Friday, June 30, 2006

Murdoch gets foxy with Polish TV

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp has bought a 25% minority stake in Catholic broadcaster, TV Puls.

The TV channel, owned by Franciscan monks, has just 0.43% audience share of the very competitive Polish TV market. Will Murdoch, therefore - who owns Sky TV and numerous newspapers in Australia, Britain and the US - turn the mildly religious station into the Polish version of the hysterically rightwing Fox News, which he also owns?

It could have been worse: there were rumours that Silvio Berlusconi was thinking about entering the Polish TV market by buying a huge chunk of the same broadcaster.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Another painting by Beksinski

The photo loader on is a moody bastard...

...sometimes it loads, sometimes it doesn't. Yawn.

So this painting by Zdzislaw Beksinski I stuck on by hand and by code.

There must be more to life than this? Blogger is getting a bit crap.

Anyway, a good excuse to put up one of Beksinski's weird 'mindscapes'. He's a bit Dali, a bit Francis Bacon, lots of horror comics.

Are Poles happy now?

Check out this email we got at work today...

...about our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Poznan uprising (see previous post) and of the Radom uprising of 1976. We presented the transition from communism to capitalism in a positive way – well, who wants to live under a regime that shoots its own people when they go out into the streets to protest? – but, it seems, not all Poles agree.

This is from ‘Kamil K’:

‘Do you function as an objective news source [he doesn’t mean the beatroot – least I hope not!] or as a propaganda piece for today’s capitalists? Under ‘communism’ I had a job and healthcare. Now everything is being taken from me and my fellow workers and given to the rich. If communism was such an ‘evil system' then what about this one? Heaven on Earth?’

I have great sympathy with ‘Kamil K’. The transition from commie authoritarianism and a ‘planned economy’ (snigger – those idiots couldn’t ‘plan’ a piss up in a brewery) has been costly to many, many Poles. The unemployment, the increase in the gap between the rich and the poor, the crumbling social services, the growing holes in the roads, etc.

But are we to believe that things were so much better back in those dark days, when people got shot in Poznan, Gdansk, Radom, for wanting ‘bread and freedom’?

Many Poles would say, ‘Yes, they were, actually...’. Depending on what opinion poll you read – and when – between 30 to 60% feel a bit like Kamil. They long for the old, but boring, certainties, when virtually everyone had nearly nothing.

Happiness studies, is a big thing in the social sciences, these days. They try and measure how happy we are and urge governments to make happiness a policy priority (?). Poles, measured by one of the many different criteria they use (what the hell is happiness, anyway?), register in the middle of the international tables. Interestingly, rural dwellers and the religious seem to record greater contentment in life.

Perhaps they have lower expectations?

But , on average, Poles seem normally content/discontent with their lot under capitalism. No more, no less.

The big difference, today, is that Kamil and others who don’t like what is going on have the opportunity - even gays have won the right to protest - to show some self-determination, organize politically and change their circumstances.

Sitting around writing angry emails to not particularly important news providers (in English!) is a waste of his time.

Though I hope writing angry letters makes him feel a little happier.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Poznan 1956 - for bread and freedom!

Most people outside Poland are unaware that the 1956 Hungarian uprising happened five months after similar protests in Poland. Polish commemorations of those demonstrations, and the many lives lost, 50 years ago have been taking place today (banner in photo says 'We demand bread')

On June 28, 1956, workers at the Cegielski factory in Poznan, put down their tools and went out onto the streets to protest against massive tax hikes, which cut real wages and poor working conditions. Soon the protests spread outside the factory and became demonstrations for 'bread and freedom'.

The communist authority’s brutal response ended with over 70, maybe more, protesters dead, killed by Polish guns.

No longer could Poles claim that Poles never kill Poles.

Today, ceremonies have taken place to commemorate the first Polish workers to die in the cause of freeing their country from Soviet communism.

It was these demonstrations that helped give confidence to people in Hungary. And follow them they did, with consequences only the most historically illiterate will be unaware of (which means most western school kids, these days!).

The actions in Poznan ultimately pushed the Stalinist authorities to change leadership and direction, seeking a Polish road to communism - a path that would ultimately turn into a cul-de-sac.

Since Stalin’s death in 1953, the Polish communist authorities iron grip had been weakening, anyway. The secret services became disorganized, censorship haphazard. Periodicals such as Po Prostu (Simply) began to be secretly distributed, encouraging debate and discussion as to the best way forward.

When the news of Nikita Khrushchev’s letter criticizing Stalin emerged in January 1956, confidence began to rise as to the possibility of challenging the communist state for better living standards and more freedoms of speech, assembly, worship.

And then the Cegielski factory went out on strike.

The Polish protests of 1956 were the precursor to the protests of 1970,1976 and the Solidarity strikes of 1980.

All those protests were sparked off by sudden price rises and rapid drops in living conditions. A regime that can't even provide the basics in life won't last very long. Strange the communist authorities never learnt from their mistakes. It was their stupidity that would eventually be the death of them.

See more photos from Poznan, 1956 here.
Also see

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Poles pack their bags for PR stunt in Afghanistan

Another token force of Polish troops gets mixed up in the ‘war on terror’ and the hunt for Mr. Bad Guy No. 1.

The UK Herald reports:

‘UP to 400 elite British, American, Australian, Polish and Canadian special forces troopers are to be transferred from Iraq to Afghanistan to step up the hunt for Osama bin Laden, the world's most wanted man.‘

But because of Poland’s severely limited defense budget resources, the number of ordinary troops that Poland planned to commit to ‘stabalizing’ Afghanistan has been reduced from 1000 to 500.

Currently, Poland has just 100 troops stationed there.

Condoleeza Rice said to foreign minister, Anna Fotyga, during her recent trip to the US:

‘The United States was a friend to Poland in difficult times. Poland has been an inspiration to Americans in difficult times and now in good times. And I thank you very much, Foreign Minister, for the good discussion that we have had, of the support to the new Iraqi Government and I thank you for your government's steadfastness in Iraq, your work in Afghanistan.’

Fotyga said she was delighted to see Condi, too:

‘Poland is a faithful ally to the United States and we intend to remain. So it was my pleasure to meet Dr. Rice once more and to invite her to visit Warsaw. It will be my pleasure further to discuss all issues already mentioned today.’

Nice. Sounds like they are getting on like a humbie on fire.

But the Afghanistan where the albeit token force of 500 Poles will be going to is one where the American led attack on the Taliban and al-Qaeda has failed. Conditions for ordinary Afghanis have got little better, women are still suffering from the oppressive culture - Taliban or no Taliban.

This will be a much more dangerous mission than the one the Poles got involved in, in the quiet area of central Iraq near Babylon after the invasion to oust Saddam.

