Poles in Iraq VIII: “A Difficult Week”

Tuesday, April 13th, 2004

It’s time to resuscitate the long-dormant “Poles in Iraq” series, dealing as it does with coverage in the Polish press of what’s happening with that contingent of Polish soldiers sent to perform occupation duty – indeed, to command a sector – in support of Coalition forces. And you probably can figure out why now is a good time to bring “Poles in Iraq” back to life: the country is in an uproar, or at least the central “Sunni triangle” is (which has already been in at least a state of simmering rebellion since the war) as well as the heretofore quiet Shiite-dominated south, which is exactly where the Poles command their very multi-national occupation force, because it was considered a safe part of the country back when the occupations were drawn up.

Now that is no longer true, what with the uprising lead by the young Shiite cleric as-Sadr and his “Mahdi Army,” which is still in control of parts of a number of southern cities. I was looking for a good account of all of this in the Polish press, one that didn’t just repeat the general news reports about what was currently happening but that also included some Polish angle for the local readers. There was coverage, of course, but coverage that didn’t really meet this criterion, in Gazeta Wyborcza (generally) and in Dziennik Polski (Calm Before the Storm?), but the series of articles on one webpage published by Rzeczpospolita (starting at the top with Every Day a Kidnapping) was better. (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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Get Your Campaign Dirt – From Poland!

Sunday, February 15th, 2004

Oh, the stories that have now sprung up about presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Senator John Kerry! Calpundit points out that, while the infamous Matt Drudge first brought some of these stories to light, “the mainstream [American] media is too responsible to report this stuff.” He’s got a couple useful links to the British press for those who would like to follow these things nonetheless (the Guardian and the Sun: the first OK, the second one of those tawdry British tabloids whose “page 3 girls” are the only thing that ever interests EuroSavant, and which therefore I do not cover for this weblog – and you also don’t get the link from me, haha!).

Well, what about the Polish press? Good stuff there, too (although still exclusively from the two leading dailies, each to be cited in this entry). I guess that makes them “irresponsible.” (Or maybe it’s all OK when you’re passing on the reported dirt about people and goings-on which are, to paraphrase Neville Chamberlain, “far away, and of whom you know nothing.”) (more…)

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Ivan Rybkin’s Latest Story

Saturday, February 14th, 2004

Now we’re starting to gain a bit more understanding of just what it was that made Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin act so crazy last week – heading down to Kiev without telling his wife or anyone else, turning up five days later with a telephone call, amazed that people were worried about him, defensively asserting (to media interviewing him then) that presidential candidates, too, need to get a way every so often, turn off the clanging mobile telephones, and relax – even if in this case it happened to be just as the Russian presidential campaign was about to start in earnest.

Turns out that that telephone call, those interviews, were all made under compulsion. Reports attesting to this have now appeared in the Polish press in both Gazeta Wyborcza (Rybkin Won’t Withdraw From Elections, But Will Stay in London) and Rzeczpospolita (New Version of Ivan Rybkin’s Tale: I Was Kidnapped). Actually, I really wanted instead to go for a little variety and cover German reporting on Ivan Rybkin’s re-emergence and new explanation, but there was nothing! I guess the German press simply tuned out after he first turned up again in Kiev and it was clear that he was alive and (seemingly) well. (more…)

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Going for Some R&R Down in Kiev-Town

Wednesday, February 11th, 2004

This story almost ran away from me – the big game of hide-and-seek came to an end yesterday when Russian presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin telephoned his family and campaign staff in Moscow to say that he was alive and well and in a hotel in Kiev. That’s what I get for allowing myself to be distracted by the current controversy over George W. Bush’s performance of duty (or lack thereof) for the Texas or Alabama National Guard back in 1972 and 1973. But is the mystery over what happened to Rybkin really cleared up yet?

It’s too bad that I don’t read Russian very well. On the other hand, while gaining that facility would enable me to read Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Gogol and the like in the original (something worth being able to do, and I’m certainly not being ironic), it wouldn’t do much towards helping me read independent political commentary in the Russian press, since there’s precious little of that to be found anymore under Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime. The Polish press is therefore a substitute that may very well be better than the original. Poland is close-by (much too close, in the historical sense, most Poles will tell you) and certainly has a free press. An additional advantage may be that that history brings forth a suspicious, even hostile attitude towards Russian motives that can’t help but foster an ultra-critical perspective towards any Russian government pronouncements.

