Sunday, April 30, 2006

Can’t think of a title

You know when you read something and think, “I wish I’d written that’?

This is from the introduction to the latest (2004) documentary by the brilliant Adam Curtis. His last film was about how both Islamicists and Neo-cons (and liberals too, I would argue) play the fear card by forming their constituencies through the creation of mythical bogeymen.

In The Power of Nightmares, he says:

“In the past politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this but their power came from the optimistic visions they offered their people.

Those dreams failed and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly politicians are seen as managers of public life.

But now, they have discovered a new role that restores their power and authority. Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to deliver us from nightmares…”

(spotted on the Against War on Terror blog)

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Take the Political Compass test

Tired, confused, depressed, unsure of where you stand politically in this post-ideological world? We can help you…

I have argued many times that the old left/right thing doesn’t work at all in Poland or the rest of the post-communist world. We have an economically leftwing government which is socially conservative at the same time. On the other side of parliament we have the conservatively liberal (?) Civic Platform in opposition.

But the left/right wing thing doesn’t work anymore in the West, either. All we have are political parties cut off from their social roots, like New Labour in the UK, that reach, in reflex, for the authoritarian button anytime they feel threatened (which is virtually everyday).

So to help your reorientation in this new, post-cold war situation, take the Political Compass test. It doesn’t just ask whether you are right or left wing economically, but also whether you are a libertarian or authoritarian.

For instance, the Law and Justice (PiS) led government here would get a score of ‘leftwing/authoritarian’.

I took the test and it said I was left/libertarian (close to Ghandi on the graph!).

How about you?

Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday night quiz

Question: who is the more sexually attracted one in this marriage - President Lech or his First Lady? And do they need a Marriage Guidance Counsellor?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Captions say: Maria: give us a kiss! President: Sling your hook, you old slapper!

There was an old age pensioner this week who had police burst into his flat after he sent an email with a photo of two ducks with their arses in the air(as reported Thursday by Gazeta Wyborcza). President Kaczynski and his brother, Jaroslaw, share the nickname 'the two ducks'.

Insulting the president apeears to be a very infantile law in this country.

I await the knock on the front door with anticipation.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Totally PiS-ed off!

Poles grown with boredom and irritation as, nearly eight months after the general election, the Law and Justice (PiS) led government fails, yet again, to form a working coalition.

Will this charade ever end?

A coalition has just been signed, but it’s 19 votes short of a parliamentary majority. Which means, if my meager mathematics is correct, that this is no coalition at all.


We were told before the election in September that two parties with Solidarity roots - Law and Justice (PiS) and Civic Platform (PO) – would form a coalition. They didn’t.

Then we were told that a ‘Stability pact’ between PiS, the rural proletarian, radical Self defense, and the catholic-nationalist League of Polish Families, would get necessary legislation through parliament. The stability pact was signed but never materialized.

We were told three weeks ago that a coalition between the same parties was close to being finalized. And then it wasn’t.

Two weeks ago we were told that a coalition between…something!...anything!...would be formed. It wasn’t.

And then we were told yesterday that a coalition between PiS, Self defense, bits of the League of Polish Families (a split within that party has made it the League of Broken Polish Families) and the Polish Peasant’s Party, would agreed today.

Then the Polish Peasant’s Party pulled out this afternoon.

And now, as I write, a ‘coalition’ between PiS, Self defense, but without many of the League of Polish Families, has been agreed. Unfortunately, this means that the coalition (that isn’t) is 19 votes short of a majority in parliament. Which means they still have to get support from outside the ‘coalition’ to govern the country properly.

Roman Giertych, leader of the League, says that he is 'ready to talk'. But, then again, he has been 'talking' for months. And nothing has happened.

The government says that it will not be naming any new ministers until next Friday.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski (chairman of PiS, in photo) is saying that he hopes to persuade the rest of the League of Polish Families to join them. In which case, he says, “we will rule until 2009”.

Ha, ha, bloody ha! Knowing the current political class as Poles do, this is a very optimistic analysis.

What a pathetic bunch of losers.

The country has lots of problems and needs strong and decisive leadership. But finding that kind of political leadership in Poland at the moment is like the blind man, in a dark room, looking for the black cat…that isn’t there!

The beatroot’s position on this has been clear for a long while now: give us a new election and the Polish voter will sort out the mess.


For more comment see Does a radical Polish farmer now control Poland?, from the guys at Polish Outlook

Monday, April 24, 2006

Bin Laden’s latest recording

Why are journalists making a big thing about his threat against civilians? (photo: when the bearded idiot used to make videos, too)

When covering the story all the major networks have led on the part of the cassette tape which threatens western citizens. The Los Angelis Times for instance:

“…he said members of the Western public shared responsibility for the actions of their governments because they "are renewing their allegiance to its rulers and master" — an apparent implication that civilians could be targeted.’

