Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Roman’s twist

Roman Polanski has won a libel case against the magazine Vanity Fair after it published an article claiming that he tried to seduce a woman on the way to his murdered wife’s funeral, in 1969. All in a normal day’s work, then, for the weirdest individual ever to have grown up in Krakow, southern Poland.

Now, just in case Mr. Polanski (or his lawyers) are reading this then I would like to make clear that the inclusion of the word ‘weird’ in that last sentence has no malice intended to it whatsoever. Honest.

Mr. Polanski, your reputation as a film director is without peer and I sincerely congratulate on your work to date – especially the Oscar you picked up in 2003 for that fantastic film, The Pianist, based on the autobiography by Wladyslaw Szpilman. And I just loved Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown.

But I am sure that even Roman Polanski would not disagree that his personal life and biography can accurately and fairly – and without fear of litigation – be described as WEIRD.

Polanski, who is now a grand old man of 71, sued Conde Nast Publication Inc after it published an article in 2002 alleging that Polanski, after chatting up a girl in a restaurant in New York in 1969, said that he would, ‘make another Sharon Tate of her.’

The article in Vanity Fair suggested, wrongly, as it turns out, that this strange chat up line was made before Sharon Tate – who was murdered by Charles Manson’s psycho friends in Polanski’s Hollywood home in 1969 - was even buried. It turns out that, in fact, the remark, if true at all, was made sometime after the funeral.

A jury in London, where the case was heard, found that the article was defamatory and ordered the publishers to pay 50.000 pounds in damages and costs to the diminutive film director.

Polanski could not be in court to watch the proceeding, however, as Britain has an extradition arrangement with the United States; so if he had stepped foot on British soil then he could of found himself shipped off to the States to complete a prison sentence as part of his conviction for having sex with a 13 year old girl, in 1977.

Because he could not risk being there in person, Polanski gave evidence from Paris where he lives, via a video link. From his virtual witness box he recounted, not just those bloody, awful days in 1969, but also of the days growing up under Nazi occupation in Krakow during WWII.

But it was Polanski’s predilection and reputation for what could be described as his casual attitude to matters of the flesh that was central to the libel case.

Naughty old Roman admitted to having got between the sheets with loads of woman before, during and after his marriage to Sharon Tate. But Mia Farrow, no less, turned up in court to say that Polanski was far too distressed about the murder to have propositioned the girl in the New York restaurant so soon after the murder.

And the jury agreed with him. And I am sure they were right to do so.

But why, I hear you ask, did Polanski choose London as the venue for the court case – a country that he can’t even set foot in - if he lived in Paris, and the alleged incident occurred, and the libelous article was published, in the United States?

The answer is that Polanski picked a good place for a libel trial. Legal people, and especially libel lawyers, call London, ‘A town call sue’. England has some of the strangest libel laws in the world. In usual trials the defendant is deemed to be innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on the prosecution. Not so in a libel trial in London, where the burden of proof was on Vanity Fair, who had to prove that Polanski’s reputation had not been damaged.

Vanity Fair's lawyers tried to argue that, due to Polanski’s well-known and often reported murky past, he had no reputation left to defame. But the jury disagreed.

But what next for the Polish-born director? Well, September this year sees the release of Polanski’s new movie, a remake of Charles Dickens’s, Oliver Twist. You know the story: how a young impressionable child is lured into criminal acts by an exploitative, older man.

Sounds like it’s going to be another Polanski classic.

This is a version of an article originally published on the Radio Polonia web site

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Poland honours UK bomb victim

Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski yesterday posthumously awarded an order of merit medal to Gil Hart, a British victim of the July 7 bombings in London who supported Poland's Solidarity movement in the 1980s.. Hart, 55, was one of 13 victims on the No. 30 bus blown up by a suicide bomber in Tavistock Square on 7/7. He founded the Polish Refugee Rights Group in London. Later renamed East European Advice Centre, it was the biggest such aid group for Polish refugees.

Poles take threats seriously

One of the groups that claimed the London bombings has made threats against Poland.

