Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Poles to be put on reservations?

Poles favourite Native American hero: Winnitou
Which Polish political party could possibly come up with such a thesis other than Law and Justice (PiS)? Before I delve into it, here's the comment in question from PiS spokesperson Adam Hofman:

"Federalism thinking and the European Union will make Poles into Indians on reservations," Hofman told a radio station. "This is not a dream Poland for my son."

So, basically, the closer the EU integrates, as called for recently by Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, the more Poland will become like a reservation with all the inherent negative implications and despite the deep insensitivity on Hofman's part.

What is the only appropriate response? Wave the Polish flag of course. Better yet, hold a demonstration and wave thousands of Polish flags.

Luckily for PiS, the 30th anniversary of Martial Law falls this December 13th. PiS thus now plans a "mass" rally to demonstrate for Poland's independence.

PiS's reaction to Sikorski's talk of the potential closer EU integration says more about PiS than it does about Sikorski's policy. What PiS's irrationally exuberant reaction actually points to is a party on the ropes. PiS just lost scores of members who decided to follow ex-PiS deputy leader Zbigniew Ziobro in his bid to form a new party. PiS has lost six straight elections. Reports even resound about a "high-ranking mole" in PiS working to undermine the party from within.

All this means PiS must give every effort to show it is the "nationalist" party, it is the "patriotic" party, it is representative of the "true" Poland. Ziobro's new group surely feels the exact same.

Prepare for lots more flag-waving to come as the two groups aim to be the rightist right-wing party.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No peeing in Warsaw

The fortunately long since departed Communist-era was a time of idiotic rules totally detached from reality, making Poles quite proficient in cheating on these rules. Like the one that you could not buy alcohol before 1 P.M. It seems that the system can change but some things do not. Polish state railways PKP, to be precise. Apparently, the railways decided all trains will lock their bathrooms when they travel through Warsaw...

Why, you might ask, would anyone do that? Oh, it's quite simple. Warsaw's train stations are being renovated, but the train cars are not. In these old cars when you want to pee, well, let's just say the stuff doesn't stay on the train for more than a few seconds. Nobody really cared too much until that, er, stuff started dropping beside the renovated rail stations. So, PKP decided to solve the problem by locking the toilets.

Now, it seems that just to be on the safe side PKP decided the best course of action would be to make all toilets usable on a need-to-pee basis across Poland and not only in Warsaw. I wonder when Poles will get the message and figure out that windows are closer and cannot be locked....

Friday, November 25, 2011

First Ireland, now Hungary

I don't really like advice. People like to hear it. But no one ever follows it. Seems like a waste of time. But I do like exceptions, and so here's a piece of advice for Poland's politicians: don't promise to make Poland into anything except Poland.

In case you're slightly confused (I hope so, so you'll be reading on), I'm speaking of Polish politicians' tendency to say 'we promise to make Poland into Country X.'

Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Civic Platform (PO) were first bitten by this disease. Tusk and his gang spent the entire 2007 election campaign promising to make Poland into Ireland. With the Celtic miracle seemingly unstoppable, with Poles already making up seemingly half of the population there, it did not seem a stretch that Poland could repeat the move and turn into the Eagle economy.

Then came the crisis, the banking busts, the government socialization of banking sector idiocy and now the Irish have turned into the Poles they previously welcomed: they're both migrating in search of work elsewhere. I guess Tusk just got it wrong. Poland didn't become Ireland. Ireland became Poland, and then went even worse.

Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski spent the election evening of Oct 9 promising to make Poland into Hungary. After what was his sixth straight election loss, Kaczynski had to rally the troops somehow. So he and his followers started selling the idea that Poles will somehow be so sick of a PO battered by the coming crisis that they will elect PiS in droves, as happened in Hungary in the 2010 elections.

Kaczynski probably spends his nights tossing and turning dreaming of repeating the well-to-the-right-wing party Fidesz's winning of a two-thirds constitutional majority in the elections. Fidesz could, and then did, change the constitution at will and at any whim. Safely in basket-case territory, the Hungarian authorities now have no credibility and the country's debt ratings are being downgraded and the forint is falling off a cliff.

I hope Kaczynski also got it wrong. I also really sincerely hope Poland doesn't become Hungary. I know my property investments don't need any more hammering.

On a bright note, our fearless European leaders no doubt have the situation in hand and will soon save the day . . . what's that? They're the problem. Oh no….

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

What not to say...

