Friday, March 23, 2007

Poland's Revolting Left

There is nothing better than getting a tape of one of the leaders of Poland's post-communist party (SLD) ripping on pretty much every one of the other top leftists, including former president Aleksander Kwasniewski and former prime minister Leszek Miller. But that's exactly what we got with another former PM and handsome devil, Jozef Oleksy putting out a full load of dirty laundry in a taped conversation with SLD-connected businessman Aleksander Gudzowaty.

I'd rather not go into the details on the blog about individual politicians because I don't have the money for lawyers, but this is some nasty stuff. The bottom line is this: SLD was up to its eyeballs in corruption. I'm beginning to reconsider the anti-commie vendetta by the Kaczynski brothers...

Here are some of the best quotes and the audio (both in Polish).

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Romney's Mormon Money

A little PR here. Here's an article I wrote on the fundraising by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Last year he got some serious money from Utah, the heart of Mormon country. I calculated that it's about 5o cents for each Utah resident, and that in the year before he has to get big dough to run the official campaign.


Interesting set of responses out there. Some positive, and some not so positive (see fourth link)...

I had compiled a database of all the donations given last year to PACs ran by presidential hopefuls. The story about Utah and Romney came straight out of the numbers and is in no way a reflection of any pro- or anti- Mormon feelings. But it is worth pointing out and that's what this article did. People can draw their own conclusions.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

If at First You Don't Succeed...

Well, at least you can call Burger King persistent. The company pulled out of Poland a few years ago, selling all its restaurants to KFC. Well, the grill broiled burgers are coming back. And, if I am not mistaken, the new license is held by AmRest Holding, the same company that pulled the plug last time. McDonalds survived in Poland, just recently celebrating 15 years there. Why anybody would chose a McDonalds "burger" over Burger King is a mystery to me.

In 1996, I came to Kielce for the anniversary of the pogrom there. I got into a taxi in the evening and asked the driver to take me to the most happening spot in town. We drove for a while and drove up to the place. It was Burger King.... How things change.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Look Who's Back!

Look who's back in the good graces of Andrzej Lepper. On Sunday, the leader of Self Defense brought Stanislaw Lyzwinski to a news conference discussing these bizarre IOU's Lepper forced all party members sign to guarantee they won't leave the party.

So what if Lyzwinski is likely to be indicted for sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and other charges. Lepper had banished his former right hand for a while, but clearly he no longer feels the need to keep the star of a nasty sex scandal behind the curtain. What does Lyzwinski have on Lepper, anyway?

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Cronies on Boards

"It has to be clearly said that 16 months after PiS's victory, no activist or supporter of our party, who bled himself during our election campaign, suffers from hunger and want."

This stark quote was made by one of the leaders of the Kaczynski brothers' PiS party, as quoted by Gazeta Wyborcza.

Of course all politicians have to reward their supporters and the spoils system has been around for ages. But this just shows what the Kaczynski brothers are really doing out there. It's not about getting the communists out and certainly not about kicking out political hacks from state-controlled companies to put in their own experts. It's the exact opposite. It's about funneling state money to your supporters, getting them jobs at any cost.

At least the opposition Platforma Obywatelska is putting together a list of all PiS members who are sitting on boards of state-controlled companies. This is going to be interesting. Probably won't help much in the immediate term, but at least it will shine some light at this corrupt spoils system of Duck Republic, Inc. For a party that is so anti-communist, it's amazing how well it adopts the tactics of its enemies.

There is one definite way of fixing this to prevent the millions of zloty that are flowing out of inefficient and corrupt state enterprise: privatize now!

Maybe the next government will do that, because PiS is doing the exact opposite. Not only have the Kaczynski bros stalled privatization, they are even considering buying back stakes of state-controlled enterprises from private owners. Take a look at LOT.

Not Enough Pierogi Eaters in Chicago

Polish Outlook pointed me in the direction of this Bloomberg article. It tries to show that fewer Poles are heading to the U.S., especially Chicago, to get illegal jobs because they can find legal ones in western Europe. Not a far stretch to see the rational for this, although the mostly anecdotal evidence in the article doesn't prove very convincing.

One indication: fewer people eat pierogi at the Czerwone Jabluszko restaurant. Having eaten there once with the fam, I must say a more likely reason is that they're not very good...