“Our attack in the heart of the British capital is nothing but a message to all European governments that we will not rest until all the infidel troops leave Iraq," said the Abu Hafs Al Masri Brigades, the same group that claimed the Madrid bombings last year. The ‘Brigades’ also claimed that it was able to stage a ‘bloody war’ on countries that have troops in Iraq. “Our next word will be in the heart of European capitals.”

“This is the last message we send to the European countries,” they say on one of the many anti-infidel web sites. “We are giving you one month for your soldiers to leave the Land Of The Two Rivers. Then there will be no other messages, but actions, and the words will be engraved in the heart of Europe. It is time for you to understand that the Mujahideen will not leave their nation suffering under the stigma of humiliation and the killings by American fire which you allied with".

Scary stuff. Poland currently has around 1000 troops in Iraq and is in control of a multinational force in the south-central zone of the horror strewn country. The government issued a statement of its own announcing that it, “takes all threats seriously.”

The Polish government also announced earlier this year that by the end of the year there will only be a few hundred troops left at their Babylon base.

But new plans to join the US in Afghanistan have been announced this week, where Poland will once again be in control of a multinational force, rooting out the Taliban, etc..

One Polish journalist said to me this week: ”Don’t they ever learn?” He for one was convinced that the bombings in London have a direct link to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Few Poles disagree.

Carbon copies or copy cats?

Who exactly are the Abu Hafs Al Masri Brigades, and should Poles be afraid of them?

Since Poland has been mentioned in a statement by a group claiming to be responsible for the 7/7 attacks in London, and the Madrid bombings last year, people have got a little more anxious here.

It is long been felt that getting involved in the war in Iraq – where Poles control the south-central area of Babylon – could bring terrorism to Poland. But should they take the word of what could be a lone nutter able to write a bit of HTML, seriously?

Abu Hafs Al Masri Brigades have made threats and claimed responsibility for many events before.

In July 2004 they issued a statement: “This message is directed to the European governments… Today we declare the start of a bloody war on you, and we will not stop the attacks on you until you return to the correct path…And we have started with the warning to the Italian government and its cruel leader Berlusconi… and his submission to the rule of America. Wait for us Berlusconi, and your other allies as well, wait for our promise which we have already revealed to you and are now revealing to Europe. O’ leaders and peoples of Europe, remove your murderous forces from Iraq… before you begin to taste the bitterness of your own blood.”

This statement - very similar to the one released recently claiming the London bombings - came towards the end of a three month ‘cease fire’, proclaimed, apparently, by none other than our favourite bearded cave dweller himself, Osama bin Laden, and giving time for the allied forces to get out of Iraq.

In mid July, 2004, the Abu Hafs Al Masri Brigades made another statement: “This is the last warning to the Italian nation. Either you get rid of the Berlusconi or else we will burn Italy down.”

In August 2004, they popped up again on the Internet claiming that they planted the bombs in Istanbul, near a British bank.

In 2003 they claimed that they were behind attacks on two Synagogues in Istanbul.

But they have also claimed connections to events they could not possibly have had anything to do with. Remember when New York and other areas of northeast United States had a black out when the electricity grid went down? Well, the ‘Brigades’ claimed that they had something to do with that, too.

In fact, the Abu Hafs Al Masri Brigades modus operandi seems to be to make threats and claim responsibility for events they could not have any connection with. More statements come form this group than any other.

The "Brigades" publishes their statements on the Internet or by way of notices sent to the press, especially to the London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi.

Analysis by the Norwegian researchers at the Middle East (MEMRI) casts serious doubts regarding the very existence of a terrorist organization by the name of the Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades, its affiliation to Al-Qa'ida, and the scope of activities alleged in the statements.

MEMRI says that, “Those behind the publications are interested in undermining the coalition in Iraq. However they seem to be nationalistic in their orientation rather than Islamist, while pretending to be affiliated with Al-Qa'ida only to gain more credibility to their threats.”

Should Poles be worried?
According to another document obtained by Norwegian intelligence, al-Qaeda has instructed its militants not to attack the United States but its allies, and primarily Britain, Spain and Poland, in order to split the coalition.

