Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Is Croydon racist 'mother from hell' a criminal, or just a sad, drunk nutter?

A 34 year-old woman, Emma West, from south London has been arrested after video of her ranting racist remarks about how “Poles and blacks should go back home” went viral on the internet and Twitter.

The video was taken by Kelly Hollingsworth on one of the UK's few trams, in between Croydon, close to where I grew up, and nearby New Addington.

As you can see by the video, the woman, holding her young son in her arms, is clearly drunk and what spews from her mouth is revolting.

Everyone who watches the video probably thinks the same thing: poor, poor kid having a mother like that.

I thought the same. But what happened next makes me squirm almost as much as watching the video does.

Last night, Kelly Holliongsworth, who took the video, tweeted: “Ok so this women's been arrested. I guess my video was a success. This has caused quite a bit of hype...”

It certainly caused hype – it also caused a tweeting frenzy, with many grassing the woman up to the cops. But was it a success that the rancid rants of a racist led to an arrest?

What is encouraging about the video is that people challenged this woman – they didn't do what the British often do: hide behind a newspaper and pretend this embarrassing thing isn't happening.

And challenging racist outbursts can sometimes be a good thing. But getting the cops dragged into this is not.

Never to miss a trick, politicians got in the act too. Leader of the Labour Party, Ed 'Who?' Miliband, tweeted: “Important appeal from [British Transport Police] to identify the woman shouting racist abuse on a tram in London.”

But the question must be asked: should mouthing off in public one's sad old racist prejudices be a criminal offence?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Polish football chief to get corruption red card?

Just seven months before the Euro 2012 football championships, Polish football association (PZPN) chief Grzegorz Lato has been accused of corruption.

The basic story, which, if true will be seismological in its effect in Poland ahead of a championships that are meant to showcase all that is modern and progressive about the nation, is here.

New sports minister, Joanna Mucha has passed the accusations on to the attorney general.

It's too early to attribute guilt or not, but coming so close to the Poland and Ukraine-staged Euro 2012 championships, this is not going to help the image of Polish soccer one little bit.

I remember watching the TV three years ago as PZPN announced the results of the ballot among its members for who was going to be the new chief of Polish football. It was a significant moment in the history of the game here. The previous years had been mired by a widespread match fixing scandal, with tens, and then hundreds of PZPN officials, coaches and players being arrested. Polish football stank like a footballers' changing rooms on a wet Sunday morning, and the game needed new leadership, and a new image.

And then it was announced that Grzegorz Lato was to be the new head of PZPN. The person I was watching the TV with and I let out a simultaneous groan of disappointment. Lato was associated with the old guard at PZPN, the same bunch of cronies that had presided over a game reeking of corruption.

Lato was a once brilliant footballer in the 1970s but who later became a politician for the ex-communist left, a party that had been so tainted by corruption scandals during the 1990s and first half of the 2000s that they might never be in government again.

Lato was the 'no-change candidate' for the PZPN presidency.

In recent days he has been embroiled in a 'where's the eagle on our football shirts' scandal. A messy compromise has been hammered out and the eagle will be sown back onto the shirts. It left Lato looking a bit of a fool already. And now this.

If the allegations of corruption are true then to say this is an own-goal by Polish football would be understatement of the year.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Kaczynski - Do mention the war

Conservative Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski was in his turbo-hyperbole mood following the Independence Day riots in Warsaw last Friday, when he managed to get “Germans … Adolf Hitler … beating … in Warsaw” into a single sentence.

“Some Germans have the psychological disposition of the militia with which Adolf Hitler came to power, who beat Poles in the middle of Warsaw for wearing [national] symbols,” Kaczynski said after 92 German 'anarchists' were arrested in Warsaw for getting into a battle with nationalists and police – and roughing up, reportedly, soldiers on a historical parade on Nowy Swiat street.

The now tired, old German WW II bit aside, I don't really blame anyone for being disgusted with the guys in the video above. They vowed to turn up last week to oppose a far-right demo that was going to begin at 3 pm that day. Their aim was to join up with Polish left wing protesters who had promised to stop the far-right marching through Warsaw.

