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.