Monday, December 21, 2009

“Work makes you free” sign theft conspiracy theories

The theft of the "Arbeit macht frei" sign from Gate I at the site of the former Nazi death camp at Auschwitz showed one politician from the ruling Civic Platform party has delusions of an outside conspiracy, trying to make Poland look bad. (photo: Police image of alleged criminal working for dark international forces?)

The sign disappeared for three days before police, acting on a tip off, arrested five men up near Torun. They are accused of arriving at the Auschwitz museum site at around 03.00 CET Friday morning, unscrewing the five metre sign, hauling what weights anything up to 40 kilograms 400 metres, through a hole in the fence and into a van and then driving it up to northern Poland. There they sawed it into three bits and then hid it in the woods.

In those three days, politicians and others inside and outside Poland expressed how shocked they were, etc, and some pointed to dark motives behind the theft.

Avner Shalev, head of the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem was reported to have said: " This act constitutes an act of war."

A theory that neo-Nazis had set the whole thing up rapidly did the rounds. Others thought that this was a set up by those who want to do Poland down.

Civic Plarform’s Pawel Gras said the motive behind the Auschwitz sign theft could be to damage Poland’s international reputation ahead of January’s 65th anniversary celebrations of the liberation of the death camp on January 27. The timing of the theft was “no accident,” he told Radio Zet.

“If the case is not solved by [January] all of the attention will be on the theft and not the message that should be coming out of Poland,” Gras said Sunday.

That this was a criminal act, pure and simple, did not come into it in those three days when the sign was a sign of the times - when everyone sees a deep, dark motive of international scope behind everything that happens.

Today, however, everyone is saying that the gang of men, all known criminals, must have been paid by some weirdo collector. They were not neo-nazis. They were not international provocators.

But that’s a bit boring, isn’t it? I prefer what Gras might be implying: It’s the Russians wot did it!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Lech Poznan go to Bethlehem

Football club releases excruciating Christmas song. Reindeers weep. So does Cliff Richard.

There have been some great Christmas songs in the past - but not many. There have been a few mediocre Christmas songs in the past - but not that many, either, What there has been, however, is a great deal of utter, utter rubbish Christmas songs. The list is almost endless.

And there have been one or two good songs by, or for, football teams - by New Order for England’s World Cup 1990 bid and, the best, Lightening Seeds for England’s Euro 1996 campaign. But mostly, football songs are just execrable noise pollution, which, cumulatively, are part of the cause, research will reveal one day, of global warming and climate change.

Lech Poznan - first division club; nicknamed the Railwaymen; used to be good until a decade a go, now not so - have gone and done a double-wammy - they have scored a brace - by being a football team which has made a Christmas song! Two crimes in one, just for you this holiday.

It gets worse. The song is a Polish Christmas carol.

The lyrics to Przybieżeli do Betlejem (Shepherds came to Bethlehem) you don’t really need to worry about. It’s the usual stuff. All you need to know to sing along is the chorus, which is “Glory on high, glory on high and peace on earth.” and the repeated phrase by the backing singers “Chwala,” glory!

So, sit back and watch a musical own goal. Merry Christmas Lech!

PS. Correction. I have listened to this a few times now and I am beginning to (cringe) like it! Call a doctor.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Double Life of Senator Piesiewicz

A politician, drugs, prostitutes, blackmail, cross-dressing and video tape. It’s the mix of a tabloid editor’s (wet) dream.

It’s the story of Krzysztof Piesiewicz - screenwriter for Krzysztof Kieslowski, a lawyer who helped in the prosecution of the murderers of Father Popieluszko, and a senator for the Civic Platform party - brought down by his own stupidity and a large dollop of growing media fascination with sleaze in Poland.

Tabloid Super Express published video of Piesiewicz taking a white substance - which appears to be of a recreational nature - in the presence of two prostitutes. Later, a half-conscious, then, even later, unconscious senator, dressed in women’s clothes, is seen having lipstick applied to his face by the gals.

The video results from revenge. Piesiewicz, after meeting one of the girls a couple of times, had promised to find her a job. When he didn’t deliver, a plan to blackmail him emerged. On past occasions, the senator was willing to pay for the women to shut up about the rendezvous, but on the third occasion he refused. So a demand of half a million zloty was made, otherwise they were going to the media.

Piesiewicz, with a late burst of wisdom, decided to go to the police. He now faces drug related charges and the girls face an extortion rap. The women - who police say are part of a gang which tries to blackmail celebrities - are facing blackmail charges.

His party, Civic Platform, has deserted him and suspended his membership. Prime Minister Donald Tusk said today: “It seems his political career is over […] His behaviour is indefensible.”

But wait a minute. The senator is guilty of, essentially, giving way to some basic urges. The fact that he risked so much was probably an added, kinky bonus. But he never gave away state secrets, he never did anything, politically, wrong.

On the other hand, he is the victim of a set up and blackmail. The collusion of this by the media in Poland - a feature of the British media which has become nauseating - is probably the most saddening thing about the whole, sad, story.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

IPN - Polish for 'False Memory Syndrome'?

Poland’s Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) has accused a diplomat who spent years in a communist prison of being a communist secret agent.

The IPN’s education office released a statement yesterday accusing Maciej Kozlowski - who is currently Deputy Director of the Department of Africa and the Middle East - of being the communist collaborator code-named “Witold”, even though he was arrested for smuggling in copies of the oppositionist Kultura magazine across the Polish-Czechoslovakian border in 1969.

He was sentenced to four and a half years imprisonment for spying for the CIA. Koalowski - a former Polish ambassador to Israel (1999-2003) - but was released in 1972.

But the IPN - a body set up in the 1990s to look into Nazi and Communist crimes towards the Polish nation - has forwarded to the prosecutors claims that he falsified a vetting statement - which all public officials must sign - saying he had never collaborated with any communist agents.
The IPN says that Kozlowski worked for the communist Division II Security Service based in Krakow from 1965 to 1969, specialising in counter-British intelligence.

If it is proved that he was, in effect, a double agent, then he would have to leave his post at the Foreign Ministry.

Kozlowski said in a previous case which was dropped in 2000 that if the communist secret services have files on him then it is only because he was an opposition activist, not because he was a spy.

Kaczynski’s historical attack dogs

Since 2005, the IPN has been accused of acting as an organiser and prosecutor of witch hunts against opponents of the Kaczynski twins. The Jaroslaw Kacztynski government (2005-07) widened the institute’s powers and broadened the vetting process against not just public officials but anyone working in the public arena, including journalists (and including the beatroot, even though he is British and was drunk in a university bar in London for most of the 1980s). The Constitutional Tribunal has since ruled that this part of the IPN’s functions was unconstitutional.

But the IPN has continued to spray allegations of communist collaboration around on a daily basis. Earlier this year two historians from the institute released a book, rehashing allegations that Lech Walesa was the 1970s communist collaborator “Bolek”.

Walesa has now taken President Lech Kaczynski to court for slander, after he made the same accusation.

