Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Beatroot’s Pole of the Year


Yes, it’s that time of the year, when magazines, TV programmes, and blogs, name the person most unforgettable in 2008.

Normally, when editors, etc, name their person of the year people agree or disagree and then that’s the end of it. When Time magazine named “You”, as their person of the year - titter, titter - there was some derision, but nobody was sacked, nobody died, and wars they broke out, not.

Well, not, that is, unless you are the award show shown on TVP this November, the annual Roze Gali (Gala Roses) that is. The event was sponsored by Gala magazine - Polish Hello-type drivel - one of those excruciatingly awful rags, full of beautiful celebrities showing us their beautiful wives/husbands/children/homes/pet parrots/white teeth, all in glorious photographic yukky-colour.

The award show was proceeding as award shows usually do - full of beautiful celebs thanking other beautiful celebs for being such beautiful celebs. So far, so beautiful.

And then…oh, dear! The award for Most Beautiful Couple - it’s true, they have such a category (pass the bucket when you are finished with it) - was given to film critic and journalist Tomasz Raczek and his partner, graphic designer, journalist and writer…Marcin Szczygielski!

Aaaarrgh! Gurgle.

A gay couple gets award for most beautiful couple on public television award show shock!

Cue scandal and outrage by the lay governing board which oversees TVP and full of nominees fromLaw and Justice, League of Polish Families and the Self defence party. Yes, you thought the Fourth Republic government was given the boot by voters over a year ago. But no. This coalition - a fractious coalition, as always - still controls large parts of public media. And the terms of these governing bodies, like the umbrella watchdog and controller the Radio and Television Council, overlap and outlast terms of government.

So conflict is actually built in to the Polish Constitution.

And folk scratch their heads wondering why there is so much chaos in Polish governance!

Anyway, back at TVP, the program makers claimed that Gala magazine had kept from them that a gay relationship was going to be endorsed by Polish public TV. The Board of Directors (who are in day-today control of the all the public television stations) was sacked, for this and other alleged incompetence. A new board was hastily put in place.

But the old board said that their dismissal was unconstitutional and refused to stand down and are still trying to administer cash-strapped TVP.

You have to feel sorry for TVP. Chaos as usual. And its financial situation is dire - people have all but given up paying the licence fee after Donald Tusk announced he wants to ditch it and fund the place via direct taxation, at the same time arguing that public TV has got to be de-politicised! Um…

So, the choice of Most/Best person/couple thing is not without its dangers, its consequences. But who to choose for Beatroot’s Most Unforgettable Pole of the Year?

It’s got to be one of the world's top goalkeepers, Our Artur Boruc.

Not for what he does in goal - he’s good but inconsistent. He has trouble concentrating, you see, probably since he started getting death threats after he was photographed in Warsaw with a new chick - ex-gangland moll, allegedly - getting pissed when he was on the injury list at Glasgow Celtic and only days after his wife and kid left him and headed back to Poland. That’s one beautiful couple who will no longer be gracing the glossy pages of Gala magazine.

But Boruc’s main talent is for winding people up and, being a favourite trait of this blog’s, then for that the Beatroot nominates him for Pole of the Year.

But then again, you might disagree…

Monday, December 15, 2008

Why is the West so fascinated by a Buddhist monk?


He came (for a week), he saw, he talked quite a lot of harmless nonsense. But he conquered a few hearts in the process. So just what is it about the Dalai Lama that makes westerners turn so gooey-eyed?

Poland was part of the Dalai Lama’s extensive European tour. He was guest of honour at Lech Walesa’s Nobel Peace Prize anniversary bash last weekend; he was in Wroclaw receiving honorary citizenship; he was in Warsaw for an impromptu meeting with President Lech Kaczynski and then wowed an audience of a thousand or so, where he gave a rambling lecture about compassion. And he giggled a lot. He giggled for the whole seven days.

He’s an outwardly nice, old man, just like your slightly daft great uncle.

But the power he has over young westerners and older media hacks is awesome to behold. You would think he was…well, divine - a strange choice of hero in a godless Europe.

So there must be more to the Dalai Lama phenomenon than his Buddha-like qualities. Why is a man who was elected by nobody, who is in control of a semi-state which is run like some medieval religious fiefdom, able to draw such awe from the otherwise cynical, liberal westerner?

I mean, he is not even that keen on gays...surly the barometer of who is cool and who is not, these days? He is the arch-pacifist who thinks that the Iraq war could have been justified!

Maybe he is just a silly old man?

He’s probably much more popular in the West than he is in his own “country”, where many see him as an antiquated old man from a different age.

And what is it about the Tibet struggle for some autonomy from China that excites liberals like many other political struggles do not? Why Free Tibet and not Free China? Why not free themselves?

Maybe the fascination with Tibet and the Lama tells us more about us in the West than it does about the politics of China. Maybe westerners have got this romantic view of Tibet…unspoilt by industrialisation (otherwise known as “progress”); Tibet seems so pure whereas those nasty Chinese have turned into US - consumed by consumerism, building an economy, maximising progress? Tibet is juxtaposed with our own self-hatred.

“They seem so happy,” thinks the westerner as he sees the Dalai Lama go into another fit of the giggles.

The reality of life in Tibet is probably very different from that. It’s a traditional backwater, where most of the labour is backbreakingly antiquated and where the young are yearning for what we have in the West but have learnt, from somewhere, to have contempt for.

I think that having the Dalai Lama as your top political hero is rather sad. It means that we cannot draw inspiration any longer from what we have achieved here, in Europe and America and in many parts of Asia, but only from an elderly man in an orange robe, with a twinkle is his eye.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Confessions of a Dyskopatia sufferer

The doctor told me I had dykopatia - discopathy, today. No, it’s not an irrational aversion to disco dancing - or even the Bee Gees - but it does explain why it feels like a hippopotamus has been kicking me in the back recently.

So sitting and writing long posts is just too tiring at the moment. Back when the pills start working.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Poznan climate conference denial


Hundreds of delegates have descended on Poznan in the west of Poland for the United Nations climate conference, ostensibly to “discuss” a global response to global warming. But the last thing that the environmental movement, and many governments, want is a “discussion” about anything at all.

The 12 day climate catastrophe shindig started yesterday with Poland’s environmental minister taking the chair, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk making the opening speech. He said the correct, soothing things; he kept to the script. “No human activity should disturb the symbiosis between man and nature…”

The Poznan summit is but a prelude to a deal, which every country on Earth must sign up to, seemingly, which will be made in Copenhagen next December. Before then a lot of talking will be talked, a lot of carbon miles will be burnt up in diplomatic travel, a lot of hot air will be aired.

The climax of this year’s event - which picks up the Bali baton of last year - will be the arrival of the Climate Catastrophist Superstars, in the bulky shape of Al Gore and even more bulky Arnold Schwarzenegger . Mikhail Gorbachev and Lech Walesa will also be attendees, but where they fit in is anybody’s guess.

You get the feeling that the Polish government just loves having the UN on its patch to talk climate change. Status! Ping! You also get the impression that Poland is an unlikely host to such a thing.

You see, Poland, aided by Italy and supported by at least six other EU countries, are challenging the targets of the EU - which are even more strict than the UN proposals, to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent of 1990 levels by 2020. Poland is - according to Greenpeace - among the top 20 twenty carbon emitters in the world, due to its jolly old fashioned reliance on coal for 90 percent of its energy needs.

PM Tusk has led the charge in Brussels saying that if he does not get concessions on the targets he is going to veto the whole thing. This will not please Brussels. With its constitution/reform treaty thing put in cold storage by those pesky Irish, the climate deal is the next main chance to show us how relevant they are and how the world needs them so, very much.

So Poland is the host of the climate change summit while at the same time being an arch enemy of climate renewal, or whatever Greenpeace et al term such a position.

Taking the peace out of green

So Poland has become a target for Greenpeace and other groups. It has launched its usual media savvy protests (who needs a mass movement of greens behind you when you can simply turn up regularly on the Six O’clock news?) aimed at the coal industry in Poland. Two weeks ago it blocked an open face coal mine in Konin, on the way to Warsaw from the west, causing, say owners, a 100,000 euro loss of production. Miners, understandably, got a little annoyed with this mixture of Polish greens and climate change tourists, and fisty-cuffs was the result.

The new liberal/left seemingly has little support for the working class and trade unionists - how dare they want to protect their jobs, and even want more in general, when we have to 'save the planet'? Or not.

I heard a Polish Greenpeace activist saying on the radio yesterday that, “we have no choice” but to cut carbon emissions… “The Science” supports us…etc, etc.

Whether the science supports the global warming thesis is still open to some question - and the debate within science goes on, although you would never believe it. But it does - one of my favourite web sites is this one, and you can read for yourself both, and many, sides of the argument and judge for yourself.

