Sunday, 31 August 2014

A leap forward

I could find no other idiom to fit better what nomination for European Council President for prime minister Tusk is. In Polish, the phrase ucieczka do przodu, has a slightly ambiguous meaning, since it denotes a situation in which somebody take steps to be better off, but also in order to evade troubles or shirk responsibility (this is what he also does). The proposal to entrust Mr Tusk one of the most prestigious positions in EU administration fills me with pride, but also brings to mind some ponderings upon the impact of this nomination on Mr Tusk’s career and on Polish politics as a whole.

No matter if you embrace or reject him, Mr Tusk will go down as the first prime minister in democratic Poland to have been re-elected and to have held the office for at least seven years (or almost two terms). He cannot be denied drive and charisma thanks to which he has headed his party for many years, but the same traits helped him eliminate dissenters inside the grouping. His speeches were compelling and millions of Poles fell for them, although time proved many of his words had been hollow. He attained a lot in the Polish politics, he and his party after seven years of being in power have grown so complacent that from some point the only natural direction of their evolution has been downhill. Poles have become kind of fed up with policy of lukewarm water, pursued quite well and although the country is run ‘up to the mark’, some kind of displeasure pushes them towards a change…

The opportunity to take up a prominent EU seat is the one which ought not to be missed. If Mr Tusk seizes it, he will get his last chance to step down in glory. After the next parliamentary election he would eventually step down in disgrace, no matter if he won the election, only as the lesser of two evisl, or if the winner was Mr Kaczynski.

The move leaves Mr Tusk’s party devoid of charismatic leader who used to be in charge of it from the very beginning and kept it together for years. Many candidates will surely have designs on his position, however I dare to suspect cards have long been handed and wait to be unveiled, so his successors have been designated and wait to take charge… The Civic Platform after Mr Tusk’s departure to Brussels might equally well emerge stronger, reinforced by the success of its many-years’ commander-in-chief, or might fall apart, dragged down by chieftains scuffling for headship.

The opposition in unison congratulated Mr Tusk on his success as this in fact is primarily a distinction for Poland and even Mr Kaczynski expressed his backing for the prime minister’s candidacy. Politicians from all parties are probably silently closing ranks before contingent early elections. For all actors of the political arena in Poland accelerated parliamentary elections might mean a blessing as well as a curse. All of the sudden they may either benefit from low support for the ruling party or fall victim of Mr Tusk’s promotion which might bolster up the position of his party.

Time will tell how things shape up in Poland, but today, I am immensely proud a Pole will head one of the EU institutions. For Poland it is a well-deserved position and Mr Tusk, let’s face the truth, is one of few Poles who could be short-listed for such job, despite some shortcomings, e.g. his insufficient command of foreign languages which was mentioned several times. I cannot imagine Mr Miller or Mr Kaczynski or any of the prominent politicians from the opposition not even holding such position, not because of their incompetence, but seeing them striving for being considered as a candidate, rubbing shoulders with European leaders is beyond my imagination…

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Like tomorrow doesn’t exist…

Was curious to hear yesterday in the radio about an article in Gazeta Wyborcza by its correspondent to Riga, capital of Latvia. The piece of writing mentioned in the press review turned out to be a just short story with quite astounding purport.

To sum up, as the author claims, Riga, this year enjoying the status of the European Capital of Culture. One event follows another, the carnival goes on, the Latvians live it up and make the most of the life, before a disaster aborts the festival. Inhabitants of Riga are deeply convinced Putin’s fifth column waits round the corner, ready to intrude into Latvia, as they invaded the Ukraine. The journalist argues an equation mark between Latvia and Ukraine is illegitimate since Latvia, unlike Ukraine, is a member of the EU and NATO and Putin would not dare to attack the military alliance because deep down he and his administration realise they would be defeated by united armies of NATO. Such arguments do not persuade the Latvian interlocutors who point out the Russian president is immensely unpredictable and ingenious and Russians as a rule do not let up.

Whenever hearing about Russian minorities in Baltic countries when the Russian parliament enacted a law entitling the Russian authorities to take every step to defend rights of mongered Russian minorities beyond the borders of Russia, contingency of Russian army stepping in to Latvia seemed incongruent. I had in mind the same argument – Putin would not dare to attack NATO, as it would mean a suicide for him. A few months later, after the Malaysian civil airplane was shot down and given how situation in Eastern Ukraine unfolded, I have changed my mind. Putin might come to a point when, after losing the battle for Ukraine and after suffering other prestigious defeats, he might have nothing to lose. In such situation, i.e. when you are bound to lose everything when you give up but if you take action you may either also lose everything or win something back, placing a dicey bet is economically justified.

