On the Polish Right

The scandals seem to keep coming. On the heels of news that an assistant to the former presidential candidate from the League of Polish Families (Liga Polskich Rodzin, LPR) party took part in a neo-Nazi festival in the summer of 2005, come reports that parliamentarians from the Self-Defense (Samoobrona, SO) party made sex a condition of employment for some women.
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Mr Potato Head

Sometime during the group phase of the last World Cup, a lefty German newspaper, the Berlin-based taz, compared Poland’s current president to a potato. I’m sure that there was more to it than that, but the original version has disappeared into pay-per-view is here, and my reading knowledge of Polish isn’t what it was a decade ago. If yours is better, there’s a Polish version is here, do let me know.

Anyway, the satire was part of a series called “Rogues Who Want to Change the World,” and Kaczynski was in there with other figures you’d expect from an alternative daily, including Chancellor Merkel and German President Köhler. Whether the comparison was apt in Kaczynski’s case will be left as an exercise for readers.

I would think that the occasional irritating comparison is part of the price of being president, and you’d probably think the same, but maybe that’s why Mr Kaczynski is president of Poland and we’re not. Plus the matter of being Polish. Because being president means that there’s a law that says insulting you is a crime. Up to two years in the Polski pen, and Warsaw prosecutors are, even as I write this, investigating whether to take out an EU arrest warrant for the Berlin-based satirists. The smart money is on no, but smart has not exactly been the controlling adjective in what has the makings of a good silly-season story. (Quite a number of European states have these “don’t insult the president/state/ruling house/whatever laws,” and they are usually defended with the assertion that they are never used. Well.)

Godwin’s law, of course, has long since been violated, by Poland’s foreign minister no less. The president skipped a meeting with German and French leaders just before they went to the G-8 summit, though he quickly denied any connection with the satire. Said he had stomach trouble. Not due to tubers, surely. And the new prime minister, not coincidentally the president’s twin brother, saw no need to change course. “We haven’t insulted anybody.”

On the other hand, amidst all the foolishness, President Kaczynski did manage a cruel blow. He said, according to the weekly Zeit, “even in the history of this peculiar newspaper” the potato portrait was an unprecedented insult of a foreign head of state and a criminal act. If in thirty-plus years of lefty alternativeness, the taz has never done anything more tasteless than call a jumped-up szlachta a lumpen-potato, they have seriously missed out on one of the perks of being lefty and alternative. I think Kaczynski’s been clever here and cast aspersions on their capabilitieis as caricaturists and satirists. But for all I know, these aspersions will harm their business and professional reputations. Maybe the taz should consider a counter-suit?

Polish Plumbers Arrive In Denmark

The EU Observer has a piece on a row which has blown up in Denmark over some ‘new arrivals’ from Poland. The issue is itself interesting since there has been a good deal of talk in recent weeks about flexibility in the Danish labour market and the idea of ‘flexicurity’:

Danish trade unions have accused the Polish embassy in Copenhagen of encouraging Polish construction workers to ignore the collective agreements that regulate the Danish labour market….

They argue that the Danish labour model is being undermined but their opponents believe that the Danish trade union model itself undermines the EU principle of freedom of movement.

The Polish embassy website had informed Polish workers interested in coming to Denmark that they should comply with regional and national agreements on salaries and working conditions, but also points out they are not under legal obligation to do so.

This would mean that Polish workers could technically work for under the agreed minimum wage – making them more attractive than Danish workers.

Reverse-Plumbing Poland?

Well, its the weekend, and even if domestic commitments keep me away from the beach, perhaps a lighter note is in order. The press have gotten hold of the Polish ‘anti-plummer’:

He is blond, strapping and sexy. He holds the tools of his trade in a suggestive pose. But the news for the French people is that if they want to see the Polish plumber they will have to travel to Poland….

The Polish tourist agency in Paris has now tried to put the myth to bed through a tongue-in-cheek advert on its website aimed at encouraging the French to visit Poland. “Welcome to Poland”, the homepage says beside a picture of the Polish hunk, clad in green overalls and a white T-shirt.

Of course, as was to be expected, and to add insult to injury Polish plumbers are turning out to be highly popular in the UK, providing a much needed filling for a long standing gap in the local labour market. Have you tried getting hold of a plumber lately?

Incidentally, those domestic commitments involve painting and decorating. The people doing the more substantial works, well there was one from Argentina, two from Ecuador, one from Columbia, but no-one from Poland. Somehow reading the ‘Welcome to Poland’ blurb I felt cheated.

Turkey and the EU: Poles apart?

Like most numbers of the Spectator, the festive, XL-sized holiday edition is marred by the presence of Mark Steyn. But don’t let that put you off, there’s some good stuff there as well. And one of the better bits is an essay by Prof. Norman Stone on Turkey (Potential EU Accession of) (reg. req.).

