Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Duck bites fox!

The Wprost cover this week...

….It’s PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – or, Kaczynski’s Law and Justice) and LiS (Liga and Samoobrona, the weird ex-Stalinist/Catholic nationalist alliance between Roman Giertych and Andrzej Lepper.) LiS is Polish for ‘fox’.

Kaczynski (the Duck) has the power to call an election – LiS – those cunning foxes – would rather he kept the coalition going, and their ministers in the ministries.

The current ‘crisis’ talks continue. The nation holds its breath (in case it catches something nasty).

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Warsaw Uprising 1944: 'What more could be done?'

Those were the words of leader of the British Labour Party in 1944, Clement Atlee, as Poles rose up against the Nazis during the Warsaw Rising, that began on August 1 and lasted 63 bloody days.

The answer to the question was: a lot more than the Britain did, along with many others. The imperative from the British foreign office’s point of view was – don’t upset Stalin.

Stalin, with forces on the bank of the River Vistula, was quite content to let the Nazis and Polish Home Army destroy each other – all the better for the Soviets when they did finally enter the city three months after the Uprising was defeated and the Nazis had retreated.

Many Russian historians claim that the Red Army was exhausted and had no supplies. But that doesn’t explain why Stalin had refused permission for the RAF to land anywhere near the city during the period when it was flying planes in from Italy to try and bring a few supplies to the insurgents.

But there was no real political will in Britain to do much more. Stalin had been promised by Churchill et al that Poland would be in his sphere of influence after the war ended. Warsaw was his.

Few in the British media seemed to have had problems with this. The lone voice, as Norman Davies points out in Rising 44 (see chapter here), was George Orwell. Writing in the leftwing Tribune on September 1:

I want to protest against the mean and cowardly attitude adopted by the British press towards the recent rising in Warsaw…..

...As soon as the news of the rising broke, the News Chronicle and kindred papers adopted a markedly disapproving attitude. One was left with the general impression that the Poles deserved to have their bottoms smacked for doing what all the Allied wirelesses had been urging them to do for years past, and that they would not be given and did not deserve to be given any help from outside.

...The enormous majority of left-wingers who swallow the policy put out by the News Chronicle, etc., know no more about Poland than I do. All they know is that the Russians object to the London Government and have set up a rival organization, and so far as they are concerned that settles the matter. If tomorrow Stalin were to drop the Committee of Liberation and recognize the London Government, the whole British intelligentsia would flock after him like a troop of parrots.

[A] message to English left-wing journalists and intellectuals generally: ‘Do remember that dishonesty and cowardice always have to be paid for. Don’t imagine that for years on end you can make yourself the boot-licking propagandist of the Soviet régime, or any other régime, and then suddenly return to mental decency. Once a whore, always a whore.’

Well, why don’t you speak your mind, George? Orwell was in the process of writing Animal Farm when he penned those words. It must be remembered that it was not just the leftwing press that was a ‘boot-licking propagandist’ – just about all the other journos joined the chorus of parrots.

But most of the left in Britain did remain a Stalinist ‘whore’ up until 1956. And it’s only comparatively recently that Stalin has become the moral equivalent of Hitler.

But as usual, even though he was a socialist writer, Orwell was nobody's whore.


Brilliant site on the Uprising here and the Warsaw Rising Museum site here.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Just like magic – new Harry Potter in Polish!

Just days after the release of the latest (and final) part of the J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series, four chapters of the novel have already been translated into Polish and put on the internet.

Of course, the owner of the rights of the Polish version of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Media Rodzina in Poznan – not to mention the highly regarded translator of all the previous books, Andrzej Polkowski – are a little upset.

The planned publishing date for the Polish version is scheduled for January 27, 2008.

This is not that unusual, however. A version in Spanish of the fifth book, Harry Potter and Order of the Phoenix, appeared in Venezuela soon after the original English publication was released. Not surprisingly, the instant pirated version was not very good. Apparently it included passages which, as the plot built up the tension, lamely concluded: “Here comes something that I'm unable to translate, sorry,"

But Venezuelan president, Hugo Chavez, seems to be a Potter fan. Two people connected with the ‘translation' were arrested for crimes against Hogwarts.

But that’s not as bad as what goes on in China. There, they often released fake, pastiche translations of the books, even before they are released in English. Examples of such include: Harry Potter and the Crystal Vase, Harry Potter and the Golden Turtle, and most famously, Harry Potter and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Horror in France, Mazur, government chaos, no cucumbers…

About this time, the summer media should be well into the silly season (called the ‘cucumber season', here) in Poland, when UFO’s are spotted in a pub in Olsztyn. Well, not this summer…not yet.