The document – which was found on the Internet last year, and which pre-dates the 2004 Spanish elections – analyses what effect attacks on the population of allied countries – particularly Britain, Spain and Poland - would be. The document concludes that Spain was the weakest link in the coalition and that attacks on Spanish forces would weaken support for the war in Iraq.

Britain would be easy to force out of Iraq, because the popular opposition to the war and the occupation is so high. However, the author estimates that Britain will only withdraw from Iraq if Britain suffers significant human casualties in Iraq.

But Poland, apparently, is unlikely to withdraw from the coalition because there is political consensus on foreign policy, and the country has ‘a very high tolerance for human casualties.’

Oh really?

Whoever wrote that report – which CNN at the time attributed to al-Qaeda, but, as usual, it could have been written by anyone – is simply regurgitating long held prejudices about Slavs and nations in central and eastern Europe. Because, goes this gibberish, Poland suffered so much during WWII this has inoculated them do mass deaths. Unfortunately for this theory, there has been no outside attacks on Poland in over two generations. Poles have not suffered from any terrorism attacks in Poland – though three did die on 7/7.

In fact, the reverse is true. Poland would be absolutely devastated if terror came to Warsaw. They would not be showing the stiff upper lip of the British. There would be outrage and panic.

Whether they will be targets is impossible to say. But it will be much harder to launch an attack here than it would be in London. The Muslim population is small in Poland. Those that are here – basically, a few Syrians and Turks - are being watched closely, and probably harassed as well by the authorities.

A British born Pakistani was detained in the city of Lodz three days after the London bombings. Nothing came of this, but it does show the British police had connected Pakistanis, or Britons with Pakistani backgrounds, at the very start of their investigations.

Though Poland maybe is on the nihilists list, and there is a growing alarm at the possibility of an attack here, I would be much more fearful if I was living in Milan or Rome.

Read on:
See Assessing the Credibility of the 'Abu Hafs Al-Masri Brigades'Threats , by the Jihad Research Group

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

UK religious hate law: a lesson from Poland

In the aftermath of the London bombings and the subsequent attacks on mosques, the New Labour government will be speeding through the UK parliament new anti-terror and anti-religious ‘hate’ laws. Both will restrict free speech, and do nothing to make Britons feel safer.

On January 25, Jerzy Urban, the editor of the savagely satirical Polish weekly NIE (No), was convicted and fined 5.000 euros for insulting John Paul II.

Urban broke an obscure law in the Polish penal code (article 136.3), whereby it is a criminal offence to insult a foreign head of state (the Pope is the head of Vatican City, a small but nevertheless independent state).

The offending article was published in 2002, just before what turned out to be the Pope’s final visit to his homeland. Under the headline, ‘The Walking Sadomasochist’, Urban called John Paul II ‘the Brezhnev of the Vatican’ and an ‘impotent old man’. The controversial editor advised the Pope to stay in Rome and spare the people of Poland the distress of having to watch a man clearly past his sell-by date.

Maybe not a nice thing to say, but hardly a criminal act. Urban could have faced a ten month prison sentence for merely saying what he thought.

Reporters Without Borders called the verdict, ‘a dangerous precedent for an EU member state. We know perfectly well that it is still completely taboo to criticize the Pope in Poland, but that must not prevent the authorities from conforming to laws regulating press freedom in Europe, including article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights…’

The verdict came just after two Polish journalists, editor of Wiesci Polckie Andrzej Marek, and Beata Korzenewska, a journalist working for Gazeta Pamorska, were jailed for libeling a public official.

It seems that Poles fought for decades for freedom of speech, only to see that freedom become contingent on not upsetting anybody.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

The left and the mullahs

'This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion.'

Those are the words of Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London, after hearing the news of the terrorism by Islamic nihilists in the capital. And his speech, from Singapore airport only hours after helping to secure the 2012 Olympics for London, hit the right spot with all us from that place.

People that put bombs at the feet of ordinary commuters and blow them to bits are not attacking any authority. They don’t challenge anything at all really, except, perhaps, what it means to be a human being.