Friendly neighbourhood visit from coal miners - Warsaw, 2003
Prime Minister Donald Tusk's reform plan presented this past Friday sure ruffled a few feathers. We are not surprised at all that miners, judges and prosecutors are threatening all hell will break loose if their privileges get cut. Legal lobbies already claim the move to drop preferential pensions for judges and prosecutors will "threaten judges freedom from bias" while judges and prosecutors themselves are thinking about striking.

Given that, according to the World Bank's Doing Business in 2012 report, it takes 830 (!!!) days on average in Poland to enforce a contract in court, I would say a strike in judicial system is a rather empty threat. It would take three years for people to notice any difference...

Miners have outright threatened the prime minister, saying, through their labour union representatives, that either the government stops dabbling in their retirement affairs or they will storm. How that usually ends one can see in the picture above left.

Such complaints were to be expected, but surprisingly the most controversy, especially in parliament and on the financial market, was related to the announcement of a new copper and silver mining tax, aka the "KGHM tax." 

Since the PM spoke Friday at noon, the markets were told "the good news" live, and quite surprisingly, not every investor listened to the speech and not all of them had enough time to short the stock before it collapsed. Either that, or they have a longer investment horizon like say, pension funds, and were not happy about the news. At all.

Clearly lots of MPs were also long KGHM that Friday because it took them a surprisingly short time to connect the new tax proposal with KGHM's performance before, clearly, the most market savvy Janusz Palikot came out and asked the prime minister who exactly knew about the new tax beforehand and were they involved in insider trading?

Donald Tusk of course quickly rejected any such accusations, but already people are going through transaction records looking at large short bets against KGHM made before the speech.

So let this be a lesson. If you are a "pro-market" prime minister and want to make an impression on the market, do so after the session's end or the impression will be quite different from that expected.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Who's to blame for PiS's sixth straight election loss?

Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski's answer to the question of who is to blame for his party's sixth straight election loss is . . . not him. Surprise, surprise.

Kaczynski's answer -- which has taken on extra importance since a group of PiS MPs has since quit the party or been kicked out to form a rival party -- spreads across 11 whole pages sent to PiS believers over the weekend. What's that old saw about liars feeling the need to over-explain themselves?

Kaczynski, anyway, blames that bugbear of the right: the liberal media. The "media" completely blew out of proportion anti-PiS stories and worked as the de facto third arm of the election-winning Civic Platform (PO), which has now won six straight elections.

A major culprit is also Zbigniew Ziobro and Jacek Kurski, the two de facto leaders of the latest splinter group from PiS. Ziobro, Kurski and others demanded change in PiS in order to make the party electable. Problem is, questioning Kaczynski is not allowed and they were turfed. Now that I know they were to blame for the election loss, I can understand why they had to be kicked out.

Kaczynski also mentions that the right-wing of the political scene is beset by similar problems as in the 1990s, when right-of-centre parties splintered and re-splintered as no one could work with each other. Kaczynski blamed unrealistic ambition for the splits and said this was returning.

Ahhh, I get it. The "unrealistic ambition" of leaders who don't know that they can't win elections and then just weaken everyone else is why PiS can't win an election.

Hmmmm, I wonder where the "unrealistic ambition" really lies these days.

PiS couldn't have lost because Kaczynski is the least trusted politician in Poland with the biggest negative electorate. No, no, no. It also wasn't because Kaczynski accused German Chancellor Angela Merkel of de facto being a spy, reminding everyone how brash, divisive and alienating he can be. It likewise wasn't because no one believes that PiS won't manipulate all organs of power to achieving their spurious goals if they win and then proceed to make a hash of it.

And it definitely wasn't because the PiS leader is scared of any resistance -- whether internally or from PO leader Donald Tusk, who Kaczynski refused to debate in the recent election campaign -- and doesn't know when he's become the problem. No one but Kaczynski can control PiS anymore but PiS with Kaczynski can't win elections. A funny quandary.

Friday, November 18, 2011

When the PM speaks...

There is a communist-era joke in Poland that goes something like this: "The Party never lies. When the Party speaks about taking something, it takes it. When the Party speaks about giving something, it speaks." Prime Minister Donald Tusk presented his economic plan for the upcoming future on Friday, but it remains to be seen whether this old saying will be proven true again.

Some already have named it "the most important speech since 1989." With all due respect, but does everything in Poland have to either be grandiose or total crap? Who cares if it was the best, worst, shortest or longest speech. This is not a figure-skating contest where you get points for "style."