The Sunday morning TV news was full of dire weather warnings of another thunder storm heading this way, after a tornado had blown off roofs in southern Poland on Friday night – apart from that, everything as normal: there was the ubiquitous Andrzej Lepper spouting off about being Andrzej Lepper (and his alleged sex scandals). Nothing new there.

And then at about 11 O’clock the news of the horrific crash of a coach carrying Polish pilgrims from the north coast to a shrine near Grenoble in France.

‘Thirteen dead’; ‘at least thirteen dead’; ‘twenty dead….twenty six dead.’

After the shock, the search for what, for whom, to blame began. It seems the brakes failed on a tight bending mountainous road in southeast France. But why had the driver taken the coach down that road in the first place, when there was clear signs that it was not suitable for large vehicles? Since then we learn that many Polish coach drivers have been doing the same, taking passengers down a road known in the area as a notorious black spot. Many dead, human error.

President Kaczynski pronounced three days of national mourning. This has led to minor deprivations for Poles – such as Rod Stewart delaying a concert in Gdansk by one day. The Rolling Stones will go ahead with their gig, Wednesday in Warsaw. I’m sure the Poles can cope.

Election, or not, announcement delayed

But can they cope with the delay of an announcement by the Kaczynskis whether or not they are finally going to ditch their troublesome junior coalition partners of the League of Polish Families and Lepper’s Selfdefense, and have an election that has been on the cards since the very beginning of the government, exactly one year ago last week? Now Poles will have to wait till Thursday.

Someone I was talking to today – who probably thinks of himself as urbane, and not one of the government’s natural constituency – was pessimistic about any future election anyway. He blames the ‘low turnout’ (41 percent last time) for putting in ludicrous regime’s like the Kaczynski’s into government here, anyway.

That view is backed up by a recent Newsweek article:

Widespread voter indifference underscores opposition worries. Turnout in the last elections, in 2005, fell to just 41 percent. Many of those who might vote against Law and Justice—and the new generation of politicians who might stand against it—have already left the country. As for those who've stayed behind, they seem unable and unlikely to redeem Poland's name in Europe.

But maybe many of those who do not vote – often poor, uneducated – would come out and vote for Kaczynski anyway.

I’m sure the Poles can cope.

Mazur free, trail cold

Last week we also had the announcement from a court in Chicago that Edward Mazur – a Polish businessman that has lived in the US for over forty years – would not be extradited back to his homeland to stand trial for plotting the murder of police chief Marek Papala in 1998.

It was alleged that Mazur had relations with organized crime and Papala was getting in the way of ‘a little bit of business’, so he had him eliminated.

The American judge that heard the case said she could not believe how the case prepared by the Polish government against Mazur was so clumsily and sloppily put together. Even small but necessary details like dates were incorrect. They had failed to make a proper case. She threw the extradition request out of court.

The man ultimately responsible for the farce, Polish justice minister, Zbigniew Ziobro, vowed to ‘fight on’ to get extradition.

Though the present government was requesting extradition, it was the previous ex-communist SLD government which had let the trail go cold on the Papala murder. It had seemed, under the premiership of Leszek Miller, reluctant to dig too deep into the case.

The present government has pointed to links between Miller, former first lady Jolanta Kwasniewski, etc, and Mazur, the ex-communists and organized crime.

Whatever, many here think that they never now will get to the bottom of the case.

Can Poles cope with that?

Maybe it’s time for a few cool cucumbers…

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Do we need a Polish election?

Andrzej Lepper thinks PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski is fed up with the current coalition.

Well, the beatroot agrees with Mr Kaczynski.

Why? Because Polish politicians are like nappies (diapers for our US brothers)...

...they should be changed regularly...

...and for exactly the same reason.

Some start drinking alcohol young in Poland

Two children last week were born with alcohol poisoning because their mothers were pissed out of their heads when they gave birth to them.

News stories of a similar type are sometimes like London buses: nothing comes along for ages, then several turn up at once.

So it’s been with the two ‘drunk baby’ stories. About mid week it was reported that a baby was born with 1.2 promille of alcohol in his blood; yesterday it was reported that a baby girl had been born with almost 2 promille in her’s.

Alcohol poisoning can be fatal for new born babies, and the little girl was rushed to intensive care and put on a respirator.