A message, if I may, to idiot-anarchists everywhere who want to come to Warsaw for a bit of far-right bashing: wearing hoods and identical, oh-so-scary black gear does not make you anonymous and safe from the cops – it makes you look like … idiot-anarchists, and you are going to get arrested looking like that. Maybe next time come dressed up as postmen, or ice cream vendors, or something.

In the event they never were going to get to where the march was starting, because they just couldn't behave themselves, the naughty little scamps.

The media before the demo was reporting that German anarchists were recommending comrades to “bring a Molotov cocktail”. The first sign of trouble and the police were always going to jump on them. A prophesy was to become self-fulfilling.

As you can see in the video, the anarcho-imbeciles were not in Warsaw to pay a visit to the new Copernicus Science Centre, or a little light shopping. Dressed in black, with faces covered, they look more like a bank robber’s convention on a Central European away-day.

Kaczynski has said that if Law and Justice was in power then these people would never have got into Poland in the first place and would have been turned back at the border.

It's made the ruling Civic Platform look a little silly.

On a Richter scale of riots, Friday's was not a big one – in fact it was 2.5 intensity-level rioting, if you compare it to what was going on in England – including my home town of Croydon - over the summer.

But it was quite big for Poland. The German anarchists, however, were all tucked up in police detention before it all went off, on schedule at 3 pm. The worst of the rioting was done by Poles … burning of media OBU vans, smashing shop windows, fighting each other and the cops.

Far-right All-Polish Youth et al claim they were “infiltrated” by “men in masks”, who began attacking police and anyone else within range.

Left wing protesters say they were attempting to block the route of the far-right march to the statue of the patron saint of inter-war (and rather nasty) Polish nationalism, Roman Dmowski.

One law for one...

Law and Justice have also said that the counter-march to what they call the “March of Independence” by law abiding nationalists and patriots should not have been allowed. Mariusz Blaszczak, leader of the party in parliament, said that the late Lech Kaczynski (when he was mayor of Warsaw, I think he means) maintained public order by banning counter marches.

I remember when he means. Lech Kaczynski banned a counter-march to our old friends, All-Polish Youth's anti-gay demonstration in 2005.

It resulted in an hour-long bottle shower from skinheads against the few thousand people brave enough to turn up at the now illegal counter-demonstration.

Neither law, order, nor justice, was kept.

The right to assembly should not discriminate: peaceful - peaceful - protest is lawful to anyone, including Germans, who want to take part, for whatever reason. Always.

Expect, sadly, a more authoritarian attitude to protest in the future, as politicians scramble to look like they are “doing something” about what was essentially pointless violence last Friday.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Euro 2012 - England stay at bargain hotel, Krakow

The English FA was in Krakow today, publicising the England football team's stay in the city during Euro 2012, which starts on June 8 – and announced that the English players were going to get close to the locals, stay at a modest hotel … before losing to Germany on penalties in the quarter finals.

Until 29 minutes ago at the time of writing there were still rooms at the Hotel Stary (Old Hotel) on the main market square available when the England players will be staying there. I tried to book online to see how much the rooms cost (only around 130 pounds a night for what they claim is a five-star hotel – cheap!!!) but someone has just snapped up the last rooms for the weekend of June 8,9 and 10.

So, a night staying at the same bargain hotel as Wayne Rooney (if he gets selected following a three match ban for an ill-timed temper tantrum), John Terry (if he doesn't get a lengthy ban following an alleged racist incident) and all the other English football mega-stars has just slipped through my fingers. Damn!

The English FA has chosen the down town, modest, hotel as a reaction to the out-of-town palace-prison they were staying at during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. Coach Fabio Copello chose that location to keep the players away from all the temptations and distractions available to them and their wives (WAGs) in the city, so they could concentrate on the football.

It didn't work.

The players were reportedly bored out of their tiny minds, and went out of the World Cup after a 4 – 1 drubbing by the Germans.

Copello has had a change of heart this time and will now let the English players near the Polish natives.

So what is there for Wayne Rooney et al to look forward to at Hotel Stary in Krakow?

“Guests of the Stary hotel have free access to the on-site spa, which includes a sauna, gym, steam bath,” says the hotel web site, but adds, a little worryingly, “and a massage parlour”. Er ...

