Sunday, April 29, 2007

Poland to liquidate hammer and sickle?

That old symbol of the unity of peasants and workers looks set to get whitewashed out of history.

The Polish government is currently cooking up a bill in parliament to remove all communist symbols which you can still see on the outside of buildings, on monuments and in some cemeteries.

This is just one part, of course, of the de-communization of Poland that so drives most of the ruling coalition.

The symbol in Poland can only have nostalgia for a few deluded folk, and the hip retro-ketch crowd. There is a craze for opening commie retro restaurants, and they seem relatively popular – though Poland lacks the oustalgia currently trendy in Germany.

But in Russia and parts of the old Soviet Union, the symbol still has resonance. The Bryansk Oblast district flag includes the hammer and sickle.The ‘republic’ of Transnistria also uses the hammer and sickle in its national flag.

But most incredibly, the former Soviet airline (now Russian), Aeroflot, continues to use the hammer and sickle as part of its symbol.

Poland to remove communist memorials, UPI

Thursday, April 26, 2007

A week is a long time in Polish politics

It was the old British prime minister, Harold Wilson, who said ‘A week is a long time in politics’: he should have come to Poland.

It’s all been going off here.

Police raided the house of ex-construction minister in the previous SLD government, Barbara Blida, investigating allegations she had been involved in corruption when allocating building contracts. Blida went to the toilet, accompanied by a female police officer, when, somehow, she put a hand in a drawer in the bathroom, pulled out a gun and shot herself dead through the chest.

What had she been up to as minister of construction in that sleaze ridden, ex-communist government? How was she allowed to get hold of a gun when under police supervision? What was a gun doing in her bathroom in the first place?

Jurek and church

Only a few days ago, Marek Jurek announced, with a flourish, that he was resigning the powerful position of Speaker of Parliament, leaving the government and leaving the ruling Law and Justice party (see previous post)to set up his own party – the Polish Right.

Quite apart from the fact that Jurek’s Polish Right would not be ‘Right’ at all – it would be much the same as the current government: a conservative leftish party (a marriage made in hell) – we already have one of those nationalist-conservative grouping: the barmy League of Polish Families.

So the ‘right’ looked set to split and split again, and so split the ‘right’ vote in the process.

But now the talk is of Jurek rejoining Law and Justice. Maybe. But maybe not.

A week is a long time in the politics of Marek Jurek. But what has changed his mind and tempted him back with his old mates?

Cue – stage right – the entry of the good old Polish Catholic Church, which has been trying to mediate between Jurek and the Kaczynski government. Why? Because the church does not want further splintering of the rightwing (read ‘conservative-left) in Poland in case the real Left or secular liberals get in power.

That the Church thinks it has a role in Polish politics is a scandal. If Jurek does come back then I think quite a few Poles will vote in a way that will make the cardinals cry into their pulpits.

How to become exempt from lustration in Poland?

Become a Catholic.

I have had to go through the ‘auto-lustration’ process. Everyone who works in the media here, and born before 1972, has to sign a form saying that he, ''Is not aware or conscious of the fact that he worked for the Polish communist secret service.’

Me, a root vegetable from south London, a Polish communist spy?

I spent most of the 1980s half conscious in some university student bar near the Elephant and Castle.. So how would I know if, unaware to myself, the conscious half of my brain had been spying for the Polish communists, or any other communists, for that matter?

I signed this nonsense. I would have gotten in trouble, and my boss would have gotten in bigger trouble, if I had not. So I did.

But it appears that employees of anything to do with the Polish Catholic Church are exempt from the lustration process, because of the Concordat signed between the Vatican and the Polish state.

So the government thinks that I am a greater potential threat to Poland than some Polish Catholic university lecturer.

A week is not just a long time in Polish politics, it's a very weird week, as well.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Boris the Great?

Lot of Poles – especially the more right wing ones – will mourn the death of Boris Yeltsin.

Yes, he was the man who stood on that tank, during the failed coup of 1991, when a few desperate communists tried to re-take power.

Yes, he disbanded the old Soviet state and gave Russians freedom they had never enjoyed in their lifetimes, or their parents’ lifetimes.

Yes, he ushered in a ‘shock therapy’ market economy, and opened up Russia to investment. A lot of people got very rich.