But why do environmentalists stoop to use words like “denier” for anyone that dares disagree with them? And why do some of them say climate change denial is morally and socially unacceptable? And don’t they think that is a little, tiny-winy bit …authoritarian?

Compare the reaction to two documentaries. The first, Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth - the other, by climate-change denier, Martin Durkin and his The Great Global Warming Swindle (see documentary here).

Both films have some inaccuracies in them, in fact. But one won an Oscar and led to a Nobel Prize, the other director was frequently deemed in “climate change denial.”

“In denial”, a phrase associated with a psychological disorder or, even, Holocaust denial? George Monbiot, in the Guardian: “Almost everywhere, climate change denial now looks as stupid and as unacceptable as Holocaust denial.”

So, according to the new thought crime, to descent from the path of holy climate change - i.e. to question the amount of warming and/or that the only way to combat such a warming is to cut back on economic growth (even for counties like Poland that never had that much growth in the first place) is the moral equivalent of being…well,… David Irving!

I find that disgusting. Climate change is a political issue. And what is a political issue without political debate? Authoritarianism. Nasty.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Georgian shootings were a Saakashvili, Kaczynski set up?


Evidence mounts that the visit of presidents of Poland and Georgia to a disputed area on the South Ossetia border on Sunday, was designed to increase the tension in the region.

Georgians, not Russians were behind the now infamous shooting incident.

In fact, the Saakashvili presidency has been accused, even by one of its own members, of planning attacks on sepratist regions in August this year. This crisis was not the immediate cause of a “Russian” invasion anywhere, let alone South Ossetia: it was the result of a petulant Sakkashvili, easily provoked by Moscow.

The shooting incident on Sunday, when president of Georgia and Poland, went to the de facto border between Georgia and South Ossetia - and an area that was once in Tbilisi’s hands before the August war - appears, according to the Polish security service, BOR, to have been a set up by Presidents Saakashvili and his Polish friend. A report for the government says that Polish security forces became separated from the presidents’ car. When the first of three bursts of automatic fire began, Georgian commanders at the scene did not flinch, did not react. It was almost as if they were expecting the gunfire. Saakashvili was reported by BOR to have been smiling!

The accusation by even Polish officials that this was a set up by the Georgian side - and not the Russians as Kaczynski and Saakashvili have both alleged - does two things. It hands over to the Kremlin a propaganda victory - people will begin to believe Putin much more than they will a Kaczynski or a Saakashvili, or a Bush; it also gives the excuse to Moscow to ratchet up the bullyboy tactics in the Caucuses, and weakens any principled stand against them.

Many are coming to the conclusion that Poland’s president’s obsession with the region is helping make the place more unstable. If rule one of foreign policy is: ’Do no harm’, then Kaczynski is failing the test.

We should not join President Kaczynski or anyone else - like George W. Bush - in trying to make out that Saakashvili is some kind of super-patriot, fighting a lone battle against the evil empire of Russia. The reality is that both politicians - from Georgia and Poland - are more interested in a “crusade” against the Kremlin, for reasons best known to themselves. The rest of us should not be joining in on this vanity project.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Kaczynski, Saakashvili at the end of Russian guns?


Oh, dear. This story is going to be huge.

It is emerging that two different issues are at stake: firstly, who fired the shots and were the shots actually fired at President Saakashvili and President Kaczynski? And secondly, it has emerged that the security arrangments travelling with Pres. Kaczynski were woefully inadequate for a trip to what is, basically, still a war zone.

The convoy travelling with the two presidents was between 15 and 30 cars. Journalists, unusually, were placed near the front of the motorcade. Suspicious? The trip - to an area in South Ossetia, which was, unusually, was in control of Georgia before the short war in August but is now in Russian controlled hands - appears to have not been on President Kaczynski’s original itinerary: he was in Georgia to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the so-called Rose Revolution. But, sometime on the way to Georgia, or when he was actually there, he and Saakashvili decided to go and see if Russian troops had in fact withdrawn, as was in the plan the EU cooked up at the end of the shooting.

Well, Kaczynski found - you could say, Kaczynski has demonstrated - that Russia is still in control there.

Russia says the whole thing was cooked up by Saakashvili and Kaczynski to make Moscow look bad. Kaczynski and Saakashvili say that the whole thing was a provocation by Russia.

At a guess, the shots probably were by South Ossetian militia - but to what aim? They say that the convoy asked for permission to enter the area but this was refused. Some of the cars, regardless, started to enter. Maybe that was when the shots - warning shots - were fired?

That said, reports by journalists travelling with the two presidents say that at times security officials were nowhere near the car taking Kaczynski to a zone with a lot of guns in it. Whatever Kaczynski was up to he was being extremely reckless, as he was when he showed up with presidents of the Baltic states and Ukraine on the final day of the August conflict.

The Polish government has been trying to clam things down saying that the whole incident was not as serious as is being painted by the Presidential Palace and they have inferred that this is a very convenient way for president Kaczynski to scupper any re-start of talks between the EU and Russia to forge a wide ranging agreement on many issues - something that the Civic Platform led government supports.

Whatever - Kaczynski’s one man war with the Ruskis continues.

the beatroot in Jerusalem


“In the last 17 years, this country has been invaded by murderers, thieves, prostitutes…and spies,” says David, dramatically, a Georgian migrant to Israel, who works as a security guard at the Yad Vashem institute in Jerusalem.

We had only met the guy two minutes before, after stopping to ask the way out of the vast and beautiful complex of Yad Vashem, set up as a permanent reminder of the Shoah, or Holocaust, situated on the edge of a forest on the outskirts of the Israeli capital. But already - true to his Georgian roots - David has offered us something to eat - a tray of meatballs, mashed potato and pasta - and is now pouring us a huge glass of vodka. Lovely guy!

David, the security guard - so he must have been bored out of his skull (cap) - says he came to Israel in the mid-1970s, after working for the KGB in some aircraft surveillance capacity. He was on duty for the Soviets in Prague in 1968 and was ordered to shoot people - something he says was “terrifying”. “If you don’t shoot then they [the Soviets] shoot you,” he said, as the vodka liberated his tongue.

Eventually he had had enough of working for the Russians and left for Israel. Now, as he pours the second, huge glass of vodka for me, he says how Israel has changed for the worst, mainly due to some of the recent immigrants, he claims.

We were at Yad Vashem to see the latest name to be added to the list of over 22,000 people from 41 countries, honoured as the Righteous Among Nations, those who helped Jews, often risking their own lives to do so, during Nazi occupation. The last name, which was added to the list on November 11 this year, was of Catholic Pole, Stanislawa Slawinska, who sheltered ten Jews in her home, while a Nazi officer lived next door.

The list - laid out by country - resides, elegantly, in a garden about five minutes walk from the main museum building. So after passing through the museum - a harrowing experience, but one of the most extraordinary exhibitions I have ever seen, telling the whole gruesome story of Nazi horror - we set off to look for the garden, the lists and the name of Stanislawa.

You can imagine the disappointment, then, when I discovered that though her name had been put at the end of the long list of names of the Righteous from Poland - far bigger than any other nation - it had been mysteriously rubbed off - as you can see by the photo below.

I am presently trying to establish why this is so.*

Changes

But David is right about how Israel has changed, certainly since my days working on the Megiddo Kibbutz, quite near Nazareth in the north, in the late 1980s.

For one thing, things have got a lot more expensive. Having to pay up to 20 euro a bottle of wine, in many places, is not a sustainable price for a wine-enthusiast anywhere, let alone one coming from Poland! (Israeli wine is now very drinkable, thankfully - another change from 20 years ago!)

Another, more important, change, is the growth of religiosity in Israel. It was very noticeable to me how many more of the ultra-orthodox there are, but also how the Muslim community has become more religious, too. I was given two explanations for this.

We were sharing a taxi with a Jewish guy from Cockfosters in London, a place only known, as he said, for its position at the opposite end of the Piccadilly line from Heathrow airport. He was on a business trip for the chief rabbi in London - something to do with education programmes. I was asking him when and where his family came to London from? He said he didn’t know for sure, but it was probably somewhere in Poland, certainly before the 1860s.

He then pointed out that the ulra-religious in Israel has many more children than the more secular Israeli - up to eight children a family, on average! - so the growth of religiosity is a simple numbers game.

Though from London, he referred to coming to Israel as like “coming home.” But after we dropped him off at his hotel, our driver - who had been quiet throughout our ten minute conversation - immediately became very animated.

“You asked good questions,” he said. “He says he is coming home. But whose home is that?”

Our driver was a Palestinian who lived in the Old Town in Jerusalem. And whose home Israel is, of course, is at the root of all the problems there.

