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Polish political pickle

Mark Mardell | 11:05 UK time, Sunday, 2 September 2007

I’m rather sad to be leaving Poland without properly investigating the latest political turmoil here. Newsnight rang me to ask me to do a piece for next week, but I’ve got to move on to Romania. This means they will probably be reporting on it soon.

What’s happened? The governing Law and Justice Party has lost its coalition partners, and amid accusation and counter-accusation of corruption some very senior people have been arrested. Just before some of them were due to give evidence to an investigation into said corruption.

It’s a bit like Gordon Brown ordering the arrest of David Blunkett, Sir Richard Branson and Sir Robert Mark while Stella Rimington goes on the run. While I haven’t spoken to enough people to write about it properly, Polish colleagues find it all rather depressing: they think the politicians are only concerned with settling trivial old scores by using some of the less salubrious techniques of the old communist regime.

But they argue the country is doing well despite the politicians, and will continue to thrive. If you live in Poland or know about it, tell me what you think. Instead of further investigating this, I am off to Romania to look at what the Common Agricultural Policy has meant for the country since it joined the EU at the beginning of the year.

Mark's report from Poland about a dispute over plans to build a motorway through protected marshland was the first of three on the European Union’s role in environmental protection. From Romania he will travel to Spain, to examine how officials intend to tackle a shortage of water.

Comments   Post your comment

  • 1.
  • At 11:39 AM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Mike Dixon wrote:

I would think that Poland is going through the major mind shift that adjustment to democracy demands. A military coup in 1926 put pay to democracy until the fall of communism. In both Spain and Russia it took an aborted coup to the really bury the old regime. How long the chage of thinking will take cannot be fretold buy will be years, possible a generation.

  • 2.
  • At 11:43 AM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • John wrote:

As a UK Citizen living I Poland,I quite understand the Polish People's
depression with the their present and former Post Communist Governments.It is no wonder young Poles are voting with their feet for a living wage and also to get away from the non productive political theatre in their own country.
Maybe the two twins will act as a laxative to the Polish organism-I mean,those born in the Communist regime's time will move on due to their dictatorial political ideas being unacceptable to the Polish People in future.

I think the future for Poland is bright,but it will take 5 -10 years for a new Pragmatic Political and Social generation to come through,who are not tainted by being brought up in the shadow of the communist regime and traumatic times during and 50 years after WW2.

  • 3.
  • At 01:22 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • mike wrote:

I'm a Brit living in Poland so here goes on "Alice through the looking glass as in Polish politics" or "what you see is not what you get!":
The current governing party (Law and Justice!)was elected two years ago as the largest of a string of minority parties through proportional representation. Its made up of a hard core of right wing revolutionary ideological populist nationalists who in effect believe that "the end justifies the means".
The latter include illegal wire taps taping conversations between cabinet members of the government and state institutions, declaring individuals guilty (at press conferences) without any court trial actually sentencing the person concerned, bringing independent institutions such as television, newspapers and the judiciary eg the Constitutional Tribunal (Supreme Court) under governing party control.

An infamous method of silencing or pressurising people is that of "temporary arrest" which can be strung out literally for YEARS!- some individuals have been in prison for the past two years without any court appearance,trial or sentencing which is a clear abuse of the judicial system. Defendants lawyers are allowed access to their clients only after getting media exposure and intervention. Defence lawyers are not given access to the public prosecutors evidence (unacceptable in the democratic West). AS habeas corpus is unknown as an institution protecting the rights of the individual, immence psychological and physical pressure can be brought on opponents by imprisonment without charge or court trial, often to force them to "squeal on the bigger fish". Evidence is often grossly inadequate, based on suppositions, hearsay and illegal wire taps and is rejected by independent courts such in Chicago USA (recent extradition proceedings).

The methods clearly are a reversion to traditional communist methods, following in the footsteps of Putin's Russia. Given the leading L+J politicians background it should not be a surprise : Its the lack of a longterm tradition and anchoring in a free, democratic society that is the fundamental reason for this state of affairs. There is a strong belief amongst those in power that "winner takes all" with no democratic checks and balances.The governing L+J party, run by the Kaczynski twins, has an authoritarian approach: The State knows what's best for the individual citizen. This includes linking with an extremist RC priest, Rydzyk, who runs a media empire out of Turun and is perceived to be the defacto head of the RC church in Poland (despite a hierarchy of bishops).

If all was well with the "body politic" in Poland, then 1.5 million Poles (well over 10% of the workforce)would not have emigrated (temporarily or otherwise) over the past 3 years to other parts of the EU. Poles are pragmatically and in desperation voting with their feet. Participation in elections is falling (about 40%) which is indicated of the general sickness. Whether early elections will be called will actually change things is rather doubtful as the hard core support of the ruling party is sure to vote in strength. People are very disillusioned. Its sad really as Poles really do deserve a lot better from their politicians who confuse democracy with populist authoritarian anarchy.

Have just got back from 3weeks in Poland.
Majority of educated city dwellers despair of the appalling PiS (Law and Justice) President and Prime Minister who want to witch hunt against ex communists who held various offices in the 1980's and are mainly now over 60 years of age. The educated, business community will vote for PO (Civic Platform) BUT the poorly educated and peasant population will probably take its voting orders from the intensley unpleasant priest who runs Radio Marya and who isanti-semitic, anti _European, racist and generally unpleasant!

  • 5.
  • At 03:47 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Jas wrote:

I'm an American living in Poland. To me Poland has so much potential. They have a very educated youth, much more so then my own country. The issue is this constant focus on the past. This government in particular is still trying to purge communists from everything in Poland. I understand the problems the communists created, but at some point this country has to move on from their past. They protect things that are almost laughable.

The youth generally don't respect or support the government here. It doesn't matter what party, they are essentially all the same. The focus here never seems to be advancing and changing for the future. It's always about what happened in the revolution and post ww2. If Poland is going to capitalize on their real potential, they have to move forward with their thinking. This will only happen when the younger and more modern generations have more clout in this country.

Poland's present government has a very narrow maneuvering field, and very little diplomatic experience. It is doing well under the circumstances. Polish economy is booming. The Kaczynski brothers are personally honest--not a trace of corruption in their past or present. Poland displays defensive nationalism-- for which it is upbraided from abroad--as opposed to the aggressive nationalism of Germany and Russia. While the growing German arrogance is not even noted in Western media, Russia's aggression is only mildly rebuked.

To get some idea of the way the Kaczynski brothers think, please look at an interview with them published in our journal SARMATIAN REVIEW:

  • 7.
  • At 06:45 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Cezary Kucharski wrote:

I am Polish living in Canada for 18 years and when I visited my old country last year, I noticed that during 10 years (since my last visit) there was little change in political atmosphere in Poland. Political parties try to keep people focused on "lustration", that is, digging dirt on some people with communist past for political gains. For me it is just a smoke screen to avert attention from the real issues that this country is facing. The real issue in Poland is the overwhelming influence of the Catholic Church on almost everything there. The Law and Justice Party has only about 30% popular support but it also has a very strong sponsor, the Church and this is the only reason they are still holding grip on power. It is very sad because Poland used to be the most progressive East European Country but now, with Church meddling in political life, it became Iran of Europe. People I met said to me that the red power (communists) was replaced by black(Church)and I could not agree more.

  • 8.
  • At 07:01 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • jerzy wrote:

It turns out that the past does matter.
Fortunately the transition from communism to democracy in 89 was peaceful. The down side of it was that there was no clean cut between soviet occupation and independence. The same people who collaborated with soviets kept power for most of the next 15 years.
That time 1998-2005 was one of the longest crisises in Poland. It turned out the pseudo-elites that were formed in the 50s (just at time when many independence fighters were killed by communists) are still at power. Either by connections, family relationships or already gained capital. The full transition to independent country with transparent and equal to everyone law did not happen.
The Kaczynski twins try to do just that. Sometime in inexperienced, silly way, without good public relations, but they try to make a difference.
It is a critical time for Poland. The country may end up with less corruption, respect to law and dynamic economy, or it can be brought back to what we’ve seen between 89 and 2005.
A good comparison is how ineffective and painful road to democracy is in Russia. Their pseudo-elites were formed in 37, with Stalin’s purges. And they stay till today without much changes taking place.
Kaczynskis try to change it in Poland – I hope they will succeed.