British historian Norman Davies wrote in the Guardian that Poles should find these constant attacks embarrassing. "Those who are once again attacking Lech Walesa's good name must not realise how they are damaging Poland's reputation abroad in doing so. People in the West, in particular, are not aware of the complex nuances of Polish politics. For this reason I hold the view that attacks against Lech Walesa are a deeply unpatriotic act. ... ”

Last week Prime Minister Donald Tusk announced that he wants to de-politicise the work of the IPN. The government has submitted a draft bill which proposes a change in the IPN’s board and a speedier access to files held by them.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s Law and Justice party (critics say the IPN is its historical attack dog) has said it will oppose the move.

Ryszard Kalisz from the ex-communist SLD said his party has repeatedly called for abolishment of the IPN. But since that proposal has little support then he would support any legislation which illuminates “pathology” from the work of the institute.

Political sclerosis

The IPN is not just an archive populated by a bunch of dusty historians. It has legal powers to prosecute. As such, it has become the modern day Polish equivalent of Joseph McCarthy. For the current board under its president Janusz Kurtyka, a communist collaborator is someone whose name was held in communist secret service files. For whatever reason. That seems enough to bar them from public service today.

Still, a name is enough for some with an axe to grind. As Salvador Dali said of memory and remembrance: “The difference between false memories and true ones is the same as for jewels: it is always the false ones that look the most real, the most brilliant.”

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Jaruzelski asked for 1981 Soviet intervention

Poland's Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) is to release documents which appear to show that General Jaruzelski did indeed request support from Moscow if Solidarity protests got out of control.

Professor Antoni Dudek at the institute writes on his blog that the documents - to be released in the IPN’s December bulletin - are records of a conversation between Jaruzelski and General Viktor Kulikov, a commander to the Warsaw Pact alliance on December 9, 1981, four days before the planned Martial Law crackdown.

The communists were hoping that the reaction would be workplace sit-in strikes (as in fact happened in the places like the Wujek coalmine) as these would be containable. But what Jaruzelski feared most was that the protests would spread out onto the streets and into party headquarters.

“If [protests] spread across the country, it's you [the Soviet Union] who will have to help us,” Jaruzelski says, when discussing possible reactions by Solidarity to martial law.

Jaruzelski goes on to say that if the Soviets refuse to help then Poland would consider pulling out of the Warsaw Pact.

Jaruzelski’s demand was discussed at a Politburo meeting the day after in Moscow, where it was turned down. “It‘s too risky,” Yuri Andropov, then head of the KGB is meant to have said, according to other, supportive, documents handed over to Poland by Boris Yeltsin 16 years ago.

Mikhail Suslov - who was effectively leading the Soviets at that time, as the health of Leonid Brezhnev failed - is reported to have said: "So I think we are all here agreed that sending troops in is out of the question."

This all rather contradicts Jaruzelski’s line on declaring martial law 28 years ago, which he has always claimed was an attempt to snuff out any temptation by the Soviets to roll tanks into Poland, as they did in Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Hungary in 1956.


UPDATE - Lech Wałesa reacted to the news today that documents appear to show Jaruzelski called for Soviet assistance in case of uprisings, or whatever, by saying: “If this is how it looks then General Jaruzelski should be charged with treason….”

UPDATE 2 - Jaruzelski denies allegations

Jaruzelski was on the TV last night denying he ever called for Soviet troops to invade Poland if the Solidarity resistance became violent. “If it were not so sad it would be funny,” he said of the allegations. He then suggested that the documents, if that is what they show, were forgeries.

He repeated that martial law was declared to stop a civil war in Poland. He told the Monika Olejnik show on TVN24 that at a meeting of the Polish Episcopate (November 24/25, 1981) bishops agreed that there was a risk of feticide in Poland.

Of Marshal Viktor Kulikov he said. “I knew Kulikov…but I did not ask him for help. ”

He admitted that he had talked about the possibility of Soviet military intervention with Mikhail Suslov, de facto leader of the Soviet Union at that time. However, he claims that Suslov assured him that martial law would be an internal matter for the Polish government. “I had to make sure whether the threat of intervention was real or not,” Jaruzelski said, adding that he was very afraid that the Kremlin might order in troops. “If that happened it would be [international] war.”

Follow the beatroot on Twitter at babybeat09

Sunday, December 06, 2009

No sex please...we’re Danish?

Something is rotten in the capital of Denmark. Prostitutes are offering free sex in protest against a local government campaign urging Copenhagen climate change delegates to steer clear of the city’s brothels.

Prime Minister Donald Tusk, 97 other leaders of governments, 30,000 researchers and delegates from NGOs - plus 5,000 accredited journalists - will not be the only ones showing up this week for the UN climate change summit in Copenhagen. They will be joined by scores of human trafficers and their cargo, if the Copenhagen local government is to be believed.

Copenhagen’s “don’t pay for sex” campaign is in the response - or maybe the fantasy - that the inflow of women sex slaves increases at such large events as the UN climate change conference. The brothels have hit back, saying they will offer free sex. Details of the offer are vague. How will it work? Pay for one bonk, get one free?

The fantasy of thousands of women being trafficked to Copenhagen to service a summit full of tree huggers is a strange one, though, and reminds me of a similar protest by Polish nuns on the eve of the 2006 World Cup in Germany. No such tsunami of human trafficking occurred, but what the hell. These climate change summits attract this kind of miserable-ist, misanthropic loathing of large amounts of humans in one place.

And not being content with warning climate change delegates to steer clear of the bulging brothels, the Danish government has ordered the removal of Christmas trees from the vicinity of the conference halls.

‘We have to remember that this is a UN conference and, as the centre then becomes UN territory, there can be no Christmas trees in the decor, because the UN wishes to maintain neutrality,’ said Denmark’s foreign minister Svend Olling.

Sounds like Copenhagen will be full of more hot air in the coming two weeks than a year’s worth of Poland’s carbon emission permits.

Poland’s Environment Minister resigns

Embarrassingly, Environment Minister Maciej Nowicki - who Super Express calls “Poland‘s least known minister” - has handed in his notice. According to Wprost magazine today, Nowicki claims that he actually has less power than his deputy. Unlike his underling, Nowicki is a non-partisan “expert” in the cabinet and not a Civic Platform member. PM Tusk will not announce the resignation till Tuesday at the next full cabinet meeting. Nowicki will still be going to Copenhagen - hopefully to attend the climate summit and not the brothels - on Monday, however.

Greenpeace hang Tusk in airport

Prime Minister Tusk is one of the targets of Greenpeace protestors at Copenhagen. The environmentalists have hung posters at the city airport with grey-headed heads of government apologising at some future date for not doing more to stop the global warming catastrophe. Tusk joins Barack Obama, Angela Merkel, Gordon Brown and others as targets of Greenpeace’s ire.

“We're hoping these ads predict the wrong future -- the one where world leaders look back with a "coulda, shoulda, woulda" attitude at a Copenhagen climate summit which failed,” says the Greenpeace web site.

Poland were one of several of the poorer EU states that held out against Brussels presenting too restrictive a position on CO2 targets at a pre-Copenhagen EU summit at the end of October. Warsaw is worried about being dragged into an agreement whereby they would have to help richer EU states to contribute to developing nations to adapt to global warming.