Two things: firstly, what is new in that? Al-Qaeda type lunacy has always targeted civilians. Look what they are doing in Iraq. Look what they did in New York on 9/11. Nothing new in that at all.

Secondly: the commentators are saying that this statement puts civilians more at risk. They imply that there is some connection between what Bin Laden says and atrocities that happen in the West against civilians.

But this is not so. Bin Laden in particular and al-Qaeda in general (whatever that is) had nothing do to do with the bombs in London, for instance. And Madrid?

Why do we constantly exaggerate the role of a man who lives in a cave, recording gibberish into a cassette recorder every now and then?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

No room at Majdanek death camp

Organizer of rock opera, Jesus Christ Superstar, decides that it might not be a good idea, after all, to stage it in the middle of a killing field.

The Lublin Musical Theatre group had originally planned to put on the musical in the death camp in eastern Poland to celebrate ‘universal issues in a religious context’.

Hmmm, sorry, but that just sounds like a silly idea. Andrew Lloyd-Webber, in a death camp?

And then, all of a sudden, much to the surprise of the organizers, there were protests. Lots of them. From Jewish groups.

Gosh! Isn't life unpredictable sometimes.

Mercury News reported last week that:

Piotr Kadlcik, leader of Poland's Jewish community, said he was "very happy" that the performance would not take place...

Former Israeli ambassador to Poland Shewach Weiss said on TVN24 television that [organizer] Balawejder's mistake had "been set right now and we should move forward toward reconciliation and solidarity."

Majdanek death camp, now a museum, is where a quarter of a million people were killed by the Nazis during WW II.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Hammer and tickle – the communist joke book

Ben Lewis’ new film of that name is showing at the Trebica Film Festival in New York at the end of April. (Photo: see comment below)

Lewis writes a good (long) essay about the movie in this month’s UK Prospect magazine. He looks at what function jokes played under communist regimes. It’s not just about resistance, apparently.

Jokes, in deepest commie days, were seen as dangerous by paranoids like Joe Stalin.

Levis writes:

‘Historian Roy Medvedev looked through the files of Stalin's political prisoners and concluded that 200,000 people were imprisoned for telling jokes, such as this: Three prisoners in the gulag get to talking about why they are there. "I am here because I always got to work five minutes late, and they charged me with sabotage," says the first. "I am here because I kept getting to work five minutes early, and they charged me with spying," says the second. "I am here because I got to work on time every day," says the third, "and they charged me with owning a western watch." ’

Which reminds me of a joke Poles used to tell about the militia (government sponsored thugs) in the late 1970’s.

Man comes up to very stupid looking young guy from the militia. “Excuse me Sir, but have you got the time?”

Militia thug peers at his brand new digital watch. He goes on staring at the watch for about half a minute, his forehead creased in concentration, his lips moving silently all the while.

Finally the man gets fed up waiting. “Is there something wrong with your watch?” he asks.

“No, no,” says the militia, “I‘m just having a bit of trouble dividing 7:24.”

Boom, boom!

That’s the thing about communist jokes – they just ain’t that funny. Which is surprising when you think how utterly ridiculous, sidesplittingly hilarious the communist authorities’ economic ‘policies’ were.

Maybe that’s it: the jokes were the serious antidote to the very funny horror of reality.

The nature fetish

The Polish Upper House joins forces with liberal eco-warriors in opposition to GM crops.

The ruling, conservative, Law and Justice party has been open about its opposition to ‘Frankenstein foods’. In an unlikely alliance with liberal environmentalists they vow to clean Polish soil of the latest threat to civilization, as we know it.

Radio Polonia reports:

Maciej Muskat, Greenpeace campaigner against GMOs, congratulates the Polish government for living up to their promises. According to Muskat, there are a number of reasons not to introduce GMO: s in Poland.

”Introduction of GMOs into the Polish agricultural market would be a real catastrophe…because of the Polish structure of rural farms, with are very small and vulnerable to contamination by foreign genetic material. So, if genetically engineered plants are introduced in Poland, then very shortly Polish production, and harvest will be perceived as being contaminated. This would of course have powerful effects on the agriculture and the people living out of it,” he said.

Note the emphasis on trade in that statement from Greepeace and not ‘nature’. This is because, maybe, Greenpeace is aware that Poles, on the whole, do not make a fetish about Green issues as they do in Western Europe.

In fact, if you are pro-GM crops – as this blog is – then you get treated as some kind of ‘nature molester’ – which is almost as bad as being a child molester. It’s the same if you question some of the assumptions behind the Global Warming panic – a climate change denier being almost as bad, to some very alienated people, as a Holocaust denier.