But lots and lots more got poor and poorer. The economy collapsed. Growth went into reverse for many years; inflation went crazy; people’s savings became worthless; inequalities ballooned; corruption became endemic.

The then there was the war in Chechnya, where thousands lost their lives – it was like Afghanistan all over again.

Yeltsin, the first ever elected president, retired on New Year’s Eve, 1999, without any support at all. The average Russian hated and despised him.
Internationally, he was seen as a joke – staggering, drunkenly around the globe, failing to turn up often for meetings with heads of state, because he had drank just one too many (bottles of) vodkas.

Talk to Poles, though, and most look back with nostalgia to the Yeltsin years. He ended communism, after all. And they probably quite liked the fact that Russia became weaker and weaker, and so less of a threat to the new ex-communist Poland.

If they could choose between Putin’s (who was virtually hand picked by Boris, remember) strong, authoritarian Russia, or Yeltsin’s drunken oligarchy, bandit capitalism, they’ll take Boris’s, anytime.

Russians would beg to differ.

Some of Yeltsin’s greatest video hits.
Dancing Yeltsin

Yeltsin the comedian, with sidekick Clinton

Very drunk Yeltsin wonders where he left the rest of his speech

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Polish homophobia? It’s not a phobia

Gay marchers face All-Polish Youth in Krakow.

Thirteen people were detained by the police – five of them juveniles - after counter marches through the streets of Krakow, Saturday.

Rival demonstrations took place from the Campaign Against Homophobia and the ‘Catholic-nationalist’ All-Polish Youth, which was recently expelled from the League of Polish Families because their far-right antics had become a PR disaster.

About 2,000 people attended the ‘Tolerance March’; March for Culture and Tradition, organized by the All-Polish Youth, could muster just 300 supporters, according to police estimates.

The All-Polish Youth had promised they were not going to allow ‘sodomites’ to enter Krakow.

The march was part of a tolerance festival by the Polish Campaign Against Homophobia, which finishes Sunday.


Of course, All-Polish Youth is made up of bigots, who’s youthful energies could surly be put to more productive use – like joining model aircraft, or stamp collecting, clubs, perhaps?. But are these guys ‘homophobes’?

A phobia is a psychological condition – like arachnophobia – in which the sufferer cannot control himself and is a victim to his fears. Arachnophobes do not choose to fear spiders.

So according to the Campaign Against Homophobia, All-Polish Youth cannot do anything about their ‘fear’ of gays and lesbians, and, presumably, need therapy.


Prejudice against gays and lesbians is caused from political ideologies, which come from the top of society.

These prejudices can only be got rid of through political argument and cultural development.

There is free will - unlike fearing spiders - shown by members of All-Polish Youth when they decide to go on a demo, and throw eggs and the usual nonsense at gays on marches.

They don't throw eggs because they have a 'phobia'. They chose to be there and bring the eggs (bottles, rocks, etc) with them. They then chose to throw them. It's not some psychological compulsion.

So All-Polish Youth are not victims of a phobia, they are holders of bigoted opinions and far right political views.

We do not need a campaign against homophobia, we need a political movement in Poland arguing for genuine equality and tolerance.

So not Campaign Against Homophobia - it should be Campaign Against Bigots.

All-Polish Youth
Campaign Against Homophobia

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Euro 2012 in Poland: yesssss!

But wait a minute...have UEFA been smoking too many Jamaican cigarettes, or something?

We watched with baited breath as UEFA president, Michele Platini (above), stood on stage in Cardiff, Wales, and slowly tore open the envelope. It was between Croatia/Hungary, Italy and Poland/Ukraine. Everyone expected Italy.

Half of me didn’t want Poland to win, as I knew I would have to throw together something about the story in about half an hour. The other half of me - the footballing half (the bits with legs and feet) - wanted Poland to win.

And then the ex-French mid-fielder pulled out the card with the names of the winning bid on it, and the footballing half took over. I emitted that noise men make when a goal is scored:


The same noise slowly echoed through all the offices next to mine and floated, like a Mexican wave, down the corridor.

Then my brain kicked in again, along with the rest of Poland’s. Have the guys in the European football governing body gone out of their tiny minds?

There are a few small problems with Poland and Ukraine being given such a huge sporting event to put on. Here are a just a few of them.

Poland has no…um…decent football stadiums.

Poland’s football governing body was suspended by the government earlier this year because it was not doing enough kicking out the rampant corruption that has taken hold of the domestic game here.