For the most part Stone paints a picture of the old Ottoman Empire as something much less uniformly Islamic than some think. You should already be aware, of course, that what would later (in truncated form) become Turkey was a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious state, but if you weren’t, Stone gives you a quick background. (By the time it fell apart, the Ottoman Empire had become the ‘Sick Man of Europe’; but for centuries it was a success.) What you might not have known, though, was that the orthodox Christians of the Ottoman realms were only too happy to be part of a nominally Islamic polity. The orthodox patriarchs and the Muslim sultans saw in the latinate West a common foe. Indeed my own suspicion is that the Greeks felt a keener enmity than the Turks. The sultan, understandably, might well have seen the theological differences between orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as obscure and uninteresting (how many of us in the post-Christian lands of the west are aware of, let alone take much interest in, the distinctions between the theravada and mahayana strains of Buddhism?) To the bishops of the orthodox world, though, the sultan served (whether he cared about this or not) as a bulwark against the centralising domination of their brother-bishop at Rome.

But what set Stone off was a recent article in Die Zeit by Prof. Hans-Ulrich Wehler. The title of Wehler’s article, which formed part of the contra side in a Zeit-sponsored debate on Turkish accession to the EU, has some unfortunate historical echoes: “Das T?rkenproblem“.
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Ukraine digest

I’ve created a Kinja digest of blogs and websites that are covering the events in Ukraine. Should be very useful.

Update: You might want to use the “collapsed” version to get a sampling of all the blogs.

You’re welcome to suggest more sites.

Update: (Tobias, 18:11 CET) – Amidst rumors about audiotapes that allegedly prove the election fraud being released to journalists, conflicting news about regional authorities/assemblies in Eastern Ukraine demanding autonomy or secession, reports about more support for the Yushenko camp in the East (via Victor Katolyk) and first sightings of orange in Moscow (Maidan.net), there is no news about the roundtable talks between the parties and the European mediators, except a statement from incumbent President Kuchma urging protesters to go home now that negotiations will be held.

CNN has a recent summary of the events online.

Update (Tobias 18:45, CET) . The Kyiv Post has two Ukrainian political analysts assessing the situaion. Denis Trifonov, a defense consultant wih the Kyiv-based International Centre for Policy Studies blames Putin’s paleo-conservative, cold-war-minded advisors for the Russian President’s serious error of judgment –

“President Vladimir Putin should have seen it coming, but he evidently did not … The long-term damage to Ukraine’s relations with Russia has been done … and few in Moscow have grasped just how much real influence Russia has lost in Kyiv as a result of her clumsy and irrational policy.”

Interestingly, according to the article, after claiming that only fraudulent exit polls funded by the West led to the outbreak of protest, Ukrainian pro-government analyst Mykhailo Pohrebinsky, who advises, among others, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, said that it is now

“‘very likely’ that the election results will be reversed and that Yushchenko will become president thanks to an ‘illegal revolution.'”

Update: (Tobias, 19:29 CET) I don’t know what in the Russian attitude makes them think so (the article is not really clear in this respect), but The Economist now believes Putin is already hedging his bets.

Given the high stakes, the international pressure on Ukraine’s leaders has been strong. As well as the pressure from America and the EU, a key determining factor will be the attitude of Mr Putin. He would risk serious difficulties in his relations with both Europe and America if he were to back Mr Yanukovich in repressing the protests. Towards the climax of the Georgian revolution last year, Mr Putin seemed to lose patience with Mr Shevardnadze, perhaps contributing to his downfall. Does his wavering response to the Ukrainian conflict mean he is already hedging his bets?

Update: (Tobias, 21:20 CET) So that’s what it’s all about 😉 – according to the (conspiracy) theory of Sergei Markov, a Russian political scientist with alleged close ties to the Kremlin, published by MosNews.com (via chrenkoff), former President Carter’s Polish born National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski (the guy who lured the Russians into Afghanistan) is behind Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, and he wants to weaken Europe as well Russia, and drive a wedge between Putin and Bush –

[T]he original plan is for Poland to impose its patronage over Ukraine. Polish politicians are seeking more influence within the European Union, currently dominated by France and Germany, and to achieve this, they want to become patrons of the whole of Central and Eastern Europe, the Russian analyst said.

Markov said the United States would benefit from a Yushchenko victory as it would weaken Germany and France on the world arena and also split Ukraine and Russia. He also added that ?the majority of the representatives of the Polish diaspora in the United States hate George Bush and want to cause a quarrel between him and Russian President Vladimir Putin?.

Glad we know that now.

Free movement of labor, redux

On the previously mentioned subject of Europe’s “free” movement of labor (and the possibility of a massive influx of cheap labor from the east come EU accession time) here’s an article I wrote on the topic in November for Czech and Slovak Construction Journal (for some reason the article’s not posted online).

If you’re too lazy to read the whole thing… It talks about the onset of “EU fatigue” in the east, plus it cites a bunch of studies that discredit the fear of a massive influx of eastern workers wrecking havoc on Western European job markets. And this is really about Polish construction workers already living illegally in Berlin, not Czech IT geeks in London (nor British chefs in Prague). Enjoy.
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