The mother of the little girl – Grazyna K. (she is going to be charged with…I don’t know what, maybe grievous bodily harm) claimed that she, “Only hic had a cupple of glashes of wine wit me friendzhhh….’. When they tested her blood, 1.95 promille of alcohol was swimming around in there.

Maybe news stories travel together like London buses, or hang around together like the proverbial Polish drunks on the corners of housing blocks, because journalists start looking for them after the first one has broken; maybe people are more likely to report them after they see the first one in the news. Who knows? But just how common is the alcoholic, or binge drinking, pre-natal in Poland?

Not so pissed Poles

It is estimated that there are around 1 million alcoholics in Poland, and 3 million people ‘abuse’ drink. Annual consumption is estimated by the World Health Organization at 10 liters of (ethanol) alcohol per capita a year.

How does that compare with the rest of Europe? Well, quite well. The EU average is 12 liters a year. In Britain it’s estimated that over 6 million regularly ‘abuse alcohol’ – i.e. binge drink. Brits ‘binge’ 40 percent of the time they sit down for a drink. On average Brits consume around two liters more alcohol a year than Poles.

Luxemburgers - is that what we call people from Luxembourg?) drink 17 liters of alcohol a year, and so are Europe’s top piss artists (though I do not remember encountering a pack of drunks from Luxembourg on my travels – come to think of it, I don’t remember ever coming across a single person from Luxembourg outside Luxembourg; maybe they don’t like traveling all that much. They are probably too busy staying at home most nights getting completely trashed.).

In the US, ‘1 in 100’ babies are born with ‘Fetal Alcohol Syndrome’ (FAS). The symptoms of FAS include facial deformities, learning difficulties, stunted growth…

So what is the safe amount of alcohol for a mother?

Ability magazine claims that there is no safe limit:

[S}studies suggest even a single episode of consuming as little as two drinks may lead to loss of fetal brain cells (one drink = 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor).

For everyone else, the British government, which is now on a crusade to make Brits drink like their European 'continental' partners (who, like Luxemburgers?) say that more than three to four units of alcohol (pint of beer) constitutes a ‘binge’…two pints of beer and it’s a ‘binge’.

The World Health Organization found that 38 percent of Polish men admitted that they were ‘binge drinkers’., 24 percent of Brits identified themselves with this label.

The obvious problem with all this advice is that there is no standard way of measuring what a ‘unit’ of alcohol’ is. Each country seems to have a different measure.

In Britain one unit is 8 grams of alcohol; in Poland one unit is 10 grams; in the US it’s 14 grams.

If you want to binge drink then go and do it in New York – there you can get through up to four pints of beer before the health police start to feel your collar.

So the two awful ‘drunk baby’ stories this week actually appear quite rare in Poland, a country that isn’t so every strange in its drinking habits – that’s why they are headline making stories.

What these type of stories are good for, though, is in creating folk devils with which we can compare ourselves with and feel superior. And what better folk devil than the smashed pregnant woman?

FAS rates by country
(Warning: it is unclear how much symptoms of FAS in these children are caused by alcohol alone.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Some like it hot

If you are going to ‘lose your cherry’ in Poland, it’s very likely you will lose it while on summer holiday. And you are going to be young.

That’s the finding of studies by people who study this sort of thing. The sun is out, and so is school, so girls and boys come out to play. Polish Radio reports:

“10 percent of 15 year old girls and 20 percent of boys of the same age have had sex. The average age of sexual initiation of teenagers in Warsaw is fifteen and a half years and that age has been going down, says sexologist, Dr Krzysztof Nowosielski from the Silesian Medical Academy.

“Ten years ago they used to start their sexual life at the age of 18, 19. Now they start at the age of 15, 16. So it’s some five years lower than a couple of years ago.”

Over fifty percent of youngsters have ‘gone all the way’ for the first time while on vacation. In the autumn, gynecologists report an increased number of teenage girl who are expecting a baby as well as youngsters with sexually transmitted diseases.

I lost my cherry (never to find it again) in the summer – a very hot summer, way back circa…1666. I was sixteen. So around about the average age of the current teenage Varsovian and their first night nerves. Oh, those first night nerves – actors opening major plays in the West End experience nothing like it. I was in such a state I was drinking – gulping – glasses of neat Cinzano! It was all I could find in the parent's cocktail cabinet. It didn't help.

