Monday, October 31, 2005

The personell gets political

Law and Justice (PiS) prepare to go it alone with a minority government in the Polish parliament.

After failing to get Civic Platform (PO), the right wing, free market orientated party, which came second in the parliamentary elections last month, on side, PM designate, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, has announced that Law and Justice will form a minority government, making ad hoc, individual alliances to get their program through parliament.

Included in the cabinet will be Marcinkiewicz’s old economics teacher, Teresa Lubinska, as Finance Minister. She’s 53 years old from Szczecin and is seen as a financial moderate.

Unofficial sources are saying that ex-presidential independent candidate; Zbigniew Religa – who backed Tusk in the second round of the election – will be Health Minister. Radek Sikorski – the MEP (correction - see comment) for PiS`in Strasbourg will take up the Defense Ministry portfolio.

At the weekend, Donald Tusk, the defeated PO candidate in the recent presidential elections, tried to back Law and Justice into a corner by declaring that his party would not enter a coalition unless Jaroslaw Kaczynski – brother of president, Lech – take up the position of Prime Minister, instead of Marcinkiewicz. PO believes that Jaroslaw is going to be the real power within the government, and wanted this position made clear.

But Tusk must have known that the offer would be turned down flat. “I announced before the elections that I would by no means be prime minister if my brother, Lech, was elected president," Jarolsaw said. This situation would be completely unacceptable in the eyes of the public.”

He’s referring to opinion polls before the election, which said that Poles voter would not accept twins in the two top positions in the country (see Double Trouble).

Tusk had also demanded that PiS`make no more alliances with radical populist parties, Selfdefence and League of Polish Families, as they did last week when forcing through their choice of Parliamentary Speaker, Marek Jurek.

Marcinkiewicz has said that he still doesn’t rule out a government including PO, however.

But until he does, he has to rely on the support of the parties that Tusk had demanded Law and Justice stay clear of – which will make it more difficult still to get an agreement with Civic Platform.

Friday, October 28, 2005

EU: Polish side wants budget deal, quick…

…but Tony Blair wants to talk about ‘work-life balance’!

When they started the meet in the elegant Tudor surroundings of Hampton Court, just outside London – it’s the old palace where Henry VIII used to chase deer and plan radical haircuts for some of his wives - the Polish delegation were hoping the talks would be about the 2007-2013 budget, which they have to start preparing for as early as possible.

Danuta Hubner, the Polish EU Commissioner for Regional Affairs said this week: "The commission's concern is that time is flying, I would like to see this summit contribute to the decision on the budget.”

Blair, however – who occupies the six month rotating EU presidency at the moment – wants to put off those talks until December. He would much prefer to talk about the challenges of globalization, health systems and how the EU should tackle the fashionable (but crushingly boring) subject of ‘work-life balance’.

The British Finance Minster, Gordon Brown, has also commented that the talks should be about opening up EU labour and service markets to meet the challenges of a globalized world, where India and China are out-competing Europe.

When they turned up, the New Labour government must have been hoping to meet new, reforming governments from Germany and Poland, which will go along with these plans. Instead, Germany and Poland sent two ex-prime ministers, Gerhard Schroeder and Marek Belka.

Both countries have just had elections, and both electorates have disappointed the Blairites. Germany has produced a ‘national unity coalition’ – which is another way of saying ‘fudge’ - and Poland seems intent on not producing a coalition at all.

(Pawel Piskorski, MEP for Civic Platform (PO), told Polskie Radio today that he thinks the gap between his party and Law and Justice (PiS) is too wide to be bridged. He also thinks that the Kaczynskis have been dishonest with the voting public. All through the election campaign they were claiming that a coalition with Platform was the only option. But when they got into parliament, the senate, as the largest party, and now with the election of Lech Kaczynski in the presidential palace, their plans changed somewhat).

The largest party in the new Polish parliament, Law and Justice, has already been voting with two parties that will give Tony Blair sleepless nights (and mess up completely his own work-life balance) - the radical farmers’ union, Selfdefence, and the far-right nationalist, League of Polish Families. Both parties are not interested in opening up the EU and making it more flexible at all. They want to renegotiate Poland’s terms of entry into the 25-nation union and maintain a programme of protectionism and social welfare, very much like the French ‘social Europe’ model.

This week Law and Justice, along with their new nationalist friends, voted in as Speaker of the Lower House (a very important role in Poland) Marek Jurek, one of the PiS MPs who voted against Poland’s entry into the EU.

Blair was hoping that Poland would be a future ally in his bid to reform the EU. But Law and Justine, under the leadership of the Kaczynski twins, aim to scupper any tampering with the Common Agricultural Policy – Poland has two million farms, 1 in 4 of the population rely on agriculture for a living, and many of them voted PiS in the election.

So it’s hard to see a way out of the stalemate in Brussels, and the maze in the gardens at Hampton Court Palace. Tony Blair’s presidency – which started with a bang in July with his ‘we must reform’ speech - has been reduced to a whimper; his plans ruined by unpredictable electorates, and friendly coalitions that refuse to be born.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Going once, going twice…

Viktor Yushchenko will do anything to regain the West’s faith in the ‘Orange Revolution’.

Ukraine’s latest reality TV sensation hit the screens for one night only this week. But it was reality TV with an orange complexion.

Two of the world’s steel giants, Mittal (UK) and Arcelor (France), competed with Ukrainian firm LLSC-mart Group, in a live TV auction for the purchase of the nation’s largest steel producer, Kryvoryzhstal.

The Ukrainian company dropped out early, as the price went higher and higher. Millions gasped as Britain’s Mittal - the only one still standing – wrote out a bank transfer for 24 billion hryvna (about 5 billion dollars) to the Treasury.

‘Going once, going twice, gone - to the dodgy looking British bloke at the back’.

Lakshmi Mittal is Britain’s richest man, and has been accused of using political influence in a series of takeovers of eastern and central European businesses.

The aim of the show was to demonstrate to potential western investors that Viktor Yushchenko has got his grip back on the situation, after having to sack his entire ‘orange revolutionary’ government - including his number two, Yulia Tymoshenko - for being corrupt. And you can’t get any more ‘transparent’, and corruption free, than by selling off a national asset live on television.

The sale – at a price over 60% higher than Yushchenko was hoping for - is symbolic for him. The state firm had originally been sold a few years ago to the son-in-law of (the then) president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma – a man accused of rigging elections, being involved in murdering journalists, and generally being a bad egg. Yushchenko had the deal revoked in parliament (when he still had his old government).

But his orange supporters are not happy. There were protests outside the TV studio as the auction went ahead, saying ‘Ukrainian steel should stay Ukrainian.’ And Valentyna Sesemyuk – who was in hospital at the time due to high blood pressure - resigned her post at the state treasury, in protest at the sale.

With economic growth slowing this year, and corruption clinging on to the fabric of Ukraine, and with political rivals waiting in the wings for a slip, the orange revolution must be tasting a little sour to Yushchenko, these days.

Huff, puff and bluff

Have talks between Law and Justice and Civic Platform broken down completely, or is this a game of ‘who blinks first’?

Donald Tusk, Platform’s failed candidate for president, told a press conference yesterday that Law and Justice is only interested in accumulating as many posts in the new government as possible, rather than reaching a workable agreement on which a new coalition government can be based.