Much to the annoyance of Gordon Brown and leaders of some of the other western European member states, Poland won the argument - getting the size of any contributions to be on a voluntary basis.

Tusk is also eager to hang to the carbon emissions permit sale scam. After Russia and Ukraine, Poland is the holder of the largest carbon emission permits’ surplus in the world, coming in at around 500 million units for the years 2008 to 2012. The country has been negotiating with other countries interested in purchasing the AAU surplus. It has sold permits to Spain and Ireland worth millions of euros which can make contributions to lowering the government budget deficit, which is going up like a hot air balloon at present.

Three out of four Poles believe that global warming is manmade; one in three believe global warming is a threat to Poland and 62 percent think that we should reduce carbon emmissions, even if this means hikes in the cost of electricity.

The survey by PBS-DGA from a sample of 500 (too small a sample of be reliable, but never mind) finds that Poles are more split on whether the government should sacrifice economic growth in the fight against climate change, however, with 53 percent saying that economic growth could be sacrificed to pay for the battle against climate change.

“The survey‘s good news,” said the now former environment minister Maciej Nowicki, pleased with the level of “awareness” of supposed anthropogenic global warming.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Friday, October 16, 2009

How sexy is President Lech Kaczynski?

President Lech Kaczynski is the 116 hottest leader of state in the world, according to a Canadian satirical web site.

The Hottest Heads of State web site has ranked 172 leaders of state, or government, in terms of their sex appeal.

No criteria is given, or methodology. But Lech Kaczynski is ranked just nine places below Chancellor Angela Merkel - natch! - but three places above Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, and 56 places above the decidedly un-sexy Chairman of the National Defence of North Korea, Kim Jong-il.

The world’s most sexiest politician, according to Hottest Heads of State, is Ukraine’s prime minister and presidential candidate, Yulia Tymoshenko. Ghhrrrrrrow!

The compiler of the list does have an idiosyncratic view of what ”hotness” entails, however. Ranked at number 12 in the ranking of the world’s hottest statesman is Belarus president. Aleksander Lukashenko.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Rydzyk’s hotline to heaven

I have seen the future, and the future is...Father Tadeusz Rydzyk!

The restless, ultra conservative, media empire of the founder of Radio Maryja, TV Trwam, the newspaper Nasz Dziennik, a ‘media school’ in Torun and much more besides, is now moving where no restless, ultra conservative, media mogul has moved before: the mobile phone market!

It’s a logical business move. Take the loyal audience you have - and there is no more loyal a media audience - and push a product directly at them. It's a happy coincidence, too, that much of your target audience is one of the rare demographics in Poland that doesn’t much use mobile phones - the old and/or the deeply confused about modern life.

The product on offer is a pre-paid mobile phone with very big buttons, just perfect for those arthritic fingers to make a quick call to family, friends, the priest and even one of those infamous radio phone-in shows that are always on Radio Maryja, and make a quick anti-Semitic remark, or two?

For more information call 720 00 77 77. Numbers beginning with a “7”, in Poland, by the way, mean you pay.

Zloty from heaven!

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Madonna versus the Black Madonna in Poland

So outraged are some of the more religiously minded in Poland, that they are organizing a mass pray-in to keep her out of Warsaw on August 15.

She is the Material Girl who charges outrageous sums of money for concerts - the tickets here have been retailing at eye-watering prices - around 250 euro for a seated ticket. She’s a Kabbalist, exhibitionist, African baby-poacher. She is the conical - titted, self promotional genius/trickster; Nelson Mandela has been out of prison longer than the last decent song she wrote was in the charts; she can’t sing and I don’t really like her muscles.

There’s lots of things you can say about Madonna. But I never thought she was Satan in ripped fishnets.

But… reports:

Several forms of protest are being planned against the Madonna concert in Poland on 15 August, including mass prayer sessions.
Religious groups are outraged that the concert is being held on a Catholic feast day celebrating the Assumption of Holy Mary.

And the protestors have received the surprise support from former Solidarity leader and ex-president Lech Walesa. “It is true. I support this protest,” he told the Dziennik daily.

Head of the regional Mazowieckie council, Marian Brudzynski, is coordinating two weeks of the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy prayer on the rosary and an outdoor mass at Warsaw City Hall, all in the name of blocking the pop star’s concert in the capital.

Blimey! August 15 is also a national holiday - Army Day. Sounds rather secular. But this is the day, in 1920, when the Miracle of the Vistula occurred - when General Pilsudski’s men - with, so many think, a little help from the Man Upstairs - beat back Trotsky’s Red Army and saved the whole of Europe from the communist menace.

President Kaczynski - not, I imagine, from Madonna’s natural fan-base - has said that there is nothing constitutionally to stop the woman from giving a concert.

But Madonna - the singer - is popular here. she sold out those very expensive tickets. Easily. The battle of the Madonnas - the black one versus the white - is a delicious example of Poland’s version of the Culture Wars.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Sorry I have been away...

And thanks to readers who sent emails for me to keep going, but I have been a little distracted, recently.

I won’t bore you with the details - other than to say that money - or the lack of it - is the root of all evil: especially when your employer seems to not have very much of it. Suddenly.

Anyway, where were we? Oh, yeah...

Poland, Japan and Nazis were going to invade Soviet Union?

Seventy years ago, as the dark clouds of war gathered over Europe, Poland was in secret alliance with Nazi Germany, and Japan, preparing to invade the Soviet Union. (caption on poster, above, says: Under the great leadership of Stalin, forward to communism!)

I know that your history book in school never told you that, but that’s what Russians are being told. I know your history book told you that the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact was the not so secret agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in preparation for invading Poland. But you got it all wrong.

The Soviet Union, says a documentary that was broadcast on Russian state TV this week, had to sign the non aggression pact with the Nazis, otherwise the Poles were going to march all the way to Moscow - meet up with their Japanese chums for a tray of sushi and a jolly glass of vodka - and then depose Stalin and set up a fascist regime in Uncle Joe’s place.

Preposterous? Well, maybe highly possible to a Russian audience that is seeing history being re-written by the Kremlin. We have got used to seeing reports of school text books explaining away the Great Famine and the purges of the 1930s in the Soviet Union as necessary evils. Now get used to seeing Poland as the aggressor which almost single handed started WW II.

Poland’s foreign ministry is not pleased with the documentary. At all. In fact, it’s a little bit miffed. In a statement from its embassy in Moscow today, it said:

“It is sad that such a report was broadcast at prime time. Certainly, it will not improve the relationship between our two countries and will not lead to reconciliation between our nations.”

Meanwhile, as Poland starts to think about the 70th anniversary of the invasions in September 1939 of the Soviets and Nazis, Russia is remembering the 68th anniversary of the outbreak of the war.

No, this is not some Polish-Russian dispute over mathematics. For Russians - as this news report by RT, the Russian English language TV, shows - the Great Patriotic War started, not in 1939, but 1941, when Hitler went back on his non aggression agreement with Stalin.

If two sides can’t even agree on when a war broke out, what chances of burying, once and for all, the hatchet of terrible history between them?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Make June 4 Freedom Day!

