Monday, July 31, 2006

Poland in Need of Good PR

Gazeta Wyborcza is reporting that Polish government will soon hire a PR specialist to take care of Poland's image abroad (link in Polish). It's true, there's been a wave of critical media coverage of the Duck Republic in foreign press lately. But I'm not quite sure just a new PR post will take care of that. And we're not talking just public relations here. The Kaczynski twins are in need of a full blown crisis management team to deal with all of their recent gaffes.

First recommendation: stop blaming everybody else, especially the national media, for creating the mess. Take the blame and loosen up. Drop the witch hunt against a German newspaper. Dress up as a potato to show you can take a joke. Or maybe not.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Time Chimes in on Collaborator Law

Time magazine is running a piece on the new Polish law that will look into the past of an estimated 400,000 people in position of trust to check whether they had ever collaborate with the secret police. I agree with former foreign minister Bronislaw Geremek, who's quoted in there as saying: "It gives the state and managers the right of deciding the fate of individuals who are unable to defend themselves."

We should remember that these secret police files are far from being trustworthy and complete. The hated UB will have more to say about teachers, journalists and others than they themselves can. Well, if I'm not mistaken, at least the church is exempt. The Duck Republic knows whom to protect.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Poland, Dangerous for Foreign Correspondents?

Here's something to be proud of. Poland is now regularly featured on the web site of Reporters Without Borders, an organization that monitors abuses against news folks around the world. Now, the group reports, some foreign correspondents in Poland are becoming potential targets. After the scuffle over the Potato comments against President Kaczynski, it looks like the right wing Nasz Dziennik has published the names of 16 German correspondents in Poland (This is in Polish. I'm not a reader of Nasz Dziennik, so I missed the original article earlier this month). The paper also tells its readers to "get to know these names." How about getting to know press freedom? And how about not harassing foreign correspondents?

Friday, July 28, 2006

Slim Poles Teach Chubby Brits

Well, there's one more positive effect of Poles coming to Britain: They can teach the chubby locals how to stay fit. At least according to this article in The Times.

Discovering Polish TV Pirates in Chicago

Earlier this week, while doing a little research at the federal court house in Chicago, I came across a case involving Polish television station TVN (my former employer from waaaay back when it was just being launched). Turns out TVN was suing some people in Chicago for putting their television programs on the Internet -- without permission, of course -- and charging people to stream or download them. I found one more case like that involving TVN and then located two more cases against the same people brought by TVN's competitor, Polsat. All four cases involving two web sites, Telewizja Plus and Polska Wizja, were filed on the same day in May. Both sites are pretty much dead now.

So I forwarded the complaints and related documents to my pal Vadim Makarenko at Gazeta Wyborcza, still Poland's largest daily. Vadim, in my humble opinion the best media reporter in Poland, decided to look further into the matter. And today Wyborcza is running a nice long story entitled: How Polsat and TVN are battling Internet pirates (in Polish). Pretty cool intercontinental cooperation, I must say.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

What Happened To Fighting Corruption?

For a government that advertises its fight with corruption, I can't figure out how it can explain setting up a unified financial oversight agency that is ripe for political machinations. A new law that has passed one house of the parliament and should easily get a go ahead from the other, will eliminate virtually all the independence from the agency's predecessors. Six of its seven members would be directly chosen by the government or the president.

So it's no wonder even the IMF is raising a stink about the new law. Not that the Kaczynski bros care. It's all about weakening Central Bank's Leszek Balcerowicz and putting more power into the hands of the government. Because, as we all know, politicians are also great bankers.

(OK, to be fair, I must point out that Balcerowicz was also once a politician. But he wasn't too great at that and that was not how he started. He was always more of a technocrat.)

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Poland's Trouble - Living in the Past

I have seen this theme in several articles about Poland lately. Too many Poles linger in the past, keep looking back, keep searching for vendettas. This is especially true with the current government that seems to do very little other than fighting communist ghosts. They're after Kwasniewski and have politically assasinated its own ministers. Now we have the lustration law, which will only bring out more painful memories. It will convict people based on faulty, incomplete secret police records. It will give more power to the blackmailers, to the witch hunts.