Though you don’t often hear about them there are real benefits that can be got from GM. In a report in the magazine Biotechnologica, Graham Brooks writes:
'Polish arable farmers have the potential to gain more from early adoption of GM technology than their EU 15 counterparts because they are starting from a lower average level of technical efficiency and therefore they will derive greater productivity gains. The GM technology offers scope for accelerating the process of ‘productivity catch up’ post EU accession, enabling Polish producers to compete more effectively, and earlier than they might otherwise have been capable of, if they did not use GM technology.'

GM crops can also be of very great benefit to farmers in developing countries. They give a far higher yield, and can be used without pesticides (and so are environmentally friendly!). Unfortunately, Third World farmers fear that they will not be able to sell this produce to Western Europe because people are so fearful of GM that they will not buy them.

But let’s be rational about GM. Maybe, as one study has found, GM has a small effect on the diversity of wildlife where it is grown.

But so what: if GM has real benefits for human beings then the loss, maybe, of a couple of types of butterfly is well worth it.

But putting human first is very unfashionable these days. Are we becoming so self-hating that butterflies and 'nature' come before fellow humans?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Andrzej Lepper is Poland’s answer to Tony Blair

No, really! The British PM, Bill Clinton, and the (maybe) Deputy Prime Minister of Poland, have got one thing in common: the ‘Third Way’ in political life.

What type of policies has leader of Selfdefense, Andrzej Lepper, being negotiating with in his talks with the ruling Law and Justice (PiS)?

Well, it’s something like this. And it’s enough to make your international finance-orientated gramdma, with shares in Polshareandbonds, cry into her hot rum.

This is from the Selfdefense web site.

* restoration of democratic control over the National Bank of Poland and making it co-responsible for the economic development and fighting the unemployment - for instance, the American Federal Reserve (?)
* Creation of a wide front of public works, through additional investments in infrastructure;
* Revision of the past privatization processes and state control over strategic branches of economy;
* Financial support of the state in the areas principal for economic growth, e.g. agriculture, building industry.

I bet FT readers love that lot. But what of the Selfdefense political philosophy?

‘The social teachings of the Catholic Church and particularly of Pope John Paul II are a deep inspiration for the ideas found in the program of Self Defense. It is...the Pope who stated decisively that "the point that capitalism is the only way after the collapse of communism cannot be accepted".’

Crikey! Sounding a bit like Castro. But wait. There’s more…

‘Considering this statement, Self Defense calls for implementation of the Third Way principles (!), that is to create a social-economic system that would effectively combine freedom of enterprise with social responsibilities of the state. At the roots of Self Defense economic concepts, one can also find the welfare-state doctrine of John Kenneth Galbraith, as well as thoughts of the most renowned contemporary economists, like Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the Nobel Prize in economics.’

I told you! It’s Tony Blair!

Monday, April 17, 2006

Andrzej Lepper prepares for government

The Law and Justice government's choice of coalition partners is giving Poland a dubious reputation with journalists and politicians internationally. And it might be worse than they think.

The UK Daily Telegraph reports that a coalition was finally agreed, Friday, between the minority government and its new special buddy.

‘After months of playing footsie, the ruling Law and Justice party today jumped into bed with the militantly anti-reform, ultra-nationalist, left-wing Self Defence party.

This afternoon, the two parties signed a coalition agreement that is expected to give a top cabinet post, probably the deputy prime ministership, to the Self Defence leader, Andrzej Lepper.

Mainstream Polish politicians despise Mr Lepper, a loud-mouthed, populist enemy of free trade, to the extent that his arrival may well trigger the resignation of the foreign minister, Stefan Meller.’

Other cabinet ministers rumoured to be lining up to jump ship are Finance Minister, Zyta Gilowska, Health Minister Zbigniew Religa and possibly Radek Sikorski, who is at Defense.

As this blog reported sometime ago, the Telegraph piece suggests that David Cameron, the new, 'green' and 'inclusive' leader of the British Conservative party, should think twice before making alliances with these people in the European parliament, as is his plan. And it’s making some in his party a little nervous:

‘A while back, a pretty unflinching [British conservative] Eurosceptic MEP [said he] would not want to sit with Law and Justice if they forged a formal alliance with Lepper and gave him a seat in the Polish cabinet.’

The article mentions Law and Justice’s cosy relationship with the ultra-catholic, anti-semitic Radio Maryja (see also Polish Taliban, below) and its rampant homophobia, but then quickly adds that, “Nobody is accusing Law and Justice, or Self-Defence, of anti-Semitism.” [my emphasis]

But somebody has accused them of just that in the past…

This is from a report by the aniti-racist Stephen Roth Institute in 2003. On Andzrej Lepper’s Samoobrona party it says:

‘…in several regions it has been infiltrated by known extreme right, and even neo-Nazi, activists. In Szczecin and Koszalin its branches have provided political shelter for extreme nationalist neo-pagan groups such as Niklot (see ASW 2001/2) and Swiaszczyca, which consists of neo-Nazi skinheads and black metal music fans. Niklot leaders such as Igor Gorewicz ran, unsuccessfully, in the local elections on a Samoobrona ticket. In Lublin, Konrad Rekas was elected as a Samoobrona representative to the regional council. Rekas is a notorious extreme nationalist activist, a former member of Prawica Narodowa (National Right – PN).