“In the morning guests can enjoy a traditional Polish breakfast. The Trzy Rybki restaurant serves traditional Polish dishes,” the web site says.

The WAGs will like it as it is near to the shops and “has a bar, café and a club”.

Adrian Bevington, director of communications for the FA, who held a joint press conference in Krakow on Monday with Mayor Jacek Majchrowski, said that, “of course our priority is to be good on the pitch” but the team is planning on “visiting historic sites” and doing a bit of general tourist sightseeing on their days off.

So what's to see? Auschwitz is close, I suppose. And not that far down the road is the Wieliczka Salt Mine (which could be a handy place to park John Terry).

“Hotel Stary is 1.1 km from the Wawel Castle. The old Jewish district, Kazimierz is 1 km away,” says the hotel web site, tempting the England players with a little culture between training sessions.

Stag parties from England have complained to me personally that “there are not enough strip clubs in Krakow,” which could be a drawback.

The sometimes stuffy atmostphere of conservative Krakow does not indeed include many naughty clubs - although it is a bit of a gay-magnet, ironically. One slightly disappointed 'reviewer' punter writes on the web of one Villa Incognito, however: “S-Studio in Warsaw was much better, but maybe perhaps because Warsaw is a bigger city. This place had some cute girls. 300 Zloty (50 pounds) for the basic, twice what I paid in Warsaw,” he squeals.

That's Wayne Rooney sorted, then.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

LOT airlines makes new cuts to in-flight services – discontinues landing on wheels!

Rather dramatic video here of a LOT national airlines 767 from Newark, New Jersey landing at Warsaw airport today on its belly.

Imagine the shock when the captain found out that the landing equipment had got jammed, leaving him to land the plane with no wheels.

You will note, however, that the landing appears a good deal smoother than some I have experienced on LOT with wheels attached.

BBC video here.

EU chokes on Greek debt moussaka

Poland's banks are not saddled with Greek's increasingly toxic debt, like Germany's are – but the eurozone crisis has thrown plans for Poland to adopt the euro and drop the zloty into the deep freeze. (pictured: German Chancellor Angela Merkel)

Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou played his final card when he announced that the EU bailout plan – which would write off 50 percent of its debt in return for savage public spending cuts, that would make what the IMF used to ask of borrowing nations look like  proverbial peanuts – to a referendum in January.

Cue outrage and panic among eurocrats and the markets, who thought they had managed to solve the whole thing at the summit last week in Brussels. Stocks tumbled and the euro currency bombed on Tuesday.

It's hard to find much support for letting the Greek people have a say on how they are going to get out of the mess they are in. Bank of Canada Governor Mark Carney was a lone wolf when he said that Greece's bailout commitments need broad democratic support if they are to work. He said it was up to Greece to determine how to achieve public support for what the country needed to do going forward.

I think that's correct - although a delay until January will not calm jittery nerves. The EU bailout package with strings attached would mean even deeper cuts into Greek living standards than the already eye-watering austerity measures being carried out by the government in Athens are currently doing. More unrest and general strikes would follow. Anger at the political class would boil over.

Leader of Poland's opposition Law and Justice party, the eurosceptic (ish) Jaroslaw Kaczynski, said last week that he thought Greece should find a way to drop the euro and readopt the drachma, without causing a “financial shock” to the eurozone – which would be a tricky thing to pull off, to say the least.

Poland's finance minister Jacek Rostowski retorted that for Athens to drop out of the eurozone would require changes in EU treaties, which “is a long process” and would do nothing to restore confidence in the European single currency or the European economy in general.

There has been a good deal of smugness among the Polish government that Poland has not turned into the once Celtic tiger, now Celtic pussy-cat, Ireland … or Spain, or Greece. PM Donald Tusk never gets tired of trying to claim that Poland is a “green island” of calm surrounded by choppy and shark-infested seas. Admiral Tusk has steered the Good Ship Poland to the island through those rocky waters, with able-seaman (finance minister) Jacek Rostowski's firm hands on the tiller.

Poland, if I remeber correctly, would now be set to adopt the single currency if the Civic Platform government had kept to its schedule drawn up in 2007. It was only the finance crisis that sunk those plans - the same finance crisis that is torpedoing the eurozone, with Greece in particular taking one amidships (That's the end of the nautical metaphors.)

