Revealed: Ukraine’s Weapons-Sellers!

Monday, September 8th, 2014

This might be considered as the most important “secret” result of that NATO summit at the end of last week that was held at some golf resort in Wales, and the EU Beobachter (“EU Observer”) has picked it up.
5staaten

Yes, in the wake of that summit five states intend to start selling weapons to the Ukraine, and they are: the USA, Poland, France, Italy and Norway. The notable absence on this list is Germany, whose weapons, notably its small arms, are particularly good in comparison to most others, but whose Chancellor, Mrs. Merkel, made it clear at that summit that it was not ready to take that step. Understandable: the German government only in the past few weeks decided that it would break precedent and send arms to the Kurds fighting the Islamic State in Iraq, and that decision caused quite a bit of consternation on the German political scene. Merkel was not ready for the same again – not that that was the only reason for German reticence.

What’s really notable about these arms-sellers is just how hush-hush the whole subject is. None of these countries has been willing to announce these upcoming weapons-sales; indeed, all have officially denied they are ready to do so. So who knows? Against that we have – for what it is worth – an announcement yesterday by a close advisor to Ukraine President Poroshenko that these five countries would indeed be supplying his country militarily. That announcement notably appeared on the advisor’s Facebook page.

If we examine that roster, the sales from the US and from Poland are understandable: American weapons manufacturers are seemingly ready to sell anywhere, anytime, while Poland is the state leading the alarm over Ukraine developments. For France and Italy it is a bit harder to understand why they would want to be involved (indeed, the Italians have continually been suspect as too Russia-friendly) – until you realize, as this article states explicitly, that they mainly see this as an opportunity for their native arms industries to make some money. It’s only Norway whose involvement is totally mysterious: its economy doesn’t need the money, and to this point it has not seemed particularly alarmed about what is happening off to the East. Indeed, as a good Scandinavian land, it is supposed to have certain ethical pretensions of not selling war material into an active war-zone. (more…)

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Father’s Lament for Conchita

Saturday, May 24th, 2014

You remember Conchita Wurst? She/he won the Eurovision Song Competition for Austria, held in Copenhagen two weeks ago.

Someone didn’t like that.

Conchita
“A girl with a beard. That is paganism unleashed.” This comes from Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, a Roman Catholic priest most known in Poland for the Radio Maryja station he founded and runs (yes, “Maryja” as in “The Virgin Maryja”), the voice of ultra-conservative Polish Catholicism: no divorce, no abortion, everything like that. (Still, you can listen to Radio Maryja on tunein if you like, it has 19,000 followers there! Be forwarned: It’s basically exclusively spoken-word in Polish.)

I seriously doubt Father Rydzyk was tuned in to Eurovision back on May 10. The result must have percolated to him slowly, probably further delayed by a wall of sheer incredulity. It’s still interesting to quote the good Father’s reaction here at length:

We must educate people, because look at what’s happening. Good Lord, we must educate people! Because look at what’s happening! This flood of paganism isn’t coming from this country. Really, look, is that normal, that a country-boy makes himself up like a woman, that boy there, I don’t know who he is supposed to be, with a beard, he performs and wins first place in Europe as a singer! Really, like he’s some Pavarotti!

Here Father Rydzyk had to pause: he was live-broadcasting these remarks to an audience in a church via a closed-circuit link, and everyone had started laughing. (more…)

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Tracking the Mystery Flight

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

UPDATE: The BBC caught the “10 Theories about Flight MH370’s disappearance” meme around the same time as Gazeta Wyborcza (discussed below), so I would be remiss to not refer you to their piece, which of course is in English and also extensive (and fanciful, in places).

It’s amazing to realize that, come Friday, it will be a full two weeks since Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370’s complete disappearance from Southeast Asian skies, with a “Good night” from the co-pilot (local time was just past midnight) the very last message received, some forty minutes in. With some sources saying that finding the plane could still be a matter of weeks, one can only marvel at the patience of those actually sailing in or flying over the areas of the Indian Ocean now being searched, gamely putting up with what must be an excruciatingly boring needle-in-a-haystack ordeal.

What’s more, there is as yet no sort of confirmed explanation for what exactly happened. But at least accessing the foreign press can help one plug into that greater “hive mind” out there in the world to at least start evaluating possibilities.

Zloto
10 hipotez – that’s 10 hypotheses, the ten most-likely possibilities for the story behind Flight MH 370 based upon facts and analysis Piotr Cieśliński of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza has been able to gather. (more…)

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Blue-Sky Tokenism for Poland

Tuesday, November 13th, 2012

Here’s a story that has come under the radar (no pun intended) of most of the international press, but at least we have it here in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza:


“In Łask, the Americans have NOT landed,” it reads.

Well – yes they have, yet they also have not. Łask is a Polish village just to the West of the city of Łódż, whose only claim to fame is that it has an airbase. There, the American and Polish air forces recently staged a joint ceremony – you can click through if you’d like to see the photo – marking the arrival of 16 American F-16 fighter-bombers and associated personnel, flight and ground (among which, strangely, only 10 pilots). This is noteworthy because, as the article notes, it is the first permanent stationing of US armed forces on Polish soil.