Note Livingstone’s reference to ‘working class Londoners’. That’s not language that the squishy-squashy, softy lefties of New Labour would ever use. In fact, it’s been a long time since any mainstream Labour politician has used the word class. Old Labour types, like Neil Kinnock, for instance, would have referred to ‘working people’, but never the working class.

The only voice of criticism has come from the predictable direction of Melanie Philips in the Daily Mail. She said it was 'nauseating to witness London's mayor ... deliver his ringing condemnation of terrorism yesterday', since he has been sharing platforms with mad mullahs for years. (quote from the Observer, 10 July)

And she does have a point. Making alliances with weirdo, conservative religious figures – who don’t believe in personal freedoms at all - is strange, and makes the beetroot, for one. feel very uncomfortable indeed.

The Left was a product of the Enlightenment, and it should not be making alliances with backward, anti-Enlightenment figures who think that women should live behind the veil, homosexuals should have their hands cut off, Spain should be bombed back to the 1400’s, and the ultimate authority for anything at all is not reason and humanity, but mullahs and their superstitions, over fifteen hundred years old.

And this is where MP George Galloway repulses, as much as his opposition to the war in Iraq inspires. George is a socialist, but has gone out of his way to make friends with people who despise universal human rights. (see Nick Cohen on the Respect coalition)

He has also linked the murder of over 70 people on Thursday with the war in Iraq. "If you go on bombing other people they will go on bombing us," he warned.

For sure, the people of Baghdad could be forgiven for wondering what all the fuss was about in London. They have lived through their own 7/7 virtually everyday since we invaded them. But few, very few, of them would support terrorism. They, after all, are being bombed by the same types of people who splattered blood all over London.

The SWP, and much of the liberal-left – terrified not only of the mullahs, but also of the white working class, who they see as almost naturally predisposed to racist tendencies – have given up on social progress and equality.

This has driven some of the most eloquent spokespeople from the Left, such as Christopher Hitchens, into the hands of the neo-cons. (See We cannot surrender in the Daily Mirror)

Hitchens, who hates the unreason of Islam and all other religions with a passion, seems to think that a new form of fascism has emerged: the fascism of the mullahs. But doesn’t this confuse apolitical anti-modernity and primitive nihilism for the (abhorrent) political philosophy of the fascist?

And doesn’t Hitchens forget that people in Iraq have the right to self-determination – a previous bedrock of leftwing belief – and the right not to be invaded by an imperialistic West, even though, like New Labour, they might believe that they are ‘liberating’ a people (by bombing them).

The Left has either fallen into a conservative, relativist and timid support of any minority, no matter how reactionary, or has drifted rightwards and supports Bush and Blair’s bloody ‘crusade’

The Left, (and Right), should support the march of reason, equality and freedom. We have to throw out the wishy-washy tolerance of the intolerant. The only way to keep young Muslims in the West out of the hands of the mullahs is by giving them a clear set of beliefs, and not the ‘anything goes as long as you don’t believe it too strongly’, relativism of the lefty, quivering middle classes.

Read on:
Livingstone Rejects Human Rights Coalition by Peter Tatchell
The philosopher as dangerous liar by Patrick West, in the New Stateman shows where much of this lefty bullshit comes from
London Community Coalition web site for more on Livingstone and his sometimes strange choice of mates

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Poland beefs up security following London blasts

Authorities in Poland beefed up security Thursday in the wake of the attacks in London and put soldiers serving abroad on increased alert.

"We have strengthened security measures at the Warsaw metro, at all train stations and airports throughout Poland,'' said Alicja Hytrek, a spokeswoman for Poland's national police.

Deputy Defense Minister Janusz Zemke said soldiers _ especially those in flashpoints such as Iraq and Afghanistan _ had been put on high alert, which included requirements for them to wear protective gear and helmets. Poland heads a multinational security and training force in Iraq.

Poland's Foreign Ministry also urged its citizens against traveling to London, citing transport chaos following the string of attacks on the city's bus and subway systems.

Polish witness of London attacks

Marcin Stefanski, a 24 year-old student who recently moved to the UK from Poland, was in a train carriage in the Underground next to one which exploded. He said he saw bodies piled in the blast-strewn wreckage.