Samoobrona’s links with the extreme right are further illustrated by the decision of its leader, Andrzej Lepper, to appoint antisemitic publisher Leszek Bubel to run the party weekly newspaper, also called Samoobrona. Bubel is notorious for having published extremely racist material such as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion... He was also one of the instigators of provocative actions during the controversies over the Auschwitz crosses and the Jedwabne pogrom (see ASW 2000/1 and 2001/2). Cooperation between Lepper and Bubel ceased in April 2003, apparently for financial reasons.'

On the ruling Law and Justice party the report says:

‘Law and Justice – (PiS) is the main conservative party in Poland [...]. It absorbed a number of nationalist activists, notably the well known MPs Michal Kaminski (notorious for his public support of the traditional antisemitic slogan “Poland for the Polish”)and Marcin Libicki (a veteran member of the extremist organization PN, known for his vigorous opposition to the restitution of property to former Jewish owners).’

Michal Kaminski is now PiS representaive at the Euro parliament, one of David Cameron's future chums.

The government is also trying to woo members of the anti-semitic League of Polish Families away from their party and into their little cabal.

David Cameron and British Conservative MEPs be warned – your new cuddly flirt with the British electorate could be tarnished by making friends with weirdo politicians from Poland.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Jolanta Kwasniewska – TV fashion guru

What to do when you are the First Lady of Poland after your husband is no longer president?

If you are Hilary Clinton then you might try and get your husband’s old job. If you are Barbara Bush you sink into obscurity.

But if you are Jolanta Kwasniewska, wife of Aleksander Kwasniewski, who recently retired undefeated after two terms as president, you turn yourself into a fashion and lifestyle guru.

Jolanta is going to be Poland’s answer to Martha Stewart (who comes from Polish stock, did you know?).

Mrs. Kwasniewska has agreed to co-host a fashion and beauty show on TVN Style, a cable only channel aimed at adult females.

My girlfriend was the brand manager of that station when it launched a few years ago. Since then it has done moderately and is planning a re-launch to regain some momentum.

Kwasniewska is a prime asset in increasing viewers to the station.

She is actually on the television as I type this.

But it’s a slightly strange thing for Jolanta to choose to do. She could have been president of Poland.

A couple of years ago, before the presidential election last autumn when ex-communist Aleksander Kwasniewski came to the end of his second term as president, the opinion polls showed a clear favourite for the next president: Jolanta.
People like her. But they also liked President Kwasniewski, who seemed to have support even among the old Solidarity supporters.

That ended towards the end of his rule when his popularity slipped after getting semi-involved in the ubiquitous ex-communist corruption scandals.

Jolanta flirted for a while with the idea. But in the end it was Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz who picked up the ex-communist baton…only to promptly find himself embroiled (set up?) in another ex-communist corruption scandal.

From president to lifestyle ‘expert’. How the mighty have been seduced by ‘celebrity’. Her husband is teaching at the (Catholic) university in Georgetown. Jolanta is sitting on a sofa in a television studio.

And what of her style? The photo above must have been taken circa 1997. Hence the skirt length.

But she’s not bad, is she?

Friday, April 14, 2006

Polish doctors work for peanuts...

...and soon only monkeys will be left working in Polish hospitals. But Poles don't seem to care.

Q: How much do doctors earn in Poland?

A: Bugger all.

OK, the cost of living in Poland is, for most things, much lower than in the West. But still, the conditions that fully trained doctors are being forced to work under is criminally bad here. What’s worse, Poles don’t seem to be able to grasp the problem.

Reuters reports that, after years of highly technical training:

Their average pay is 1,800 zlotys ($550) a month, only 70 percent of the average wage in industry, forcing many to find second jobs or work overtime. Hospitals are in debt to government, drug supppliers and utilities.

"We are increasingly desperate," said Zbigniew Strzelczak, an obstetrician-gynecologist with a state hospital in the southern city of Czestochowa, who came to Warsaw with his colleagues to protest in front of parliament.

"There are shortages in medical equipment, medicine -- basic stuff. This government, as all its predecessors, does not want to deal with this problem. It just cannot be like this."

An air traffic controller here – who has a job with equal responcibility but with much less training - gets about six times more in basic salary than a doctor!

On April 3 doctors staged a one-day strike, where they only cared for patients needing emergency treatment. They are demanding a 30% increase this year and a one hundred percent increase the year after that. That would bring their wages up to just over 4,000 zlotys a month – still a ridiculously low wage for such a skilled and vital workforce.

