Old Captive Nation, New Captive Media

Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

Ah, how something like the following takes us geezers back to the old days!

Szydlo
“[Poland’s] Premier Szydło discusses new law about TK.” TK means Tribunał Konstytucyjny or “Constitutional Tribunal,” meaning Poland’s Supreme Court. That TK hasn’t been operating so well lately, really since the new right-wing PiS government took power last November. Among other things, it then pushed through laws intended to severely curtail the TK’s ability to exercise judicial review, that is, to vet the laws passed by the country’s bicameral legislature (Sejm/Senat) and reject those in conflict with the national constitution. Those controversial government measures against the TK included rejection of judges who had been appointed to join the TK prior to the regime-change, in favor of other judges more to the new government’s liking.

In exchange, the sitting TK has ruled against and therefore refused to accept those laws, and those new justices. For months now there has been this stalemate between the executive/legislative branches and the judicial branch – something along the same line but still much worse than the US Senate’s refusal to consider President Obama’s nominated replacement for deceased Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia.

The new government also legislated to put the national TV and radio stations under much closer government control, which led to mass resignations of much of the media talent at those institutions. These two areas – that is, TK and media – are the main elements (but not the only ones) which has led to much alarm about the direction of Polish democracy, foremost on the part of the EU, but also within the US government. A recent Washington Post piece in connection with President Obama’s visit to Warsaw for the NATO summit there (Obama slammed Polish democracy) showed this high level of concern.

More entertainingly, it also lays out how tricky editing when it came to the report about Obama’s remarks that was actually broadcast on Polish State TV made sure that most national viewers were left with no inkling that the US President saw Poland as anything other than a model democratic state. Really, those who ran the same broadcast facilities with an iron fist during the bad-old Communist times – however many are still left – are surely nodding in approval.

That WaPo peace is of course in English; you can read all about the details if you like. The point is, it’s now 2016 and media has expanded into the social variety, yet the same whitewashing treatment can be seen with those new sorts of messages, such as the tweet seen above. “Prime Minister discusses law” – as if the whole matter simply revolved about finding and passing the right legislation to clear up the TK controversy and get the government back to functioning normally again.

For the details about this latest legislation the Warsaw Business Journal has a nice summary. Ultimately, though, all of that is irrelevant: this is a constitutional stand-off that cannot be resolved simply by passing more laws, for it is clear that the Constitutional Tribunal will simply yet again point out how it is inconsistent with Poland’s constitution and reject it – and the stalemate will go on.

The WBJ piece suggests that one function of this latest law was simply to try to impress on President Obama, in time for his visit, that steps were being taken to resolve this grave constitutional dispute – to fool President Obama, that is, since as we have seen this is no sort of effective contribution towards bringing about resolution. Of course, it’s unlikely that Obama follows the @Wiadomosci_PR (that is, “News_PR” when PR = Polish Radio) Twitter-feed: it is native Poles who do that, and so it is they who are being hoodwinked by such State propaganda, which, again, really must at least inspire nostalgia – of the unwelcome sort – among those old enough to remember government messages from the old RPL – Polish People’s Republic.

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Heads of State & Their Rides

Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

Oh, to have one’s choice of a ride – of wheels, man, of an automobile to take you around! The vast majority of us are limited in this respect by budgetary considerations, but some are not. Among those are heads of state, and Rzeczpospolita takes a look at their choices of roadster.

Jezdza
This inquiry just doesn’t come out of the blue, though. Last Friday there was apparently some sort of incident involving Polish President Andrzej Duda as he was riding in his official limousine along the national A4 highway. This article only mentions this in passing; you have to go elsewhere to find out any more about it (like here, to the tvn24 site, in Polish), and even then many details are still missing. The important thing, of course, is that President Duda was completely unharmed. Additionally, there seems to have been some damage to the tires, at least, but otherwise the incident is being investigated further, by all sorts of Polish governmental agencies. President Duda was himself asked directly about it yesterday (Monday), but he was willing only to confirm that he was in fine shape.

Well, what sort of car is it that he rides around in? A common thread for presidential cars – as one would expect – is that they are made within the same country in question, so that, for example, David Cameron uses a Bentley Mulsanne, President Mattarella of Italy cruises in a Lancia Thesis, Czech President Zeman disposes of a Škoda Superb and (of course) Angela Merkel* has a Mercedes S Class. Poland is not really known for any make of cars, though, so President Duda is taken around in a BMW 7, the “High Security” version which is (like all the others mentioned) modified to reflect the needs of security (and of communications) for a head of state.