It's pretty obvious, the more you look back, the less time you spend looking forward. I am disgusted by the corruption and believe me, I'm no fan of the communists who had ruined Poland before grabbing some of the best property in the messy transition. And I understand there is still a lot of justified pain and resentment. But let's move on. You can't punish everybody and not everything is so black and white. Unfortunately, we might have to wait for a while for the government to concentrate on the future. The Duck Republic is all about revenge.

I think this quote from an article in The Times, quite a conservative publication, makes a great point:

"“We are dismantling the past but we don't believe in a future,"” said the novelist Andrzej Stasiuk, one of many intellectuals critical of the ultranationalist, anticommunist line taken by the twins. "Those who still believe in a future are leaving the country in droves."”

Yeah, two million and counting. I wish this wasn't the case, but PiS may only get stronger with folks of other political persuasions leaving the country.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

New York Times on Religion in Polish Politics

The New York Times is running a quite long, well researched article on the growing strength of the Roman Catholic church and just general small vilage conservatism that has taken hold atop the Polish government. Now, I think it misses some nuances when it comes to religion because Radio Maryja is not exactly main stream, but the general point is quite on.

This article is an interesting contrast to the front page review in the New York Times Sunday Book Review, which discusses a new book about the persecution of Jews in Poland after WWII.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Chavez Praises Belarus as "Model Social State"

If you weren't sure if Venezuela's Hugo Chavez was off his rocker, well, now you know. During a visit to Belarus, Chavez called one of the poorest countries in Europe, in large part due to its egomanical leader Alexander Lukashenko, "a model social state like the one we are beginning to create." Chavez and Lukashenko come from a similar mold, it's just that the mustached one can't count on high oil prices to prop up his socialist utopia. Instead, Lukashenko relies on the good old repression and fraud. Nice model, indeed.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Poland Launches Investigation into Potato Jibe

Here's something from the "I can't believe they're wasting time and money on this" file: Polish Justice Ministry has launched an official probe into whether the potato satire of Poland's President Lech Kaczynski libelled him. Let's look at the many mind-boggling ramifications.

First, the ministry that certainly has many, many more important functions is wasting its time on a vendetta-like assignment from the presidential palace. Two, Poland is risking further foreign humiliation over an article in some smallish German newspaper that should have been disregarded right from the start. It's already being laughed at over the fact that Kaczynski probably cancelled a meeting with his German and French counterparts over the article.

Three, the government is willing to consider a criminal prosecution of a foreign citizen outside of Poland over a meritless charge. Here in the U.S. satire is usually not considered a libel. Four, the twins are showing once again that freedom of expression in a country of nearly 40 million citizens, guaranteed in the constitution in Article 54, can be trampled upon by the government at any time.

It's no wonder The International Herald Tribune is telling the world not to judge Poland by the actions of the Kaczynski twins. I wish it were that easy. Looks like the twins who once stole the moon are now stealing the country's good reputation, not to mention rights supposedly guaranteed under the constitution.

And do check out this interesting opinion piece by Dorota Maslowska in The Guardian about the disenchanted young Poles and why they're heading west.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Royal President

So you must forgive me, but to keep my hand on the Poland's pulse, I sneak a peek at the tabloids. And so I came across this interesting quote from a spokeswoman for President Lech Kaczynski in Super Express (in Polish). Asked why he didn't show up for a key speech by his bro Jaroslaw at the Parliament, she said: "I'm sorry, but the President doesn't have to explain his absence from the Sejm."

Now there's a solid approach. He doesn't need to stoop so low as to explain his actions as president. Nah, that's too provincial. Why would any elected official need to do that?