It’s a big deal, among other reasons because it’s a sign of the American commitment to Poland’s defence within NATO. (Against whom? Against parties to the East, of course.) This is not so much because of the equipment itself – the F-16 is a good, if ageing, plane, but 10 of them (only 10 pilots, remember) is not many should a general war break out – but instead due to the very presence of such American personnel within Poland, and thus within the line-of-fire should Poland be attacked. It’s likely then that these would come to harm, thus increasing the pressure on the US president to actually fulfill America’s promises under NATO to intervene. (more…)

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Warsaw: Last Chance Saloon

Monday, July 30th, 2012

How do you know when your foreign campaign trip is not going well? When there are headlines like Today Romney visits Poland. Will there be further gaffes?, to be found today atop a piece by Mariusz Zawadzki in Poland’s most preeminent national daily, Gazeta Wyborcza.

In truth, the Poles already have something to gripe about when it comes to Romney, who likes to lambast President Obama for wanting to make America more “European,” which is supposed to mean “where everybody lives off the government,” and the like. Or in Zawadzki’s formulation of Romney’s message: “Obama draws insipiration from the capitals of Europe, [while] we belong to small-town America!”

Warsaw is, of course, among those “capitals of Europe.” Sigh. Once, he recalls, Europe was America’s most important ally, even for Republicans. But that was mainly during the Cold War; now we have international economic crisis instead, with what is now depicted as a decadent, decaying “social Europe” with its scandalous levels of government debt financing health care for all.

None of this past baggage bodes well for Romney’s visit, even as it is his “last hope” for achieving some sort of positive PR accomplishment out of his foreign junket. We’ve already had a furore about “Polish death camps” during WWII, not that long ago and out of the mouth of the President – surely Romney can at least avoid making that same mistake? Then again, he will be meeting in Warsaw with Lech Wałęsa, a figure as prickly as he is historical and world-renowned. That encounter could turn out to be a minefield, even as Wałęsa speaks no English – let’s hope that the translators will be skillful not just in language but in protocol! And that Romney at least remembers the old Solidariność leader’s name, something he failed to do when meeting with British Labour Party leader Ed Milliband!

UPDATE: I’m now made aware that Romney traveled initially to Gdańsk on Monday, 30 July and continued on to Warsaw the following day.

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G20 Tit for Tat

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

From the reports coming out of the G20 conference which has now come to a close in Los Cabos, Mexico, you would think that the main kerfluffle occurred over the EU’s plans for getting itself out of its euro/sovereign debt problem, and that meanwhile President Obama and Russian president Vladimir Putin had time to get together for a nice chat. Maybe. But as far as the latter was concerned, there was also something else:


“Putin threatens America,” is what we get from Gazeta Wyborcza.

So what’s that all about, and is there really anything to it? Well: yes and no. It is true that there is a new irritant in Russo-American relations, and that is the Magnitsky Bill, now before the US Senate. Its purpose is to punish Russian “human rights violators” (mainly those involved in the 2009 death in prison of anti-corruption fighter Sergei Magnitsky, but also others) by denying them visas to the US and freezing any of their US-held assets. Vladimir Putin’s “threat,” according to the Gazeta article, is simply to come up with a Russian list of Americans to punish in a similar way, should that bill be passed into law.

Reasonable, no? Well, the US prison system may not be the world’s most humane, but at least things have not gotten to the point where prisoners “inconvenient” to the ruling administration are murdered there under flimsy pretexts. So that’s where the seeming symmetry in the diplomatic retaliation breaks down. Unfortunately, Putin found a sympathetic ear with President Obama, who has shown a distinct lack of enthusiasm for that “Magnitzky bill” as an interference in his administration’s policy towards Russia.

So in the end “Putin threatens America” is a bit overblown – one brave man’s death at the hands of his Russian jailers amounts to but an unwelcome irritant in Russo-American relations.

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Rage Over “Polish Death Camps”

Friday, June 1st, 2012

Big mistake: President Obama marred his White House ceremony last Tuesday evening, during which he presented the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Bob Dylan, Madeline Albright, and other notables, with three fateful words: “Polish death camps.” These he uttered while awarding that medal to a representative of the now-deceased Jan Kozielewski, who during World War II actually had himself smuggled into and then out of the Warsaw ghetto and one of those death camps in order to report to the rest of the world what was going on there. Yes, they were “death camps,” but they were “Polish” only to the extent of being located in Poland. A better adjective is “Nazi” since they were set up, owned, run and operated by Hitler’s regime.

Poles around the world, most especially Polish government representatives, were distinctly displeased by the President’s remarks. No surprise, then, that one of the leading Polish papers, Gazeta Wyborcza, has put out a run-down of what has been done – and not done – in their wake, apology-wise:

Biały Dom: To była pomyłka. Przeprosiliśmy. I tyle http://t.co/If6a3o7M

@gazeta_wyborcza

Gazeta Wyborcza.pl


Translation: “White House: It was a mistake. We have apologized. And so on.” As in: “So don’t bother us about this anymore.” Yes, there is a palpable sub-text here of the American authorities trying to run away from the controversy, trying to downplay it. Why? Because this is an election year, silly, and so any (alleged) Obama error is sure to be pounced upon by the opposition. (more…)

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Kaliningrad Calling!

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

Now this is interesting – if also a little obscure. One of the current lesser crises going on (so that you barely hear about it) is the erosion of the EU’s Schengen Treaty whereby a large subset of member-states allow travel among themselves with absolutely no border controls. Now this arrangement – formerly the pride of the EU, on par with the common currenchy – is on the back foot, mainly due to the flood of refugees coming from North Africa (a by-product of the “Arab Spring”) and the general loss of member-state confidence that the Italian authorities at the first line of defence can keep them out before they do get into Italy and thereby into the Schengen zone, from where they have many options for further uncontrolled inter-EU travel. France was loudly talking about re-imposing controls on its Italian border a while back, while Denmark has actually done so on its border with Germany – to the sputtering protests (with no attendant action) of EU authorities.