President Obama’s ride is most famous of all. It’s a Cadillac, again highly, highly modified (e.g. to enable communication at any time with the Vice President and the Pentagon; also to withstand chemical attack), known as Cadillac One, or the Beast. This vehicle is transported to any of the various places in the world to which the President may travel, and is so heavily weighed-down by its armor and other equipment (it weighs 10 tons, although with a super-charged engine that can handle all that) that it gets only 100 km per 30 liters of gasoline (that is 7.8 miles/gallon).

The piece finishes up with a listing of other Heads of State and their official cars, which I’ll reproduce (and translate, where appropriate) for you here:

  • France: Citroen DS5
  • Hungary: Audi A8 Ls
  • India (sorry, no Tata): Mercedes-Benz S600
  • Japan: Toyota Century
  • Malaysia: Maybach 62 (Maybach is owned by Daimler-Benz; it’s their luxury line. Strange, Wikipedia reports that the 62 model was discontinued, so the Malaysian government may have trouble finding spare parts.)
  • Russia: Mercedes-Benz S Class (just like Merkel)
  • South Korea: Hyundai Equus VL500
  • Sweden: Volvo S80; and finally
  • Vatican: Kia Santa Fe (!); maybe they particularly like the model-name?

* Yes, it’s true that, properly speaking, Angela Merkel does not belong in this list because she is a Head of Government, not Head of State. Nonetheless, this is the data-point which the (unnamed) Rzeczpospolita author uses. I think we can assume German President Joachim Gauck rides around in his own presidential Mercedes S Class as well.

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Polish Media: There’s More to Come

Monday, January 11th, 2016

Relations between the new right-wing Polish regime and the EU have taken a turn for the worst lately. Whether it’s doing so purposefully or not, the PiS (Prawo i Sprawiedliwość – Law and Justice) Party now heading the government there seems to be following the route pioneered only a few years previously by Victor Orbán in Hungary towards making the country an “illiberal democracy.”

This has involved measures such as reducing the independence of the Supreme Court equivalent there, but what has caught the eye most has been the law recently pushed through the Sejm (the lower house of parliament) which converted the State radio and TV institutions from commercial organizations wholly owned by the government to governmental institutions – thus liable to having their top staff chosen by the government of the day. Once this law was passed and signed last week by the country’s president (also PiS), the government lost little time in putting in its own people.

As usual, I’ve tried to track that via my regular review of the Polish press, so that I can then pass on interesting bits of what was going to you via tweet and/or blog-post. But now that the law has been passed – and the Polish government and EU Commission have set out their antagonistic positions about it – what seems most interesting is a tweet I first picked up from last November, when the PiS government was getting ready to take power.

11JANUmbau
“Radical reconstruction planned: Poland wants to cut down on foreign influence in its media system.”

Here we got a first warning, from the influential Munich newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, of the intentions of the incoming PiS government, in particular of Piotr Gliński who became Minister of Culture. Note the emphasis: “cut down on foreign influence” – now, what sort of “foreign influence” could there be within the State radio and TV institutions? As mentioned, even before the new law they were 100%-owned by the Polish government; some variation of this is the rule with all other European State broadcasters. So what could they mean by “foreign influence” – perhaps the foreigners who happen to work there?

No, that’s not it (although it wouldn’t be any surprise if the new bosses at TVP and Polskie Radio do fire the foreigners); rather, we’re speaking here of the print media. In Poland that is mostly foreign-owned (and that mainly from Germany) and Gliński wants to do something about it.

The new government wants to “change the ownership proportions” of local newspapers, Gliński said. To do this, they are considering “buying back” shares owned by foreign publishing companies, founding native Polish newspapers or further building up those fully Polish-owned papers that now exist.

Consider: “buying back” foreign ownership stakes in Polish publications. What if those foreigners who now own them do not want to sell, or demand what the new Polish government considers too high a price? It is easy to imagine here that the PiS government will not be willing to accept nein! for an answer. It’s easy to see we are talking here about the potential expropriation of business assets bought fair-and-square in the past. (more…)

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US Army’s Wild Dragoon Ride

Saturday, March 28th, 2015

Throughout this past month NATO has been busy with its “Atlantic Resolve” set of military exercises in Poland and the Baltic states. These are something new, not occurring previously to the first such training deployments there starting last Spring, and, as is evident by the very name, are designed to bolster local morale in those lands against the increasing military misbehavior of Russian President Vladimir Putin. In fact, military exercises under the same name, also involving American troops (that’s sort of the point), are now getting started in Romania and Bulgaria, and supposedly will include Georgia in May, with US troops set to cross the Black Sea by ferry!

But there is also something else rather new about that Baltic “Atlantic Resolve” as well, now that it’s time for the US troops who trained there to head back to base.

konvoj
“American convoy stopped in Krakow and Warsaw.” This is truly remarkable, for American troops stationed in Europe generally return to their bases by train – and then usually in the middle of the night, since such transports have lowest priority on any local rail network. Still, and especially for the heavy equipment, that remains the best way to transport these units over long distances.