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Freedom to Lampoon - Bush and Blair Don't Care

My sister Nicole sent me this video last night. I wouldn't usually post it, but it provides quite a contrast to how things are becoming in Poland. Could you imagine how the Kaczynski twins would react to something like this? Wasn't somebody sued for something similar? Well, enjoy.
P.S. The song is by Electric Six. Check out another video: Danger! High Voltage

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Why I've Always Liked Walesa

Lech Walesa crashed and burned as a president of Poland. He should have stayed a symbol of the Solidarity movement instead of playing politics. Lech could have played a key role behind the scenes. But having said that I must say I still like the man. He is a walking quote machine. He will speak his mind in (very) down to earth terms. And so I enjoyed reading his assessment of the Kaczynski twins, who worked for Walesa while he was a president, before he fired them: "I realized they were destroying more than actually doing something constructive."

Troubled Twins

The negative reaction from foreign press to the Duck Republic continue to flow in. Latest to add its two cents, or two p's, is my favorite weekly, The Economist:

IT IS easy to argue that the Law and Justice party has done disappointingly little in the nine months since it won Poland's parliamentary and presidential elections. But in one respect it has done a lot: once a regional heavyweight, respected in America and around Europe, the country now attracts ridicule and condemnation.

The Financial Times has a more subdued feature about the Two who Stole the Moon. And the Sunday Telegraph returns to the Potato fiasco. Well, at least the Kaczynskis are keeping Poland in the headlines...

And here's something interesting: Poland is about to take over from Spain as the largest recipient of EU funds.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Duck Republic - Beginning of the End?

Is it possible that Lech Kaczynski guaranteed himself a loss in the next presidential election by swearing in his brother Jaroslaw as prime minister? According to a Friday poll, Lech has become Poland's least popular president since the fall of communism, according to Gazeta Wyborcza (in Polish). Of course this only means that people rate Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lech Walesa higher. But it could show that Poles are not happy with the Kaczynski vendetta-style approach to politics and the family-business approach to government. I have a feeling that this could carry over into the next election, even though it's quite a long time off.

Double the Polish Pleasure with Jon Stewart

Well, I never thought it would come to this, on so many levels. Here's a little piece from the Daily Show on the Kaczynski twins. The Duck Republic, or as beatroot puts it, the Burak Republic, conquers the world. John Stewart doing a bit on Poland. Incredible. Will the Kaczynskis now boycott the next meeting with George W. Bush?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Maybe Poland Isn't So Bad?

A few of my good friends and one person close to my heart have complained to me that I do exactly that: "Chris, you complain too much about Poland." But on one count my opinion is grudgingly shifting a little. Corruption is a huuge problem in my first homeland and I experienced it first hand while living and working in Warsaw. It was so close that it entered my family (at the time).

But now that I've covered a little bit of the federal courthouse in Chicago, I can see that this place is not too clean, either. There is George Ryan, former Illinois governor who spread work/jobs/deals around in exchange for a share of the loot. Just wrote an article on one of his buddies. There's Robert Sorich, who was in charge of giving out city jobs to often less qualified applicants as long as they were on the "blessed list" of supporters of Mayor Richard Daley. I co-wrote a story on this mess last week.

So Chicago is quite corrupt too. It's not a big surprise -- it's always been famous for it. And I'm not naive enough to think that this kind of stuff doesn't happen all around the U.S. But Chicago does have the largest Polish population outside of Poland. Coincidence? Just kidding, friends!!!

Monday, July 10, 2006

Duck Season in Poland - Markets Fall

Not that the reaction of the markets is the only indicator of sentiment, but the main index at the Warsaw stock exchange started sharply down on Monday after the news over the weekend that the Duck Republic will officially commence with the Kaczynski twins as President and Prime Minister. Stocks started down two percent. Currency down, bond yield on government debt up. Not exactly thumbs up.

UPDATE: Stocks recovered later in the day and ended a percent higher. So, looks like there was a scare, but investors collected themselves and figured, they can't do that much bad. We'll see.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Polish Visas - Chicago's Take

The Chicago Tribune is running an interesting, if not quite groundbreaking, story on the controversy over elimination of U.S. visas for Poles. It does a solid job explaining the issues, even including a few local stories about weddings or birthdays that somebody from Poland couldn't make because he/she didn't get the visa.