“They talk about something that happened 60 years ago. But what are they doing now? Here. Today!”

I asked him why I could see more signs of religion among the Palestinian population.

“It‘s simple - we don’t like seeing the western way of life.” I asked him, however, if he didn’t think that the problem was more about politics than religion - the old pan-Arab, secular nationalism has failed, leaving the door open for more religious groups like Hamas to take over.

“No, I hate politics,” he said, and then proceeded to give me a lecture about Palestinian politics.

“If they have another election then Hamas will win it, not Fatah. Fatah came from Tunisia, not from here. They have no roots. And they were only in it for themselves. But Hamas have roots in Palestine, and they do good for the Palestinian.”

“But you know,” he said, waving his hand out the window at the Israelis of Jerusalem, who were hurriedly going about their business on Jaffa Street: “We have fought wars with the British, and they went. We have fought wars against the [Crusaders], and they left. These will have to leave too, one day.”

Whether the growth of religion in Israel is a numbers game, or childbearing patterns, or because of western decadence is open for debate. But I still maintain that it is actually the failure of the old leftwing-rightwing politics in Israel and elsewhere that is leaving the way open for ultra-conservatives, both Israeli and Palestinian - and that means the end of this long conflict is getting further away, not nearer.

photos by traczka/beat productions

* Yad Vashem mystery solved.

It appears that the name of Stanislawa Slawinska was rubbed off the wall in the photo because somebody put her name on the wrong wall by mistake! So it was rubbed and the name was engraved, later, at the proper place. The photo below shows the unveling ceremony, November 11.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Marines Suspected in Sergeant's Slaying


Have been asked by journalist David Dastych to publish this letter from mother of murdered Sgt. Jan Pietrzak to president-elect Barack Obama.

November 11, 2008
Barack Obama
President Elect of the United States
Washington DC

Dear President Obama:

They killed my son. He was 24 years old. He was a US Marine Sergeant. His name was Jan Pawel Pietrzak. Jan Pawel is John Paul in English. He was named after the Polish Pope John Paul II, who made this world different and changed the course of history bringing about the fall of communism.

In 1994, we immigrated to United States with my husband, son and daughter and settled in Brooklyn, NY. My husband and I worked hard to bring our children up to be good Americans, patriotic and faithful to their new
country.

After 9/11 my son at 17 decided to join the Marines. He wanted to defend America. He wanted to join the legendary corps known for Honor, Courage and Commitment, to protect the American President and most important people. He chose a tough but noble path of the Corps of the Few and the Proud.

He Joined the Marine Corps in 2003, fought in Iraq. After his tour of duty, he was assigned to Camp Pendleton, CA. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant in a helicopter unit, commanding a technical support team. In May, he bought a house in Winchester and on August 8 married Quiana Jenkins, his Afro-American bride from California. They were just beginning to build their life together.

That life was taken from them on October 15 in a savage murder. They were attacked in their own home. They were bound, gagged, and tortured. My son's wife was brutally raped, probably before his eyes. Subsequently, they were executed in cold blood.

The murderers were four soldiers, US Marines, like my son, his brothers in arms. From the same unit as my son, two under his command. They were four Afro-Americans, like my daughter-in-law, her brothers of the same ethnic extraction, brothers who murdered their sister.

I ask: Why did it happen? Wherefrom such hate, such savagery, such indifference? Why were my son and my daughter-in-law so unacceptable to them? What was the underlying motive? Was it just a desire to burglarize the house? If this was really the case then why did they not come when my son was away? Why did they come in the middle of the night armed to their teeth?

I ask: How could such an unthinkable act happen? How could such individuals, predisposed to murder, one of them was a former gang member press accounts induction have been lowered recently for need of manpower in a time of war?

If individuals with a record couldn¹t be inducted, my son and his bride would be alive today.

Death in a war is a patriotic honor for a soldier. This fact enables the family to overcome the tragic loss of a loved one. A murder of a soldier by a soldier in his own country makes military service senseless. Such a death becomes eternal sorrow for the family. My loss will not cease until my death. I wish no mother of a soldier go through such torment as I have.

This is why I ask that my son¹s death be fully and honestly explained. This must be done for all the mothers of soldiers who serve their country.

The parents of my daughter-in-law deserve the truth too. They need to know why she died, a wife of a soldier. They need to know why she was selected to be so savagely attacked as if she were an enemy in her own country in time of peace. This must be fully explained for the sake of all the families of military wives.

The murder of Quiana and Jan Pawel is an unpardonable evil. Their brothers murdered them. It is time for no one in America to die this way again.

Time for a Change.

I am asking you, Mr. President, to help me believe in the possibility of that Change.

May God bless you and protect you.

Respectfully,

Henryka Pietrzak-Varga


WITH PERMISSION. POLISH VERSION APPEARED IN DZIENNIK ZWIAZKOWY [Chicago]

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Going here


Will drop you a line...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama - ‘the end of White Man’s civilisation…as we know it’


Yes, it’s true. Obama didn’t just win an election last Tuesday, he has become the “Black Messiah” of the new left, is a joy to Islamist weird beards with life-style ambitions to become a suicide bomber, is a “pacifist”, and is the black man whose presidency will bring White Man’s civilisation crumbing down around Barack’s rather large ears.

I made the bit up about his ears (though they are HUGE! Put a couple of solar panels on them and you could produce the energy needs of the White House). But the rest of the bull above actually did come dribbling out of the mouth of one of Poland’s most loony of politicians, Law and Justice MP Artur Gorski (that's him in the photo).

The remarks - which many believe to be a little…you know…racist…were made to parliament last Wednesday. Slowly the horror of what he said burned…foreign ministry condemned him…his own party promises he is going to get a good spanking.

Gorski said that he “never meant to offend anyone [?] and that he was “um…taken out of context.”

Journalists have printed the whole transcript of what he said and, no, he wasn’t taken out of context.

Gorski has been in the news before, during a campaign to get an image of the Virgin Mary put on the national flag. He was also one of a bunch of MPs who wanted to make Jesus the King of Poland.

What makes a frazzled mind such as Gorski’s put together devout Catholicism, a nutty type of nationalism, the most blatant racism, and his own delusional fantasies that he - he! - is superior, in anyway, to anyone, ever?

This is the last post about Obama for a while. Promise. In fact, the next beatroot post will come to you, direct, from Israel.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Poland’s president gets confused over Obama phone call?


Has President Lech Kaczynski been telling little fibs about his conversation with president-in-waiting Barack Obama on the anti-missile shield, to be deployed in Poland? And why?

President Kaczynski claims on his presidential web site that he spoke to Obama on Friday and the two agreed to further and deepening cooperation between Warsaw and Washington. "He also said the anti-missile shield project would go ahead," claims the statement on Kaczynski’s web site.

But Obama’s people are saying that he said no such thing. Denis McDonough said in a statement.

"The president-elect had a good conversation with the Polish President and the Polish Prime Minister about the important US-Poland alliance…President Kaczynski raised missile defense but President-elect Obama made no commitment on it. (my emphasis)

"His position is as it was throughout the campaign, that he supports deploying a missile defense system when the technology is proved to be workable."

Oh, dear. Not four days since the historic election of Barack Obama and President Kaczynski appears to have put his little foot in it.

But what could be behind - and let’s be kind about this - this “misunderstanding” between the two men as to what was said in the telephone call? A mistranslation? Maybe.

Maybe not. Kaczynski has been convinced for sometime that Obama’s team and the present government under Donald Tusk have been doing deals behind his back on the anti-missile shield and much more beside. He infamously secretly recorded a conversation earlier this year between himself and Foreign Secretary Radek Sikorski, where insults flew and tantrums were...tantrumed.

The Dziennik daily claimed that the president quizzed Sikorski on whether he knows the American Democrat Ron Asmus, as he suspected that Sikorski had made a secret pact with the Democrats, on a recent visit to Washington, that the deal on the anti-missile shield will be signed with them after the elections in November, thereby enabling Tusk and Obama to claim all the credit. President Kaczynski wants to emphasise that he and his twin brother Jaroslaw, were the authors of the agreement and not Sikorski or Tusk.

So could this suspicion by the president extend to - let’s be kind, again - thinking that he heard Obama (or the translator) say that the missile shield deal would go ahead as planned, when, in fact, the president-elect had, in fact, declined to comment?

It has been reported that EU officials and government heads of the 27 nation bloc are confused over the mixed signals coming out of Warsaw as regards Poland’s foreign policy. Just who is in control of the agenda, they wonder, Kaczynski or Tusk? Well, that confusion has now crept across the Atlantic?