Ultimately, it's not too easy to count illegal immigrants because most often they, surprisingly, don't want to be counted. I'll withhold my judgment on this one, even though I wouldn't be surprised if there were fewer Poles in Chicago, or Green Point in New York, or other spots around the U.S.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Polish Politicians Clinging to the Past

Beatroot wrote a nice post on the new law that requires all journalists, possibly even bloggers, to be vetted for communist collaboration. All in all, just another move by the Kaczynski government to hurt the unfriendly journalists. After all, why would the media criticize the Duck Republic unless it was loaded full of communist sympathizers and former agents?

The biggest problem here is not the search for collaborators. It's the fact that the government is forcing private citizens, working for private companies, to do this. What's next? Infidelity declarations?

Beatroot's solution: Kick out all the old era, revenge, us-vs-them politicians. Not a bad idea...

DISCLOSURE: Yours truly never collaborated with the communists and holds some strong dislike towards all who willingly collaborated. Of course, since I was born in 1974, I was a little too young to really do much in those days. So where do I sign my declaration? No, wait, I'll boycott it, even though the law doesn't really cover me.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Polish Job Seekers Take (a) Wizz (Air)

The Wall Street Journal is running a great feature today by Dan Michaels on the way that mainly Polish job seekers have helped no frill airline Wizz Air to become a success. Wizz had targeted these emigrants almost from the start, helping it to develop a foothold in Poland and other East European countries before Ryanair and others figured out the game here.

There is one chart in the article I found very interesting. It shows the airline seat capacity between Poland and the UK. Big gains for Wizz and Ryanair, but a drop for the Polish national airline LOT. Sure, state carriers were late to the no-frills game, but in this case it's just another indication that LOT management, loaded with political appointees and weighed down by strong unions, is just not up for the challenge. Sure, it created its own low-cost unit, Centralwings, but it's an also-ran in a crowded field.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Another Brilliant Idea from Self-Defense

So the geniuses at the neo-socialist Self Defense party have come up with another brilliant idea. They are proposing a new law that would forbid Polish television stations from inserting commercials into movies and other programming without the consent of the author. Sure, nobody's happy that they have to sit through advertising in the middle of another showing of Home Alone (a perennial favorite around the holidays). Self Defense deputy Janusz Maksymiuk, the leader of the anti-commercials movement, says that interrupting programming with those silly ads is not elegant and destroys art.

Self-Defense should really stick to corruption (with another case described on the front page of Gazeta Wyborcza today), leaving television to people who have a clue. How does Mr. Maksymiuk think that programming is paid for on broadcast television? How does he expect "authors" to make money if the television stations don't buy their movies? None of the private stations have the luxury of a "TV tax" enjoyed by the public broadcaster (TVP). How would they get permission from foreign producers or those who passed away?

At first glance this looks like a simple case of pandering to the Polish couch potatoes. But at a second look, it;s more like a heavy-handed attempt to hurt private stations for the benefit of TVP. Just last week the Kaczynski twins put in a trusted crony to run TVP, seemingly taking a lesson from Uncle Vladimir to the east. Are we seeing another push to hurt private television stations or, at the very least, to pressure them to stop being so critical?

Is Self-Defense looking for revenge after being ravaged in the recent months because of the sex scandal? This is certainly not the first time Lepper and Co. have targeted the media.

This silly idea should -- and probably will -- die a quick death. Hopefully nobody will take it too seriously. After all, don't we all need a bathroom break next time Czterej Pancerni i Pies is on?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Musharraf Coming to Poland

Just came across this weird item, which says Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf is coming to Poland as part of a European trip that will also include Spain. Not many details, but one of the issues to be discussed is the "war on terror." Poland is playing a key role in Afghanistan, so I'm sure that will be another issue on the table. I'm almost worried that this visit will place Poland back on the map for Muslim extremists. Wonder what this one is all about.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Oscars and Secret Police

Not surprisingly, the Oscar for the best foreign flick went to Lives of Others, a movie portraying the obsession of the Stasi, East Germany's secret police, to spy on its own people.

I highly recommend the movie. I especially enjoyed it because I am fascinated by the how the old communist systems tried to control its citizens and how people reacted to the authoritarian state. One of the most successful movies on this topic was Krzysztof Kieslowski's Przypadek (Blind Chance) which showed three variations of a life depending on how a seemingly banal event took place. In each variation the main character becomes a communist, a member of the opposition, or a passive citizen.

