NEWS - Archive July 2006

Poland in trouble (July)

30/7/2006- The founder of the Solidarity movement that brought democracy to Poland has hit out at the twin brothers running the country as they prepare to mount a purge of thousands of people suspected of links with the communist-era secret police. Lech Walesa, a Nobel peace prize winner who was president from 1990-95, said he was so worried at the course his country has taken under President Lech Kaczynski and his identical twin Jaroslaw, the prime minister, that he was considering a comeback. “I don’t like the current situation in Poland and I have to engage again. I have no other choice,” said Walesa, 62, who recently described the Kaczynskis as “troublemakers who should be ousted from power as soon as possible”. Sixteen years after the collapse of communism in Poland and more than two years after the country joined the European Union, the Kaczynskis, 57, are reawakening old suspicions by threatening to sack secret police collaborators. Civil servants, diplomats, teachers and journalists are among those who face vetting in the purge, which critics warn will turn into a witch-hunt. Under a “transparency law” being pushed through parliament, more than half a million Poles named in secret police archives face checks. The files of those found to have collaborated with the former Polish KGB, known as the SB, will be made public and employers will have the right to dismiss them. A list of all former secret policemen and their informants is to be published on the internet. “I have nothing to hide but I don’t like the fact that my government is prying into my life like this,” said Ewa Milewicz, one of Poland’s most respected political journalists, who opposed the Soviet regime. Until now the so-called transparency legislation has applied only to ministers, members of parliament and senators. Before running for office they have had to reveal past links with the SB. Anyone caught lying has faced a 10-year ban from public life. According to the Kaczynskis, the law has failed to get rid of a vast and shadowy network of former communist agents “poisoning Poland”. “There is a network of connections in politics, business and the media which must be exposed,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski said. “The influence of people from the security services weakens society. These networks must be destroyed.”

Those who know the brothers well are not surprised by the tough new law. They say that since they achieved fame at the age of 12 by starring as twin troublemakers in a cult film, Two Who Stole the Moon, the Kaczynskis have been driven by virulent anti-communism and fervent Polish patriotism. Their parents were resistance fighters and intellectuals who fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. They read the twins patriotic history books as bedtime stories and nurtured their antagonism towards the Germans and the Russians. An uncle died in a Nazi concentration camp while another relative was shot by Soviet executioners. Asked about his childhood under Soviet occupation, Jaroslaw recently said they lived in “real fear”. The twins — who speak on the phone up to 10 times a day and are said to finish one another’s sentences — remain deeply suspicious of Germany and Russia. Notoriously thin-skinned, the president cancelled a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, after a newspaper in Germany compared him to a potato. “These are people with a limited sense of humour and many complexes,” said Walesa. “It was an embarrassing response but that is what you get from people who lack the necessary stature.” Walesa, who has known the twins since their days in the Solidarity movement, once sacked them as presidential advisers. “I threw them out of my office because they destroy more than they achieve. I didn’t like their conspiracy theories. They were always suspecting people, always involved in intrigue,” he said.

Whereas Lech, the president, has a family of his own, likes music and films and is more gregarious, prime minister Jaroslaw is obsessed with politics and locks himself in his office alone for hours, plotting. No one is allowed to interrupt him except for Lech, who once admitted that his brother makes 90% of their decisions. “Jaroslaw is the leader but they both have a chip on their shoulder and suffer from something resembling a persecution complex,” said Jan Rokita, a leading opposition politician who has known them for nearly 20 years. “Because of their family history they always feel wronged. They feel that everyone is against them.” The twins’ hostility is not confined to former foes. They are gearing up for clashes with EU states that regard them as homophobic and ultra-nationalistic. As mayor of Warsaw, Lech — whose only physical difference from Jaroslaw is a small mole on his cheek — banned a demonstration by gays, saying: “I have nothing against them protesting as citizens, only as homosexuals.” Both brothers want Poland to be more assertive in the EU, arguing privately that it should adjust its liberal western values to accommodate Poland’s Catholic conservatism. The biggest source of tension between Europe and the Kaczynskis is their coalition partners. Unable to reach agreement with Poland’s liberals, the twins’ Law and Justice party formed a government with two right-wing parties whose intolerant views have caused widespread dismay. The League of Polish Families, led by the deputy prime minister and education minister Roman Giertych, has been branded anti-semitic by the Israeli government. Giertych denies holding anti-semitic views but the Israelis refuse to have any dealings with him.