  • 9.
  • At 08:55 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

Cezary, those opinions you heard: "People I met said to me that the red power (communists) was replaced by black(Church)" must have been during some militant atheist circle meeting, because it is definitely not opinion of any significant group of people in Poland including post-communist leftists. Comparing Poland to Iran or Russia (vide: post 3) is simply ludicrous. Millions of people from Western Europe and America visit Poland every year so drop this because nobody is going to believe it.

mike,(post 3): Could you please give some reference regarding these would-be political prisoners ("An infamous method of silencing or pressurising people is that of "temporary arrest" which can be strung out literally for YEARS!- some individuals have been in prison for the past two years without any court appearance,trial or sentencing"), because what you say here in my opinion is simply not true.

As to your another comment:"If all was well with the "body politic" in Poland, then 1.5 million Poles (well over 10% of the workforce)would not have emigrated (temporarily or otherwise) over the past 3 years to other parts of the EU." This emigration had purely economic drive (as with Ireland 30 years ago), it had nothing to do with the current government, it started when the EU work markets were opened during the previous left-wing post-communist government. Moreover, the figures from Worker Registration Scheme show that the influx of workers from Poland to Britain is slowing down, which is probably due to the increase in wages and improving situation of families there.

Regarding: illegal wire taps taping conversations between cabinet members of the government and state institutions, declaring individuals guilty (at press conferences) without any court trial actually sentencing the person concerned,. Nobody can be declared guilty at conferences, only independent courts, which we have in Poland and you forget to mention, can do it. At conferences, often the prosecutors inform the public about the suspects and charges against them (as on Friday 31st Aug), which is common in every democracy. I don't need to add that, there is not any sentencing at prosecutor press conferences either.

  • 10.
  • At 11:17 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • stefan wrote:

I apologize in advance for long reply but it is necessary to understand what really is going on.

The transition to “democracy” in 1989 was partial at best and fraudulent at worst. The West was ignorant or complacent in the whole thing, which only made the matters worse.

First, a little bit of history. Upon failing to control Poland through violence of Stalinist era, the Soviets embarked on a different plan to keep order here. The key controlling element became the bureaucracy, not terror. A massive bureaucracy was built which regulated every aspect of life in Poland. The idea was to be able to prevent any threat from rising through the ranks. To accomplish that, an army of people with little morals or value but insatiable ambition was located and used to centrally fill all important functions within the state: judges, prosecutors, academia, government offices of every level. With time, these people came to see themselves a sort of aristocracy, more equal than others, untouchables growing rich from bribes and protected in their position by security apparatus and Soviet sponsorship. These important positions and attached privileges would more often than not be inherited within a family. The joke of the era was that the proper way to get rich in Poland is for one brother to join the Communist Secret Service and the other to run some business. A setup like that guaranteed state protection and wealth of monopoly in every business as any and all competitors without the protection could always be knocked out by being denounced as enemies of the state.

Enter 1989. The cynics among us always said that the entire revolution’s purpose was to legitimize the new aristocracy’s wealth. Whether or not was the plan all along is debatable, but the fact that this was the practical outcome is pretty much agreed to by most Poles. A proper way would have been to decentralize the state, disfranchise the hereditary clans by creating proper checks and balances like judges, prosecutors, and police chiefs or commissioners being elected by people, trial by jury of peers, sworn affidavits approved of by judges needed to invade and harass people and businesses, etc. But, none of it was done, partially because the West no longer seems to truly believe in such things itself. As a result, the hereditary clans continued to pretty much own Poland and became majority of the business class. With no functioning, independent judiciary they can and do shut down any competition by unleashing government “controllers” on them. The competitors are forced into bankruptcy by never ending audits or bogus claims of fraud, to have all their assets then sold off to the clan for pennies on the dollar thanks to the clan control of all courts. It is still a very common occurrence. Pretty much all of Poles still see all of the state apparatus (courts, tax offices, regulatory institutions). run by the ex-communist clans. The “connections” are still the most valuable, and essential currency.

It was in such an atmosphere that Kaczynski twins embarked on their career. The vetting (lustracja) was supposed to uncover and destroy all the clans that got created thanks to their links to communist Secret Service. “Law and Justice” (name of the Kaczynskis’ party) was supposed to fix all the injustices caused by the clans.

I can still remember a little event that occurred right before the election that brought Kaczynskis to power. While shopping for groceries, I have run into an old woman who, with glitter in her eyes, was besieging everyone around to vote for Kaczynskis as the only salvation for Poland. When I asked her how she could be sure that Kaczynskis were not yet another smokescreen for the clans or yet another set of demagogues only interested in personal advancement, she responded that this was impossible since Kaczynskis were still poor, the same ways Poles like her and that she had known them since their were little boys. I smirked at the whole thing because she was very unlikely to personally know them. What she must have meant was that she has known them since she saw them as childhood actors in the movie for children: “About the Two who Stole the Moon”.

This brings us to the very key issue of the whole mess where the only politician who “could be trusted” as not corrupted is a guy who still lives with his mother, never had a bank account, never worked outside government, and whose entire accumulated personal possessions consist of a cat. So yes, while such choice of a new ruler could guarantee that the ruler was indeed not a member of the wealthy clans, it also assured that he will be boundlessly, completely inept and this is, in my view, the explanation of the whole predicament.

This way we have guys who want to save the whole country from “corruption” and infiltration by the clans, embarking on it by “vetting” of the entire country, failing in it miserably by doing it in an inept, totalitarian fashion, only to discover at the end that that they were unable to keep even their closest associates from being corrupted with connections to the clans. How can Kaczynskis claim to be able to break the corruption if (in their own assertion) they appointed a corrupted individual to run the Ministry of the Interior that is in charge of the whole security and police apparatus. How can they do “vetting” of the entire country if they miserably failed in vetting the guy who was their right hand for the vetting job?

The answer is that they got it all wrong. Poland hardly needs some knight on a white horse and much less some ends-justify-the-means-dictator to save us from corruption through escalation of state powers. What is needed is decentralization of state control and real, functioning, independent, judiciary as tools for individual Poles to defend themselves from corrupted state officials. Even if Kaczynskis ever really wanted to fix these problems (as opposed to pursuing some fantasy based on self-importance), they could never do it, as they cannot personally appoint and supervise all state officials. If they try it, they will make even bigger mess.

If the Polish state apparatus and bureaucracy continues to operate as it does, all ambitious Poles who did not get born into the clans will have no choice but to emigrate to escape from this mess. You must have seen some Poles who reached that decision – in Britain and elsewhere. This is exactly what the clans want: that all those who could challenge their power in an effective way leave Poland. Having made the choice of returning here after years abroad, this becomes more and more clear to me. They don’t want me here because I have real skills that I could threaten them with.

The only thing that amuses me about the whole thing is that we are quickly reaching the moment of truth for Poland and the EU. Up until now, I got the impression that the West (especially the EU) was actually quite pleased with Poland being run by a completely corrupted elite. After all, the EU itself is highly undemocratic, its parliament being a window dressing and all real decisions being made in back room dealings. Somehow, someone assumed that Poland run by corrupted elite would be more convenient. I can assure everyone that this, most certainly, is not going to be the case. For one, if Poland continues on the path of keeping the ex-communist clans in power, everyone who isn’t in a clan will have to emigrate. Second, Poland has an excellent tradition of resistance movement directed at corrupted elites. Once it becomes clear that the EU accepted the ex-communist clans as “their” elite in Poland, the EU will be violently resisted the same way the previous sponsors of the clans (the Soviets) were.

  • 11.
  • At 11:21 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Marcin Fraszczak wrote:

I'm a young Polish student who left for abroad about half a year ago. (Yes, that's right one of this 1,5 million large group.)

One of the main problems of Polish politics is lack of reconciliation after the fall of communism. It was easy to say 'we are a democracy now' but it is not the way it works. Communist officials, supporters or police informers should have been either strictly prosecuted, one by one, or pardoned (As all they did might have been in some sort of belief that they are doing it for their motherland). But what was done was just sweeping it all under the carpet. Now carpet is being consistently looked under whenever there is a need to humiliate or just politically destroy somebody. It is also very useful when there is hardly any economical or social reform being worked on (or achievement to be proud of). All that is done is just looking who had troubled past and making it headlines of the papers. Priest? MP ? known businessman?? The the more famous the better. Already dead ? Who cares it's never to late to show him as a communist scum...