All that is thrown out the window for “Operation Dragoon Ride,” however, whereby 120 military vehicles and the US soldiers that serve them – from their unit markings it seems they are of the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment – are currently making their 1,800 km way back from the Baltics to their base at Vilseck (Bavaria), Germany along the local highways and byways. This article in České noviny discusses how they are currently traversing Poland with, as mentioned, planned stops in Krakow and in Warsaw. In fact, in the latter city (Poland’s capital, of course) they visited the Museum of the Warsaw Uprising. And that’s not all their itinerary in Poland: these troops also met up with the inhabitants of the town Drawsko Pomorskie, which only has 11,878 residents in the first place and is way up in northwest Poland, near the Baltic coast – but, you see, the town also is host to a major firing-range and NATO maneuver area just to its South. (more…)

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Lethargy in the Air Defense

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015

One’s first reaction might well be that this is hardly something you should discuss publicly over the national airwaves. Then again, Poland has certainly become considerably more transparent since the bad old days of the “People’s Republic” (Rzeczpospolita Ludowa):

Obrony
The tweet is from Polskie Radio, and as is the very function of their feed, they’re tweeting about some interview they will broadcast (or have broadcasted). “Minister of National Defense: we really need air-defense weapons fit for the XXIst century.”(!) And the lede:

As MON [= Ministry of Defense] Chief Tomasz Siemoniak said on Radio 3, it has not yet been decided that American Patriot rockets will be chosen for Polish air defense.

Now, it happens that some Patriots are due in Poland quite soon, at the end of March, but they don’t belong to Poland, they are American and will be there in connection with an ongoing series of military exercises with American forces that are clearly an explicit response to all the trouble happening on the other side of Poland’s eastern border.

And that is just it: especially given that strategic context, why are people hearing statements like the following?

We really need anti-aircraft defense for the twenty-first century, that’s been a priority for the last three years. It’s not only about the purchase of specific equipment, it’s also a matter of deep cooperation with other governments. You have to look at it as the complex affair it is.

Right, and against the American offer to sell Patriots, the Polish Ministry of Defense is also considering what he called in the interview the French SAMP/T air defense system, which would seem to be from out of the larger “Aster” family of military missiles developed jointly by France and Italy. That decision is due at the end of May. But to me, the whole tone of Siemoniak’s report here is that of wanting to excuse delay and inaction.

You’d have to assume that Russian intelligence does not require discussion on public interview programs to have a very good idea about the nature of Poland’s air defense weaponry. (Indeed, the reply-tweet you see there from @KajdasMarek suggests that what they have to work with for now is merely 23mm and 57mm guns from the 1960s.)

I guess what disturbs me the most about this news is the seeming lackadaisical attitude here in the face of a very real threat from the East, to which most Polish political actors, at least, have been quick to respond. But their efforts will have been in vain if/when the Russian air force gains air superiority over Polish territory through sneak-attack – and the nearest American air bases are far back in Western Germany!

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Next in the Intimidation Line

Friday, September 26th, 2014

New bad news for the Ukraine:

Hunguk
“Hungary stops gas deliveries to Ukraine.” Would that have something to do with the visit by Gazprom chief Alexei Miller to Budapest on Monday of this week to speak with Hungarian PM Viktor Orbán?

Not if you ask the Hungarians. From the lede:

According to the government in Budapest and the State company responsible for the pipelines, FGSZ, the step was taken due to the rise in domestic demand for gas. Satisfying Hungarian demand has priority.

Yeah, right. Like the rest of us Europeans, Hungary has been enjoying the usual global warming-induced prolonged summer September weather, with temperatures dipping below 15ºC (59ºF) only at night. Demand for gas there – for heating – is due to rise maybe end November, beginning December, and not particularly now.

The real story here can be clearly seen from a couple weeks ago, when Gazprom similarly forced Poland to stop the “reverse supplies” of natural gas it was providing to the Ukraine by threatening to cut off the Poles’ supply they were diverting from. It’s just that the latter were willing to be rather more straightforward about what was happening than the Hungarians. Indeed, this Telegraaf piece speaks of a €10 billion Russian loan Orbán’s government is hoping to gain. How is such a thing even possible after the EU has collectively imposed repeated waves of sanctions – including of the financial kind – on Russia?