In the middle of this, as the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza now reports, the EU Commission is likely to open up visa-free travel from Russia. Well, not really all of Russia – but rather that strange Russian enclave of Kaliningrad, stuck there between Poland and Lithuania, outside of Russia proper. Oh, and they won’t actually be able to go to Lithuania – just to Poland. And, to make it clear, there still will be border controls in place, these Kaliningradians (?) will just be able to go through them (presumably flashing their Russian passports) without having to go through the trouble of getting a visa beforehand.

Then again, Poland itself has been within the Schengen zone for a while now; who knows where some of them will want to go on to from there? But the Commission is seemingly willing to take that chance and announce such visa-free entry tomorrow; according to the article (no by-line), it’s motivation is essentially that it feels sorry for the Kaliningradians, they must be so lonely: “to avoid the isolation of Kaliningrad from its immediate neighbors, it is necessary to ease the travel of its citizens.” Because that sort of isolation can’t be very healthy for any body politic.

Don’t laugh: since Kaliningrad was first isolated this way by the independence of Lithuania in 1990, it’s been mainly known (when noticed at all) for the shady activities of all sorts going on there: weapon-smuggling, alcohol/cigarette-smuggling, the dispatch of freighters with suspicious cargoes, and the like. This is quite simply a gesture to persuade people there to start behaving themselves.

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Sneaky Soviet-Style Switcheroo

Monday, April 11th, 2011

The past weekend was a bit of a traumatic one for Poland, and on the surface it’s easy to understand why: Sunday was the one-year anniversary of the catastrophic plane-crash at Smolensk airport of the Polish government airplane that was carrying President Lech Kaczynski and almost 100 other members of government or other prominent VIPs to ceremonies meant to commemorate the 1940 Katyn Massacre, in which the NKVD (predecessor to the KGB) executed in the deep woods near that city around 20,000 members of the Polish intelligentsia captured in the German/Russian invasions of the previous fall. But it’s even worse than that: whereas the tragedy understandably united the Polish nation in grief, a year later that effect has worn off and instead the deceased president’s twin brother, Jaroslaw – who happens to head the opposition political party Law and Justice – is now trying to make political capital ahead of elections later this year by hinting at a Russian conspiracy to kill his brother, and by denouncing what he sees as the current government’s subservient attitude to the Russians.

You would think that, for its part, the Russian government would welcome the improvement in relations with Poland that was the initial result of the tragedy and the common investigation both nations’ authorities then undertook, and so would try to prolong that any way possible. Or maybe not. For an article in one of the leading national newspapers Rzeczpospolita now informs us of a piece of trickery – petty trickery, at that – which would have elicited an approving nod from the likes of Lavrenty Beria, long-time head of the NKVD under Stalin.

What’s worse, it took an on-site inspection by no less than Poland’s First Lady, Anna Komorowska, to reveal the transgression. Last Saturday she led a ceremonial delegation to the Smolensk memorial site, now meant to commemorate not only last year’s crash but the Katyn atrocity that indirectly led to it. There, the delegation discovered to their horror that a change had been made to the memorial plaque that had been placed there shortly after last year’s tragedy. Those of you out there who would like to try out your Polish can click here to see the before-and-after for yourselves, otherwise let me just inform you that the original Polish-language tablet was gone and replaced by a bilingual Russian-Polish one. OK, there’s nothing wrong with that per se, except that space had been created to fit the Russian in by deleting the text in the first plaque which had mentioned the Katyn atrocity, cited as “genocide” (ludobójstwo)*, together with the Russian government’s admitted responsibility for that.

Naturally, the Polish government had never been consulted – because it would never have approved. The Russian authorities apparently just went ahead and made the change. Actually, it would have been more appropriate to consult the “Association of Katyn Families” since that was the name on the original plaque, responsible for putting it there. Instead, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski will have a chance to “consult” with his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev today on a number of things, including – one would expect – this plaque affair.

UPDATE: Poland’s other mainstream national daily, Gazeta Wyborcza, is now reporting that the two presidents have found a solution to try to tamp down the public outrage in Poland over the Smolensk memorial plaque shenanigans. A competition! There will be a competition, run by the Polish Ministry of Culture, to come up with yet another memorial plaque, to be placed at there in time for the two-year anniversary of the tragedy next year – which, we can only hope, will proceed a bit more tranquilly, in both countries.

*Of course the Katyn massacre per se was by no means “genocide.” That word unfortunately has been so overused by those out to make cheap political points that its original meaning and impact are truly under threat – and it is only roughly 67 years old!

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Euro Entrance Gift: Inflation

Friday, January 7th, 2011

Currency reform: Back in Cold War times that phrase always sent a cold shiver of fear down the spines of those living in the Communist Bloc. What seemed so reasonable in the government announcements – hey, too many zeroes have accumulated on the currency through inflation, let’s simplify things by knocking some of them off all prices! – all too often turned out to conceal hidden measures designed to punish earners of “black” wages (by forcing them to go to official offices to exchange the cash hoard they were holding that was about to become worthless) or even simply eliminate large swathes of purchasing power from the economy (e.g. by declaring notes of certain denomination to be no longer valid).