David Dastych, a 64 year old journalist and former intelligence operative based in Poland, reported in May that the Taliban are back in control of much of the south of the country, where the Polish troops will be stationed.

These claims have been proved right by the audio taped statement by the one-eyed leader of the Taliban, Mullah Omar, released yesterday.

The Taliban leader, still on the run from 'the coalition of the willing', claimed for the first time since 9/11 that a large area of Afghanistan, including a lot of the mountain areas in the south, is still under the control of the Taliban.

The truth is that Afghanistan has never been under the control of the Americans or Kabul. Afghanistan is not a country with a central, controlling capital anyway. It never has been since the British got kicked out a century ago. In a way, Afghanistan is not a nation at all, but a collection of ethnic groups and areas under the control of warlords.

If the special services guys from the US, Poland and elsewhere do finally get Bin Laden then it will be a PR coup like no other, but it will be a meaningless one. Unstable areas like Afghanistan cannot be reconstructed by occupying forces. In fact, occupying forces are often part of the problem, not the solution.

So why is Poland spending scarce resources on what is a glorified PR exercise to make US leaders appear more credible at home, with a mid-term election just round the corner?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Photos are back...

...but slow loading (picture by my favorite Polish artist, Zdzislaw Beksinski, who was stabbed to death by young robbers in his home in Warsaw last year).

Poland: fascist state?

Just how bad are things getting for minorities in Poland? Minorities disagree among themselves.

The Daily Telegraph has a rather alarming quote today by Mark Edelman, 87, the oldest surviving member of the Warsaw Jewish Ghetto uprising of 1943. Commenting on what he sees as the proto-fascist government coalition led by Law and Justice (PiS), he warned, ominously:

“If we want to save Poland, my advice would be to take up the knife and hit them where it hurts."

A rather silly thing to say – but it shows how bad things have got in some people’s eyes.

The remark comes after revelations in the Polish press that the new, government appointed vice chairman of public television, TVP, had once published a magazine (pictured - at the bottom you can see the name of the editor) calling for the expulsion of Jews from Poland. A photo was also published of Piotr Farfal, a former skinhead, giving a Nazi salute.

He claims that he was only waving at someone he was saying hello to. In one article he wrote, aged 18: "We won't tolerate cowards, traitors and jews.".

He obviously had a troubled youth. Now he is a lawyer. Maybe he grew up a little?


Poland a proto-fascist state? Poland’s chief rabbi, Micheal Schudrich, - who was attacked in the street when Pope Benedict was visiting Poland in May - doesn’t think so. After the New York Times wrote an article under the headline Poland's Bigoted Government Schudrich ran to the government’s rescue and fired off an email to the NYT editors:

‘President Kaczynski invited me to the Presidential Palace, where he reiterated his condemnation of anti-Semitism and the important place that the re-emerging Jewish community of Poland has in today's society.

Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga sent me a letter vowing actively to fight anti-Semitism. The mayor of Lodz, Jerzy Kropiwnicki, called me with the same sense of outrage.

There are many challenges facing Poland's new coalition. In this instance, it is not the case that "the rest of the government's actions give a wink to official bigotry."

But, crucially, Schudrich goes on:

‘Tellingly, there was no response from the League of Polish Families [the deputy chairman of TVP's party], the ultranationalist anti-Semitic party recently invited into the governing coalition. ‘

We have a government coalition made up of traditional conservatives. Some of them are very dodgy indeed. But likening Poland to a 1930s proto-fascist state, as Edelman seems to, misses the point that it is not the 1930s any longer. It’s a different world now and age of dictatorships and all that accompanies them has ended.

What is worrying, however, is the number of young people who are leaving and going to live in the UK, Ireland...anywhere. These are progressively minded people, almost by definition. That further weakens an already weak and ineffective liberal opposition.

So no fascist state, but I’m afraid the coalition government has been giving more than just a wink to bigotry.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Polish nuns, green feminists and George W. Bush....

...are all outraged at the 100,000 central and eastern European ‘sex slaves’ servicing the FIFA World Cup in Germany.

But where did this 100,000 figure come from and where’s the evidence?

In the run up to the World Cup the tabloid story of choice was either Polish hooligans coming to eat German grandmothers or Polish sex slaves filling up the freshly opened brothels catering to the million of lads who were aching for a shag or two in between the football games.

Well, the hooligan threat turned out to be a big disappointment. Nothing much has happened. Our scary hooligans turned out to be a bunch of pussy cats.

But the sex slave angle still has legs.

Back in May the Catholic News Service reported that:

'Polish nuns, anticipating an increase in human trafficking and prostitution during the World Cup in Germany, have issued anti-prostitution leaflets in multiple languages for circulation during the competition.

"Our resources are extremely limited, but we're doing what we can," said Ursuline Sister Jolanta Olech, president of Poland's Conference of Superiors of Female Religious Orders. "We're deeply concerned at reports that men's lives are to be made nicer by importing 100,000 young women from Europe's poorest countries."

But where did this enormous figure come from? 100,000!

It appears to have began in December last year as not 100,000 but 40,000. Bruno Waterfield writes:

The horror-story claims about trafficking into Europe were first made in the European Parliament, by a German Green MEP Hiltrud Breyer, who also sits on the parliament’s women’s committee.

The story caught on. It touched all the right buttons.

Lurid imagery and prurient photographs from German ‘mega brothels’ soon scored goals in media headlines around the world. One claim made in the media coverage, and repeated over and over again, is that as one to three million mostly male football fans converged on Germany, 40,000 foreign women would enter the country’s brothels to satisfy the demand for sex. Most of these women, insisted the activists, would be from Eastern Europe, Africa or Latin America, and many, went the claims, would be forced into sex slavery.

In May, Angela Dorothea Merkel met George W. Bush in Washington. George wanted to know what Angie was doing about central European ‘sex slavery’ in Germany, a country where prostitution is legal.

By then the figure had somehow multiplied to 100,000, according to Sister Jolanta.

This is based on the number of women needed to fill the additional brothels being set up, apparently.

Somehow the numbers of brothels needed to meet the demand must have multiplied considerably during the time that the number inflated like a balloon. Germany was going to be one great big sweaty brothel.

But that is the only evidence of the numbers of ‘sex slaves’ from central Europe there is. It appears to be a number plucked out of thin air by an unholy alliance of feminists, nuns and Bushies.

Sex slavery exists, for sure, but 100,000 women being imported into Germany? Surely most of the fans there are going for the football. Not all people who like footie are pigs. We are normal.

Another Polish finance minister bites the dust - update

To lose one finance minister is a misfortune, to lose two looks like carelessness (photo: Gilowska with Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz as he puts in the knife).