But sixteen years old, back in Tudor times when I first…um…you know…’did it’ and ‘went all the way’ was about two years younger than the average among my friends in south London. In fact, I was driven to …you know…’break my duck’ with the sole purpose of screwing up my friends who had yet to be screwed.

Which is quite sad, looking back on it. But summer certainly gives kids the opportunity for a little summer lovin’ – although be careful of sunburn, it can make things very difficult.

Do I look back at 16 as being too young? Actually I do. But then again, kids are different now. Thirteen year old girls here look like 17 year old girls back ‘in my day’. The average 15 year old boy in Warsaw is often taller than many tall man-made structures – like the Empire State Building.

Which brings us to the law and when you should be able to mislay your small red fruit (the kind that makes Swiss kirsch) without being bothered by the law.

In 1932 in Poland, the age of consent was set at 15 for all sexual acts, be they hetero or homosexual. That doesn't fit the stereotype.

So gays have had legal equality since 1932 in Poland. In Britain they had to wait till 1967!

But having the same age of consent since 1932 is a bit daft. Kids back then were a completely different species. In fact, the age of consent is one of those strange ideas, based around ‘well, you have to draw a line somewhere..’ type thinking.
But do you have to draw a line? The age of consent in Switzerland is 16. However, there exists a close in age exception if the difference between the ages of the participants is three years or less. So in that country there is a relativity built into the law.

Whatever: summer in Poland, like in most other countries, is the time when the birds and bees dance in the air, and teenagers are thinking naughty thoughts about whether or not they are going to get…well, you know…a damn good shagging. It’s only natural.

Merkel, Hitler – same difference?

Every time Giertych senior opens his mouth something nasty comes out of it.

“Germans have been trying to dominate Europe for a thousand years”, Maciej Giertych, MEP told a Polish TV channel. He believes the present German chancellor is “trying to do the same, but using different methods".

Bad hair cut Merkel an equivalent to Hitler? Surly some mistake?

“Hitler’s methods were completely different, but I’m talking about a chain of actions taken by Germany over decades”, he explains.

Whereas Hitler used the Luftwaffe, Merkel is using the EU to bulldoze its way through Europe to dominate the continent in a demonstration of the Nietzschian will to power, perhaps?

“Mr. Giertych badly needs medical help. Germany has been implementing the democratic state principle for 40 years and we have a great chance for an advantageous alliance with them, yet such comments may destroy everything,” says MEP Dariusz Rosati.

Besides Giertych is not really being a threat to anything – the guy is increasingly an isolated eccentric on his last legs as a politician - may be medical help wouldn’t actually help him much at all. Giertych’s is an ideological sickness, a virus caused by his determination, as I have pointed out before, to live in the time of the great Polish nationalists such as his hero Roman Dmowski – way back in the 1930s. He loved the guy so much he named his son after him.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

What Bush gave Kaczynski

President Lech Kaczynski came out of his meeting with George Bush at the White House, Monday, sounding much more certain that the anti-missile system is coming to northern Poland.

“It’s a forgone conclusion,” Kaczynski said standing next to a grinning Bush. Only the details, technical details, need to be cleared up.

A few weeks ago it emerged from anguished Polish spokesmen that the talks were not going as well as expected. There were sticking points. But now things seem to have moved forward considerably. So what changed during the pow-wow in the Oval Office?

Kaczynski has apparently been learning some English. Or so we are told. But what’s in his specially produced US visit phrase book, apart from “Hi”, and “I’ll have the cheese burger, just like my buddy George, please.”?

Maybe the phrase book – a slim volume - was filled with a couple of other phrases.

“Visa waver program, please” …and …”More money for the defense budget…..”…..and, “When can we get the hell out of Afghanistan and Iraq, please?”….

But it looks like it is possible that Bush has offered something different. Something more concrete.

Former PiS defense minister Radek Sikorski was on Polish Radio this morning when he said:

“It’s obvious that [the US] has offered them [PiS] something. I think they have given them Patriot Missiles.”

Patriot missiles? They are a tracking missile for anti-ballistic defense. Most varieties of the patriot appear to have a range of 70 kilometers.

They were used in the Gulf wars against Saddam's Skud missiles, and South Korea has them as protection against any missiles whistling over the border from North Korea.

So they are perfect, from Poland's perspective, for hitting missiles coming from a source near one’s own border.

Perfect for fending off any missiles coming from….maybe Russia?

So while the whole anti-missile system is said by Washington and Warsaw to be against ‘rogue’ states, a Poland armed with patriots would feel a little securer against threats from Moscow.