Citizens of what was then known as the “Free World” have by-and-large been spared such abuses. Indeed, here in the Eurozone we have the common European currency, a medium of exchange not subject to the whims of any one national government. What’s more, it was adopted on 1 January by yet another EU member-state, Estonia. Yet that was recognized by most observers as somewhat of a bittersweet occasion; taking up the euro does say important things about the extent of that country’s European integration, yet the sovereign debt financial crisis with which the EU has struggled for a little over a year has revealed several cogent reasons for a country to regret ever giving up its own national currency.

But I’m not out to talk about any of those here. Rather, let’s get back to the “currency reform” scam: it’s the damndest thing how prices seem to rise whenever a country adopts the euro! You see, all prices, wages, etc. have to be converted then by a fixed conversion-ratio – for example, it was 2.20371 for the Dutch guilder – and usually the new price that results is not a very round number. No, much better to make it so – and do you think that merchants then round it upwards or downwards?

Any of you out there over the age of twelve knows the answer quite well – strange, isn’t it, how wages and bank-account totals don’t benefit from a similar rounding? – and so the result inevitably is an otherwise uncalled-for bit of inflation. That’s what made the Germans nickname their new currency the Teuro (teuer is “expensive” in German); on a local note, I can remember how Amsterdam bars, in particular, raised their prices under the quite shameful assumption that their customers were not capable of doing elementary division with a calculator.*

Naturally, then, the same thing has come to Estonia, as we see in a pieces from the Polish national daily Gazeta Wyborcza: Inflation in Estonia highest for two years. Specifically, December’s inflation rate was 5.7% higher than it was in December, 2009. (And how much was that? Annoyingly, the article prefers to use differential rather than absolute inflation rates.) We do know that inflation was high there throughout the last part of the year, as last month’s rate was also only 0.5% higher than last November’s. The main commodities driving this are listed as mainly foodstuffs and non-alcoholic beverages. (Can we hope, then, that the owners of Estonian drinking establishments actually restrained themselves?)

Anyway: Welcome to the club!

*Interestingly, grocery-store prices were mainly converted in a straightforward manner – mainly because Dutch consumer-rights organizations promised to watch them like a hawk!

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Fast and Loose Polish Patriots

Wednesday, December 8th, 2010

Wikileaks has now come to Poland: revelations from the massive dump of US State Department confidential cables have now come to the surface which – as has also mostly been the case in other contexts – do much to undermine the rosy picture of US-Poland solidarity usually presented for public consumption. Poles are now in a position to read all about them in summary articles coming out in both of that country’s prestige nationwide dailies, namely Rzeczpospolita (coverage by Wojciech Lorenz) and Gazeta Wyborcza (by Marcin Górka).

Poland had already shown up as a bit player in another Wikileaks dispatch from earlier this week, revealing new NATO contingency plans to make extensive use of that country’s transportation infrastructure to shift troops to the Baltic States should they be invaded by Russian forces. (Polish soldiers would also be heavily involved, in the form of at least one of the nine divisions slated to be included in any such maneuver.) But the only really new element disclosed in that connection by the Wikileaks dump was a certain dissatisfaction among Polish political and military authorities over the plan, since in such a situation Russia would by definition be at war not only with the Baltic States but also with Poland and with NATO in general, and such a commitment of resources would necessarily thin out Poland’s own defences somewhat.

No, the new and notable revelations that have emerged over the past few days have to do with the physical commitment to Poland’s defence made by US authorities in the form of US Army Patriot anti-rocket and -aircraft missiles sent to be stationed there. (Those who want to read an English account can turn to the UK’s official Wikileaks publisher, namely the Guardian, which spreads the story out over two articles here and here.) Recall first of all that those Patriots were stationed in Poland in the first place as an accompaniment to the anti-missile rockets that were also to have been there as part of a “missile shield” system to protect the US from Iran-launched ICBMs that the Bush Administration had worked so hard to establish, but which was then canceled by Barack Obama in September of last year. The Poles were glad to have at least that one sort of partial American military presence in their country even as the other was canceled – for the old, crude reason that having American soldiers in your country heightens the chance that they will also be killed if anyone attacks you, thus making American intervention to do something about that attack much more likely – but they had always been more concerned about threats from Russia rather than from Iran. “Don’t worry,” was the American reaction, “the Patriot can defend your territory against airborne threats from any direction, not just from the Middle East.”

There was one catch, however, as we are only know finding out thanks to the Wikileaks dispatches: those Patriots can defend Poland against airborne threats coming from Iran, Russia, or anyone else only if they are equipped with bona fide live missiles, which for the majority of their presence on Polish soil they have not been. Indeed, these communications make clear that the concept for the Americans the whole time was for the Patriot contingent in Poland (stationed in some patch of wilderness up in the Northeast, near the border with the Russian Kaliningrad enclave) to be only a training post – fly Patriot crewmen in there on occasion just to get some practice in wartime deployment to a more-exotic location to the East, work a little with what amounted to only mock-up equipment, and then get out of there again back to their home unit. Naturally, the level of permanent personnel stationed there reflected this role, usually numbering only around 20 or 30 whereas Polish authorities had expected something more like 110, reflecting staffing for a ready-to-go combat unit.

It’s something, then, but it’s not much – and it certainly is nothing that would stop Russian aircraft or missiles should the need arise. But it was all that Polish authorities found themselves able to get out of the American government, and they did their complaining quietly (e.g. about getting nothing better than “potted plants”) while never letting up on efforts to try to get even more of an American deployment of forces to Poland, and maybe with some actual combat-teeth for a change. Ideas that have arisen along this line are stationing some F-16s on a Polish airbase and/or maybe some C-130 transport aircraft and/or maybe even moving a detachment of Naval Special Warfare troops from Stuttgart to Gdansk. As it happens, Polish President Komorowski will have the opportunity today to discuss such things as he visits President Obama at the White House. But the shine is already considerably off the encounter after these latest revelations of the fast-and-loose behavior American military and diplomatic authorities display towards even the country’s closest allies (e.g. still with its own troops fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with American forces in Afghanistan).