President Komorowski said this week that Poland still intends to enter the eurozone but only someone “not in his right mind” would ditch the zloty today.

Poland shouldn't feel so smug that it is not up to its knees in debt-doo doo, however. With Germany shelling out the largest share to bail out Greece, Berlin and Paris are going to be even more resolved to insist on even deeper cuts to future EU budgets. And as up to 2 percent of Poland's annual GDP growth comes, directly or indirectly, from funds from Brussels, that could leave Tusk et al with a moribund economy.

That's why even someone like the conservative Jaroslaw Kaczynski will only ever sound lukewarm about his EU scepticism – all Polish politicians know which side the bread is buttered.

They also all should realise the Greek tragedy could turn everyone's economies into a moussaka.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Zbigniew Ziobro is no messiah – he's just a very naughty boy

What does a political party do when it loses successive elections? It starts to eat itself – just like a fox eats its paws, eventually, after it has spent a while caught in a trap.

Mariusz Błaszczak was reselected today to lead the opposition Law and Justice (PiS) in parliament, amid a row which could see the expulsion of a former rising star from the party – Zbigniew Ziobro: a populist politician when he was in cabinet, but who is now seen by leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski to be a threat to his authority and the unity of the conservative Law and Justice itself.

Blaszczak, Jaroslaw Kaczynski's man, got the vote today of 141 Law and Justice MPs and senators, with just 22 voting against. But paranoia was in the air, with Jaroslaw Kaczynski supervising the count personally. There is an air of conspiracy and power-play in Law and Justice, as it faces another four years in opposition.

The defeat in the 9 October parliamentary elections – which followed successive elections where party candidates have done badly – has forced Ziobro to make his move. And he's going to get kicked out of the party for doing so.

Ziobro is currently serving time as a member of the European Parliament, where he has been trying to fashion a statesman-like image (and failing miserably to make much impact at all among the eurocrats). He has been an almost Shakespearian figure (I said 'almost') waiting in the wings for his moment of greatness to come upon him.

He was once Mr Justice in the Law and Justice party when he was justice minister, in the mould of Lech Kaczynski, when he was in the same office. He was the heir-apparent to the populist-mantle worn by the Kaczynski brothers.

And then Civic Platform toppled them from power. Ziobro, meanwhile, went to Brussels.

But now he's back, showing his hand.

After Law and Justice got trounced, again, in the elections on 9 October, Ziobro called for “more democratic” decision-making within the party, a dig at party chairman Jaroslaw Kaczynski's autocratic style of leadership.

Ziobro, who was careful to distance himself from the party leadership during the recent doomed election campaign, muted the idea this week that if Law and Justice can't get elected as one party then they may as well split into constituent parts – centerist and nationalist – and develop their own electorates.

Expect Ziobro to be expelled within the next few days. Kaczynski told party members at a behind closed doors party meeting today, reports the PAP news agency, that: “The Ziobro issue must be dealt with quickly and decisively”.

In the last 12 months, bits of Law and Justice have been falling off. Moderate bits are with the now parliamentary seat-less Poland Comes First (PJN). Ziobro, with MEP Jacek Kurski and others, will become yet another PiS-splinter group, as the conservative-national party begins to flake like pastry, possibly condemning them to endless opposition.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Beatroot's Back!

From Saturday 22 October I will be reactivating this blog.

Yeah, I know I said that before but I had to get the appetite back.

Well, the appetite's back and I am HUNGRY!

This blog used to be, by far, the most widely read on the politics of Poland as it managed to break out of the English language blogging ghetto in this country. Not many do. I was asked to contribute to the EU's Open Democracy project; The Economist called the beatroot "one of the better English-language bloggers on Poland"...top left wing blogger, Norman Geras, in the UK featured me in his weekly 'profile'; top right wing blogger in the UK, Richard North, asked me to join his merry band of bloggers, was asked to cover the 2007 Polish elections for Pajamas Media...to mention but a few of the names that picked up on the beatroot.

The blog will be covering what looks like a second term for the deathly dull coalition government led by Donald Tusk and chums in the Civic Platform (PO) party and their mates in the Polish Peasant's Party (PSL).