The final straw for Civic Platform – which came second in this autumn’s general election – was when the post of Speaker in the Lower House was given to Law and Justice’s (PiS) candidate, Marek Jurek. Platform had another nominee in mind, who had made comments after the results came through on election night to the effect that the Kaczynski brother’s PiS coming first in the poll was ‘bad news for Poland’.

Law and Justice are now flirting with other populist parties, such as the radical farmer’s union, SelfDefense, and the far-right League of Polish Families.

The Prime Minister designate, PiS’s Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, has said that Platform have been offered nine ministries, and only about ten percent of the negotiations are proving difficult.

But Jan Rokita from Platform, says that the distance between the two parties is much greater than that. He sites taxation, labour market and unemployment, the health service and decentralization of the state (basically the whole program!) as being sticking points.

The question now is: who needs the other more, Law and Justice or Civic Platform?

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Duck in deep water over death penalty and gay rights

It’s no good Kaczynski and co. complaining that ‘nobody warned us’ that the EU might not like his views on social issues.

The UK Independent reports that Poland’s new president, Lech Kaczynski, might loose Poland its voting rights in the EU. The newspaper says:

“Poland was given a blunt warning over its human rights obligations yesterday - after the election of a president who has sought to curb gay rights and campaigned for the restoration of the death penalty.“

On the election stump, Kaczynski has come across as a bit of a ‘hang ‘em and log ‘em type of politician. He is a populist, playing on fears of rising crime and the Gay Bogey Man, which a few deluded souls here believe is stalking the land, turning innocent young heterosexuals into raving queens.

When Kaczynski banned the Gay Pride march through Warsaw this year and last, human rights groups and EU spokespeople warned that he was breaking several EU obligations, and was going against Poland’s own Constitution.

A spokesman for the EU Commission told the Independent:

“One of the conditions for starting negotiations with a potential candidate country is that the existing death penalty must be abolished. [Kaczynski’s statements on this issue are] considered not to be in line with the basic values on which the EU is based."

Robert Kostro – who advises Polish MEP’s – told Polskie Radio this morning that the claim by the UK Guardian newspaper that the EU Commission is threatening Poland’s voting rights was false, and the Polish side was completely unaware of any such proposal.

“It would be very surprising if the Commission interfered so brutally in the internal matters of another state,” he said.

Oh, really? I know that Lech Kaczynski is not so keen on foreign travel, and that he is as geographically-challenged as his US counterpart, but surely he must of heard of a country called Austria. In 2000 the EU cut bilateral talks with that country after it included the far-right, anti-immigration, Freedom Party in its government.

It could be argued that the EU is trespassing on the internal matters of a sovereign state. But I am sure that Kaczynski, and his band of merry men, have already noticed that the one thing that the EU is really clear about– apart from defending farmers’ rights to get money for sitting around and doing nothing – is defending European standards of human rights.

Criticism from Brussels will bolster Euroscepticism among Kaczynski’s conservative supporters, of course. Which is a shame. Opposition to the EU should not be based on reactionary prejudices.

The merry men are also whispering that the only reason a fuss is being made over Polish human rights issues is because Brussels is worried that Kaczynski will be far more aggressive in defending Poland’s national position in the EU.

But watch how meek the hanging and flogging talk gets when the Polish government – if they have cobbled one together by then - tries to pursuade the EU to agree to the new budget at the special meeting this December. Poland is hoping to receive lots of nice subsidies for its farmers from that little cash-cow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Great Polish Opinion Poll Scandal!

Why did opinion pollsters get the result of the presidential election on Sunday so badly wrong?

If you work for a Polish opinion poll company, then I hope you are keeping your head down at the moment. Before you leave the house in the morning I hope you are disguising yourself with a wig and a pair of dark glasses. And if you have an opinion poll employee living next door to you, then you might be worried about them bringing down the price of property in your area.

And Polish pollsters should be feeling a little sheepish. Not only did all the main companies fail to predict the outcome and winner of Sunday’s presidential election, but they failed to predict accurately the result in the first round two weeks ago.

And in the lead up to the general election last month, most polls showed that the market orientated Civic Platform would be the largest party in parliament, with the conservative Law and Justice coming second. In the event, it was the other way round.

In the first round of the presidential election two weeks ago they said that the lead that Donald Tusk would take in to the second round would be around 6 percentage points. In the event it was only 3 percent.

And in the two weeks leading up to last Sunday’s two header, presidential shoot out, between Donald Tusk of Civic Platform and Lech Kaczynski of Law and Justice, virtually all polls predicted a win for Tusk, by a margin of six to ten percent.

And then, of course, Lech Kaczynski emerged as the eventual winner, by a margin of nine percent.

Cock up or cover up?

As you can see in the comments section in the last post on the beatroot, there have been people saying, “I told you so!’

Stefanmichnik comments after the result that pollsters dreaded came up:

“I've questioned you 2 weeks ago about opinion polls in Poland and the "special" role they play in the political campaigns in the postcommunist countries. What should the people who run Pentor, OBOP, Gfk and so one be doing this the morning?”

I imagine they should be putting a bullet in their heads, ‘stafan’.

As he points out, only one market research company picked up the swing to Kaczynski in those final days. And PGB pollsters has been consistently the only one to accurately reflect the amount of support for Kaczynski and his party right through this long election period.

So there has been a lot of hand ringing by market researchers in the wake of their darkest hour. Where did it all go so badly wrong?

But concern over the accuracy of political market research is not new here. Right wing groups have often pointed out how these companies underestimate their support. The leader of the far-right, League of Polish Families, Roman Giertych, points to the European parliamentary elections here last year, when pollsters predicted his party would get just 6% of the vote, when in fact, come polling day, they got 16 percent.

There has even been some dark mutterings from right wing circles that opinion poll companies are part of the post-communist establishment, and are, therefore, ‘part of Poland’s present day problems.’ Several of these companies, such as OBOP, CBOS and Demoskop have their roots back in the communist period, so you can see what the critics are insinuating.

In his post, stefanmichnik advises me to read a clipping from NIE magazine. This basically lists the technical problems and weaknesses of polls in Poland.

The head of the company that did best in the general and presidential elections, PGB, has said that one of things they don’t do, that some of the other companies who got it so badly wrong do, is use telephone polling. Telephone polling is usually the least accurate, and in Poland, especially so. Pollsters must get a representative sample of the population they are studying, and with only 3 out of 4 Poles having access to a fixed line phone, this is not the way to find that accurate sample. PGB also said that they never do surveys in people’s homes, but always on the street.

Concern over the inaccuracy of opinion polling has not been confined to Poland. Studies by Massachusetts University have found that those who are against liberalization of the economy in countries like Russia are regularly underrepresented in market research. Just like in Poland.

But there are no reasons to suppose that pollsters just ‘make things up out of thin air’, as some conspiracy theorists have done. Market researchers earn lots of profit every year from clients who presume that the results are accurate. They will not pay for things that are made up.

There are now calls for polling industry, worth billions of zlotys a year, to come under some sort of external control – maybe even from a government watchdog.

Just one thought to end with. A long time ago an American research institute went out into the street and asked people if they thought that the Metallic Metals Act should be passed through Congress. Forty percent of those polled said ‘Yes, it should.’ Of course, the Metallic Metals Act was a complete fiction.

