Monday, August 30, 2010

How to make a dick of yourself

Prosecutors have dropped charges made against a local politician of defaming Vladimir Putin. But the local politician is not happy, as the decision to drop the case was made, not in Poland, but Russia.

On September 1 last year Vladimir Putin came to Gdansk for the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of WW II. Local Law and Justice politician Michal Rachon was not pleased and decided to do what any local politician with a reputation to protect would do - he dressed up as a penis, of course.

Of course.

The protesting penis was accompanied by a sidekick and they made their displeasure with Putin coming to Gdansk evident. See video.

The seemingly - or not - obscure linking of Putin and Penis is … subtle: it’s a reference to when the Russian secret services derided a rally by the then Russian presidential candidate and former world chess champion Gary Kasparov by sending a radio-controlled model helicopter, with a dildo dangling from the undercarriage, to hover over him as he addressed supporters.

Rachon was accused of defaming a diplomat, or representative of a foreign state - a rather strange law. It's also theoretically illegal for a foreigner to insult a Polish head of state, a law that the late president Lech Kaczynski tried to use after German journalists called him a potato.

That was all a year ago. But last week prosecutors announced they were dropping the charges. Not because they thought it was impossible to get a conviction for calling Putin a prick: but because there is no reciprocal law in Russia.

Law and Justice’s Michal Rachon says on his blog that it’s an outrage that his day in court has been denied him by Russian law and not Polish.

And he’s right. Polish law, here, is an ass. Not just because if a law is not reciprocal from Russia it’s not applicable in Poland. Ridiculing politicians, from any country, by dressing up as a willy may be puerile, but should not be within the law‘s sweaty grasp to ban.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Mother Teresa - hell’s angel?

It’s 100 years since her birth and there has been quite a lot in the Polish media about this woman - all saintly.

Just as a corrective, here’s Hell’s Angel by Christopher Hitchens - author of The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice.

This is the first part of three….you can see the other two parts at youtube here and here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Is Law and Justice (PiS) falling apart?

Two camps within Law and Justice have emerged since Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s failure in the presidential elections last month. In the Polish media they are calling them ‘the radicals’ and ‘the liberals’, the ‘doves’ and ‘hawks’: but we will refer to them as the Attack Dogs versus the HiPiS. (pic - Paweł Poncyliusz with Jaroslaw Kaczynski)

Jaroslaw's brief trip into the world of consensus, touchy-feely politics following the death of his twin brother Lech in the April 10 Smolensk air disaster, and during the election campaign which ended in his defeat, is over.

The week after his failed presidential election bid saw him reverting back to type - essentially accusing Russians of covering up evidence of their culpability in the death of his brother. And then the fire and brimstone rhetoric heated up still further over the battle of the Smolensk cross.

He is being urged onto the offensive by fellow attack dogs Jacek Kurski (pictured), MEP Zbigniew Ziobro and others who obviously think that Law and Justice’s role in life is to beat Russians, commies and fellow travellers wherever they can find them and purify Poland of menace.

The balmy days of early summer when Kaczynski was saying that all Poles must come together and bury the political hatchet seem a distant memory. His almost instinctive, snarling aggression has returned. The Attack Dogs have been straining on the leash for too long.

The HiPiS, on the other hand, we have met before. They are led by Kaczynski’s election campaign team leaders, such as Paweł Poncyliusz and Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, who we last met on this blog singing ‘Give PiS a chance’ outside a television studio, in a desperate bid to get their man into the presidential palace.

The HiPiS remerged from under a pile of prayer beads following an open letter to Jaroslaw Kaczynski from Law and Justice affiliated European member of parliament Marek Migalski, who wrote on his blog that Jaroslaw was basically a bit of a problem if the party ever wanted to taste power again. Poles are turned off by the aggressive antics and want a higher standard of political debate.

It’s at root a battle of the old and new generation of Law and Justice members: the traditionalists and founders of the party versus a younger, more pragmatic generation of politicians who don’t want to languish in opposition for ever.

