committed 2,310 crimes in the first six months of this year to become the most prolific offenders.

Included among those are 583 violent crimes and 32 sex offenses

Oh, dear

UK Police forces are complaining that the new arrivals into Britain are ‘putting a strain on resources’.

The story comes on the back of one printed in the usual suspect last week, the Daily Mail, which reported that Poles were claiming, as the headline to the story says, ‘one million pounds every month in child benefit’.

Like every good mother, Angela Trajkowski wants the best for her two children.

She buys them new clothes and puts healthy meals on the table, while keeping the family's private flat, overlooking a park in a leafy provincial town, in perfect order.

Her nine-year-old daughter, Martina, attends expensive private lessons after school and her youngest, a four-year-old boy called Alan, will soon be old enough to go to the local kindergarten in the mornings.

Dark-haired Angela, 31, works long hours as an office supervisor but she still relies heavily on child benefit from the state to make ends meet.

Every week, she puts Martina and Alan in the back of her blue Renault Clio and drives the five minutes journey to the cashpoint at her local bank. There, she draws out the £33-a-week put into her family account by the British government. It totals £1,650 each year.

Yet this young Polish mother does not live in Britain. Her home is thousands of miles away in Lubin, a town near the picturesque city of Wroclaw in south-west Poland and close to the German border.

Lubin has no historical links with Britain, while Angela speaks only a smattering of English (learned when she worked for a few months as a cleaner at the London home of singer Bob Geldof and his wife, the late Paula Yates).

Angela is just one of thousands of women across Eastern Europe who, because of the crazy system of hand-outs dispensed by Britain's generous welfare state, are entitled to child benefit.

This week, ministers admitted that more than £1million a month in child benefit is going to the families of youngsters who live in the former Soviet bloc countries.

I should point out that the headline ‘£1m of child benefit paid out a month - to mothers in Poland’ is rather different from the concluding sentence, ‘£1million a month in child benefit is going to the families of youngsters who live in the former Soviet bloc countries,’ – plural. But this is the Daily Mail after all, which as you can see by the style of the ‘news’ article, is not news at all, but propaganda.

An extra 2.500 sounds a lot – although as a percentage of the Polish population in London is it minute – lower than the ratio between offense and population in other ethnic groups, including indigenous British.

Still, these kind of stories will be used by those who believe that free movement of labour and people is a bad thing.

There has been a drip, drip of these stories ever since Poland joined the EU in 2003. But stories like these do tend to come in clusters. Either editors see one story and then go looking for a similar one; or, when there is a broader political context into which these stories fit.

We saw a cluster of these stories before Bulgaria and Romania joined the EU this year.

Polish immigration is again a hot topic, it could be argued, because the EU Constitutional Treaty is back on the (very boring) agenda. Many in Britain are trying to force the government to have a referendum on the subject – new PM Gordon Brown is resisting.

One of the arguments against the EU as a whole – and the EU Treaty in particular – is that it is giving away sovereignty. No doubt about that, of course. The immigration ‘problem’ – our old friend the Polish plumber – is seen as another further loss. Brits are a little shocked by the size of the 'invasion'.

I was listening to BBC Radio 5 last night and the amount of phone calls from Angry of Croydon complaining that there ‘are signs going up all over the place in Polish. Can’t even read the signs in me own country…’ etc...was rather sad.

So if, and when, the EU does comes on the news agenda in the UK, so will stories of wicked Poles in the UK eating baby foxes.

Watch more and more ‘Poles steal baby swans on child benefit’ type stories appearing in the press, as the EU treaty issue heats up in Britain.

The Polish plumber has got his monkey wrench stuck down a British gutter (press).

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Idiot’s Guide to Polish Elections II

The Women’s Party have launched their election campaign in Poland.

The caption says: Poland is a women, and with nothing to hide.

Nice! It's got them huge amounts in the press - although not much of it has been about their politics.

The Women’s Party is one of the newest political parties in Poland, set up in January this year. It’s leader is writer Manuele Gretkowska (first on the right, front row).

Supporters include singers Kayah, Anna Maria Jopek and Maryla Rodowicz.

They are trying to position themselves beyond left or right (though conservatives would think of them as being…er…nakedly leftwing wing).

They want to concentrate on equality issues and the rights of children, etc.

They are for more sexual education in schools, and better childcare facilities, etc.

In fact, it seems like pretty standard feminism from the 1970s in Britain.