Zyta Gilowska became the second finance minister to be thrown out of the Polish government in six months. The first, Teresa Lubinska was just hopeless, really. Zyta has been given the boot because of allegations that she covered up contacts she had with communist era secret services.

Markets wobbled all over the place today, especially the currency markets. The zloty is trading as I write to the Euro at 3.12…this morning it was 3.01.

See more of that story here and here.

Update: Who is the mysterious 'Ula', a friend of Zyta Gilowska, whose husband was in the secret services and is the author of the allegations against the now former finance minister? It now appears that Gilowska has been set up by political opponents. And who is the new finance minister, Pawel Wojciechowski? Jaroslaw Kaczynski, for one, hasn't a clue.

For more on this see Polish Outlook here and then here.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

George tears down the statues in Budapest

George W Bush turns up to commemorate 50 years since the uprising in 1956, and says Hungary is an example for Iraq to follow.

Reuters reports:

‘Just weeks before Bush visits Russia amid U.S. concern that Moscow is backsliding on democracy, he praised Hungary as a "beacon of liberty" in a speech delivered at the heart of a region that was under Moscow's control for decades.

He compared Iraq's struggle to develop into a democracy to Hungary's effort to bring down communist rule 50 years ago and said Iraqis would need the same kind of patience as Hungarians as they try to establish a thriving democracy.

"Hungary represents the triumph of liberty over tyranny," Bush said in a speech on a hill from where Soviet troops fired on the capital Budapest in 1956 to put down the uprising.’

How moving.

Of course, the major difference between Hungary back then and Iraq today is that Hungarians led the uprising, which was later crushed by a Superpower. In Iraq today, a Superpower has ‘liberated’ Iraq and is now experiencing an insurgency by some Iraqis (and a few cross- border terrorist weirdos).

This distinction is an important one and can be demonstrated by one of the most important symbolic elements in overthrowing dictatorships – the tearing down of statues.

They did it in Moscow in 1917. They did it in 1956 when they tore down the statue of Stalin.

They did it in Warsaw in 1989. It was in plac Dzierzynskiego (now plac Bankowy), named after the founder of Cheka, the anti-insurgency organization which ruthlessly crushed any ‘counter-revolutionary elements’ in the aftermath of the Bolshevik revolution and morphed into the KGB.

Feliks Dzierżyński was Polish. And he was a much hated figure here. Unfortunate, then, that the Commie authorities decided to put up a statue to him, right in the middle of Warsaw.

So his statue was one of the first pieces of street furniture to feel the anger of a genuine people’s revolution. Poles joked that Feliks was a good Pole, as he probably killed the most communists!

Fast forward to Baghdad, 2003. Right opposite where much of the international media was staying and operating from, a crowd gathered by one of the many statues of the ever-vain Saddam Hussein, as American humbies cruised to streets. They started to beat Saddam with their sandals and tried to tear it down. But Saddam refused to budge from his perch. In the end, the US army turned up and pulls the thing down with rope attached to large military vehicles.

When the camera panned back, the crowd of Iraqis was made up of only about 200 men. This was not mass outpouring of relief and liberty that many were expecting. Iraqis felt more complicated about it than that.

Iraqis didn’t even get the chance to tear down their own statues.

I get lots of emails like this...

The world is full of people, it seems, who don’t want to be offended. Well that’s tough, isn’t it?

Got this email from someone called ‘Alex’ about a post I wrote weeks ago about Radio Maryja, the uber-Catholic radio station, infamous for its anti-Semite nationalism and other weirdosims. The email was entitled: Please remove the ‘The Polish Taliban’ post. The body of the email said:

‘Please remove the ‘Polish taliban’ regards…’

I like the ‘please’ and the ‘best regards’…but the rest of the seven word email is ridiculous. I wrote back to him saying:

‘Why should I remove the Polish Taliban? If you do not like the opinion expressed in that post, then tough.

Do you honestly think that freedom of speech can be interrupted by people like you, who obviously do not like free speech?

I think it is about time you grew up. Life is full of opinions you don't like. Same with me. I don't like your opinion. ‘

I mean… can you honestly imagine writing to a web site asking them to remove something that you find offensive? I would be doing nothing else 24/7!

Have we become that vulnerable that words hurt us so badly?

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Getting fed up with blogspot

Sorry that I cannot post any photos up at the's blogspot/ seems unable to do the simplest things anymore.

If this continues I am going to another host...very soon.

I had to physically put the codes in for the photo in the last post. Life has to be easier than that! This evening I have just lost my side bar!

And then, when I took the photos I had put on back off again... the side bar came back again!!!

Are Google taking the piss, or what?

President of Poland ‘terrorist target’

Security around the presidential palace has been stepped up after a tip off that Islamic terrorists have Polish politicians on their black list - again.

Eurasian Secret Services Daily Review reports:

‘Protection Colonel Jaroslav Kanarek has told the news agency RIAN that the bodyguards of [President Lech Kaczynski] are armed now with German assault carbines G-36 and the Israeli Mini-Uzi pistols. It is said that the Polish secret services have received information from an Islamic country that that Islamic terrorists prepare for acts of terrorism against the leading Polish politicians.‘

G-36s, mini-uzis? All sounds very impressive. But Poles thinking they might be a target for al-Qaeda type nihilists is nothing new. Last December, the Center of Strategic Studies and Forecasts at the School of International Studies in Lodz, central Poland, assessed that Poland was a possible target and warned that the country had yet to produce any counter measures against such as a threat.

Two and a half years ago the UK Observer reported:

‘Islamic terror cells are spreading eastwards into Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and the Czech Republic for the first time, prompting fears of a new battleground in countries with weak authorities, powerful criminal gangs and endemic corruption in the years to come.’

The close identification with the United States is what most of these ‘experts’ think is making suicide bombers strap on their explosives and hop on a plane to Okecie airport.

Foreign Minister, Anna Fotyga, was in the US this week for talks on the American anti-ballistic missile system that seems destined for somewhere in the Tara mountains; the timeline for withdrawal of 1.500 Polish troops in Iraq; the Polish armed forces mission to an increasingly difficult situation in Afghanistan…

We have been hearing scare stories about Islamicists in Poland ever since 9/11. But staging an outrage in Warsaw would be much more difficult for these sorts of people, simply because they are so much more visible in the almost monoethnic Poland, as opposed to somewhere like London.

So is Poland a target? Who knows. But one person I think should worry is Jaroslaw Kaczynski, twin brother of President Lech. He could easily become a target by mistaken identity. I hope the Islamicists can tell the difference between the two (tip: Lech wears a wedding ring).

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Kurski vs. Tusk – round II

<Did opposition Civic Platform take illegal funding from state insurer PZU?