When people are confronted by the nice lady from the opinion poll center, it seems that they can have opinions about things that simply don’t exist.

Perhaps people are telling pollsters, not what they think, but what they think the pollster wants them to think?

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Twins rule Poland

Final result: Lech Kaczynski (PiS) 54.04%......Donald Tusk (PO) 45.96%......turnout 50.99%
The election of Lech Kaczynski as President of Poland is unprecedented.

Since the fall of communism in 1989, Poland has never had a rightwing government at the same time as having a rightwing president.

Well, they have now. Lech Kaczynski’s win in the second round of the presidential election on Sunday follows his party’s win in the general election last month. Head of Law and Justice (PiS) parliamentary grouping is Lech’s twin brother, Jaroslaw.

Tusk had struggled to persuade older, poorer voters that they were safe with his brand of free market politics. And it proves that you cannot win an election in Poland without the support of rural areas.

Election fatigue

In Poland, general elections happen every four years, presidential every five. This year they’ve happened simultaneously.

The two elections – and with the presidential going into two rounds – have left the Polish electorate ‘exhausted’. They complain, not just of the length of the hustings but also about the negative style of campaigning – especially from the Kaczynski camp (Grandpa-gate).

Pretty mild stuff, though, compared to what frequently goes on in the West. And have Poles already forgotten the 1995 presidential campaign, when Lech Wales and ex-communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski, knocked lumps out of each other in a particularly bloody battle?

But in the context of both Tusk and Kaczynski claiming to be a ‘fresh start’ for Poland, it hasn’t looked good from this side of the ballot box.

What has characterized the presidential election campaign this time has been the volatility of the electorate. Few of the candidates enjoyed any ideological commitment or loyalty from the voters.

The first out of the trap, and into the lead in the opinion polls, was heart surgeon, Zbigniew Religa. His strengths appeared to be that he was not a politician. The trouble was, he didn’t have any policies. His lead was always going to be temporary.

Kaczynski was next to be favourite, until the only SLD candidate thought corruption-free enough to stand for president, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, threw his hat into the ring.

But when Cimoszewicz dropped out after getting immersed in the inevitable corruption scandal, set up by his rightwing enemies, the way was clear for Tusk to go to the top of the polls. And he’s been there ever since, apart from one survey published on Friday, which showed Kaczynski staging his now usual last-minute comeback.

And then the farmers made up their minds, and voted for 'the Duck'.

Though voters found it hard to show loyalty to anyone, they were being offered a choice. Unlike in the UK, for example, there is a real difference of political outlooks on offer. True, in the final round, voters have had to choose between two candidates claiming to be rightwing. But the differences between them are significant.

Tusk stands for the young, socially aspirational middle class, who wants to put history behind them and just get on with things. Kaczynski appeals to older and poorer voters who fear the future, because they don’t particularly like the present.

Kaczynski has continually played on people’s fears about the future. He warns that Tusk and his party, PO, want to jump headfirst into a ‘liberal experiment’, by reducing tax radically and speeding up privatization. His mantra has been, ‘What about the poor, the old, the (18%) unemployed’?

The Kaczynsiki camp has also tried to play (somewhat ludicrously) to the far-right and reactionary gallery by raising the spectre of a ‘homosexual lobby’ in the EU, which is ‘infecting’ Polish society. With his appeals for a Poland ‘cleansed’ of these elements, and with a new civil service free of corrupt ex-communists, Kaczynski has occupied the moral high ground.

Kaczynski strategy has been to try and pick up left wing voters who want the state to protect them from the ravages of the market, and at the same time, appeal to the right, the fearful, the religious, who fear modernity.

A tricky act, but one that Tusk has had trouble dealing with. His party, Civic Platform, has been successfully branded, in the minds of many by Kaczynski, as standing for nothing but ‘money, money, money.’

But the Duck has had his problems too. He’s had to overcome voter’s fear of having a Kaczynski in the Prime Minister’s chancellery, and another, identical Kaczynski in the presidential palace.

Nepotism is seldom pretty, especially when it’s hatched from the same egg!

But apart from the ‘grandpa-gate’ scandal that never was, the better, more effective campaign, in both elections, has been the Kaczynskis’.

And now Lech and Jarolsaw have to do four years in government.

And then Poland will vote the ex-communists back in, just like they did four years go.

For more detailed results of the presidential election go to the PKW web site

It's Kaczynski!

A late swing gives Kaczynski the keys to the Polish presidential palace.

At 20.26 CET, exit polls are showing that the winner of the final round of the Polish presidential election is Lech Kaczynski, from the Law and Justice party. The poll for public television, TVP, showed that Kaczynski polled 53.52 percent, and Donald Tusk of Civic Platform received 46.48 percent.

The margin of error in these exit polls is three percent.

Turnout has been estimated to be around 50 percent, the same as two weeks ago in the first round.

In the first round of the election two weeks ago, Donald Tusk received 36 percent, to Lech Kaczynski’s 33 percent.

Kaczynski has trailed in the polls for the last few weeks behind the freemarket orientated Donald Tusk. But in the final few days he has picked up undecided voters, particularly from rural areas.

Going to the polling booths in support of Tusk today were two ex-presidents: Lech Walesa – who worked closely with Kaczynski, back in the days of the Solidarity trade union – and the outgoing president, and ex-communist, Aleksander Kwasniewski. Also voting for the Civic Platform candidate was the one time presidential candidate in this year’s race, independent, heart surgeon, Zbigniew Religa.

Kaczynski picked up the votes of the populists, Andrzej Lepper of the radical farmer’s union, Samoobrona, and Roman and Marciej Giertych, from the far-right League of Polish Families.

The polling stations closed nearly half an hour later than usual, at 8.25 p.m. due to someone at the station in the town of Legnica not setting their alarm, and arriving late for work this morning. Other election workers, who did manage to get out of bed on time, were left waiting outside a closed polling station at 4.30 in the morning. In the event, in the twenty five minutes that the Legnica polling station had to stay open, only three people voted. The nation had to wait an extra half an hour for three people!

Two men also died at polling stations when casting their votes today.

Full results will be announced Monday afternoon, but ten percent of the votes will be counted by 22.30 CET, Sunday.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Another late swing to Lech Kaczynski?

Opinion poll latest: PGB – Lech Kaczynski 50.2%!!! Donald Tusk 49.8%…turnout prediction 44%…….OBOP Donald Tusk 53% Lech Kaczynski 47%…
If polls are to be believed, the final round of the Polish presidential election will be a nail-biter. Lech Kaczynski appears to be benefiting from undecided voters coming his way.

Andrzej Lepper, a candidate in the first round of elections two weeks ago, has advised the 15% who voted for him to now vote for Kaczynski. The Peasant’s Party candidate, Jaroslaw Kalinowski – who received just under 2 percent in the first round - has also advised his voters to plump for ‘the Duck’, as Lech is affectionately known to his friends, and enemies.

The final week of campaigning has been dominated by the ‘Gandpa-gate’ (non) scandal, where supporters of Kaczynski have tried to drag up long-dead relatives as proof that Tusk is not as patriotic as he makes out to be. The allegations that one of his grandfathers fought for the Nazis in WWII have remained unproven.