Which shows they think Poland is a little behind the times as far as gender issues are concerned.

And they would be correct.

But how well will they do in the elections on October 21? Well, it doesn’t look too good for them at the moment. They need five percent to get any seats in parliament, and none of the opinion polls I have seen gives them that – more like two percent.

A Feminist Initiative party was set up in Sweden a couple of years ago to contest the elections there last year – and they got just 0.69 percent.

So ‘identity politics’ is probably not a good road to go down if you want to do well in elections in Poland – or anywhere else for that matter.

But if they get people to debate matters like the lack of affordable collective childcare, and other obstacles to women improving their lot, then more power to them, I say.

And I am very pleased that it is the Women’s Party who decided to declare that they have ‘Nothing to hide” rather than say Law and Justice or Civic Platform.

But the danger is that if the researchers for the Women’s Party find that they have had a ‘bounce’ in the opinion polls since unveiling their election campaign poster, other politicians might just be tempted to do the same!

I mean, what if heads of state decided to get them all off for photo oppotunities at international summits?


See Idiots guide to polish elections I

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Poland’s Tents against anti-Semitism

Tents have been breaking out all over Warsaw recently. First the nurses and doctors got in white tents in their 'white city' (which, as you can see in the photo, was not strictly true, as it was multicoloured, really) opposite the Prime Minister’s Office last June and July, and stayed in them, for better wages.

They got 30 percent...but not this year.

After the Kaczmarek’s sacking we got red and white tents sprouting up in the same place – it was the League of Polish Families, jumping on a passing anti-Kaczynski bandwagon after losing their place in cabinet when the PM disbanded the coalition.

Now we have Tents Against anti-Semitism. The camping gear is again white and they (it is actually people against anti-Semitism, not their tents) want to promote understanding between communities and are against racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

The action is taking place in three cities – Kiev, Paris and Warsaw.

On the agenda? ‘Dialogue’ and ‘Whether there is anti-Semitism in Ukraine/France Poland.’ Jewish World:

In Warsaw, Poland, 23 year-old Beata Gladis, a student at Krakow University, described a busy morning for the Polish tent, pitched nearby a central synagogue.

"The most important discussion was about anti-Semitism in Poland. Many non-governmental organizations and police took part. We do not have anti-Semitism aimed against people here, but there is destruction of historic monuments and anti-Semitic graffiti here.

When ‘equality’ equals ‘all in solidarity we stand’

The Tents are part of the Council of Europe’s All different – All equal campaign, fighting racism, etc.

Last October, however, the Kaczynski government wanted to change the name of the campaign.

The problem lay in the word ‘equal’, because ‘equality’ is synonymous in their minds with the ‘Equality Parade’, the gay pride march in Warsaw, etc.

The government pointed out that the Czech Republic had it’s own slogan: “Respect each other’, so why can’t Poland.

The Polish government preferred the much, much catchier:

“All different – all in solidarity we stand”.

Doesn’t roll off the tongue as well – and I question the rhythm: try chanting ‘All different – all in solidarity we stand’ at a political rally…doesn’t go, does it?

‘The workers, united, will never be defeated’...has a certain rhythm to it. So does the old classic we used to chant, back in my chanting days:

“Black and white, unite and fight”

It even rhymes!

They don’t write them like that anymore.

As naive as those slogans were, back then, at least they said something essential: that we are essentially the same – we have more things in common than we do differences.

‘Solidarity we stand’ is good in the Kaczynski version: but they still leave in ‘All different’.

And the original version: All different - All equal’, emphasizes equality over solidarity.

So, me, I think we have to have a compromise slogan:

“All equal – all essentially the same”

I know, it doesn’t really have the necessary ‘chant value’, either - in fact the only way you can chant it is if you do it in a kind of Dave Brubeck 5/4 time – but it tells a deeper truth than emphasizing our differences.

But that’s the multicultural way, innit?

Monday, September 17, 2007

A week is a long time in Polish politics

On the first day of the election campaign last Sunday, Civic Platform was…nowhere.

Instead of a rollicking barnstorming speech by the party leader, Donald Tusk, we got Jan Rokita – the other main personality in the party – in a very serious interview on television about some constitutional irregularity by the government on….snooze…

And then, a couple days later, Platform GOT EXCITING, and unveiled a Big Catch – former defense minister for the Law and Justice (PiS) government, Radek (did you know my wife is ace journalist, Ann Applebaum, and I once was a journo in Afghanistan and I carried a gun….I really did!) Sikorski – the Polish political action man.