You would think that Poles, who rely as we all do on these workers for maintaining our health and occasionally saving our lives, would be up in arms about this and would be keen to lend their support to such protest action, wouldn’t you? Well, you would be wrong.

Many Poles I have talked to about this just sneer at doctors, saying, “Well, they take bribes, you know?”

Yes, I did know that. You can bribe the doctor to move you up waiting lists, etc. That’s been going on here for decades. But is it really surprising that they are taking bribes when they get treated with such contempt by society?

The Health Minister, former heart surgeon Zbigniew Religa, has offered to bring forward a 30% increase this year. And that’s all he says can be afforded.

Reuters again:

Medical workers remained skeptical.

"What they offer is a one-off increase only for some medical staff and the rest is just gibberish. There will surely be more protests," said Krzysztof Bukiel, the head of the Polish Doctors Union. "The situation is hopeless and without any prospects."

Poland spends around 6 percent of its gross domestic product on health, according to 2003 data, among the lowest levels in the OECD club of the world's most developed countries.

Polish doctors are starting to vote with their feet. Since it joined the EU last year 5% of medical staff have left Poland, gone to countries where they get more respect.

One day Poles are going to wake up to discover that there are no doctors left in the country at all. And it will be their own fault.

Will the last doctor to leave Poland please turn off the lights.

See latest developments on this story here and here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Donald Duck ambushes Bill Frist in Warsaw

Three Republican senators were in Warsaw his week. They came to talk about visas. They ended up talking about Iran and how the US has no plans to fry Tehran.

Poles think that Poland should not be on the list of countries that need a visa to get into the United States. It’s a very sensitive issue with the US’s ‘best friend’ in Europe (apart from the good old Brits, of course – who don’t need a visa).

Three Republicans – US Senate majority leader, Bill Frist (photo), and Senators Gregg and Richard Burr of North Carolina - swooped on Warsaw this week to work some PR on the issue and meet with President Lech Kaczynski.

But Seymour Hersh had just gone and published his article claiming that Bush is refusing to rule out a nuclear strike on Iran. The senators didn’t like it.
"America has many characters. We have Donald Duck and Seymour Hersh and they're approximately in the same category," Gregg said at a press conference here. "And I give them the same credibility."

Ooo, you bitch!

In February, the Poles thought the Iranian government was joking when it said that it wanted to send a team to Auschwitz to uncover for themselves the real ‘truth’ about the Holocaust. That came a few weeks after the president of Iran had another one of his populist fits (and firming up his support base) and started the now usual rant about Israel.

We should have just ignored the idiot.

Instead we are turning up the heat. I don’t think it’s really about nuclear weapons or even Iran having nuclear weapons. It’s about this Iran having nuclear weapons.

So, ultimately, the goal has to be regime change.

And how they going to go about that, then?

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Polish Taliban

Long laughed at by liberals as just a bunch of anti-Semitic nutters, the group of ultra-catholic nationalists at Radio Maryja have now angered the Vatican. Shame then that the Polish government seems to regard Maryja as its own private news agency. reports:

A committee of Polish journalists has condemned a broadcast by an ultra-Roman Catholic radio station for making "very nasty, anti-Semitic" remarks accusing Jews of making a business of Holocaust reparation payments.

The Media Ethics Council, a non-governmental watchdog, on April 4 lambasted remarks made by Stanislaw Michalkiewicz, a commentator for the Catholic station Radio Maryja, who on March 27 condemned international Jewish groups.

Michalkiewicz accused Jews of "trying to force our government to pay extortion money disguised as 'compensation payments"' for property lost during and after World War II, according to a report in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza.

He referred to such restitution attempts by Jewish groups as the "Holocaust business," the newspaper reported.

Of course, there is nothing new in anti-Semites claiming that there is a Holocaust ‘industry’ cooked up by Jews to continue their quest for world domination (snigger!).

But last week, a letter was sent from the Vatican through its nuncio in Poland asking Polish Church authorities to intervene in the activity of Radio Maryja. The Vatican was blunt: stop getting involved in politics.

Radio Maryja was set up in 1991 by Father Tadeusz Rydzyk. It immediately attracted a large following among the extremely alienated part of the Polish population, which fears secular capitalism as much as it hated atheist communism.

The station – listened to by maybe 1.2 million - has grown into a small media empire, which now boasts its own television station, TV Trwam and a daily newspaper, Nasz Dziennik.

The station sees a conspiracy (but of course) between ex-communists and Jews. It also has a problem with gays, foreigners in general and secularism in particular.