Many Poles would say better a deathly dull Tusk than a slightly demented Jaroslaw Kaczynski at the helm. And they may be right. I don't support any party in Poland so it's not really for me to say. A plague on their houses... etc.

I will not just be covering Polish politics however: the EU and central and eastern Europe in general will be the targets for my ire.

I aim to post three times per week. See you then.

West gets twitchy conscience after Gaddafi death

Calls by the UN and many in the 'international community' for an 'investigation' into the circumstances which led to the grizzly death of Col Gaddafi beggars belief.

“It would have been better if he had been tried in The Hague,” said Poland's Foreign Ministry as the body of Muammar Gaddafi was still warm, Thursday, shortly after his death was announced by the National Transitional Council (NTC).

The Polish government was not being daringly original, or independent, in its demand (whenever has it been?). The UN's commissioner for human rights, as well as Amnesty International - that self-appointed guardian of the international community's conscience – have called for the same.

Confusion surrounds the nut-ball dictator's demise.

The semi-official line taken by the NTC is that he was captured alive in his home town of Sirte, only to take an accidental bullet in the head during a fire-fight between rebels and what was left of Gaddafi's army. But mobile phone footage shows that he was probably executed.

I was going through the European Press Association's (EPA) photostream on Friday to see if there were any of the photographs of Gaddafi laid out in a meat storage facility in Misrata that I could use for another place. The caption below the photographs all warned: ATTENTION EDITORS: THIS PICTURE CONTAINS GRAPHIC CONTENT.

Indeed, the content was so 'graphic' I decided none were publishable. But I am looking at them now and I will describe them for you here.

The body on, what looks like, a mattress, is recognisably Gaddafi's. There is his trademark curly hair and his goatee beard. He has been stripped to the waist and there is, what appears to be, one large bullet hole in the centre of his stomach.

The NTC is saying that he died from a bullet to the head but that bullet to the belly would have killed him by itself. There are at least two other marks which could be bullet holes on his abdomen and blood has been coming from his head, suggesting another bullet went in there. But it could be another kind of wound as his head was bleeding in the mobile phone footage taken when he was being dragged around the streets of Sirte after capture.

Cuts cover his face and blood marks are all over his body. It is a gruesome sight.

The NTC is currently (Saturday afternoon) promising a post-mortem and then he will be buried some place – maybe out to sea, as was Osama bin Laden, so his grave cannot be turned into a shrine in memory to mad despots everywhere.

Libyans are not too concerned how Gaddafi ended up in cold-storage, they are just glad he's gone. His madcap, often brutal 42-year dictatorship is over. Finished.

But the West – the international community' – has got a little squeamish about it all. This summary execution – if that is what it was – was not in the script, which went something like this.

When the insurgency broke out in February in Libya, and Gaddafi refused to make a graceful exit and fought '”the rats” of the uprising, France, UK, US jumped at a chance to regain some international respect and authority after the débâcle of Iraq, Afghanistan. Here was a dictator with few buddies internationally – that someone like Hugo Chavez was one of the few to give him his support all the better.

So France and UK took the lead in the air support, to “protect civilians” from Gaddafi's demented anger. The US could stay behind the scenes, in case the Arab world saw another example of American militarism trying to get its way in the Middle East.

It was all going swimmingly until Gaddafi was taken out of a drain pipe, beaten and killed.

To maintain the western moral high ground, in jump human rights NGOs and the UN. “He should have stood trial in The Hague” they said, the place where the West usually lines up despots from Africa or the Balkans on charges of 'war crimes'.

No mention, of course, that the bombing of Gaddafi's forces in Sirte and elsewhere were on the border of 'legal': how was this “protecting civilians”?

Nasty things happen in wars and nasty things always happen in civil wars ... they don't play to the nice set of rules drawn up by the Geneva Convention.

If I was the NTC I would tell the 'international community' to kindly get stuffed. If someone has to hear charges for the execution of Gaddafi then it should be in a court in Tripoli, not The Hague.

The West encouraged the rebels to tear down his regime and now Libyans, and the international community, are going to have to live with the consequences.

Sunday update - doctor confirms bullets to head and stomach killed Gaddafi.