Thursday, 13 May 2010

Solidarni 2010

As a matter of principle I don’t watch television. I find it a waste of time, if I want to get hold of some information, Internet or newspapers are better sources. The former because it allows me to quickly find what I want, the latter offers contact with a written word rather than moving picture. This conscious decision to keep away from the box entails some consequences, for example I haven’t the faintest idea who today’s celebrities are or what is being watched by masses. Recently I have been caught up in a big media uproar triggered by one film broadcast in the first channel of Polish television.

Some of you probably heard of “Solidarni 2010”, a documentary shot by Mr Pospieszalski in a week following the Smolensk tragedy. Mr Pospieszalski is generally a controversial figure, leftists, liberals and mild conservatives reckon him to be extremely partial and prejudiced, but he has a group of staunch supporters for whom he is one of handful of journalist courageous enough to tell the unpopular truth.

The documentary was supposed to be a record of true Poles’ feelings in the time of mourning, but along the way something was screwed up and finally Polish media ethics watchdog (Rada Etyki Mediów) picked on the film and claimed Mr Pospieszalski had violated rules of objectivity, respect and tolerance. In the wake of the debate which consisted in mostly trading accusations I decided to download the film and sacrifice ninety minutes to watch the controversial footage. I divided my reflections on it into three paragraphs.

1. True Poles
The people who starred in the film were only true Poles, those who mourned the president, who really loved him, who queued up for over a dozen hours to pay tribute to him. I wonder how those people who were showed in the film had been chosen. How many were interviewed and how long did it take to pick the opinions which fit the film best? How do those people who appeared in the film feel now? Are they proud or ashamed of themselves?
Judging by the documentary only, Poland came to a standstill in the days following the plane crash. In truth, most Poles slowed down a bit, but they carried on living normally, some remained indifferent, some were only sad. But are those who didn’t cry not true Poles? The bad Poles are the youngsters who protested against burial on Wawel. “How do they dare?”, one of the older women asked. In line with the consensus in the face of such a tragedy some of us should keep our mouths shut and others should take decisions without taking heed of Poles’ views.
The funny thing is that among the “ordinary Poles” you could see actors and politicians (councillors) of Law and Justice. Here I’ll stop by to quote Katarzyna Łaniewska, one of Polish actresses who in 2005 endorsed Lech Kaczynski. Mrs Łaniewska said many of her friendships had broken because her ex-friends had ridiculed late president. Once again something is beyond my comprehension. Some of my friends voted for PiS, some will vote for Mr Kaczynski or Mr Napieralski, some even hate PO or say Mr Olechowski was a sneak or scoundrel. And somehow we don’t fall out, we are aware of different views, find many other topics for conversation and live with our dissents. Your friend can say “president is a midget”, but is it a reason to end a friendship?

2. Poland is a cesspit…
This is the general conclusion I have drawn from the film. For the past twenty years of alleged independence the country has been ruled by the układ and Poles have been manipulated by hostile media. The biggest symbols of evil are of course Gazeta Wyborcza and TVN which hounded the outstanding president to death. I find it still hard to come to terms with the inconvenient for me truth that the country I’m living in is a dummy democracy steered by secret services of Russia. Many of the interviewed straightforwardly claimed they thought other countries were pulling strings in Poland. My reaction is even worse when I find out Poland has been built on lies, damned lies, spread by hostile media. Personally I take it as an insult when someone suggests I have to watch Tusk Vision Network or read The Selective to know what to think. I really don’t need to resort to help of partial journalists to form my own opinions. I am intelligent enough to do it myself.
The very true point in the film was that media indeed presented a very unfavourable image of Mr Kaczynski before his decease. Many times instead of coming up with substantive criticism they simply ridiculed him, produced an angled image. After his tragic death they made a swift turnaround an glorified the president. And I wholeheartedly agree with the “true Poles” who said what media did was an excellent example of hypocrisy.

3. Conspiracy theories
It starts with some spiritual hypotheses – evil and hatred Poles were infected with pulled down the plane. The hatred killed them, if enough individuals wish the president is dead, their wish materialises… Watch out for the distinction – he did not die, he was killed.
Media also have their part in manipulating Poles. They have ready answers for all questions, they actually do everything to prevent rational-thinking Poles from asking questions about the causes of the tragedy. And supposing it could have been a planned assassination is a symbol of mental problems.
In short, it was not an accident. Mr Kaczynski was inconvenient for the Russians, so they decided to liquidate him. Mr Tusk probably tried to help them cover up the whole plot, especially by letting them carry out the investigation. One of the men says bluntly “Premier Tusk ma na swoich rękach polską krew” (Prime Minister Tusk has his hands covered with Polish blood). Someone can be silly enough to utter such a slander on a street, but someone who decides to broadcast it in national TV should be aware of legal consequences – the sentence could be interpreted as accusing Polish prime minister of murder. Fortunately, Mr Tusk did not react to this accusation.