The Polish Catholic Church and the Vatican seemed to tolerate this sort of stuff for over a decade. What has changed recently is that the present Polish government, the social conservative Law and Justice, has been giving the station unique and exclusive coverage of news conferences, and the radio’s studios in Torun, northern Poland, are regularly ‘blessed’ by none other than Prime Minister, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, who gives lengthy interviews to the ‘faithful’.

This has meant that Radio Maryja and the government are now seen to be joined at the hip.

Mainstream media here, which has long complained that Radio Maryja has been given preferential treatment when applying for broadcasting licenses, etc, are now hostile to the government's programme. This in turn makes the government rely more and more on positive coverage from Radio Maryja. and so the self-fulfilling prophecy goes on.

Can we expect the government to act on the Vatican's behalf and crack down on its only friend in the media?

Is the Pope a Buddhist?

Update - 13 April: Radio Maryja apologies for offense over antiSemitic remarks but doesn't sound very convincing.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Friday night quiz (on a Friday)

This one’s called What won’t they do to get in the government?.

Q: What is Jarolsaw Kalinowski (standing), of the Polish Peasant’s Party (PSL), up to in this photo? And should his wife know?

Answers on a postcard to the usual address.

Lawmakers (snigger!) have been busy recently. The minority government wanted to dissolve parliament. Several parties, staring down the barrel of another election and a reduction in the number of their MPs, decided that they would rather not this time, thank you.

Another frenzy of coalition flirting is going on at the moment (yawn!). Will PiS go with Selfdefense, or maybe even Civic Platform?

Who cares?

So far, nobody seems particularly interested in making a coalition with the Polish Peasants Party, which has 35 members in parliament, got seven percent of the vote in the last election. Jaroslaw Kalinowski was their candidate in the presidential election, when he got a massive 1.8% of the vote. At one time, he was vice premier in the previous ex-communist SLD government.

So it’s not surprising that the present PiS government hasn’t given him a call.

But what do you think he would do to get in power?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Neo-liberalism? No thanks

Western commentators are just starting to catch on. The majority of people in Central and Eastern Europe are not too keen on free market capitalism. It’s as simple as that. (photo – President Lech Kaczysnki, protector of the poor and vulnerable?)

They were shocked that Ukrainians have gone a little cold on their ‘orange revolution’. And why oh why did Poles vote in the populist, protectionist, free-market-skeptical, socialist(ish) Law and Justice party last autumn?

(I would include Lukashenko's 83% victory in the recent Belarus' election but I don't trust the result.)

It wasn’t so long ago that western neo-liberal and free marketeering commentators were bashing on and on about ‘New Europe’ – the ex-communist countries in Central and Eastern Europe – as the ‘champions of the small state with their entrepreneurial, ‘can-do’ spirit’. Poles and Hungarians were going to take the European Union by the scruff of the neck and shake all the protectionism out of Brussels. These countries were going to introduce flat taxes, a deregulated labour market, and build an economy unfettered by the not-so-invisible hand of the state.

One such commentator at the right wing Cato Institute, for instance, on the eve of Poland’s accession into the EU in 2004, wrote breathlessly:

“The accession of the new EU members threatens the post-war consensus regarding the social-democratic nature of the European economy. The type of economic arrangements that the Central and East European countries wish to follow seems unambiguous. While the French and the Germans agonize about the preservation of their pay-as-you-go public pension systems in the face of growing expenditures and declining ratios between workers and retirees, the Poles and Hungarians have partially privatized their systems. While the governments in "old" Europe prepare for battle with powerful labor unions, the "new" Europeans continue to liberalize their labour markets and attract a growing share of foreign investment. While Brussels seethes over the "social dumping" and "unfair competition" of the new members, the Central and East Europeans see that the only way to escape the communist legacy of poverty is a vibrant free market.”

Bull. The reality of politics in this part of the world is very different from the neo-liberal fantasy.

In last September’s general election in Poland only one party stood on a free market liberalizing program: Civic Platform. They got just 24% of the vote. That means 76% said 'No thanks" to economic liberalism. All the other parties, including the winner, Law and Justice, stood on a ticket that included a leftist economic program.

Law and Justice promise Poles that they will close the gap between rich and poor; have been resisting Brussels’s attempts to bring more cross border competition into the EU (see the Unicredito affair); have promised to keep current levels of social spending on welfare programs, etc, and ‘do something’ about Poland’s 18% unemployment rate; they also are wary of speeding up privatization and will be keeping ‘strategic industries’ within state control.

This type of social democratic/socialist economic policy is supported, more or less, by virtually every other political party, bar one.

It’s only Civic Platform, with its electoral base in the small middle class, that wants to liberalize markets, bring in a low flat-tax system and increase the pace of privatization.

And it’s much the same in the rest of Donald Rumsfeld’s ‘New Europe’.