The media have gone wall-to-wall here in Poland celebrating, remembering, analysing the first round of the elections in 1989 that eventually brought about the first government led by non-communists for decades. A good chance to declare a national holiday! (phot0 - 20th Anniversary of Polish People's Republic Street crossed out)

But no. While prime ministers and presidents from ex-communist countries plus Angela Merkel were in Krakow and Gdansk trying to give profound speeches and meaningful handshakes to each other, the rest of us was stuck at work. It was a normal day for the masses, as our leaders got a chance to look good on CNN et al.

So, no Freedom Day for us. But last Sunday - I learned last Sunday - was a national holiday: meaning all the supermarkets were shut! That came as a shock. It was Zielone Swiatki - Pentecost, which commemorates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles and other followers of Jesus as described in the Book of Acts... apparently.

Problem with national days that fall on a Sunday, is that I wasn’t at work, anyway. So it wasn’t a holiday for most people, except people who work in big shops. Zielone Swiatki should be called Tesco is the Anti-Christ Day.

But wouldn’t June 4 make more sense as a national holiday? That was a day that symbolises something both local - to Poles - and universal, to all of us.

The media has gone nuts about it. The TVN 24 hour round the clock news channel has been going round the clock with the story. They even had one of those ‘virtual studios’ that I first saw CNN do on election day in the US. The entire studio was decked out like the Dziennik news programme on the old TVP state channel, circa 1989. Correspondents - and this was a daft trick borrowed from CNN - that were in Gdansk or Krakow would be beamed down into the studio in Warsaw. Which was meant to impressive - except for the fact that the whole point of having a correspondent in Gdansk is that you can see him or her on the spot in Gdansk.

But the media have gone for this in such a big way because it genuinely is a day that moves people. To think of how it was then and how far Poland, and themselves, have come since.

Of course, the deal that Solidarity struck with the communists back then at the Round Table talks - effectively allowing them to become part of the governing process, even though virtually all of the seats contested in that election would be won by opposition candidates - has come to plague politics in Poland even since. It was a compromise to maintain stability, while radical economic shocks were put in place. But the compromise had a cost - and the Law and Justice party under the Kaczynskis are basically a creation of it. With no communist conspiracies and cliques to rage against, Jaroslaw Kaczynski would have to invent some.

But even so...This day seems a good time for a national holiday, to me. Make June 4 Freedom Day in Poland!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

LPR alliance makes UK Libertas candidate quit

A candidate for Libertas in the UK has resigned from the party because of Declan Ganley’s alliances with ultra nationalists like the League of Polish Families (LPR). (hat tip: Bueys Own)

Candidate for the North West England European election constituency, and UK policy director, Ben Tallis (pictured above), has had enough of Libertas’s contentment to ally themselves with some strange far right parties in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic. Informing of his decision this week to stand down from Libertas‘s election list, Tallis said:

"As the campaign has progressed I have come to realise that while I am committed to Libertas’ goals of reforming the EU from a pro-European perspective and admire the Libertas team in the UK, I cannot agree with certain aspects of the wider European party, notably in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Specifically, the problem seems to have been Libertas’s acceptance of candidates from the League of Polish Families, All Polish Youth and supported by presidents of public television channels on their list in Poland.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Donald Tusk told the Irish Times today that Lech Walesa had told him that when he is at the Libertas Dublin rally this weekend he will tell the anti-Lisbon Treaty party to...well, support ratification of the Lisbon Treaty! This came as a “great relief” to the pro Lisbon Polish prime minister, apparently. Which is...nice.

But as Libertas lose more and more credibility as polling day approaches for the European parliamentary elections, Lech Walesa’s little Libertas odyssey (see previous post) will have done his credibility no good at all. Which is a shame. As the UK goes to the polls on June 4, Walesa will be trying to be taken seriously and bathing in the lime light of the celebrations in Poland of 20 years since the fall of communism - back in the days when people did take Walesa seriously.

Latest opinion polls put Libertas support in Poland at a measly two percent.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Poland’s strange fascination with Libertas

As the European parliamentary elections loom - scheduled for Sunday, June 7 in Poland - the amount of space in the press and time taken up on air by stories about the anti-Lisbon Treaty Libertas party far outweighs the amount of votes they will get on polling day.

On February 1 this year, a few hundred delegates turned up in Warsaw for a meeting with Libertas founder, the Irish millionaire Declan Ganley, the man who helped successfully organise the “No” vote in Ireland’s referendum on the Lisbon Treaty. See video of Ganley in Poland in January here).

Although Ganley said, when everyone was wondering who would support them in Poland, that extremists would not be welcome in the Polish section of Libertas, a weird and extreme bunch turned up for the meeting. Mirosław Orzechowski from the catholic-nationalist League of Polish Families (LPR) was there, so was Konrad Bonisławski from the League’s old youth wing, All-Polish Youth, an organisation frequently accused of anti-Semitism and ultra-nationalism.

There were also disaffected politicians from Andrzej Lepper’s Self Defence and a few drop outs from the Law and Justice party, as well. If Ganley didn’t want the marginal and the extreme - and his central message about the 'democratic deficit' in the EU is correct - 'then he certainly has got them. Who else is there in Poland? The EU is the only game in town around these parts.

Fast forward three months to the pan-European launch of the Libertas election campaign in Rome on May 1 and who is one of the star speakers? None other than Lech Walesa, who had apparently, just days before, given his support to the European People’s Party, the largest voting bloc currently in the European parliament and made up of christian-democratic parties, with members including Angela Merkel, Silvio Berlusconi and Prime Minister Donald Tusk.

Walesa told the Libertas delegates: “Declan Ganley and Libertas have the potential to change Europe for the better. This European Project has all the ingredients to become a historic force for good in the world, and grow into so much more than it is today. But for the to happen, we need to heed the Libertas message and put the people back at the heart of the project.”

Walesa told incredulous Polish journalists after the congress that he did not support Libertas but was asked to speak at the manifesto launch. So he did. He also made no secret of pocketing appearance money, thought to be as much as 100,000 euros. Since then he has made other appearances at Libertas events.

Walesa’s motives for dallying with Libertas - a party which now has the official backing of LPR’s Roman Giertych - are not merely financial. Walesa is addicted to being at the centre of controversies and desperately seeks the limelight when he can get it.

But he has embarrassed Donald Tusk - and much of the Polish political establishment - by being associated with Ganley’s ragbag of extremists, populists and chancers.

Walesa’s antics have also ensured that barely a day goes by without Libertas making the headlines in Poland. Their campaign manager, Daniel Pawlowiec (onetime journalist for Radio Maryja’s Nasz Dziennik newspaper and junior minister for the League of Polish Families in the Law and Justice government) has got hours of free publicity from the Polish media’s obsession with Libertas, way and above the support the party has in the country.

The media exposure for Libertas in Poland - Gazeta Wyborcza has calculated that it has received the third most amount of airtime on public television, despite being nowhere in the opinion polls - is helped by the apparent support of the state broadcaster TVP.

It’s speculated that this support comes from weirdo TVP president, Piotr Farfał, who has connections going back years to Libertas affiliate for the European elections, the League of Polish Families.

But the contradictions within Libertas policies - which seem to change depending on which country it is campaigning in - are beginning to suggest that this strange coalition may not stay together very much longer than the election campaign.