Despite the political, there is always the sociological factor. Unexpectedly, that's the ground that communism left the deepest wounds on.
In fact, most of the Poles are still stuck in the thinking of the old age. They just 'expect' the government to provide them with everything rather than to gain that with their own hard work. Because of that politicians have to promise unrealistic things to gain support. Among the many things PiS (Law & Justice party) promised before the elections 2 years ago was building 3 mln of houses in the following 4 years to fight acute shortage on the housing market. Hardly can I believe how people fell for that.. But they did and I wouldn't be surprised if in the next elections some party promised the same and won. Some people never learn what the populism is about.

However, politics is the mirror reflection of a nation. We, Poles are the people who elected them. Sad but true. In fact, those 20% of people who would now vote for PiS again are people who are frustrated and disappointed with their life and they love to hear when prime minister accuses Germans of aggressive politics, Opposition of conspiring against government or 'just' how the next person was proved to be a communist scum. Taking into account the rock bottom turnout in present Poland these are not the politicians who are to blame. These are ourselves. Politicians are only the tools we show our own incompetence with. But thank god this changes and the more 'young' people will start vote the less radical outcome would be.

As a Pole I only hope that during the next elections ballot boxes both in London and Dublin won't be empty. If they are, again, there will be only ourselves who are to blame.

  • 12.
  • At 11:55 PM on 02 Sep 2007,
  • Rob wrote:

It is long overdue to get rid of the former communists - the easiest being to force them all into retirement (early or not), including the political life. And those responsible for past crimes shall be prosecuted.
Poland has also become a crossing point of foreign influences from the east and west. The main examples are again Germany (economic influence, media control) and Russia (energy blackmailing, also in collusion with Germany, considering the Baltic pipeline). No surprise that to mainteni independence the Poles turn to nationalism.

  • 13.
  • At 12:02 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

Mark, you don't have to go to Romania to see what the CAP will do for them. It's blindingly obvious what will happen.

The CAP will do for Romania what it has done for every other country except France: utterly ruin many farmers. The CAP was designed to eliminate competition for French farmers.

  • 14.
  • At 12:16 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Tom Zglobicki wrote:

It’s true that the large part of Polish society is disillusioned with politicians and often for good reasons as very often the only thing they delivered was a maze of inconsistent, contradictory regulations. The widespread corruption among all levels of Polish administration and rather poor attempts to eradicate this serious problem added up to the general feeling of disappointment with politicians. However despite all its flaws Polish democracy is doing well and claims about the end of democracy in Poland and the beginning of the police state are greatly exaggerated. Polish politics in recent years has frequently been shaken by scandals and the outcome of it usually was more transparency and more democratic checks put into place. Voters consistently punished parties and politicians involved in scandals and poor management of the country, sending few previously ruling parties into history textbooks, and this time is no different, if the ruling Law and Justice Party won’t be able to back up their claims with solid evidence, they will pay the price on the Election Day. Building up a mature and well working democracy takes time and effort of more that just generation but I’m convinced Poles are on the good way and let’s not forget Poland has one of the oldest democratic traditions in Europe. As to Law and Justice if the party won’t deliver on their promises and instead will keep on chasing demons of the past and tell citizens what they should and what they shouldn’t do, they will soon fall into oblivion and the only attentions they will get is going to from history students.

I'm an American; I've lived in Krakow for a little over two years now.

I can only comment on what I see and have heard from my friends. I won't bother commenting on what I've read or seen on TV.

I would describe the political scene here as: clumsy, crude and crass.

My friends basically dislike the politics here. The vote, but aren't passionate about it. They dislike (or hate) PiS aka "Law and Justice". All of them think the President and Prime Minister are a joke (and often joke about them) much like how democrats in the US make fun of Bush for being so clearly inadequate.

Fortunately, the country IS doing better although it has absolutely nothing to do with our politicians or their so-called leadership.

While PO aka "Civic Platform" wouldn't have been vastly better I think there would have been slightly less people leaving the country because PO is so market and business-oriented. Instead of trying to irritate the EU they would have been courting it; instead of trying to shut down businesses for all the national holidays they would have been trying to encourage small business. Instead of constantly focusing on the often imaginary demons of the past, they would have been looking forward.

I firmly believe that only when Poles feel they are just as rich (and therefore just as good) as the rest of Europe that point they will start electing politicians who aren't so concerned with the past which is really just another way of saying "concerned with who stole my taxes and made me so poor."

  • 16.
  • At 03:36 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • jacek wrote:

Fully agree with Jerzy.

The truly democratic transition after the 1989 has never happened. One could even argue that very little transition took place, with few exceptions, the power (the money) remained among the communist-times-linked (psuedo-)elites.

Even if we may not agree with every single step and method of Kaczynski's brothers way of governing, their ultimate goal is a better and a democratic Poland. It's more painful now than if it were carried in the early 90s, but it needs to be done. I too hope they will succeed.

  • 17.
  • At 08:28 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Colossus wrote:

I’m living In Poland since I was born – 23th December 1981 and all I can say is my generation has enough of government’s speeches about the past, communism and so on. I know the problem with the past was serious, I know how much my grandfather has been suffered because of World War II and pro-soviet government. It’s been awhile since Polish Round Table Agreement has been signed but there was nothing change in our country since then – politicians still accused each others because of past (it doesn’t matter that all of them has been cooperate with communist twenty-thirty years ago – may be with only few exceptions). So why generation of mine have to “square up this bill” with communism and Kaczynski’s “grey treaty” instead of use the profits of our economical growth?
I guess this is the most important reason why Polish people are so unpleased because of politics. They don’t believe in possibility of changing government’s condition – people says that all governments are the same. Democracy? In Poland? We still don’t know the meaning of this term.

  • 18.
  • At 09:49 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

I have just returned from my first-ever visit to Poland, although my parents were Polish and I am fluent in the language. The visit was to a former German town near the border holding a festival of European Integration, much of it in a church that was destroyed by the Soviets and is being rebuilt with German and Polish cooperation.

Two things stand out, apart from the stunning hospitality. One is the genuine efforts on both German and Polish sides to to put aside the blame game and create understanding for mutual suffering. The other is the social optimism, which is extraordinary considering the level of emigration and the political situation, but is palpable. There is energy here and determination and a zest for life that countries with less tragic histories might learn from.

  • 19.
  • At 10:12 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Darek wrote:

If you think that doing well with the "body politic" in Poland would stop the migration of this 1.5 million Poles over the past 3 years, you are all wrong my friend. This has nothing to do with the politics, just clear money issue. How would politics stop them, when they have the opportunity to earn at least over 4 times more for job worse than this they have here?
Most of these people are young, thay don't really care about being so country bound, they want to live a life without worrying about what to or not to buy to make the ends meet...
As the earlier ellections is a fact now, all current events is the ellectional campaign. Dirty and fight oriented one proved to work in the previous ellections, so expect even more serious stuff now. From both sides. This is actually sad, as very heavy "artillery" is used and as all know after that kind of barrage all what is left are ruins.
I know I ask for something almost impossible, but please, our "bright" and populistic politicians, be so kind to be more "target oriented". I don't expect you to be nice, I want you to be predictive and productive - and your product should be good laws and the plan how to sustain the progress in the wealth of the nation that elected you...

  • 20.
  • At 11:23 AM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Szymon wrote:

As a Pole living abroad, I see the present situation in my home country as the result of the following:

1. A majority of the Polish population being badly educated and therefore easily manipulated by politicians.

2. Social backwardness and an overwhelming influence of the catholic church keeping alive topics long forgotten in the West (WW2, communism, anti-semitism, etc).

3. Frustration on the part of the society that lost out on the changes introduced in 1989.

I am fed up of the arguments used in favour of the Kaczynskis (they try to clear the mess of the past). Glorious goals do not guarantee glorious achievements. The ruling party is doing nothing to safeguard progress. On the contrary, Kaczynskis thrive on ignorance, confusion and backwardness of the common folks.