Anyway, Lives of Others did make me appreciate a little more the hate felt by many towards the proponents and tools of the old systems. Even I can remember my mother being taken in for questioning to the police (milicja) headquarters when my father remained in West Germany after the martial law was declared. And I feel deep disgust towards people who actively supported that awful system.

So, I can almost understand why the Kaczynski brothers are so obsessed with rooting out any remnants of communism from public life. Almost, because this drive to vengeance has hurt a lot of innocent people or those who were simply forced to cooperate. It has prevented the current government from dealing with more pressing issues, such as the flight of young Poles. And the Kaczynskis are bent on creating their own system where loyalty is rewarded above all else. Nothing like the oppression of the old system, but too close for comfort.

As for the Oscars, The Departed got the best movie. I liked it, but I prefer the Chinese original.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

What Intelligence?

So far, I have stayed away from writing about the report on the Polish military intelligence agency (WSI) released last week. Mainly, I thought this was just yet another pile of dirt compiled to discredit the critics of the Kaczynski brothers. This particular tool, dull as it was, seemed to have mainly targeted members of the media. The report was compiled by a Kaczynski henchman, Antoni Macierewicz, who led the liquidation of WSI. Even former Prime Minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, who was hand picked by the Kaczynskis, earlier called Macierewicz a man who only divides and destroys. Boy, did Mr. M live up to the billing.

The report was widely criticized in Poland because in most cases presented little proof to back up its accusations. It did point to some nasty ties with the Russians and the agency's mostly feeble attempts to manipulate the media. Most of this stuff was reheated charges.

Even more importantly, as pointed out by Edward Lucas in this week's Economist, the blind vengeance of the Kaczynski brothers and Mr. Macierewicz has harmed Poland's interests abroad. The report revealed the identities of active Polish spies. Incredible. The revelation of the name of just one spy, not even an active one, has haunted the Bush administration for the last couple of years. But don't expect any consequences in the Duck Republic. As a matter of fact, Mr. Macierewicz will retain his post as the head of the military counter intelligence, having just won a bureaucratic struggle to force out respected Defense Minister Radek Sikorski.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Something Different - Background Music

While you're reading the rest of the blog, take a listen to this song. One of my favorites, in large part because it reminds me of someone special from across the ocean. She's far away, but I think about her always. Of course, it's also dedicated to my two fantastic sisters!

What a lovely version. Enjoy Antony and the Johnsons.

Is This a (Polish) Joke?

Seems like this little cartoon in the New Yorker is causing quite a stir among the Polish community in Gotham City and elsewhere. The magazine editor's somewhat shaky explanation is that "the heart of the joke is the difficulty in saying the name." In this vain, my parents must have been on drugs when they named me Krzysztof, forgetting to put a few extra vowels in there.

So is this a Polish joke? Is this suggesting that Poles like to hit the bottle too often? I have mixed feelings on this one.

Perhaps we do get a little thin-skinned when it comes to the images portrayed in influential media outlets, such as the venerable New Yorker. But even if it wasn't meant to slight Poles, it's not doing us any favors. And these things do stick, especially considering the long and nasty list of Polish jokes preceding them.

On the other hand, maybe we should also be known for taking a joke or two and just chill out? What do you think?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Europe's Basket Case

I know, I know. It's not a shocker anymore to read articles by baffled foreign correspondents about the mess in Poland. But this article by Judy Dempsey in the International Herald Tribune goes quite deeply into the Kaczynski purges and vendetta-driven policies. And yes, there's little time for planning future policies in the Duck Republic, and the weak opposition is sidelined. What else is new? Still, it's sad to see it in print.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

"I probably have to do it"

"I probably have to do it. I don't think I have another option." That's what former prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz is saying about taking a job at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. And, he adds, London is a capital of the world, perhaps along with New York.

So, there we have it. Even though he didn't get a job at PKO BP, Marcinkiewicz will work at a bank. I wonder if this will add enough to his resume to come back some day and run PKO after all. That, of course, will depend on the political climate.

And, judging from the recent shifts in the cabinet, which included the departure of the interior minister, Ludwik Dorn, cracks are beginning to appear at the core of PiS. "The Third Twin" -- so called because of his closeness to the Kaczynski twins -- held on to his post of Deputy PM, but has been making noise about back stabbing by other ministers. Several media outlets are reporting that Dorn has upset Jaroslaw Kaczynski so much that he's about to lose that spot, too. Is the ship beginning to sink?

Well, at least for his sake, Mr. Marcinkiewicz will be far away from this mess, enjoying London.