There has even been whispers of trying to depose Kaczynski before crucial local elections in the autumn and general elections next spring. But this is unlikely. The Law and Justice party has been associated with the Kaczynski twins ever since they founded the party in 2001 on a wave of anti-corruption populism.

But now the gruesome twosome are a one-some, since Lech’s death in April. When Jaroslaw goes, Law and Justice will go the same way. The party is a personal vehicle for him and his remaining attack dogs. Without a Kaczynski to hold the thing together then Law and Justice will end up in the now large pile of discarded rightwing parties that have come and gone since 1989.

Their only hope is that Zbigniew Ziobro - another former arch-populist justice minister, just like Lech Kaczynski was - could resurrect the party, post Jaroslaw. But surely a Law and Justice without Kaczynski is like a duck without water.

The ruling Civic Platform - from the more liberal wing of Solidarnosc - must be licking their lips and appear in a win-win situation. If Kaczynski stays, they are going to win elections. If Kaczynski goes then they will have two opponents - Dogs and HiPiS - and they will win elections.

The prospects of a coherent opposition to Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his yawn-fest of a government look bleak.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Elderly man throws liquid poo at Smolensk plaque

A 70 year old man is truly deep in do-do today after throwing a jar of the stuff over the plaque unveiled last week on the presidential palace wall in honour of the Smolensk victims.

Oh, how a tragedy has turned into a feacial farce. Protestors were outraged last week when two modest grade officials were sent out, without prior notice, to unveil a plaque which they hoped would calm down the Defenders of the Cross.

The government's Grzegorz Schetyna said that he hoped that the plaque would go some way to placating the protestors, who were still seething at the, aborted, attempt the week before to move the cross to St Anne’s church (see posts below).

But the protestors howled “outrage” and “insult” at the feeble attempt to shut them up and make them go back home.

At the time of writing it is not known who the 70 year man is (though obviously the loose-boweled old geezer is a TROTSky-ite) or what he hoped to prove by his antics this afternoon. Prison awaits him for defaming a national - some would say religious - monument, although will the authorities be so stupid to give these people another martyr? If their previous incompetence is anything to go by then probably the answer to that question is “yes”.

And then the shit really will hit the fan.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Poland boils and broils in climate change shocker

My old granny used to say when offered tea, or coffee: “I don’t mind…as long as it‘s warm and wet!”

She always looked at me in incomprehension when I used to double - no, quadruple - up with laughter at that. I was 16 years old, after all.

But warm and wet is what we are seemingly stuck with here in Poland, so I suppose I should be grateful [note tenuous link between early formative experience and current affairs angle.]

It’s warm - a very warm 34 degrees centigrade as I write - or for my American readers: Really Very Hot Degrees Fahrenheit. It was even hotter in July.

It’s also very wet. Recurrent floods have been a story here since May.

It’s enough to make the This Is The End Of The World freaks rush for the streets to proclaim we are burning/drowning in our own cesspool of sin.

And, on cue, here they come. Kind of. But not from a twitching religious fanatic high on too many nights alone with Revelations and four horsies of apocalypses...

No, it’s a scientist. Poland has been warm, and wet, because of global warming.

And this is not any old weather forecaster, who relies on cows having a bit of a sit down before he sees rain coming: it’s climatologist Mirosław Miętus from the Institute of Meteorology.

He says that this year will be “the warmest for 150 years”, since record began.

In the days before records began, people just used to sit around saying: “Few…it‘s hot.” But suddenly people started to record how hot they felt and apparently, in this part of the world, folks have never been so steaming.

There was also over three times more rain in May than usual and two times more than in July. Our studio workplace - which mrs. beatroot spends hours and hours in a day - was flooded for the second time a week ago. More expense, more trauma.

“This is a manifestation of global warming,” Mirosław Miętus says, comfortingly (not) with more frequent heat waves and heavier rain fall to look forward to. Atlantic storms have penetrated deeper into mainland Europe. It could get worse.

Blimey! Can anybody cheer us up? What does the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) say about this?