Sikorski gave a short speech saying that he was, ‘Disappointed with Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski…etc,’ and then stalked off, smirking.

So, a big coup for Platform. And then...

Jan Rokita’s wife – Nelly - announces that she was going to work for …President Lech Kaczynski, to advise him on …‘women’s issues’!


Quite apart from what she will tell the president about women – many wags have said that Lech’s brother, Jaroslaw, needs the advice about women (but it would be beneath the dignity of this blog to discuss such things), it was quite an embarrassing thing to happen to Civic Platform. What was one of the party’s leader’s wives doing going to work for the dreaded Law and Justice government?

But Nelly – an eccentric character, who shares the same taste in hats as does her husband – had left Civic Platform a while ago, since Jan supported the PiS candidate in the last mayor election in Krakow.

Then Rokita had a hissy fit last week when all Tusk’s mates were put on the election list in Krakow but none of his were.

Rokita won that little battle by getting some of his mates back on the list and everything appeared to have calmed down.

And then Nelly – the political elephant - went and spoiled it all and turned up at the presidential palace.

Oh, dear. Enough for Jan, who has now ‘retired from politics’ and will now not be standing for election on October 21.

Tusk said that he understood that Jan’s throwing in the towel was ‘personal’ and not ‘political’.

Yeah, right. Rokita has never felt that comfortable in Civic Platform – he is more to the right and conservative than Tusk. Platform is really two different parties – as are all of Poland’s election machines, which are in effect, shaky alliances, waiting to break apart whenever someone sneezes.

But Nelly could be a rather expensive luxury for the Law and Justice party. With Rokita out of the way, Platform are far more likely to go into a coalition with the ex-communists after the election – something Jan Rokita would never have stood for.

So it is now not enough for Law and Justice to become the largest party in parliament. If they can’t form a coalition – and nobody really wants to get into their messy bed anymore - then it will be up to the Left and Civic Platform to form the next government.

A week is a long time in politics, and last week was a particularly long one for the Platform.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Bio fuel attacks cost of bread in Poland

The cost of bread, this autumn, is set to increase by 100 percent in Poland.

Why? Because the price of grain has increased as more and more farmers are encouraged to use their land for ‘bio-fuel’ products and less for growing food.

There is a shortage of grain. That means that the cost of grain derived products is increasing.

Italians have been on a ‘pasta strike’ today in protest against the rising price of spaghetti, etc...

Poles are facing a doubling in the price of bread and other products related to grain this autumn.

And the only reason for this is because the EU is giving greater subsidies to farmers turning over their land to growing rape seed and other products that could be used for bio fuel.

So Jo Kowalski is going to suffer from the current prejudice among middle class westerners that the Earth is going to hell and we should be all producing less – particularly emerging economies like Poland.

So cheers the Green consensus! You are making the price of bread more expensive for many poor people of Poland in your zeal to ‘save the planet’.

Aleksander Kwasniewski – still the Polish Left’s best asset?

Though he is not standing for parliament in the elections coming up in Poland on October 21, former president Kwasniewski has been thrust to the front of the campaign by the post-communist Left and Democrat alliance. Is this a good idea?

There are few politicians in Poland who can draw such strong and concrete opinions from the average Pole. Everyone has an opinion about Our Olek.

Many love him, others, as we will see, want to shave all his hair off!

He came to power in 1995, after a titanic struggle with the incumbent president, Lech Walesa. Kwasniewski’s victory was by less than one percentage point. The election showed how divided Poland was after five years of rule by Walesa, who had alienated many of his previous supporters by his autocratic style.

So Kwasniewski became the first – and so far only – ex- member of the communist party to become head of state in Poland via a democratic election.

Once in the presidential palace, Kwasniewski quickly became the most popular politician in Poland – if the opinion polls were to be believed. And he remained in that position for much of the ten years he was in office, after winning a second election in 2000.

Towards the end of his term there was a slip in support as he became identified with the inevitable cronyism of Polish political life.

The conservative right always hated him throughout those ten years, of course.

He took some time off out of the political limelight to go on lecture tours of the US. But this year he has returned to front the Left’s election campaign.

Aleksander immediately puts his foot in it

In an interview last week with the German version of Vanity Fair, Kwasniewski seemed to confirm what many of his opponents thought of him already. He is a traitor.