Whatever - you can bet your bottom dollar that the Obama team are now deciding that, in the future, they will deal with Tusk and Sikorski on this matter, and not the President of Poland, who seems to have a hearing dysfunction on matters of national defence.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Poland wants Obama


Even though not as enthusiastic as most Europeans, Poles would vote for Barrack Obama by a margin of three-to-one.

According to a poll conducted by the BBC World Service, from a sample of over 22,000 in 16 countries in all continents, the world is anxious for a win by the senator from Illinois. For instance, in the UK, says the report:


By more than a six-to-one margin, a majority in the United Kingdom would prefer to see Barack Obama elected president instead of John McCain. Britons are among the largest majorities saying that America’s relations with the rest of the world would remain the same under John McCain, while a majority says they would improve under Obama.

Support for Obama is pretty unambiguous in Britain. In Poland, though not so clear cut, support for John McCain is weak.


Thirty-eight per cent of Poles would like to see Barack Obama elected US president while just 13 per cent say they prefer John McCain and 49 per cent do not express an opinion.

Poles are divided on whether America’s relations with the world would improve if Obama were elected US president (33%) or whether they would largely stay the same (31%), though just 4 per cent feel they would become worse. Poles most commonly would see relations staying the same under a McCain presidency (41%), while 12 per cent say relations would improve and 6 per cent feel they would become worse.

Just 13 percent would vote for the Republican!

This is quite a change from four years ago. Back then, the Philippines, Nigeria and Poland were among the few countries to favour Bush's re-election. All three now favour Barrack Obama.

In the US itself, the Polonia vote is mixed. Rob Strybel, who is an American Pole based now in Warsaw, sums up the changing voting patterns of Poles through the decades. Like most immigrations they voted Democrat through the New Deal years.

But that changed from the radical sixties inwards, particularly after the disastrous McGovern loss to Nixon in 1972. Writes Strybel:



Polonia’s pro-Republican stance became more firmly grounded during the presidencies of Ronald Reagan and George Bush, Sr, both of whom were seen as aiding the cause of Poland’s independence.


But now it is 2008, and Blacks, Jews, Latinos, trade-unionists and most Hollywood types have by and large remained Democratic sympathizers. With Polish Americans and voters with other East, Central and Southern European roots, political loyalties are more diversified. Some say that most Polish Americans have made the transition into the middle class and do not perceive themselves as a separate electorate with specific needs.


So Poles do not vote a block anymore and have differsyfied in terms of class, areas where they live and so on. They have, in short, become more American.

The central issue, I think, for everyone watching the election, both in the US and outside, is: which candidate can get back the respect, at home and abroad, for the “Land of the Free”? I think that a vote for Obama just might get back some of that respect. But you never know - after four years the world might be ready for Mrs Palin.

God save us. God bless America: the only country in the world which has the bright idea of representing its two main parties by the sign of an elephant...and a donkey?

Friday, October 31, 2008

Beatroot on Normblog

A profile has been posted on the ‘prestigious’ UK blog by Norman Geras about the beatroot.

But I am far too modest to draw readers' attention to something as egocentric as that!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Obama lets Russia invade Poland!


The US religious rightwing is trying to scare the type of people who get scared about these things that a vote for Barrack Obama will result in pornography being shown 24/7 on TV, abortion will become just another form of contraception...and Poland will be invaded by Russia!

Yes, it’s true. Vote Obama, invade Poland! The prophecy comes from religious nut jobs Focus on the Family, founded in 1977 by James Dobson, who also runs a radio show which claims a syndicated audience, worldwide, of 220 million listeners.

Nuts, but popular. Popular nuts.

In a sixteen page open letter Dobson imagines what the US, and the world, would look like in 2012, four years after the election of Barrack Obama. Sex, drugs and rock n’ roll would take over the US. Porn would be as readily available on the television as ...well...religious nutjob broadcasting.

Internationally, an Obama presidency would be so weak and ineffectual at protecting democratic rights that, in 2009, says Dobson, Russia would move tanks into the Baltic States and retake areas lost to it on the break up of the Soviet Union. Three years later, more tanks would roll into Warsaw, Prague…

“In 2009, [Russia follows] the pattern they had began in Georgia in 2008 and sent troops to occupy and re-take several Eastern European countries, starting with Ukraine, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Then in the next three years Russia occupied additional countries that had been previous Soviet satellite nations including Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Bulgaria with no military response from the US, or the UN […] Liberal commentators in both the US and Europe have uniformly expressed deep regret at the loss of freedom of these countries but have observed that the US cannot be the world’s policeman..”

Sounds like hell, don’t it? Maybe that’s no coincidence since many that go in for this kind of rightwing evangelicalism appear to think Obama is the Devil, as prophesised by Revelations.

Stop sniggering - people actually believe this stuff! So it’s no leap of imagination to envisage Russia trying to regain its old Soviet empire, as an effete Barrack frets in front of the mirror...

Monday, October 27, 2008

Google-bomber on trial in Poland


Marek M., who was arrested late last year for google bombing President Lech Kaczynski, has gone on trial for defaming the name of the head of state.

You may remember that Marek had set up computer programme software which replicates the usual collective method of google bombing. The ‘victim’ was President Kaczynski, infamous for his oversensitivity and insecurity when being made fun of. The software tied a search of Lech Kaczynski on google to the Polish word “kutas”, a rather rude term for a male member.

To link the President of the Republic of Poland to a penis was too much for the head of state and police went round to Marek’s flat and arrested him. He faces three years in jail.

“This is not a matter of freedom of speech,” said Andrzej Holdys, a regional prosecutor in the southern town of Cieszyn, where the programmer lives. “If somebody uses a derogatory word to libel the head of state than it’s a clear insult which violates the law.”

It is actually against Polish law. But to spend the state’s time, and money, on an inconsequential issue as small as a male todger is a very good way of making a prick of yourself.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Central Europe joins the finance crisis


Early advise by ‘experts’ that the banking crisis would not affect Poland and other countries in the region too badly is looking a little shaky.

The central bank in Hungary has put interest rates up by a whopping 3 percent to try and prop up the collapsing forint; Hungary, Belarus and Ukraine are currently in talks with the IMF in the hope of a massive injection of funds to stave off serious economic trouble; Poland’s currency, the zloty, is depreciating against major currencies - so economy minister, Wladamar Pawlak better forget about his call, earlier this month, for rate cuts.

The central bank in Warsaw has got together a “confidence package” to get banks here to start lending to each other again. Despite the fact that these banks do not have the structure of debt that lenders do in the US and much of western Europe, a crisis of confidence has made bankers over- cautious even here in Poland.

And the foreign parents of Poland’s banks - as much as 71 percent of the banking system here is owned by foreign banks - are in trouble. ING has had a bail out from the Dutch government, Fortis and Unicredito look vulnerable, too. Talk is of a sell off of Polish assets to offset massive losses elsewhere.

Getting a home-loan has become very difficult. The housing market is taking a whack.

Suddenly the finance crisis - which was a bit of a spectator sport for the average Pole, as they watched the rich bankers of America and Europe take a spanking - has got a little too close for comfort.

Poland has a deposits guarantee system that promises to cover any losses should a bank fall. Getting confidence in banks is a priority in a country where folk simply didn't have bank accounts until not so long ago. Recently banks have risen the upper limit to calm any lasting fears of losing money overnight. But as the stock market in Warsaw tumbles - the Top 20 index lost over 7 percent of its value today - investors are taking money out of the bourses and putting them in government bonds - a move that one economist recently described to me as the equivalent of sticking all your money under the bed, as the interest you will make on that investment in minimal.

Is this the end of…well, what, actually?

Of course, in the wake of the finance crisis, the commentariat have rushed out to announce the end of Thatcherism, or neo-liberalism, or the free market, is nigh. Some have blamed the “greed” of bankers who lived off the never-never for too long.

But I don’t get the impression that any ideology has ended. Neither do I think the greed of bankers is to blame. Greed thrives in certain circumstances, and those circumstances were the rancid, sluggish nature of modern day capitalism in the highly developed countries in western Europe and the US.

Even though everyone for years has talked about a “boom” in western capitalism, when you look at the growth rates - 2, 3 percent, mostly - they are not that impressive at all. The recent long period of growth in the UK, for instance - 16 years of continuous growth - was a lot less spectacular than many think. In fact, its been a long, slow growth - not a “boom”. What has boomed in those countries is the housing sector. That fooled people into thinking they were getting richer and richer, when they weren’t.

As Asia, much of South America and this part of Europe have been experiencing a high growth rate boom, with real growth in productive forces and manufacturing base, the western capitalist countries have destroyed their manufacturing bases, failed to make real investments in developing infrastructure, and relied on the finance sector - and a weird web of loans and debts between customer and bank, and bank and bank - to keep their economies chugging along.
And that chug has now ground to a shuddering halt.