Michael Schudrich, Poland’s chief rabbi, who was punched and pepper-sprayed this year by a nationalist thug chanting “Poland for the Poles”, said anti-semitism had been given a legitimate platform since the twins had allowed the League into government. A senior League member described gays as paedophiles who ought to be “bludgeoned”. Those who know the Kaczynskis from their days in opposition say they are deeply conservative Catholics but deny they are homophobic. Few, however, dispute that their outlook is insular. Although both are fervent supporters of the US, neither speaks a foreign language. They dislike travelling and take all their holidays in Poland with their mother. Except for their love of Russian vodka, Hungarian wine and Charles de Gaulle, the pair have little interest in anything foreign. “They live in a different era. Their views and politics are anachronistic,” said one editor whose past will be checked under the new law. “They have divided Poland. There is an atmosphere of paranoia.” He added: “The country is at a crossroads. Either we look inward and towards the past or outwards and to the future. The twins want the former. I want the latter — which in their eyes makes me suspect as someone who doesn’t love Poland.”

In duplicate

+Banned gay parades as mayor of Warsaw
+Called on Germany to pay £28 billion in war reparations
+Announced this weekend he would campaign for the return of the death penalty in the European Union

+Said: “I am for tolerance but against propagating homosexuality”
+Accused many Polish journalists and academics of accepting money from Germany
+Suggested that the Polish opposition was organised by the German security services
© The Times Online



28/7/2006- Polish President Lech Kaczynski has called for EU member states to reintroduce the death penalty. He said countries which had abolished capital punishment had "given an unimaginable advantage to the perpetrator over the victim". It was "the advantage of life over death", he told Polish public radio. Most west European countries abandoned the death penalty in the 1960s. Its abolition is one of the conditions of EU membership. Mr Kaczynski called for a review of that policy. "We need to discuss this in Europe. I think that over time Europe will change its view in this regard," he said. "European civilisation has roads that lead us into the future, but it also has blind alleys - and this is one of them." It is not the first time that Mr Kaczynski has defended capital punishment. The issue was raised by his conservative Law and Justice party, which came to power after the parliamentary and presidential elections last year. Lech Kaczynski founded the party with his twin brother Jaroslaw, who was voted in as prime minister earlier this month. Their conservative traditionalist agenda has raised concerns among some of Poland's EU partners.
© BBC News



24/7/2006- Police in northern Poland are holding four men in custody for brutally attacking a Moroccan actor during a festival which was meant to make young Poles more aware of the dangers of racism. Eyewitness reports suggest that the attack on the Moroccan was an act of racism. This report is by Bogdan Zaryn. Police reports state that Moroccan actor identified by the police as Abdel M. was brutally stabbed several times and lost consciousness while being rushed to a hospital in northern Poland. He is a member of the Migrator troupe of refugee actors who took part in an international theatre festival, where they performed a play about how it feels to be a refugee in Poland. After the play the Moroccan actor was approached by several men and hit over the head with a bottle and stabbed repeatedly. Simon Mol, the Cameroonian head of the theatre troupe said that this incident had all the makings of a racial attack.

‘There were a lot of people and then one of the actors called me that a guy is lying in a pool of blood. I had to rush there , he was lying there and the ambulance was there. He was unconscious and they were trying to revive him. I spoke to him when he regained conscious and he told me that they said a specific remark was made before he was attacked so he asked him why , because you are dark, you are black. And before his was attacked he told me that his attackers said there were too many foreigners” This asylum seeker, who did not wish to be identified by name, has been waiting for his refugee status. He thinks that Poland is seeing an increase of violent, bitter attacks on foreigners. “I have been year for two years. The situation is getting more and more increased because personally I have been attacked on several occasions. I have met some of my friends some of them who are black and they have been complaining that they have been attacked by racists”

Police in the Northern city of Olsztyn say that the four men involved in the attack were previously known to law enforcement authorities Olsztyn police commissioner Jolanta Szymulewska Ozioro disagrees with claims of racial violence. “The four men in custody didn’t belong to any specific organization like skins or any nationalist groups. They have criminal records and are known to police. According to our investigation it doesn’t seem at the moment that it was a racial attack.’ Since EU accession, Poland has seen an increase in the number of asylum seekers. Maria Pamula from the United Nations high commission for Refugees argues that Poles do welcome asylum seekers and refugees. “We’ve done an inquiry among Poles right after Refugee day and as far as we know 72% of our society is willing to accept refuges from another country and think that Poland should accept refugees. So I think that the general attitude is rather positive towards refuges or asylum seekers” So far police are qualifying the attack on Abdel M as a brutal act of violence brought on by too much alcohol. But observers say that the incident has once again focused public attention on the status of refugees in Poland and society’s attitude to them.
© Polskie Radio