I’d like to derive two remarks from this data-point, which we can call “Major” and “Minor”:

  • Major: Putin really likes throwing Russia’s geopolitical weight around using the threat of energy cut-offs. I believe I read somewhere that the dissertation he wrote for whatever higher academic degree it was that he earned back in his KGB schooldays had precisely to do with that subject.The prevailing wisdom seems to be that, while the Ukraine has of course already been shoved out into the cold (literally) for the coming winter when it comes to Russian natural gas, Putin would not dare to do that to the rest of the EU because of the revenue loss that would entail. Then again, he seemed indifferent enough to the food-price inflation the Russian people have had to suffer resulting from his embargo on EU agricultural imports. Make no mistake: this coming winter is when the EU will be confronted in the bleakest and most direct way possible with the problem of how to do without Russian energy supplies.
  • Minor: Notice here as well the common thread of the involvement of Gazprom, which is supposed to be a private company. Well, at least it is a private company to the likes of FIFA, which allows it to pay the mega-price to be one of the commercial sponsors of the Champions League. (It is also the shirt-sponsor of the famous German football club Schalke 04.) Inevitably, those watching Champions League games at home have to put up with repeated commercials extolling Gazprom as a reliable energy-provider; if you watch closely, you’ll even notice how the characteristic Champions League graphic used when heading into and out of commercial breaks, in which spotlights come on in turn around a circular stadium, precisely recalls the pattern of gas-jets lighting up on a stove! How many of those looking on for the football actually realize that Gazprom will be glad to let them freeze next winter, if only Putin gives the order?
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Feeling Shaky? Join the Euro!

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

A quick note here on the latest entry on The Economist’s “Eastern approaches” blog entitled “Poland’s foreign policy: A shaky compass.” (Subscription required – well, you do get to look at one article per month for free, make it this one!)

The point here is that Poland’s Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski sees his country’s swift adoption of the euro as a needed response to the turmoil to the East. From the article:

Ditching earlier concerns by former finance minister Jacek Rostowski, Mr Sikorski called for Poland to move rapidly to adopt the euro – the last core European institution to which Warsaw does not yet belong. “The decision about the eventual adoption of the common currency will not have just a financial and economic character, but rather it will be mainly political, dealing with our security,” said Mr Sikorski.

This view has yet to gain much traction. . . . Recent polls show about two-thirds of Poles opposed to joining the euro.

First let me note that Poland has a treaty obligation to join the euro, under terms of its 2004 accession to the European Union. But then let me add that this is an obligation to do so eventually, and that Poland will not be allowed in until its economy and the złoty pass a number of real-world tests – something over which any Polish government will naturally have a great degree of control.

But there is a larger point here, which is the strange continued attraction of the euro to certain (EU and non-EU) countries, even while other member-states regret it and some are indeed seriously suffering under it. That attraction is self-evident in the accession to the euro of Estonia in 2011 and Latvia just this past January 1. And now we have Poland – or at least that country’s Foreign Minister.

Can his assertion really be true that adoption of the euro will help strengthen Polish security? It really seems unlikely. Surely a more profound discussion is to be had concerning under what circumstances Eurozone membership really can benefit a country. It’s possible that such a discussion would sooner be characterized by many economists as a “reminder,” but surely things that we thought we knew along those lines need to be reassessed in light of the terrible track-record since the outbreak of the European sovereign debt crisis in 2009. And soon, please: Lithuania is all set to join its fellow Baltic states in the Eurozone as of January 1 of next year.

Meanwhile, beware of hysterical Polish political discourse. I don’t necessarily mean Mr. Sikorski’s assertions quoted above; I rather mean this from the end of that Economist piece: “[Polish Premier] Mr Tusk on Friday said that some members of the opposition, with their Eurosceptic views, posed a ‘mortal danger to Poland.'”

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Mirror-Imaging over Ukraine

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

Take a look at the latest word issuing from Voice of Russia, the international radio broadcasting “service,” and associated website, of the Russian government. Hubert Orzechowski of the Polish edition of Newsweek first picked this up.

NewsweekPolska
Translation: “Russian radio: Poles in Zhitomir want autonomy, and Warsaw pushes for the break-up of Ukraine.” Zhitomir is a province of Western Ukraine, with a lot of ethnic Poles in it (although, interestingly, it’s not one of the two Ukrainian provinces that actually abut Poland itself).

The lede (of the Voice of Russia article he cites):

Ethnic Poles living in Ukraine demand a referendum in the Zhitomir Region to create a Polish autonomy with broad self-governance rights. They also insist that the Polish language be granted the official status along with the Ukrainian language.

As I say, it’s the Polish Newsweek that points this out but, fortunately for us all, the article where Voice of Russia lays out this case of Polish agitation in Western Ukraine was published in the English-language section of their site (from where I took that above lede), so you can click that link to read it all, in English which is often less-than-perfect but still quite understandable.*

Just be aware that it’s all a crock. That’s the point of Orzechowski’s Newsweek piece. Yes, parts of Western Ukraine are what used to be Poland, before World War II; yes, there was considerable tension between Poles and Ukrainians over those lands – even leading to infamous massacres – in the 1930s and 40s. But for Poland a lot of water has passed under the bridge since that era, a lot of changes-of-regime, plenty of time for a change of attitude. Further, there has been no indication of this sort of alleged unrest among ethnic Polish citizens of Ukraine other than that cited in Voice of Russia’s fevered imaginings.