(A disadvantage, though, is that, once again, really only Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita have anything to say on the Rybkin case. Isn’t there any other national newspaper out there, and on-line, that will deal with events beyond Poland’s borders? Sorry, Zycie Warszawy just doesn’t seem to cut it. Grzybek! Help!) (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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Poles Very Nervous Over Russian Election Results

Tuesday, December 9th, 2003

The elections to the Russian Duma that took place last Sunday throughout the Russian Federation resulted in an overwhelming victory for the “Jedna Rosja” or “United Russia” party widely seen to be the vehicle of Russian president Vladimir Putin. But take a little closer look – you don’t need to go any further down than third place – and what else do you see? You see the “Liberal Democratic Party,” but don’t let that innocuous name fool you: that’s the right-wing nationalistic party of Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Remember him? He was one of those bizarre politicians whom the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 enabled to crawl out from underneath his rock to ride the crackpot vote to the Duma. Back in the early 1990s Zhirinovsky could be counted upon to utter the most amazing, and alarming statements – for example, I recall that he once threatened one of, or all, the Baltic states with invasion – that you would hope never to hear from a leading politician from the world’s second nuclear power. After providing a few years of that sort of bizarre comic relief, Zhirinovsky’s “Liberal Democrats” faded away in subsequent elections. But now they’re back – to a position in the legislature almost even with the Communists.

I’m no expert in Russia or Russian politics (and I don’t read Russian). But that’s not a problem in the EuroSavant context, which rather calls upon me to pass along the wisdom put forth on a given issue by some European country’s press. Today it’s time to look at the results of those recent Russian elections from the viewpoint of a country that knows Russia all too well: Poland. And there’s scarcely any good news to be found. (more…)

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Poland Wins at Naples?

Monday, December 1st, 2003

Now that the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Naples of last weekend – part of the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) for ratifying the draft Constitutional Treaty – is in the past, we transition to after-the-fact assessments. For this, why not go to Poland, one country that had a clear issue at stake at Naples, namely the retention it desires (together with Spain) of the voting-weights for the European Council set down in the 2000 Nice Treaty? Yes, this was one of the two big, knotty issues that was to be deferred for handling at the Brussels summit coming up on the 12th and 13th of December – but, to hear the Polish press tell it, there were plenty of developments at Naples on the “Nice question” nonetheless.

For once let’s start out with a contribution from Zycie Warszawy, entitled Lucky Thirteen. (more…)

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“Losing the New Europe”

Monday, November 10th, 2003

Continuing on the subject of the Polish military involvement in Iraq, prompted by the first Polish combat death last Thursday, in today’s Rzeczpospolita there is a longer, and more thoughtful, opinion piece (Big Disappointment) from Radek Sikorski. Sikorski works in Washington at the American Enterprise Institute, where he is director of something called the “New Atlantic Initiative.” His commentary article first appeared in the Washington Post last Friday, 7 November, and was in its original, English form entitled “Losing the New Europe.” But unless you pay for access to the WP archives (which I don’t), it’s not accessible. Luckily, if you can read Polish, you can still access it at Rzeczpospolita’s site. (more…)

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Poles in Iraq VII: First Combat Casualty

Sunday, November 9th, 2003

Today it’s back to the Polish press again. You know that I seldom like to deal with the same national press two times in a row, but this time it is justified by a noteworthy milestone in our sporadic “Poles in Iraq” series: the first Polish soldier died in Iraq last Thursday. Actually, it was no mere soldier who was killed, but a Major Hieronim Kupczyk. As you can imagine, coverage in the main Polish papers is extensive.

That is to say, in Gazeta Wyborcza and Rzeczpospolita. I honestly do try to broaden my coverage of the Polish press to include other publications than those two, but consistently fail to find coverage worth reporting on issues that I’m interested in. For example, here is the report of Maj. Kupczyk’s funeral in the Kraków-based Dziennik Polski, but it essentially reports merely that the funeral was held, notable figures spoke at it (e.g. General Tyszkiewicz, commanding the Polish-run multinational division), the Iraqi police and other national contingents contributed guards of honor, everyone was sad, etc.