  • 21.
  • At 01:01 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Stan wrote:

All you foreigners try to teach us how to live the future and forget about the past.
18 percent of the whole country population perished during the Second World War.
When you were celebrating end of war in 1945, Poland was still fighting with the new occupant until 1999. How dare you to tell us to forget. You would never dare to ask Israel to forget, would you?
Poland at the moment faces psychological warfare, the so Polish - German own media on one hand and Russian’s petrodollars on the other. It is 1939 all over again and don’t give me any crap about EU unity etc. When push comes to shove, the west will sell Poland as they did previously. We will remember and will not forget.

  • 22.
  • At 03:15 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

If you remove the words Poland and Poles from most of the posts above, and replace them with just about any EU member state, the same views would apply.

The Polish body politic is just one of many in Europe, both east and west, EU-15 and new members, where corruption, cronyism, centralisation etc are rife.

This, coupled with widespread disillusionment amongst voters, who in every country from the UK to Germany to Italy to Finland, are voting in smaller and smaller numbers, means that politics is becoming increasingly irrelevent to people's lives.

The problem is is that these politicos spend our taxes, so we have to keep them in check, even tough we as voters are just not interested.

I know Poles in the UK who are surprised that the British also do not trust politicians and believe that they are all corrupt. The Poles thought we "would all trust our government." Sadly no.

Poland's problems, apart from the legacy of communism, can be found all over Europe.

  • 23.
  • At 04:50 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Philip Jacobson wrote:

Hello Mark,

I was born to Polish parents and raised in London. Like many of my background, I maintain links to Poland and Polonia (the diaspora of Poles outside of Poland).

Many contributers here have described the political mess in Poland and I agree with some of the analysis.

The depressing fact is that following the transition to democracy from so many years of Soviet-imposed oppression, the country is not feeling more optimistic, but I believe that will change. The Spanish economy and mood spectacularly flowered after the Franco years, though that too took time and that country's transition to democracy was not without some problematic forced amnesia and inter-generational compromises. Indeed, there are commentators who argue that the powerful forces of the Spanish right are the direct inheritors of Franco's tradition which were never fully eradicated.

There is a bitter and revengeful zeal in the battle for power in Poland, and these unresolved battles are being played out to the general depression of the population. Dispiritingly, Law & Justice is actually prefereable to many of the political alternatives [Self-Defence, League of Polish families, Miller and the ex-communists]. However, the Polish economy is doing surprisingly well, as the years from 1989 to 2005 were not without successes in economic management, and the country has an entrepreneurial talent and energy that should hold grounds for greater optimism, but there are profound and real problems with the past that the (older) Poles seem to be picking at like an old wound.

Poles will not easily forget the past and just move on. The dark shadow of the country's past is just too opressive in the present, and to underestimate this is never to be able to understand the complex, simultaneously proud and deeply insecure national psyche.

For an analysis of Poland's relationship with its past, see Norman Davies' updated Heart of Europe: The Past in Poland's Present.

Best wishes with your investigations. I imagine that whatever their political leanings, you will come across many Poles warmly appreciative of your interest.

  • 24.
  • At 05:51 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

The blog written by Mike sums up the true situation in Poland. There is now rule by decree. Arrest of dissidents and that means anyone who doesn't agree with the government. The church is even more in control. Not much difference between Iran and Poland these days. Big decisions made without any recourse to the people. Missile bases, troops sent to other countries. Refusal to accept any questions on investigations which have ruined or indeed taken lives. Spurious accusations of unfounded and untrue misdemeanors. This is indeed a dark time for Poland. It is little better than the times of communist rule that they detest so much, but who keep such so called laws, because it suits. This is no longer a political issue of parties, it is taking of peoples rights, which many fought and died for. Small wonder that so many have left and who will not return either. Poles have never been able to see the big picture, they're too wrapped up in their petty jealousys. When a young supposedly enlightened priest talks on TV about homosexuality being a 'disease' sums up the kind of teaching the church hands out. But who also fail to mention the peodofiles in the Catholic church. Yes Poland has a very long way to go before it will be truly a democratic nation, perhaps they even like it this way. But first it must remove the power of the church. The UK was once like Poland and ruled by religeous dogma. When this was finally removed the land at last became free and Poland too must follow this road. That is keep religeon where it belongs, that is spiritual and not political. If Poland does this then it will at last become enlightened and truly free. The past is gone the future beckons to those who really want it.

  • 25.
  • At 07:39 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Maciej wrote:

I agree with Szymon. His remarks seem to be true. I'm not a youngster (born in 1952), I have seen much, and as I see it, we in Poland don't need messing in the past. The Kaczynskis are great desctructors and they simply don't accept any views which are different from theirs. This results in that their collaborators change to enemies overnight. It could be funny, but we (taxpayers) are paying for all. Fortunately we still have good economic growth, but how long? This government hasn't solved any budget and economic problems and it may cause trouble in the near future.
I have some faith in the new election, but I am also afraid that much too many people believe in all nonsense they hear every day on TV. So the result is not clear-cut.

  • 26.
  • At 07:44 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • Dawid wrote:

The current government is pushing Poland back a dozen years in terms of democratic standards. With low turnouts (well below 50%) in the general elections it's easy to come into power by winning over the disgruntled minority. Actually the Kaczynski's party was elected by 10% of the Poles, the majority either voting other parties or not voting at all. And this bleak scenario can be repeated during the next election.

Things will not change unless the Polish voters realize that their vote can change something. For now, they are getting more and more frustrated with the shortcomings of democracy. And the current government is not going to change their attitude.

  • 27.
  • At 08:19 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • james wrote:

I'm afraid that the word 'pickle' rather trivialises a very dangerous situation here. PiS (the Polish abbreviation for the Law and Justice party) came to power by promising to purge Poland's establishment of those responsible for the country's ills - anyone remember similar manifestos from 20th century Europe? Since you wrote your article PiS has started arresting political enemies and trying them on television. They are doing everything they can to bring the judiciary and the media under their complete control. There is no PR trick too low for them and with new elections threatening they will do everything they can to stay in power. I cannot believe that in the EU in the 21st century a member country is slipping into totalitarianism, while the EU seems to do nothing and foreign media ignore the situation. The story of an EU member country turning into a police state should be front page news. Please help us here, by giving this story the coverage it needs.

With all respect for freedom of discussion, a person signing himself "James" has apparently created a fictional reality which he likes to call Poland. The reason that Poland, an EU member, is not front page news is precisely because it is not a police state or an unlawful state or a totalitarian state--however much "james" would apparently like it to be. There is quite a bit of ethnic or perhaps religious hatred in "james"'s post--a strongly Catholic country sometimes evokes this kind of malicious sleepwalking.

  • 29.
  • At 10:46 PM on 03 Sep 2007,
  • krzys wrote:

The comment made by someone at the top of this thread that in Poland people are languishing for 2 years in prisons without proper court procedures and for political reasons is not true. It is a slander with no factual basis.
Poles, surpirse, surprise, have historically longer tradition of democracy and respect for human rights then the British. British habeas corpus act - 1679, Poland's comes from 1440. So the Brits should not be that smugged.
Kaczynski has done nothing wrong. In fact, I think that he has made the country more normal. The economy is booming. Corruption has been curtailed. In the process of fighting powerful lobbies and interests groups he upset many, so there should be no surpise that those groups try to slander his team by any trick in the book, including international press. Why would the foreign press do that? I do not know. But it is possible that some of those oligarchs from Poland have some influence amount the rich and powerful in other countries. Afer all, those red barons made money by assisting in privatisation of Poland's assets to western rich and powerful. So there must be some bond there.

  • 30.
  • At 12:00 AM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

Today, "Gazeta Wyborcza" - a left-wing daily newspaper which is a propaganda tube for post-communist establishment and leading critic of Mr Kaczynski's government presented some opinion poll results which suggest that the new election, if held, may be won by the ruling PiS (Mr Kaczynski's party). The commentators suggest that this move by the post-communist controlled newspaper might aim at discouraging other opposition party (Civic Platform PO) from agreeing to dissolve the parliament and holding an early election as they may be won again by the party of Mr Kaczynski. The current surge in popularity of PiS might be due to spectacular arrests of corrupted officials last week which were followed by the unprecedented press conference where the prosecutors presented the charges. Moreover, the government opposition made a mistake, which was very badly received by the public, when they tried to defend the arrested officials and demand their release. The suspects were indeed released on bail after the previously mentioned press conference took place during which the prosecutors presented the charges as well as the evidence which left all those who defended these criminals ashamed.