So it’s not greed that's responsible for this mess, but advanced capitalism itself. That doesn’t mean a socialist revolution is around the corner, because there isn’t really a socialist movement to take advantage of the situation anymore. Capitalism is not in its death-throws. But it does mean that our rulers are going to have to ask themselves some tough questions and come up with some tough and radical remedies.

But I wouldn’t be waiting for those remedies to emerge anytime soon. Our leaders are a fearful, disorientated bunch at the best of times. So expect some kind of tinkering to try to get through and out the other side. But they will still have to ask themselves this: how can western capitalism maintain decent growth rates without a manufacturing base and no other way to keep things going than a system of borrowing that even they don’t understand?

I know! Maybe environmentalism will come to their rescue. Green capitalism!

Carbon credit bond, anyone?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

President Kaczynski threatens to crush...a daisy?


Poland’s head of state screams and shouts at TV reporter Monika Olejnik in Brussels last week, says she is on his “short list”, accuses her of being a commie spy, and threatens to “crush her”. (photo: Pres. Kaczynski feels the full force of a hurricane of derision)

President Kaczynski isn’t suffering from paranoia - but they really are out to get him! The forces of evil lurk in every television studio - especially at TVN - or what Law and Justice party members refer to as “”Tusk Vision National”.

After an interview (see a bit here) by Monika Olejnik - the Jeremy Paxman of Polish TV political journalism - where the, now, veteran journo quizzed and pressed President Kaczynski, the guy just lost it. After the cameras were turned off he threatened her with…well, we know not what. He said that the “secret services” (meaning commie spies!) and the “Walters” - meaning her boss at TVN (another spy!) “will not be able to save her…”. He then accused her of being …yes, you guessed it - a commie spy!, operating under the code name Stokrotka (Daisy).

Oh, dear

President Kaczynski said he had a “short list” of people he was going to “get”. But Kaczynski’s list of people he thinks are working for dark forces is hardly “short”. In fact, it’s a rather “long list”, a very long list, full of most of the people who work for private and public media in Poland.

Kaczynski isn’t a paranoiac, but they really are out to get him!!!

TVN were outraged by, what is, possibly slanderous accusations. The president - like the sodden drunk who beats his wife up, only to wake up the next day with remorse added to his stinking hangover - apologised later, sending roses, I believe.

So what led to this outburst of ungracious and ungentlemanly behaviour from Poland’s president, witnessed by both Poles and Belgians at the summit last Wednesday?

Apart from the fact that the Kaczynski twins have had a rather difficult relationship with TVN in the past, President Kaczynski had had a rather strained few days leading up to the EU summit. Prime Minister Donald Tusk and the rest of the government didn’t want Kaczynski to come to Brussels in the first place. They said it wasn’t usual for both head of state and PM to turn up at EU summits. They were there to talk about things like the “Climate Package” - which demands expensive cuts in carbon emissions, among other things - and how it was disadvantageous to Poland. This wasn’t a defence matter so the president should not be involved, said Tusk.

Kaczynski dug in, however, and said that even though he wasn’t wanted there, he was going to turn up anyway.

The government said that there would only be two chairs for Poles at the summit and they were going to be sat on by PM Tusk and Foreign Minister Sikorski. So would the president kindly butt out!

Miffed - very miffed - Kaczynski decided to hire his own plane and set off for Brussels regardless. The especially chartered LOT airlines Boeing 737 cost the country a cool 42,000 euros return trip - not exactly Ryanair prices.

When the weird coalition government led by Lech’s twin brother, Jaroslaw, was kicked out of office last autumn by a traumatised electorate - suffering over a year of Messrs Kaczynski, Giertych and Lepper running the country - I thought that Polish politics would become boring and …sensible. So let’s hear it for the continuing saga of Kaczynski and his fight with the forces of darkness, evil and...daisies.


There will be a slight delay between posting a comment and it appearing in the comment box due to temporary moderation issues. Trog attack!

Monday, October 20, 2008

Normal service has been resumed

Comment box is open to everyone again.

But, sadly, I am going to have to moderate the comments coming in to this blog for short while. That means that your comments will not appear in the comment box instantly.

Sorry for the inconvenience.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Beatroot at the Vatican with Walesa and the Pope


If New York is the city that never sleeps then Rome is the city that never shuts up talking. Ever. (photo - Pope Benedict XVI...at the cinema?)

Rome is a city wired up to the eyeballs on amphetamine-strength coffee. It’s probably why Italians talk so much.

I was in a taxi yesterday with a driver who was in the middle of a long monologue that covered such diverse topics as: why the Church murdered Bruno; the egotistical nature of the modern day Italian; and the disrespect and delinquency of his 14 year old son. While he talked his eyes were not often on the road and where he was going but on me in the back seat. His arms followed the intricate patterns of his stories, waving around all over the place. At one point he was driving the car with his left elbow only - I am not joking - as he debated, with himself, the pros and cons of the, latest, Burlusconi government.

Thursday morning I went to a special mass at the Basilica overlooking St Peter’s Square in honour of the 30 year anniversary of Karol Wojtyla becoming JP II. There were thousands of people in the huge church, about one in five of the pilgrim-tourists were from Poland, many wearing Solidarnosc scarves or t-shirts.

After the mass I went for a stroll, agog at Rome’s teeming traffic. Small cars - the Smart is a particular favourite at the moment - whizzed in and out of the lines of scooters and motorbikes. Horns honked and Italians shouted and waved their arms at each other.

Small cars are essential in Rome as the parking of these vehicles is …creative and inventive. Any tiny space not colonised already by one of these vehicles is backed into, with varying degrees of success. Many cars show signs of bangs and prangs, dents riddling bodywork as a testimony to past parking attempts gone wrong.

Just as parking is a mysterious Italian art so is crossing the road. There are traffic lights and stuff but they are treated as optional extras by both drivers and pedestrians. People wait at the side of the road for a moment and then suddenly dive into the middle of a stream of traffic. Some cars and bikes then skid to a stop, some swerve to avoid the person who is now in the middle of the road. It took me a while to pluck up the courage to try this, but once you take the plunge it seems to work. As you stroll - and Italians stroll everywhere, they never simply walk - through the traffic you hear the babble from within vehicles, the sound of horns and the scrapping of metal-on-metal as yet another parking stunt doesn’t quite make it.

Testimony

I was in Rome for the premiere of the film version of the memoirs of Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, Testimony, recounting his 39 years serving John Paul II. The film itself is not all that great although there is a lot of good archival material I never saw before. We also get the revelation - if that is the right work in the circumstances - that JP II survived not one but two assassination attempts. Not just a mad Turk tried to have a go at him - with the help of the Kremlin, or not: who know? - but also a mad Portuguese priest stuck a knife in him, in 1982, on the anniversary of the first assassination attempt. They covered the incident up in the hope that trying to kill the Pope would not become a fashionable thing to do for the world’s loons.

But the premiere itself - in a theatre slap bang in the middle of the Vatican - was something I will never forget. Six thousand people from all over the world sat down to watch the movie in the company of Lech Walesa, Jolanta Kwasniewska, and…Pope Benedict!! I never watched a film with a pope before, just a few seats down the isle.

The photo above I took as he made a little speech after the film. He was very moved by what he saw, obviously. The movie does have a very sad, although predictable ending, and someone told me they saw Pope Benny crying at the end.

Afterwards, people were milling around outside the theatre with the Swiss Guard looking on in their fancy dress garb. One photographer saw former first lady Jolanta Kwasniewska chatting away to the woman she took over from, former first lady Danuta Walesa. When the photographer asked if he could take a picture of them together, Jolanta started to pose, while Danuta - probably under strict orders from her husband - refused and quickly moved away. Relations between the ex-Solidarity leader and ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski may have warmed a little since the 1990s, but Walesa still does not want it to be seen that both families are best of buddies. That’s one miracle that JP II never got around to making and won’t be used in the evidence for his inevitable canonization.

Later I went for another stroll in Rome and after 20 minutes got completely lost. I quite like being lost in cities new to me. Soon, however, I wandered into an area where a succession of African guys seemed delighted to see me. They gave me high-fives and complicated handshakes and were very keen to sell me…something, I know not what.

So it was obviously a good time to get out of there. But how to get back to the Vatican? I stopped a nice looking old lady to ask the way. Understanding no Italian I just planned to follow the direction she was pointing in. Unfortunately, being an Italian, as she described the shortcut back to the Basilica her arms waved around all over the place. If I followed the directions of both hands I would be still be wandering around Rome in ever decreasing circles. So I set off in the direction she was facing, as she talked and talked…she’s probably still giving me directions even now.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Simon Mol, dead

Simon Mol, on trial for intentionally infecting up to 40 woman with the HIV virus in Poland, died in hospital on Saturday.