Rzeczpospolita did a rather more-complete job in its Friday edition, here, complete with a recent photo of Maj. Kupczyk up top, clearly in Iraq, under camouflage netting and in his Polish-style desert uniform. (more…)

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The Final EU Reports on Accession States: Polish View

Thursday, November 6th, 2003

Yesterday the European Union issued its final reports on the progress towards meeting required EU standards of the 10 accession nations scheduled to become members as of next May 1. Inevitably, the issue arose of rankings: which country was doing the best job in finally adhering fully to the EU’s vast body of laws and regulations known as the acquis communautaire, which country the worst. In this, Slovenia comes out on top, and Poland at the bottom – although, in an interview yesterday evening on the BBC World Service, enlargement commissioner Günter Verheugen tried to downplay the question of rankings, claiming that it was no surprise that Poland had the most remaining problems, since it is the largest of the new member-states by far.

At the same time, Verheugen has made clear that each of these countries can face sanctions if it doesn’t get its act together. They don’t have to worry about being excluded from EU membership at the last minute, of course, but they could encounter things that could add a distinctly sour note to next May’s celebrations. These could include being hauled before the European Court of Justice or facing extraordinary “protection” measures from other EU states, such as tariffs on goods and/or restrictions on cross-border movements of their citizens.

If you’re willing to by-pass Verheugen’s “largest country” excuse, Poland’s place at the tail-end of the pack is rather ironic, considering the big trouble that country is stirring up in the ongoing Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) to adopt an EU Constitution. Article foretaste: In Poland Threatens a Blockade, in yesterday’s Rzeczpospolita, deputy Polish foreign minister Jan Truszczynski explained how the “quality of the document” – i.e. getting its way on the EU Constitution – is far more important to Poland than mere questions of calendars and timetables. Although, in Waiting for Mutual Concessions in today’s edition of that paper, his boss foreign minister Cimoszewicz is quoted as declaring in Berlin that “we are ready to search for rational compromises.” But he also said that he expected such “compromises” to be attained by means of the German government changing its view on the European Council voting-weights arrangement that is at the center of controversy, and there is no sign that it is about to do that.

Let’s take a look at what one of the mainstays of the Polish press is saying about Poland’s having been singled out as class dunce. (more…)

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Poland: The IGC Scorecard So Far

Thursday, October 30th, 2003

We’ve seen Dutch premier Balkenende travel to Warsaw to try to break some of the stalemates blocking progress at the EU’s Constitutional Intergovernmental Conference (IGC): no dice. On Sunday, French foreign minister Dominique de Villepin basically tried the same thing, visiting Warsaw himself to have talks with Polish foreign minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, according to a report in Gazeta Wyborcza. (more…)

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Voices from Out of the Polish Woods

Wednesday, October 15th, 2003

Our old/new friend Christophe Châtelot, correspondent in Poland for Le Monde, is back at work, with an interesting new article (pointed out to me by EuroSavant habitué Chris K.), Two Hundred Polish Personalities Are Ready to Sacrifice for Europe. The brief piece concentrates on the 23-year-old figure of Slawomir Sierakowski, editor-in-chief of the quarterly review Krytyka polityczna, or “Political Critique.” Mr. Sierakowski is against the “Nice or Death” approach to the Intergovernmental Conference (IGC) on the EU Constitution adopted by, according to him, “the [Polish] political and media establishment.” (For those coming in late, you can find €S background on “Nice or Death” here.) He says such an approach is likely to result in “a strong Poland within a weak EU,” a result he rejects. For good measure, he also considers unnecessary any explicit reference to the Christian faith in the Constitution’s preamble – not because he considers Christian values unimportant, but because he wants a Europe founded upon the widest base of values, and mentioning Christianity specifically could repel others or make them feel excluded.

To put these sentiments into action, Sierakowski drew up and publicized “an open letter to European opinion” (reproduced and discussed here, but in Polish; maybe I’ll translate it later, it’s not that long). He managed to gain the support (i.e. signatures) of around 200 other Polish intellectuals. And for many inside and outside of Poland, mainly those who earnestly hope that a final-form European Constitution can be agreed upon at the IGC, and who suspect Poland’s approach to that conference to be a mite unyielding and hard-core, this is a welcome gesture.

But will it have any true reverberations on the government, so that the Polish negotiating position is actually modified in some way? Or is just the combined voice of 200 Polish intellectuals crying out of the wilderness, so that “Nice or Death” is, so to speak, still alive and well? I went looking for an answer in the Polish on-line press. (more…)

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Poles in Iraq VI: The Poles Take Over Their Sector

Saturday, September 6th, 2003

The day has finally come! – and even passed! I mean the day when the Polish occupation sector in Iraq officially came under Polish command, obviously a crucial event for our “Poles in Iraq” series.