UPDATE: As a great philosopher once observed, “two out of three ain’t bad”! The Gazeta (Wyborcza) Twitter-feed carries the news coming out of the Polish-American presidential summit:

Amerykańskie F-16 i Herkulesy w Polsce. Od połowy 2013 roku http://bit.ly/hZyovB

So that will be 16 F-16’s (how symmetric!) and 4 C-130’s (all American-manned and -operated; this isn’t an equipment sale) stationed on a Polish airbase starting in mid-2013. And if you click through Gazeta’s link to the article you even can see, amid all that Polish, a nice photo of Komorowski chatting with Obama in the Oval Office.

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My Mayor, My Informant

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

On Sunday 3 October the run-off election is scheduled for Mayor (Oberbürgermeister) of Potsdam, that city of around 150,000 inhabitants just to the southwest of Berlin which was Frederick the Great’s capital and garrison-town and now is the capital of the state of Brandenburg. There’s a run-off because in the regular election, last Sunday, no one candidate got a majority of the votes, so the competition has now been narrowed down to the top two. Lying as it does within the former East Germany, Potsdam is not surprisingly a rather left-wing place, so it’s no surprise that those two candidates represent Germany’s main leftist party, the Social Democrats (SPD), in the person of incumbent Oberbürgermeister Jann Jacobs, and the formation even more to the left, namely The Left (Die Linke), represented by one Hans-Jürgen Scharfenberg.

Jacobs has been Potsdam’s mayor for a while now, since March of 1999, and he did come out on top of that initial vote with 41%. But Scharfenberg was not all that far behind at 33%, and the guy does have many useful qualities, such as being a shrewd judge of people’s character, and able both to keep a secret and submit thorough, informative reports. How do I know this? Because Hans-Jürgen Scharfenberg is also unique as the first significant German political candidate known to have been an informer back in the day for the East German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, better known as the Stasi. (more…)

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CIA Torture Prison in Poland: Ex-President, Premier Face Indictment

Friday, August 6th, 2010

PressEurop yesterday came forward with an obscure piece of news from Poland that may nonetheless soon resonate internationally. Citing an article in that day’s edition of the mainstream Polish national daily Rzeczpospolita, they noted that no less than Polish ex-President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, his ex-premier Leszek Miller, and an “ex-head of intelligence,” one Zbigniew Siemiątkowski, were facing the prospect of going before a State Tribunal on war crimes charges stemming from the secret prison they allegedly allowed the American CIA to set up in their country back when the “War on Terror” was at its height, and which might well have been the scene for prisoner torture.

Good work, that, although the PressEurop editors did somehow miss within that Rzeczpospolita piece the credit that journal was willing to give to its arch-rival Gazeta Wyborcza for actually getting the scoop, in the form of this article which appeared the day before the Rzecz report. Also, Zbigniew Siemiątkowski was not “head of intelligence” but rather Minister of the Interior; and there is another ex-Minister of the Interior who is under investigation in this connection as well, one Krzysztof Janik.

In any event, the combined reporting from Poland’s two most-respected national dailies provides a fascinating glimpse into a story with explosive potential that still is being treated as a Top Secret matter by the prosecutorial authorities involved. As the Gazeta piece reminds us, the first indication the world had that something funny was going on in Europe was the reporting in the Washington Post of early 2005 that alleged the existence of CIA-run “black site” prison facilities in European countries. The Council of Europe then took that as a cue to investigate on its own, and soon concluded that such installations were in place in Romania, Lithuania, and Poland. When questioned at the time, Polish authorities were noticeably unhelpful, eventually admitting only that yes, there was an airport in the northeastern Polish wilderness that the government had made available for CIA flights. (more…)

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Nord Stream Pipeline: Cabinet of Knaves

Monday, April 5th, 2010

A brief review here of an important European energy project: Nord Stream. That’s the natural gas pipeline currently being built under the Baltic Sea, connecting the Russian coastal town of Vyborg (Выборг, north of St. Petersburg, on the Finnish border) with a western terminal near the East German coastal town of Greifswald. But as the Nord Stream homepage explains, “[This] is more than just a pipeline. It is a new channel for Russian natural gas exports, and a major infrastructure project which sets a new benchmark in EU-Russia cooperation.”

All true, in a way. But the crucial fact that the website is in no hurry to mention is that this pipeline will deliver Russian natural gas to Germany while by-passing the countries through which a cheaper, overland pipeline would normally go, in particular Poland. To be sure, pipelines to Europe through Poland (and the Ukraine) already exist. But Russian relations with those countries are usually rather prickly; with the completion of Nord Stream, the Russian authorities will have the option within a few years to cut them out of natural gas transmission completely – literally to leave them out in the cold, with no gas, as has already happened this past decade during a number of winter-time confrontations with Ukraine. (more…)

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Why Only Demjanjuk?

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010

Here’s something else that you may have forgotten about – the Demjanjuk trial, still ongoing in Munich, Germany. John Demjanjuk is alleged to be “Ivan the Terrible,” the brutal guard and gas-chamber operator at the Nazi death camp at Sobibor, and was finally extradited from the US to Germany last May for trial, to face a mere 27,900 counts of acting as an accessory to murder.