The late swing of support to Kaczynski follows a pattern set in the General Election in September, and the first round of presidential election two weeks ago, where Tusk’s Civic Platform saw support hemorrhaging away to the Kaczynski twins’, Law and Justice party.

The PRS poll for Gazeta Wyborcza breaks down the votes by age. Tusk is by far the favourite for young voters. Seventy percent of the 24-and-unders will be ticking the box beside his name on Sunday, whereas sixty percent of the over-50’s will be voting Kaczynski.

Gay sex bomb?

Were the five bomb hoaxes, telephoned to Warsaw police Thursday morning, connected to Sunday’s election? The hoaxers claimed to be from a militant gay organization, that nobody has ever heard of before, protesting against homophobia in Poland. Both Lech, and his brother Jaroslaw, have made homophobic remarks during the election campaign (see Boring!).

The founding of a gay, bomb-planting Polish cell would be unprecedented in the history of the worldwide gay and lesbian movement.

So, time for a beatroot conspiracy theory: Could the real culprits behind the hoaxes be from far-right organizations connected to the League of Polish Families, trying to affect the results of the presidential election, in Kaczynski’s favour? The Law and Justice party has repeatedly tried to make this an election issue, by drumming up trog-like prejudices among its electoral base.

It’s either that, or Poland is the birthplace of the world’s first Gay Al-Qaeda!

next post: Sunday, 20.30 CET.

Birdbrains in a flap over flu

The media in a simmering panic, the government is cautious, but the rest Poland retains its commonsense.

If the press is to be believed, the apocalypse is coming, not on four horseback, but on the wings of migratory birds.

After a few were discovered with the virus in Romania, and then more in Ukraine, would Poland be next?

Attention has focused on the flatlands around the Szczecin area in the northwest of the country. This is where the birds flying in from the east stop off for a breather, before going on to warmer areas in the south.

The World Health Organization has estimated that between two and a half and 7 million humans could die from a pandemic of avian future.

The Polish government has responded by banning poultry imports from Turkey and Romania. Pigeon racing has been banned. Owners of chickens have been advised to keep their flock indoors.

Poland has two million farms, half of those are family-sized, subsistence patches of land – and many keep chickens.

So, with all this media coverage and dire warnings from the authorities of impending doom, you would expect Poles to be keeping a close eye out for sniffling chickens, and carrying out witch hunts against people who sneeze in public.

But no, they aren’t. This subject might be at the top of media agendas and anxious government meetings, and there has been a slight fall in sales of chicken, but the nation remains decidedly underwhelmed about the whole subject.

Poles just shrug their shoulders: What is the point in getting worked up about something that doesn’t yet exist?

Meanwhile, Hungarian researchers have completed preliminary work on a vaccine that could protect both humans and animals. The Prime Minister of Hungary, Jenoe Racz, announced Wednesday that antibodies to the virus have appeared in his blood following his inoculation several weeks ago.

That kind of positive attitude is exactly what we need – not the panic that is building in the west.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Poland gets more corrupt

Corruption watchdog, Transparency International, says that Poland has not got any less corrupt since joining the European Union last year.

From a survey based on responses from businesspeople, out of over 150 countries examined Poland ranks 70th least corrupt in the world (three places down on last year), but the most corrupt out of the 25 nations that make up the EU.

According to the report, Greece, Italy, the Czech Republic and Poland have performed relatively poorly in the last 12 months and "show little or no sign of improvement".

The report will surprise nobody, of course. The two election campaigns this autumn – for parliament and president – have been dominated by rightwing parties promising to clean Poland up after 4 years of rule by the ex-communist, SLD government. The Law and Justice and League of Polish Families have been calling for a complete clean sweep of government and civil service to get rid of corrupt, ‘communist’ elements.

Out of the post-communist countries to join the EU in May, 2004, Estonia is the least dodgy, says TI – influenced, they say, by the Nordic culture of strong civic society and good governmance.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fuzzy math

School lessons in Lukashenko’s Belarus just don’t add up.

According to the autumn edition of the Belarusian Review (volume 17, No. 3), a re-published 12 year old textbook used in middle school revision classes in that country includes ‘sums’ such as Nato + US = War, and Nato + Go Home = Peace!

The maths textbook was written at the time when Clinton and co. were bombing Serbs during the war in the Balkans. President Lukashenko is well known for his belief that the US, the EU, and a whole host of other acronyms are plotting the downfall of his regime. Are Belarusian school kids being taught to hate the US while learning their logarithms?

But Yaushen Barabatau, one of the book’s authors, told RFE/RE: “I don’t think these rebuses have any political or ideological underpinning.”

So can we expect more sums in the next edition having a go at Bush and Blair’s disastrous little jaunts into Iraq, or even Iran? Maybe they could include something like: US + UK + Iraq – WMD = 100.000 casualties 4 Zero?

Apparently not: “Serbia is an Orthodox country, dear to us,” said Barabatau, “ Our brothers live there. We perceive that a war against them is a war against us. But Iraq – it is not so painful for us.”

Well, that’s OK then.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

School cheats and dodgy politicians

Cheating in school and university becomes an election issue.

The heavyweight UK Economist (Oct 4) magazine reports that thousands of pens that write with invisible ink, and have a small ultra-violet light at the end with which the ink can be read – are flying off the shelves of stationary stores in Poland. It’s no coincidence that the new academic year has started. The pens are ideal to cheat in exams with.

Cheating at school in Poland is endemic. Anyone who has worked in the education system here (as I have done) will tell you that it is not just the thick students that do it. They defend themselves by claiming that it is ‘part of our culture’, and was a way of ‘resisting’ the communist educationalists.

And it’s not just the students who are to blame. Teachers have been turning a blind eye to this nonsense for generations.

Things are getting better. The matura school-leaving exam is now being marked by external examiners, so the temptation for teachers to tweak the grades has gone.

But teachers are still in denial about cheating in class. After a particularly nasty encounter with lecturers at Warsaw University when I was promoting the magazine I used to work for, we decided to do something about it, and run a series of articles about the subject (see Honesty in the classroom?). And then we sat back and waited for the letters and emails to start coming in.

In the end we received just one letter.

The Law and Justice Party(PiS) – which stands on a platform of tackling corruption in public life, has pointed out the obvious: corruption and cheating in schools are linked. In the market square in Krakow, reports the Economist, PiS staged recently a little drama to illustrate the point: “Six ‘students’ struggle to complete their final exam paper. One by one, they are caught cheating, and forced to stand up, showing their masks: well-known corrupt politicians and businessmen.”

The article also points out that the word for cheating in Poland – sciaganie – suggests ingenuity, not dishonesty. “Only when Poles find a pejorative term will this dubious habit loose its moral immunity,” concludes the magazine

Friday, October 14, 2005

Grandpa-gate: the story continues...

Did Donald Tusk’s dad’s dad fight in the German army during WWII?

Well, two days after the story broke (see previous post) - and much frenzied digging around by journalists - we now know, for sure, that Donald Tusk’s granddad didn’t do the unpatriotic thing and fight in the trenches for Hitler.

But Donald Tusk’s granddad’s brother did!

In August 1942, Donald Tusk’s granddad’s brother signed up with the Wehrmacht army. His career fighting for the Nazi’s was a short one, however. In late October he deserted, somewhere in Western Europe. And a few weeks after that, there are documents showing that he was fighting for a Polish resistance unit.

