Sunday, 26 September 2010

Optimising the commuting

I do not remember if I made any resolutions at the beginning of the year. I somehow recall I felt it would be a good year for me and my sixth sense proved right! So this week, at the onset of autumn I made a resolution not to write about politics and I am intent on keeping away from political current affairs by the end of October. I think this will be a tough test for me, given that Mr Sane-As-Never is likely to step up his end-justifies-the-means insult campaign, paving the way to his party’s wipe-out in parliamentary elections in 2011!

In the summer commuting would have been a sheer pleasure, if it had not been for the high temperature, so frequent in the past two months. Now it is cooler, but time spent on journeys to and from work has gone up by 20% or even 50%. Right: 15 September (when I went by car for the last time), morning, queue before intersection of ul. Łabędzia and ul. Puławska. In July or August I just to had wait for the traffic light to turn green, now it queueing takes up to ten minutes. Walking and overtaking the frustrated commuters is much healthier.

The veritable hell on ul. Puławska will probably begin in mid-October, when the artery will be narrowed to only two lanes in each direction. Now, when all three lanes are occupied the traffic is almost stationary, no wonder commuters dread to think what happens when the one-kilometre-long section around the junction Puławska will become a bottleneck. I wonder how many of them will leave their cars in garages and on car parks and find an alternative way of commuting and what it would be.

Warsaw this summer was also dug up like almost never before. Ul. Emilii Plater (right), earlier paved with cobblestone has been modernised. Now drivers are able to use two lanes in each direction, bus lanes and cycling paths have been marked out, not yet opened. Construction works are still under way, new pavements for pedestrians should be laid soon, but we will have to wait a while for the DNA-shaped green belt with flowerbeds and benches designed for the space between the roads.

At the beginning of the second decade of September the most famous place in Warsaw became ul. Prosta, where the construction of second line of Warsaw underground kicked off. I took the photo to the right on 15 September around a quarter to nine in the morning. From what I have heard and seen, traffic is less dense than before ul. Prosta was closed, which sounds like a miraculous piece of news. Even streets parallel and perpendicular to ul. Prosta are less jammed than before. Everyone noticed, nobody can explain it. By the way, I stared at the green fence and wondered what it resembled. I did a double-take at the photo at home and I think I know – it brought to my mind the Berlin Wall. Am I the only one? The second photo to the right was taken after 11:00 as I walked to my office in Złote Tarasy. Ul. Prosta on its section east to Rondo Daszyńskiego was almost empty and looks like in off-peak hours this until today.

When using a car is ruled out and riding a bike is totally impractical there are two ways of getting into town left. One is a ZTM bus – they do not run as often as before the summer holidays, but still I do not have to wait for more than five minutes on a bus stop in Mysiadło for any ZTM bus to pull up. Then the journey to Metro Wilanowska terminus which starts at around 7:00 lasts around 35 minutes. It is that short just because bus drivers use the roadside as a bus lane. This means buses move much faster than cars, but journeys are more dangerous as vehicles pass lampposts and ditches by centimetres.

Actually what more can I say when I look at the traffic jam like the one right? I see a tractor with two trailers and the only thing that occurs to me is “everything except the kitchen sink”. I am of course wrong since I have not seen any horse-drawn cart on ul. Puławska yet. I can be grateful to my employer that it offers my flexible working hours. If I were to knock on at 9:00 as everybody does, my morning journeys would be around 20 minutes longer. And I still do not know which of available means of transport I should use from February 2011 when I return to work. Much will depend on the location of my office, but I am leaning towards something that does not involve using roads.

Even on the European Day without cars ul. Puławska was jammed, it was even more packed than normally, even in spite of the fact drivers were able to use public transport for free if they only had their vehicle’s registration certificates. The event was not publicised properly and, let’s face it – most people even if they knew about it would not have given up on using their cars for one day, it is a matter of habit, they cannot imagine having to travel inside a big vehicle with tens of other people. And another question that has just come up to me – how to persuade people who have company cars (company pays for the petrol and provides a car park) not to use cars? My colleagues who almost all have company cars cannot imagine commuting to the centre from Ursynów by the underground! One sales director who lives near the underground told me openly this June he had taken the metro for the first (and last) time in his life and had been really excited about the trip!!!