Poland has no decent motorways for fans, players, officials to move around the place.

There are no decent motorways connecting Poland and Ukraine.

Getting across the border by car between Ukraine and Poland takes days.

In five years time Ukraine might even be in the middle of a slightly distracting civil conflict and well on the way to becoming two different countries!

You see the problems.

So what on earth possessed UEFA to come to such a decision? This is huge, elating, news here, but even Poles think they are completely nuts.

The conventional view is that this is all about politics.

IHT reports:

It represents the increasing influence of politics and commerce on sports. In terms of Euro 2012 it confirms the direction within UEFA, the European union of soccer nations, whose membership has grown almost twofold since the breakup of the eastern bloc is taking.

Italy had been expected to win the rights to the 2012 event, which is estimated to be worth $3 billion in tourism and construction value.

[But] the Polish government had strayed perilously close to offside and to scuppering the bid when in February it attempted to relieve the national soccer federation president of his status and impose governance from the Sports Ministry.

That followed arrests of 71 people in a soccer match-fixing scandal in Poland's domestic game on a par with Italy's - but the interference by government brought Sepp Blatter, the president of FIFA, to threaten the suspension of Poland from the international soccer family for breaching its statute against political encroachment.

Who can say what caveats were discussed when FIFA hammered out an agreement with Poland's head of state? Who knows what influence the European Union had in brokering a truce between FIFA and one of its newest member? And who can say what assurances UEFA took from the Ukraine delegation regarding next month's general election in Kiev?

Blimey! Anyone would think they were talking about the US anti-missile base, not soccer.

Backroom deals for sure there were: but I have a simpler answer as to why the Poles and Ukrainians got the games.

The president of UEFA, Michele Platini, may have once played the game for France in one of the most stylish and beautiful ways any European ever has – but he also stark raving mad.

One of his bright ideas for the game was to ban tackling! That’s a bit like the World Boxing Federation banning punching!

As I write fireworks are going off in Warsaw, so in awe of the prospect of staging the UEFA Championships are the Poles (though my dog is none too impressed by all the noise, and thinks Platini is a complete bastard). So rejoice Poland in a rare international sporting (political) success. But remember that you have stolen sweets from under the nose of a dribbling idiot.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Marek Jurek PiS-ed off

Following a failed attempt to change the Constitution regarding abortion and euthanasia, leading Law and Justice (PiS) politician Marek Jurek throws a pissy fit and resigns from the party.

A bewildering few days last week in the Sejm, the Polish parliament, has led to the inevitable: Polish political parties splitting into factions.

A group of politicians from the ultra conservative League of Polish Families, backed by some of the more ultra-conservative members of the ruling Law and Justice party, tried to get amendments put into the Polish Constitution that would prevent a women from having an abortion, no matter what the circumstances. This included if the pregnancy was the result of rape.

The government – including President Lech Kaczynski and his prime minister brother Jaroslaw, favoured the current abortion law, which is already one of the most restrictive in Europe.

In an attempt to get a compromise, the Kaczynskis put forward an amendment of their own saying that the status quo would be put into the Constitution and no matter what outside law was put in place – meaning any meddling from Brussels or international Human Rights Courts – abortion would always be illegal in Poland accept in the cases of rape, or when the health of the mother was seriously compromised, etc…

There were other amendments put forward as well, but all of them failed.

The Speaker of Parliament, top PiS member Marek Jurek, supported the amendments on further restrictions on abortion and has subsequently resigned the speaker’s chair, and now has resigned from Law and Justice altogether.

The amount of members from Law and Justice to vote against the Kaczynski’s is unclear for various reasons, but Marek Jurek was joined by up to 59 to 70 others.

With Jurek resigning from PiS this has opened up a serious rift within the ruling party.

And so it was always thus…

The abortion votes and subsequent resignations show what an unstable thing is the Polish political party.

In Britain we have had, for over 100 years, two or three parties that (used to have) deep roots in British society. The Labour Party was a creation of the trade unions and was supported by all sorts of other institutions that were part of the fabric of British society. Same with the Conservative Party.

But not so in Poland. All the current parties are only a few years old – apart, ironically from the ex-communist SLD – which was imposed on Poles after WW II.

So, bereft of any base in society, splits and factions are a regular feature of Polish political life.