These days the Polish government acknowledges its special relationship with Ukraine in more positive ways, such as actively supporting its eventual EU membership, as well as having taken the lead (along with Germany, in fact) in EU diplomacy towards Ukraine and Russia back when the Maidan Square crisis was at its height the first couple months of this year. This leading Polish role is not so much the case anymore, probably because NATO is becoming a more important forum for Europe to confront these increasingly alarming developments to the East.

So the propaganda purpose of this sort of article is self-evident. As Orzechowski says at the end of his own commentary, “you can’t help feeling that this description fits perfectly yet another neighbor of Kiev’s”; one doesn’t know whether to mock Voice of Russia for its lack of imagination, or to admire it for its audacity, in trying to project onto Poland the very same irredentist trick its sponsor government is itself trying to pull in Eastern Ukraine.

* But do let me give credit to Voice of Russia’s English-language writers where it is due: they actually nail the subjunctive there (“. . . insist that the Polish language be granted . . .”), something far beyond, say, at least 75% of English native speakers.

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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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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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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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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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Beyond Tragedy: The Katyn Reconciliation

Monday, April 12th, 2010

One side-detail of the tragic plane-crash on Saturday that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski along with much of that country’s political, military, and even financial elite was that the reason all these worthies were headed to a Russian provicincial backwater like Smolensk in the first place was to participate in a very solemn ceremony there. That was to have commemorated the mass-execution, which began exactly seventy years ago, of around 20,000 Polish officers and other prominent citizens by the Soviet secret police, who had had them fall into their hands as a result of the USSR’s invasion of Poland (coordinated with Hitler’s Germany) in September, 1939. This prompted some commentators to write ponderously of a doom-laden Katyn parallel: Poland’s intelligentsia wiped out there in 1940, and then once again in 2010.

Unfortunately, these grim events are now totally obscuring the remarkable progress represented by the very fact that such a delegation of eminent Poles, headed by the President, was being allowed to go there in the first place – and by the no-less remarkable fact that Russian premier Vladimir Putin and his Polish counterpart Donald Tusk had in fact participated in a commemoration ceremony there just last Wednesday. Looking back now at news coverage of these developments – that is, written before this past weekend’s tragedy – produces a very bittersweet feeling, especially from two articles on the Katyn legacy from among the elite of the German press, here the Süddeutsche Zeitung and Die Welt. In particular, the latter piece begins with the sentence “Seldom has the Polish public looked at Russia with so much hope as in these days” – on a webpage where, at the very same time, you can click over on the right-hand side (under “Current Videos”) to see a news-film of rescuers searching through the crash-site in the Russian forest!

(By the way, you could be sure that the German coverage of Katyn’s legacy was going to be thorough and high-quality, and not only because Germany’s sheer size of population and cultural inheritance ensures good journalism. Remember that, for decades, it was German soldiers who were alleged to have been at fault here, so you can be sure that German journalists will always be on top of this story to ensure the historic record remains set straight.) (more…)

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Communist Poland Sheltered, Armed Palestinian Terrorists

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

An interesting revelation came to light just yesterday, in a program broadcast on the private Polish TV station TVN. So far – strangely – I have found the story picked up only by the premier Flemish newspaper De Standaard and by the Czech mainstream daily Mladá fronta dnes. (That’s right: nothing in the Polish on-line press, yet.)

Of particular interest in that program was the interview it included with former Polish general Czesław Kiszczak, who headed the Interior Ministry of that then-Communist country from 1981 through 1989 – thus for the entire period of martial law that was initiated in mid-December 1981 in response to the growth in popularity of the Solidarity movement. General Kiszczak was willing to openly admit that Communist Poland provided shelter and weapons to Palestinian terrorists on the lam during the 1970s and 1980s, including to Abu Nidal, head of the Black September group which was responsible for the hostage-taking and massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 summer Olympic games in Munich, among other incidents. “We closed our eyes to the fact that they came to Poland to recuperate and equip themselves for further terrorist actions,” Kiszczak admitted. Poland was also quite willing to help with such preparations by selling these militants as many weapons as they wanted. Abu Nidal was even allowed to run a business in Poland – known by the name or abbreviation “SAS” according to the MFD account – for a while in the 1980s.

Former Polish president Wojciech Jaruzelski (thus Kiszczak’s colleague and immediate superior) was also interviewed for the program, according to De Standaard’s account. He could not recall anything of the sort happening.