The article draws a parallel between what goes on in Latvia and the summer of 1939 in Poland. Three quarters of century after the outbreak of WWII I wonder how it felt like in Poland in August 1939. The war was in the offing, its onset was just a matter of time. There was something in the air, probably the gut feeling something was inexorably about to end soon. Would anyone share the memories of their parents or grandparents?

Let’s figure out how people behave when they realise the end of something draws near and is inescapable. As the history proves they try to relish on every moment, cherish the life and quite frequently indulge in debauchery. Oddly enough, this sinful picture grossly contrasts with Christian commandments. For some reason, God-fearing people rarely pray, go to church to confess their sin ask for penance or beg their fellow men for forgiveness for the harm they have done them. Conversely, they push salvation away from themselves…

If I were to face such situation, from today’s standpoint, I would keep on living the way I do. I have no influence on what the fate brings. Orchestra on sinking Titanic kept doing its job until the very end. Business as usual, one would say and this strikes a chord with me.

Oddly enough, five years ago Mr Tusk and Mr Tusk strolled down the pier in Sopot before commemorations of 70th anniversary of WWII. Today relations between Poland and Russia are, to put it mildly, tense, but just like five years ago I am glad in have the luck to live in peace.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Relief from the heat

The summer of 2014 in Poland will not probably go down in the history of as remarkably hot, sultry, rainy or stormy. Temperatures so far have been slightly above long-term averages, precipitation not abnormal. For the record, weather summary of the period from 14 July 2014 to 13 August 2014 on Warszawa Okęcie weather station from excellent ogimet database is presented on the screenshot below.

One can easily notice no temperature records have been broken, with summer-time high below +33C, contracting to +37C recorded on 8 August 2013. What is quite remarkable about the analysed interval is that over 29 consecutive days, starting 15 July ending 12 August the temperature has not dropped for a single moment below +15C. There were days when day-time highs were well below +25C, but there was no night nor morning when one could feel a really cool breeze. Slightly similar, yet reverse pattern could have been observed in early 2010, when from 1 January 2010 to 29 January temperature in Warsaw did not rise above freezing at all.

Such freak of weather had several implications. For holidaymakers staying in Poland it meant good news. Water in lakes during the period of prolonged heat warmed up to well above +20C. Even the Baltic sea near Polish shore was unusually balmy, with water temperatures reaching up to +18C or +19C contrasting to no more than +15C most people expect. From what I heard in some places north-easterly drifts brought in cool waters from the northern parts of the Baltic Sea, hence beaches were chock full of people unwilling to bath in the sea, cooler than air by some twenty degrees.

Those staying in town had to endure heat in their dwellings. The better insulated the building, the longer it takes for it to warm up and then to give off heat. After a fortnight of high temperatures many dwelling were warmed-up solid and even opening all windows for a night gave little relief. Fortunately, if one has windows on two sides of a dwelling, draught is an excellent method for cooling down the interior when temperature outside drops. The place most affected by the prolonged heat seems to be the underground, which each year at the onset of summer is the oasis of pleasant chill and then resists to give away heat.

I hope the current spell of typical Polish moderate summer, a blend of sunshine and rain showers, lasts long, nevertheless I do hope temperatures reaching near +30C return for one or two weekends. In late August or early September such daytime heat is accompanied by cooler nights and brisk mornings which take the edge off heat. The summer is slowly giving way to autumn. Lower temperatures and shorter days are not the only signs of it. Many trees begin to shed their leaves earlier than usually. The same happened last year in August and with hindsight it turned out in such way the nature anticipated a shift in weather from hot summer into gloomy autumn. If this year the same pattern is to repeat, may it also continue into warm late autumn and winter, as it did last year.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Beyond my comfort zone

The idiom my friend has come up with when she rang me to learn how I was doing in the New Factory probably best illustrates what I feel and what everyone feels during the first days or even weeks in a new workplace.

I had spent almost four years spent with the Employer. The first months, when I was a total freshman, were a period of intensive learning, then ensued some two years of further development. Around the middle of 2013 the Employer began to pursue a strategy of ‘controlled shrinkage’. My job began to be more repetitive, predictable and less challenging. My chair got warmer, my reputation was already established. I felt damn comfortable but at the back of my mind I knew the job was dead-end. In April 2014 I supposed the business line I had dealt with would be wound down by the end of 2015. Time proved I had been over-optimistic. It was wound down as of 31 July 2014, funnily enough on my last day of work. Had I stayed, I would not have been fired. In terms of my responsibilities I would have been demoted, in terms of salary I would have been none the worse off the change. Nevertheless, no other decision could have been taken. Holding down a cushy job makes sense when you are a few years before retirement and your goal is to merely get by, but not at the age of 26!