The ultra conservatives are now breaking away from Law and Justice.

The same tensions can be seen in the main opposition party, Civic Platform – with factions centered around either the leader, Donald Tusk, or his more conservative number two, Jan Rokita.

Recently, deep splits opened up in another coalition party, the agrarian populist Self Defense, under the leadership of political bully boy, and only partially reconstructed Stalinist, Andrzej Zbigniew Lepper.

But this splitting tendency has been evident in Polish politics ever since the fall of communism.

It even happened to the Beer Drinkers Party

After the Round Table talks of 1989, Poland suddenly became awash with political parties. One of those was the Beer Drinkers Party, Polska Partia Przyjaciół Piwa, under the leadership of bearded comedian, Janusz Rewiński.

But after the elections in 1991, the Beer party started the inevitable political squabbling that inflicts all parties here. Eventually the party split in two: the Big Drinkers and the Little Drinkers.

Maybe the split was over how much beer we should actually drink?

So if party splits are the iron law of Polish post-communist politics, then what does the future hold?

Well, Law and Justice could split in two: becoming the Law Party and the Justice Party.

Civic Platform would become the Civic Party and the Platform Party (in favour of better platforms at train stations).

And Lepper’s party – Self Defense – would split into the Defense Party and the Self Party (the latter lead by Lepper, naturally). Lepper would then create a splinter group called the Self-ish Party.

Whatever: the whole sorry mess the ‘right to life’ amendment debacle in parliament last week has demonstrated, yet again, that Poland will never have a stable political life, because all the political parties here, afloat from any roots in Polish society, are about as stable as a highly combustible gas.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Bloggers must put up with the psychos

How long before insists on registration before commenting?

Blogging is coming under increased scrutiny following the case of Kathy Sierra, who came under a concerted attack from anonymous commentators who put death threats and other disgusting nonsense on her blog.

The woman got so scared she cancelled a conference she was going to attend and has since stopped blogging completely.

A fellow blogger and friend of Kathy’s has proposed a code of conduct for bloggers and those who comment on their sites.

Point five of the code says:

We do not allow anonymous comments, but will allow pseudonymous ones.

That means that everyone who wants to comment on this site, for instance, must register with beforehand.

Much as I have sympathy, and empathy, with any blogger who gets personal threats, physical or otherwise – I have had a few of them over the two years I have been doing this – any across-the-board code of conduct on blogs must be resisted by us bloggers and those who comment.

I decided long ago not to make people register before commenting and I will stick to that principle. Each blog has to work out its own rules and mine are: free speech and access is absolute.

That includes access for trolls and psychos. When people get personal from the comfort of unregistered anonymity then it is a sure sign that they lost the argument and are incapable of entering into a debate to defend their point of view – if they had one in the first place, that is.

And I think that's a useful contribution to showing these people for what they are, and so discredit their ‘political’ position.

The success of this blog rests on the, mostly, intelligent and interesting people who return again and again for a jolly good argument. Any measure that makes participating on a blog like this one harder, and more instrusive, should get a loud ‘No Way’ from all bloggers.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Scientologists open office in Warsaw


Yes folks: it’s time to lock up your daughters – the scientologists have come to Poland.

If you thought the ‘Church of Scientology’ was just a bunch of slightly eccentric, small, tanned people who appear in Hollywood movies ( Cruise) then you would be mistaken. They are out to get your money, control your mind, and probably do nasty things to your grandma.

Polish Radio quotes Dziennik journalist Radek Gruca, who has ‘infiltrated’ the organization in Poland:

‘I did a few scientologist courses. I was told that you can be a Catholic and scientologist at the same time, which is untrue, because they believe in reincarnation, past life and aliens - this is all pretty weird.'

They are indeed pretty weird. But that’s not all. A Polish report by the National Security Bureau drafted in 1995 termed scientologists 'a religious mafia.' Journalist Ewa Wołczyńska has researched the subject:

'They present themselves as a movement based on religious and scientific ideas valued in today's world. But in fact, their doctrine has nothing to do with religion. They are accused of brainwashing, mind control, physical and psychological coercion in order to obtain money from their members. Scientologists target the wealthy and their founder himself was accused of embezzlement. Because of the dangers, this sect is banned in many countries.'