He said that if Kaczynski’s Law and Justice Party regained power after the election then Germany should react much more toughly in their relations to the Polish government.

Cue outrage! One Law and Justice politician said that, for appearing to take sides with Germany against Poland Kwasniewski should have done to him what collaborators with the Nazis had done to them during the WW II occupation: have their head shaved!

Kwasniewski first claimed that he had been ‘misquoted’ then ‘mistranslated’ but later repented and apologized for his remarks.

It shows that Kwas will never be free of controversy.

But has the row done him any harm? Do Poles want to shave the guy’s head?

Well, an opinion poll released today shows that Kwasniewski – after all these years and after many a scandal – is still the second most trusted politician in Poland!

It appears that many Poles don’t want to shave his head, rather pat it...trustfully.

Kwasniewski is still, by a long way, the discredited Left’s best asset in the coming election – which may show, simply, what a race of pygmies the Left political scene is in Poland.

Or maybe it shows what a race of pygmies Polish politicians are in general.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Poles in anti-Islamification protest in Brussels

Maybe a hundred or two neo-Nazis, skinheads and far right types from Denmark, Germany, and even a few Poles now resident in the UK, turned up to shout slogans about how Islam is taking over Europe.

At Luxemburg Place, near the EU Parliament, there was also the ritualistic pushing and shoving with the cops, who were expecting up to 20,000, not the pathetic amount the organizers could round up (see here and here).

In fact, cops and media outnumbered protestors.

The slogans on the banners included: No Sharia here! …etc.

The demonstration was organized, among others, by Stephen Gash of Stop Islamisation of Europe and of the English Democrats, a party with some members previously in neo-Nazi organizations like the British Nationalist Party (see here).

One Pole told IAR: “Muslims who come to England do not want to assimilate. Their lifestyle, their values, are completely opposite to what we believe in.”

Which is, of course, not true. It is a few of the second and third generation Muslims in the UK (like the 7/7 bombers) who are getting turned on to radical Islam – not their parents.

But the Polish press has been full of the ‘Islamic menace’ today, too.

The Dziennik newspaper published an article by Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation and the security advisor to George W. Bush. He says:

Poland still remembers tragic events of September 11, 2001. Among all Europeans, perhaps except for the Irish, Poles have the closest ties with America. Not long ago terrorist attacks were planned in Denmark and Germany. The next step of Al-Qaeda could be attacking Poland. Poles have their historic experience of blocking the expansion of Islam. [in 1683 a large-scale battle in Vienna was won by Polish-Austrian-German forces led by King of Poland Jan III Sobieski against the Ottoman Empire]. Nowadays they fight bravely in Afghanistan and they fulfill their mission in Iraq. Putting a halt to the spread of radical Islam is now crucial for the West. The United States and Poland will never accept Osama’s attempts to dominate in the world.”

Of course, some nutters (who make sure they wear tight enough trousers before suicide attacks, according to one of the 9/11 bomber's suicide note - he also didn't want anyone to touch his genitals before burial - as if he would have any genitals left after flying a plain into a large building) might try something in Poland. And that would be horrible. But how is al-Qaeda, or radical Islam in general, going to dominate the West?

A few bombs are shocking and barbaric but these people are not in a position to dominate anyone.

It’s the weakness that many feel in Europe – and their lack of commitment to ‘our way of life’ – whatever that is - which is the only thing that could threaten that way of life.

There are not enough radical Muslims in Europe, nor can they ever find enough suicide bombers, to be a threat to Poland or anywhere else in our continent.

Time to calm down and for the few deluded Poles who came over from the UK to protest in Brussels to go and do something more useful with their time – and ours.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Idiots guide to Polish elections Part I

First part of an occasional series on possibly the weirdest bunch of politicians in the world. Maybe.

Being an idiot is not a disadvantage when trying to understand the Polish political scene. In fact, it maybe an advantage.

So if Polish politics makes you feel a little nauseous, disorientated, maybe even depressed, then the beatroot is here to help.

You see, Poland is a land that has been making up for a lack of elections before 1989 – due to the intervention of something called Soviet communism – by having quite a few ballots and governments since 1989. The last government has only lasted two years.

Poles have always loved Italian style – although they prefer their shoes, clothes and architecture to their short – lived governments and coalitions.

Shame then that they seemed to have inherited Italian politics without the style.