If not roads, then maybe rails. Unfortunately I do not have a suburban-zone ticket so I cannot board a Warsaw-bound train in Nowa Iwiczna without risking being caught by a ticket inspector. The only solution I have worked out is then to walk to Mysiadło, take any bus, ride two stops, get off and catch another bus that will take me to PKP Jeziorki and wait there for fifteen minutes for the train which according to the timetable arrives at 07:27. The journey from PKP Jeziorki to Śródmieście takes 35 minutes, so shorter than getting into the station, what actually makes the whole idea a tad absurd.

I treat it as a temporary solution because rare rail services to Warsaw are not an alternative for commuting into school where I start and finish classes at different hours and do not have flexible working hours. The thing which took my fancy on sunny mornings (if such arrangement of air pressure systems was in the winter, we would probably have –20C) spent partly on the platform of W-wa Jeziorki was the beautiful sight of all tracks coinciding in one point on the horizon, hidden in an early-autumn mist.

Commuting by train has one more advantage – given PKP Jeziorki station lies just next to the coal line, one can spot a coal train while waiting for a suburban train to town. Once I thought I would be given the pleasure of seeing and snapping one, however, the horn turned out to have been blown by a Radomiak - fast train running every morning from Radom to Warszawa, stopping only at some of the stations on its route.

Speaking about passing trains – I was tipped off that a train from Prague to Moscow runs through Nowa Iwiczna every morning around 9:20, so yesterday around 9:00 I cycled towards the level crossing in NI to snap a train. I was actually lucky to leave home earlier as the train also came earlier. I did not expect it to arrive so quickly so I stayed at the wrong, west side of the tracks which meant I could take photos against the sun only. I should have stuck around on the new P&R facility built next to the station from where I could snap the train lit by morning, late-September sun.

A pity this weekend were probably the last days of clement weather. I made the most of it by tidying up the garden on Friday, making a barbecue yesterday and washing the car today. Errr, is it a political topic that Polish parliament passed an amendment to the labour law on Friday, which declares the Epiphany (6 January) a bank holiday and takes away a paid day off which employers have to give employees to compensate for a bank holiday falling on Saturday? I should hold back from refraining on harping on about religion-related aspects of the resolution, although hitherto most people worked normally and if they wished, attended an evening mass. Now we will have a day off in the dead of winter, most people will not give a damn about going to the church or celebrating. From the comments I have read in the Internet I infer most people think the same as I do – we should have an additional bank holiday in spring (not on 10 April, I beg you) or summer when people can take a trip to the countryside, forest, cycle, have a barbecue, spend the day on their allotments. Most people have a rest on bank holidays, not celebrate them.

Meanwhile Polish president has a hard nut to crack – around a dozen Poles died tragically in a bus accident on the bypass of Berlin, Germany. Is it a reason to call national mourning as the late president would surely do?

Saturday, 18 September 2010

It takes one cross to break out a row

This week’s bolt out of the blue was the decision to move the cross from outside the presidential palace to the chapel inside the palace, from where it will be moved to Kościół Św. Anny and then taken from there on a pilgrimage to Smolensk plane crash site on 10 October (if the pilgrimage will take place at all). The decision to has drawn another line of divide in the nation, but it has to be said over three-quarters of Poles, as shown by the survey carried out for Rzeczpospolita are of the opinion the decision was right.

Another poll, prepared for Gazeta Wyborcza reveals around two-third of Poles think the late president shouldn’t have been buried on Wawel. The figures speak for themselves – “Poland” doesn’t gather around the cross, Poland dismissed the efforts of Jarosław Kaczyński to make up for his twin brother’s (at best) ordinary presidency and establish him as a national hero.