Bizarrely, the ‘leader’ of Scientology in Poland is Hanna Garbalska, a member of the Polish Peasant’s Party! Is she seeking to lure witless peasants into a life of misery and poverty? And don’t they have enough of the poverty bit as it is (why else would they vote for the Polish Peasant’s Party in the first place)?

You would think from the above descriptions that Scientology is as dangerous as anthrax! Keep away from them otherwise your mind will suddenly not be your own, you will lose all your money and your tongue will turn green!

I have had first hand experience with Scientologists. I lived to tell the tale. But only just…

Scientologists in Croydon!

It was when I was 19 years old and going completely crazy – like 19 year olds frequently do. We used to go to the pub, hang around drinking and taking all manner of illegal substances. I think amphetamines were a favourite for while (warning: speed is the nastiest drug there is and the beatroot says: ‘Do not try that at home, kids!).

Anyway, one day I was approached by a very sincere woman of about 30 years old with bad skin. She said she had seen me and my mates buying drugs and she would like to help us.

I thought she wanted to get us a better dealer. But no. She wanted to ‘cure’ us.

She gave me a leaflet with the logo Narconon emblazoned across it. She said that there were weekly meeting and ‘would we like to come along?’

So, having nothing better to do than take stupid drugs that we didn’t even really like, we went along.

It turned out that Narconon was a drug help center and a front organization of the local branch of the Church of Scientology.

We were encouraged to read lots of books written by Ron L. Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. The books were quite dull. Apparently I had been born before. ‘Maybe I was Jimmy Hendrix’, I remember thinking. Cool! Lots of stuff about ‘dianetics’ and ‘auditing’.

Auditing was the strangest part. Something about putting your hands on a couple of empty coke cans (I saw one of these at the Narconon center) which are wired up to a small battery. They ask you questions and if you give them the right answer you ‘pass’ whatever it is you are meant to be passing.

Me and my mates thought this was hilarious. Even more hilarious was when our Narconon contact told us that if we would like the ‘full program’ then we would have to pay her 300 pounds!

Three hundred pounds? Where would we get three hundred pounds from? And even if we had it why would we spend it on a couple of coke cans wired up to a battery?

So we went to a few more meetings to ask silly questions like: “Will auditing make Crystal Palace win the European Cup’? That kind of thing. But we soon got bored of that and went on to terrorize some other groups that thought they could make us ‘better people’ – like the Catholic Church or the Socialist Workers Party.

Why are Catholics so afraid of sects?

Don’t know – but I get the feeling that they see human beings like all conservatives, liberals and everyone else seems to these days. They think that humans are inherently vulnerable and unlike me and my mates back when I was 19, can be hooked to a sect much like they tell us that heroin will suddenly come out of the shadows and hook us to that.

In truth people WANT to become involved in Scientology or they don’t. And if they want to become involved in something as weird and stupid as Scientology then wouldn't it be better to ask: what is missing in the Catholic Church (or even secular beliefs today) that fails to attract the young? Don't try and blame that alienation on some supposed power that Scientologists do not have.

I mean – I bet Tom Cruise still has to stand on a box to kiss his leading lady. Ron L. Hubbard can’t do much about that, can he?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Poland’s shock therapy: blame Jeffrey Sachs

The initial (monetarist-ish) economic reforms in Poland after the fall of communism - and all the pain that went with them – are usually seen in this country as the responsibility of economist, former finance minister, and former head of the Polish National Bank, Leszek Balcerowicz.

The 'shock therapy' is also known as the Balcerowicz Plan.

Most international commentators and 'liberals' in Poland regard the reforms as a success, though not some in the present government coalition. In fact, many hate Balcerowicz’s guts.

But Poland’s emergence as a market economy is all down to economist superstar Jeffrey Sachs, apparently, who will be talking on the subject of post-communist reform, and other matters, in the prestigious BBC Reith Lectures, which you can hear on April 11.

Sachs told the FT this week:

”The essence of what [Poles] wanted to do [in 1989] was right, it was based on sound fundamentals. What I tried to do was to add the economics to go around it.”

So there you are, Andrzej Lepper et al: leave Balcerowicz alone. He didn’t understand economics in the first place! Jeff did.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Are Poles today victims of their history?

Just as we are told that some black men are errant fathers because ‘of the slave trade’, did the ‘Partitions’ result in a Varsovian's lack of civil pride?