However, it would not be a surprise if the increase in PiS popularity was a long term trend and indeed more observers suggest that PiS will win the early election. In particular, the good economic situation might encourage voters to trust Mr Kaczynski again as many people are sick of the hysterical media attack (led mostly by "GW") on his party - they can hear from everywhere that it is so bad, but in fact ordinary people have experienced a significant improvement in their economic situation.

  • 31.
  • At 12:11 AM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Owen wrote:

I was recently sitting in the park which surrounds Krakow reading a book when an old gentleman sat down on the same park bench. Poland being the rather sociable country it is, we struck up conversation and exchanged our two-minute life biographies as is the custom here.

We got onto talking about the latest hilarities in Polish politics and the old gentleman said something which will stay with me forever. He said, "Poland will go no nowhere until the older generations die. Me, the Kaczynskis, pretty much everyone over 35. We're bitter and jaded and our decisions are tainted by our upbringing. The young people have to assume power, the sooner the better".

  • 32.
  • At 12:16 AM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Mateusz wrote:

Dear Mark,
I decided to post my first comment under Your set of articles about Poland for I cannot stand anymore the pressure growing inside of me each time I read it.
As many young Poles, I’m 21, I cannot imagine my future in this country. It is not caused by my inability to find a well paid job or a good life condition. It is quite opposite. I speak three languages, I’m a student, the last year of my degree I've spent in Spain on an international exchange, this year I’m planning to participate in another one. My experiences are very rich and horizons broad. My former high school is was one of the most prestigious in the district I live.
However, there is still some sense of being an unwelcome guest in Europe, despite the fact we have more than 2000 years of national tradition here. My fellow citizens in great number feel like the worst part of the old continent while they represent higher level than many of our Western peers. We are ambitious, hard-working and ready to struggle for better future.
Why do I mention all of this, one may ask. Let me tell you then. Today I realized that we may be the biggest loosers because we may be smart, intelligent and who knows whatever more but we still are worst than typical Spanish, German, Irish or Italian teenager. They can skate all day long, watch movies on Youtube, play computer games and do lots of things they want to do. After a couple of years they will easily find a job and earn for a start 1000€ without a university diploma. If I want to earn one day equivalent of 1000 € in Poland I have to finish one of the most prestigious university, have a lot of work-experience at the very graduation day and represent the highest qualifications possible. Only then I may be or may not be accepted as a candidate for a vacant in a British company (like my brother) and be given at the beginning 300 € a month. Isn't it ludicrous ? A stupid question, isn’t it? For most of you it is still a post, for me it is my reality.

Best regards to all of those lucky bastards who call central-European country an eastern one. I wish I could be a working man from Manchester, not a wide-awake young man from this weird country in the heart of Europe. Maybe then I could concentrate on some more pleasant part of life like picking up beautiful Polish girls serving drinks in pubs. They are really beautiful, the girls of course :p

  • 33.
  • At 04:17 AM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Jan Gruca wrote:

Since 1918 there were two significant directions in Polish independent govrenance:
-different forms of national democracy
-social democracy represented by Marshal Pilsudski

Other direction was represented by communist government with all its post Yalta ties.
At the present Polish national democrats are very fragmented, partially because complex of history amplified by very bad opinion given by historians during the communist rule.
Social democratic party formed after dissolving the
formerly ruling polish workers party did need and maybe still needl rest after succesful rule by former President A. Kwasniewski. Likely the party membership need to reconect to historical 19th century roots of the party. The difficulty lies in fact that the party has to put to rest historical oppresion of Polish socjalists by the Stalinist fraction of the former PZPR (workers party).

Polish electorate stil have to understand that in period of time 1944 -1981 existance was determined by results of Yalta and WWII. That possibly and hopefully means "red line" between past and presence highligted by Mr. Mazowiecki during His presidential campaign.

While the presently governing right side is deeply divided and left side possibly need more rest and soul searching, maybe Polish cityzens need to look in third direction.
Understanding the idea of Mr. Mazowiecki could be good start. In the meantime the historians and the public will have to wait for good national democratic government.

  • 34.
  • At 07:41 AM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Krystian wrote:

Most of the comments here are heresay and not solid facts. The present government upset many oligarchs and cut their power of meddling into politics. And this is where all that fury in the press against the government is coming from. Nobody is languishing in prison for political reasons in Poland. Kaczynskis are democrats.

  • 35.
  • At 08:39 AM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Darek wrote:

It would be a long one, but how can I put in few words...

I find it very curious, how the situation in my country is percepted by so many responders here.
james thinks there is totalitarism on the way.
As I see it totalitarism, without brutal force, will not survive in Poland. Just to remind you, the public election will be called soon. Any totalitarian country actually having public election out there?
Taking the media under control is unthinkable, I don't think you are serious about that.
Arresting political enemies... Of course Tusk is on the way to jail, arrested by a secret police. Please be so kind and name me a political enemy arrested here in Poland.
Of course in case of any arrests it may turn out that there was no basis or that the proofs are too weak or too "enriched". Just let the court examine cases and rule. If you'll say that its rule will always support government, there are many cases when courts in Poland ruled and rule not like the goverment would want it to be.
Opposing the work of Parliament Commissions on the latest events is wrong however. I think it can hit PiS back some day. Unless we don't know something they know... Politician now tend to say much more words without any value than it ever was in the past. We must wait for facts, not base on the pupulistic plays...
As politics is a swamp generally, I would like to see the politicians doing good work instead of "good" words. But I think everywhere in the world they are best at doing second rather than first...

Mr Alan, please, be so kind and stop putting crap like this.
First of all, I do not agree with government on many matters, I speak open about it, am I on some list of those to be arrested? Are the opposition deputees arrested, any?
Big decisions made without asking a nation. Of course UK did ask the people if they wanted to send troops to Iraq? I am sure they did, didn't they? By the way, I too don't agree to the way it was done, this kind of decisions should be consulted with the nation for sure, but was it consulted in most (if any) of the coutries that send troops to Iraq?
Anti-missle missles base is another issue and I think, just looking at the situation, that it won't be that piece of cake to make it wihtout asking the people first, for whoever will rule this country next few years.
And final comment to your words. In my opinion, history of Britain dealing with the influence of RC church is not a reason to be proud and to be followed by other country. I think that there is other measure that will change and is changing the peoples attitude here - it is time.
And again homosexuals and peodofiles (usually priests aren't they?) are on the way... Do you really think that average Pole is more homofobic than average British? With all due respect to PC, I don't think so. With so many "nice" english words for "gay" it is just a lie to say that we are the last Mohicans who hate other sexual oriented people and want their blood . I don't really know what cause it should help, maybe improving the feel of some people of how they are more civilised than some of those who live east of Odra river.
As for peodofiles, they can be found everywhere, in any social class. Priests are oridinary people after all, why can't they be affected? Lately there were arrests by a police of some men for possesion and sharing the peodophil pictures and movies on the Internet and amogn arrested there was a priest as far as I remember. But there was also a teacher among them. This is a scarry thing and it is in our world, not only Poland and not only RC church, that is a true.

  • 36.
  • At 11:44 AM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

Darek (post 28), I totally agree with you. At last a voice of reason, after those hysterical comments.

  • 37.
  • At 12:22 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • the other Darek wrote:

I agree with the ideas wrotten by Darek.
I can only add, it's sad that all EU countries nations are introduced in the one (political correct) way of thinking and propaganda. It's sad because it reminds me a soviet time with the one (only legitimated) way of thinking.
The 'ideology' of EU politicians makes that the majority is fed by falseness, in order to show Polish government in black colors.
"Arresting of political oponents", "black time in Poland", "lack of free speech" it's exepmles of the false.
As I know British philosopher Roger Scruton said that the free speech is rather possible in Poland than in old EU countries.