It’s just a theory.

The name ‘Patriot’, by the way, is an acronym for Phased Array Tracking Radar to Intercept Of Target.

There is also another bacronym: Protection Against Threats, Real, Imagined, Or Theorized.

Poll: 55 percent of Poles oppose hosting U.S. missile defense base

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Foxy Lepper and Giertych to form new party

It’s going to be called LiS – ‘lis’ is Polish for fox.

Stop sniggering…it’s true – Andrzej Lepper’s Samoobrona (Self defense) party and Roman Giertych’s Christian nationalist Liga Polskich Rodzin (League of Polish Families) will unite. Take the first letter of Samoobrona and the first letter from Liga, add an ‘i’ (and) and you get LiS.

When asked which of them would be the leader of LiS, Lepper said that it would probably be a joint leadership: “Me - balanced, calm and serious. Vice premier Giertych - eloquent, intelligent, witty.”

One possible election slogan for the new LiS party, says Lepper, could be: ‘Strong as a lion, cunning as a fox’.

Is this man on drugs?

But why and how, I hear you cry, would an ex-Stalinist like Lepper (previously a member of the old Polish communist party) and an uber-Catholic nationalist like Giertych get together and form a party? What have they in common, ideologically?

Well, not much, really. Policy-wise though, they both want to de-privatize much of what was sold off after 1989. They both want to limit foreign influence and renegotiate Poland’s membership of the EU. But that’s just about it.

What they have most in common, of course, is that both their parties have little support left in the country after a year and a half in the coalition government with PiS, and if an election was held now they would be left with no members of parliament at all.

Hence the emergence of LiS – the cunning fox. Lepper thinks that if they stand together they could get, ‘around 17 percent of the vote…’.

I think that is more than wishful thinking. I think voters will see it for what it is: the naked opportunism of two desperate men. LPR voters, what’s left of them, won’t stomach voting for Lepper, who has just been thrown out of government on suspicion of being involved in a corrupt land deal. And there are lots of other Christian nationalists to vote for that are outside Giertych’s party – like Marek Jurek’s PiS splinter group, for instance.

This unbelievable new alliance – LiS – looks less like a cunning fox, and more like a dumb, mangy old mongrel.

Krzysztof Bosak – more popular with gays than voters

Bosak, Christian nationalist and youngest member of the Polish parliament, is a Polish gay icon.

I was just watching TVN Style cable channel and there was an interview with Polish lawmaker and former head of ultra Catholic All Polish Youth, Krzysztof Bosak.

Mr Bosak has, what some refer to as, rather homophobic views, as does his party, League of Polish Families. He was part of what turned out to be a violent protest against gays marching in Krakow last year. As reported by the UK Guardian:

Waving a red-and-white Polish flag at the Krakow march with fellow protesters from the Catholic Mlodziez Wszechpolska youth group, Krzysztof Bosak said: "Violence is bad but there is no way you can protest against this abnormality without violence."

The interviewer on the program asked him how many voters voted for him in the last election.

“I think it was around three and a half thousand,”, he said (under a PR list system it is possible to get elected to a national parliament with very low number of votes).

The host of the program then said:

“But on a recent gaylife.pl poll for Poland’s greatest ‘Christian nationalist gay icon’ you got 14,000 votes…”

Bosak was understandably slightly disorientated by this.

It means, of course, that 11,000 more people voted for him as a gay icon than they did to represent voters in the Polish parliament.


By the way, listen to an ‘interesting’ interview with Bosak in English here.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Beatroot reviewed in Warsaw magazine

It’s in an article about ‘Poland’s best English language blogs’ in the July edition of the English language version of WiK, from Wprost magazine publishers.

It says:

Writing 5/5
“A sarcastic commentary on the comical antics of Poland’s Chaplinesque government, beatroot writes clearly, concisely, and with plenty of bite. The blog is a great source of information….[and is] updated every other day, is well laid out, and has a vitriolic fanbase, whose comments are often as entertaining as the blog.”

How sweet. See a scan of the first page of the article here via Boo’s blog.

But there is a mistake in the article which I just want to clear up. In a review of the old p3 blog, which I and others used to write for, it says that:

“[Despite] being an all star team on the keyboard….the band seems to have had a Spice -Girl-sized falling out, with several – such as Beatroot and Boo – trying their hand at a solo career.’