The accusations have been made by Jacek Kurski of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party. He said that the presidential campaign last autumn of leader of Civic Platform, Donald Tusk, was indirectly funded by the PZU insurer – an organization no stranger to corruption scandals - to the tune of several million zlotys.

The scandal is an odd one. A series of billboard adverts hired by PZU proclaiming ‘Stop Crazy Drivers’ had to be removed after psychiatrists advised that the adverts were offensive (to crazy people?) and were probably themselves a road safety risk (to crazy drivers). As the space for the ads was already paid for by PZU they were ‘given’ to Civic Platform at a knock down price.


The PZU headquarters in Warsaw was raided by the police in search of the crazy evidence.

Polish authorities seized evidence in the advertising case — this was only related to the advertising case and the accusations against PO and not with any alleged improprieties in the past,” a representative of the Polish appellate prosecutor's office told Interfax Friday.

Netzel - who is currently involved in a media battle with Polish daily Rzeczpospolita and promised to sue the paper over allegations that he was linked to money laundering - did not confirm what types of documents were seized during the conference.

Was it an elaborate set up by advertising agencies sympathetic to Civic Platform? Was PZU a victim, too? How much did it know? Talk of a liberal conspiracy is on the agenda again.

The link that PiS are trying to make between PZU and Civic Platform is that they are both part of the system of back scratching and sleaze between liberals and ex-communists – the uklad which got its hands on the spoils after 1989.

Tusk of course has angrily denied the claims and legal action looks likely. Kurski has made accusations against Tusk before. During the election campaign last year he claimed that members of Tusk’s family had fought for the Nazis in WW II. When the accusations were proved false Kurski was forced to resign from PiS, only to be reinstated after the election.

Polish political funding

It's a touchy subject here, for obvious reasons.

Political parties are not allowed to receive funding from corporations. Nor are they allowed to take money from abroad.

They can take a limited amount of individual donations and are also funded by the state, the extent depending on previous election results. The Electoral Knowledge Network says:

‘A political party may collect financial resources exclusively from individuals. Each donation of that kind cannot exceed 15 times the minimum monthly wage of a worker on the day preceding transfer. A political party may accrue its financial resources only in bank account. [no cash turning up in a suitcase, then].’

The amount that parties receive from individuals is not massive as Poland has the lowest party membership in the EU. (1.15% of the electorate). Austria has a membership rate of 17%.

As the general enthusiasm about political parties is limited to so few the state has had to step in and cough up the rest.

But this wasn’t always so. In 1989 Solidarity revealed that the Communist party has been receiving money illegally from the state for the elections that followed the Round Table talks in 1989.

It was only in 1993 that the state started to pay for electoral expenses. Since 2001 the proportion of party spending coming from the state has increased. In 2002 parties received around 15 million dollars in total, plus free broadcast spots on television.

The amount of support in the country for direct state funding is not high. But the fear of corruption from private funding means that direct state finding will continue.

Personally I don’t see why parties should be centrally funded. If parties cannot gain financial support that’s because they are not popular. The pitifully low level of party membership here shows that Polish political parties have no roots whatsoever in society. Therefore, why should society continue to subsidies them?

Political parties are not public libraries.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

How to cut Poland’s crime rate in the long run?

Answer: re-legalize abortion!

That’s the conclusion you could come to, I suppose, after reading the wonderful Freakonomics: a rogue economist explores the hidden side of everything, by America’s most inventive number cruncher, Steven Levitt.

The populist Law and Justice government has made great play out of its commitment to cut crime, impose law and order and regenerate Poland’s moral fabric. But I don’t think that legalizing abortion will be one of the measures on the agenda at the next meeting at the Ministry of Interior.

America 1990

Sociologists warned of a ‘bloodbath of the streets’ if something wasn’t done about the US’s soaring crime rate. Crime became the number one political issue.

And then, all of a sudden, instead of going up the crime rate started to fall and fall…Why?

Steve Levitt goes through the ‘conventional wisdom’ on the subject and finds much of it wanting. Many think that the fall in crime was due to innovating policing methods, particularly in cities like New York. But crime has already gone down 18% in New York by the time the ‘broken’ window’ theory of criminology had started to drive Mayor Rudi Guiliani’s policies.

More police does have an effect in reducing crime, so does locking away more criminals. But not to the extent of the remarkable reduction in crime over the last 15 years or so.

Levitt’s conclusion was that changes in America’s demographics was the answer. And, apart from a generally ageing population (the baby boomer generation now appraoching its pension), the Roe vs. Wade (1973) ruling was the most determinant in this.

Most crime is committed by young males from low-income, unstable families. Sad but it’s a fact. The pro-abortion ruling meant that the numbers of kids in these families went down. The pool of potential criminals had reduced – so had the number of crimes.

Levitt’s work, published academically in 2001, caused a storm of protest from all sides. Conservatives hated the thought of abortion as a crime control measure. Liberals screamed that Levitt was blaming the poor. Everyone hated his neat way with a correlation.

Romania, 1966

Nicolae Ceauşescu comes to power in a Romania where abortion is the number one method of birth control. For every one baby born there were three terminations.

In order to build the new Romania, home of the New Socialist Man, Ceauşescu decided to outlaw abortion, charge a ‘celibacy tax’ on childless women and send inspectors out to work places to give them pregnancy tests!

The birth rate soared. And we’ve seen the consequences of that with the Romanian orphanages outrage and much else besides.

Sociologists have found that kids born after 1966 were far more likely to do badly at school and commit crime that kids born before 1966.

It seems to be the mirror image of the American experience. Children born into homes that want them, and are financially and emotionally capable of bringing them up, do much better than kids that aren’t.

Poland 2006

The Law and Justice administration has put crime at the top of the agenda. They also have a policy of paying parents 1000 zlotys (330 dollars!) if they have a kid. The ‘cash for babies’ policy has met with much derision but it does signal the government’s commitment to increasing the birth rate.

Abortion has been illegal in Poland basically since 1993. Does that mean that in a few\years time the streets will be full of kids looking for a chance to practice a bit of GBH?

Will a policy of bringing into the world more unwanted kids eventually scupper any policy coming out of the Law and Justice government to reduce crime and restore order?

It was just a thought

Friday, June 16, 2006

War - what is it good for?

Well, it's rather useful for journalists when they have to write about sport. (Photo: Artur Boruc, Poland's goalkeeper and their most impressive player this World Cup)

Read an article about the Polish World Cup and politics World Cup and the metaphor of war in the excellent current affairs and cultural magazine Three Monkeys Online.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Germany 1 Poland 0 – who’s to blame?

No miracles – and it’s all the coach’s fault

Last minute goal by Germany means no chance of Poland going through to the knockout stages.