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French Applause for Obama Missile Non-Deployment

Monday, September 21st, 2009

Readers of this weblog – a smallish, hard-core elite, to be sure, but we’re trying to do something about that – will have known the news already, but last Thursday President Obama came out in public to announce that his administration did not intend to proceed with the planned deployment of anti-ICBM missiles to Poland and supporting radar to the Czech Republic. Reaction to the decision was swift and vociferous, both for and against, domestically and internationally. Presseurop has a good survey of that reaction in the Eastern European press, although I feel that it tends a slight bit too much to the alarmist side. It seems many of those newspaper headline-writers have forgotten how fundamentally unpopular the American deployment was among ordinary Czechs and Poles; in this light, Obama’s cancellation of the program per se is not so regretable, but rather the considerable trouble both governments had to take to gain the political approval for their participation, now all achieved for nothing.

Not to worry, though, because French president Nicolas Sarkozy praised Obama’s move as an “excellent decision,” and the editors at Le Monde make it clear that they agree (Hand extended). Yes, the proposed deployment was going to be expensive, for a weapons system about which there remained significant doubts that it ever would actually be able to do what was designed for. But don’t forget the diplomatic dividends, either, Le Monde reminds us. These mainly involve Iran, which is supposed to start multilateral talks with a range of western countries starting on October 1; Obama’s action sends them a message of “good will and realism.” And Russia? Obama’s gesture was directed there to an even greater extent, but Le Monde’s editors unfortunately do not expect to see any corresponding gesture from the Kremlin anytime soon.

By the way, mention should also be made of the announcement by US Defense Secretary Robert Gates, noted in Le Monde’s news coverage of the American announcement, that the “SM-3” missiles which are now to be the replacement anti-missile system will be deployed in turn from 2015 in Poland and the Czech Republic. First of all, that is a bit over-determined: mainstream US news reports put it instead that deployment of those missiles to those countries is but a possibility. And that’s a good thing, too: recall that the original ten defensive rockets that were to be intalled in Poland were designed to counter Iranian missiles of intercontinental range. Poland presumably is a good spot to deploy those – just take a string to your globe to check out the great circle route from Iran to the USA – but that is probably not also the case for defense against the short- and medium-range missiles which are now assumed to be the only Iranian threat for many years to come. In light of this, these suggestions that Warsaw and Prague will eventually get their missiles after all have to be regarded as sheer political bull-headedness – “We won’t let anyone tell us we can’t station missiles in Eastern Europe!” – rather than anything based on considerations of military effectiveness.

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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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Poles Down the River?

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

The big news the past week on the international relations front was President Obama’s “secret letter” he had hand-delivered to Russian president Medvedev last month. In it, he supposedly suggested – or at least hinted at – a possible deal whereby the US would stop the planned deployment of an anti-missile system with the radar installations in the Czech Republic and the actual anti-missile missiles in Poland, in return for Russia’s assistance in stopping the alleged drive by Iran to develop nuclear weapons.

Even if nothing ultimately comes of it, this move certainly denotes some new thinking being applied to both Russo-American and Iranian-American relations. Then again, what about the Czechs and the Poles? As is so rightly pointed out in that NYT article (the one I link to above), in those countries “leaders invested political capital in signing missile defense cooperation treaties with the United States despite domestic opposition.” (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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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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Good-Bye Putin

Wednesday, August 20th, 2008

The hostilities in Georgia seem to be dying down now. Russian forces are withdrawing – or at least they are supposed to withdraw, under the terms of the cease-fire they signed, but there is considerable doubt as to whether they are actually fulfilling that obligation.

In the meantime, the countries of the NATO alliance struggle to come to terms with the new ruthless military face Russia has shown in this crisis. Germany now stands central in that military alliance, in the same way it has stood central for some time now within the European Union, again because of its sheer weight of population and economic power (and, who knows, maybe also its reputation for military ability in the past), which makes German commentary on these recent developments particularly interesting.

A very good contribution comes from Jochen Bittner, who writes a weblog, called Planet in Progress, that is carried off the Die Zeit webserver. (more…)

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Coming: A New Cuban Missile Crisis?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2008

“Is history about to repeat itself?” asks Clément Daniez of the French newsmagazine Le Point in his article published on-line today, Russians and Americans Replay the Cuban Missile Crisis. Vladimiar Putin has already explicitly spoken of such a thing: last October (2007) he warned that Washington’s plan to set up an anti-missile shield in Europe, with the radar in the Czech Republic and the interceptor missiles themselves in Poland, was setting the stage for a similar sort of serious confrontation between the two world powers as occurred in October, 1962. Of course, in the meantime the Bush administration has gone ahead anyway, as Condoleezza Rice was in Prague on July 8 to sign the agreement with the Czech government for setting up the radar. (more…)