Tusk himself has expressed surprise over the revelations – such as they are – as that generation of his family never talked about the war, all that much, he said.

But his grandpa’s brother’s actions were not unusual ones during the war. Many Poles escaped to France, Holland, Norway this way, and then joined up with resistance movements, or the allied army.

TVN’s evening news program spent six minutes, and two different pieces, on this non-story. What will the next revelation be? That the Donald Tusk camp leaks an internal memo showing that Lech Kaczynski’s great-great-great-great grandma had a dog that once pissed down the boot of Napoleon Bonaparte while he was passing through Poland on his way to fight the Russians, therefore proving that the Law and Justice Party are not serious about getting rid of the zloty and introducing the Euro? Perhaps.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Duck suddenly gets that sinking feeling

Presidential election, latest polls: GFK Pollsters – Donald Tusk 62%…Lech Kaczynski 38%……OBOP Polls - Donald Tusk 56%…Lech Kaczynski 44%…
Lech Kaczynski sees support slip away as one of his staff puts his foot in it. (photo: Kaczynski back in the days when he was best buddies with Walesa).

Lech Kaczynski has sacked his campaign manager, Jacek Kurski, after he made false accusations that Donald Tusk’s grandfather volunteered to fight for the Nazi’s during WWII.

Kurski had told a weekly magazine that, “Reliable sources in Pomerania [the area around Gdansk where Tusk is from] say that Tusk’s grandfather volunteered for the Wehrmacht."

Donald Tusk immediately quashed the story by proving that both his grandfathers had fought for AKA (resistance) during the war, and spent some time in a concentration camp for their troubles.

Kaczynski has responded by apologizing to Tusk and sacking Kurski. He claims that the comments were made without his consent, and that he new nothing about the allegations before they appeared in the weekly Agora. Kurski has defended himself by saying that the comments came at the end of a long interview with journalists, who constantly questioned him on rumours about Tusk and his family. Finally, he says, he admitted that there 'were rumours', but did not say that he thought this gossip was true.

Nevertheless, how much has the affair damaged Kaczynski, who prides himself on his honesty and straight talking approach?

According to a poll published last night on the daily Fakty newscast on TVN, Tusk has now increased his lead on Kaczynski to 24 points - though another by OBOP finds that this lead to be 12% - still a movement away from Lech by two points, at 56 - 44%.

This all comes on the back of Lech Walesa announcing that he is rooting for Donald Tusk in the second round on October 23. Kaczynski used to be Walesa’s second in command in Solidarity, and was thought to be the heir to his thrown.

And then they had a few arguments. Big ones. Legal writs have flown, and many a bad word said.

So Walesa voting Tusk is another kick in the marginals. It’s not been a good few days for the Duck.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

They also ran

Presidential election result, first round: Tusk 36.3%…Kaczynski 33.10%…Lepper 15.11%…Borowski 10.33%…Kalinowski 1.88%…Korwin-Mikke 1.45%……Turnout 49.74%…
A champion bridge playing monarchist who eats his tax returns, and a man who met his new Chinese wife on the internet, were just some of the also-rans who stood in last Sunday’s presidential election. (photo: Janusz Korwin-Mikke and running mate)

The fact that Lech Kaczynski, from the populist, conservative Law and Justice party, and Donald Tusk from the free market conservative, Civic Platform, have gone through to the second round on October 23 was always, what epistemologist Donald Rumsfeld would call, a ‘known, known’. They were both so far ahead in the polls that they were the only two real candidates with a hope of winning the contest.

The known-unknown was the turnout out, which at 50 percent, was a good ten percent higher than in the general election only two weeks ago.

But most of the other ten candidates who stood on Sunday knew that they had no hope of winning, and would be happy to get 1 percent of the vote.

What Rumsfeld would call the ‘unknown unknown’, is, of course, unknowable – but it probably has something to do with the question: why do these political also-rans bother in the first place?

Take for instance someone who is now becoming a veteran of presidential election contests, Janusz Korwin-Mikke, who used to stand on the “Real Politics’ platform, but now just stands on the Korwin-Mikke Platform platform.

If I said to you that Mr. Korwin-Mikke is the type of man who always wears a bow tie, then you will get an idea of the sort of person he is. He’s an intelligent, self-styled political maverick. He has some crazy ideas, which, once you think about some of them, at least, start to make a peculiar kind of sense.

He was a dedicated and brave anti-communist activist from the nineteen sixties onwards, managed to get himself arrested several times, and spent sometime in jail during the martial law period.

Towards the end of communism he set himself apart from the mainstream opposition with his Real Politics Union. He is for a low, almost non –existent tax economy, and onetime stood outside the finance ministry eating his tax-returns form. He is vehemently against the European Union (EU), the rules of which he sees as being less liberal than the old Soviet Union. ‘Brussels is run by a bunch of ‘Euro-Masons’, he says. He favours Poland leaving the EU and joining NAFTA, the North Atlantic Free Trade Association. That Poland is nowhere near the North Atlantic is not a problem for him.

Always the contrarian, he thinks that Poland should not interfere in the politics of Belarus, and President Lukashenko – someone usually thought of as a foreign relations pariah – should, indeed, be left alone.

The man is a mass of contradictions, in fact. Some of his views are hyper-modern, but others are from a different, forgotten age. For instance, he has some chauvinistic views about the role of women today, and is a member of the Polish Monarchy Club – which think that we should search for the rightful heir to the Polish throne.

He is also a champion bridge player.

His election slogan in the presidential elections this time – he has stood twice before – was the simple: I’m as fed up as you are! On Sunday, he polled 1.4%.

A political eccentric, then. But at least he does have political views. In fact, some say has too many of them.

Chinese crackers

This cannot be said for another of the candidates on Sunday, the oddball Stanislaw Tyminski.

Tyminski truly is the ‘unknown unknown’ of the Polish political scene. A Polish born Canadian businessman, he first emerged from obscurity in 1990, when he announced that he was going to stand in the nations’ first democratic ballot for president since the fall of communism the previous year.

But nobody had heard of him before, he didn’t seem to have any policies, and he was up against solidarity activists, and, most importantly, Lech Walesa.

In the first ballot, Walesa was miles ahead of everyone else, except that is, for Stanislaw Tyminksi, who amazed everyone when he forced a second ballot with the King of the Gdansk Shipyard. Walesa won the second round easily; but how could a candidate from overseas just turn up and get so many votes?

But this is what people like Tyminski are for. They are the anti-politics candidate. They have no past, so they cannot have made any mistakes. They have no policies, so it’s impossible to debate with them. And people vote for guys like Tyminski for no other reason than to stick a finger up at the political class in general.

But maybe because he was the politician that emerged out of the blue with no policies, the 57 year old - who didn’t even live in Poland - quickly disappeared again.

Only to re-emerge, that is, this year with a 37 year old Chinese woman on his arm, who he announced to be his new wife.

Apparently they met only a while ago on the internet. How they communicated was a mystery, as Wu Mulan - a labourer from Shenzhen, who has a 13-year-old daughter - didn’t speak any English. The first time they set eyes on each other was on their wedding day.

Rumours have been rife on the internet about the marriage, with talk of how this Chinese Cinderella is really an undercover spy trying to affect the results of the Polish presidential election.