Now the Poles have been called upon to give the consent on October 21 to yet another one.

Maybe less than half the electorate will bother. But what are the issues that they will be expected to drag themselves the polling booths this time?


The Polish economy grew by over 7 percent between January and the end of March this year.

That’s good.

The Law and Justice government claim that this is something to do with them.

That’s bull.

But the government is claiming that because the economy is growing so fast this means that more tax will be coming into the government coffers, which means that they can increase spending on protecting the rural east of the country from the ravages of the market (one of their main constituencies) the poor, state sector etc…

They sound like a bunch of socialists, but they would probably punch you on the nose if you accused them of this. They are, after all, made up of the conservative faction of the Solidarity movement.

The main opposition party, Civic Platform - a small state, but still socially conservative party (also made up of another Solidarity faction) - think that the growth in the economy is all to do with Poland joining the EU three years ago. They aim to cut taxes, cut public spending and shaft the poor. Used to believe in a low, flat tax policy but are now a little bit scared of being so open about this as it seems to have pissed off many voters.


Jaroslaw Kaczynski thinks that he is the modern day Josef Pilsudski – who presided over the Sanacja regime between the two world wars in Poland.

The Sanacja regime attempted a "moral sanitation" of the newly reborn Polish nation, and Kaczynski has got it into his head that post communist Poland needs a moral sanitation to sweep the place clean of …well….post communists.

The Polish post communists – i.e. rich people – say the Kaczynski brothers, are a bit like Russian oligarchs, who got their sweaty hands on the newly capitalist economy post 1989. - except they are not nearly wealthy enough to purchase Chelsea FC or any other English football clubs – like real oligarchs like Abramovich.

The post communists and liberals have carved up Poland in their interests and are nasty and corrupt and ….nasty – say Kaczynski-ites.

The Kaczynski brothers have promised to clean up Poland like Travis in Scorsese’s Taxi Driver wanted to clean up New York (and sweep the post communist/liberal scum from the streets of Warsaw).

The opposition maintains, however, that the government is using the police, prosecution services, and the secret services, to intimidate and harass political opponents.
The ex-communist Left says that it wants to restore order in Poland. Shame then that everyone thinks they are a corrupt bunch of shits....

Foreign Policy

The Law and Justice government is accused of creating the worst relations between its immediate neighbors – Germany and Russia – since 1989, and the EU generally regards Warsaw as a bit of a circus freak.

The opposition - both centre right and ex-communist left – wants to restore better relations with Berlin and seek to calm down antagonisms with President Putin.


The government believes that the true character of the Polish nation can be found in its Catholicism. It has been very close buddies with Radio Maryja, who many believe is less pro-Catholic than anti-Semite.

But never mind: when you are a government that seems to have virtually no friends in the mainstream media, then the extremes are going to be attractive.

Only problem is: the head of Radio Maryja, Father Rydzyk, was exposed via a tape recently telling a group of students in his ‘media school’ that the First Lady, Maria Kaczynski, is ‘a witch’ and the president was too accommodating to the ‘Jewish lobby’

The opposition says that with friends like that, then who needs enemies?

Rydzyk has refused to apologize for his wayward comments, although a commonly heard joke maintains he has.

Rydzyk rings up the Presidential Palace, residence of President Lech Kaczynski. Lech picks up the phone.

Rydzyk: Hello, is that Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski?

President: No, actually it’s his twin brother, Lech.

Rydzyk: Oh, sorry [puts phone down]…

You see…he did apologize after all …

Saturday, September 08, 2007

A few Polish turkeys vote for Christmas

And so it came to pass…the Polish Parliament votes for an election, probably October 21, just under two years after the last one (photo -

Watching the debate before the dissolution vote Friday night, I couldn’t resist feeling a little teeny weeny bit sorry for some of the members of parliament, as I simultaneously laughed my head off at them.

As the speakers ranted from the rostrum, two were caught getting out little screw drivers and removing the name plates in front of their seats to take home for souvenirs. They knew they wouldn’t be coming back.

“Look, kids, I really was a Member of the Polish Parliament,” they will tell the grandchildren, one day, as they drool into their vodka, the fading memories of one of the weirdest terms of parliament in the history of weird parliaments whizzing round their crazed little brains.

Meanwhile, Jan Rokita – maybe the next prime minister in waiting – from Civic Platform feigned complete disinterest in the whole proceedings by flicking through what looked like an art catalogue.