It may seem a daft question (and when has the beatroot ever asked one of those?) but the recent commemorations of the 200 years since the abolition of the international slave trade has raised the issue of how - or if - we are affected today by events that happened many centuries ago.

This is black British hip-hop singer Ms Dynamite – whose father left her when she was 11 years old - on the legacy of the slave trade on black men today.

'There's stuff in the family and home which is…a result of slavery. Men were not allowed to be fathers but were used to breed to create more slaves. It's something that - not with everyone - is common in the black community, especially in our generation: the fathers are not always there. We're not that far away from slavery and that way of living, where a man is literally just a tool to reproduce.'

Slavery – which the British were celebrating ‘abolishing’ last week, but were, of course, one of the main engines of the trade in the first place – was indeed one of the most disgusting episodes in human history. But can it have an effect on the way people behave today? Surly we are not passive victims of something that happened over two centuries ago?

And isn’t it slightly illogical of Ms Dynamite to claim that the younger generation of black British men are more influence by their slave history than their parents and grandparents (who, believe me, because I know many of the older generation of Jamaicans etc, are almost Victorian in their moral outlook) are less affected by a history that they are chronologically closer too?

This view, however, is common among people today, and not just the younger black British. The idea that something other than our own free will is to blame for our failings is a neat piece of self deceit. It fits in with our very contemporary celebration of the victim.

It's all Russia's fault

And you can see it here in Poland. Many from Warsaw will tell you that the capital is messier, that the people get drunk more often, that nothing works quite as well as in some of the other cities in the country because, in effect, of the consequences of Imperialism.

Warsaw is messy, in other words, because of the Partitions (which began in 1772 and ended in 1918) when the Prussian, Russian and Austrian empires carved up Poland (see map above). This has left a cultural legacy in different parts of Poland according to which empire it fell under.

Warsaw was in the Russian part, and ‘Russian traits’ can be seen in the behavior of capital dwellers even to this very day.

Poznań was in the Prussian sector. If you ask someone from Warsaw why everything seems more efficient and cleaner in Poznań they will tell you it is because Poznańians were influenced by the Prussian culture.

Krakovians are culturally snobbish because of the Austrians. And so on…

Is this just historical determinism – the believe that our actions are caused by things beyond our control? Are we prisoners of our history? Are irresponsible black guys who father babies and then leave the home mere victims of slavery? Are the streets a mess in Warsaw because of the Russians?

And just as some of the Black community in the UK and US are claiming compensation for slavery over two centuries ago, should Warsaw send Moscow its street cleaning bill?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Super - fast track to sainthood

This time it looks like they are tearing up the rule book.

On the second anniversary of his death, 61 percent of Poles want John Paul II to be canonized without going through the usual first step of beatification.

Last year, Pope Benedict dispensed with the customary five-year waiting period before the process can begin.

But this fast track saintification really got up steam under John Paul II. He created more saints in a shorter period than any other pontiff. He began waving of the five year time rule, when he kick started the canonization of (the highly controversial figure of) Mother Theresa.

But still: to become a saint is still tricky, but not as tricky as it used to be.

The Vatican still has to have ‘proof of miracles’.

The favourite seems to be finding people ‘cured’ of an illness that doctors cannot explain.

For instance, Fox news (well, why not?) reported that JP II was responsible for the miracle cure of French nun, Sister Marie Simon-Pierre, who had Parkinson’s disease, just like the Pope himself.

Her cure came on the night of June 2, 2005, exactly two months after the pontiff's death, she said. In her room after evening prayers, she said an inner voice urged her to take up her pen and write. She did, and was surpassed to see that her handwriting — which had grown illegible because of her illness — was clear. She said she then went to bed, and woke early the next morning feeling "completely transformed."

"I was no longer the same inside. It is difficult for me to explain to you in words ... It was too strong, too big. A mystery."

The process (since 1983 the rules are like this) requires a potential saint to go through various phases. A person becomes a "Servant of God", then a “Venerable” then “Martyr”; and then after miracles are ‘proved’ they become “Blessed”. To get from Blessed to Saint requires another miracle.
Of course, using the criteria ‘cure that medical science cannot explain’ is ...well...unscientific. Just because science cannot explain something today does not mean it cannot tomorrow. Some pretty daft reasons for creating saints must have been given in the past.

But that’s not the point. This is religion, not reason.