Should it appear on public TV? Well, yes… In a democracy we have free speech and Mr Pospieszalski should have a right to have his film broadcast and given the number of complaints Media Ethics Council has received, Poles are outraged so everything functions properly. I am not outraged nor even surprised, I know what Mr Pospieszalski and fellow cranks are capable of.
But let’s consider an imaginary film showing the dark side of late president and a typical Polish street full of indifferent, laughing folks in the days of mourning. Would the authors of it be given a chance to have their footage showed in TV? And what makes my hackles rise is that the money for this film was laid on from our purses, it was financed from licence fee takings. Here’s the hitch, it should not have been paid for by taxpayers.

I would love to see two or three similar films before the election. Is it a weird desire? No dear readers, they would remind Poles the perils of relapse of IV RP. Poles should feel the same disgust as they felt in 2007 when they rejected the vision of the country devised by the twin brothers. You might ask why I want avert the situation when Mr Kaczynski or PiS are back rulers. It’s not that he’s short, unmarried, can’t speak any foreign language and drive a car. These are just meaningless shortcomings. The real reasons are more serious.
1) Mr Kaczynski wants to build Poland on mistrust,
2) In his vision, the citizens should be for the country, not the other way round!
3) He is an expert in dividing Poles into good and bad, patriots and traitors, Solidarity and ZOMO.
This is what the public discourse in Poland should focus on. It is silly to poke fun at slip-ups, we should rather concentrate on policy issues and there’s the rub.

And finally, I don’t understand the title of the film. It should have been titled “Skłóceni 2010” as it highlighted how Poles have been divided, even in the days of mourning.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

The candidates once again

This time I won’t write about financial tribulations of EU, social unrest in Greece or spectacular turmoil on financial markets. Politics is what attracts much more attention so if I publish a new list of potential presidents of Poland at least the readers will be more likely to have their say.

The tragic Smolensk plane crash has brought about a serious reshuffle on the list of politicians running for presidency. Acting president and parliament speaker Bronisław Komorowski has called election for 20 June, so the short campaign, run in shadow of the Smolensk disaster, will last less than six weeks from now (plus possible fortnight before the run-off). In March I compiled a similar list of candidates, however, the recent events have prompted an update as two important candidates, incumbent president Lech Kaczynski and SLD candidate Jerzy Szmajdzinski both died on 10 April.

The order might matter so to avoid bias I decided to review contenders in alphabetical order.

1. Marek Jurek – extreme right-wing politician, until 2007 a member of Law and Justice party, which he left to voice his protest against enacting too liberal abortion law. Famous for his strong conservative social views and infamous for paying homage to general Pinochet.

2. Jarosław Kaczyński – twin brother of late president Lech Kaczynski and chairman of Law and Justice. Currently he stands a serious chance to vie with Mr Komorowski in a run-off on 4 July. The decision to run for presidency after the death of his brother is said to be natural. At the moment it hard to determine whether his partisans will be resorting to hits below the belt in this campaign. It is equally difficult to say if he is bearing up after the bereavement. Mr Kaczynski is likely to capitalise on the posthumous glorification of his brother’s presidency and in his campaign he will surely emphasise the determination to continue the aborted mission of his brother and restore the ideas of IV RP. It has to be said liberal voters are aghast at the mere thought of Mr Kaczynski as a head of Polish state.

3. Bronisław Komorowski – a Civic Platform’s candidate for the office of president, acting president and speaker of parliament. After the Smolensk disaster he has to carry a heavy burden of performing all those functions. The public opinion centres on him and it’s very easy for his political opponents to pull him up for virtually anything. From not crying at the funerals, through clumsy and too pathetic addresses and speeches, up to taking independent decisions such as signing new IPN bill. Currently he’s an odds-on favourite, but nobody can take his win for granted. Many voters are likely to put a cross against him just to prevent the worst, in their view, scenario.