Though on a bad day I do have a passing resemblance to a combination of Scary and Ginger Spice (although some call me Old Spice) this is not historically accurate. In fact, p3 did not split up over musical differences, of course, to pursue solo careers. It was the other way round. The p3 collective were all functioning bloggers concentrating on our own blogs when we decided to get together and do a collective blog.

So, no: we didn’t have a ‘spice-girl-sized’ fall out. It was more like the gathering of a supergroup – like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young….or even The Travelling Wilbury's...

Now, being a vain kind of root veg, I had better go out and buy a copy of WiK.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Poland is in the hands of Satan!

Over 330 exorcists from 29 countries around the world have arrived in Czestochowa for their annual behind-closed-doors meeting to discuss new ways of fighting Satan.

And what better place to exorcise the devil himself but Czestochowa, the home to the shrine of the Black Madonna and annual destination for many pilgrims.

European exorcists meet once a year, usually in Italy or Germany. This is their second meeting in Czestochowa.

And what do you think that the exorcists are talking about today? Well, it must be that the Devil, the cloven-hoofed one, is running riot among Poland’s politicians. In the last few days we have seen His terrible work on this land:

How else can we explain Father Radio Maryja Rydzyk calling the First Lady of Poland a witch (see previous post)? Rydzyk himself said that the ‘Rydzyk Tapes’ were the ‘work of Satan’?

How else can we explain Andrzej Lepper getting booted out of the government?

How else can we explain the resignation of sports minister Tomasz Lipiec?

How else can we explain the vice president of the Polish Olympic Committee, Artur Pilka, being sacked from his post after being detained by police for purchasing a kilogram of cocaine over a three to four year period. He claims that the Columbian snow was for 'personal use only'. Sniff, sniff. The ex-sports minister was apparently in charge of getting rid of doping in Polish sport. I would hate to see the state of his nostrils!

So the hand of evil must be at work in this land. But what will the Polish voter do about all this, if they get the chance?

Will they do the exorcists' work for them? Or will they decide that it is better to stick with the devil you know, than the devil you don’t?

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Rydzyk Tapes

Stop press….Vice Premier and Agriculture Minister Andrzej Lepper kicked out of government on connection with corruption charges….election possible…. more here….

The First Lady of Poland is a witch and should be the subject of euthanasia, and the President of Poland is a conman surrendering to the Jewish lobby.

Not my words but those attributed to Radio Maryja director, Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, when he was speaking to a group of students at The University of Social & Medial Culture in Toruń.

The story broke in the weekly Wprost today and since then the government has refused to comment until the tapes of Rydzyk’s remarks have been verified.

Rydzyk – who has been accused of running a radio station and publishing empire where the odd anti-Semitic remark is not unsual – has not denied he made the remarks. He is just saying that the article in Wprost is a ‘provocation’. thenews.pl reports:

According to Father Rydzyk - the media have blown the case out of proportion and he himself would never even think about "offending anyone ". In his opinion, it is "Satan who’s putting stumbling blocks into his way", but "we should not be manipulated and get divided". Director of Radio Maryja added: "Satan doesn’t like those who commune in Christ".

The Redemptoristine from Toruń also said on his radio station that "the truth should be spoken out, even though it upsets Satan. We cannot exist without that truth".

Well, indeed. TV has being playing small snippets of the ‘Rydzyk Tapes’ all day but we have still not seen the whole transcripts.

Perhaps it was just Rydzyk’s hilarious sense of humour? But whether it is or isn’t, the remarks put the government in a bit of a bind. The Kaczynski government has given Radio Maryja special access to news conferences in the past as it believed that the Rydzyk empire was the only news outlet not under the control of the dreaded uklad - the only news source that the Kaczynskis can trust.

If this scandal is as bad as it sounds then the government has one less source open to it.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Living it up at Polish nurses' 'Hilton Hotel' - politicians welcome!

Close to three weeks on strike and camped opposite the main government offices, the nurses refuse to give up.

The strike, for more pay (well, you couldn’t get much less than they get) has been supported by the general public. Thousands of trade unionists joined the protest Friday to show solidarity.

Nurses on hunger strike called off that particular type of protest this weekend, after a not too sympathetic response from the Polish government.

The government – or at least the health minister, Zbigniew Religa, has offered pay rises of up to 30 percent next year, but PM Jaroslaw Kaczynski has repeated, many times, that there is no money in the budget for substantial pay rises in 2007.