Which is possible…but then again, why would the Chinese Secret Service waste time with a presidential candidate like Tyminski who, this time round, only polled 0.16 percent?

Still, the also-rans got what they were looking for – a bit of attention, and in Tyminski’s case, a pretty Chinese wife.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Tusk leads duck

result with 91% of votes counted: Tusk 35.8%..Kaczynski 33.3%...Lepper 15.5%...Borowski 10.2 %...Kalinowski 1.8%...

Donald Tusk and Lech Kaczynski will contest a second round in the presidential election in two weeks time.

Another late swing to Kaczynski (PiS) sees him within two percent of the leading candidate for president, Donald Tusk.

Turnout was up by ten percent on the parliamentary elections two weeks ago.

The third and forth placed candidates polled better that expected, with Andrzej Lepper and Marek Borowski polling 15 and 10 percent.

The question now is: who will get those votes, Tusk or Kaczynski (nickname, the duck)?

The majority of the votes for Lepper - according to TVN 24 - may go to Kaczynski, and most of Borowski's will go to Tusk.

I went along earlier with girlfriend, Ania, and the dog, to ballot station 175 - which, in another life, is the local school. As the dog and myself were ineligible to vote, we waited outside in the sunshine and watched a few, mainly young, people go in to put a cross beside the name of one of the 12 candidates.

The election official said that a steady trickle of people had turned out to vote. It just after lunchtime.

Ania voted for Tusk. She is Tusk’s core voter. Born in Warsaw, mid-thirties, university graduate, marketing manager in a TV company, thinks she pays to much tax. Secular. Thinks Kaczynski is old-fashioned. Thinks Tusk is a decent guy, and might reduce her taxes.

At 4.00 p.m. 35% had voted – that’s eight percent more than at the same time in the parliamentary election two weeks ago.

In a joint interview on TVP public television after the exit poll was announced at 8 p.m., Tusk gave some advise to Kaczynski: ‘It’s time to give up, man!’ But the race is now much closer than the opinion polls had indicated before Sunday's vote.

Friday, October 07, 2005


What is this electoral obsession with gays all about? (pictured: Bosak Krzysztof, youngest MP (23) in the new parliament, League of Polish Families)

As Gustav points out at the Warsaw Station (top blog!) the Law and Justice part of the new rightwing coalition has lost no time in getting stuck in to pedaly (queers). Gustav writes, under the headline, PiS bigotry already rears its ugly head:

‘Poland's likely next prime minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, has described homosexuality as "unnatural" and believes the state should stop gays "infecting" others with their behaviour, according to an interview. "The spread of homosexuality is a threat to the liberty of other citizens, Marcinkiewicz, named by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party to lead the next government, told the Polish edition of Newsweek. "If a person tries to contaminate others with his homosexuality, the state should intervene against such an attack on liberty," he added.

"Homosexuality is not natural. What is natural is the family. The state must protect the family," said Marcinkiewicz, a devout Roman Catholic and father of four.

The PiS party won the most seats in legislative polls held on September 25 and has been in talks with second-placed Civic Platform on forming a coalition government.

In June, when he was mayor of Warsaw, PiS party leader and presidential candidate Lech Kaczynski banned a gay parade in the capital.’

Indeed. One of the saddest things about the election campaigns in Poland this time is how many times gays have been turned into modern day folk devils, just so that a few political pygmies can pick up a few cheap votes.

I was on the Tolerance Parade, the gay and lesbian demonstration in June. This was the march that was banned – not just this year, but last year as well - by the presidential candidate, Lech Kaczynski.

I thought long and hard before I joined that march. Not because I didn’t think it was an important issue in Poland – far from it. Not because I was scared someone might think I was gay - because I am not, but I don’t care if people think that I am. And not because I had never been on a march like that before, because I have done, many times (we have had a little bit of trouble in the past in the UK with troglodytes as well).

The reason I was uncertain was because I was not Polish - so did I have a right to get involved?

And then I thought about the EU. Here is Brussels, trying to get involved in all sorts of ways in Poland – from above. So what was the harm in me trying to help change things from below?

So I went on the march.

I wrote about this in How to Spoil a Skinheads Weekend. On the countermarch by far-rightists that day was, the now, youngest member of the new Polish parliament – Bosak Krzysztof. It was his gang that pelted us with eggs and rocks. If you have never been pelted with eggs and rocks by a gang of weirdo zealots, then I can tell you that it is extremely irritating.

Anyway, it seems that making homophobic soufflé is a good thing to put on your CV in Poland, if you want to be a far-right politician and get on in the world, that is.

But apart from the dairy produce deluge, we – about 3,000 people of various sexual persuasions – had a much better time than the few hundred, angry thugs. It was good to know that there are people in this country who are not going to put up with this sort of crap.

But the opportunist use of primitive prejudices by Marcinkiewicz this week only encourages people like Krzysztof, and that pathetic little bunch, to throw more eggs and rocks, and get worked up about something that is no threat to them at all. It’s time to grow up, guys.

Poles lack double vision

Latest poll: Tusk 40%...Kaczynski 35%...Lepper 11%...Borowski 8%...Kalinowski 3%...others...1%…

Half of Poles do not want twins as president and premier

The weekly magazine Polityka writes this week that almost 50 percent of Poles are worried at the prospect of the Kaczynski twins grabbing both top jobs. Poles are afraid of situations where top officials are related.

Polityka reminds us of when one of the leading figures in the Civic Platform, Zyta Gilowska, left the party amidst accusations that she was using her position to back her son’s candidature as an MP.

It is only among those who say they will defiantly vote for Lech Kaczynski this weekend who do not mind getting double vision when looking at the next Polish political leadership.

Polityka thinks that Tusk is a better choice because his presidency would ensure a balance of power between Civic Platform and Law and Justice. ‘It’s nothing personal’, the weekly tells Lech Kaczynski. ‘The principle of limited trust has to be applied even in relation to trustworthy persons, just in case.’

Fourth Republic

President Kwasniewski might vote for Tusk, and Kaczynski is 'too radical'. (pictured: Kwasniewski with Bush)

The outgoing president, Alex Kwasniewski, said yesterday – as he was endorsing no-hoper Marek Borowski for the job – that he thinks the program of Law and Justice in general, and candidate Leck Kaczynski in particular – is ‘too radical’. “We have to look for politicians who will not waste Poland’s achievements so far, but will use and develop them”, Kwasniewski said.

Besides the fact that Kaczynski is a ‘conservative’, - and conservatives do not usually go in for being ‘radical’ - what could he mean by this?

The Kaczynski election posters refer to a Polish ‘Fourth Republic’ – which does not exists at the moment. And that’s the point.

The Thirst Republic came into force after the fall of communism in 1989. Before that we had the Commie “People’s Republic', and then before that we had the Second Republic, which came into force after Poland regained her independence after WWI.

What Kaczynski – and much of the Polish rightwing – are arguing for now is a Fourth Republic, signaling the end of the post-communist phase of the nation’s reconstruction.

Kaczynski et al think that the gradualism of Poland’s approach after 1989 - when many of the former communists were allowed to stay in the civil service and top levels of the public sector – should be abandoned, and the ex-commies purged from positions of power – e.g. the Television and Radio Council, that watches over broadcasting in Poland, should be abolished.