20/7/2006- Poland’s new education minister lashed out yesterday at what he called moral "deviation" in the country’s schools and called for more patriotism in teaching. Roman Giertych, the head of the small, right-wing League of Polish Families, said in parliament that the Polish schools must end "a pathology that hinders normal students from normal learning." He said he opposed antihomophobia education under the previous left-wing government — which, he said, included "German transsexuals" teaching Polish children about sex changes at summer workshops in 2005. "Those golden days of various forms of deviation have ended and will not return," Giertych said. Robert Biedron, the head of Poland’s Campaign Against Homophobia, called Giertych’s remarks an example of hate speech that demonstrated the league’s manipulation of fears of homosexuals to build its political base. Giertych also slammed education under the previous government of ex-communists, who were swept from power in elections last fall. Giertych instead called for education based on "traditional models" stressing patriotism. It’s "about raising children to love the homeland, not the Soviet Union," he said in a jab at the ex-communists. Poland was run by Moscow-backed communists in the decades after World War II until the collapse of communism in 1989-90.
© Associated Press



They oppose homosexuality, suspect foreigners, are almost telepathic and promise to defend their culture. Poland's new leaders are setting off alarm bells

20/7/2006- The Kaczynski twins, the most bizarre political partnership in Europe, assumed power formally in Poland yesterday after parliament approved Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s appointment as Prime Minister. Mr Kaczynski, whose brother Lech is President, will accentuate the country’s status as one of the most awkward members of the European Union. In an inaugural speech yesterday he promised to make Poland a big country that would count in Brussels while protecting its culture and morals against EU liberalisation.  Marriage should remain a union between a man and a woman, he declared. “We won’t let ourselves say that black is white,” he said. “We are going to protect this foundation of social life.” Homophobic, intolerant, ultranationalist and always eager for a scrap with Poland’s neighbours, the twins are sending alarm bells ringing in and out of the country. “He will be a bad Prime Minister,” Donald Tusk, the leader of the opposition Citizens’ Platform, said, “and he will have an unprecedented concentration of power at his disposal.”  The former President and Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, who was once advised by the twins, described them as polarisers with a destructive energy. He said: “I didn’t like their conspiracy theories. They were always suspecting people, always involved in intrigue.” To reduce confusion Lech Kaczynski did not appear yesterday in the presidential chair to cheer on his brother. The prospect of television cameras swivelling between the two men would have detracted from Jaroslaw Kaczynski’s moment of glory. Jaroslaw Kaczynski has been sensitive about world reaction to twins taking over the running of a country and since last autumn has resisted offers to become Prime Minister. Look-alike rulers have occurred only in fiction, such as Antony Hope’s The Prisoner of Zenda or in Hollywood films.

On the face of it the blueprint for Poland that Jaroslaw Kaczynski presented to parliament was a sensible centre-right programme. To reduce Polish dependence on Russian oil and gas he favoured nuclear energy development and was counting on the supply of Norwegian gas. To retain a strong Polish currency he pledged to cap the budget deficit. He also promised to reduce the housing shortage and combat unemployment rates of 22 per cent. Yet the twins, 57, are famed for their fractiousness. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, deploring the declining Polish population, made it clear yesterday that Poland would remain hostile to abortion. And critics had no doubt that his Government would seek to exclude homosexuals from the teaching profession. Lech Kaczynski ordered the police to break up a demonstration by gays during his tenure as Mayor of Warsaw, declaring: “I have nothing against them protesting as citizens, only as homosexuals.” That sentiment was shared by his brother. Indeed, the views of the new Prime Minister and the President are so similiar that they often finish each other’s sentences. The only way to distinguish them is by a small mole to the left of Lech Kaczynski’s nose and the cat hairs on Jaroslaw’ Kaczynski’s clothes. Lech is married with a daughter, but his brother lives with their mother in a house full of cats. Their mother, Jadwiga, a retired professor of literature, shaped their politics. She was a nurse in the Warsaw Uprising against the Germans in 1944 and nurtured their antagonism to the Germans and the Russians, who failed to go to the assistance of the Poles. When a Berlin newspaper recently mocked their relationship to their mother, Lech Kaczynski demanded an apology from the German Government, compared the article to the ravings of Der Stürmer, a Nazi-era newspaper, and refused to attend a meeting with Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, and President Chirac of France. Neither twin is keen on foreign countries. Lech Kaczynski proudly declared that his experience of modern Germany was limited to the lavatories of Frankfurt airport. The brothers are also convinced that Moscow is using its energy supplies to pressurise Poland. “I want us to be proud of being Poles,” Jaroslaw Kaczynski said yesterday.  Polish foreign policy, he said, would focus on strengthening democracy in Ukraine, play a creative role in resolving the crisis in the EU and stand firmly alongside the US. “Poland is not a nation of deserters,” he said, referring to his commitment to keeping troops in Iraq. That may yet be a divisive issue in the future. One of his coalition partners, the volatile pig breeder Andrzej Lepper, argues in favour of a withdrawal.