The central message of calling for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty may be easy for many to support. But Ganley’s support for internal markets within the EU - including campaigning for opening up labour markets for Poles in Austria and Germany - are in contradiction to recent comments from the Irish branch, and home, of Libertas. Party spokesperson Caroline Simmons has called for a Blue Card (visa) system to stem the tide of immigration coming to Ireland, which would, “reduce the burden to Ireland of caring for inhabitants of other member states,” she said. Libertas Ireland East candidate Raymond O Malley says we have “got to stop the tide coming in.”

The Blue Card system would limit the right of Poles and others to work in Ireland to two years and would deprive them of drawing welfare benefits, even though they would still be expected to pay taxes.

That a state broadcaster is promoting the interests of any political party - let alone one as marginal as Libertas - is, of course, a scandal. But the Polish media in general, and parts of the political establishment, seem to have a gory fascination with Ganley’s ragbag army.

And on June 7, Polish voters are going to make them all blush by ignoring all the fuss and voting for someone else - there has been no interest shown in opinion polls at all for Libertas - or more likely, voting for none at all. Recent opinion polls predict the turnout on June 7 to be under 15 percent. It was only 20 percent in the last election in 2004, just one month after Poland joined the European Union! The media might be fascinated by all this, but what the public feels about it seems to be a side issue.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Der Spiegel and Poland’s Nazi collaborators

The German weekly Der Spiegel has stirred up a hornets nest in Poland by suggesting - by daring to suggest - that some Poles (they single out farmers) collaborated with the Nazis during WW II.

And not just Poles - French, Romanians, Latvians…etc - collaborated with the Nazis, says Der Spiegel’s lead story this week.

It’s really an article about Ukrainian SS officer John Demjanjuk, just extradited back to Germany from the US on war crimes dating back to when he was responsible for the death of thousands at the Sobibor Nazi death camp in southeast Poland.

But the article gives the German journalists the chance to point out what has been perfectly obvious for many years - that there were collaborators in each of the nations the Nazis occupied. Even the some residents of the British Isle of Jersey collaborated with the Nazis. This is no revelation. But…

Cue outrage in Poland! Politicians, journalists all saying the same thing. This is another example of a creeping trend - Germans trying to transfer the guilt of the Holocaust onto others.

“Ja! Ze Nazis ver German, but hey, Hans!…ja vol!…zis was not an essentially German problem…schnell, schnell…look at all ze nations zat helped us!”

The article comes in the wake of the controversy over the German Expellees Union, headed by Erika Steinbach, who wants to emphasise that some Germans suffered both under the Nazis and in the wake of WW II, when millions of Germans were forcefully expelled from regions that were now in Poland and many other countries - often brutally so.

Der Spiegel editor, Mathias Müller von Blumencron, has pointed out that it was never his intention to claim that the Nazis were not a German problem but that the cooperation of others in the occupied countries was essential to carry out their deathly, murderous project.

Which is probably true. But isn’t that obvious?

Poles, though, don’t really do the historical guilt trip very well. As a nation, Poles see themselves as victims - and that goes back to the revolutionary, Romantic period and has been reinforced ever since.

Poles are not like the British, Americans, maybe some French…they are not trembling with guilt and angst about historical crimes done by their countries in the past. Poles have been the victims of racism many times more than they have been the perpetrators. It’s an important part of the national identity.

So, Herr Spiegel: if you dare to suggest that some Poles went along with the horror - and even though you are correct - don’t act the wide-innocent when you get accused of making German-Polish relations just that little bit more difficult.

Below, BWT, is a photograph of a Polish official checking ID in the Krakow ghetto during occupied Poland.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Can Poland save UK from neo-fascists?

The New Labour government in Great Britain has appealed to Poles living in the UK to register and vote in the June European elections - otherwise, says a government minister in London, “The British National Party will win!”

Last week, British trade unionists and Labour Party politicians met in the House of Commons with Polish organizations such as Poles to Polls, Poland Street and the Federation of Poles in Great Britain to try and get Poles out to vote on June 4 to 7.

The British government’s European Minister Caroline Flint said that Poles have a lot to thank the New Labour government for: it was them that let the Poles in, in the first place; it was them that introduced the minimum wage. It was them…

And if Poles don’t go out and vote? Then the British National [cue sinister music] Party will get seats in the European Parliament and will try and limit any new migration into Britain. Eek!

And they may be right that small, looney-tunes fringe parties might well do a little better than usual in the elections on June 4 in the UK. And that’s because many will not be able to stomach voting for New Labour. And tax paying Poles won’t vote for them for the same reasons as everyone else won’t vote for them.

Caught with their pants down

A month ago Home Secretary Jacqueline Smith was revealed to have claimed for an internet connection on her parliamentary expenses allowance. Nothing unusual there. Unfortunately, included on the receipt was a porn film that her husband had paid for via the Television X/Fantasy Channel subscription TV.

Apparently, Jacqueline was out at a meeting at the time her husband - Timmy Rumney, her parliamentary advisor - downloaded the movie , Raw Meat 3. The description on [?] gives the movie’s tag line as : “it‘s the end of the world, and we blow it!”

Oh, yeah!

Starring a young gentleman answering to the name of “Tiger Wood” - I bet he‘s got a good long game - it appears to be a gay flick. Curiouser and curiouser…

Having your husband download gay porn when you were out, at the tax payers’ expense, is just…funny. But the Daily Telegraph has revealed that virtually the whole of the House of Commons has been shafting the British tax payer for years.

MPs have been running scams where they claim expenses on second homes in constituencies, renovating then selling the homes. And then doing it all again! Claims have been made for bizarre things like clearing moles from lawns and fixing taps under a tennis court, among other nonsense.

All parties are implicated in this - but New Labour came to power on the back of pointing at sleaze in the opposition Conservative Party. And now they show themselves s sleazy as the rest.

And these people expect Poles to come to their rescue?

I was a card carrying member of the Labour Party once, for my sins. It was in the days when Labour was getting a whipping from the Thatcher government and we were trying to revive the twitching corps that the Labour Party, and the trade union movement that had founded and sustained it last century, had become.

We failed. I failed to renew my membership when Labour became New Labour (a bit like Clinton’s New Democrats) and Tony Blair was elected to lead, not a party with roots in a movement any longer, but a shallow PR machine whose only goals were to win power and stay there.

Well, they did win power, in 1997, and they stayed there. They are there still. But not for too much longer.

Once Tony Blair stood down and Gordon “bank manager” Brown took over as prime minister, the game was up. Blair could just about pull the smoke and mirrors, and the rabbits, out of the hat. With him gone, and hapless Brown in his place, New Labour started to disintegrate. Fast. Farcically.

And now the European elections have come around again and New Labour looks like it will go into meltdown at the next general election in 2010.

So, desperate for anything and anyone to come to their rescue they have the cheek of appealing to minorities such as the Polish community in Britain to ride to their rescue. And if Poles don’t? “Then the fascists will come and get them!”

That appears to be the message of the appeal for Poles to vote in the European elections in June.