Fine, so they finally have him on trial in Germany. (After he had already stood trial in Israel in 1986, it must be admitted – he was found guilty, sentenced to death by hanging, but then his conviction was overturned on appeal by the Israeli Supreme Court because of new evidence that had surfaced that cast doubt on Demjanjuk’s wartime identity.) Let’s just let things proceed from there, and expeditiously: by now, the most urgent consideration is probably to actually complete the trial before the 90-year-old Demjanjuk finally dies.

Right, but among the witnesses at his new trial will presumably be one Samuel Kunz, also said to be a death-camp guard in the service of the SS during the war, but who spent most of his time at Bełżec. Wait: what is this Kunz fellow doing otherwise enjoying his retirement in perfect freedom (residing near Bonn, as it turns out, and subsisting on a civil servant’s pension)? That’s what a number of still-living death-camp escapees want to know, and it’s also the question that Gazeta Wyborcza Berlin correspondent Bartosz T. Wieliński poses in his article Why are the Germans putting on trial only Demjanjuk (topped by a charming wartime picture of Kunz and his death-camp colleagues posing at Bełżec under a double-lightning SS symbol; you should click just to check that out, Kunz is holding the mandolin). (more…)

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Problems at Russian Nuclear Reactor

Sunday, January 10th, 2010

Sorry to disturb your Sunday peace: there’s an article now in Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza titled Damage to atomic electricity plant in Russia. Here’s the lede:

One of the blocks of the Volga-Don Atomic Electric Plant in the vicinity of Rostov-on-Don was closed down after there occurred this morning a ruptured pipe in the steam generator.

The plant’s director, Aleksandr Palamarchuk, has assured the press that there has been no damage involving radioactivity, and that radiation readings are “within the norm.” It is planned to get the malfunctioning block started again in about four days’ time.

Interestingly, this plant does not seem to be of the type of old Soviet-style reactors that we’ve heard of before (e.g. Chernobyl), as it was put into operation only nine years ago, and already provides about one-seventh of the electric power consumed in southern European Russia. Nonetheless, it had a problem before, just last month in the very same sub-block, which meant that that part of the plant has been producing minimal levels of power since that time. Now it’s producing nothing, due to that “ruptured pipe” (pęnknięcie rury).

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Has the Obama Administration Changed Its Mind over Central European Anti-Missile Defense?

Tuesday, September 1st, 2009

Returning to my €S post from a well-deserved summer break, and thus resuming my scrutiny of European affairs, my attention was piqued in particular by the entry on Matthew Yglesias’ weblog entitled US to Scrap Eastern European Missile Defense.

“Could this be true?” I wondered. I have certainly covered this whole Czech-and-Polish missile defense system topic here before, most notably in a post from last March entitled Poles Down the River?, and my common theme has been the Obama Administration’s steadily-waning support for going through with this deployment. Yglesias – evidently a non-Polish-speaker – can only provide as reference a link to a report from the DefenseNews site that itself cites “[l]eading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza” as the source for its information. Here we can do somewhat better, of course, and even with five days’ delay it was relatively easy for me to use the Internet-tubes to find the on-line article in question (Poland without shield, by the newspaper’s Washington correspondent Marcin Bosacki – athough feel free to insert “the” or “a” there in the title before “shield,” as the Polish language ordinarily uses neither word explicitly). (more…)

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Central Europe Pines For More Obama-Love

Sunday, July 19th, 2009

The biggest news reverberating around Central and Eastern Europe (CEE) these days is that of an open letter recently made public, addressed to President Obama and issued in the name of 22 notable political figures from countries of that region, including many ex-presidents and even one Nobel Prize winner (Lech Wałęsa). Nobody who signed this missive currently occupies any actual governmental position, however, but that is perfectly logical in view of its polite but urgent message that any current official would have to be too diplomatic to deliver: America is neglecting NATO in general and the CEE lands in particular.

As vacation season here on the European continent starts to shift into high gear, it’s difficult for any mere man-made initiative like this (as opposed to, say, a natural catastrophe) to create much of a sensation, but the leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza at least considered this news so important that it issued two slightly-different articles about it (here and here) from its Washington correspondent, Marcin Bosacki, who notes that there’s never been any sort of letter like this sent since 1989. Also, that newspaper also published on-line the complete letter in its English translation, including a table at the bottom explaining who all those 22 signatories are. (more…)

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Your Own Bank Account at 59

Tuesday, March 3rd, 2009

There’s a quite curious article available right now on the website of Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung. Perhaps I’ll just give you the lede:

Finally independent from Mama: Poland’s former head of government Jarosław Kaczyński can undertake his own money-matters from now on – he has opened his first account in his own name.

That’s right, for many years previously – ever since he had money of his own that he needed to bank, one presumes – he has used his mother’s account. He continues to live with her, at age 59, and has never married – which almost goes without saying, for you don’t live with mother when you have a wife, even in Poland, when you are currently the chairman of one of the country’s main political parties and previously served not only as prime minister but as chief-of-staff to Lech Wałęsa when he was Poland’s first democratically-elected president.

(By the way, Kaczyński also has a law degree, was a prominent activist in the Solidarity trade union in the 1980s, and boasts an identical-twin brother, Lech, who is Poland’s current president. Oh, and Lech and Jarosław were child-actors way back in the day, starring in a Polish fairy-tale film in 1962.) (more…)

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No Roads for the Euro Championships

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I know, you probably have enough on your plate as it is to worry about. And goodness knows, they now say this whole financial crisis thing is likely to drag on for a while, so that it’s highly likely that we’ll all need the 2012 European football championships – scheduled to be jointly hosted by Poland and the Ukraine – as some welcome distraction from our everyday cares and fears.