4. Janusz Korwin-Mikke – an eccentric libertarian politician. This year’s campaign is his fifth run for presidency. He enjoys a considerable support of some young, male, surely not pragmatic voters. Mr Korwin-Mikke is usually described as quaint and clever oddball and stalwart critic of any manifestations of socialism. I am personally sceptical of his high IQ, whenever I read or hear his thoughts it appears to me his view of the world is over-simplified. Unfortunately, the reality is not that straightforward and the world and economics are much more complex.

5. Andrzej Lepper – a rural chieftain who built his political career on pouncing at the inhuman capitalism, blocking the roads and wangled his way into the senior positions in government. Sentenced to two years and three months of imprisonment for sexual harassment, cannot run for parliament, but for presidency, why not. This sad inconsistency proves how lame Polish law sometimes is. Yesterday I heard he began his campaign on bazaar in Łódź. I’m slightly missing him and his outrageous party. Polish politics without white-and-red ties, sandals worn together with a suit, kurwiki, wheedled out fuel allowance and many other stuff lost some of its flavour.

6. Kornel Morawiecki – few people heard about that guy. Mr Morawiecki was a member of anti-communist opposition in PRL, in independent Poland he keeps on trying to reshape the country. Hitherto – to no avail. Views – rather nationalistic.

7. Grzegorz Napieralski – SLD’s candidate after the tragic death of Mr Szmajdzinski, the youngest runner (aged 36). Nominated as a contender on the spur of the moment might look off-putting for many centre-left voters as he represents the far-left fringe of SLD. He is known for his radical leftist economic and social views. On political scene he would lean towards co-operation with Law and Justice rather than Civic Platform, for many a careerist and a mate who tries to capitalise on leftist sentiments.

8. Andrzej Olechowski – formally independent candidate, backed by niche Polish Democratic Party. Mr Olechowski wants to change a public discourse in Poland and focus on substantive discussion and moving Poland forward. If I don’t settle on tactical voting, I’ll support him. I have five reasons:
1) He is the independent candidate.
2) His political, social and economic views overlap mine best = he looks like a truly liberal candidate.
3) He is an economist (PhD in foreign trade) so he would understand much better than Mr Komorowski the mechanics of Polish economy.
4) His vision of presidency squares with mine – reconciliation, support and respect are the main foundations.
5) His command of foreign languages is the best among the runners.
He seems to stand out in terms of manners, he has a vision and sets it above career.
This one was immensely subjective, indeed… To make up for the positive bias I have to add before 1989 Mr Olechowski collaborated with PRL secret services, but he never tried to conceal those bleak episode from his life.

9. Waldemar Pawlak – represents Polish peasants’ party and might get more votes than expected. Currently he holds the office of deputy prime minister and economy minister. Recently he makes the headlines as the author of revolutionary draft of pension system reform. I fully advocate his ideas (small pension benefit provided by the state, equal for everyone, to have a higher pension save on your own), but maybe it would be better if he stayed on where he is.

10. Bogusław Ziętek – unfortunately the guy doesn’t have an entry in English wikipedia. Mr Ziętek shows there’s some room to the left of Mr Napieralski. He is said to be a powerful a trade union leader, an ideal head of state of suppressed working class, but is the presidency about burning tyres and yelling in attempt to get a pay rise?

To be continued…?

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Psalm stojących w kolejce / Queuers’ psalm

Za czym kolejka ta stoi?
Po szarość, po szarość, po szarość.
Na co w kolejce tej czekasz?
Na starość, na starość, na starość.
Co kupisz, gdy dojdziesz?
Zmęczenie, zmęczenie, zmęczenie.
Co przyniesiesz do domu?
Kamienne zwątpienie, zwątpienie

Bądź jak kamień, stój, wytrzymaj
Kiedyś te kamienie drgną
I polecą jak lawina
Przez noc.
Przez noc
Przez noc.

What are they queuing for?
For greyness, for greyness, for greyness.
What are you waiting about for?
For old age, for old age, for old age.
What will you buy when it’s your turn?
Tiredness, tiredness, tiredness.
What will you bring home?
Doubt, doubt, stone doubt.

Be like stone, stand, withstand.
We will leave no stone unturned.
And they’ll slide like an avalanche
Through the night
Through the night

I can’t proudly admit I managed to retain the rhythm, singing my translation would be a breakneck task, but there’s a reason to look back on the bleak days just before Solidarity rose up.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Labour day after-thoughts

I spent the entire first day of May strolling around Warsaw, serving as a guide. In the early afternoon, at the corner of Nowy Świat and Al. Jerozolimskie my guests and I ran across one of the May Day marches organised by leftist organisations, lunatic-fringe parties or trade unions. As far as I know there were a few demonstrations in Warsaw on that day. The event we kept away from and just watched by could have sparked off a ferocious row over the political views, but I managed to head off that possibility and no one fell out over who to vote for and against, nor whose vision of Poland is the only right.