The key may lie in the 45 minutes that separated the births of the brothers. Jaroslaw is the older, dominant twin — the strategist and plotter. Lech is more gregarious but also more submissive. Sometimes he will pick up the phone before it rings, knowing that his brother is calling.

In their own words
“In Poland there are many people who behave as if they are independent academics or journalists but they are in fact on the German payroll”
“The opposition front has been put together by the German security services”
Jaroslaw Kaczynski

“I am for tolerance but against propagating homosexuality”
“We will see the full disintegration of the Russian Empire and distance ourselves from the Russian threat”
“History doesn’t show a relationship between physical stature and political skill”
Lech Kaczynski (who is 5ft 5in)
© The Times Online


The Kaczynski twins' duopoly is pulling Polish politics to the right, but they are beginning to face the pressures of power, reports Krzysztof Bobinski in Warsaw.

14/7/2006- It is an irony worth savouring. Poland, which marked its final break with its claustrophobic Soviet bloc past by entering the European Union in May 2004, now risks heading back to the isolation which marked the post-war communist period. The twin brothers Kaczynski – Lech, Poland's president, and Jarosław, who on 14 July 2006 is sworn in as prime minister after the summary dismissal of Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz – are ruling the country with the support of the populist right, and risk isolating their country in relation both to their European partners and to the United States. The brothers embarked on their conservative revolution when their Prawo i Sprawiedliwosc (Law & Justice / PiS) party won legislative and presidential elections in September-October 2005 on promises to crack down on corruption and aid those excluded from the benefits of the post-1989 switch to a free-market system. After the ejection of Marcinkiewicz, the party's original nominee as prime minister, it now looks as if the PiS revolution is to be accelerated.

Ambition and constraint
Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, a rightwing provincial politician, had been brought in to head the government when the brothers decided initially that voters would not accept twins occupying the top two posts in the country. For a time, Jarosław Kaczynski took a back seat and watched as Marcinkiewicz pursued increasingly pragmatic policies which recognised that inaugurating a “fourth republic” – to emphasise even further the break with the post-communist era, and Kaczynski code for a conservative moral revolution – risked destabilising the country and undermining its moderately successful economic record (including low inflation, and annual GDP growth of almost 5%). Marcinkiewicz, who struck a chord with the population and far outstripped the twins in opinion-poll popularity, was also dismayed at the coalition partners which PiS foisted on him as the price of a stable majority in parliament. These were the rightwing nationalist Liga Polskich Rodzin (League of Polish Families / LPR) headed by Roman Giertych and the populist Samoobrona (Self-defence) led by Andrzej Lepper, a potato farmer who also speaks for those who have not done well out of the post-1989 changes. And as Marcinkiewicz was being ditched, his deputies Roman Giertych and Andrzej Lepper were in Częstochowa, Poland's national shrine at ceremonies celebrating Radio Maryja, a rightwing fundamentalist Catholic radio station with a million loyal listeners who vote the way Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the Maryja director, tells them to. Rydzyk and Radio Marya played and continue to play a key role in building support for the PiS government and its allies. It wasn't meant to be like this. PiS and its present great opposition rival the Platforma Obywatelska (Civic Platform / PO) went into last autumn's elections promising to establish a grand coalition government.