The appeal is pitiful. The idea that the BNP will win many seats in the election is fanciful. They might get one - voted there by people who want to stick a finger up at the government - but so what? And secondly, a member of the European Parliament has little or no power anyway, and certainly no influence over immigration policy. That’s done by national governments and the European Commission. And I can’t see a BNP member being chosen to be European Migration Minister anytime soon..

And saddest thing of all is that New Labour is so desperate that they have to come knocking on Poles’ doors to save them from oblivion. The Labour Party these days are like an MPs husband, caught with his pants down, and exposed for what they are: a bunch of wankers.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Poland thinks Iran’s role in Iraq has been “positive”?

Here’s a strange one from the Iranian Fars news agency, reporting on the visit to Tehran at the weekend of Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Jacek Naider. He met with the Iranian foreign minister, then with his counterpart:

The Polish official […] held talks with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for European Affairs Mehdi Safari in which he said Iran's role in Afghanistan and Iraq is positive and constructive.

Um...If Naider did say that - and a call to the Foreign Ministry in Warsaw today seemed to indicate that he did: or, at least, they found nothing strange in the remark - then I wonder what they make of that in Washington, which constantly accuses Tehran of funding the Shia militants that have given the US so much trouble since they invaded Iraq in 2003.

And Afghanistan? Nobody would suggest that Iranians support the Taliban. In fact, Iran has long been disgusted by Pakistan’s kid gloves approach to them, both when they were in power in Afghanistan and since they took to the mountains after the US invaded with the help of the Northern Alliance.

But Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - the man, lest we not forget, whose presence at a recent UN conference was the official reason why Poland refused to go to the anti-racism shindig - paid a visit to Kabul last week. He said the problems in Afghanistan were caused by foreign “colonial forces” who had destabilised the region. One of those foreign forces is, of course, Poland.

So the current Polish love-in with Iran is rather odd. But maybe not.

Warsaw signed a preliminary deal with the Tehran government last year to gain access to Iran’s rich gas and oil deposits. Iran could be part of the Polish government’s long term plan to wean itself off its dependency on Russian gas.

The US would not take too kindly to any significant trade between Poland and Iran, however - as long as Tehran pursues its nuclear ambitions, be they peaceful or not.

Which brings us to the anti-missile shield, planned to be situated in Poland and the Czech Republic. The official reason for the plan, says Washington, is to protect the US’s Nato allies against attack from rogue states - meaning places like…Iran!

Whatever is going on here - diplomacy is a strange art at the best of times, but this story is so complicated it makes my brain hurt - there is one thing that Poland’s deputy foreign minister said in Tehran at the weekend that we can all agree on: Iran is so important to the region that solving problems without them is simply impossible.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Poland to ban Che Guevara T-shirts?

The icon of many a young, idealistic bedroom revolutionary, Che Guevara - a regular on T-shirts the world over - could become outlawed in Poland, if the government gets its way.

Yes, the often-called “liberal” government of Prime Minister Donald Tusk has proposed to make all images that promote dictatorship, communism or fascism illegal from public display. This would also include banning the sale and display of images of not just Hitler - who never has been a popular culture icon to display on your favourite T-shirt - but also Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara. reports that: “Elzbieta Radziszewska [minister of equality] wants to expand Article 256 of the Criminal Code which proposes a two-year prison sentence for producing fascist or totalitarian propaganda or which incites racist sentiments. The Minister now seeks to expand the law to include books, clothing and other items.”


“Adopting such a law would aid the fight against racism,” adds the minister, helpfully.

Oh, really?

Of course, it is easy to sneer at such nonsense. But what a Western reader should realise is that this is the ruling political elite’s attempt to create a “Polish PC”. where certain images and sentiments are controlled, regulated. Where western liberal PC has speech codes of what is, and what is not, acceptable, here is Poland’s government trying to regulate which signs and symbols are publicly acceptable to display.

This right wing, conservative government - and much of the opposition parties in parliament - see the world very much in the same way as many of their liberal equivalents do in the West: that symbols, words and gestures are dangerous and should be banned.

Both mentalities have the very patronising view that people are so vulnerable that they could be affected by exposure to offensive and obnoxious signs, resulting in an immediate change of behaviour so severe that it could be a threat to society at large.

Broadcaster and writer Kenan Malik shows clearly in this extract from his new book that attitudes, certainly in the UK, have changed radically from 20 years ago about how willing governments and organisations are to ban offensive images, speech and even thought.

So the Polish government’s urge to ban, admittedly genuinely offensive symbols in Poland, plus a few cartoon revolutionaries such as Che Guevara, should be put in the context of a more broader fear of free speech outside of Poland as well.

When ruling elites are so afraid of anti-orthodox opinions and symbols they so show weakness, not strength.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Poland joins UN conference boycott

The United Nations in Switzerland descended into farce today as Poland, the US, Germany and many more boycotted a UNESCO conference on fighting racism in fear that the Iranian president would turn up and accuse Israel of “racism.”

Well, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad duly obliged. In his speech to the depleted hall - he was the only head of state that bothered to turn up to the event - he said:

"In compensation for the dire consequences of racism [during WW II] in Europe, they helped bring to power the most cruel and repressive racist regime in Palestine."

Oh, dear. Poor old Ban ki-Moon, head of the UN. This was meant to be the usual touchy-feely conference where everyone joins hands and makes cooing noises about how they are gonna fight racism and all the other nasty things in the world. And then the Bad Man turns up and spoils it all by saying something’ stupid like accusing another country of racism.

In fact, Ban ki-Moon had wagged his finger at Poland and the other nations which boycotted the whole shindig.

“Some nations who by rights should be helping us to forge a path to a better future are not here,” said the Secretary General of the UN, expecting everyone to put up with being lectured by the President of Iran on human rights and all that stuff, in a desperate attempt to look good to an electorate back home which looks like will give him a bit of a kicking in presidential elections scheduled for this summer.

While President Ahmadinejad was droning on about Zionist conspiracies many of the delegates who were there - from France, from the UK - walked out.

The conference was hilarious on many fronts:

- Quite apart from whether you think the Israeli state’s policy to the Palestinians is racist - and it probably is - what is the point of having a conference about tackling racism if you don’t want anyone to mention the “racism” word?

- The Iranian President has said many racist things about Jews in the past. So why did Mr Moon expect Israel to turn up? And if they did there would have been a BIG ROW and the United Nation’s fantasy about spreading peace and love throughout the world via dumb conferences like this one would have looked even more silly than it does, right now.

- Did Poland only cancel going to the conference “at the last minute” this weekend, as they claim, after the US’s last minute decision not to go, either? Hmm…

- Why bother with these ridiculous UN talking shops in the first place? The UN is really just about nations which won WW II consolidating their power. So this is an organisation that justifies global inequalities and accompanied militarism and always has done. And then it stages conferences on equality and expects people to take it seriously!

The result of the latest comedy sponsored by UNESCO is that many of us are scratching our heads and wondering just what is the purpose of the United Nations? It is neither united nor does it represent, much of the time, all the nations of Planet Earth.

Time for a rethink, Mr Moon.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mourning sickness in Poland

The fire killing 22 - maybe more - people in a sheltered housing building in the north west of Poland over the Easter holiday was tragic and sad. But why have the minute of silences and the state pronounced day of mourning turned into minutes and days?