They played quite well for 91 minutes – and the last 15 minutes with only ten men after Radoslaw Sobolewski got sent off. There were little miracles aplenty: how did Germany miss so many easy chances in front of goal?

And then Oliver Neuville scored the sucker punch for Germany. 1 – 0 just over 60 seconds from time.

Now we want someone’s head. The coach, Pawel Janas (pictured) will do. He got them into this mess. Now he should be stripped of his job and be forced to work down a coal mine.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hoping for a Miracle on the River Oder

If Poland loses to Germany tonight they may as well pack their bags and go home.

The newspapers are all saying the same thing: we need a miracle. To beat Germany tonight in Dortmund would surly be a famous victory. Unfortunately, it seems unlikely.

Poland was hopeless in their first match against the lowly Ecuador. Their listless performance has been blamed on their hapless trainer, Pawel Janas (photo). He went AWOL after the game last Friday and let the journalists lay into him - he was ineffective, weak, tactically clueless, they said.

And that’s left Poles longing for another miracle to save them. They got one in 1920 when they saw off the Red Army – the so called Miracle on the Wistula; they got one when Karol Wojtyla became the first Polish Pope; they got one with the fall of communism.

And now they need another miracle, at 21.00 CET tonight.

Monday, June 12, 2006

On the offensive

Post-communist MP should be reported to the Parliamentary Ethics Committee for upsetting Catholics, say Catholics.

Radio Polonia:

The League of Polish Families (LPR) is to file a motion with the Parliamentary Ethics Committee for disciplinary action against MP Joanna Senyszyn from the post-Communist Democratic Left Alliance.

On Saturday, during the Gay Pride parade in Warsaw, Senyszyn stated to the crowd: ‘May this parade change the face of the land, this land’.

In the opinion of the LPR leadership this is clear mockery of the historic words of John Paul II in a homily to his compatriots during the late Pope’s first pilgrimage to then Communist ruled Poland in 1979.

Addressing hundreds of thousands of faithful on the occasion, he said ‘May Your Spirit descend and change the face of the land, this land’.

The League of Polish Families argues the phrasing used by the Democratic Left Alliance MP has been disrespectful and offended the religious feelings of Catholics.

Replying to the charges Joanna Senyszyn explained that she had no intention of hurting or insulting anyone, but had been guided by concern over recent attempts to limit freedoms of sexual minorities.

One of the slogans on banners on Saturday, saying ‘Do not be afraid’ is another reference to words asscociated with JP II.

I suppose what the people who chose those words were trying to say was that the freedom John Paul II was offering Poles back then should be applied to everyone, equally.

Or maybe they were just taking the piss?

Warsaw Equality Parade, June 10 - photos

Photographs by Joseph Vogt

Activist Tomasz Baczkowski, Claudia Roth (German greens) Joanna Senyszyn (SLD)

But not everyone had a good time. This skinhead wishes he had gone to watch the football in Germany with the rest of the All-Polish Youth!.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

‘Do not be afraid’…

…was one of the slogans on show at the Equality Parade, attended by anything from 2,000 to 10,000 (estimates differ, as usual) gays, lesbians and sympathizers in Warsaw, Saturday.

On the warmest day of the year so far, the streets of Warsaw were lit up by a colorful and peaceful bunch of protesters demonstrating against state-sponsored homophobia in Poland.

Unlike similar marches in Poznan and Krakow which ended in bloody violence, this demonstration was peaceful and pleasant. Only a handful of skinheads bothered to turn up to harass the march but their meager number meant that opportunities for a bit of ‘bovver’were limited to the occasional egg throwing.

Numbers – 2,000 or so – were still small compared to similar “Gay Pride’ marches in western Europe. But the organization has improved, with people coming from outside of Poland, particularly Sweden and German to lend support.

But the situation in Poland for sexual minorities remains pretty dire. DW reports:

On Friday, the head of a teacher training school in Poland was sacked for publishing a brochure that the Education Ministry -- led by far-right LPR leader Roman Giertych -- denounced as "encouraging contact with homosexual organizations."

Michael Cashman, a British MEP told the BBC:

"We've all become extremely worried in the European Parliament in particular about the increasing hate-speak from senior politicians here in Poland.
"Poland has joined the club of the European Union. The same rules apply throughout those 25 countries and part of that is respect for minorities and we're not seeing that at the moment."

But what was most refreshing yesterday was the atmosphere on the streets of Warsaw, which was one of fun, not fear and anger.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Take the f-scale test

Have you got an ‘authoritarian personality’? Are you receptive to fascist ideas?

Many try and intellectualise what makes a person become attracted to ideologies or religions that demand allegence to a strong dictator figure or authority. What makes someone join an organization like the All-Polish Youth?

If you study sociology or politics then you might have heard of Theodor Adorno (photo), the main theorist of the Marxist Frankfurt School. He was one of a number of Jewish Marxist intellectuals who found themselves as exiles in the US during and after WW II.

Much of their work tried to explain the rise of fascism and nazism in Europe. Adorno’s most famous work, The Authoritarian Personality was yet another attempt to merge Freud with Marx. The results, I think, were a bit of a dog’s dinner (something to do with your relationship with your dad, or something) but very influential for a while.

Some people have tried to explain the rise of religious fundamentalism (and suicide bombing) using Adorno’s method.

So, are you a possible suicide bomber or fascist? Have you got a personality that desires a strong hand to guide you, as it were? Do you love Big Brother?

Take the F-scale test here and find out. Warning: some of the questions are a bit odd.

It said I was a ‘liberal airhead’. I am not a liberal airhead...honest!

Friday, June 09, 2006

Go White and Reds!

President Lech Kaczynski tries his best to look enthusiastic about the start of the World Cup in Germany. Poland play Ecuador tonight.

Or maybe he is looking glum because he has heard the rumours that finance minister, Zyta Gilowska, has handed in her resignation.

That's the second finance minister the government has lost in seven months.

More soon...

Update: Well, she didn't resign. The spat was about balancing the government's books and some weird row about artist's paint brushes being tax deductable.

She has threatened to resign several times...this was yet another. All will be revealed Monday.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Intolerance Parade cancelled

Roman Giertych, chief of far-right League of Polish Families calls off counter demonstration to the gay rights march in Warsaw this weekend.

The two marches, led by the Campaign Against Homophobia in Poland and the counter demo, organized by the youth wing of League of Polish Families, were to walk the same route Saturday lunchtime, only in different directions.

But now the counter demo has been called off. Why? “We are going to celebrate Poland’s participation in the World Cup, instead”, said Giertych.

And a much better use of the young men’s time it will be, too.

Poland’s first game is against Ecuador on Friday.

So the far right, All-Polish Youth, think that football is more important than intimidating gays, lesbians, trans-gendered individuals and human rights campaigners? What is the world coming to?