Fortunately, I grabbed the relevant URLs while I still was in the US, so that I can still access the articles in the Polish press even if they are a day or two old. And now I am back at home-base in Amsterdam and can check out what they say.

Interestingly, the best account of the hand-over ceremony – and the issues surrounding the start of the Polish command – I find in the Krakow-based Dziennik Polski, in the article which appeared a few days ago entitled W Wiezy Babel, or “In the Tower of Babel.” As we will see, that reference to Babel is not just some headline-writer’s facile trick, taking advantage of the fact that this is all taking place in the area where the original Tower of Babel was said to have been built, but actually has some present-day relevance as well. (more…)

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Poles in Iraq IV

Tuesday, August 19th, 2003

Room with a View on the Euphrates: that’s the title of yesterday’s piece in the leading Polish Daily Rzeczpospolita updating the progress of the Polish contingent of troops that is now mostly in Kuwait, acclimatizing itself there and training in preparation to take over its assigned occupation sector in Iraq at the beginning of next month. (more…)

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Polish Sector in Iraq Watch I

Monday, August 4th, 2003

After considerable time, effort, and expense (see previous posts for the details), my Polish has been considerably re-charged. And just in time, too: this first week in August marks the deployment of Polish troops to the Middle East, to eventually take up security duties in the assigned Polish security sector in Iraq. To be more specific, the Polish troops first fly to Kuwait – starting today, 4 August – to start with two weeks of acclimatization. Then they will join the 400 Polish troops already in Iraq for some military exercises. Finally, around 3 September they will begin formally taking up security responsibility for their assigned sector, in central Iraq to the north of Babylon. The International Division in charge of that sector, under Polish command, will number some 9,300 troops of 25 different nationalities.

For me, this offers a fascinating parallel phenomenon to the experiences of the American and British troops already present in Iraq and trying to bring some security and rebuilding to that country. So I think it might be interesting, for me and for the burgeoning ranks of my beloved readers, to start a semi-regular “Iraq Watch” feature in which I try to report from the Polish press on current Polish attitudes to what their troops are doing over there. As we know too well, things are going rather less well than expected for the American troops, who have been dying in low but regular numbers (to accidents, but also rather often as the result of deliberate attacks) since major combat there ceased back in April. For British troops, too, I hasten to add. Similar difficulties for the Poles seem inevitable. Indeed, last Thursday as President Alkesander Kwasniewski was bidding the troops farewell at two different, widely-separated military bases in Poland, someone was already mortaring a Polish base inside Iraq – but causing no casualties or even material damage, according to the BBC World Service report.

Poland is new at this sort of thing; actually, as I remember how it was expressed in a commentary I heard on Polish radio, the Poles are different from the Brits and the Americans in that their history (and particularly their recent history) has in fact been one of being the occupied, not the occupier. Will this matter? Might this make them more sensitive to the plight of local Iraqis, and so able to enjoy better, more peaceful relations with them? Poland is new to NATO, new to overseas deployments; make no mistake that there is doubt out there as to whether they are up to the assignment, notwithstanding the help they will be provided by twenty-four other nation-friends. Of course, I wish them well, but the Polish deployment should still be rather interesting to observe – starting from the assertion in one picture caption that those troops will surely be over there for (only) six months – and I invite you to look over my shoulder as I do so. (more…)

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Why Referenda Usually Just Don’t Cut It

Sunday, June 8th, 2003

Now the second and final day of Poland’s EU accession referendum is underway. Radio reports indicate that participation through Saturday ran rather short of the 25% one would hope for, at least on an accountant’s straight-line basis, to assure that final participation reaches at least 50% and therefore validity for the whole exercise. But after all, this is not some financial exercise . . . (more…)

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And a German Dispute Eastwards . . .

Thursday, May 8th, 2003

Once again Iraq is causing divisions within NATO. This time it’s between the Poles and the Germans. In one respect, this is nothing new: Chancellor Schröder’s SPD-Green administration had always made it clear that it would not support a war in Iraq, in any way, even if it were given official United Nations approval – e.g. if the so-called “Second Resolution” had passed the Security Council. On the other hand, Poland was one of the few nations (the others including only Australia and Albania) to actually send troops to contribute to the military effort of the War in Iraq. In fact, Polish commandos did some rather good work in securing Iraqi oil platforms offshore in the Persian Gulf once hostilities got under way.

But the war phase is now over, and the occupation phase has begun. (more…)

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