In other words, the Fourth Republic would be a commie-free-zone, something which many ex-communist countries did right from the start.

President Kwasniewski, not surprisingly, does not go along with this, as he is one of those ex-commies (though of the reformist type).

If the presidential contest goes to a second round – where the top two contestants fight out a head-to-head battle in two weeks time – then President Kwasniewski has implied that he will be voting for Civic Platform’s Donald Tusk, as the lesser of two evils.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Presidential candidate: Andrzej Lepper

In third place in the opinion polls (12%), he’s fighting for the rights of farmers, pigs, and Alexander Lukashenko.

He’s the maverick isolationist who is anti-EU, anti-Atlanticist, and anti-globalist. He’s the ex-boxer who’s been in court more times than a Polish grandma has cooked up bigos. And he is the self-styled modern day Polish Robin Hood, who has about one in ten Polish voters cheering him on.

I have seen him described by the foreign press as being on the ‘far right’, but this completely misses the point about politics in a post-communist country like Poland.

Up until 1992, Lepper was a pig farmer who was a member of the PZPR, the old communist party. When his farm hit hard times he decided it was time to fight back against the ‘shock economic therapy’, and savage free market reforms of the newly capitalist Poland.

So he formed Samoobrona (Self Defense) the radical farmers union. Lepper quickly became a constant media presence – organizing roadblocks to keep out cheap imported grain from the EU and elsewhere. His direct action method of protest attracted the attention of not just the news media, but also the cops, who arrested him countless times for obstruction and other public order offenses.

Samoobrona’s party song is a jolly little ditty that makes plain the Lepper mindset: “This land is our land, and we won’t let anyone punch us in the face.” Catchy, isn’t it?

He first stood for president ten years ago, when he polled just over one percent. The next time he tried, in 2000, he got three percent. This time he will probably get around twelve percent. So things are going in the right direction for the man who is attracting the disaffected and disposessed in modern day Poland.

He has made anti-Semitic remarks in the past, which is probably where the ‘far right’ tag comes from. He has praised Goebbels for his mastery of the media, and Hitler for his ‘economic policy.’

But he has also expressed regard for someone who is usually thought to be a bit of a basket case, the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko. He supported Lukashenko’s successful attempt to change the constitution so that he could stand for a third term as head of state. Lepper thinks that he should be president ‘till he dies.’

King of the Polish populists

Lepper is a strange mixture of two French populists: Jose Bove – the darling of lefty anti-globalists who once drove a tractor through his local MacDonald’s - and far-right, neo-fascist, Jean Mari le Pen.

Like Hitler, he is a lover of our fury friends, and campaigns for the rights of farm animals. In Washington D.C. in 2001 he was awarded the Albert Schweitzer Medal for his campaign for more humane farming. He vows to ‘stop the concentration camps’ of modern farming methods in Poland. “Farm animals are like any other living being, and have natural instincts that must be expressed.”, he told a doting American audience.

Foreign policy under Lepper and Samoobrona would turn Poland into, well, another Belarus. He is as suspicious of American capitalism as he is of the interventionism of the EU. He accuses both of dumping surplus agricultural products on the Polish market, with the full permission of the government. And as far as the domestic economy is concerned, he would slow down privatization, and make sure that Polish firms stay in Polish hands.

So, all in all, Andrzej Lepper is an oddball, and someone who defies the usual political labels of left and right.

He won’t get into the second round of the presidential elections, but he can always be relied upon to liven up Polish politics a bit. Political journalists, in particular, would miss him if he were ever to fall under a tractor.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Not so cunning linguists

Presidential election, latest poll: Donald Tusk 40%…Lech Kaczynski 34%…Andrzej Lepper 12%...Marek Borowski 9%...Jaroslaw Kalinowski 1%...Janusz Korwin-Mikke 1%

New regime is in need of language lessons.

What have outgoing president, Aleksander Kwasniewski, outgoing prime minister, Marek Belka, and former foreign secretary and onetime presidential candidate, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz got in common?

Apart from being members of the ex-communist SLD, they are all fairly proficient in the English language.

Kwasniewski, for instance, learnt his English when he came to London in the early nineteen seventies and worked (illegally!) in a pub just round the corner from the Arsenal football ground. As a consequence, he’s been inflicted with a lifelong support of the north London club, but a good knowledge of English as compensation.

But who at the top levels of the new rightwing coalition can match the ex-communists in the linguistic department?

The short answer is, not many. Law and Justice’s (PiS) Oxford graduate, Radek Sikorski speaks fluent English, with an almost aristocratic accent. Former head of the central bank, Civic Platform’s Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz speaks well, so do MEP’s like PiS’s Alan Bielan.

One of the main players in Sunday’s presidential election - and someone who has had a slight movement in the right direction in the last few`days in the opinion polls - is Lech Kaczynski. But he doesn't speak any English at all.

Donald Tusk - the odds on favourite - does know some, but it very shy about speaking it. We tried to get him to talk in English when we were doing a kind of profile about him a while ago. But he got ‘mic fright’ and refused to do it. The same happened when a colleague of mine door-stepped him in the radio building, and again, he refused to play ball.

The British Council has been putting on classes for politicians who want to learn the lingo of international diplomacy, but we can’t find out what kind of level.

So English speaking heads of state will be hoping Tusk gets the nod this weekend. I just hope there are not many microphones around when they meet him.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Poland gags journos

Poland has the worst record in the EU for using the courts against journalists, says the International Press Institute (ITI).

The claim is made in two recent letters from the Director of the IPI, Johann P. Fritz, to Aleksander Kwasniewski, Poland’s outgoing president. The letters are in supprt of two national newspapers, Rzeczpospolita and Gazeta Wyborcza, and two weekly current affairs magazines, Wprost and Polityka.

The first correspondence is in support of Grzegorz Gauden, the Editor-in-Chief, of the upmarket Rzeczpospolita daily, who is being charged by Warsaw prosecutors of the ‘propagation without a permission [of] news about the preparatory proceedings’ – meaning, reporting evidence included in court proceedings that have yet to come to court.

An article in Rzeczpospolita on 18 March this year claimed that a former head of Poland’s largest insurance firm, PZU, Wladyslaw Jamrozy, had, in 1995, allegedly founded a secret trust fund on the UK island of Jersey and transferred company funds to the account.

The accusations follow several others made against PZU and it’s former president, who was suspended in 2000 for allegedly trying to illegally assist the takeover of a Polish bank by Deutsche Bank. Jamrozy has always denied the accusations.

The PZU affair has been one of many high profile corruption cases over the past few years in Poland.

Why use the courts to fight their battles?

The charge against the journalist – made on August 24 - is seen by many to be a gagging order against investigative journalism into the sleazy goings on between the outgoing ex-communist government and individuals in high positions in public companies.

The IPI states in the letter to President Kwasniewski: “The prosecutor's office is seriously impeding the work of an independent newspaper and it raises the possibility that Polish editors who find themselves in a similar position will practice self-censorship in order to escape criminal prosecution.”

In the second letter to the president, the IPI raises concerns over other recent cases of court harassment of other weekly and daily publications.

In light of the fact that Transparency International has found Poland to be the most corrupt country in the EU, it is vital, argues the IPI, that Kwasniewski removes, “…all criminal laws that hinder press freedom and freedom of expression and to ensure that the media's right to report in the public interest is fully protected.