He never gave evidence in the court. No case was proven, no justice was ever brought.

Whatever, his legacy on race relations in Poland has not been very positive. We will never now know what his real motives were. I suspect he was, in what they call these days, “in denial” about lots of things in his life.

It’s an awful case with many victims. But one of the nasty strands of a generally ugly reaction to the Mol case was when some showed contempt for the women who contracted HIV. “If they are so dumb to be fooled by someone like Mol, they they deserved it…”, etc.

If anyone met Simon Mol then they were “fooled”. I met him. He seemed a genuine person to me. Lots of the people thought that. Lots.

So to be accused of being “fooled” by him is ridiculous. Even Simon Mol was fooled, by himself.

If you want to see how ugly it got then have a look at, the record for this blog, 166 comments, from an early post I wrote about all this.

October 16, 1978


After the shock of the death of John Paul I - a man thought blessed with real charisma - Rome concentrated its mind on finding someone equally compulsive and with bags of people-magnetism.

The second edition of US Time magazine that October reported that the search was on for a candidate who had both physical strength and the will to carry on the work of John Paul I.

‘The search for charisma, plus the near-universal insistence on a "pastoral" Pope, concentrates continued attention upon Corrado Ursi, 70, a popular shepherd in Naples whose easygoing air and ample girth inspire repeated comparison to Pope John XXIII. Close behind him in the early discussions is Salvatore Pappalardo, 60, also an effective pastor in Sicily,’ wrote the Time journalist.

Sergio Pignedoli, 68, was also a front-runner, Giovanni Benelli, 57, an outsider. Some mentioned the possibility of a foreign pope, a non Italian! Johannes Willebrands, 68, of The Netherlands. Some Cardinals are touting Curialists Eduardo Pironio, 57, of Argentina and Villot, 72, of France, perhaps? But that was unlikely. It hadn’t happened since 1522.

And then, two paragraphs from the end of the Time article, they get to a name not widely known outside of Poland.

‘Last week speculation also ran to names rarely heard before: Paulo Evaristo Arns, 57, Brazil's brave champion of human rights; Joseph Cordeiro, 60, of Pakistan, who exudes saintly simplicity and concern for the poor; and Poland's Karol Wojtyla, 58, who is a strong leader in a hostile environment—and speaks fluent Italian.’

But it was just speculation. A non-Italian who was under 60 years old? Nah. This was still the world, before JP II.

On Wednesday I am going to the Vatican. Catch you then.

More?
A Light That Left Us Amazed, Time magazine, Oct 16, 1978.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Kidnapped Pole in Pakistan


It’s been over a week now since Piotr Stanczak was abducted by Taliban in the northwest of Pakistan, near the Afghan border. What are his odds of getting him back to Poland, as Pakistan seems to be coming apart at the seams?

Stanczak was working for a company looking for oil when three, maybe four Taliban ambushed his vehicle, killed his Pakistani driver, bodyguard and one other person, then took the Pole and disappeared into the mountains that surround the region of Attock.

Piotr follows two Chinese telecom engineers who were also abducted in the same region back in August. The two Chinese may be alive, as last week a spokesman for the Taliban said that they would exchange them for prisoners arrested by the Pakistani army - maybe over 100 of them.

Since Piotr’s abduction, a conflict has broken out between Pakistani officials and the company he works for, Geofizyka Krakow Ltd, as to who was to blame for the kidnapping. The prime minister of Pakistan and local police officers claim that Geofizyka did not avail themselves to security provided for them, and were negligent in the precautions they took before sending workers out on field trips. The Polish company and people who know Stanczak say that the security measures he left the base with on September 28 were standard and in keeping with guidelines.

There was also a nasty altercation between the Polish head of the Geofizyka base in Pakistan and the journalists who descended on the compound after the kidnapping took place.

Pakistan on the edge

The region the abduction occurred in is the most dangerous in Pakistan and is a spill over of the war in Afghanistan and the ‘War on Terror’ in general. On Sunday, the home of the North West Frontier Province's chief minister, Amir Haider Khan Hoti, was attacked by rockets, though nobody was killed.

Suicide bombers stalk the region, a haven for Islamic militants of the al-Qaida type and their whacky Taliban friends, who have regained support since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan has produced little economic fruit, and the recent incursions by American forces into the north-west of Pakistan. This is where many think Weird-Beard-in-Chief, Osama bin Laden is hanging out.

The instability in the region has been caused, in part, by Bush’s war on terror. Invasions by foreign forces usually have that effect. It’s a lesson neocons and liberal interventionists appear slow to learn. This is why the War on Terror was a mistake from its beginning.

Barrack Obama has made much in his presidential campaign of his opposition to the Iraq war before it began. Well, good - I have always opposed it, too. But where we differ is that he opposed the war in Iraq because, as he sees it, it distracted from the real objective: to go get Osama!

But does he really think that throwing more troops into Afghanistan would mean peace and security for both Afghans and Americans; that the world would be a more peaceful and happy place all round?

This is a delusion. Afghans have no trouble fighting large armies occupying their country - ask a Soviet Afghanistan veteran. The war on terror was always doomed to fail because it was trying to find the location of an abstract noun - terror.

Problem was, as Rumsfeld said in many Whitehouse meetings at the time - according to Bob Woodward - “There just ain’t enough targets in Afghanistan…” - meaning for Washington to look like it was “doing something” about 9/11, it would need a more spectacular “shock and awe” than bombing a few, low grade targets in one of the most undeveloped and poorest nation in the world.

No, to be really shocking and awful then Iraq would have to be next.

Barrack Obama supports a policy of American troops going into Pakistan in pursuit of Taliban and other Islamists. If that happens on a regular basis then the region will destabilise still further, Pakistan will disintegrate some more, and many more foreign workers will disappear into the lawless mountains that run along a front line in America’s war on terror.

more?
‘Geofizyka’s security arrangements normal, not negligent’, thenews.pl, Oct 6
Is al-Qaeda winning?, BBC, audio, 23 minutes

Friday, October 03, 2008

Bogdan Zaryn


A very nice person died this week. I have known radio journalist Bogdan Zaryn for a long time and he was one of the most extra-ordinary people I ever met.

Grieving him are two children, a wife and many, many others. He was in hospital for radical surgery to help him walk again, freely. The first surgery was successful but an emergency surgery after was not. He died Friday, aged 51 years old.

Tragedy always seemed to follow Bogdan. His mother was a survivor of the Nazi’s Auschwitz. She moved to Canada after the war and that’s where she gave birth to Bogdan. Bogdan was born with bad legs, bad back, you name it. The family is not a lucky one.

But even though he was sick for much of the time I knew him, he was also one of the most positive people I ever met. And Bogdan had a special kind of charisma that everyone found irresistible

Even when people got annoyed with Bogdan - and that seemed to be quite often - they never could dislike him. In fact, the opposite. Even when you were annoyed with Bogdan, you always remembered the reasons why you were so, so fond of him.

Bogdan’s guide to journalism

Bogdan never did conventional research. While the rest of us mere mortals looked up stuff in boring old books and computers, Bogus - with typical Bogus logic - thought: why look something up in a book when you can telephone an expert and ask them? So that’s what he did. All day. Everyday. All the time.

After a couple of years of this he had a contact book that resembled a telephone directory for the entire New York State. Bogdan knew LOTS of experts.

Unfortunately, he didn’t just ring experts up. If he didn’t know something - even the most banal of things - he used to ring his work colleagues up, too. Even when they were in the room next door.

Bogdan used to single out individuals at the workplace as the target - victim - of his constant questioning. He phoned them at work, he phoned them at home. At morning, noon and night, Bogdan kept right on phoning.

He knew that he only had a limited time for their direct attention, as after a few days the poor hapless colleague would be such a nervous wreck that they would have to retire to a sanatorium to recuperate - by which time Bogdan had moved on and found himself a new victim to harass. Corridors were littered, at times, with the twitching, gibbering results of Bogdan’s ’special attention’. Some folk would be scared to answer the phone in case it was one of his questions on the other end of the line.

Bogdan was never the most technologically savvy person I ever met. The internet always confused him, a little. Once he was listening to us talking about what a god-send Google was - information in under 0.14 of a second, blah, blah. The next day he came into work and turned on the computer. And then, by reflex, he got on the telephone. This time it was to me. I was in the room next door, so I could hear his voice both on the phone and coming through the dividing wall between us. It was one of his classics.

“How do you spell ‘google’”, he shouted.

“I don’t know,” I said in prophylactic exasperation: “Why don’t you GOOGLE IT!”