People in this part of the world have had 15 years of economic ‘shock therapies’, have experienced rapid social and economic change, have encountered mass unemployment for the first time since the 1930’s and a widening of the gap between the haves and the have nots…and most of them just don’t like it.

The reality is this: a majority of people here are right wing, social conservatives but left wing economically. It’s a strange mix, but a very ‘New European’ one.

So sorry Cato Institute, but I think its time for your highly respected commentators to go back to the drawing board. New Europe is very much like the Old Europe, only poorer and more frightened.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Horny Politician, Shock!

But is she just a passing hairstyle?

I remember the first time I saw Yulia Tymoshenko, the leader, since the elections two weeks ago, of the second party in the Ukraine parliament and probable head of the next government.

It was back in the heady (but empty?) days of the Orange Revolution. There, standing on a stage in front of thousands of people in Independence Square, Kiev, was the leader of the ‘People Power’, Chief Orange himself, Viktor Yushchenko, his face horribly scarred by the effects of a poison that he consumed during a dinner with ‘friends’ a year before. He was a good looking guy, was Our Viktor, but not anymore

Standing to his right on the stage, was her…Yulia. She is that very, very rare and almost precious thing: a good-looking politician.


The hair is the trade mark. Plats of blond (though the colour changes) hair wound round her head like a tiara, a crown, framing dark chocolate brown eyes.


Tymoshenko is now in a position to form a government with either of the two other parties and has emerged as the real winner of the people power, orange revolution.

She has all the things a modern politician needs: friends in the right places, brains, and glamour.

Politician as sex bomb

Politicians, until comparatively recently, didn’t have to be good looking. Who cared as long as they seemed to be a competent and/or driven person with a vision of the Good Society.

But these days, being good looking is a real plus for the image conscious, 24-hour news media, public-relations driven politician – especially as these people don’t seem to have much of a vision about anything at all – except what they can see in the mirror, that is.

In fact I think there must be an identikit politician being churned out in some factory somewhere.

These days all politicians have to look like JFK. Even the women!

With white teeth and lots of hair. politicians should be in their late forties to early fifties (which is euphemistically called by political journalists ‘still young’), have lots of hair (a la Bill Clinton or the Japanese Prime Minister, Junichiro Koizumi), and its essential that they smile a lot. In fact they should spend more time smiling than ruling the country.

For the female, model, politician, on the other hand, if they don’t look like JFK then they should look like …Yulia Tymoshenko.

She’s got the same mouth as Julia Roberts!


But she didn’t get to where she is today by being good looking – in fact, it might even have been a hindrance. Lots of men in this part of the world still have trouble taking blond, attractive women seriously – which is their loss, of course, not hers. And she’s tough as old boots

Polish political heart throbs? …snigger….

The most attractive leader of a political party here – say female friends – is the leader of the ex-communist SLD, Wojciech Olejniczak (check out Mr. Commie hunk here).

The SLD decided, a couple of years ago, that it badly needed to change its image and try and get rid of the associations with its communist past. So they elected 32 year old Wojciech – a mere baby in political terms - in an attempt to woo the young and the female.

The tactic is not working just yet, as, in the last poll I saw, SLD only had 9% of the electorate behind them.

Voted Poland’s Sexiest Politician last year was the leader of the free-market, Thatcherite, Civic Platform, Donald Tusk. Some say he’s good looking, but his slightly pointed face and ginger-ish hair is not to everyone’s taste – say round faced, red hair-phobic critics.

Others leaders – all male - are not so handsome (except, I imagine, to some of their wives).

We have the leader of the radical, agrarian populist Selfdefense party, Andrzej Lepper. He has an extraordinary appearance. He looks a bit like a boxer – he was – and has a face that is a very strange orange colour, which gets more orange every time I see him. He obviously likes the way he looks, but it does remind some of a kind of reverse Michael Jackson formula – he seems to get darker and more orange, by the day.

Perhaps he is planning an orange revolution of his own, sometime soon.

Then we have the leader of the far-right, populist League of Polish Families, Roman 'Pretty Boy' Giertych (above). Again, he has an extraordinary appearance, this time on account of his enormous height – he must be two meters tall. He also has a slightly mad monk appearance that could scare small children, the elderly and horses.

And finally, we have the two twins who dominate Polish politics at the moment, President Lech Kaczynski and his brother, head of the Law and Justice party, Jarolsaw.

Both are a little old for the identikit politician as they are 56. They also do not have big white teeth or lots of hair. And when they smile it looks more like a kind of a grimace.

The image consultants are desperately trying to do something with these two old war horses of the Solidarity movement, but it’s not having that much affect.

Jarolsaw remains unmarried.

And I am sure that even Lech’s wife, Maria, wouldn’t mind me saying that her husband is no sex bomb.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

9.37 p.m., April 2...

...most Poles can tell you that’s when Pope John Paul II finally succumbed to his long, and very public, illness.