This week I managed to persuade my colleagues that Jarosław Kaczyński is absolutely sane and what he does is a part of a well-thought-out scheme. This guy has a vision of a country, which actually doesn’t strike a chord with most people in Poland, so the only method to bring Poles round into his plot is to make them believe everything that has been built within the last two decades is evil, by means of discrediting most politicians (excluding himself, his brother and a handful of others, such as Jan Olszewski) who have run Poland in that period. If followed out successfully, it would give him a moral justification to take over power. To put it simply – he needs to destroy a lot to start over with his project.

And my colleagues managed to persuade me Jarosław Kaczyński is not capable of overthrowing the president or the government – the group of his followers is too weeny to pursue such scenario.

Now some quotations from the last two days and some questions triggered by them…

Będziemy musieli czekać do nowej władzy, by uczczono pamięć ofiar tej katastrofy, prezydenta RP w sposób właściwy i godny. Does it mean efforts to replace the authorities will be stepped up? Is it possible to agree on a clear-cut definition of commemorating the fatalities properly and with dignity? How sizeable and splendid should the monument be? (I know one dog owner who already has an opinion how big the monument of Lech Kaczynski should be).

Gdyby Polska była normalnie funkcjonującą demokracją, na scenie politycznej nie byłoby już premiera, Bronisława Komorowskiego, Radosława Sikorskiego, Bogdana Klicha i Tomasza Arabskiego - another insult to Poles, around fifty per cent of them still back PO. If democracy in this country doesn’t function properly maybe is it time to replace it with a better political system? A good example how a proper democracy works is Jarosław Kaczyński’s party – just speak your mind and feel the whip of democracy on your back, as Elżbieta Jakubiak did.

If defenders of the cross sang Ojczyznę wolną racz nam wrócić Panie, does it mean Poland is not free? Do those people realise comparing Poland under Tusk’s and Komorowski’s rule to the times of partitions, nazi occupation or being a part of Soviet bloc borders on a blasphemy and is a serious accusation?

Czułam się lepiej widząc, że cały naród płacze (Małgorzata Wassermann) - does anyone else feel better when millions of people cry?

Kaczyński says first lady’s presence in Smolensk would be inappropriate… Is resorting to moral blackmailing appropriate? Is it appropriate to point who should be active in politics and who shouldn’t? Is it appropriate to suggest so many Poles must be wrong to support PO? Is it appropriate to deny 28 families or anyone else a right to visit the crash site?

Ukradli krzyż Whose cross is it? It wasn’t put up by the defenders but by the scouts? They granted themselves ownership of the cross...

It seems the rough-and-tumble around the cross won’t last long. The defenders are running out of steam and more and more Poles are sick of watching that lousy comedy going on. If Jarosław Kaczyński keeps stirring things up, Poles will wipe him out from the political scene in the coming elections. You can say Kaczyński is wicked or mendacious, but he had a vision of Poland, now the focal point of his political plan is not a moral revolution, but glorifying his brother. Instead of building new motorways and railways he’d build monuments of the late president.

Every day I wake up with a sigh of relief. Let’s face it – Bronisław Komorowski is a mediocre head of state, but what would have happened if Kaczyński had been elected a president? Poland would have turned into a place where everything revolves around the plane crash, monuments, crosses, plaques, investigations, glorifications, passing moral judgements, blamestormings, recriminations. I doubt public discourse would be focused on real economic and social problems… By the way – has anyone heard any politician from PiS speaking about pension system reform, health service, public debt or any other burning issue? They gave voice when they put forward a bank tax, but in general the debate doesn’t centre around any issue that could help move Poland forward.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Polish politics spirals out of control

