NEWS - Archive August 2006

Poland in trouble (August)


30/08/2006 - Poland's new conservative prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski painted a picture of a tolerant, gay-friendly Poland on his first visit to Brussels, but warned that any new EU constitution must give Warsaw real clout in EU-decision making. "I ask you not to believe in the myth of Poland as an anti-semitic, homophobic and xenophobic country," he stated to a packed press room on Wednesday (30 August) after a "cordial" 45 minute meeting with European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso. "Poland has excellent relations with Israel, I'll be bold to say among the best in Europe," Mr Kaczynski stated, adding "People with such [homosexual] preferences have full rights in Poland, there is no tradition in Poland of persecuting such people." He admitted that an anti-semitic "fringe" exists in Polish politics but said it is in a process of change, while showcasing the fact Poland has many gay nightclubs and magazines, as well as "people of such a persuasion holding high public positions, on the right and not just on the left."

His defence of Poland in terms of liberal, so-called "European values" comes after months of western media and left-wing politicians' outcries about alleged neo-fascist elements in Mr Kaczynski's coalition partners, the League of Polish Families party, and attacks on gay rights marches in major Polish towns. Poland's president and Jaroslaw Kaczynski's twin brother, Lech Kaczynski, in July supported bringing back the death penalty, while a string of top diplomats has deserted the new government amid stark warnings that the eurosceptic Kaczynski twins are isolating Warsaw in the EU. Jaroslaw Kaczynski - widely described as the dominant twin in the pair - wrote off the existing text of the EU constitution as a "matter for history", saying Poland will not submit the document for ratification "because I know it would fail, and I do not want to spoil the atmosphere." Warsaw plans to present detailed proposals for a new charter to the upcoming German EU presidency early next year, the prime minister explained, predicting that the federalist-sounding text "will probably need to change its name" and warning that Poland will take a tough line on EU voting system reforms. "We need to have not just the possibility of having our voice heard in European decisions, but to be reckoned with," Mr Kaczynski indicated, with the existing draft charter foreseeing a population-weighting mechanism that would give Germany more power in pushing through new EU laws.

Barroso cautious
Commission president Barroso gave a cautious reaction to Mr Kaczynski's pledges of goodwill, placing more stress on his trust in pro-EU Polish public opinion than statements by the Polish political elite or media analysts about Warsaw's future relations with Brussels. "If you look at Polish public opinion, you see support growing," he said, reminiscing on his warm welcome in Gdansk last August. "I don't take decisions based on comments but facts. I believe the facts will confirm the attachment of Poland to the European mission." He indicated that non-discrimination is a "basic" value of the EU club, while playing to Polish popular opinion by stressing the post-Cold War security dimension of the 25-member bloc and gesturing toward Poland's self-image as a heroic victim of Nazi Germany and Soviet communism. "Polish people understand the fundamental value of the EU for peace, freedom, democracy and social and economic progress," Mr Barroso said. "The Polish people are a great people that have made a great contribution to the history of Europe."

Déjà vu
The commission president took the risk of making a joke at the notoriously prickly Kaczynski twins' expense, however. "It was my first meeting [with Jaroslaw Kaczynski], although I had the impression I met him before, because I met some months ago the president of the Polish republic," Mr Barroso quipped. "Of course, the commission has a great deal of respect for Poland," he added quickly.



28/8/2006- European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso is preparing for a tricky post-summer break meeting this week with Poland's prime minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, whose twin brother and Polish president Lech Kaczynski recently caused a stir in Brussels with a plea to reinstate the death penalty. The Brussels trip on Wednesday (30 August) is the first since Jaroslaw Kaczynski took over as prime minister in June, leading a government led by the socially conservative Law and Justice Party which is seen as maintaining cool and distrustful ties with Brussels. In a row highlighting the problematic relationship, the European Commission earlier this month rebuffed a call by Lech Kaczynski for an EU-wide debate on reinstating the death penalty. "The death penalty is not compatible with European values," a commission spokesman said. Jaroslaw Kazcynski in June expressed general uneasiness with EU values, stating in his inaugural speech "In the EU, we have to maintain our ability to take our own decisions...We will strive for Poland to keep its sovereignty in the area of culture and customs." "EU laws do not and should not cover this area. We are different in our traditions, and there is no point in hiding it, from many other countries," he added. Warsaw's ruling coalition, composed of two junior coalition parties which campaigned against Polish EU membership in 2004, is also said to be driving away pro-EU diplomats from key posts - a claim officially denied by Polish diplomats. The recently resigned former director of EU affairs in the Polish foreign ministry, Pawel Swieboda, qualified the Kaczynski regime to EUobserver as "EU-wary." Polish media report that Mr Kaczynski has cancelled a planned Wednesday address to the Brussels-based European Policy Centre, officially due to scheduling problems, but unofficially to avoid tough questions in public, from Brussels experts and journalists. However, the Polish leader's EU trip is seen as a charm offensive to repair some of the damage caused, amid more positive signs from Warsaw on its interest in a new EU treaty, heavily pushed for by the commission. The prime minister said in his June speech "The key feature of our policy is membership in the European Union. We want to be in the EU and, I stress this, to take part in everything that can lead to breaking today's EU crisis. This means finding a new [legal] foundation."