But PiS's unexpected if narrow victory in the parliamentary election and, Lech Kaczyński's presidential win over the PO's Donald Tusk two weeks later, put the two parties on a confrontational course which made a post–election alliance impossible. Lech Kaczyński promised that once elected he would look after the poor and dispossessed who since the fall of communism had been cheated by the "elites". This line made a rapprochement with the populists and the rightwing nationalists possible. But Kaczynski's assertion that a PO victory would open the way to dangerous "liberal" experiments closed the door to a deal with the pro–market Civic Platform. The break left the PO unable to mount a serious challenge to their erstwhile partners, rather like the way the Democrats in the US are unable to make a credible case against George W Bush's Iraq policy. The Kaczyński twins, having acquired full power, now stand at a crossroads. Their record to this point has shown them to be suspicious of the outside world and keen to see conspiracies at home aimed at derailing their attempt to uproot corruption. They want to build a lasting ruling majority based on an appeal to the poor and the anxious, who were tempted to support the twins for the same reasons they had earlier backed the former communists: a hope that the twins could guarantee welfare security. The brothers' instinct has also been to garner as much power as possible by bringing independent institutions under the control of their party, placing their supporters in key positions in the publicly-owned TV and radio stations, and accusing those who seek to defend the very idea of the division of powers as being supporters of post–1989 governments which were tainted by corruption. The brothers do not command majority support in the country. A mere quarter of Poles thought that the takeover of the country by the twins was a good thing; almost two–thirds didn't like the idea. This reflects the balance of feeling in the country about its new rulers.

Poland in the world
If Lech and Jarosław Kaczyński chose to rule Poland from the nationalist and populist right, seeking to bolster their credibility with Radio Maryja by contesting the tolerant gains Europeans have made in questions of morality, they will become increasingly isolated at home and abroad. And young Poles will continue to go abroad en masse to less claustrophobic political climates. In the four days between his nomination and his formal appointment as premier, Jarosław Kaczyński gave two signals that his ability to grasp the realities of government at speed is no less than that of his predecessor Marcinkiewicz. First, Kaczyński has appointed a mainstream economist, Stanisław Kluza, as finance minister – a sign that he will not yield easily to inflationary policies which, given the demands of his electorate, could blow the budget wide open. Second, Jarosław was quick to take a telephone call from Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, in a time of worry that relations between Poland and Germany were spinning out of control after a satirical article in the German newspaper Tageszeitung. The article, mockingly critical of the twins, led the Polish president to call off a trilateral summit with Jacques Chirac and Merkel, and left the Polish authorities demanding that the German government "do something" about its publication. The fact that both sides later said the conversation marked a "new beginning" in relations between the two countries may indicate that in foreign relations, Kaczynski may yet allow pragmatism to rule.

But a twofold dilemma remains: that the brothers' psychological make–up militates against more open policies, and that their promises to their voters on economic issues and to their key allies like Radio Maryja on "moral" ones make a shift to the centre in domestic and foreign policy very difficult. Poland's partners in the European Union are for the moment aghast at developments in the country. The brothers' efforts to change the moral climate in Europe on issues like tolerance of homosexuality have provoked outrage among liberals and the left throughout the continent. And the United States, which the brothers (like many Poles) look to as the ultimate guarantee of Poland's security is also worried, because Washington doesn't want the country to have bad relations with Germany now that Berlin is once again its favoured partner. Nor does the US want to be identified with a government which has Roman Giertych, the leader of the LPR – a party with anti–Semitism etched in its DNA – as education minister. Moreover, Israel has openly stated that it will boycott the education ministry as long as Giertych is at its head. The Kaczyński twins' primary motive has been to seize the levers of power rather than to respect the niceties of democratic institutions. Their political momentum until now has been fuelled by their righteous sense of zeal in rooting out corruption and the "evil networks" they see as parasites on the country. In this sense they are extremists - and it is rare for a democracy to be ruled from either extreme without endangering its democratic institutions. An opening to the political centre is badly needed in Poland.
© Open Democracy



17/7/2006- They are despised by many. They face discrimination and stereotyping, and feel overwhelmed by the prejudice against them. They want to be seen as individuals, not as a group, and they want the media to stop slandering them. No, not Jews, not Israelis. Think Poles, some of whom feel under siege for group allegations of anti-Semitism. Joanna Owsiana, is a Jewish studies major at Jagiellonian University in Krakow who in May participated in the March of Remembrance and Hope, which brings young people together of all faiths in Poland to promote tolerance. Her counterparts from the United States and Europe were open-minded, but she said a Polish-born Holocaust survivor living in Israel declared “she hated Poles and labeled them all as anti-Semites. “I told her I was not responsible for what Poland did 60 years ago. My grandfather’s family hid Jews from the Nazis, but she didn’t want to hear about that,” Owsiana said.