Unfortunately, there is certainly going to be a big problem there in 2012, at least with the Polish half of the tournament. (And the Poles are reckoned to be the more-sophisticated country of the pair – they’re an EU member-state, after all – and therefore a better bet to fulfill their Euro 2012 promises.) The bad news is right there in the headline in Poland’s leading daily, Gazeta Wyborcza: There will not be roads for Euro 2012. It’s in Polish in the original, of course, as is the accompanying article. But still, surely someone from UEFA speaks that language and is monitoring this sort of thing! For heaven’s sake, Gazeta Wyborcza states the following outright, in its lede:

Construction of new highways and expressways is bogging down again. There will not be routes to Euro 2012. Investment in roads won’t help to fight this crisis either, since there is simply too little of it.

It was Polish Minister of Infrastructure Cezary Grabarczyk himself who promised a year ago that Poland intended to build 700 km of new highways and to expand its network of expressways by 2,100 km. However, reporter Andrzej Kublik concludes that that was an unrealistic goal from the very beginning, even as the current effort to build those new roads (as well as to modernize existing routes) represents the biggest such Polish infrastructure program in decades. While things got off to a promising start through 2007 – in terms of meeting intermediate construction quotas – that initial pace then became too difficult to maintain thereafter, even as the quotas were set much more ambitiously starting in 2008. An added element of confusion entered the picture as the government authorities decided to contract for some of the stretches of highway with a private firm, Gdansk Transport Company, rather than rely exclusively on the State highway-building company. (I’ll spare you the full name of the latter; from its initials it’s known as the GDDKiA.) There was a couple of untimely changes in the management of that state company; and other political considerations got involved. The upshot was a series of postponements of completion dates that now threatens to deny UEFA the functioning highway-net (especially between the cities staging the matches!) that it was promised when Poland won the Euro 2012 bid along with the Ukraine.

A frank report like this from Gazeta Wyborcza is refreshing to see, but really, it needs somehow to feed through to UEFA officials. (One can also infer that extra scrutiny on their part of the extent to which the necessary infrastructure – stadiums, roads – is coming along in the Ukraine is warranted as well.) For rather than allow a hopelessly messed-up Euro 2012 tournament to be staged in the countries that agreed to do so but are not ready to ensure that it is a success, there has always existed and still exists the “pull the plug” option to simply re-assign the tournament to some other European country more ready to take over. I’m sure that Germany – to name but one candidate – is ready and able to take the task on.

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Russian Army Out of Control?

Tuesday, September 2nd, 2008

Why are Russian forces presently still occupying big swathes of vital Georgian territory, seemingly in defiance of the cease-fire brokered by EU president Nicolas Sarkozy and signed by both the Russian and Georgian governments? (I say “seemingly,” because I’ve read reports that, in the negotiations leading up to that cease-fire agreement, the Russian side managed to have language inserted that gave them some leeway to keep hold of some of that territory if in their judgment it was necessary for use as a buffer for their defense of South Ossetia.) One possible reason, that Gazeta Wyborcza raises today (Russian Army not completely subordinate?), is that the Red Army might not have been completely under the control of its political masters during its incursion into Georgia.

This specter of a renegade Red Army is a scary one, particularly for Poles, although the Polish daily does not claim any original research here. Rather, the article is devoted to recasting into Polish a report on this subject from yesterday’s Financial Times – to which, if you’re interested, I’ll just let you switch over here since it’s written in good Queen’s (business) English. Highlights are the way the Russian troops kept going even after the cease-fire was signed (with the military brass ticked off that their leaders in the Kremlin would not let them finish the job, i.e. destroy the Georgian army), and how they even set about establishing a police force for the occupied Georgian city of Gori – not really a military force’s task, quite apart from it’s being a clear sign of intent to stay there for a while – before that political yank-on-the-leash finally came down and they were ordered to evacuate Gori (but only to positions just outside).

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Spicy Russo-Georgian Potpourri

Monday, September 1st, 2008

“Georgia – again?” Well, yes. What else would there be? The Republican National Convention? Coming up (we think). Sarah Palin? Not today, but definitely stay tuned on that one, it could turn spectacular. Hurricane Gustav? The European viewpoint there is probably not too interesting, even if we might be somewhat honored by the choice of that quintessentially (Central) European given name for bestowal on the storm. My best sense of the EU’s official position on Gustav – gathered from that extensive trawling through the various national presses that I do for you on a continual basis – is that it’s taken to be a bad thing, definitely.

Actually, developments on the Georgia story do keep on coming, especially if you take the unpleasantness there of last month (not at all unreasonably) as a proxy for the new Eurasian balance-of-power that conflict suddenly revealed to the world. Today is when the EU heads of government are due in Paris to meet on a European response (if any) to Russia’s recent behavior. Looking ahead last Friday, the Berlin correspondent for Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza, Bartosz T. Wielinski, put forth a mostly pessimistic outlook on what could be accomplished (What the Union can do to Russia on Monday). (more…)

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Palin by Comparison

Saturday, August 30th, 2008

John McCain has made his choice – and a surprising one it was, too, namely Governor Sarah Palin of Alaska as his vice-presidential nominee. As observers and interested parties made their way to Dayton, OH yesterday to witness her official presentation as Republican running-mate, even the most-experienced journalists were scrambling to find background material on someone who previously had been a peripheral candidate, at best, to join McCain on the ticket.