Borrell meeting
Also on Mr Kaczynski's Brussels agenda is a meeting with European Parliament president Josep Borrell, which could prove equally thorny. Centre-left and liberal MEPs are highly critical about the Kaczynski government's hostile attitude towards gay rights as well as the alleged xenophobic character of one of its coalition parties, the League of Polish Families. The European Parliament said in a June resolution that the League's leaders "incite people to hatred and violence." This summer has also seen increasingly frosty relations between Poland and fellow EU member state Germany, which heavily backed Polish accession to the bloc in 2004. Jaroslaw Kaczynski this month criticised the opening of a new exhibition on the fate of the millions of Germans expelled after the second world war.
He said the transferral of Germans after the war was "sad, even tragic" but added that it should be remembered "who was the perpetrator and who was the victim." Warsaw has also clashed with Berlin over a planned direct gas pipeline between Germany and Russia, which Polish politicians claims deliberately circumvents Poland.



27/8/2006- Andrzej Frankowski holds up a Nazi-era German army jacket and says the officer who wore it must have fought in the hot deserts of North Africa. "You can tell by the thin fabric it has been made from," Frankowski said, running his hand over the faded olive green jacket, an original used as a model for the copies meticulously crafted in his cramped workshop. Frankowski runs one of a handful of companies in Poland that make replicas of Nazi uniforms -- a business one would hardly expect to spring up in a country subjected to six years of brutal Nazi occupation that cost millions of lives during World War II. He sells mainly to film companies and history buffs -- but some fear that uniforms he offers via the Internet may be falling into the hands of far-right extremists.

On one recent day, workers in his workshop in the western city of Poznan were busy hovering over sewing machines making copies of the uniforms worn by the nation's despised wartime occupiers. They also make related paraphernalia, including armbands saying "Der Fuehrer." "This is my idea for business and for offering jobs to people," said Frankowski, 36. "I could also make Chinese uniforms, no problem, if only there were a demand for them." The German invasion of Poland in 1939 started World War II, during which Poland lost over six million citizens -- half of them Jews. Today, bitterness toward Germany still resonates in day-to-day politics and among older Poles. Frankowski insisted there was no ideology behind what he produces in the tiny workshop, located in an attic above a car repair shop that his family owns in a Poznan neighborhood of warehouses and empty lots.  He said the uniforms he makes -- some 5,000 annually -- include replicas of British, Polish, Russian and U.S. army wear and are used in films and historical re-enactments, a popular activity for history buffs.

He says his clients come from Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Britain and the Czech Republic. A complete uniform sells for about $820, he said. Officially, there's no market in Germany since displaying Nazi regalia is illegal there, but Frankowski says he buys originals at armaments fairs in the German cities of Bremen, Stuttgart and Kassel. Boguslaw Woloszanski, a popular script writer of state-produced TV documentaries about the war, said businesses like Frankowski's help reconstruct history faithfully. "You could not make a historic film or a re-enactment scene without them," said Woloszanski, who has bought historical uniforms from Hero Collection, another producer in Poznan. To make uniforms requires great historic knowledge and accuracy, he said. For example, a German uniform from 1939 cannot have a badge awarded to soldiers in 1941 for destroying Soviet tanks.