On the government benches, Jolanta Szczypinska – who has been rumored to be Jaroslaw Kaczynski’ showing the MPs to the left, right and behind her a text message she had received on her mobile. Maybe it was a photo of Jaroslaw’s cat?

The debate itself was the usual pre-election stuff: the opposition taunting the government, the government trying to find things it was proud of.

Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski only turned up for the vote after the debate - the ruling Law and Justice party left it to their resident pitbull, Jacek Kurski to defend the government’s record.

He listed the government’ of which had nothing to do with them: robust economic growth, lowest inflation ever, lowest interest rates, etc….

He also claimed as a success the fact that President Lech Kavzynski had not ‘staggered around drunk’ in front of any memorials – a reference to an incident when the previous president, post-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, once did appear to have had one (six) too many at a ceremony.

And then they voted. Most of the MPs knew that an election was the only way to resolve what has been two years of political instability. Many must have voted with a heavy heart, as many from the League of Polish Families and Self defense, for instance, will not be coming back.

But as to who will win the election is not clear. Civic Platform are favourites – although two opinion polls have shown a lead – the first time for 9 months - for Law and Justice. The Kaczynskis have around a 25 percent electoral base that no amount of scandal seems to shift.

And the Kaczynski team are amazingly good campaigners. They get dirty, really dirty. Expect all manner of scandals to emerge about other politicians. They are going to dig and dig for dirt. Corruption is going to be their platform, yet again.

So don’t bet against ‘the Ducks’. Many of the scandals over the last two years, and the incompetence and the manipulation and the intrigue, have literally been like water off a duck’s back.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Polish election coming – spend, spend, spend

Polish politicians are going nuts. An election is just around the corner and politicians are throwing money at the electorate in the hope of buying a few votes.

There is an expression in Poland – the election sausage. Political parties organize little fetes and political meetings, and in amongst the rhetoric there would be a few sausages, a beer and other ‘gadgets’ thrown in for free.

Well, politicians are not dishing out sausages anymore in Poland, they are dishing out child benefits, tax breaks on having kids, longer maternity leave and much more besides.

Take yesterday in the Polish Parliament. The government was determined to get through tax breaks for Poles who have kids. It had promised an extra 3 billion in a tax give away. So what did the parliament – all sides of the parliament – do? They voted to increase the give away to...6.5 billion!

Ooo, look at the size of that sausage!

The finance minister, Zyta Gilowska, was a little surprised and described the vote as ‘madness’ and the Polish equivalent of a parliamentary ‘cock up’.

The opposition - all types of it - had the gaul to criticize the government last week for coming to an agreement with the Solidarity trade union to increase the minimum wage. The largest opposition party, Civic Platform, claimed that such a move, just before an election this autumn, was a blatant election sausage if ever they saw one.

The government replied that they were just keeping to promises they had made earlier.

On Monday the government forced through parliament an increase in the length of maternity leave and an extra few zloty payment for each child born.

These 'pro-family' policies are in keeping with the government’s belief that if you pay Poles a few extra zloty for having children then everyone will go home and have an ‘early night’.

It’s the equivalent of a ‘child friendly sausage’ - or maybe even 'child abuse'.

But all this is going to leave the government’s budget plans in a bit of a mess. The next government – who ever that may be – is going to have to pick up the tab for a pre-election spending spree.

The Parliament will probably dissolve itself tomorrow which makes an election in late October a certainty.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Mother Teresa, Princess Diana – the populist saints?

Mother Teresa died 10 years ago today, just days after ‘The Peoples' Princess’, Diana died under a flyover in Paris. History has been kind to them since.

Both Teresa and Diana had a lot in common – they have both been remembered for their personal suffering, their selflessness, and for good works (Mother Theresa for ‘helping the poor’ – Diana for ‘helping’ people with AIDS and boldly going where no princess had boldly gone before – into the middle of a field of landmines.

Mother Teresa is on a fast track to Sainthood – and there are still many that would like to cast Dianna as some kind of secular Saint.

There has been nearly as much coverage today in Poland of the death of Mother Theresa ten years ago as there was in the UK on the tenth anniversary of the speed crash death of Diana.

But are their reputations so deserved?

Diana has been portrayed as a victim of the media’s greed and intrusiveness – quite forgetting that she courted their attention when she wanted to. She was also a victim of a jug-eared adulterer, apparently.

And Mother Teresa?