Conditions in what they are calling the ‘White City’ on Ujazdowski Av. opposite the prime minister’s office have deteriated over the weeks since the protest began. (They also call the place ‘Hotel Hilton’). Rain has bucketed down on the nurses from the beginning, turning, when we were their on Saturday, much of the ground around the tents to mud.

There are some portable toilets on the site and I saw nurses lining up for soup and bread rolls.

But sanitation is not good. We signed a book giving assistance to nurses who wanted a bath – our flat is only about half a kilometer down the road.

Strange, then, when the telephone went about 8 O’clock at night: it was a journalist from Gazeta Wyborcza wanting to know, ‘when we would be coming down to the ‘white city’? Apparently, someone at the union tent had shown journalists our names, telephone number etc.

I was slightly annoyed at that: we did not give our phone number so journalists from Gazeta Wyborcza could come and have a bath.

But if you are a nurse and you need a shower, then you are always welcome at Beatroot Mansions.

Next round of negotiations between unions and government is scheduled for this Tuesday. So nurses have at least two more nights to camp out under the stars.

Photos by traczka/beatroot productions

Friday, July 06, 2007

Live Earth on Polish TV

It’s the first time that extensive coverage on Polish TV has been given over to one of these global media events. But many Poles will be right to ask: what is the point of all this?

Thenews.pl reports:

The most extensive coverage of “Live Earth” will be on TVP Kultura. From 8.00 a.m. till late at night the channel will transmit “Live Earth” concerts from, among others, New York, London, Sydney, Rio de Janeiro, Johannesburg, Tokyo, Hamburg and Istanbul.

“Live Earth” will also be broadcast in special live coverage on MTV Polska. In addition, the station will also show a special, ecological episode of “Pimp my Ride” with Arnold Schwarzenegger as a guest star, and clips in which young people will tell about efficient ways to protect the environment.

The audience of RMF FM radio will also be at the centre of things - the station will cover the concerts in the form of commentaries and live coverage. In the evening the broadcaster will replay the most interesting parts of the event – the “Live Earth” music will be played all night.

Extensive coverage then. But apart from getting to see lots of live bands play a few songs, what else will Poles get from the experience?

A man with a mission
Life for Al Gore has changed over the last few years far quicker than the rate of climate change. Not ten years ago he was ‘Al Bore’ – the man who was not only more wooden than a forest, but who also somehow lost an election he appeared to win. Or something.

Now, all of a sudden, he is ‘Mr Interesting’, a man with a mission, who can turn a power point presentation into a hit movie documentary with dire warnings about global warming, and bag himself an Oscar in the process.

Gore, the man of the moment, the inspiration behind Live Earth, has said that climate warming is not ‘about politics’, it’s about morals…’ Meaning, it’s not up for debate, ‘it’ is a done deal, beyond the questioning of us mere mortals.

So what’s the point of Live Earth then? ‘To raise awareness’, says the Live Earth web site.

But you would have to be living on planet Mars to have ‘low awareness’ of the constant, moralistic, media deluge on ‘carbon footprints’ and ‘carbon credits’. So what is the point of ‘raising awareness’ of something that everybody ‘knows’ and is ‘aware’ of already?

But maybe you wouldn’t have to be living on Mars to have missed that kind of media coverage. Maybe you might have been living in Poland?

It’s true – Poles have not been lectured about our ‘debt to the planet’ like those of you have in the UK or US. In a country that has been starved of economic development like Poland and the rest of the old ‘Eastern bloc’, has, being lectured by rich westerners - like Al Gore – about how we must cut our energy consumption (and cut the rate of economic growth) is frankly, a pain in the neck.

The constant self – flagellation that many middle class liberals go through in the west about global warming – “Ooo, I really must connect the manual knitting machine to the roof-top, small holdings wind farm, this weekend…” – is not so common among the aspiring middle class in Poland.

That’s because the Polish middle class ARE aspiring: much of the liberal, middle class in the UK, for instance, thinks advanced economic development is the reason why they are not happy…. “Perhaps if we went back to living in straw huts and drove around in ox - drawn carts we might improve our self esteem’, they ponder over organic nuts and berries.

So maybe the real target of Al Gore and assorted celebrities this weekend is not just to improve their self esteem and make them feel important: perhaps the target audience is people in emerging economies – like China, India, Poland, who want the benefit of economic development, so as to be in a better position to adapt to any change mother nature has in store.

But that rational attitude, for Al Gore, is immoral.

I think I liked him more when he was boring.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Belated happy July 4 from Poland

Poles still like the Americans, but not nearly as much as they used to.