For 2 years I've criticized the present Polish governments for not liberal economy propaganda. But till now they creates pro-liberals economy Law. If I must choose only between liars I prefers the liars who make stupid propaganda and good job then contrariwise.

The main tasks which should be done in Poland for last 18 years was:
- to destroy influence on politics of the post-communist secret service functionaries;
- to create that the Law start to means the Law.
It's the first post-communist goverment which work with the tasks.

  • 38.
  • At 12:39 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Will wrote:

My girlfriend's Polish and we hope to move to Krakow soon.

She pointed out that the only reason the Polish economy is doing well is simply because Law and Justice party have left it alone. A lesson for us all, perhaps?

Reading the very detailed comments from others here gives me hope that Poland has a positive future.

I also think its worth contrasting its recent fortunes with Ukraine or Russia - neither of which are blessed with a model democracy or resemble anything close!

  • 39.
  • At 03:54 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Jan wrote:

Poland's doing well. Yes, there is a certain political turmoil, but perhaps not much more than in some "established" democracies (see the heart of Europe Belgium for instance). At least this government is trying to do something about the problems of corruption and mafia. Perhaps it is heavy handed, but there are rough thugs out there. Previous governments denied the very existence of these problems or were even a part of it. No wonder there are politically motivated protests and attempts to discredit the current government or even topple it. 15 years ago one Polish government was toppled exactly because it tried to expose too many shady characters at a time. Perhaps this time they will succeed. If not, they will win the elections again. The Poles are serious about wanting to improve their public sector. Surely, catching the thieves is not enough – the system should be reformed to diminish opportunities to steal. But then, not everyone is motivated to do so. The Polish society certainly is.

  • 40.
  • At 05:47 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

another Darek,

If you think which Western media write those lies about the current situation in Poland as you quoted: "Arresting of political oponents", "black time in Poland", "lack of free speech", "political prisons" etc, it is not easy to find out that these are only the leftist media such as marksist Spanish "El Pais" or Italian "La Repubblica" or French "Liberation". These articles sound usually as if they were written by the journalist from the post-communist "Gazeta Wyborcza" or even dictated by them to their Western colleagues.

As a consequence, many people in the West build their opinions on those lies. Just yesterday, former Czech president Vaclav Havel suggested that perhaps the early elections in Poland should be observed by some international observers like in some banana republic or Belarus. All the political parties in Poland including all the would-be persecuted opposition has rejected the need for this as it is simply ridiculous - there is no way the election process can be abused. However, this shows what impact the hysterical campaign of the opposition against Mr Kaczynski has on the opinion abroad as even the former president of the Czech republic has no idea about the real situation in Poland.

  • 41.
  • At 06:04 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Alan wrote:

Darek I was not refering to the RC church in the context of religeous dogma in the UK. I was talking about the Church of England. I am old enough to know what a hold this church had on Britain and as I said when that hold was finally broken so the UK began at least to become more modern in it's thinking. The RC church was dealt with by a king anxious to have more wives centuries before. Yes paedofiles are everywhere and they should be exposed in whatever field they lurk including the church. The UK has a long and not pretty colonial background and a history of meddling in other countries affairs and yes it usually does without the people being asked. Indeed soldiers were conscripted to do this dirty work as an obligation. Poland does not have such a background and therefore in my opinion should keep out of other countries affairs. But as they've joined the Nato club I suppose they feel an obligation. But as you sow so you shall reap and must face the consequences of such actions. Some which you may not get to like. The same applies with it's obligations to the EU. It joined the club so play the game by the clubs rules. The government you have is the one that was voted in if that government is to Polands liking then good luck.

  • 42.
  • At 11:42 PM on 04 Sep 2007,
  • Martin Cahn wrote:

I am a Briton of Jewish origin who has lived in a small Polish town for the last 8 years. The increasing power of the Catholic church is evident and I am afraid terrifying. It is a hierarchical organisation where the local priest has enormous power over local minds and attitudes and voting trends and the peer pressure put on local inhabitants who have more liberal attitudes is astounding to someone from an open society like the UK. Politicians like the Kaczynskis suck up to the anti-semitic Father Rydzyk because they know it gives them votes. Where else in Europe do politicians court open anti-semites in this way? This in the country where much of the holocaust took place. Now they have reverted to the Soviet trick of threatening their political opponents with imprisonment.It is not really relevant whether the supposed corruption which put the current policians under legal threat is true or not - Lepper, the central target, is no saint. The point is that public character assassination is the preferred method of this government. Even someone who is imperfect to a lesser or much greater degree deserves more justice than this.

Your correspondent who said that we are at risk of dictatorship here is not far from the truth. Certainly when a similar regime took power in Austria it got short shrift from the EU. It is time they took similar action regarding Poland.

As someone of Jewish origin, something we experienced last January at a Jewish camp in Poland, struck me. My wife was asked what her name was, and she said our name - which is obviously Jewish. Then they said - but No - What name do you use OUTSIDE here? We said the same! Astonishment!

I would never consider changing my name - it was good enough for my father so it is good enough for me. But nearly everyone else had adopted a Polish name, through fear of what would happen in their communities, of being passed over for jobs, of being teased at school, or of being sent to Coventry.

Family pressure put my own son through state sponsored religion in school where the lesson actually included First Communion in School time. Many Jews put their children in religion classes for fear of ostracism. Until that is changed,and people can be Catholic, Protestant, Gay, Black, brown, pink, Jewish, Muslim or just plain eccentric or barmy without fear for their future, there is a lot to worry about here.

Poland was once the most liberal country in Europe. The present situation is a direct result of the centuries of pressure to conformity and the use of hatred of the other as a tool of political power engendered by two centuries of occupation. Until these attitudes change, Poland will not be a truly democratic country. Paul Johnson said in his marvellous "History of the Jews", "anti-semitism corrupted the countries which adopted it and they suffer". I think that this is because it is indicative of a closure to difference.

Poland started on the right track in 1989 towards an open and tolerant society and there is a band of liberal minded people among young Poles, flourishing in the main towns but still suppressed in the rural backwaters where the majority still live and which control its political future. Unfortunately the country is now moving backwards again. It is all very depressing. Thankfully we still have a vigourous investigative press led by Gazeta Wyborcza.

The EU really can help here by making Poland really understand what being in the EU means in terms of a tolerant open society. The British Government should itself be protesting - this is not internal - it is relevant to the very ideals for which the EU stands.

  • 43.
  • At 02:25 PM on 05 Sep 2007,
  • Lukas Rosa wrote:

Hello all, this is just my own opinion but I think that PiS (Law and Justice party) is doing a great job. I say that because Polish politicians are very corrupted like all the politics in the world. But we have PiS and they are trying to make the situation better. They are trying to enforce the law and make people equal. It does not mater how reach, powerful you are you still have to follow the countries rules. Yes if my party gets picked and I am the President or Prime Minister then of course I will put my own people in high positions because I'm trying to change the country and run it to my promises that I made, even if I have to spy on other politics, it’s called cleaning up the corruption. This has been the problem with other parties complaining. Donald Tusk keeps on crying that he lost what kind on man is he. When he speaks it sounds like under water speaker it’s not clear. And this is just going in circle. It does not mater witch party wins we will have the same thing every day the politics will cry no mater what some thing will bother them because their party did not win. Yes we are Catholic country this is who we are and believe; Church is a powerful influence because we are Catholic’s so don’t try to change Polish people because they believe in Jesus. PiS is a wonderful party that runs the country and wants to change it for the better.

  • 44.
  • At 05:21 PM on 05 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

Martin Cahn,

It is interesting how you perceive the Jewish Polish relationships in Poland. I cannot agree that the power of RC church is increasing. I would say that it is rather stable or even slightly decreasing. Incidentally, the word "power" here has some slightly pejorative meaning with which I as a RC cannot agree. What does this "power" mean? Everything happens here voluntarily. People are generous when they go to church so the RC church has the money for its charities and to build the new churches. What's wrong with this? Do you expect RC to build the Jewish temples or mosques? Moreover, I cannot agree with you that the Polish society is anti-semitic. It is definitely not more anti-semitic than the British society which clearly takes Palestinian side in the Middle East conflict. In Poland such opinions are very rarely heard. It is very interesting how the anti-semitic agenda has been hijacked by the left-wing media in the West and in the same time they try to accuse with the anti-semitism the RC church, the right-wing parties or the Polish society in general. None of these accusations is of course true. There are exceptions, as everywhere, one of them is Father Rydzyk who goes too far in his speeches, but his views on that subject are shared by a tiny proportions of the society. Moreover, his problem is completely blown-out of proportions by the media which always quote him out of context to ridicule him and draw the required conclusion that the Polish society is anti-semitic.