So why is Pope Benedict – and John Paul II before him – so keen to speed up the canonization process? Is it because they know that we live in a world of diminished attention time spans? Is this a canonization process for the ‘want it now’, impatient, tabloid, instant gratification 21st century, when everything has to happen NOW!

Isn’t this just the dumbing down of canonization – the inflation of saints?

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Are the Kaczynski brothers Poland’s answer to Bono?

Poland becomes EU newcomers’ major warrior against world poverty and hunger. No, really!

Two announcements surprised me last week, and I am not entirely sure why I am surprised. But I am.

The Polish government has written off Nicaraguan debt; and Polish aid to the World Food Program in 2006 was equal to the total amount it gave in the five previous years. China news agency:

Poland’s donations [to the WFP] hit a new high in 2006 – at US$1.2 million for WFP operations in six countries. The total amount for this “breakthrough year” was just short of the sum of contributions (US$1.4 million) given by Poland to WFP during the first five years of this millennium.

“Poland is the most generous of its fellow new European Union Member States,” said John Powell, WFP’s Deputy Executive Director for Fundraising and Communications, speaking at a press conference hosted for WFP by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Warsaw.

“At last week’s meeting in Cyprus, Poland was at the forefront of EU colleagues in reaffirming their commitment to halve poverty and hunger by 2015 - the number one Millennium Development Goal.”

The main recipients of the Polish government’s generosity are:

Georgia (US$300,000); Afghanistan (US$200,000); the Democratic Republic of Congo (US$200,000); Tanzania (US$200,000 – divided equally between emergency and development); Angola (US$200,000) and Ethiopia (US$100,000)….

Not massive amounts of money, but positively bountiful compared with the Scrooge-like philanthropy of previous Polish governments.

The main beneficiaries appear to be where Poland has troops: places like Afghanistan and the Congo. And Warsaw waved much of Iraq’s debt to Poland some time ago (though expected lots back in the form of oil deposits).

The Polish Bono-like behavior is all to do with the before mentioned UN’s Millennium Development Goals, which governments signed up last year to ‘half the amount of world poverty’ by 2015.

Sounds an ambitious aim, but isn’t. It just means getting half the world’s poor’s income over one dollar day.

When Bono et al announced the ‘Make Poverty History’ campaign, which ‘dropping the debt’ is part of, they were lying. The campaign will not make poverty history.

Even if the goals of this initiative are met then millions and millions are still going to be living below or just above a one dollar a day income. Millions and millions are still going to be living in poverty. Is that the best we can do?

Kaczynskis join the Sandinistas?

But Warsaw is not finished in its development aid give-away bonanza, just yet. Last week the foreign ministry announced that it would be ‘dropping the debt’ - white wrist band, Bono style - to …Nicaragua!! Reuters:
Nicaragua and Poland signed an agreement on Friday to write off 30.6 million U.S. dollars of the 1980s debt that was borrowed by the first government of incumbent President Daniel Ortega.

...The forgiven debt includes 20 million dollars of Central Bank debt and 10 million incurred by the Finance Ministry.

The debt was originally part of two credit lines signed by Poland in 1984 and 1987 to sell crop spraying aircraft, water pumps, galvanized zinc laminate, tires, steel, construction joints, motors and spare parts.

The Polish communist government gave out the loans during a period when the Nicaraguan economy was in freefall, during and after the Sandinista/Contra war and venomous US sanctions. For instance, inflation in 1988 reached 14,000 percent!

Sandinista chief Daniel Ortega was seen as a 1980s Che Guevara in those days, a bit like Chavez is today, except without all the oil.

I remember going to a Clash gig at the time of the Sandinistas album, and Nicaragua was like some kind of Central American Spanish civil war for the Left back then.

So Communist Poland helping the anti-US Sandinistas was no big surprise (although the 1980s economy in Poland was almost as bad as Nicaragua’s in many ways - so how Warsaw could cough up even a couple of groszy is a mystery).

What’s strange is that the present de-communizing Polish government should write off the debt of a Nicaraguan government headed by none other than …Daniel Ortega, who got re-elected president late last year.

I wonder if the Kaczynskis have told Washington about this?

Well, whatever next? Lech Kaczynski appears at a press conference confessing that he is a secret Clash and U2 fan, while Jaroslaw sits bashfully beside him wearing a beret, jungle combats and smoking a Havana cigar?