Last year I was on holiday on the anniversary of 9/11 and I didn't write about all conspiracy theories concerning those terrorist attacks. Some time ago the topics of “inside job” fascinated me, later on I gave all those dwellings up. Every time a big tragedy happens conspiracy theories proliferate. Probably a human mind tries to cope with what is beyond its understanding by coming up with most ridiculous explanations. The world is slowly forgetting about those tragic events, this year the run-up to the anniversary was marked by a plan of American pastor Terry Jones to burn Koran to demonstrate his objection to plans to build a mosque in the vicinity of ground zero in NYC. I wonder if the pastor realised his deed would be like a red rag to a bull – it could only provoke subsequent acts of violence from fundamentalist Muslims. Politicians’ reactions were very swift – world leaders firmly condemned and dissociated themselves from the disruptive plans and the pastor eventually called off the heinous event. I wonder what he wanted to achieve – what was the point in sparking off another conflict? After all don’t Catholics and Muslims believe in the same God but in a different way? Should relations between religions be based on mutual respect? Instead of dialogue we I saw headlines “World at the mercy of an idiot”. Does it prove power of one man?

In Poland despite cold weather it is getting only hotter. On Tuesday “Gazeta Polska” published an interview with Jarosław Kaczyński in which he envisages Lech Wałęsa will soon be discredited and after his name is dragged through the mud Lech Kaczyński will become a symbol of Solidarity. The late president indeed was a member and advisor of Solidarity, however his merits cannot be compared to those who really worked out a compromise with communist authorities and fought out some freedoms achievable in the limitations of political system based on dependence on Soviet Union. His brother’s designs look like nothing else but an attempt to make up for lack of big achievements in PRL and to get his own back on those who were building independent Poland after 1989 and were successful in politics. It seems to be inconvenient to him that twin brothers did little to go down in history and it justifies the steps taken to rewrite the history. “It’s us, not them, who should be heroes, who should be remembered by generations, who dismantled the communism, if the facts are evidence against us, the worse for the facts”, is what Jarosław might think. Jarosław says it is mean to say his brother’s presidency was not very outstanding (as Tadeusz Mazowiecki had said)…

Can finally anyone tell what Lech Kaczyński had done to be deemed to be an outstanding president? From 2006 he proved to be mediocre president steered by his twin brother, who failed to represent Poland abroad with dignity, was servile to his brother’s government and squabbled with Donald Tusk’s government, was unfamiliar with the rules of diplomacy, deteriorated Poland’s relations with neighbouring countries, favoured some social and professional groups, called national mourning every few months, appointed his henchmen rather than professionals for official positions in state administration and took umbrage at any occasion. Now any attempt to criticise the conduct of late president and refusal to glorify him and his heritage (was it said what his heritage actually is?) is treated as declaring war to the most outstanding politician after 1989.

Jarosław Kaczyński could not fail to suggest Poland is a Soviet-German colony what prompted a press conference held by politicians of three parties whose members sit in the parliament. All voiced their outrage at Kaczyński’s interview and expressed their disapproval of insulting Poland and Poles. Last week saw also two other unprecedented moves – Marek Migalski was ousted from PiS’ delegation to European Parliament, Elżbieta Jakubiak was suspended from her membership in the party for lack of allegiance. A journalist of Gazeta Wyborcza (imp)lies the most likely reason for that step was an alleged interview in which Mrs Jakubiak had said; “Jarosław must feel co-responsible for the death of his brother, if it had not been for his ambitions, Lech Kaczyński would have stayed on as university professor”… (BTW – where can this interview be found, article in Wyborcza lacks precise reference?!) Is it a key to the door?

The so-called System accused Kaczyński of insanity. What he does may seem to appear as a struggle of a blind man, but you should remember Kaczyński is a man of steel and never loses touch. In totalitarian systems dissidents were deliberately dubbed lunatics to detract from their “twaddle”. To my young eye Jarosław Kaczyński is in a top form, sane as never, knows very well what he is doing, has a plan to follow out and is determined to do it. In short his goal quite likely is to dishonour heroes of Solidarity, the current government and president. Consequently, he might be intent on building his brother’s legend as the only one who had moral rights to be a heir of Solidarity’s attainments. Calling current state officials Soviet or German servants sounds then as nothing else but invoking fear and an attempt to find any reason to tell Poles they don’t have legitimacy for running this country.