Father Tomasz Jaklewicz of Poland's largest Catholic weekly Gosc Niedzielny told Polish Radio today::

'I think that blessed Mother Theresa is very popular in Poland. Maybe this is because she is associated with Pope John Paul II. She is one of the three persons in white - John Paul II in his white cassock, Mother Theresa in her white sari, and I would add here brother Roger of the Taize community in his white habit. These three persons constitute a kind of an icon of the Church in the 20th century. What is interesting, they are not so much like saints of the old type, whom we pray to and ask for intercession, but they are more like role models. I think each of them, in their own way, present the face of the Church that is close to people.'

Mother Teresa as role model?

Christopher Hitchens – the author of the Mother Teresa biography The Missionary Position makes comments about the Mother of Calcutta that are equally compatible (although substitute the word 'church' for 'media') to Diana, who Tony Blair once called ‘The Queen of Hearts…(puke).:

What is so striking about the "beatification" of the woman who styled herself "Mother" Teresa is the abject surrender, on the part of the church, to the forces of showbiz, superstition, and populism...

Mother Teresa was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction.

And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit.

But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

Well, indeed.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Beat’s back

So, a month has gone by and all hell has broken loose in Poland (see post below).

So much, so normal, I hear you cry, ruefully.

And you would be right, really. Things on the political scene have just gone from nasty, to really nasty.

Me – nothing much has changed either, really. Didn’t get to play my guitar, though.

The only real change has been that we discovered on a routine trip to the vet yesterday that the dog (above) only has one testicle where it should be! The other one is somewhere else, apparently, but we are still looking for it. Knowing him, it’s somewhere inside his brain.

He has also developed some worrying cross dressing habits when we are out.

Still, the dog and Polish politics have got one thing in common – they are both full of bollocks.

Poland’s Rubicon crossed?

This is Editor of Gazeta Wyborcza Adam Michnik commenting after the arrests of an ex-interior minister, an ex-police chief and an ex-head of the PZU national insurer (see here, here and here) last Thursday.

The Rubicon has been crossed; the Rubicon separating a law-governed democracy from the country of a creeping coup d'etat. There is no longer any doubt - the Kaczyński brothers and their milieu will use whatever means and tricks possible to hide the truth about the grim secrets and to remain in power until the elections….

The opposition are saying that the Polish police force, public prosecutors and secret services are being used to intimidate, harass and gag political opponents.

Michnik – imprisoned for being an anti-communist activist in the 1960s - draws some alarming parallels between the Kaczynski administration and even darker days in Poland.

[…] to arrest political rivals shortly before elections is something new. One is reminded of the 1946-1947 period when the Soviet-imposed communists invalidated electoral registers, imprisoned opposition candidates, and ultimately rigged the elections. After that, until 1989, there were no free elections in Poland.

Hyperbole? Paranoid?

But I have seen some very scared people in this country in the last two years. And that fear, whatever its justification, has had real effects. It’s not just Michnik who fears opening the door early in the morning and being confronted by men in a black balaclava on backwards, only their eyes peeking through the scary wool ware – as Janusz Kaczmarek was early Thursday morning.

This government believes that a kind of Polish oligarchy grew up with the fall of communism. I think that is partially right. A lot of sticky fingers got their hands in the pie early. It is the same in all ex-communist countries.

But the Kaczinskis go one step further than that. They see an organized conspiracy between ex-Stalinists and the new middle class liberals in the media and in business generally, in the old secret services, judges, constitutional courts….and even in organized crime.

Hyperbole? Paranoid?

The way the Kaczynskis have gone about breaking up the supposed oligarchy – the uklad – has been to create a parallel universe, the old Polish political tactic of cronyism. Nothing new there: Polish governments have been doing that for years. But they have done it with a zeal that few have seen since…well, back in those darker days.

This has created its own pinball of paranoia throughout the country.

Whatever – the politics of paranoia gets results. The Kaczynskis zeal plays well with many in Poland. It’s basically the new Polish politics of class.

Small traders, rural folk, those in unemployment black spots, who have not done as well as the shiny elites and new middle class, will vote for this type of populism.

The shiny elites and new middle class – often same bunch and children of the old communist elites - despise the government and its allies. And it’s easy to see why.

An election is coming. And after the election not much will change. Poland is now a country rife with good old fashioned class conflict – and when you strip away all the hyperbole and paranoia, that’s just about the long and short of it. An election will not solve that.