A cynic would say that Giertych, now that he is deputy prime minister, wants to put forward the best image he can. He likes his place in the coalition. So members of his party brawling in the streets would not go down too well with the new image - Giertych the Statesman.

He's also got the other problem of having at least 137,000 students signitures on a petition demanding that he be sacked as education minister.

But I am just an old cynic. I am sure he loves football as much as me.

But what if Ecuador beat Poland tomorrow? Will he still want to celebrate the World Cup then?

The Tolerance Parade will still be taking place Saturday.

There is a feeling that the All-Polish Youth know that the Tolerance march, which will be joined by thousands of people from outside Poland – particularly from Germany – was just going to be too popular to compete with. This, coupled with the fact that Giertych does not want bad publicity at the moment, contributed to the cancellation of the counter demonstration.

Whatever, this is a defeat for the far-right here and a victory for tolerance and modernity.

For more see Tolerance Parade web site

Death of al-Zarqawi won’t change anything

That’s the verdict of one of Poland’s Arabic experts.

‘The killing of Al Qaeda leader in Iraq Abu Musab al-Zarqawi will not speed up the normalisation of the situation In Iraq’, claims Marcin Grodzki, Polish expert in Arabic studies.

In a world where political ideologies have all but disappeared, individuals have taken on a much greater importance than they once did in world affairs, for journalists and politicians.

Which explains all the fuss about the death in a raid just outside Baghdad earlier today of Iraq’s chief jihadist and beheader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.

Tony Blair, one of the architects of the disaster in Iraq, said on hearing of the news of his demise:

"Today's announcement was very good news because a blow against al-Qaeda in Iraq was a blow against al-Qaeda everywhere."

But this is just another delusion from a politician desperate for some good news. I am afraid it won’t make any difference to the situation for Iraqis, or the troops on the ground.

Marcin Grodzki says: ‘Al Qaeda was prepared for such a course of events and their leader’s death may lead to more violence’.

The jihadists have got their martyr, and al-Zarqawi has his virgins.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

There were secret CIA prisons in Poland (updated)

That’s the conclusion of a seven month long investigation by the Council of Europe. But the evidence remains weak and the report is just a rehash of old material.

The BBC has seen advanced copies of a report by Swiss MP Dick Marty:

The report is quoted as saying: "It is now clear - although we are still far from having established the truth - that authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA in these unlawful activities."

Countries such as Spain, Turkey, Britain, Germany and Cyprus provided "staging posts" for rendition operations, says the report.

Mr Marty is said to have concluded that the "spider's web" of US rendition flights is based on an "utterly alien" approach that breaches human rights.
The most serious charges are reportedly levelled at Poland and Romania, where Mr Marty says there is enough evidence to support suspicions that CIA secret prisons were established.

The evidence, that has been made public anyway, is based on flight logs showing that planes did indeed touch down in northern Poland, but little else.

I argued last year that the view that Poland was the site of ‘gulags’ – one journalists last year even went as far as to call them the ‘US Auschwitz’ - was based on stereotypes of central Europe, not reality.

The original report, by Human Rights Watch singled out Poland and Romania as the site of prisons where terrorist suspects were tortured.

HRW’s evidence seems to be based, only, on the flight logs of CIA aircraft from 2001 to 2004. "The indications are that prisoners in Afghanistan are being (taken) to facilities in Europe and other countries in the world," HRW’s Mark Garlasco, a former civilian intelligence officer with the Defense Intelligence Agency, told AP.

He said that in September 2003, a Boeing 737 flew from Washington to Kabul, Afghanistan, making stops along the way in the Czech Republic and Uzbekistan. On Sept. 22, the plane flew on to Szymany Airfield in Poland, and then to Sale, Morocco, and finally to Guantanamo Bay.

Since then accusations have been made against a whole host of countries in Europe. Records show that over 100 CIA planes touched down in the UK, for instance. In Poland we only have evidence of a handful of flights landing. But we have no evidence that anyone actually got off these planes.

Poles remain nonplussed by the accusations. But Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz has reacted angrily, saying these alllegations "are slanderous'

Pawel Wronski, a journalist at Gazeta Wyborcza, has been investigating the Polish connection to the CIA secret prison story ever since its publication by the Washington Post. He told Radio Polonia:

'I was at Szymany airport, but there is no possibility to build a prison there where the CIA can keep people, because there are no fences around this airport. Noone has given me any information where these prisons are in Poland.'

Update 19.00: Inside the ‘spider’s web’

Reading through the reports 67 pages (yawn!) 90 percent of which is a re-hash of material in the public domain, you have to feel sorry for Dick Marty. He’s been given a bum job.

As he says himself in the introduction, he is not an ‘investigator’ but merely a reporter. He has no powers to coerce governments, secret service agents, or even his mother to tell him anything. So what he has to ‘report’ is limited, largely, to him trying to stick together material that we already know.

His conclusion is this:

there is no formal evidence at this stage …of secret detention centers in Poland, Romania or other C & E states…even though serious indicators continue to exist and grow stronger (my emphasis).

So, though there is ‘no evidence’ there is ‘serious indicators’ and it’s on these serious indicators’ that Marty has concluded that that 'authorities in several European countries actively participated with the CIA'.

But what are these ‘serious indicators?

Flight logs, satellite photos (showing buildings, planes…) and a few ‘contacts’, mostly the same ones as used by Human Rights watch and the Washington Post. The report says of Poland:

‘We were able to identity several specific locators at a civil airport and a secret service base…which would be suitable for the secret detention of persons from abroad.’

So has he found a couple of wardrobes, or what?

The report reminds us that the policy of ‘rendition’ – steeling people of the street and banging them up in another country without trial – began under the second Clinton administration, not George W Bush’s.

He names 11 places around the world where such ‘suitable places’ exist, including Cairo, Istanbul, Kabul, Bucharest and Szymany airstrip in northern Poland.

One of the CIA flights, N313P, from Kabul to Guantanamo Bay touched down in Szymany airstrip on 22 September, 2003. It stayed there for 67 minutes. Then it went to Romania and then to Rabat, Morocco.

Marty thinks that, as there was no need to refuel in Poland, evil things must be afoot.

‘One may deduce that this flight,’ says Marty,’ that this was a CIA flight, culminating in a detainee drop off in Poland.’

Sadly, Marty never really does convince from this logic that prisoners were held in Poland. Rendition is occurring - and many other things by a half out of control CIA - but the evidence of anything sinister going on in Poland remains as weak as it was seven months ago.

Read Dick Marty’s report in full (67 pages, pdf format

Monday, June 05, 2006

Poland and the ‘Euston Manifesto’

Or: why is the Left so silent on the rise of intolerance in Central and Eastern Europe?