Much has been made since the fall of communism of the persistence of Polish anti-Semitism, and many Poles feel that try as they might, they cannot throw off this label. They argue that the real Poland is represented by young women like Owsiana, and not by marginal hate groups that one could find anywhere. Working against them is evidence that anti-Semitism is a persistent problem in Poland. The Polish anti-racism organization Never Again estimated that Poland has hundreds of anti-Semitic Web sites and is home to an increasing number of neo-Nazi groups. According to a 2005 Anti-Defamation League survey of 12 European countries, Poland ranked between first and third place among nations with negative stereotypes about Jews. Less known are current intensive efforts by the Polish government to combat anti-Semitism with police training, school programs and public statements in support of Polish Jewry. Little media attention is paid to the hundreds of grass-roots efforts by Polish Catholics to promote Jewish-Polish dialogue and the perseveration of Jewish heritage. There are also reportedly more students studying Jewish history and the Holocaust at a university level than anywhere else in Europe. Instead the press has focused on Education Minister Roman Giertych, the honorary chairman of the xenophobic All Polish Youth, known for its hatred of Jews and other so-called foreign elements. Making sense of the two extremes in Poland is difficult for Jews and non-Jews alike, as was evident at the recent weeklong Jewish cultural festival in Krakow, a homage by Poles to their former Jewish neighbors whose culture was nearly extinguished by the Nazis and the Communists.

Jan, a 30-something Israeli visitor, said, “I feel confused. It’s like they shot us in head and now they want to dance to our music.” He was referring to Poles who collaborated with the Nazis, the 1946 pogrom in the city of Kielce and a government-sponsored anti-Semitic wave in 1968. There were about 14,000 people, mostly Poles, at the festival’s final jam session, where some of the world’s best klezmer bands performed. Many Poles attend because it’s a free music event. But out of the dozen partyers interviewed by JTA, all said they were there because they wanted to learn more about Jews. Agnieszka, a 27-year-old from the city of Czestochowa, was typical. “I wanted to visit the festival because I am interested in Jewish culture. It’s my first time and I am really excited,” she said. Asked if she had ever met a Jew she replied, “Not really, but I suspect that some roots of my family belong to Jewish culture. I would like it to be so.”

But what about those Poles outside of the touristy Kazmierz district where the festival is held? In the working-class neighborhood of Podgorze, a group of teenagers who looked liked like poster boys for a skinhead magazine responded amicably to questions about the festival. “Jews are ordinary people,” said one tattooed teen. “We have no problems with Jews,” noted his shirtless friend. A third shaven-headed young man said that there certainly were anti-Semites in Poland, but added, “Everyone complains that Poland is the worst country. It’s not fair.” Amid another group of young men, grumpy and hot in the unrelenting Krakow heat, Kamil Kacmarczyk, 19, told JTA, “Jewish people are smart and witty. I love the nation of the Jews. It’s not popular to say this, but their extermination was also partly Polish fault.” Further down the main shopping street was Halena Ilinska, 70, who revealed the deep ambivalence of her financially downtrodden generation. “I love the idea of the Jewish festival, I like the songs,” she said. But reflecting on Jews, she said, “Politically I don’t like them. They have money and can do things with it. We are in a poor country and we are made to feel inferior.”

Her displeasure was nothing compared to the man who could be dubbed the Jew-hater of Krakow. Sitting on a bench in Podgorze’s main square, the 79-year-old conspiracy theorist was smartly dressed. He refused to give his name but was willing to be photographed, while letting go a stream of invective: “Jews are so rich, we are so poor. They take our money. Seventy-five percent of the Communists were Jews. And now, a lot of the government is Jewish. They don’t have Jewish names, but the president, he is really Jewish.” Regarding the Holocaust he said, “Maybe Hitler killed too many of them, but the Jews should have been taught to live like decent people.” His tirade was made only a few minute’s walk from the ghetto and Plaszow forced labor camp memorialized in “Schindler’s List.”

Back at the festival, Monika, 19, was shaking her booty to the Mick Jagger of klezmer, David Krakauer. She planned to take festival’s tour of the former Nazi Jewish ghetto “so I could learn what happened to all the Jews who used to live here.” Six decades is a long time for Jews to have to wait for Monika, and not the park bench lunatic, to be the dominant force in Polish-Jewish relations. But as positive images of Jewish contributions are now more central to Polish education and culture, from the Krakow festival to myriad government-sponsored programs unearthing Jewish history, there is hope that a new generation of Poles will be known for their tolerance instead of their anti-Semitism.
© JTA News



The Israeli foreign ministry has announced that Tel Aviv does not want to have any contact with the Polish minister of education. A spokesman for the Israeli ministry has described the League of Polish Families, of which minister Roman Giertych is the leader, as a party ‘with an anti-Semitic platform’.
This report is by Michal Kubicki.