According to the Global Attitudes Project by the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Poles have positive feelings towards the United States. That’s higher than the average in Europe.

But support for America is declining in Poland. Back in 2000 – only seven years ago - 86 percent of Poles supported the United States.

So Poland may be one of the best friends America has got in this part of the world, but if the trend over the last decade is anything to go by, then this support is becoming more and more lukewarm.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Poland nursing a grudge

The EU deal that wasn't; striking doctors and nurses; and the Father Henryk Jankowski – Mel Gibson connection: the usual weird and wonderful stories out of Poland didn’t stop just because I went on holiday.

For the last two weeks now, nurses have joined doctors and come out on strike and camped themselves, literally, opposite the prime minister’s office. Just half a kilometer from where I live, a line of tents – a ‘white city’ - has emerged on the plush Ujazdowski Avenue, and lining the lush Lazinki Park.

Work to rule, even hunger strikes have been part of the protest – these people are pretty desperate. Not hard to imagine why as both sets of workers get less than the national wage for doing a job that requires a much higher than average level of skills and training.

The government has been unsympathetic (unlike the general public) to their plight and repeatedly claimed that ‘there is no more money’ – as they waste billions sending armed forces to Afghanistan and Iraq, and elsewhere besides.

The latest news appears to be an offer by health minister Zbigniew Religa for a 30 percent pay rise… next year. The nurses and doctors must be tempted to take the offer and pack up their tents.

EU agreement that wasn’t

Chancellor Merkel must have felt proud of herself when she got Poland to sign up to the new EU Treaty, an agreement which included Warsaw accepting a new method of voting that decreased its influence in Brussels. This was a surprise as the ‘square root’ method favoured by the Polish government was something that the Kaczynskis claimed was ‘worth dieing for…’.

Well, President Lech Kaczynski had to come home from the summit in Germany with his tail between his legs and very much alive.

Unfortunately, his brother, PM Jaroslaw appears to have been none too pleased by Lech’s work abroad. He suddenly announced days after the deal was signed and sealed that, in fact, Warsaw did not accept the deal. He said that it was unfair to relate the voting weight of a country to the size of its population. Why? “Because Poland’s population would have been much larger than the current 38 million if not for the Nazis (and Soviets) murder during WW II.”


This is indeed a strange argument. Should Ireland be given greater voting strength in the EU because it suffered a 25 percent decrease in its population during the Potato Famine of the 1840s?

As someone said to me at work today – to think something like that in private is understandable, but to use it as a negotiating tactic is ludicrous.

A better argument would have been to point out that WW II, and the Soviet occupation after it, severely stalled the lively development Poland experienced between the two world wars.

But even still – I don’t think even that argument would have increased Poland’s entitlement to EU structural funds.

Father Jankowski – a bit like David Beckham, actually

The Dziennik newspaper printed a story today revealing that the priest so prominent during the Solidarity strikes of 1980 has contacted Mel Gibson to direct the planned biopic of Jankowski’s life.

Funding for the new movie is no problem – some big name sponsors are ready to sign up. All the film needs is the delicate touch of Gibson, director of the film The Passion, which ultra-Catholic Jankowski obviously greatly enjoyed.

It was also revealed that Father Jankowski is releasing a new range of cosmetics – notably a perfume called HJ – and he is also, via the Jankowski Institute, opening a chain of cafes, which will be serving wine, vintage Jankowski, as every bottle has the priest’s face on it.

But what will this new perfume and wine smell and taste like?

Well some are expecting them to smell and taste of…anti-Semitism.

Jankowski has been repeatedly told off by the Vatican for his anti-Semitic statements. In 1997 the Polish Church was forced to ban him preaching for one year after these kind of remarks, reported by the Anti-Defamation League:

‘[Jankowski said]…in June 1995, with Polish President Lech Walesa in attendance, that members of the Polish government have secret allegiances to Israel or Russia, and that the Jewish Star of David was part of the Nazi swastika and the communist hammer and sickle. In December 1995, during a meeting at his Church, Father Jankowski said, "I have nothing to apologize for my [anti-Jewish] words...Why shouldn't we talk about such things as the murder of Germans by Jews? Why may we not talk about the Jewish-communist administration that governs Poland today? The reason is that they have banks, and everything else in their hands."

So will Jankowski become the new Polish David Beckham, endorsing all sorts of products, from wine to cosmetics, or is his ‘brand’ already tarnished by his ugly prejudices?