You say: "Family pressure put my own son through state sponsored religion in school where the lesson actually included First Communion in School time". Well, you didn't have to. Religion is not a compulsory subject. There were people in my class who attended ethics instead of religion and they were not ostracised at all. `VOLENTI NOT FIT INIURIA'.

You say: "This is a direct result of the centuries of pressure to conformity and the use of hatred of the other as a tool of political power". If you studied history more, you would know that Poland used to be the most tolerant country in Europe from middle ages till the lost of independence in 1795. We were a very inhomogeneous country where the Roman Catholics in later periods constituted well below 50% of the population. On the contrary to Britain, France and other countries, there were no religious persecutions in Poland. Why Jewish people from all over Europe were coming to Poland over those centuries? Was it because Polish people hated them or was it because it was the best place in Europe to live for them?

You say that: "Until that is changed,and people can be Catholic, Protestant, Gay, Black, brown, pink, Jewish, Muslim or just plain eccentric or barmy without fear for their future, there is a lot to worry about here". None of these people have nothing to worry about their future if they don't force other to become or live like them. Of course, in some cases the level of tolerance in Poland is different that on the streets of Amsterdam, Berlin or London. For example, in majority of places in Poland, a gay march consisting of a group of people dressed up as for the porn film marching and shouting demands for the privilege to adopt children, would not be welcome as it might be in e.g. Berlin. :)

It is funny to hear how you appeal to Gordon Brown to put pressure on Poland about all these would-be discriminations. Isn't it Britain a country where you send your child to school where they can be educated between "similar" children (unless you don't have enough money)? Isn't it Britain a country where the multicultural policy failed and whose citizens bomb one another from religious fanaticism? I think Gordon Brown should concentrate on sorting out the problems on his courtyard rather than interfering in social order in other countries. Incidentally, I am sure he understands this better than you.

  • 45.
  • At 05:49 PM on 05 Sep 2007,
  • Philip Jacobson wrote:

Martin, I agree that there is a noticeable narrow-mindedness in small-town Poland, (but this is also the case in small-town Britain, most of the rest of small town Europe, the US and all over the world.)

I don't agree that Poland has a particular intolerance 'as a result of the centuries of pressure to conformity and the use of hatred of the other as a tool of political power.' Poland has a centuries long history of nationalities and religions living in relative harmony, certainly compared to much of the rest of Europe. This should be noted, not just for arguments sake, but also to demonstrate that what we consider Western values have not always been alien to Poland, and have sometimes been founded and developed there earlier than elsewhere in Western Europe.

The current Polish speaking Catholic mono-culture is an exception to the centuries long history of Poland. It is as a result of the botched post-war settlement which left small and big town Poland cut off from the rest of the world for over half a century, with Soviet sponsored governements setting the agenda for anti-foreign propaganda. This has left a vacuum for certain less savoury sections of the Church (notably Radio Maryja).

It will take not only politics to instigate the progress so many want to see happen, but also the encouragement and promotion of the liberal and enlightened sections of the Polish Catholic Church, which, despite its current unpopularity among many liberals, also has some fine and noble traditions of its own.

  • 46.
  • At 08:57 PM on 05 Sep 2007,
  • Greg wrote:

Having a Polish partner and having spent 2 months a year out of the past 5 years in Poland I feel a strong connection to the country. I have to say I entirely agree with Stan who said we should stop preaching to them about history. For us in the UK, the war was distant, the enemy flew in planes and dropped bombs or our boys went abroad to fight them. It is unimaginable to us what the Polish people went through and it is precisely because of the Soviet domination and propaganda that they had to live in denial for 50 years. They were deported from their own land, enslaved, murdered and brutalised by the Germans and then 'liberated' by the Russians who were even more barbaric - raping, murdering and plundering. It's no wonder that Polish society now needs time to heal and to talk about the unmentionable. It's easy for the younger generation to be dismissive, but you only need to scratch the surface to find that history still bleeds in Poland. Ask any Grandparent or great grandparent and they can tell stories of personal tragedy that would have an Englishman weeping (as I have). These attrocities were commited on a national scale by their near neighbours. We can't imagine the French or Irish doing that to us... I think we should learn more about the national suffering and help them to deal with it. As the older generation dies out I suppose the trauma will too but we should refrain from lecturing them.


  • 47.
  • At 01:13 AM on 06 Sep 2007,
  • Franz wrote:

I am a Pentacostal and live in Poland, presently visiting my relatives in Australia. I do not know what you are talking about, Martin Cahn. I feel no pressure in Poland. I can confess my religion freely, everybody in my small hometown knows that I am a Pentacostal and so far I had no problems, so stop confabulating your stories.

  • 48.
  • At 01:32 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

If all was well with the "body politic" in Poland, then 1.5 million Poles (well over 10% of the workforce)would not have emigrated (temporarily or otherwise) over the past 3 years to other parts of the EU. [#3]

If you bothered to study an issue in depth you'd have easily found out that young Poles' immigration (usually temporary), which began not 3 years ago but many years earlier, has nothing to do with "body politic" and everything to do with a shortage of well paying jobs. [BBC's own surveys among Polish workers in UK amply confirm it]. Open market cuts both ways: people can move out freely, but foreign goods can move freely in as well. Since 1989 Poland has been flooded not only with Japanese and South Korean consumer electronics and German/French/Korean cars, but also with low quality, often health-dangerous but dirt-cheap merchandise from China. That import has destroyed almost entirely once flourishing Polish textile, shoe, toy and sport equipment industries (to name just a few) which resulted in loss of dozens of thousands of jobs. This trend has nothing to do with a political climate or policies, unless somobody here wants to promote Poland's return to close borders and economic protectionism.

  • 49.
  • At 02:42 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

In post #42 Martin Cahn, who describes himself as a "Briton of Jewish religion" writes:
"It is all very depressing. Thankfully we [?] still have a vigourous investigative press led by Gazeta Wyborcza."

I hate to say it but any working journalist worth his/her salt and even anybody remotely connected to media business knows that "Gazeta Wyborcza", and particularly its editorial stuff, has strong links to the post-communist circles and that it's attempted to manipulate last election in Poland by publishing tendencious (to put it mildly), anti-right opinion polls in last stages of the election campaign.
But then it shouldn't come as a surprise if one remembers that the paper's editor-in-chief has publicly described a leader of the Communist junta which imposed marshal law in Poland (gen. Jaruzelski) as "Polish patriot" [sic].

  • 50.
  • At 08:50 PM on 07 Sep 2007,
  • William wrote:

I agree with what has been said even though I am a little late replying.

I am a brit living here in poland and having done so for over 3 years. My point is that many poles simply want a life that is comparible with others within the EU. Why not? However, I see the government as missing the needs of the people. Surely any government should have the needs of the people that have elected them at the forefront of their minds? I feel that here in Poland that is not the case.

Whereas I fully undestand the need to once and for all draw a line under the communist era, I feel that the present Government PiS is miissing the point/idea of what a government should do/be. Poland has spent many years under dictatorial rule and in 1989 decided that was no longer to be the case. What has happened over the last couple of years is a slow creeping in of a dictatorial rule. Sadly it is only the educated that see it and are worried. Surely a governments role is to provide a safe enviroment for ALL it's citizens not a few who agree with the present government.

From mixing with Poles I see the desire/need/want and passion to finally live free of control and embrace democracy, mistakes and all. What I see the government doing is walking back 20 years and forgetting to move the country forward. How many country Presidents open a presidential department to monitor those that critize the President?

Poland is a fantastic country with a huge amount of educated people who simply want to be able to live there life freely and fairly and sadly PiS can't allow them to do so. People fear filling in a financial form incorrectly as they maybe accused of corruption. Although the government was caught bribing the oppostion party 'self defence' and simply said that is was 'negotiation'. So as with communism there is one rule for one and another rule for another. The PiS government is corrupt, inhumane and control freaks.