If those American journalists had that problem catching up with information on Palin, you can guess the problem was even more acute for the foreign press. Still, European coverage has risen to the challenge with an assortment of treatments of the Alaska governor’s naming – even if I nowhere saw any mention of the budding Alaska state trooper firing scandal that could bring some heavy rain on her parade later on. Anyway, let’s go check that coverage out – starting this time in Poland. (more…)

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Everybody On Board for the Parade!

Saturday, August 2nd, 2008

I don’t like to talk about local affairs here except on rare occasions; this is hardly intended to be any sort of “Amsterdam blog.” One of the few things I’ll make an exception for is the “Gay Pride” festival occurring here every first week of August. It is known world-wide, to a considerable extent takes over the city, and features a unique “parade” on the Saturday (today!) that makes its way along the city’s canals (actually, mainly the Prinsengracht), not its streets.

It also enjoys a rather high level of public support. That was perhaps the main point of the article from Poland’s Gazeta Wyborcza that I covered here on Tuesday, which noted that, for the first time, a national cabinet minister will be officially present in the parade (namely Ronald Plasterk, of Education, Culture, and Science) as well as an official boat from the police. But it turns out that Gazeta didn’t know the half of it (and probably did not want to know the half of it, in any case): this whole new politician phenomenon has mushroomed so rapidly that not only have plenty other national Dutch lawmakers scrambled to find a place for themselves for today on a Gay Pride boat, but questioning eyebrows are even being raised in the direction of politicians who will not be present. (more…)

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Gay Pride Parade in Polish Eyes

Tuesday, July 29th, 2008

Coming up this very next weekend: Gay Pride Amsterdam! What’s in it for you if you’re not gay? Well, the parade of boats through the city’s canals – actually, basically the Prinsengracht – is the highlight of the whole weekend and attracts 350,000 spectators, or so the above-linked website claims, so it’s something to consider going and watching, as long as you also realize that the “entertainment” on the passing boats verges into outright nudity not infrequently and into sheer camp always. Plus, there will be gay street parties all over the place from Friday to Sunday. Amsterdam is generally a big enough party-place on a summer weekend for one to be able to find a suitable heterosexual vibe somewhere, if that is more your thing – and meanwhile just think of all the sales- and tax-revenue those hundreds of thousands of visitors are bringing to the city! (more…)

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Wave of Hagiography

Tuesday, April 5th, 2005

I’m back – perhaps in a bid for small-screen immortality? But be advised that this is going to be a day-to-day decision – or, more likely, even week-to-week.

The timing is a bit strange, since I re-emerge onto the blogging scene, eyes blinking, into the blinding light of the story dominating world news: the Pope’s death, of course. Assenting to “go with the flow” for now, in fact turning into a glutton for punishment, I immediately resort to what is sure to be “all Pope news, all the time”: the Polish press. Continuing to take things to the limit, why not head straight to the leading Polish daily (long-time EuroSavant readers – if there are any left – will know immediately whereof I speak): Gazeta Wyborcza. (more…)

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Poles in Iraq XI: Poles Out of Iraq?

Tuesday, October 5th, 2004

“He forgot Poland” George W. Bush famously complained during that first presidential debate last week. And so John Kerry apparently did. And what about Poland, and specifically its roughly 2,500 soldiers now serving in Iraq? We’re out of there by December, 2005, no matter what happens, is the essence of what Polish defense minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski announced in an interview published yesterday in the leading Polish national newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza.

A pretty definitive statement, you would think. And, by the way, a resounding scoop for Gazeta, since no other on-line Polish newspaper treated Szmajdzinkski’s remarks until today, and that mostly in reaction to the splash he had made in yesterday’s interview. But unfortunately it’s not so simple as all that: Gazeta had several pieces accompanying that interview – as do other newspapers today – basically passing on a message of “don’t listen to Szmajdzinski!” from other leading Polish politicians, to include such figures as the President and Prime Minister! The situation is muddled, then, to say the least. (more…)

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Poles in Iraq X: Road Ambush Kills Two Soldiers

Friday, August 20th, 2004

Back to serious tragedies now, inevitably having to do with Iraq. In fact, today’s reports in the Polish press about the death of two Polish soldiers echo quite a lot of a similar incident I discussed here a few days ago which killed a Dutch soldier. (more…)

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Polish Iraq Rumblings

Sunday, May 30th, 2004

The current crisis concerning the situation in Iraq (e.g. continuing open rebellion, uncertain transitional government to which to “transfer sovereignty” on 30 June, just to name a few of the headline things) is hardly going unnoticed in Poland. This is another country which has significant numbers of troops on the ground there, in fact right at the main hot spots, i.e. in the Shiite-dominated south. Back in the early days of the occupation – back when sectors were being chosen for Coalition allies – that area was considered a safe bet to stay “cold.” After all, the country’s Shiite majority had long been oppressed particularly egregiously by Saddam, no?, and so should be particularly grateful and cooperative in the aftermath of his toppling. But that’s just another aspect that has gone wrong with the “plan” – and while we’re on that topic, check out this.

I thought about making this entry the latest in €S’ “Poles in Iraq” series (it would be entry number X – yes, we number them here like the NFL numbers the Super Bowls), but that’s not quite going to fit. (more…)

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Poles in Iraq IX: Spanish Withdrawal Reaction

Tuesday, April 20th, 2004

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…)

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