Over the weekend I wrote to Norman Geras - author of Normblog, Britain’s best political blog and co-author of the much talked about Euston Manifesto (more of which later) – informing him of the Tolerance Parade this weekend in Warsaw. I asked him about the lack of coverage on the Left in Britain about Poland’s rising xenophobia and homophobia when they are very active highlighting other bigotry – or what some call Islamofascism.

Being the gentleman he is, Mr Geras emailed promptly: ‘It only needs someone to draw attention to it.’, he said.

He also wrote a short post on the subject, which you can see here.

And thanks for that.

But. Quite apart from the fact that there has been quite a lot about the homophobic nature of the present government in the international news media, and some of the coalition’s dubious members (but still little comment from the British left) my point was slightly broader than a few Polish queer bashers.

The close relationship between the government and the ultra-Catholic Radio Maryja; the fact that the two deputy prime ministers are from the far-right and left extremes with views that the Euston Manifesto group would feel very uneasy about; the fears of countries like Israel about the new coalition; the continued lack of abortion rights for women, one in five out of work, (the harassment by the police of dog owners when they let their dogs of the leash!)…you would think the European left would be screaming with outrage.

But, strangely, it’s only a few gay activists who have been doing the shouting. From the left, hardly a squeak.

The Euston Manifesto

Born in a pub in Euston, north London, the Euston Manifesto is a statement of principles by what could be called left wing neo-con bloggers and the odd journo columnist. It’s a reaction to the anti-Iraq war left of George Galloway and the strange alliances with religious bigots, and a welcome anecdote to the relativism of much of the touchy-feely liberal-left. They stand for the values of the Enlightenment and universal human rights.

So far, so good, so necessary. Though it is written in the shadow of Islamic fundamentalism it is meant to be applicable to all societies at all times.

On human rights:

We hold the fundamental human rights codified in the Universal Declaration to be precisely universal, and binding on all states and political movements, indeed on everyone. Violations of these rights are equally to be condemned whoever is responsible for them and regardless of cultural context.

Of course it is against racism of all sorts, including anti-Semitism. On equality in general:

We look towards progress in relations between the sexes (until full gender equality is achieved), between different ethnic communities, between those of various religious affiliations and those of none, and between people of diverse sexual orientations…

On freedom of ideas:

We uphold the traditional liberal freedom of ideas. It is more than ever necessary today to affirm that, within the usual constraints against defamation, libel and incitement to violence, people must be at liberty to criticize ideas - even whole bodies of ideas - to which others are committed. This includes the freedom to criticize religion: particular religions and religion in general. Respect for others does not entail remaining silent about their beliefs where these are judged to be wanting.

All quite obvious stuff, really. The controversial bit is that it is really a justification for humanitarian interventionism –something that began when these people supported NATO action against the Serbs during the Balkans conflict. And now they support the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Islamofascism is what they fear most and they support secular groups within countries fighting the oppression of religious extremism and dictatorship.


While nobody would be that silly to pretend that conditions in Poland or eatern Germany, Romania, Russia – all formal democracies – are anything like as bad as what people have to suffer in much of the middle east and elsewhere in the developing world, there are issues, applicable to the Manifesto, that you would think the British and other European left would be interested in. But apart from the occasional mention in the occasional blog, there has not been very much interest at all.

One of those issues is homophobia and the Tolerance Parade on Saturday. Nobody is asking people who support things like the Euston Manifesto to call for George Bush and Tony Blair to invade Poland (!) but a little political support would be nice.

Another arrest linked to fascist Internet site, Radio Polonia, June 5
Poland: Official Homophobia Threatens Basic Freedoms, Reuters AlerNet, June 5
Anti-semitism live, Guardian, June 5
Polish President Promised US to Calm Down Extreme Right, Axis, June 5

PiS up

The Law and Justice party convention turned into a victory rally. Not much else, really.

Re-elected leader of the ruling Law and Justice (PiS), Jaroslaw Kaczynskia told the party faithful at the weekend that the government aims to broaden the coalition with the addition of ‘intellectuals’ and promises an all-out attack on the morally corrupt post-communist ‘system’. But he has said all that before – many times.

Jaroslaw, in an ‘impassioned speech’ (meaning, a bit of a rant) let us in on what to expect from the government in the next few weeks and months.

‘We must build a coalition of all those who are guided by common sense[?] and adopt a rational view of Polish realities. It must be a coalition of those who refuse to believe that what is white is in fact black and vice versa, and who don’t dismiss talk of a network of vested interests that mars Poland’s public life’.

ER...right. Black is indeed not white – it’s common sense, innit?

By ‘vested interests’ he is referring to what PiS and other members of the coalition government see as a post-communist network of ex-communists and liberal allies in business, civil service, media and secret services. These people, who got their hands on the post-communist bounty, have, thinks PiS, led to a corrupt and ‘morally sick’ society.

Kaczynski also signaled that he wants to broaden the coalition of PiS, far-right nationalist League of Polish Families and rural, populist, ex-stalinist Self defense by trying to tempt more ‘intellectuals’ and middle class types into a government that many think is chronically short of experience and...well, intelligence.

But how to do that when you have people like Andrzej Lepper and Roman Giertych as vice-prime ministers?

Sociologist Jacek Kucharczyk told Radio Polonia:

‘I didn’t see any specific offer [at the party convention] except for ‘come with us, if you join us you will get a job in the administration because we need people to fill up all the numerous positions of authority within the government.

There was no offer to doctors [who have been staging protests for weeks now over pay], for instance, or other segments of intelligentsia […] So I think this offer is not credible, especially in view of the presence of people like Andrzej Lepper in the government who made his anti-intelligentsia rhetoric part and parcel of his political career.'

Jaroslaw Kaczynski – whose opinion poll ratings have plummeted recently – remains popular with his party. He was re-elected chairman of the party almost unanimously by the 11,000-delegated votes with only 19 against.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Polish heatwave

Get ready for a summer of protest.

The Tolerance Parade, and the counter demonstration by Polish far-rights groups, have received official permission from Warsaw’s local authorities to go ahead on June 10.

The capital’s streets promise to be busy this summer.

Doctors are continuing their strike action for higher pay. Currently earning 70% of the national average wage, medics have had enough. Opinion polls show that 59% believe the government to be the cause of the protracted dispute.

Miners – a group of workers who were part of the labour aristocracy under communism – have seen redundancies and real wage reductions ever since the fall of communism. Whole communities have been decimated as a result of the pit closures. Last year - after some of the most violent protests the capital has ever seen – they managed to secure a pay deal with the previous ex-communist SLD government. Now they want more. The Polish coal industry has increased profitability recently, so the miners want a piece of the pie. But they are not the aristocrats they once were.