I hate to disappoint the IPI, but President Kwasniewski certainly will not be removing any laws that hinder the press, or otherwise, as he will be no longer the head of state in a couple of weeks time, after the presidential elections. And he could not remove laws against press freedom anyway, as the Polish constitution does not give him any powers to do such a thing.

But the case does show that the courts are being used to strangle rights to free expression in Poland.

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 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.

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Poland and the cheshire cat in Downing Street

On taking over the EU presidency in July he promised to drive forward ‘necessary reforms’, and would ‘sort out the EU’. And then he disappeared into thin air, leaving only a grin behind him.

After making his speech in June outlining his plan for a more flexible Union and a reformed CAP, the eurosceptic tabloid The Sun, called Blair a "brave British gladiator walking into the lion's den". They did say to be careful of the once Europhile who could, you know, speak a bit of French, but then said, "But we do not carp. Instead we rejoice as a political sinner repents."

And then, all of a sudden…nothing happened. Was he a repenting lion, or a distracted pussy cat, many euroskeptic Poles wondered?

But now he’s back. Tony Blair has said that he is going to re-focus on the EU. His centerpiece is going to be a deal on the EU budget, and skewering together an agreement on Turkey’s membership on October 3.

Helping in his re-introduction as EU lion is the rightwing victory in the general election in Poland. As usual, New Labour are much more comfortable these days with rightist foreign relations. The German election result – a kind of daschund’s breakfast – was a knock back. And then Law and Justice and Civic Platform served up the kielbasa.

Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott – obviously a fan of Polish sausage - has spoke of a new ‘special relationship’ between the two countries.

And that relationship will surely center on maneuvers in Brussels.

There will now be no EU constitution in its present form. The Polish line will be to try to keep things much as they are. That’s how Poles thought things would be when they voted to join the organization in the first place. Poland – with a population of nearly 40 million – is one of the larger EU countries, and the Nice Treaty gives it more shout than the subsidiarity in the Constitution.

And that’s a bit of a relief for Tony, because now he doesn’t need to have a referendum he would surely loose.

Poland will be adopting the euro later rather than sooner. The budget draft that the outgoing SLD government has just agreed to, envisages meeting criteria in the Growth and Stability pact as soon as 2008! Poland’s budget deficit of over six percent will have to be brought down rapidly. That means ruthless cuts, and a high growth rate, that the outgoing government probably couldn’t manage anyway.

The new government – now that Law and Justice, and not Civic Platform are the boss - will be in so such a rush.

Further political integration will now, either come to a grinding halt, or turn to a two speed Europe. If it's the latter, Poland will be riding pillion in the slow lane with the UK.

And Poland, like New Labour, will be looking more to Washington than to Brussels as far as defense policy is concerned.

But this might wipe the smile of his face

Blair would be naïve to think that it’s going to be all vodka and sausage with the Poles. One of his intended reforms is to the EU’s agriculture budget. In the future he wants individual states to be largely responsible for subsidizing their own farmers.

He said recently: "I totally understand why countries may want to give their money to support farmers. What I have an objection to is the European Union deciding collectively it is going to give 40% of its budget into an area that has got 4% of its people. “

The trouble is, is that Poland has two million farms, and a quarter of its population rely on the farming industry for its living. A large section of Poland is part of the four percent Blair was talking about. Many farmers are now receiving a nice whack of subsidy from Brussels, and they rather like it. They have also seen agricultural exports go up 40% since joining the EU last year.

So Blair will have a friend in Brussels for much of the time. But Poland will be shifting its alliances to suit its needs, and at the same time keeping a close eye our Tony, and making sure he doesn't disappear again.

Blogs and elections

Interesting statistics on showing that Germany is way behind Poland and France in the blog stakes.

Written in early September, and under the headline, Blogs starting to make an impression in the German election, it says:

"Germany statistically has one of the lowest number of blogs per head of population in Europe, according to the last Blog Herald Blog Count in July, and notably lags behind its neighbours France and Poland. Deutsche Welle reports that Germany is still 'in the teething stages when it comes to political online journals' however a number of blogs are now starting to be heard."

Statistics for July report that, “Figures also indicates that Poland is one of the fastest growing blog markets in Europe.” Poland has just under 1.5 million blogs, while Germany has a pitiful 250,000.

Does this mean that one of our blogs could swing the presidential election?

Silent majority

Why are Poles so allergic to the ballot box?

The General Election last Sunday had a turnout of around 40 percent. This is low even by Polish standards, where the ballot box has never had a particular allure. In the 2001 election, turnout was only 46 percent.

Many leftwing voters in industrial heartlands didn’t bother to leave the house this time, after the left wing government failed to tackle the 1 in 5 unemployment rate, and the seemingly endemic corruption in their ranks.

Others have simply abandoned the political process altogether. One non-voter I talked to said that the election ‘didn’t matter’. He didn’t think that voting one way or another would make any mark on the future of his country. All the real battles had been fought, he said, and whichever party won would not make that much difference. And then – with almost pride, I think! - he claimed membership of what he called, ‘the silent majority’.

One non-voter told Euronews: “All of these people were in power already. I am against all of them. They have ruled for 15 years - the names of the parties kept changing but the faces stayed the same."

The standard commentary has noted the growing cynicism for politics in general and politicians in particular. And this mood of powerlessness and disengagement is felt most strongly in low-income groups and the poorly educated.

In the Euro-elections last June, barely 20% dragged themselves out to vote. President Kwasniewski told TVN 24 back then that lack of voter interest in the democratic process was ‘an illness’ and ‘had to be studied.’

The highest turnout in recent times has been in the 2003 referendum on whether Poland should enter the EU or not, where over 60% of voters went to the polls.

But Poles have never shown a great interest in elections. Even in 1989, in the first democratic elections since the nineteen twenties in this country, only 64% voted. By 1997 that figure had slipped to under 50 percent.

So the argument that Poles have become cynical about politics is a weak one. Poles have not become cynical, they always were.

Politics in a post-political world

Since 1989 voter turnout has been falling in western Europe. With the great left/right ideological battles a thing of the past (There Is Now No Alternative to Capitalism), and societies becoming more and more fragmented and atomized, social cohesion and responsibility has weakened.

And political parties – which once had genuine roots in societies – have become detached from the people.

In 1950s Britain, for example, the Labour Party claimed a membership of about a million; today that is down to under 300.000. Over the same period membership of the Conservative Party declined from some 2.8 million to less than half a million – and the average age of its members is over 65.

But Poland is a country that never really has had much cohesion - due to obvious historical reasons - and all the political parties (bar the ex-communists, ironically) that contested Sunday’s election are less than ten years old. They have no grounding in Polish society at all.

And the individual’s relationship to the state, and to his or her community, has always been a difficult one here.

So without political alternatives and a strong civic society, voting can seem irrelevant.

And that’s why the ballot box is a stranger to most, and why the silent majority has become a permanent feature on the political landscape.

It is becoming almost trendy to be a political cynic, these days. But leaving politics to the politicians is not a solution to anything.

The only way forward is for politicians to be encouraged to present real alternatives to voters, and for voters to form strong communities and re-engage with the world around them.

Until then the Cynicism Party will always be the real winner in elections in Poland.