10/7/2006- What are the likely consequences of the Israeli stand for Polish-Israeli relations? When Roman Giertych’s nationalist League of Polish Families joined the government coalition in May, Israel expressed its concern, pointing out that the League was a ’vehicle for anti-Semitism’. This led to assurances from Polish president Lech Kaczyński that Poland would continue to fight anti-Semitism side by side with Israel and preserve the memory of the Nazi genocide during World War II. An important part of these efforts is an educational programme, within the framework of which thousands of Israeli youths visit Auschwitz and other sites of former Nazi concentration camps. In the latest development, the Israeli ambassador in Warsaw David Peleg expressed the view that the Polish Education Ministry cannot be a partner in the organization of such visits. Israeli Embassy spokesman Michal Sobelman explains. ‘The news that Giertych is the education minister was received in Israel with astonishment. This ministry is in charge of the Israeli-Polish youth exchange programme and the minister is an heir of a certain anti-Semitic ideology, of a party which was founded by his grandfather and which fought against the Jewish minority in Poland before World War Two’. The spokesman for the Israeli Embassy referred to Roman Giertych’s grandfather edrzej Giertych, one of the closest associates of Roman Dmowski, the founder of the National Democrats who looked forward to a racially united ‘Poland for the Poles’ and resented the presence of Jews in the Polish lands.

Roman Giertych, also is also deputy prime minister, told Polish Radio that to blame anyone for the political views of one’s ancestors is ridiculous. ‘A situation in which a person is described on the basis of the views of a grandfather is absurd. My grandfather was one of Roman Dmowski’s friends. He fought for Polish independence. It is true that some of his views were controversial but how can I be made responsible for these views’. Marcin Sobczyk of the Warsaw Independent news service thinks that Roman Giertych’s reasoning would have been correct if it hadn’t been for some of his own remarks. ‘He would be right if he was only an heir to a certain ideology and if he had revised that ideology; he would be correct in stating that he’s not responsible for the anti-Semitism of his grandfather and of Roman Dmowski, his political forefather. Unfortunately, the situation is that Roman Giertych and his colleagues, like the infamous Wojciech Wierzejski MP, have in the past made statements that can be seen as strongly anti-Semitic. The fact that they are now part of his government and feel they have to be more serious is too little to wipe out past nonsenses that they were writing and saying’. It would be a pity if the youth exchange programme was to suffer in the wake of the current tension. Matthew Day of Poland Monthly is afraid that the Warsaw government will reject the criticism of the Israeli side. ‘There can be smoothing of the way through diplomatic channels but I’ve got a feeling that the Polish government will say it’s not a problem for us. I have a feeling they are going to say: look, Mr Giertych hasn’t made any anti-Semitic comments himself so that’s the problem’.

An important test in Polish Israeli relations will be a state visit to Israel which the Polish president is expected to pay in the autumn. According to Marcin Sobczyk this will probably be the most important foreign visit during president Kaczynski’s entire term. ‘The president must disregard any temporary shakeups, he should go and repeat what he said in the past, that he’s not an anti-Semite, he likes the Jewish nation, he appreciates its input into Polish history and politics. He must go and say these words regardless of the fact that in a way he supports Giertych in government.’ The Polish government is to ask the Israeli ambassador in Warsaw for an elaboration of his criticism of the government minister.
© Polskie Radio



11/7/2006- Ceremonies have taken place in Jedwabne on Monday to mark the 65th anniversary of the tragic death of its Jewish inhabitants at the hands of their Polish neighbors. The Jedwabne mass murder has cast a shadow over Polish-Israeli relations for long decades. Five years ago, President Aleksander Kwasniewski apologised for the German inspired killing of some 400 Jews by the Poles during World War Two. Representing the Polish authorities at yesterday's remembrance ceremonies has been deputy premier Roman Giertych. Roman Giertych's appearance in Jedwabne had been a public manifestation of his views on Jewish issues. The Deputy premier and education minister, hailing from the nationalist Legaue of Polish Families (LPR) had been the target of Israeli criticism for his alleged anti-Semitic sentiments expressed in the past and family record for such views. Though unofficial, pressure had been exerted on Warsaw authorities to recall Giertych from his post. Addressing the media gathered in Jedwabne Giertych said he had come to repeatedly search for understanding with Israel. ' I wanted to firmly state there is and cannot be any place for anti-Semitism in Poland. Hence my extended hand and an occasion for prayer, reflection and remembrance of those who had been cruelly murdered at a time when the Polish state, being torn apart by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, could not provide effective protection for them.'