The police are also getting restless, as are arms industry employees.

Students, outraged by the appointment of far-rightist Roman Giertych as education secretary, have been taking to the streets in protest and are promising to keep up the demonstrations over the summer months.

And now the centerpiece of the campaign against homophobia next Saturday. Last year, the then mayor of Warsaw and now President of Poland, Lech Kaczynski, refused to even grant permission to the Parade, though simultaneously giving his permission for the counter demo to go ahead (Kafka would have loved that!).

So the fact that it will be legal this year is progress, of sorts.

Poland missed out on the civil rights movements that the west experienced in the 1960s. Communism bottled up any social discontent. When democracy came the proverbial can of worms opened. It’s taken some time to fester but reactionary groups have been gaining some strength (both in and outside of the government) and issues such as gay rights have created a fault line between Polish tradition and Polish modernity.

While the miners and doctors protests are primarily about economic resources – and we wish them luck – rights of sexual minorities and the fight against xenophobia are about basic freedoms. Poland is beginning a move towards modernity but rights have to be won, not given.

The weather forecasts predict a cool summer (bugger!) but politically it’s going to be a long hot summer ahead, folks.

Polling the Unhappy Poles: 1980

Here’s a little gem of an opinion poll from November 1980.

It was only a few months after the Gdansk agreement signed between the communist authorities and the Solidarity trade union – the first such organization anywhere in the communist bloc.

The economy was on its knees. The commies, never too bright at the best of times, had blown all the western credits they had received in the 1970’s. The government was weak and isolated. The writing was already on the wall. Polish communism would be history in nine years time.

So what were Poles thinking at the time? Here’s a report from Time magazine, November 1980:

‘An intriguing glimpse of Polish attitudes was provided last week by the French magazine Paris Match, which published the results of an unusual public opinion poll taken inside Poland. Working with handwritten questionnaires, eight pollsters from Public S.A., a French firm, clandestinely queried a representative sample of 500 Poles.

Most of the respondents were deeply dissatisfied with the quality of their lives: 86% said their purchasing power was insufficient, and 69% found the government unresponsive. An overwhelming 90% blamed "the men in power." By contrast, 86% favored the Gdansk agreements, but 65% expected the government to "gnaw away" at the concessions it granted the unions.

Only 3% said they would vote for the Communist Party in free elections, compared with 34% for Christian Democrats, 27% for Socialists and 19% for Liberals (meaning European conservatives).

A Soviet invasion was thought "possible" by 41%, while 25% felt it was "certain." Two-thirds said they would actively resist the invaders. Asked which nation was Poland's "best friend," 34% replied "none." Next came France with 17% and the U.S. with 13%. Only 2% named the Soviet Union.’

Are Poles happier today?

Friday, June 02, 2006

A short moment of self-indulgence

Two web sites close to my heart have got good reviews today

The guys at Polish Outlook (via write a review of free English sources of news and comment about Poland:

‘One of the best services that is free is Radio Polonia ...They post a few articles each day which summarize some of the more notable news events for the day. Additionally they have a section in their navigation bar that is a roundup of articles printed in other new services that concern Poland. It is an excellent service and you are advised that if you are interested in a quick overview that you should go to the Radio Polonia Web site each day.

An excellent editorial blog is the Polish Beatroot...his is a personal effort by a British journalist who does a particularly good job at providing well thought through opinions and factual reports about current events in Poland. Like with Radio Polonia, it is a daily read item that should be added to your favorites list. ‘

Well, thanks for that, guys.

All I can do is repay the compliment. Polish Outlook does a brilliant job of explaining some of the sometimes obscure details of Polish party politics in a depth and understanding that I can't match. There is also a great round up of news, updated every morning - half of which seems to feature Poland as a subject - at another of sites, Europe News Review.

So cheers guys and keep up the very good work!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Polish church in ‘commie spy priests’ cover up?

Belated investigations into who spied for the Polish communists has found priests among those with contacts with the dreaded SB security police. Now one of the priestly whistleblowers has been gagged.

Catholic online reports on one priest who, along with many others, has been accused of spying for the communists:

‘[A] May 17 report in the Zycie Warszawy daily said Warsaw-based Msgr. Michal Czajkowski informed to the communists for more than two decades about fellow clergy, including Solidarity movement hero Father Jerzy Popieluszko, who was later murdered by communist agents.

Msgr. Czajkowski denied the claims in a May 22 statement in Poland's Catholic information agency, KAI, but resigned from his posts as church supervisor of the Wiez monthly and co-chairman of Poland's Council of Christians and Jews.

Approximately 10 percent of Catholic clergy are believed to have acted as informers in communist Poland, although higher recruitment rates were recorded in some dioceses in the 1980s.’

Oh, dear.

As many as 6,000 of the Polish clergy were named in government files. As usual in these lustration cases, many turn out to be innocent. Some will not.

Now the church and the government seem to want to put a lid on anymore revelations emerging. Radio Polonia reports:

Father Tadeusz Isakowicz-Zaleski, a popular former Solidarity chaplain, intended to present the results of his private investigation at a press conference in Krakow [Tuesday] but his superiors ordered him to abandon his plan, arguing that it would discredit the Catholic Church and harm innocent priests. The Church’s decision was welcomed by President Lech Kaczynski, who believes it was not accidental that media reports on priests who spied for the communist regime appeared shortly before and after the visit to Poland by Pope Benedict XVI.

On his visit to Poland, Pope Benedict made a remark that many now are thinking referred to the spying priests. He said:

“We must guard against the arrogant claim of setting ourselves up to judge earlier generations, who lived in different times and different circumstances,” Benedict said. “Humble sincerity is needed in order not to deny the sins of the past, and at the same time not to indulge in facile accusations in the absence of real evidence or without regard for the different preconceptions of the time.”

What’s a shame about all this, is that Poland didn’t get all this out of way right after the fall of communism here in 1989, unlike Hungary, Czech Republic or East Germany. Those first Polish governments had many ex-communists in top posts, so not digging into the past back then was seen as a pragmatic attempt to ease Poland into its democratic future.

But since the mid-1990’s 'lustration' has been constantly in the news. Many from the solidarity opposition have been caught up in its indiscriminating net. For instance, none other than Lech Walesa was accused in 2000 of being a spy but later cleared.

In South Africa they have the Truth and Reconciliation Committee, where all the dirty linen has been washed in public. In Poland we have the National Remembrance Institute. Unfortunately, this has uncovered some truths and half-truths, but little reconciliation.

Members of the present, pro-church government have been among the most keen on outing and banning communist collaberators from public office. So they seem to be hoisting themselves on their own petard now that priests have been named as being among the collaborators.

Maybe it's time to put the past to bed and get on with the future?