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Europe’s Forgotten Land

Wednesday, November 24th, 2004

Ole Bang Nielsen of Denmark’s Berlingske Tidende provides a lot of useful background to the electoral dramatics currently going on in the Ukraine today (Europe’s Forgotten Land). Basically, the EU has dropped the ball – or has it? (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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The Warsaw Uprising and Faltering Polish-German Rapprochement

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2004

You might not have heard about this; after all, it has nothing to do with Boston or John Kerry’s nomination, or his speech, or the Republican reaction. But other parts of the world do continue to have their own concerns. Believe it or not, in some cases these still involve the Second World War, for which 2004 contains the sixtieth anniversary of various of its events. In particular, Sunday was the sixtieth anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 against the Nazi occupation, and German Bundeskanzler Gerhard Schröder paid a visit to Warsaw to participate in the ceremonies. (more…)

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The Germans Are Coming – Back!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2004

As everyone knows very well, Polish membership in the EU is now a full month old. So it would seem to be an idle exercise in frustration to go back and review the various crazies who were agitating against that up till the very end: the small-time farmers afraid of being displaced in the market by Western European producers who are both more efficient and more generously supported by funds from the EU’s Common Agriculture Policy; those die-hard anti-German paranoiacs who were convinced that, right after the fireworks had died down, the descendants and representatives of those who had been driven out of what were once German but are now Polish lands would be back demanding their property back.

Except that these “crazies” won’t go away, and may even be proven right! It is support from the countryside that is the main pillar behind the surging Samoobrona, or “Self-Defense,” party headed by Andrzej Lepper, which €S covered here back during our “When Good Post-Communist Regimes Go Bad” series back in April. What’s more, it seems that the old Germans from what was once Prussia, Pomerania, Silesia, etc. are getting ready to demand their land back, a tale told in this excellent, long article on-line on the Die Zeit website. (more…)

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Saving Poland from Lepper-osy

Sunday, April 4th, 2004

Regular €S readers (Hi Mom! Hi Dad!) will have picked up certain themes to which this weblog returns regularly: Alyaksandr Lukashenka, for one, and the Polish forces in Iraq, for another. (Well, I’m supposed to do the latter; it’s been rather inactive for a while.) Another such theme seems to be shaping up quite spontaneously: that of sounding the alarm over Central European states that are threatening to make “bad” electoral choices. Sure, as proud new members of the community of democracies they’re more-or-less entitled to make whatever electoral choices they want. But really, elect back into power in the Czech Republic the KSCM – the Communist Party of Bohemia and Moravia, which is “unreformed” and therefore unashamed of the over forty years of misery its predecessor inflicted on the country? Or, in Slovakia, elect as president in the immediate wake of NATO membership, on the very eve of EU membership, the corrupt political thug (we’re talking here about Vladimir Meciar, for those who came in late) whose behavior in the mid-1990s was responsible for Slovakia missing both such boats then? Or, in Poland, elect into power a farmers’ party notorious for blocking highways and throwing livestock products recklessly around in order to make its political points, whose leader has been banished from the Sejm (Poland’s legislative lower house) a number of times for his reckless accusations and other attacks on other leading political figures? (more…)

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Poles Upset at US Visa Regime

Sunday, January 11th, 2004

For many people around the world, mainly either those actively wanting to or at least thinking about traveling to the United States, the big event marking this past first-business-week of the New Year was the introduction last Monday at America’s seaports and airports of mandatory procedures involving the photographing and fingerprinting of most foreign entrants. In one sense, this was just the sequel to the “air marshal” flap happening just before, as yet one more unilateral demand placed by the Bush administration on travel to the US, placed out there for other involved countries to “take it or leave it,” although resistance to this so far has been less than to the demand for air marshalls.

However, see this NYT article for the great Brazilian exception, where authorities – spurred by a judge’s ruling – have in turn instituted the requirement that all Americans entering Brazil be photographed and fingerprinted. And that’s all Americans – the article makes mention that even American diplomats, plus visiting US Senator Pat Roberts, were required to deliver up mugshots and prints – and a better solution is hard to imagine for the obvious problem here that the high-and-mighty setting such US policy normally get to remain blissfully unaware of the impact their decisions have on the everyday lives of ordinarily mortals. There just remains the task of getting George W. Bush to pose in an airport somewhere, which would have the collateral benefit of greatly assisting those many hundreds of thousands of anti-US-policy protesters in Western Europe whose own attempts at fashioning a Bush mugshot on the posters and placards they march with in the streets have too often been hopelessly amateurish.