Nigdy Wiecej, or Never Again, an anti-fascist organization, worries that some of the uniforms and accessories are being sold to neo-Nazis. The group monitors the sale of such uniforms on Polish Internet auctions sites and believes more are sold than are needed for re-enactments and films, activist Jacek Purski said. Frankowski dismisses that. He says far-right extremists dress mainly in black leather jackets and high boots, not in historic uniforms, and most could not, in any case, afford the cost of a full uniform. Piotr Kadlcik, leader of Warsaw's Jewish community, said he felt "distaste rather than indignation" over the idea of anyone wanting to own or wear a Nazi uniform, which he said would point to insufficient education about World War II. "I would raise questions over their state of mind and education and also about their parents or their friends who see them wearing such uniforms," he said. The law is clearly on the side of companies like Frankowski's. "The making and selling of uniforms is not a crime," said Miroslaw Adamski, a spokesman for prosecutors in Poznan. "If someone uses the product for other purposes than intended, you cannot blame the producer -- like in the case of knives or gasoline used for arson."
Associated Press



27/8/2006- A court gave a two-year suspended sentence Friday to a man who admitted that he insulted Poland's chief rabbi on a Warsaw street earlier this year and attacked him with a mace-like spray, a case that raised concerns about anti-Semitism. The man, identified only as Karol G., 33, was convicted of using violence and racially motivated hate speech, but was spared the maximum possible punishment of five years in prison, court spokeswoman Katarzyna Zuchowicz told The Associated Press. Zuchowicz said the man admitted guilt during the one-day proceeding to provoking the incident, in which he shouted "Poland for the Poles" at Rabbi Michael Schudrich and other Orthodox Jews. Schudrich was not seriously hurt. The news agency PAP reported that the defendant confessed to making the slur and using the spray against Schudrich, but denied that he had punched the rabbi. Schudrich, however, disputed the man's claim and said he has a medical report from after the attack proving he had been attacked in the chest and arm with a fist. The court also fined the defendant 4,000 zlotys ($1,300), Zuchowicz said. The suspended sentence means he will be free, but he would have to serve the two years in prison should he commit another similar crime during five years of probation. Schudrich praised Polish authorities for their handling of the case, saying the difficult and persistent search for the suspect and fast resolution of the trial reflected the seriousness with which leaders treat anti-Semitism. "That someone is physically attacked in an anti-Semitic incident -- that is unacceptable in Poland today," Schudrich, who was not at the trial, told The AP by phone from New York. "That educational message got through loud and clear." In response to the attack, President Lech Kaczynski and other leaders strongly condemned the May 27 incident and said they would not tolerate anti-Jewish crimes in Poland. Police tracked down the alleged perpetrator after several weeks, and Schudrich identified him in a lineup in June. The group that Karol G. attacked included members of Warsaw's Jewish community leaving a Sabbath service with children.
Associated Press



22/8/2006- Poland's far-right League of Polish Families (LPR), a partner in the ruling coalition, called for the reversal of a series of privatisations in the energy and banking sectors. LPR leader Roman Giertych said he wanted 'the annullation of the most scandalous privatisations' carried out after the end of communism in Poland in 1989. Giertych, cited by the PAP news agency, said that a number of big privatisations took place illegally and saw 'enormous national assets appropriated.' He did not name the companies involved in the privatisations he wanted scrapped. Giertych's call came on the day that a special parliamentary commission began probing banking sector privatisations. The commission, set up by Poland's ruling conservatives, consists of ten deputies who are examining the activities of the central bank and the bank's chiefs, the stock exchange, the treasury and finance ministries and ministry officials. The decision to set up the commission was taken in March after a bitter battle between the government and liberal central bank chief Leszek Balcerowicz. Balcerowicz -- one of the architects of Poland's transformation from a centralised to free-market economy -- said at the time that the decision to investigate the central bank was an unprecedented attack on the institution's independence. The LPR, together with the populist, anti-liberal Samoobrona, entered government in May after striking a coalition deal with the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party headed by Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. All three parties have accused Poland's previous governments of selling off formerly state-owned banks to foreign entities for knock-down prices.