Kaczyński no longer cares about the support. He has his avid believers who hang on every word he says and would probably execute any order he would give, including bringing down the government by force. The rest of Poles turn their backs on the sane leader or don’t give a damn. The recent polls show PO enjoys support of roughly 52% of Poles, PiS of 25%, SLD of 20%. Many Poles have had enough of what has been going on. The rising backing for PO cannot be justified by their good rule, only by fear of PiS back in power. Good performance of SLD suggests their new anti-clerical strategy bears fruits. Is the diagnosis Poles are sick of privileged position of Catholic church in public life spot-on? There is still an empty space in Polish politics, Janusz Palikot claims, and organises a congress of his new movement which may become a new, truly liberal (in social and economic terms) party to fill it in. Is there a demand for such a party in Poland. Palikot’s views quite well overlap mine, but does a party or movement run by such a controversial lunatic stand a chance to exceed the 5% parliament entry threshold?

On Friday Gazeta Wyborcza published a letter of some of Smolensk crash fatalities’ families to the First Lady, who want to travel to Smolensk six months after the crash and take the cross from outside the presidential palace with themselves. It seemed it could be an excellent idea to commemorate the deceased passengers of TU-154 and to solve the problem of the cross. Predictably, self-styled defenders of the cross, supported by politicians of PiS denied them the right to move away the cross. How long will the Polish state put up with people who appropriated the symbol of tragedy which affected mostly families who had lost their relatives in that accident, and then granted themselves moral right to decide where the cross should stand?

Will Kaczynski’s crusade ever end? On Friday leader of PiS adjudicated current prime minister, president and a few prominent politicians of the ruling party bear a political and moral responsibility for the tragedy. Still I see no causation between PO’s alleged policy of bringing discredit on late president and the plane crash. The same could have happened to Mr Tusk if his visit had been scheduled three days later. Jarosław Kaczynski used imperative sentences – those politicians mentioned above have to disappear from Polish politics forever. In a democracy only voters can force them to step down, moral judgements passed by Jarosław Kaczynski either stem out of his lust for revenge for brother’s death or are a part of a more complex plan to sling mud at Polish government, aimed at proving Mr Tusk and Mr Komorowski must not exercise power. I also fear how this plan (provided it exists) may end up. Given the level of rancour in the Polish society, the readiness of ardent believers of Mr Kaczynski to rise up, his determination to glorify his brother and insult his political opponents, it is not inconceivable some people may take law into their hands… I read yesterday on Internet forums on WP.PL all recent Kaczynski’s actions may serve as a justification for a coup d’etat. If Poland is ruled by a Soviet president and a Soviet prime minister, who should be eliminated from the Polish nation (as the defenders of the cross allegedly chanted on Friday) because they contributed to the death of previous president and 95 other people, it is in the best interest of Poland to topple the government and depose the president. Hatred is in the air and unfortunately scenarios of riots, bloodshed or some sort of civil war, though rather unfounded, cannot be totally ruled out.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Out of sheer envy

In the United States being well-off is a reason to be proud, in Poland if you’re well-off, you’re dodgy. In the United States to be a successful politician one has to get ahead in personal life and be resourceful (in a positive way), in Poland you can become a prime minister without having a bank account, which incidentally guarantees transparency (in developed countries). “If you succeed in running your own business and pursuing your own goals you are likely to be able to run a country effectively” – this rule doesn’t necessarily have many advocates in Poland, but let’s brush aside politics (I’ll go on at that topic later on) and get down to earth, where ordinary Poles live.

