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.

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Marcinkiewicz Drops Candidacy for Bank Job

Former Polish prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz has withdrawn his name from consideration for the top post at PKO BP. In his blog, Marcinkiewicz blames the decision on the whole controversy surrounding his candidacy, which would have made his job much more difficult. Marcinkiewicz points a stern finger at the media, as well as the financial and banking circles, from which he"did not received any form of support." Shocking, no support for a man who has not managed any financial institution in his life.

Marcinkiewicz, who sounds a note of indignation, does go into details about the ambitious plans he had for PKO. He also points out all the experiences that would have made him a great PKO chief executive: he did study banking and finance at the Szczecin University (he never got the doctorate degree he started there) and his work on the public finances committee in the parliament. Oh, and he ran a school and a country. So, there!

Is it me, or is Marcinkiewicz getting more disconnected from reality?

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that in Szczecin, Marcinkiewicz studied under his later finance minister, Teresa Lubinska. Prof. Lubinska didn't exactly shine at that post, even calling for a larger federal deficit and attacking foreign supermarkets before being sacked.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Sacrificing the Qualified in the Duck Republic

Another great day for mediocrity in Poland. Defense minister Radek Sikorski, one of the more qualified members of the the Kaczynski cabinet, was fired over a dispute with the head of military counterintelligence Antoni Macierewicz, one of the most nationalist politicians loyal to the Kaczynski twins. Sure, there are plenty of other layers behind this latest move that I won't discuss, but it still points to one of the foundations of this government: political ties win over expertise and performance.

There are so many examples of this happening since the Kaczynski twins took power. For a government so intent on rooting out former communists, it's amazing that they are taking the same exact approach to filling out posts that the communists did: loyalty to the cause above all else.

To this we can add living in the past instead of taking care of the future.

I did enjoy this Zbigniew Brzezinski quote in Gazeta Wyborcza:

The dismissal of Radoslaw Sikorski is a serious weakening for Poland, at a time when serious negotiations are taking place with America about the positioning of American defense rocket shield and further isolation of Poland on the international arena. It eliminates from the government the only person who is well versed in strategic and geopolitical issues.

My dad, still a Kaczynski supporter, points to an article in Nasz Dziennik, which says that under Sikorski the Defense Ministry has become a mess, especially when it comes to military contracts. I felt I should point that out, along with the fact that Nasz Dziennik is not exactly a middle-of-the-road daily, but rather a mouthpiece for the extreme right.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Four. How Many More?

Four. That's how many women have now come forward accusing the leader of the neo-communist Self-Defense party, Andrzej Lepper, of pressuring them to have sex with him. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, the latest witness is hard to dismiss. She's a wife of a prominent member of the party who advised Lepper on relations with Ukraine. Heck, he even got Lepper a doctorate from a Ukrainian university, along with one for himself.

"Lepper explained that I'm a big girl and that I shouldn't be surprised. I declined," Anna Podgorska was quoted as telling the prosecutors. This was after Lepper told her that this would help her husband's career. He pressured her another time.

So now it's four. And the question becomes, how many women have to come forward before the Kaczynski twins and PiS, or the "Law and Justice" party, do some justice and kick out Lepper, along with the rest of his crooked party, from the government?