Whether it constitutes a shameful retreat in the face of terrorist attack, or an angry reaction to an incumbent government trying to twist the facts surrounding a national tragedy to its own ends – we’ve already covered all of that here, at least from the German point-of-view, and it doesn’t matter anymore, since José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero is now the Spanish premier as of last weekend and the Spanish troops will withdraw from Iraq. What is new and interesting is what Zapatero and his Defense Minister, José Bono, promptly announced with almost unseemly haste just after assuming office: that they will withdraw those as soon as possible. You might remember that, in the wake of the 11 March Madrid train bombings and the victory of Zapatero’s Socialist Party in the ensuing Spanish general election, the new prospect of the Spanish troop withdrawal was at least couched in the fig leaf that such a withdrawal would be canceled if operations in Iraq were put under a proper United Nations basis by the passing of a suitable UN Security Council resolution. Now that fig leaf is tossed aside: the Spanish troops are basically outa there, and as fast as possible consistent with security concerns, meaning in effect in six weeks or even less. George W. Bush is not pleased.
Spanish troops now make up the third-largest national contingent in the Polish-assigned sector in southern Iraq – once thought to be a quiet backwater since the area is dominated by Shiites, but now containing some hot spots indeed, like Najaf and Karbala. (So reports Gazeta Wyborcza, without naming contingents numbers 1 and 2 – I’m guessing that those are the American and Polish troops, respectively.) So how do the Polish authorities feel about the Spanish action? Let’s take a look at their national press. (more…)
The elections to the Russian Duma that took place last Sunday throughout the Russian Federation resulted in an overwhelming victory for the “Jedna Rosja” or “United Russia” party widely seen to be the vehicle of Russian president Vladimir Putin. But take a little closer look – you don’t need to go any further down than third place – and what else do you see? You see the “Liberal Democratic Party,” but don’t let that innocuous name fool you: that’s the right-wing nationalistic party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Remember him? He was one of those bizarre politicians whom the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 enabled to crawl out from underneath his rock to ride the crackpot vote to the Duma. Back in the early 1990s Zhirinovsky could be counted upon to utter the most amazing, and alarming statements – for example, I recall that he once threatened one of, or all, the Baltic states with invasion – that you would hope never to hear from a leading politician from the world’s second nuclear power. After providing a few years of that sort of bizarre comic relief, Zhirinovsky’s “Liberal Democrats” faded away in subsequent elections. But now they’re back – to a position in the legislature almost even with the Communists.
I’m no expert in Russia or Russian politics (and I don’t read Russian). But that’s not a problem in the EuroSavant context, which rather calls upon me to pass along the wisdom put forth on a given issue by some European country’s press. Today it’s time to look at the results of those recent Russian elections from the viewpoint of a country that knows Russia all too well: Poland. And there’s scarcely any good news to be found. (more…)
Today it’s back to the Polish press again. You know that I seldom like to deal with the same national press two times in a row, but this time it is justified by a noteworthy milestone in our sporadic “Poles in Iraq” series: the first Polish soldier died in Iraq last Thursday. Actually, it was no mere soldier who was killed, but a Major Hieronim Kupczyk. As you can imagine, coverage in the main Polish papers is extensive.
That is to say, in Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita. I honestly do try to broaden my coverage of the Polish press to include other publications than those two, but consistently fail to find coverage worth reporting on issues that I’m interested in. For example, here is the report of Maj. Kupczyk’s funeral in the Kraków-based Dziennik Polski, but it essentially reports merely that the funeral was held, notable figures spoke at it (e.g. General Tyszkiewicz, commanding the Polish-run multinational division), the Iraqi police and other national contingents contributed guards of honor, everyone was sad, etc.
Rzeczpospolita did a rather more-complete job in its Friday edition, here, complete with a recent photo of Maj. Kupczyk up top, clearly in Iraq, under camouflage netting and in his Polish-style desert uniform. (more…)
The day has finally come! – and even passed! I mean the day when the Polish occupation sector in Iraq officially came under Polish command, obviously a crucial event for our “Poles in Iraq” series.
Fortunately, I grabbed the relevant URLs while I still was in the US, so that I can still access the articles in the Polish press even if they are a day or two old. And now I am back at home-base in Amsterdam and can check out what they say.
Interestingly, the best account of the hand-over ceremony – and the issues surrounding the start of the Polish command – I find in the Krakow-based Dziennik Polski, in the article which appeared a few days ago entitled W Wiezy Babel, or “In the Tower of Babel.” As we will see, that reference to Babel is not just some headline-writer’s facile trick, taking advantage of the fact that this is all taking place in the area where the original Tower of Babel was said to have been built, but actually has some present-day relevance as well. (more…)
After considerable time, effort, and expense (see previous posts for the details), my Polish has been considerably re-charged. And just in time, too: this first week in August marks the deployment of Polish troops to the Middle East, to eventually take up security duties in the assigned Polish security sector in Iraq. To be more specific, the Polish troops first fly to Kuwait – starting today, 4 August – to start with two weeks of acclimatization. Then they will join the 400 Polish troops already in Iraq for some military exercises. Finally, around 3 September they will begin formally taking up security responsibility for their assigned sector, in central Iraq to the north of Babylon. The International Division in charge of that sector, under Polish command, will number some 9,300 troops of 25 different nationalities.
For me, this offers a fascinating parallel phenomenon to the experiences of the American and British troops already present in Iraq and trying to bring some security and rebuilding to that country. So I think it might be interesting, for me and for the burgeoning ranks of my beloved readers, to start a semi-regular “Iraq Watch” feature in which I try to report from the Polish press on current Polish attitudes to what their troops are doing over there. As we know too well, things are going rather less well than expected for the American troops, who have been dying in low but regular numbers (to accidents, but also rather often as the result of deliberate attacks) since major combat there ceased back in April. For British troops, too, I hasten to add. Similar difficulties for the Poles seem inevitable. Indeed, last Thursday as President Alkesander Kwasniewski was bidding the troops farewell at two different, widely-separated military bases in Poland, someone was already mortaring a Polish base inside Iraq – but causing no casualties or even material damage, according to the BBC World Service report.
Poland is new at this sort of thing; actually, as I remember how it was expressed in a commentary I heard on Polish radio, the Poles are different from the Brits and the Americans in that their history (and particularly their recent history) has in fact been one of being the occupied, not the occupier. Will this matter? Might this make them more sensitive to the plight of local Iraqis, and so able to enjoy better, more peaceful relations with them? Poland is new to NATO, new to overseas deployments; make no mistake that there is doubt out there as to whether they are up to the assignment, notwithstanding the help they will be provided by twenty-four other nation-friends. Of course, I wish them well, but the Polish deployment should still be rather interesting to observe – starting from the assertion in one picture caption that those troops will surely be over there for (only) six months – and I invite you to look over my shoulder as I do so. (more…)