"One cannot conclude 100 percent that nothing like this has happened in the past 200 years, but the suspicion is there. Even if it's only a suspicion," said Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, vice-president of the IPCC), referring to the heat wave in Russia and the floods in Pakistan, a warm and wet combo that Poland has got a taste of this summer.

Few! So there is only a “suspicion” that this could be caused by global frying, that man has brought to Earth as a form of petulance, with too many people doing just too many things.

But no! This article goes on to emphasise the suspicion, regardless of the fact that it is only “a suspicion”.

“According to the IPCC, droughts and heatwaves like those affecting Russia and 18 US states become longer and more intense in a warming planet.

"Whether in frequency or intensity, virtually every year has broken records, and sometimes several times in a week," said Omar Baddour, who tracks climate change for the World Meteorological Organization.

"In Russia, the record temperature in Moscow (38.2 degrees Celsius, 100.8 degrees Farenheit in late July) -- which had not been seen since records began 130 years ago -- was broken again at the start of August. In Pakistan, the magnitude of the floods is unheard of," he said.

"In both cases, it is an unprecedented situation. The succession of extremes
and the acceleration of records conform with IPCC projections. But one must
observe the extremes over many years to draw conclusions in terms of climate,"
he said.”

He did it again! Teasing us with doomsday then delivering the caveat.

But, of course, there are different explanations: you cannot see a trend in weather in any one event; it’s La Nina, El Nino’s inversion; it’s the beavers fault.

Beavers? , Yup: the fury dam-maker, who, up until now had had a very good PR. They even featured in Naked Gun.

As I write now, it’s evening: the wind picks up once again after a boiling hot day; trees sway in submission, the dog yaps, sirens wail and we head for the sandbags to defend the studio from the next Biblical-like flood.

And there are no beavers around this part of Warsaw.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Reasons to defend the Defenders of the Cross

Last week when it was expected that the authorities were going to move The Cross from outside the Presidential Palace to St Anne’s church - and as the Defenders of the Cross often screamed their disapproval - my little office filed up with people watching the scenes on TV.

As the pushing and shoving started with the cops (see previous post) and one deperado grabbed hold of the cross, the people in my office started taunting the Defenders of the Cross. “Idiots” and “Psychos” and “Burak (redneck)” ran the commentary.

And my toes curled, a little.

They curled further still - like week-old stale bread - when President Komorowski, church officials, city authorities backed down. The cops copped out. (latest in saga here and here)

So who is the villain here? The alienated Cross Defenders, often poor, uneducated, alienated from the last two decades of Poland Inc? Victims of events they feel is beyond their control. Or the Polish State not up for a fight in what it says it believes in?

The Polish State has always had an awkward and distant relationship with its citizens in Poland. This is a historical process - partition, Soviet-isation etc…that has left the State with a desperate need to connect with the Poles. Lech Kaczynski knew this. The big displays on Army Day, the Warsaw Rising museum, the emphasis on Historical Politics. These were his way - the Law and Justice way - of trying to create a mass behind a state.

That Kaczynski was/is trying to create a Poland simply out of what it was in the past, is revealing about the relationship that type of national-conservative politics has with The Future. They really have no idea of what that kind of Poland would be. And it’s bound to fail because of that.

Civic Platform - who, now that Komorowski is safely ensconced in the Presidential Palace have a monopoly of power - have a different problem. They have to present themselves as a modernising force, with normal centre-right christian democratic type politics. Poland should be a ‘normal’ country within Europe.

Yet, when they are challenged on this - to make a statement about the separation between symbols of church and state, which this conflict over the cross has provoked - they back down. They lose stomach for the fight.

So who is the villain of the Battle for the Cross? The comparatively weak desperados of the Defenders of the Cross? Or the hapless cowards of the Tusk-Komorowski-Church establishment who are failing to gain any respect from anyone in Poland - foe, and friend, alike?

Saturday, August 07, 2010

How a cross brought Poland's establishment to its knees

No - President Komorowski, government, Catholic church top-frocks and cops were not on their knees in prayer. They were in such an ungainly position before a bunch of protestors outside the Presidential Palace, who said they would “defend to the death” the removal of a simple wooden cross put their in commemoration of the death of a president in western Russia.