I have mixed feelings on this (maybe this is normal after law school). On the one hand, Poland is one of America's two best allies in Europe, and its citizens should receive a better treatment than they do now. I hear many stories about Poles going to the U.S. embassy in Warsaw or consulate in Krakow for a $100 a pop, only to be rejected. No numbers on this, but I can bet the stack of rejections greatly outnumbers those that get a visa. One more argument for dropping visa requirements. The number of Poles illegally in the U.S. is tiny compared for illegal immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries.

But there are some strong counter arguments. According to some estimates, 2 million Poles have gone to work in other European countries over the last few years, becoming very large minorities in countries like Ireland virtually overnight. Two hundred thousand of my fellow countrymen have signed up to legally work in the UK just over the last two years, and who knows what the number would be if it included illegal laborers.

No wonder. Official unemployment in Poland remains high at 20 percent and something like double that among the young. The brain drain, or at least the drain of the most motivated, is tremendous. So, now that I think about it, maybe the visa requirement helps the Polish government in a bizarre way, limiting another avenue of escape for the young. Most of all, immigrant workers are a huge political time bomb in the U.S., with not many politicians wanting to look like they are taking steps to take away jobs from Americans.

In the end, I think U.S. should take away the requirement, but the chances of that are close to zero for now.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Throwing Potatoes - International Mess

Now this Potato fiasco is growing, with Reporters Without Borders, rightfully, condemning the actions by Polish President Kaczynski and his posse. If this mess wasn't so serious, I would say it's just plain ridiculous. If you can't deal with a joke or two from some foreign newspaper, how do you plan to run a country?

The freedom of speech is crucial in a democracy. Unfortunately Polish law has some remnants of the communist approach, making it illegal to "insult" an institution established under the Polish constitution. Of course it's the same constitution that ensures "the freedom to express opinions, to acquire and to disseminate information" in Article 54. And who's to say what an "insult" is? I mean, really, is saying that somebody is a "kartoffel" a serious insult? And what kind of law goes outside of its borders to persecute a foreign newspaper published in a neighboring country? Total silliness.

How far are the Kaczynski brothers and the rest of PiS from the Muslim leaders who threatened Denmark over the Mohammed cartoons? At least Mohammed established a religion. The leaders of the Duck Republic only starred in a silly communist movie back in the 1960's.

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Duck Republic

Some places have banana republics, Poland will now have the Duck Republic. The Kaczynski brothers have already been running the show for months, but with Jaroslaw now taking the PM job, he won't be able to hide behind the scenes. I'm worried and could go on about how this is far from being good news for Poland. But then I can also point out that in the time the news hit, Polish currency dropped versus the euro and dollar. Trade probably wasn't too heavy, but let's see what happens on Monday.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Cult of Free Word and Freedom of Speech

There's nothing much more scarier for a journalist than this quote from a member of Poland's ruling party, PiS:

"This cult of the free word and freedom of speech goes too far."
- Law & Justice deputy Tadeusz Cymanski

Cymanski, that paragon of free speech, was referring to a satire in a German paper that compared Polish President Lech Kaczynski to a potato. Seems like our friends on the Polish Right (also known as the Polish Wrong) are losing their minds. Now the justice ministry is supposed to check whether the paper was insulting Kaczynski. This is after papers speculated that the article could have been behind Kaczynski's last minute cancellation of a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Jacques Chirac. Are potatoes this thin-skinned?

You really have to worry about Polish media when these kinds of examples surface. Kaczynski and PiS have already gone after their critics in the press. Instead of concentrating on some serious problems (hello unemployment, failing healthcare system), they are wasting time and resources on silly vendettas. So the justice department should investigate this German article instead of dealing with the gangs and corruption? This is just mind-boggling.

But don't let reason get in the way of this government. Just last week, coalition partner, League of Polish Families, called to take the EU flag off Polish car plates. Man, there must be nothing left to accomplish in Poland.