He said: "I just experienced a huge explosion and the glass hitting me in my back. People started screaming around me, there was glass everywhere, we couldn't breathe, there was no way to get off the train."

Stefanski, , was among many passengers covered in soot and coughed repeatedly as he relived his experience.

"I was in the front of the first carriage and there was a huge, massive hole in the carriage.

"As I went past the second carriage I could just see the bodies lying all over the floor."

Source: CNN

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

‘Bono stole my logo’, says Pole

The backdrop to the stage show by stadium rockers U2 features the Coexist logo, designed by Polish artist, Piotr Mlodożeniec. Shame then that they forgot to ask for his permission to use it.

U2 played Chorzow, in the south of Poland yesterday. And everyone loved it, of course. But imagine the surprise Piotr got when he recognized the Coexist logo – which features the Islamic crescent, the Star of David and the Christian cross, and symbolizes all three religions living happily in harmony and all that lovey-dovey stuff.

Polish graphic artist, Piotr Młodożeniec, told Polish Radio that he feels honoured to see Bono using his sign, but that he is bitterly disappointed that none of the members of the group ever asked him for permission to use it.

Apparently, Bono saw the logo on a wall with other graffiti when he was on a trip to the American, Polish stronghold of Chicago, and thought it would look good as part of the U2 stage show, which emphasizes peace and love throughout the world, and poverty is a bad thing and shouldn’t be allowed.

So Bono nicked it.

Maybe if Bono is really sincere about Making Poverty History, then he should make a large donation to an impoverished, Polish artist before he accuses the G8 of failing to live up to their promises.

Read on:

U2 use Polish designed logo, but forget to ask for permission
Radio Polonia June 6

See Coexists logo

Poland should join G5

The G5 – not to be confused with the G8, an exclusive club of the richest nations in the world, plus Russia (snigger) – represents the most populous countries in Europe. Poland, with a population of nearly 40 million, should be allowed to join and make it the G6, says French minister.

Apparently, the main topic of concern for the members of the G5 is cracking down on illegal immigration and ‘bogus asylum seekers’.

Yesterday, France’s interior minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that Poland should be invited to join the G5 and help keep out nasty foreigners trying to get into the EU via its eastern borders.

Ministers of the G5 have talked about the need to introduce EU biometric passports, and a databank containing DNA and other personalized information on dodgy individuals (I think they mean Muslims) who are considered to be a security threat.

They will also be coordinating the hire of chartered flights to ship illegals off to the country they came from.

This will be good news for ‘bogus’ individuals in Poland. With 20% unemployment, a clueless political class that couldn’t manage its way out of a paper bag, and an inability to even get in the top 10 of the Eurovision Song Contest, I expect that the queue for these charter flights to be long and keen.

I wonder if they have got any spare tickets?

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Live 8? What Live 8?

The rock band U2, with their lead-singing poverty activist, Bono, play in Poland this Tuesday, still glowing from the success of the Live8 concerts at the weekend. Organizers say that a worldwide TV audience of 2 billion people watched some, if not all, of the events on Saturday. But how many Poles tuned in to watch?

Before I answer that, let’s go back in time to the first Live Aid concert in the mid-eighties. I remember the BBC news reports of the horrid scenes of starvation coming from Ethiopia. We’d never seen anything like it. I’d bought two copies of the Bob Geldof inspired Band Aid single that kicked the whole thing off – Do they know it’s Christmas? How naive we were back then. Of course a mainly Muslim country, as Ethiopia was in those days, didn’t know, or didn’t care if it was Christmas, or not. And the ones that did probably had slightly more pressing problems on their hands.

But the idea was to raise as much money as we could, and a huge worldwide television audience did just that.

But the whole world wasn’t involved. Live Aid in 1985 just didn’t happen in Poland. State television didn’t take the pictures of the concerts from London and Philadelphia. Cut off as Poland was by the Iron Curtain, Poles were denied the pleasure of tuning in to one of those, infrequent, worldwide collective experiences – although one woman I was talking to this weekend does remember something being broadcast on state radio about it.