Last Wednesday, the then president-elect, in agreement with Poland’s Roman Catholic establishment and national scout movement (responsible for the planting the wooden cross in front of the presidential residence after the Smolensk disaster) agreed that the spontaneous memorial to those who died should be moved to the nearby St Anne’s church.
Come the hour of cross removal, cometh the wroth of a couple of thousand Defenders of the Cross. They pushed against police lines; they shouted “Gestapo”, “Traitor” and “Communist” as the police pushed back. One woman grasped the cross, to be quickly disentangled from it. Cops fired tear gas from small aerosol cans when they thought the Defenders had gone a bit far.

See video by of as bad as it got - which was never that bad - below.

The result of what was a bit of push-and-shove by quite a small crowd of protestors? President Komorowski et al backs down and the cross stays where it is.

Who are those guys?

The self styled Defenders of the Cross - egged on by Lech Kaczynski’s twin brother Jaroslaw’s Law and Justice party - are a motley bunch of the ultra-religious, the nationalist, the anti-Russian, the alienated, the anomic and downright deranged.

Occasionally individuals possess all the above traits simultaneously.

For instance, one of the more prominent protestors is veteran cross defender Kazimierz Switon.

If the name sounds familiar it's because Switon - a one-time Solidarity activist, catholic fundamentalist, owner of his own little workshop during communist times, middle ranked trade unionist and post-1989 oddball - hit the headlines in 1999 when he went on hunger strike in protest at the removal of a small forest of crosses which had been placed outside the gates of the Auschwitz museum during a visit by John Paul II.

When authorities decided to remove the cross forest, Switon and fellow cronies went into action, blaming…the international Jewish conspiracy, of course, for wanting the Christian symbols removed from outside the Nazi Auschwitz death camp.

A news report from 1999 reads eerily like reports this week about the Defenders of the Cross.

“Catholic activist, Kazimierz Swinton, who led the campaign to erect the crosses against the wishes of the church's leadership, had mined the area to deter attempts to remove him. Swinton will now be prosecuted for the possession of explosives and inciting racial hatred after he distributed leaflets calling on Poles 'to wage merciless war on Jewish-Communist masonry, the biggest enemies of the Polish state’.”

Fast forward to 2010 and the now 79 year old Switon is back. Switon has been working alongside Leszek Bubel for many years, the leader of the nationalist Polish National Party, another attendee at Defenders of the Cross rallies in Warsaw.

Following the argy-bargy in front of the Presidential Palace on August 3, sent a letter, and email, on behalf of Bubel and the other Defenders to Prime Minister Donald Tusk.: “Despite the many protests […] at the instigation of Satanists you started a war over the Cross on Polish soil,” he wrote. “The Cross commemorating the murders [of Lech Kaczynski and 95 others] must stay in front of the Presidential Palace. If you start another war over the Cross then prepare for the end of your government,” Switon warned, spookily.

Weak elite

Of course, if you received a letter like that from a marginalised delusionist like Switon you would probably read it, have a chuckle, then throw it in the bin. But not Tusk, not the Church, not the Polish Establishment, terrified of the likes of Switon and the Defenders of the Cross.

President Komorowski had argued that a religious symbol such as cross should be in a religious place, such as a church. And he’s right. But Komorowski and the rest don’t seem to have the courage of their convictions. Terrified that they might seem insensitive to the view that Russia and other dark forces might have been the authors of the Smolensk disaster - that they were “murdered” - and scared that they might seem insensitive to a religious symbol, they backed down. Despite the relatively low level of support for the Defenders of the Cross, they sank to their knees in submission at the sight of the protests in front of the Presidential Palace.

Consequently, they have shown that Poland’s political elite remains as weak as it ever was. And unable to show authority and leadership, they have opened themselves up to all sorts of marginal groups who want to get even with the harbingers of modernity in Poland.

As all sides haggle over the future of the Smolensk Cross, the new power monopoly of President Komorowski-Prime Minister Tusk-Civic Platform party seems more like a rickety boat, vulnerable to cross-wind.