I know I’m an immature observer, but I’ve been looking at Poles’ attitude towards money and wealth for some time and came to a conclusion this attitude is probably the biggest collective oddity in my country. The Polish nation had to live through forty five years of socialist economy, in which people theoretically were meant to be equal. It goes without saying that that system had two major pathologies: blue collar workers earned as much or more as university graduates and the people were divided into equal and more equal. The system fell apart mostly for economic reasons and the shift to free-market economy was quite abrupt. Masses slid into poverty, individuals could strike it rich within weeks. Under the new system, one’s material status depended much more on achievements (which were to a considerable extent conditioned on one’s parentage, family’s material and social status and genes that determined drive, intelligence, readiness for sacrifices and hard work). Today when I see myself at the bottom of the ladder of my professional career I strongly feel my own success hinges in 80% upon my own commitment, other factors seem less important. My life is in my hands, but still many people prefer to shift responsibility for their lives into someone else’s hands. It’s generally an easy option, because you can blame someone else for your failures. I can’t blame PRL for providing its citizens with social security on a satisfactory level (actually I’m even kind of grateful to the lame Polish state of that time, because it enabled my parents who came from very poor families to study for free and break away from poverty), but I blame the socialist system for teaching people to be passive and instilling in them the “I deserve” stance towards life. But generations pass and things are slowly changing…

Ask an American how they are and they’ll tell you “great”. A Pole would treat such question as an invitation to start a big whinge, including “I earn too little” as a main grudge borne against the world. Poles are a nation of grumblers (alright, this is partly a stereotype).

When six years ago my parents decided to buy a house it was a bigger problem for them how to explain to family and friends they had managed to set aside a considerable amount of money than to how to actually finance the house. To many people, setting aside as much as an equivalent of four middle-class cars at that time was out of reach. Coming into such amount of money, not really big, must have involved moonlighting, bribery, etc.

According to a popular belief being in possession of a significant amount of money means you must have come into it an not fully legal and honest way. Maybe this stems partly from the early 1990’s when some businessmen would earn fortunes quickly and to many people it seemed if they had worked hard for years didn’t reach as much as someone else within a few months, there must have been an element of crime in it. In fact some of the fortunes were not amassed legally, some were raised legally but immorally, this has surely taken its toll on Polish society, leaving many who couldn’t benefit from capitalism disgruntled.

A simple way to have a lot of money is to (not necessarily scrimp and) save, not spend what you earn foolishly, seeking out wise and profitable investments. Some investments, such as land in good location, start-up companies can be profitable with a bit of luck and often with a considerable dose of risk. But hey, nothing ventured – nothing gained.

In Poland if you succeed people are more likely to envy you than to be happy that you’re getting ahead. Often they pretend to be happy that you’re doing well but deep down they’re green from envy. “Don’t stand out, keep a low profile” is a catch-phrase in Poland, though its importance in social life is on the wane. The worst thing in it all is that quite often seeing someone else pulling off doesn’t motivate to strive to reach a higher lever, but rather prompt to think how to pull a successful one down.

Envy holds strong in Poland. Polish tax office receive thousands of denunciations from “affable” neighbours, friends, colleagues, all pleased to inform fellow taxpayers live beyond their means. Around 50% of the denunciations are legitimate and help Polish state raise money from dishonest taxpayers, but remaining round about 50% are groundless accusations arising from envy that someone else prospers, not the senders.

In politics there also two fringes which rose from the same anti-communist movement. But some had more accomplishment before 1989 and fared better in independent Poland, some didn’t have so many merits, didn’t go down in history and feel envy. Now it’s time to make up for it and rewrite the history, if necessary, also out of sheer envy.

Times are changing, people are changing. My generation is no longer ashamed of having money, I have money, given my age surprisingly much, some put aside by my parents, some inherited after my grandfather, some earned, all not spent foolishly, but wisely invested. I’m proud I managed to amass it and make it work effectively. I heard accusations that I came to some of these money in an obscure way, since those are profits from playing the stock market. But stock market is for people, one has to know how to handle it to reap profits. Besides, my capital gains tax on stock market transactions for 2010 will probably hit four digits so I’ll be pleased to share my wealth with fellow taxpayers. May other Poles fare even better than me, their happiness will be my happiness.