The PM's line is that there is a crisis in the European Union (no shit Sherlock) and that in order to protect Poland painful steps are needed. This is a strange thing for the PM to say since only a few months ago he was waving Poland's GDP growth figure in Brussels to show off how resilient Poland is...but I digress.

So let's make a "joke forecast" here and assume that the old sayings do have the "power" to create reality. Based on the joke here is what the "old-new" government will actually achieve during this term:

Tax and fee hikes:
Let's not beat around the bush, if you "unify tax breaks" that means raising taxes, and this is high on the government's agenda. This means:
1. An increase in the disability tax on labour by 2 percentage points, let's think about who will cover the cost amid a crisis and rising unemployment?
2. Scrapping a tax break for the first kid for high-earners, as part of the pro-family policy of course.
3. Expanding capital gains tax to eliminate "tax-free" financial products.
4. Hiking tax on copper and silver deposits -- if you have any doubts about the potential impact, copper miner KGHM's shares fell 13 percent on the news.
5. Shale gas industry tax -- we don't even have shale gas yet and we are already taxing it.
6. Limiting the tax deduction for people producing copyrights (already mentioned on this blog).
7. Scrapping internet tax break.
8. Introducing healthcare fees for wealthier farmers.

Scrapping benefits:
Benefits for small, unpopular or, dare I say, non-core electorate groups will be scrapped, meaning prosecutors, judges and some coal miners can say farewell to their early pension benefits.

This is the list of things the government will talk, and only talk, about implementing for next four years:

- Healthcare system reform, unless "reform" means higher fees of course.
- Extension of retirement age to 67 for both men and women.
- Extension of retirement age for soldiers and policemen -- at the same time the government plans to improve Poland's defensive potential, so I guess this will not be built around people.
- Including farmers in the universal social security framework.
- Leaner and "client oriented" administration focused on performance.
- Less bureaucracy in construction permits.
- Opening up half of professions locked in by regulations, which means scrapping institutions like lawyers associations, etc.
- Fewer legal acts produced by the government but producing better quality legislation.
- Speeding up the judicial process in Poland. How? By cutting judges' benefits?

I agree with Scott. Should the government implement all of the above, especially the pension system unification and the inclusion of farmers into the universal social security system, Poland's public finances and, in general Poland, would be much better of. At least I would know that the tax hikes the government slapped on me were not in vain. But I guess we will see in next 13 months. If by then the government does not have the reforms ready and in parliament, it means we were duped...again.

Sorry, I'm on the phone

Prime Minister Donald Tusk gave his long-awaited presentation on Friday of the "new-old" government's reform plan. The devil will clearly be in the execution since there were in fact quite a lot of details for such a speech, a surprising amount. We'll see. If Tusk and his new government -- the youngest since 1989, as he likes to point out -- can put it in place, Poland will be in far better fiscal position than most other European countries, though that is not saying much these days.

Most observers and political players were all ears when Tusk started his speech today at noon. One was not: Jaroslaw Kaczynski did the Polish political equivalent of "sorry, can't pay attention, I'm on the phone."

Yep, Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who could bore the rust off a bumper with a political speech, waltzed into the lower house late and talking on the phone, and showily so. He proceeded to talk for a number of seconds before actually listening to Tusk.

Who do you think he was calling? A great guess would be his mom (EDIT: Probably to talk about a funeral for his beloved cat Alik, which died recently).

One thing I'm sure of is that it was not a job interview. For, Jaroslaw Kaczynski has a monopoly on being Poland's opposition leader, something it seems he will remain for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

No eagles here

Poland's football association PZPN rarely shows any sign of considered long-term thinking. I was thus extremely surprised that for once someone there actually thought about the upcoming European football championships Poland co-hosts with Ukraine next June in a realistic way.

The association, clearly after a deep analysis of the national team's past performance and in a rare moment of sobriety, decided to remove Poland's national symbol -- a white eagle -- from players' shirts.

So far this year the national team coached by Franciszek Smuda has won 6 games, tied 3 and lost 3, but let's be frank most of the opponents were not the best. If we take a look at Poland's potential opponents in the tournament, the record is much clearer. Since 2009, when Smuda took over, team has failed to win a single game against any opponent that qualified for the Euro 2012. It managed to tie only two and lost a total of four.