The financial boom started years ago before PiS were elected to power, the only reason it is still going is because they haven't meddled with the economy, thank God.

If PiS is so strong on eradicatin corruption why don't they deal with father Rydsyk?

I pray that God in his mercy delivers Poland from the Kaczynski brothers and a new government is elected that wants to see it's people prosper, develop and make poland great again. Maybe it is time for the 5th republic?

  • 51.
  • At 12:43 AM on 09 Sep 2007,
  • Marcel wrote:

@ William (49): the best way for Poland would be to leave the EU, so they can restore their national democracy.

I only wish we (Netherlands) would leave too, I'm sick of that politician gravy train (ie EU/Fourth Reich) anyway.

The EU is bad for Europe and Europe would be better off without it.

  • 52.
  • At 12:58 AM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

Sorry for the delay in replying - I was away for a few days. The comment about Gordon Brown was not intended to go in and my entry was edited at my request.

I agree that Poland was once the most liberal country in Europe. But during the 19th century, when other countries in Europe were becoming more liberal, Poland was overtaken, through no fault of its own - it was colonised by three foreign powers. And I suspect that in the competition to show "resistance", there was competition to identify as "Polish Catholic" in opposition to other identities - either one was with Poles or one was opposed to Poles. This is a natural human reaction and in the nationalism of the early 20th century attitudes hardened. Whereas other countries went through a process of liberalisation after WWII, Poland was ethnically cleansed and had an authoritarian Government which made use of anti-semitism. My late father remembered coming to Poland in 1968, as an honoured guest, and being presented with a banner at the airport - Zionism Agency of Imperialism - and he was very struck. This, as well as the very very warm individual welcome he received from his colleagues, was his long term memory he retained of Poland. This sort of thing is your legacy abroad for many people as much as Solidarnosc and the current Government is doing nothing really to change that.

Poland has had little experience of diversity since WWII. And the results show now - the unthinking racist comments expressed by Poles sometimes astonish me. Many Britons comment on it among the new wave of Polish workers. I am sure that this is because nowadays Poland, unlike pre war Poland, is basically an ethnically pure society and is unused to an experience of difference.

Despite my comments I have NEVER felt unsafe in Poland and have found Poles individually very welcoming and kind. But the social pressure to religious conformity is really enormous. The comment about religious education was not about Christian education - learning about the bible - I had a Christian education and learning about the Christian religion is a good background for living in this country, indeed any European country. It is the inclusion of the actual process of first communion - participation in the induction into a particular branch of the Christian religion in the actual class - which to me is not acceptable. In a monolithic religious culture withdrawing from religion risks ostracism. But, in the light of our experience, our second child is indeed not going to religion classes.

Incidentally, apparently the syllabus for religion includes 25% of education about other religions, but in my town at least, it seems simply not to be put in practice through lack of knowledge among the clergy and devout laity who teach it. Introducing this would be a great start to improving understanding.

So now there are two branches of the Catholic religion - open, welcoming and progressive among the more educated and sophisticated, simply humane and compassionate - the sort that produced the 6000 righteous among the nations - the largest number in any European nation. And closed, orthodox, restrictive, rejecting other approaches and putting pressure to conform, which is more prevalent in remoter rural areas (but by no means all) and typified by Radio Maria and the apex of the PiS heirarchy. There is a schism in the church and body politic and this was seen in the impassioned reaction to Dziwisz's recent comments calling for change in Radio Maria.

Anyway the net effect of all the influence of this conservative wing is that Jews are afraid to show that they are Jews - that is a fact. And Poles should be really ashamed of this fact and should be shouting out loud that Polish Jews should feel proud of their identity as Jewish Poles, and indeed Poles should be publicly welcoming Jews who have been frightened into leaving Poland back with open arms. Poland needs some political correctness on this matter, this is more important than all the Museums of the History of Polish Jews.

With the fawning on Radio Maria pushed by Central Government, this will never happen and until this does happen I will not feel that Poles have truly come to terms with the legacy of anti-semitic and intolerant forces in their society and past in the way that Germany has come to terms with the atrocities of its Nazi past. The attitude of the powers that be really is a litmus test of Poland's attitude to openness and liberty. And this attitude is something that the European Union, due to the principles which Poland signed up to when joining the EU, has a right to be interested in.

Change in religious observance will happen. Attendance at mass has dropped from 75% to 50% in the last 15 years. Immigration to Poland will happen, probably within ten years. Due to a drop from a birth rate of 800000 per year 25 years ago to 300000 or thereabouts today, Poland will be a country of immigration, probably from non-white countries.

Getting more tolerant earlier rather than later would be a good idea for Poland, in particular for the sake of Poles who live here who otherwise risk living "in interesting times"!

  • 53.
  • At 01:47 PM on 10 Sep 2007,
  • Mirek Kondracki wrote:

Martin (#52) obviously doesn't remember 1968 events personally.
The political purge which has occured then didn't have much to do with anti-semitism, and was not a result of any anti-semitic mood among Poles. It was simply (and it's been amply documented since)simply a result of a power struggle between two factions within Polish Communist Party (PZPR). As a security services henchman and the then internal affairs minister, gen. Mieczyslaw Moczar and his cronies couldn't gain an upper hand he decided to present himself as an nationalist trying to purge the communisty Party of "disloyal elements". He succeeded by using a fact that there were quite a few Jews in upper echelons of the second faction.The best proof that Jews were not a real target of this machination is that among intellectuals purged and subsequently forced to emmigrate were quite a few 100% Poles (whatever that means), such as an admired by youth philosopher Leszek Kolakowski, for many years now a professor in Oxford's All Souls College. And among most hated targets of repressions were, again, 100% Poles and Catholics: a famous historian Pawel Jasienica, and no less famous composer and essayist Stefan Kisielewski. Most idealistic Polish students protesting at that time in the streets against communist censorship weren't even aware that they were being used for nefarious purposes by different Communist Politbureau aparatchics.
Take it from somebody who remembers that time only too well.

  • 54.
  • At 04:59 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

I agree with Mirek's analysis of the situation in 1968. The Government used Polish anti-semitism as a tool for an internal political struggle. However this would not have happened if there had not been a vein of prejudice to work on. And didn't however feel any different from anti-semitism for the victims of that campaign! It is this anti-semitism that foreigners and the people thrown out remember - often with tremendous bitterness. So the current footsying with Radio Marya gives those with this sort of experience a real fear for the future, justified or not.

  • 55.
  • At 05:04 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Martin wrote:

Look at today's Warsaw Voice about the question of PiS's behaviour in the current Lepper affair. They make a convincing case that it is an example of entrapment (creating a potential crime and inciting a person to commit it) and as such may well have been illegal. I must say this is how it appears to me.

  • 56.
  • At 06:22 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • Michal wrote:

Martin (post 54),

It does not appear to me as such. I think, most of the people in Poland share my opinion. Anyway we will know the answer on the election day on 21st Oct. I expect a victory of PiS. However, it remains a question whether they will have a sufficient majority to form the government. The potential coalition partner maybe the recently formed new LPR (Poland's League of Right) consisting of old LPR (League of Polish Families), UPR (conservative liberals) and PR (another right-wing party). Early opinion polls suggest that such a coalition will meet the required threshold of 5% and would be my favourite to form the government together with PiS.

  • 57.
  • At 08:16 PM on 11 Sep 2007,
  • vincenz wrote:

I see similar phenomena here in the USA - abeit our very different history and socio-economic setting:
* The large percentage of youth disaffected by politics and political leaders.
* Ignorance(and lack of personal experience) for key periods in national and world history and their attendant social, political and economic consequences. (Viet Nam, Bay of Pigs, Watergate, Cold War etc.)
* Low voter turnout.
* The ever increasing influence of media in the political world.
* The constant drumbeat of "globalization" and confusion regarding its pluses and minuses.
* Youthful idealism coopted by political elites.
* The shameful performance of many religious institutions and groups, evinced by fraudulent monetary appeals, poliical meddling of national-religious lobby groups, and the victimization of their younger adherents.

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