Another reason resistance is less to the new mugshot-and-prints regime is that citizens from a core of 27 countries (mostly Western European) seen as low-risk and/or particularly friendly to US policy (plus Canada) are exempt. Unfortunately, it’s questionable whether the friendliness of the country and the degree of terrorist risk posed by its citizens are very much correlated; you can grasp this by recalling that that gentleman (now locked up in perpetuity) who two years ago tried to blow up a US-bound flight with explosives hidden in his tennis-shoes was a French national, as well as by reading this excellent opinion-piece on the whole issue in today’s Washington Post’s “Outlook” section. (Then there are those of you asking aloud now “What, France? A ‘friendly country’?” Sillies, for all the Franco-American policy differences of recent years, clearly from geopolitical and immigration perspectives France belongs in that camp of 27.)

But back to the new requirements for folks from what you could call the “great unwashed” parts of the world who would like to visit America, and in particular Poland. Yep, the Poles also belong to those “great unwashed,” notwithstanding things like the prompt and firm support the Polish government provided the Bush administration when it came to Iraq. The Poles are not happy with the new requirements, naturally. Surprisingly, though, a review of Polish press coverage of the matter has convinced me that this development itself barely rates “man-bites-dog” newsworthy status. Rather, the new requirements are merely the latest riff on what Poles perceive to be an ongoing insult – namely that they are required to obtain visas to visit the US at all. What’s more, George W. Bush’s announcement of this past week of proposed changes to US immigration law to grant amnesty in certain cases to illegals in the US turned out 1) To be directly relevant to the mugshot-and-photo issue, and 2) To be of much more interest to Poles. Intrigued? Just click on “More…”

Once again, on this issue Gazeta Wyborcza wins the prize for the extensiveness of its coverage; it builds a handy collection of links to its various articles on a page entitled Should We Introduce Visas for the USA? (more…)

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The Failed Brussels EU Summit

Sunday, December 14th, 2003

The decisive EU summit in Brussels this weekend to work out a final text of a Constitutional Treaty failed to achieve that aim. As had been expected, the principal stumbling-block was the question of the voting regime to be used for passing measures within the Council of Ministers by a “qualified majority”; both Poland and Spain stuck firmly to their demand that the current voting system, inaugurated by the December, 2000 Nice Treaty, be retained, while other states – principally the EU’s two biggest players, Germany and France – were equally as adamant that a new “double majority” system, proposed in the new Constitution, be implemented. But there were other points that had to be left for later resolution as well, as we’ll see. (more…)

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Achtung, Baby! No Contracts!

Saturday, December 13th, 2003

A collective Aber was ist denn los?! issued from the German government last Wednesday, the day after the Pentagon’s new policy excluding as primary bidders on Iraqi reconstruction contracts companies from “peace camp” countries was disclosed – not by any formal notification to the countries thus excluded, mind you, but simply by a posting on the Internet, to the “Rebuilding-Iraq.net” site, of the “Determination and Findings” text, signed by Undersecretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz. That’s why government spokesman Béla Anda (a very Hungarian name, by the way) qualified his qualification of the American action as “not acceptable” with the proviso that what he had been hearing from the press would turn out in fact to be true. We can make our first plunge into the facts of this case with the authoritative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Wednesday article, Berlin Criticizes Washington: Decision Unacceptable. That’s also why German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer was only willing to say that he had heard the news “with amazement” (“mit Erstaunen zur Kenntnis genommen“), and that he was going to get with his American contacts to find out what the hell was going on. (more…)

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Countdown to the Brussels Summit I: Irritation at Poland

Monday, December 8th, 2003

Last week, while we here at EuroSavant were obsessing over the previous Sunday’s draw for the European Football Championship next summer, Polish Prime Minister Leszek Miller and several of his entourage were victims of a helicopter crash while returning to Warsaw from a visit to Silesia (the southwest part of Poland). No one was killed, but Miller himself sustained serious injuries to his back, and Polish newspapers all ran a photograph recently showing him lying in a hospital bed, all bandaged up although otherwise looking as hardy and self-composed as usual, with President Aleksander Kwasniewski sitting alongside.

According to Miller, his injuries won’t prevent him from attending the climactic EU summit in Brussels over the draft Constitution coming up this weekend, even if he has to show up there in a body-cast. In a recent analysis entitled The Poles Are Europe’s New Nay-Sayers, the Danish newspaper Berlingske Tidende points out that what is likely to be waiting for him there, at the least, are marathon negotiating sessions stretching long into the night “which can force even healthy politicians to their knees.” And that even means “healthy politicians” whose member-states have mainly stayed on the sidelines during the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC), remaining above the acrimony. For the main protagonist in the process that the Poles have become, on the other hand, the coming days can be expected to bring not only long nights but also intense pressure. (more…)

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