Israeli ambassador to Poland David Peleg says the statement corresponds directly with declarations by Polish president Lech Kaczynski. ' When I met with president Kaczynski about six weeks ago, he emphasized to me and then also publicly that there is no place for anti-Semitism in Poland. We very much welcomed his statement which we trust will also be translated in the various fields of life here (in Poland). Of course, we think that anyone and anywhere who speaks against anti-Semitism is doing a good thing.' Putting no doubt to Roman Giertych's intentions, the question arises whether the statement in Jedwabne has been only of personal nature and a reflection of the Warsaw government's stand, or is it also shared by the League of Polish Families chaired by Mr. Giertych and the All Poland Youth, an organization closely linked to his party. Ambassador David Peleg. ' We do not have any personal quarrel with Mr. Giertych. The issue is of his party and its ideology, which dates back to pre Second World War time with statements of senior members of the party until these days. Also with the activities of the youth movement which he recreated a few years ago, which makes very extreme statements. So, I think the issues he should address himself are the issues of his party and the youth movement and their activities.'

Now it remains for Roman Giertych to show whether his statement condemning anti-Semitic practices has only been a politically correct verbal declaration, or if he will prove its worth by eradicating them from his own party ranks. It would be most unfortunate to leave an unnecessary thorn in the generally good Polish-Israeli relations, especially in view of the October scheduled visit to Tel Aviv by Polish president Lech Kaczynski.
© Polskie Radio



Cashman asks Polish President for equal rights for all minorities. He has written to the Polish President urging him to condemn homophobia and homophobic violence in his country.

10/7/2006- Michael Cashman, Labour MEP and President of the European Parliament's Intergroup on Gay and Lesbian Rights, has written to the Polish President urging him to condemn homophobia and homophobic violence in his country. Michael said:

"President Kaczynski recently made a statement condemning anti-Semitism in his country. I naturally welcome this statement but have written to the President to urge him to make a similar statement concerning homophobia, a form of prejudice and discrimination which is still prevalent in Poland".

Michael took part in the recent Warsaw Equality march which, although banned for two consecutive years in 2004 and 2005, took place without major incident and with the overwhelming support of Polish citizens. It was Mr Kaczynski himself who banned the previous marches when he was mayor of Warsaw. Despite the march going ahead, there has been widespread concern about the recent increase in homophobic and discriminatory comments by prominent Polish politicians.

"I know that hate speak and defamation against the LGBT community by Polish politicians, including prominent government ministers such as the education minister Mr Roman Giertych, is not representative of the vast majority of decent, tolerant Polish people's feelings - my personal experience at Warsaw pride confirms this" said Michael.

However, the European Parliament recently adopted a resolution which stated its concerns about the increase in homophobic violence in the EU and made specific reference to Poland.

Michael continued:
"If President Kaczynski truly wants to defend human rights and minority rights of Polish citizens he must clearly and absolutely condemn homophobia and homophobic violence" "I hope my letter will put pressure on President Kaczynski and convince him of the importance to speak out against discrimination and ensure Poland respects her obligations under international and EU law." 

Text of Michael's letter:
Dear President Kaczynski,

"We, the officers of the European Parliament's intergroup for Gay and Lesbian Rights, take note of and welcome your statement that "there is no place in my country for anti-Semitism" at a recent ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of an anti-Semitic massacre in Kielce.

We call on you to make a similar statement on homophobia and homophobic violence in Poland. An explicit statement on your part - condemning homophobia and saying that it is not welcome in Poland - will go a long way to restoring international confidence in Poland and her respect for her obligations under international and European law, especially concerning fundamental human rights and non-discrimination.

We urge you to make such a statement and look forward hearing your defence of homosexuals and lesbians in the same way as your defence of victims of anti-Semitism".

Letter ends

Some comments by prominent Polish MPs:
The League of Polish Families (LPR) Deputy Wojciech Wierzejski encouraged the use of force if gay activists organize their annual Equality March in Warsaw by saying "If deviants begin to demonstrate, they should be hit with batons"

Mr Roman Giertych, Education Minister and Member of the ultra-right League of Polish Families recently sacked the Director of the Polish In-Service Teachers Training Centre for the publication of "Compass: a manual on human rights education with young people". This booklet, used as a teaching aid and produced and recommended by the Council of Europe, promoted equality for homosexuals and spoke out against discrimination towards homosexuals. Consequently, there has even been talk of banning the distribution and sale of COMPASS in Poland. He has also alleged called the EP's resolution "slanderous".

The President, who has a dubious record of banning tolerance marches in the past (he banned the marches planned in 2004 and 2005 when he was mayor of Warsaw), has condoned these statements with his silence.
© PSE Group


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