Unfortunately the media, other fans and even players themselves do not agree with me that it is good the eagle is gone. Fans are protesting against the move online and in real life by boycotting the latest friendly match. The media has hit out in the usual frenzy. Politicians want legal changes that would force the eagle back onto the shirts...but why??!! After all, it would only turn red with shame during the tournament itself...

Tuesday, November 15, 2011


Prime Minister Donald Tusk is deciding whether to liquidate a tax break that allows journalists and any profession with copyrights of their intellectual material to pay tax on only half their reported income, according to the daily Rzeczpospolita. If Tusk does decide to do so in the Friday presentation of his "new-old" government's policy, it will be as good as a declaration of war on journalists, artists and scientists.

Tusk might not care one iota whether journalists will be hurt. Many of them -- including we here -- have bitched and moaned for months and months about the lack of "real" fiscal reform. And, in terms of solidarity, why shouldn't an artist or a journalist also feel a little bit of fiscal pain. They are not usually starving

Tusk, if he does decide to remove the tax break, will clearly play up the fact that his government has taken a real step by sticking it to a bunch of whining journos.

But one thing I would counsel Tusk in is that removing the tax break might hit journalists, but it will also hurt those like university professors. Making it harder for university profs is not exactly in line with the government's oft-stated goal of boosting education.

Polish artists and musicians are far more the starving kind than the Hollywood sort, so hurting them to some degree hurts the very resurgence of a moderate tolerant Polish identity.

Moreover, journalists, university professors, artists, musicians and the like all back Tusk's Civic Platform (PO) in droves. They help raise the public profile and to some degree give free positive PR to the party, particularly in relation to the heaps of negative PR afforded Tusk's main rival, Jaroslaw Kaczynski of Law and Justice (PiS).

Considering the savings of getting rid of the tax break are akin to a rounding error in terms of the public finance problem itself, they would produce limited gain for state finances.

If Tusk does decide to remove this tax break, it will be very much like declaring war on himself, hurting his voters and not doing one bit to help public finances.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Hools Independence Day

Another November 11, another Hools Independence Day in Warsaw. The president might speak, the prime minister will smile during Poland's Independence Day celebrations, but make no mistake, the main course of celebrations is always elsewhere in the traditional battle between left and right wing radical hools that traditionally takes place in downtown Warsaw.

Today was slightly different since the two groups didn't clash because they were split up by police forces, which immediately resulted in...good ole fighting with the police. The usual accessories were used, starting with bricks, sticks and flares on the hools side and water cannons, pepper spray, truncheons and shields on the police side. Soon the battlefield, sorry I meant the city centre, was billowing with smoke.

The grand finale came at around 17:00 local time when a TV station's broadcasting truck and a passenger car with its logo were set on fire, clearly someone got either cold or pissed off at the reporters...who fortunately were not in the van.

Both the leftists and the rightists will announce victory. The left has already announced it by saying "we stopped the fascists!" With a little help from the police, of course. And the other hools did manage to take a detour, but these of course are details. That 150 people were arrested, 21 (including cops) are in hospitals and damages are probably extensive, who cares. After all that is meaningless when you talk about stopping fascism.

The right wing hooligans got what they wanted too, with a little help they did make it to their destination. As planned they managed to kick some butt on the way, destroy a few things and steal media headlines probably for few days. AND they got mentioned on Poland X.

So, clearly the spirit of revolution is still strong among young Poles, but did anyone tell them we have a democratic and free country?!

Oh, and a final note, the really funny thing about this whole mess is that both of these "demonstrations" were perfectly legal. The city mayor's office approved the two demonstrations aimed at battling each other to take in the same place at the same time. Wow, somebody really knew what he or she was doing signing these approvals...

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Battlefield 3 blows away Polish blockbuster

Rather than watching a "blockbuster" recreation of Poles fight for freedom filmed in 3D with supposedly high-end visual effects, a plethora of Polish movie stars and a script revolving around one of the nation's key historic moments, Poles prefer to just go out and shoot people on their own, virtually of course.

It turns out sales of the recently released third iteration of the well-known first person shooter Battlefield reached 7.2 million zlotys in the first three days of the game's launch on Oct 27. That easily beat "Battle of Warsaw 1920," which earned 4.7 million zlotys. In the battle of the "battles," it seems Battlefield 3 wins.

Battlefield did just beat out Poland's latest attempt at an historical action movie blockbuster, it came close to bringing in enough revenue to compare well with the latest installment of the Pirates of the Caribbean and the last episode of Harry Potter's adventures.