But today, 16 years after the Iron Curtain fell, Poles are now in a position to play their part in a worldwide event like Live8, right?

Still disconnected
Well, once more, Polish public television was not involved. The private station, TVN, however - which is available in 85% of households in Poland - covered the concert for two hours in the afternoon, and two more hours at the end of the events in the evening. In between, the cable only channel, TVN 7, broadcast the concerts in the UK, America, Berlin and Paris. And no adverts interrupted the coverage – which is a quite remarkable for a private TV channel in Poland, where advertising and product placement saturate most broadcasts.

It’s as easy to be cynical about Making Poverty History, as it is to be naive about it. Poverty in Africa is going to take a generation at least to go away. And the Making Poverty History campaign is actually a misnomer: its aims are to halve the amount of people in the world living on a dollar a day by 2030 – which, if achieved, would hardly make poverty history. And of course, if poverty is going to be made history in Africa, then it will be because of something that Africans have done for themselves, and not because of any philanthropy by rich, western nations.

But at least things like Live8 are a start, say the organizers. And, this time, maybe the West can start doing things that will help, instead of doing things that will hinder – which is the West’s usual way.

But even the most cynical would be hard pressed not to be have been moved by some of the broadcasts on Saturday – and I’m not talking about the miraculous reforming of Pink Floyd for one night only – a group that seem to like taking each other to court more than they do playing together.

But the bit people will remember was when one of the most well known photographs from the mid-eighties famine was shown on the screen behind the stage in London. It was a photo of a little Ethiopian girl, her face a mask of hunger. And then, Bob Geldorf comes on stage with the same girl – only now transformed into a beautiful, 23 year old, healthy Ethiopian woman. All four of us who were watching were squinting through the tears in our eyes.

Tuned out
But to get back to my original question at the start of this slot: how many Poles were sitting in their living rooms watching these amazing scenes and reaching for their handkerchiefs?

Well, for the two broadcasts shown on national television in the afternoon and late evening, only around 12% of the total TV audience tuned in. And if you compare viewing figure at the same time, on the same channel on the Friday and the Sunday, the television audience for Live8 didn’t go up – as it did in most countries – but actually went down by three percent. And on the cable only TVN 7, the total audience only amounted to one percent.

In Poland, Live8 was an audience loser. Live8 was a Polish TV turn off.

Live8 this time was not collecting money; it was collecting names as part of a petition that will be presented to the G8 leaders in Scotland this week. But if you go to the web site, at www.whiteband.org, which coordinates the whole thing, you will see that no Polish organization has affiliated with the Live8 campaign at all. In fact, out of the central and eastern European countries that joined the EU last year, only Estonia, Slovakia and the Czech republic have been involved in the name collecting process at all.

What’s more, Poland doesn’t have a Sunday press, but in the Monday newspapers you would expect to see blanket coverage of the concerts, wouldn’t you? Well, in the broadsheet, Rzeczpospolita there was a three paragraph article on the front page, and half a page review in the culture section on page 10. In the tabloid Super Ekspres they had an article about U2’s concert on Tuesday in Chorzow, in the south of Poland, which mentioned that between 50 and 70,000 people had bought tickets for the concert; and that U2 were the most popular band in Poland. But they failed to even mention the Live8 concert at all. Not a single word.

On the Friday night before Live8, the German film director Wim Wenders met Bono and gave him back a book the U2 singer had lent him. It was the superb book about Africa, The shadow of the sun by Polish journalist, Ryszard Kapuscinski. And that book – written in 1998 – basically amounts to the sole Polish contribution to Live8.

So when Bono bounds on stage Tuesday night here, and is greeted by a roar from the crowd, the singer may be forgiven for thinking they are cheering on his efforts to Make Poverty History. But they won’t be. The whole world wasn’t watching on Saturday. At least, not this part of the world, anyway.

Read on:Read on:
Live 8 concert attracts 9.6m audience to BBC Brand Republic 05.07.05
Live 8 draws large crowds, except in Japan, Wikinews, 03.07.05
See a review of Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Shadow of the Sun

This is a version of an article that originally appeared on the Radio Polonia web site