First impressions might be misleading, therefore I reluctantly share them. What I can definitely tell entering the unknown meant for me a huge role reversal. Back at the Employer, I passed as a very well-versed person and many people would turn to me to ask how to handle various stuff. Here, I have to ask about nearly everything and it will take a few weeks before I get familiar with all procedural issues. The New Factory’s scale of operations is much broader than that of the Employer. No wonder than I am daunted by it and have entered the phase of ‘cognisant incompetence’. This proves with the Employer I had reached the top of my learning curve, while the New Factory will offer many new opportunities to learn. The new job also requires me to be much more self-supporting than the previous one. At the Employer I could count on my manager’s advice, while here my manager only approves (or not) the outcomes of my work.

In some terms the change is beneficial, in others I will be missing my previous job. There is no ideal workplace and I have not delude myself I had found one. Actually every company in the industry I work for is more or less full of shit. Usually where the work is nice, there are no prospects. Where there are prospects, there is a pressure and one has to toil away.

A tough year ahead... Next weekend I am signing up for Level III and preparations are to kick off with the onset of September. Challenges at the new job, which might be at times time-consuming are not an excuse to take a year-long break in pursuit of the Charter. As examples of my older colleagues show, once you let up, setting out to finish the Programme is difficult and candidates are more likely to give up along the way. In a year… I hope to feel simply more comfortable…

Sunday, 3 August 2014

My favourite weekly

I have been a regular reader of “Polityka” for almost a decade. Week by week, for all those years, I have never missed a single issue; even when I would go holidaying abroad, the recent issues would wait for me on my bedside table so that I could catch up. The case with newspapers is that the choice of what you read is affected by your views and in turn what you read reinforces your views.

The line of “Polityka”, if words such as “moderate”, “common-sense-oriented” are to averted, could be best described as leftist-liberal. In economic issues most of the weekly’s journalists advocate free market economy, however important social issues are not neglected and more leftist point of view is represented by Mr Zakowski. In social terms, the newspaper’s line is fairly leftist. It favours tolerance, autonomy of an individual and concept of division between the state and the Church, yet it is far from embracing extreme anti-clericalism or promoting gay marriages.

Unlike some of the weeklies, it is not affiliated with any particular party, yet by dint of its line, it locates somewhere between PO and SLD, yet with a tilt at the former and far from lunatic Twój Ruch whose agenda would seemingly best square with the line of the weekly.

The history of the weekly traces back to 1957. Soon after the first thaw in the PRL petered out, one of the government’s actions aimed at clamping down on sprawling liberal ideas. The weekly, meant to be hard-line soon became the most liberal of the party-supervised newspapers and with manifold tribulations enjoyed that status even in the darkest days of the next decades. Unlike other weeklies it has never drastically changed its line, despite changing times and changing governments it has held on to the same beliefs.

In the recent months when tone of the public discourse drifted right, I particularly appreciated to voice of reason flowing from the pages of “Polityka”. In many controversial issues the weekly’s journalists had the temerity to stand up for common sense and many times became dissenters since their attitude much differed from the new ‘mainstream’. When “Jack Strong” went to silver screen, the weekly published a series of articles dealing with morality of spies and loyalty to one’s own country which dwelled on ambiguity of moral assessment of colonel Kuklinski. After general Jaruzelski’s death it published a comprehensive article on the tragic life of the general in which it balanced out all his sins and merits of the late general. It was far from calling the general a hero or a traitor, but showed that neither condemnation nor glorification was what he deserved. The attitude towards People’s Poland is also far from right-wing vision of rewritten history – the weekly recognises Poland between 1945 and 1989 was a satellite country of the Soviet Union, yet still it was Poland, home to millions of Poles, built by millions of Poles who lived and worked in that system not to support communism, but for Poland, tragically disfigured by big politics. The weekly never openly attacks the Church, but has courage to politely criticise it and defends the value of secular state. When it came to abortion, in weeks following the outbreak of the recent scandal, it dedicated several articles to ethical issues indispensably linked to abortion. While defending the current law and the pro-choice stance, it published an interview with professor Chazan, thus giving its readers the chance to get to know the arguments of the other side of the dispute. The most recent issue, unlike almost all the other media, refrains from venerating the cult of Warsaw’s insurgents, but it delicately calls into question the sense of aftermaths Warsaw Uprising. It does not try to persuade the reader neither the uprising was a total disaster, nor that it was the most admired patriotic mutiny; it simply leaves the reader with arguments of both sides. Oddly enough, opponents of the sense of uprising hardly ever get the change to break through to mainstream media.

On occasion of the seventieth anniversary, my take has not changed – commemorate, but not celebrate. Death toll of two hundred thousand and one of the biggest capital’s of pre-war Europe obliterated with survivors driven out of the city give no reason to be cheerful.

I do hold dear the balanced look at many issues “Polityka” offers me, but I keep in mind the Biblical message of lukewarm Christians who would be turned away. By balancing out different opinions and not taking firmly anyone’s side, the weekly is lukewarm. I wish it had more courage to speak out against the mainstream.