It was like that all the time. He was a very hard person to refuse. That’s one reason why he was so good at getting people for an interview. People always stopped for Bogdan, no matter in what rush they were in. I have seen government spokesman being pursued by Bogdan down spiral staircases - Bogdan asking questions as the spokesman helped him get down the steps.

He could illicit the dumb quote from celebrities by asking a perfectly timed, cliché question. He once asked Edyta Gorniak: “So…who is the real Edyta Gorniak?”

Gorniak said: “Ooo, I really don’t know - there are so many sides of me!”

Cringe.

Bogdan had met them all. He interviewed Donald Tusk once about his Kashubian roots, before he became the current prime minister. Tusk didn’t want to speak to him in English and did the interview in Polish. But, somehow - and only Bogdan could get people to do this - he got Tusk to sing him a song in Kashubian! To my knowledge that is a world first.

Even when he was in hospital he was on the telephone the whole time, ringing colleagues up.

After the first, successful operation to help him walk again, he decided that he absolutely must get an interview with his, rather good, surgeon. For two whole days he harassed a couple of colleagues, night, day and very early morning, to get them to send him some recording equipment. Finally, they relented. So a special company car was sent to take to the hospital, not a person, but a small recording device and a microphone. I wonder if the driver made it wear a seat belt?

But you just could not refuse Bogdan, when his mind was set on you doing something for him. And that’s quite a talent he had. A people talent. Bogdan had lots of people-talent.

What a sad day Friday was. It was made all the sadder, for everyone who knew him, for the fact that Bogdan had never been happier. His operation was successful, he was moving house, he had two gorgeous young children. And then one day he went into an operating theatre and never woke up again.

The memories of him will be made up of all the mad stuff he got up to in his life, his wheezy laugh …and maybe his constant questions. But in my mind I will always remember Bogdan’s last masterpiece.

After Bogdan’s operation, the 24 hour news station - TVN 24 - got to hear about this new and risky surgery he had undergone. How they got to know about this is still a mystery to me. Maybe Bogdan rang them up? Anyway, a film crew went down to the hospital in Constancin, on the outskirts of Warsaw, and did an interview with Bogdan. It’s a moving, short piece of film, which you can see here.

I am going to miss him so much.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Who does Sepp Blatter think he is?


FIFA president Sepp Blatter (pictured right) has warned the Polish government that if they do not reinstate the suspended board of the Polish football association, the PZPN, then nasty sanctions could follow - meaning he will not just take his ball home with him in a sulk, he might also take away Poland’s chance to co-host the Euro 2012 soccer championships.

The question on many a lip in Poland is this - does Sepp Blatter - and his sidekick at the European governing body UEFA, Michel Platini (pictured sitting, coquetishly, on the left) - think that they are above the wishes of a democratically elected government?

Another question footie lovers here are asking is this: what exactly is the relationship between Sepp Blatter and the now deposed head of the PZPN, Michal Listkiewicz?

I was asked to comment today on this issue by RTE radio in Ireland - the programme was 'Sports Drivetime' - so there is a lot of international interest in this strange affair.

When the Sports Ministry wound up the present board of PZPN this week they also did what many wished they had done years ago - got rid of Michal Listkiewicz, who has been in the job since 1989 - a rare feat in a country which gets tired of its officials after a few weeks, at best. Listkiewicz has long, then, presided over a football association that has sat on its hands - when those hands are not busy taking a few bribes and greasing a few palms…allegedly - at a time when over 100 football officials, referees, managers and players have been arrested in Poland on charges of being involved in the wide spread sleaze which appears endemic within Polish football.

Sepp Blatter - more powerful than God, more sexy than...Brad Pitt?

The Polish media today is full of reports on the close relationship between Sepp Blatter and Michal Listkiewicz. Sepp said yesterday that Listkiewicz was the only man in Warsaw that he could do business with. What's more, national sports institutions, says Sepp, should be completely independent of government, and elected politicians should keep their nose out of PZPN’s business. If not, then “there will be consequences”.

Blatter and Listkiewicz do seem unusually close. The Dziennik newspaper carries allegations today that they share girlfriends! Allegedly, Listkiewicz’s long time lover, the 40 year-old Ms. Ilona Boguska, is now the 71 year old Sepp Blatter’s new flame. I suppose she loves him for his…understanding of football, who knows. Sepp and Michal are very good friends indeed, evidently, and if you mess with Listkiewicz then you are gonna have to get past Blatter first.

Which is… nice.

Normally I would agree that national sports associations should be completely independent of government. But these are not normal times in Polish football. Sponsors are loathed to get involved with a game that, quite frankly, stinks. So cleaning up Poland’s football industry is a legitimate area for government to be involved in if - and this is a big if - the current football association has been negligent.

And the kindest thing one could say about the current losers in the PZPN is that they have been ‘negligent’.

By the way, four names are in the hat to take over from Sepp’s Listkiewicz as head of PZPN - one or two of them you might of heard of: Grzegorz Lato and Zbigniew Boniek. Boniek was a fine, fine footballer, of course. But do fine footballers necessarily make good sports administrators?

The best way to answer that question is to just name one high profile football politician who is now the second most powerful administrator in the game: Michel Platini - a glorious footballer, but a complete oaf as head of UEFA. Maybe its time, not just to blow the whistle on corruption in Polish football, but show a red card to Sepp Blatter and the rest of the cronies at FIFA.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Simon Mol is dying

The Cameroonian on trial since July for deliberately infecting women in Warsaw with HIV is to be released from prison to get treatment for AIDS.

His condition seems very serious as he will not be put under police custody when in hospital but he has had his passport taken away and is forbidden to leave Poland.

The case caused outrage when it broke in late in 2007. I can’t face writing the details all over again and hesitated before even writing this much here, as it seems to bring out the worst in everyone.

What is perhaps the biggest danger now is that his trial will never be completed and that the truth as put before a court of law - the only truth that counts - will never fully emerge. The women he infected, and Mol himself, deserve to see the end of this. It appears this might not happen.

For details of the case see previous posts here and here.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Poland’s ‘liberal’ government - part 365


Donald Tusk’s ‘liberals’ are conservatives in drag.

“Poland's liberal opposition Civic Platform party has won a massive poll victory…” (BBC); “Poland's main liberal opposition Civic Platform was leading elections for the European parliament early Monday with 25.21 percent…” (Eurobusiness); “’Liberal landslide ends Poland's era of the twins”…” (M&C); “Foreign leaders and Poland's business community on Monday welcomed the victory of the liberal Civic Platform party in Sunday's parliamentary elections…” (Financial Times).

So wrote the western press after the victory of Civic Platform in last autumn’s general election. With the defeat of the Kaczynski/Giertych/Lepper arch-conservative coalition, the future of Poland was Donald Tusk’s ‘liberalism’, right?

Wrong. As I have pointed out many times there is little ‘liberal’ about the current government, apart from a certain liberalising instinct when it comes to the economy. This past month we have seen how conservative the Civic Platform party really is. Donald Tusk is the equivalent, not of a Polish J.S. Mill, but a weird kind of Polish pro-European Margaret Thatcher - in drag.

Take his call for ‘chemical castration’ of paedophiles following the brutally strange case of the Polish Fritzl. When challenged that castration, be it of the chemical or knife variety, was against human rights - once a punishment is served and a debt paid to society the convict should be free to rehabilitate themselves back into society; or when doctors complain that they are there to treat people, not castrate them; or that this is against the Polish Constitution, the ‘liberal’ Donald Tusk said: “I don’t consider paedophiles truly human, so why should they have ’human rights’?”

Of course, castration would not have prevented the repeated rape of the Polish Fritzl’s daughter…nor would it have prevented the abuse of the majority of the victims of child molesters in general. Most have no previous convictions. But that’s not why Tusk is supporting chemical castration. His policy proposal is the typical knee-jerk reaction of a reactionary, conservative political jerk - the need to be seen to be doing something about a modern folk devil, whenever a media panic ensues.

The liberal Civic Platform government also has a problem with that bastion of liberalism throughout the ages - free speech and expression. Director Paweł Chochlew is looking for funding for his new fictional feature about the Nazi invasion of Westerplatte that effectively began WW II. A thousand national myths surround this event. But Chochlew decided that a fresh approach was needed and decided to look again at some of those myths. But when he sent the script in to the government’s film board to try and get some money to produce Tajemnica Westerplatte (The Secret of Westerplatte) the government promptly threw it in the bin. The script is “anti-Polish” and “demeaning”, apparently. Chochlew’s defence that his film was meant to be fictional and so has no responsibility to be ’historically and/or politically correct’ fell on deaf ears.

It seems that some of Poland’s myths are so fragile that they cannot be challenged.