Nobody knows why fire swept through the building housing families down on their luck on Sunday night/Monday morning, killing 22, including young children. Prime Minister Donald Tusk, who was at the scene early Monday morning, said that there was probably a fundamental fault in construction - which was an interesting observation as the building was constructed in the 1970s.

Twenty two lives lost is tragic - that those lives were some of the most in need of help from society is all the more tragic. And a minute of silence at public events and a day of mourning is not nearly enough to pay respect to the victims and their grieving families. What would be more use, of course, would be more concrete and lasting help for Poland’s poor. That would be a more fitting tribute.

Instead, what we get is President Lech Kaczynski announcing, just hours after the event, that there will not be a day of mourning in Poland but Three Days of Mourning. This means that many public events - even a concert in Warsaw dedicated to the life and memory of John Paul II - will be cancelled until official mourning ends on Friday.

Is Poland joining the current trends in the West, where prolonged public shows of emotion and concern are almost obligatory?

I care, therefore I am?

Editor of the spiked web site, Mick Hume, termed this development ‘mourning sickness’, the key event in the UK being the death of Diana, when the British ‘stiff upper lip’ turned into a quivering bowl of jelly. Where Britain was once a place reticent to show its emotions is now a place where to burst out crying in public - like Chelsea captain John Terry did so memorably after missing a penalty in the European Champion’s League final last year - somehow makes that person more admirable.

Poland is a country that has seen many tragic events, most of which are slightly more significant than missing a penalty against Liverpool. It’s sadness is part of its history. But the inflation of a minute of silence into half hours of silence and a day of mourning into half a week, is puzzling. Being resilient and strong used to be values respected in Poland - instead, what we get, is an officially organised sob-fest.

It also does nothing to combat the real reason why those poor people died at the weekend - poverty and neglect of a public building full of people who nobody much thought about, until now.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Afghanistan - where western leaders go to ‘find themselves’

When western political elites appear in Afghanistan - President Lech Kaczynski was the latest to turn up today - it reminds me of the old hippy trail, when disaffected, angst-ridden sons and daughters of ruling elites and the middle classes travelled from Istanbul to Kabul in ‘search of themselves’ and a meaning of life back home seemed unable to provide.

But what did they hope to find among the poverty, backwardness and poppy fields?

President ‘Kaftan’ Kaczynski was in Afghanistan to meet the 1600 Polish troops stationed there and later went on - after his plane was late - to Kabul for meetings with President Karzai. The Afghan leader was probably beside himself with gratitude for plucky Poland’s help in trying to stabalise a country that was never stable in the first place. Kaczynski promised more troops - 400 are leaving soon from Poland to be stationed in the Gahzni province - but he almost certainly parroted concern in Washington and London that Karzai was “not doing enough” to deal with the corruption, the war lords and the resurgent Taliban.

The West is tiring of their (democratically elected) cheerleader, and would prefer someone else to take charge.

Note the outrage - from Western leaders - at the move to make formally legal a practice that has been, up to now, put in place by local custom, that the ten percent Shia Muslim population should abide by the medieval dictates of Sharia law, where women’s status is second class, at best. This really was screwing things up for President Obama etc - Afghanistan is his Big Foreign Policy Mission. With Afghani legislators acting like they didn’t particularly want western NGO-sponsored women’s drop in centres littering up the place, and acting a bit…well, backward…is no help at all. How would Washington justify the American troops dying for such a great and noble cause?

Luckily, Karzai backed down and revoked the offending legislation. Few! But still, thinks Washington, London, Warsaw…“Wouldn’t it be better if we got someone else to run the place?”

Afghan is where some of the Western political elites are getting their kicks - this was meant to be the theatre of the ‘war on terror’; this was where the bad guys have to be whipped; this was where the poor people of Afghanistan could gratefully receive “humanitarian intervention”.

With the Soviet Union gone, where else would those guys get their reason to be; their sense of purpose? Like the hippies of old, places like Afghanistan have become a place to find oneself, when finding a sense of purpose at home is increasingly difficult for them.

In Poland, being the good boy of NATO is the number one foreign policy goal. Afghanistan is the perfect opportunity to show willing. When the US asked for more troops to go and fight the Taliban, many of the European governments started staring at their shoes, or noticing bits of fluff that had to removed from their suits. Not Warsaw! You want more troops? Even at a time when we are slashing our defence budget? Nie ma problemu!

Poland wants to be the NATO guard dog of its eastern borders, too. This is a consensus that crosses political divides in Warsaw. This is what Poland’s leaders need to feel useful, give them purpose.

Who is the bigger hippy?

It gets all the more complicated when President Kaczynski and Prime Minister Tusk are currently involved in a bloody battle over who is the more important as far as foreign policy is concerned, the underhand ruthlessness of which would make a Taliban leader look like a wuss.

The latest shenanigans at the NATO summit in Prague last weekend illustrates the point, nicely.

President and government had agreed to not back the eventual winner, Rasmussen, straight away, but try to wheedle a few concessions out of the other NATO leaders - like Turkey eventually did. Last week, the Foreign Ministry sent a note to President Kaczynski with the title: How to play the diplomatic game. Kaczynski obviously took a brief skim-read of the contents and, riled by the patronising title of the memo, chucked it into the bin.

So at the dinner last Friday night, before the summit proper, Kaczynski - suffering under his usual political-turrets-syndrome - blurted out that “Poland will support the Great Dane.”

Oops! Game over.

Foreign Minister Sikorski, who was basically rejected as a candidate for secretary-general because the Russians wouldn’t like him, must have been spitting blood. Kaczynski had done it again! Who was ruling Polish foreign policy, anyway?

And so the farce continues…

The political elite in Poland has had a hard time in Poland since 1989 convincing Poles that they are worth taking any notice of. And then something like Afghanistan, the EU, NATO come along, and suddenly they can feel important in high places. Afghanistan has become like opium for our leaders. They can’t get enough of it.

Monday, March 30, 2009

the beatroot in Rome - part II

Back in Rome to see the ruins of the old Roman Empire, and a troubled press secretary of the gaff-prone, current one.

Italy has been trading on its past for quite a while now - centuries, even. And it’s all here in Rome: the emperors, the popes, the Renaissance, the food…the Fiat 500. I was so busy the first time I was in Rome - in October last year - I didn’t have much of a chance to see it in all it’s crumbling, fading, graffiti covered glory.

First stop was down to see the Coliseum, the Forum, the sites of glorious and/or dodgy Caesars and Senators.

The old ruins are magnificent, of course, though Italians have a talent for turning the profound into tacky tourist traps, complete with ‘gladiators’ arguing about whatever Italians are constantly arguing about; those annoying ‘living statues’ you see everywhere these days at these sorts of places, who stand still for a living for hours on end and expect people to drop money into little plates at their motionless feet; and, of course, the ubiquitous Peruvian pan-pipe players.

Moving swiftly on, down the Spanish Steps, which overlook Via dei Gucci Victims, where women with more euros than brain cells try to buy themselves an outrageously over-priced personality, with brand name attached. Tutti belli!