A man of immense influence on world events, of course. But how influential?

One year ago, the day after he died, poor old John Paul was getting the blame by liberals for just about everything. He was even responsible for the spread of the AIDS virus in Africa, apparently.

Polly Tonybee, in the UK Guardian, predictably, described the Pope as 'a man whose edict killed millions'. Human rights activist Peter Tatchell, of OutRage!, said, 'Millions of people in developing countries are orphans, having lost their parents to AIDS because of the Pope's anti-condom dogma.'

I’m no Catholic – far from it - but I never went for this theory. John Paul might have played a major role in the demise of communism in Poland, for instance, but he wasn’t all powerful.

If it is correct that the Polish Pope helped spread AIDS in Africa by ordering the faithful to not wear condoms, then you would expect that the countries with the most Catholics in them would be the ones with the highest rate of HIV infection, right?

Well, no, not really.

In a very good article in Spiked last year, Brendan O'Neill pointed out what should have been obvious:

‘The two worst-hit countries (not only in Africa, but the world) are Swaziland, where the [infection]rate is 38.8 per cent, and Botswana, where it is 37.3 per cent. Yet these countries have low numbers of practicing Catholics: in Swaziland, between 10 and 20 per cent of the population is Catholic, while 40 per cent are Zionist (a blend of Christianity and indigenous ancestral worship) and 10 per cent are Muslim; in Botswana fewer than 5 per cent are Catholic, with 85 per cent of the population subscribing to ancient indigenous beliefs.’

And anyway, African Catholics are like Catholics all over the world. O’Neill goes on:

‘No doubt the Catholic Church has a malign influence in some areas, and religion is often more prevalent in poverty-stricken parts. But millions of Catholics around the world ignore Catholic doctrine every day, on contraception, abortion, sex before marriage, sex outside of marriage - and not only in Western Europe and the USA. A recent survey found that 90 per cent of the populations in Mexico and Brazil - two devout Catholic countries - support sex education for children under 14 (much to the fury of the Vatican). Why should Africans be any different?’

Liberals see Africans differently, I would argue, because they see them like they see themselves, as weak victims of all powerful forces beyond their control – in this case, the words of John Paul II.

Or maybe it's just a touchy-feely version of racial prejudice?

It can be argued that John Paul’s constant reminders that homosexuality is a heinous sin emboldened homophobes in Poland in recent years and contributed to making sexuality a political issue here. But pinning responsibility for AIDS in Africa on the old man is just patronizing nonsense.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Something pathological

Poland is in limbo and the politicians can’t help us.

This is from the FT:

Sociologist Jadwiga Staniszkis, a well-known political commentator who was positive about PiS before the elections {comments]:

"The main problem is the Kaczynski brothers do not understand a modern, decentralised state," she says, arguing that the brothers' views of the value of a strong state was formed by their experience of hierarchical communist Poland and of authoritarian pre-war Poland. But a modern, democratic European Union member state with unpredictable media-driven politics is different. "The state that they dreamt of governing no longer exists,"

The ruling Kaczynski brothers have been on a mission this past half year since they came to power: to eliminate any cliques and elites left over from the communist era, or those more ‘liberal’ elites that have developed since communism fell.

Jartoslaw Kaczynskii (pictured), head of the ruling PiS party said recently:

"Our country is pathological and very deeply entwined in all sorts of harmful links, a system so harmful that it ceases to be an instrument of the people and instead becomes an instrument of all sorts of privileged groups."

Shame then that the Kaczysnki’s party has no majority in parliament, can’t find a reliable partner to form a coalition with, and can’t even get the opposition to agree to call another election.

Polish party politics at the moment is like the blind man, in a dark room, looking for the black cat, that isn’t there…

Q: When is a ‘Nazi death camp in Poland’ a ‘Nazi German death camp’?

A: When it’s a Nazi German death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau.

But even that’s not right. It really should be the Nazi German death camp in Oswiecim and Brzezinka, Polska (Auschwitz is what the Germans called it).

For a long while now some foreign journalists have been calling the above one of the Polish concentration camps. The New York Times is especially prone to this slip of the cursor, it appears. The Israel Insider reports:

"In the years after the war, the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was definitively associated with the criminal activities of the national socialist Nazi regime in Germany. However, for the contemporary, younger generations, especially abroad, that association is not universal," [Culture Ministry spokesman Jan] Kasprzyk said.

Poland has applied to UNESCO to formally change the name of the death camp to be German Nazi death camp in Auschwitz-Birkenau. "The proposed change in the name leaves no doubt as to what the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp was," Kasprzyk said.

And they are probably correct. What is interesting about the article in the Israel Insider, however, is the headline:

'Poles find name of death camp offensive, seek to shunt all blame to Germans'

Are you thinking what I’m thinking?