21/08/2006 -An official from the German government has for the first time reacted to the steady souring of relations between Warsaw and Berlin and suggested human rights are being eroded in Poland. Gunter Nooke, a Christrian Democrat human rights experts for the German government, criticised Poland in the influential German weekly, Der Spiegel, about its handling of a museum exhibition highlighting the fate of the millions expelled from their homes in the 20th century, including Germans in the post war period. He told the magazine that he had seen credible reports that indicated that Polish supporters of the exhibition were being put under "massive pressure". Mr Nooke also claimed that journalists were afraid to write subtly differentiated reports about the exhibition. The Polish coastguard has already asked for the return of one of the central pieces of the exhibition - bells from the 'Wilhelm Gustloff' boat. Carrying almost 10,000 German refugees, the Gustloff was sunk by a Soviet U-boat in 1945. Reacting to these events, Mr Nooke said he was "very worried" about the state of human rights in the neighbouring country. "That the freedom of expression and the freedom to demonstrate is in danger" in Poland can also be seen in the forbidding of demonstrations by homosexuals, said the German lawyer. The exhibition is the brainchild of Erika Steinbach, a Christian Democrat politician, and head of the German League of Expellees. However, many Poles fear the exhibition casts Germans as victims in a war which they started. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's prime minister, recently said the transferral of Germans after the war was "sad, even tragic" but added that it should be remembered "who was the perpetrator and who was the victim". Plans have also been mooted to turn the exhibition into a permanent centre causing Lech Kaczynski, president of Poland and twin brother of the prime minister, to say "It will be better for relations between our countries if this centre never comes into existence."



11/8/2006- The increasingly frosty relations between Poland and Germany threatened to take a turn for the worse on Thursday (10 August) when a new exhibition on the plight of Germans after the second world war opened in Berlin. The exhibition, which highlights the fate of the millions expelled from their homes in the 20th century, including Germans in the post war period, has met with criticism in Poland. Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Poland's prime minister, said the transferral of Germans after the war was "sad, even tragic" but added that it should be remembered "who was the perpetrator and who was the victim". "We would like everything that is linked to the name of Erika Steinbach to end as quickly as possible because nothing good will come out of it for Poland, Germany or Europe", he said. Erika Steinbach, a Christian Democrat politician, and head of the German League of Expellees, believes the exhibition is the first step towards creating a permanent centre in remembrance of the 12 million Germans deported from Eastern Europe. "We owe it to history and our collective memory", says Ms Steinbach. But Warsaw has also spoken out against any permanent centre. "It will be better for relations between our countries if this centre never comes into existence", said Lech Kaczynski, president of Poland and twin brother of the prime minister. His words speak for many Poles who fear that it may re-write history to cast Germans as the victims.

The tensions caused by the exhibition comes hot on the heels of another diplomatic spat between the two countries after a German newspaper last month implied that the Polish president was insular and referred to him as a potato. The satirical article caused the president to pull out of a governmental trip to Berlin with Warsaw demanding that the German government apologise. The Polish prosecutor has already opened the case against the German newspaper for the jibe, while a Polish newspaper close to the government has disclosed the names of German correspondents in Poland encouraging readers to express their anger. The two countries have also been at loggerheads over the planned Russian-German Baltic gas pipeline, which bypasses Poland.



9/8/2006- The latest clash between the EU and Poland's government, headed by the troublesome Kaczynski twins, Lech (the president) and Jaroslaw (the prime minister), has reinforced the fears that, rather than bringing a fresh and forward-looking perspective to the club, Poland is increasingly playing the role of the introspective and unreliable partner. That President Lech - the younger by 45 minutes - has suggested the EU should reconsider its ban on the death penalty has alarmed other members. In so doing, he has deliberately attacked one of the core values held dear from Reykjavik to Athens and seen as a condition of membership to a union that Poland joined amid high hopes just two years ago. Jaroslaw - who was brought into power by his sibling last month - swiftly came to Lech's defence, saying that it was his "private opinion" and "we're not aiming to make any such proposal right now". But the words "right now" have rung alarm bells in some quarters. How many politicians have managed to turn "private opinion" into public policy? And with more than 70 per cent of Poles said to be in favour of capital punishment, there is a political furrow ready and waiting to be ploughed. With local elections due in Poland this autumn, it is clear to domestic observers that the stout and silver-haired brothers - who came to fame at the age of five when they starred in a film - are already on the campaign trail. The junior partners to their Law and Justice party (PiS), the Right-wing nationalist party Self-Defence - whose leader has praised Hitler and counts Belarussian dictator Alexander Lukashenko as a friend - and the ultra-Catholic League of Polish Families are standing poorly in the polls. The death penalty topic now forms the main plank of their populist campaign.