Donald Tusk’s government is censorial and reactionary. And each time journalists - both at home and abroad - reach for the ‘liberal’ adjective to describe them, John Stuart Mill turns, uneasily, in his grave.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The end of capitalism as we know it?


Morbid headlines are starting to appear in the Polish media just as they have elsewhere - we are facing the “worst financial crisis since 1970s…no, 1940s…no, the Great Depression!” What a load of nonsense.

A few months ago I was talking to a British bloke here in Warsaw. He was a member of the old Trotskyist Militant faction, an entryist organisation within the UK Labour Party that I knew well when I was involved in the Poll Tax unions of the early 1990s. That was quite a while ago but the rhetoric is undimmed by nearly two decades. “We are heading for a showdown,” said my Trotsky friend. “Environmental crisis, and capitalism is facing its greatest meltdown since the 1930s. We live in interesting times. It gives us great opportunities politically,” he said knowingly.

I couldn’t believe my ears. Did lefties still talk like this, these days? Are they still waiting for the inevitable collapse of capitalism?

That kind of thinking, then, might be still alive, but not so well, on what is left of the cranky leftwing. No surprise, really, I suppose. But my friend’s catastrophist thinking has become almost mainstream today. Everyone is talking about the crisis in the financial sector in the US and elsewhere as if it really was the greatest economic crisis since… well, the Great Depression.

See the skies raining bankers and brokers as they take their last step, from a tenth story window!

Last month, the British press reported that UK finance minister, Alistair Darling had “let the cat out of the bad” when he announced that Britain faced the worst economic conditions since…1948![?] Quite why the chancellor chose 1948 as his Year Zero is still a mystery to me. Why not 1947, or 1949?

Darling was quite obviously talking out of an orifice not designed for the talking out of.

My dad was alive in 1948 and I remember him talking of rationing, which was still in existence then in Britain. There were chronic shortages of many things, including labour. Those post-war years were dark and difficult for most.

Darling’s 1948 bull, however, looks almost sensible compared with some other doom mongers, who, like Mr Militant, think a new Great Depression is coming. But let’s look at that real Great Depression and see what it had in common with the banking crisis of today.

What they do have in common is that both then and now, problems started in the US. In the first ten months of 1930, 744 American banks failed. Prices and incomes fell on average around by 20 to 50 percent during those years. At its worst point in 1933, 25 percent of Americans couldn’t find work. Between 1929 and 1932 the Times index in New York declined by 89 percent. Poverty was endemic. More than half of Americans were living below subsistence level. In 1930, GDP shrank by 9.4 percent!

Sounds familiar today? No, it doesn’t, does it. And nobody is expecting growth to fall by nearly 10 percent. In fact, what is expected is that growth will remain sluggish in western Europe and the US…maybe even dipping below zero for a time. Unemployment today is not expected to rocket over 10 percent. Mass poverty is not about to return.

In Poland, they are starting to get media alarmist too. But it never will reach the hysteria that is now sweeping our great commentators and politicians in western Europe and the States. Poles remember hard times just gone past. Nothing is going to be worse than the 1980s. The economy is growing by 6 percent, will slow to something like 4 percent. And though the price of bread is rising like a particularly lively yeast culture, it won’t be going up by 100 percent overnight, as the communist had an annoying, and very dumb, habit of doing every ten years or so.

There is an unforeseen element in all this that is hard to predict. But if my friend Mr Trotsky, from Tunbridge Wells, wants a revolution then he had better sharpen up his ideology, and maybe even power of hypnosis - he‘s gonna need them - cause he will not be stepping from the ruins of capitalism and sweeping into the Presidential Palace, just yet.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Polish kings, American presidents?


A slightly bizarre article by Polish born American Henryk A. Kowalczyk (not the PiS MP) ponders: which foreigner would be best suited to become US president?

He thinks either Tony Blair or ex-finance minister and early-1990s “Mr. Shock” therapist Leszek Balcerowicz would be good choices...bizarrely.

He starts off claiming some similarity of Polish kings to US presidents. The similarities being - firstly the kings, like presidents, were elected (though the electorate was rather small in the case of Poland) and that the end results of the ballot could be a little messy.

Slightly tenuous link, Henryk, but never mind.

But his main point is that foreigners could be elected as kings of Poland - several were. But in US elections every one in six living in the US are not eligible for the top job. Maybe that is why the usual calibre of entrants is so poor?

So he comes up with a few names who would be good as foreign presidents. UK ex-prime minister Blair he chooses because - bizarrely - he:

…is already deeply involved in the Middle Eastern mess, and he was clever enough to have already started pulling British forces from Iraq. This indicates that, as president, he would get us out of Iraq as soon as achievable, and with as little humiliation as possible.

Oh, and…

Blair reformed UK immigration policy by managing increased legal immigration and keeping illegal immigration at about 0.7 percent of the population (compared with at least 4 percent in the U.S.). We need someone who can do the same here. Additionally, Blair worked on reforming the government-run National Health Service by promoting the increased role of the private sector. In the United States, we might need some government involvement in reforming our privately run health care system. Blair sounds like the most qualified man for this job.

So Blair should be US president for his record on Iraq, immigration and the health service!? I don’t think you would get a single British person anywhere to agree on all three…or even one or two, of those.

And Balcerowicz? US president? Yup!

His "shock therapy" converted the completely disintegrated Polish economy of the socialist era into a halfway decent market-driven system. Balcerowicz grew up and received his education in a socialist country, but gradually matured to understand and value the benefits of the free market.

Um…

On a side note: I wonder which Polish king George W. Bush would fancy himself as? Probably Jan Sobieski (1674-1696), who won - helped win - the Battle of Vienna (an event the city of Krakow is celebrating this weekend) which “saved Europe” from the evil Turkish/Islamic empire. But maybe readers can come up with other monarchical role models for Poland’s King George W. the First. Poniatiowski? Nah…

Two tribes go to war

The electability of a foreigner in the US would be dependant on how he or she could come to be seen as part of the correct lifestyle tribe. These days, elections are not really about policy at all. This election is as much about lifestyle as politics.

Recent research shows that Americans are increasingly choosing the location of where they live on the basis of their political allegiance - Red or Blue. There are now almost consciously created Democrat zones and Republican parts of town.

Each sees the other group as if they came from Mars or Venus. Do you eat organic or spend Sunday morning at the Evangelical church? Do you prefer cats as pets (then you are a Democrat) or are you more likely to own a dog (then welcome to the GOP). The Economist writes:


Over time, this means Americans are ever less exposed to contrary views. In a book called “Hearing the Other Side”, Diana Mutz of the University of Pennsylvania crunched survey data from 12 countries and found that Americans were the least likely of all to talk about politics with those who disagreed with them.

Lifestyle as a definition of ‘politics’ could be seen by the nomination of Sarah Palin as McCain’s vice-presidential candidate, and the so-called ‘liberal’ reaction that came after.

Palin, though a pro-life, gun owning, God fearing Good Conservative, was conspicuously quiet on these issues in her acceptance speech. She seemed to be going out of the way not to say anything too political. She didn’t need to preach to the converted on those issues in the Republican electoral base. And she didn’t want to scare away too many of Hilary Clinton’s disaffected female supporters. This was the Republican version of ’identity politics’: “Vote for me…I am woman!”

And the liberal reaction to her shock candidature was anything but political. This was a middle class elite showing its disgust for her and her lifestyle. She is a gun-toting, hockey-mom redneck; she dared have a child in early middle age!! She returned to work after only a few days after giving birth…!

And remember - these are not conservative critics , they are the Huffington-ites of this world.

So could a foreigner immediately identify, and be identified, with one of these tribes? Blair? He maybe is a ‘liberal’ and is at ease with the Clinton tribe. But he is also a war-monger and supporter of the neo-con project of bombing democracy into the Middle East and elsewhere.

Maybe Balcerowicz would understand a little easier. There are some similarities between Poland and the US in this regard. Poles have always thought tribally - most urbanites have little in common with small town or rural folk. They vote differently on that basis. The Kaczynskis, despite being from Warsaw and qualified lawyers, like to make a show of their ordinariness, their non-cosmopolitan-ness - Jaroslaw’s favourite food is not oyster but scrambled eggs. Both twins like to make it known that they are not too keen on foreign travel - much as Sarah Palin has done.

However, in Poland, things are different. There is not the physical separation of the different tribes. Communist housing policy mixed everyone up. New areas are emerging and transforming, but the majority still live all jumbled up together.

And anyway, Poland is a thousand tribes, and the US just two, with a few sub-tribes thrown in for good measure. It maybe is easier to rule a country with a social complexion of just two lifestyle groups, but the presidential elections are precious little to do with politics and a whole lot more about snobbery - inverted or otherwise. This is one development that Poland should not import. We may as well go back to Poland's feudal kings.