The centre of town is a little disappointing, but delights can be found, over the river where the old, medieval Rome can still be glimpsed - the perfect place to indulge in pasta and lamb, washed down with the Frescati from the hills of nearby Lazio. Balissimo!

We wanted to see the Vatican art museum - I had heard it was rather good - but didn’t want to queue for a couple of hours for the privilege. So time for a little favour. And a chance to see a couple of very nice people who work in the Holy See press office and let them know how Cardinal Dziwisz‘s film, Testimony - which they worked tirelessly on when we were there last October - did in Poland. Maybe they could get us in quickly? They did. Bless them!

It was a Saturday but the Vatican’s chief press officer was at his desk, with a copy of the Lancet opened in front of him. Pope Benedict was in Africa and had made an “unguarded remark”, said press officer, about how condoms were worse than useless as protection against HIV/AIDS - in fact they made things worse - and abstinence was the only real protection from getting sick. The esteemed medical journal is not pleased:

“When any influential person, be it a religious or political leader, makes a false scientific statement that could be devastating to the health of millions of people, they should retract or correct the public record. Anything less from Pope Benedict would be an immense disservice to the public and health advocates, including many thousands of Catholics, who work tirelessly to try and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS worldwide.”

Oh, dear!

It’s the Vatican line, as we know, but apparently this was not on the list of things that Pope Benny was on the continent to preach about. This was meant to be a happy, controversy free trip to solidify the presence of Rome in one of the only parts of the globe where church congregations are growing - and not shrinking, like back home in Italy.

Signor Press Officer said the whole situation was rather “worrying.” And I got the impression - and it is only my impression - that the current pontiff is not seen as the safe pair of hands in front of the media that his predecessor, Pope John II, was. Pope Benny has a habit of putting his foot in it, unlike Karol Wojtyla, who played the media events like a church organ.

After the AIDS remark cue the outrage. Pope encourages ‘skin-skin’ in Africa! The Roman Catholic church is responsible for the spread of HIV!

I have argued here, as others have elsewhere, that the link between Catholic teaching and HIV rates is spurious - mainly because the nations with the highest HIV rates are not particularly Catholic. The spread of AIDS there is, at root, to do with poverty and underdevelopment. But you feel for the current Pope’s communicators. He doesn’t make their jobs any easier.


The Vatican art museum - no queue, in through the exit door - is better than I expected, by the way. Seemingly kilometers of corridors, lined with fantastic paintings, tell the story of Christian art, from the very old to the modern. It’s all there: Matejko’s rather gruesome depiction of Polish King Sobieski’s smashing of the Turks in Vienna - and they were worried about Danish cartoons! - right up to Munch, Chagall, Francis Bacon, even a Dali.

But it all just softens you up for the finale - the Sistine Chapel! It’s awesome. And while staring at one of Michelangelo’s many paintings that cover the ceiling I had a flash of inspiration - a revelation - about the origin of the term “mooning” - of showing one’s botty cheeks in public as a leisure activity. I had always assumed it was named after Wildman Drummer of the Who, Keith Moon, who liked to display his buttocks regularly. But, well, maybe not. See Michelangelo’s The Creation of Sun and Moon.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Back in April

I wish I could say that there have been no posts because I have been involved in heroic acts, which have changed the coarse of history. Or that I had been doing worthy things for the good of Humankind. Or even that I forgot my passwords.

But no…just a bit knackered, still. Going to Rome, and will post in first week of April.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Buddy, can you spare a grosz?

Solutions put forward to stave off the worst of the global financial meltdown - now knocking angrily at the door in Poland, like some aggressive and impatient Repo Man - have split into good old fashioned rightwing and leftwing remedies. But are they all missing the point?

The deliciously named Moody ratings agency alarmed everyone last week when they published a rather moody warning that they might downgrade credit ratings of Western banks active in central and eastern Europe (CEE). Austrian banks are particularly heavily exposed after lending the region 230 billion euros, the equivalent of 70 percent of Austria’s annual GDP. If the banks went tits up in this region they could take down many of their parent banks in the West. As manager of Manchester United, Alex Ferguson once said: “It‘s squeaky bum time,” for bankers everywhere.

The zloty has sunk against major currencies over recent weeks faster than a man with a skyscraper-load of concrete in his boots. The majority of mortgages in Poland, as elsewhere in the CEE are taken out in foreign currencies. Our flat is on a euro mortgage and repayments have risen by 15 percent since last November. The majority took their loan out in Swiss francs, a plan that now looks like it had more holes in it than Emmental cheese.

After initially seeming to be getting away with it, many central and eastern European countries are now forming an orderly queue outside the doors of the World’s bank manager, the IMF, for help. Ukraine, Hungary, Belarus… There is a plan on hold for Poland, if needed.

Each month macro economic analysts sit down and key new data into computer models, press ‘send’ and watch as the screen flickers up yet another GDP growth prediction that is even more gloomy than last month’s. The government thinks maybe 2.5 percent for 2009; the World Bank this week said two percent, most independent analysts are even more moody: one percent, maybe no percent.

CEE countries inside the EU who are in the Euro Zone - Slovenia, Slovakia… - are best placed to see out the recession. Those in the EU but outside of the Euro Zone - Poland, most of them - will have a harder time but should get some protection from Brussels. Those in the CEE but outside the EU, however, appear stuffed.

The government in Warsaw looks as shocked as everyone, these days, at the pace of it all. One minister said this week that they had tried to play things down initially, because they “didn’t want to worry people.” But now the government has scrambled a package together to try and steady the ship, a bit.

Prime Minister Tusk said that if the zloty falls to 5 to the euro then his government would intervene. The day after, when the zloty didn’t fall quite that low, the finance ministry started selling euros anyway.

The pro-EU Civic Platform government have emphasised that getting into the ERM-2 mechanism as quickly as possible would help protect the zloty from such instability (although it didn’t help the pound much in the early 1990s). May or June seems to the target date.

The government has a four point strategy, apparently - bills on bank bailouts, on equity for national trading bank Bank Gospodarstwa Krajowego, on credit guarantees for businesses, and on tax relief for direct investors.

“I‘m no Obama”

But Donald Tusk warned that there would be “no massive injections” of cash into the economy. Tusk said that he was “No Obama” - as if people hadn’t actually noticed this before.

And here politicians in Poland are falling into two camps, much like the old left and right days. On the right, Donald Tusk - but in the left hand corner is Jaroslaw Kaczynski, calling for a programme of public works - a la Maynard Keynes - to protect jobs and stimulate the economy.

It’s no surprise Kaczynski is on the state borrowing and spending side of the equation. For all the emphasis on his social conservatism, he and Law and Justice have always been left on the economic front. Law and Justice, the conservative-socialists!

The World Bank report was actually much less gloomy than most. It said Poland would ride out the storm better than many in the region. But it’s still going to be rough, though not the Great Depression. There are no precedents to this. It’s something new.

And that makes me think that all the bailouts and other sticking plasters aren’t really coming to terms with what is behind this: an over producing but under consuming south Asia, and an over consuming, under producing West. This is about fundamental imbalances. But nobody seems to have a plan about that.