The brothers also know that the concept of the strong man Poland standing up to the evil outside goes down well with the electorate and also helps to divert from other more pressing issues, such as Poland's 18 per cent unemployment rate. Yet the EU's largest new member is attracting increasing condemnation and ridicule amid the twins' regular colourful expression of their extremist views on issues from homosexuality - which they equate with paedophilia - to anti-Semitism, racism and the slighting of most minorities. "We are radical," admits Jaroslaw, an eccentric, cat-loving bachelor who is said to be distinguishable from his brother only on the occasions that he forgets to brush the cat hairs off his trousers. "Poland needs a certain amount of radicalism to change and cleanse." That is, it seems, to be at the centre of the brothers' political raison d'être. Brought up as fervent patriots, the sons of intellectual, resistance-fighting parents who read them history books rather than fairytales at bedtime, and instilled in them the sense that they were wronged, their goal - or what they call their "moral revolution" - is to protect Poland from the outsider. The outsider is no better personified than in the forms of Russia and Germany. Passionate conspiracy theorists, they even consider the fall of communism to have been a secret "plot" between the communists and Left-wing dissidents.

An integral part of their moral clean-up includes the instigation of a "truth and justice commission", a McCarthy-style body, which will seek to rid all communists from public life. The EU, say the brothers, is a threat because of its overly-liberal, Western-oriented, anti-Catholic ways, which have so far made no room for Poland's Catholic conservatism. The way the brothers are treated in the media only serves to reinforce their sense of being wronged by a liberal elite. When a Left-wing German newspaper portrayed the brothers this summer as insular and narrow-minded "new potatoes" who knew nothing about Germany except the toilets at Frankfurt airport, Lech cancelled a meeting with German and French leaders, citing "stomach pains". The Polish foreign minister threatened to sue Germany, comparing the culprit newspaper to a Nazi rag, and media close to the twins published the contact details of German journalists working in Poland. Germany politely reminded Poland that it was home to a free press. The incident spoke volumes about the brothers' style of rule and the sense of paranoia currently sweeping Poland, where foreigners and the Chief Rabbi have been beaten up. Only a year ago, Poland was being applauded as a role model for the rest of New Europe, as a fresh new player within Nato and the EU and a participant in Iraq. But as a conservative European parliamentarian recently said: "Slowly but surely, Poland is moving towards the same level of respect for fundamental rights and human rights as Turkey."
The Daily Telegraph



3/8/2006- The 62nd anniversary of the liquidation of the Gypsies' camp was celebrated on Wednesday at the premises of the former Nazi Auschwitz II - Birkenau death camp in Poland, the PAP news agency reported. More than 200 people took part in the commemoration, including gypsies and the Auschwitz concentration camps survivors from Poland and other European countries. Wreaths were laid at the foot of the monument to the murdered Romas. Sixty-two years ago, Nazis gassed nearly 3,000 Roma men, women and children in the Gypsies' camp in Birkenau. The day was later commemorated as the Roma Holocaust Remembrance Day. President of the Association of Romas in Poland Roman Kwiatkowski appealed in his address for keeping in living memory victims of the Roma Holocaust. Letters to the participants in the ceremony were sent by Polish President Lech Kaczynski and Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Lech Kaczynski paid homage to the murdered in the letter and stressed that their suffering and death remain a warning for present and future generations. The first Romas were sent to Auschwitz in 1941. In February 1943, a Gypsies' camp was set up in the Birkenau camp which imprisoned Roma people from 14 countries.
People's Daily Online



9/8/2006- A maverick Polish priest whose media empire preaches the evils of the European Union is launching a college for would-be diplomats. Father Tadeusz Rydzyk runs a private university teaching journalism and is now adding a two-year diplomatic faculty, according to its Web site. Candidates will need a recommendation from their parish priest when applying. “Such a school will teach students patriotic, Catholic and national values,” said Krzysztof Bosak, a parliamentarian from the far-right League of Polish Families, a political ally of Rydzyk. The League is a junior partner in the ruling rightist coalition of Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who has criticised Poland’s pro-Western foreign policy since the 1989 collapse of communism as “too soft”. Father Rydzyk’s Radio Maryja (Radio Mary) openly backs the government which has earned it a rebuke from the Vatican, concerned about political involvement of the clergy. Rights groups accuse it of fomenting xenophobia. Poland’s leftist opposition, which took Poland into the EU while in government, said the prospect of Father Rydzyk educating future diplomats was scary. “This school will teach nationalists and populists who hate tolerance and the idea of a united Europe,” Jerzy Szmajdzinski, a former leftist minister, told Reuters. The Foreign Ministry said graduates from the school would stand the same chance of entering the diplomatic service as those with diplomas from mainstream universities.


RSS feed
Suggestions and comments please to