Apart from seeing the next divide lines I could discern my views, though still in a state of flux, have crystallised and I developed some gut reactions to some certain types of rhetoric.

According to what I’ve read later on the website of Gazeta Stołeczna, the demands of the protesters were the following:

1. Every woman and every man should have a right to pension off after respectively: 35 and 40 years of working. This actually means if they enter the labour market at the age of 22 (on average) they would retire at the age of 57 (women) or 62 (men), so earlier than now. But thanks to the advancement of social welfare and better quality of healthcare, technological development etc., they will live longer than their parents and work shorter. Who will pay for that? Just one question, but makes a considerably big crack on their demands.

2. As Mr Careerist Napieralski pointed out, Poland is still far from the welfare standard old countries of European Union stand for. Which countries? Germany, which is struggling to carry the burden of ageing society? France, paralysed by strikes whenever unionists don’t get a pay rise or when someone brazenly tries to extend the 35-hour workweek? Or maybe Greece which is paying the price for its welfare standards?

3. Some demonstrators trotted out the old buzz-phrases, such as: “the rich should pay for the crisis”, or “it’s your [employers’] crisis, not ours”, “Greek strikes show us the way”. Now let’s face it – the crisis had its roots in the USA and not only bankers are to blame, but also the subprime borrowers who took out loans they would never have stood a chance to pay back. And it is our crisis, also mine, because the labour market will not be as brisk as it used to be in 2007 or 2008 and I will not enjoy such career opportunities and will not be paid as generously as a few years older graduates of SGH. But if they trade unionists think their employers should bear the burden of cost-cutting, lower demand and pay claims on their own, then good luck and strangle your companies to death. It is easier to have a lower salary and make and ends meet or to live off social security? Maybe the latter, at least they don’t have to wake up and work for eight hours every day.

4. Not surprising were the calls to stop exploitation, comparing capitalism to cannibalism or even ideas to set up a Polish Soviet republic..

The common denominator of the claims above is economic illiteracy. There are some rules you cannot circumvent, like the simplest one, that if you don’t work for something, you don’t get it. Even you don’t work but grow richer it is because some else pays for it and you are sponging on them. Working less and getting paid more is like having a cake and eating it – not that easy in reality.

Alright, but let’s tackle the problem from a different angle. Why trade unions exist? Their origins can be traced back into the first half of nineteenth century, when they really had to fight for civilised working environment and human treatment. The creation of trade unions and emergence of socialist movement was a natural aftermath of primeval capitalism. These days in the companies where workers are treated decently and paid well nobody thinks about membership in trade unions. So the key to the door is to treat employees fairly. At least those well-educated will pay you back by not hampering your life.

On the other side of the barricade employers have their associations which pursue their goal. If trade unionists want to work less and get paid more, the employers would prefer to have their employees work more and pay them less. If both groups are to outwit each other, they will get nowhere.

In the evening I saw a coverage from street riots in Athens. The first thing I spotted was a policeman set on fire by protesters. As a child I saw accidentally a man ablaze and such a sight will probably always be traumatic for me. But hang on, how inhuman and cruel it is to set fire to a fellow man and watch him burning? It is beyond my comprehension that such uncivilised nation is in the European Union. They resorted to lies to enter the eurozone. Lies, blatant lies, statistics, Greek statistics, will it get worse? Now when their country is on the brink of bankruptcy instead of humbly getting down to work to lift it up they take to the streets. Ruling elite is to blame, but I have no sympathy for the ordinary Greeks who appear as coarse rabble.

So what can be done for the poor. The Labour-day protesters want more redistribution. I opine no redistribution, but the low-paid workers should not pay income tax and other quasi-taxes employers withhold. Currently a company has to spend around 2,000 PLN on an employee who gets paid around 1,300 PLN net. And if they got paid 2,000 or at least 1,800, wouldn’t they be better off? Socialists want higher taxes for the richer, “typical” liberals want lower taxes for the richer, I want lower taxes but mostly for the poorer. For my ideas of tax system click here.

There are also proposals to abolish the Labour Day as a relic of PRL. As many Poles I am against, not because I care about the marches, trade unions, etc. As many Poles I want to make the most of long weekend and the gust of spring warmth. Additional day off is a good occasion to cycle, take a trip, have a barbecue, work in the garden and for many other outdoor activities!