For those of you who are not gamers or don't have gaming kids, an FPS is a game in which from a first-person perspective you have the rare opportunity to shoot, stab, bomb, run over other players when playing online or computer-generated opponents when offline in single player mode.

And now I have to run... there are some people that really need to be shot. Hooah!

Monday, November 07, 2011

Early Christmas present

Hit the road Zbiggy
Zbigniew Ziobro is no more of Law and Justice (PiS), the conservative-nationalist opposition party run with an unforgiving fist by Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Ziobro and two now ex-leading PiS members were turfed from the party on Friday evening for having the temerity to question the party's strategy after it lost its sixth straight election on October 9. How dare they?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski knows best, clearly. After Karol Karski, the PiS disciplinarian, did an investigation worthy of the name 'Stalinist show trial,' he got Adam Hofman, Kaczynski's poodle, to announce that Ziobro, Tadeusz Cymanski and Jacek Kurski were out for allegedly hurting PiS publicly. Hmmm, wouldn't six straight election defeats comprise hurting PiS publicly as well?

Kaczynski clearly prefers Hofman and Karski to the other three rebels, believing they will be far more valuable to PiS. Well, a politician is only as good as his latest vote count. Let's see, Ziobro - 335,933, Karski - 2,730. Ziobro, for all his many failings has in fact proven popular with voters whereas Karski didn't even make parliament and thus his political career is totally in the hands of . . . Kaczynski.

These most recent ejections are only the latest. In fact, for better or worse, PiS could be so much stronger if it still included all the politicians that were once in the party but were kicked out after clashes with Kaczynski: Radoslaw Sikorski, Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz, Marek Jurek, Ludwik Dorn, Pawel Ponclyjusz, Joanna Kluzik-Rostkowska, Elzbieta Jakubiak, Marek Migalski and now Ziobro, Cymanski and Kurski. These individuals account for hundreds of thousands of votes.

Ziobro is to ambition like crack to a plumber, so he should be expected to set up a new party, likely with a considerable chunk of one-time PiS members. In the event, just on Monday evening, Ziobro allies announced the formation of a new parliamentary group. It apparently will be a separate vehicle as long as PiS continues to exclude Ziobro and friends.

This is likely merely a holding strategy until a new party can be formed. It if gets the backing of priest-cum-media mogul Tadeusz Rydzyk, who runs the powerful (at least for the over-65 crowd) radio outlet Radio Maryja, it could be dangerous, at least to Kaczynski and the PiS holdouts.

Then, Ziobro's new party and PiS will race to be the most patriotic, the most holy, the most intolerant, the most Polish, all the while shedding moderate voters. . . Donald Tusk got an early Christmas present.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Poo in the bathtub

Clearly, the Palikot Movement is doing everything it can to grab media attention before the new parliament even starts working and, just like this headline, its strategy is the more controversy, the better.

The party is pushing for the removal of the cross from the lower house of parliament's chamber, a move openly or quietly opposed by every other party.

It has also managed to grab headlines after a row with the rival leftist party Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) over... rooms in the parliament building. In an eyebrow raising quarrel, the two parties fought over the location of their offices. To some surprise, Palikot's party won and the old-timers from the SLD had to vacate their rooms and literally make room for the young bloods. A sign of times, it seems.

On Friday, the Palikot Movement put forward yet another (un)realistic demand: that Waldemar Pawlak, the head of the junior ruling Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) and the outgoing deputy prime minister, resign from his position and make way for other "professionals" in the party. The reason? The Economy Ministry Pawlak also runs is late on some EU-related legislation.

If all ministers resigned because legislation was late, we would be changing governments every three months. Not to mention the fact that the PSL simply has no other "professionals" that can step up and replace Pawlak easily.

As we have indicated, these are going to be interesting (in a scary-grotesque-perfect-for blogging way) times in Polish politics, but I want to know what ever happened to Palikot the Statesman, the guy who offered to be a serious coalition partner for Prime Minister Donald Tusk? Not that we mind; we prefer Palikot the King of Dildos anyway.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Should I stay or should I go

The Law and Justice (PiS) tussle between leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the upstart Zbigniew Ziobro continues with neither of the hard-right big wigs yet saying wujek. Ziobro, or "Zizou" as he is apparently called by friends, thus remains inside PiS with the big question stated in the title up there.

Zizou, who is only 41, is politically ambitious. The former justice minister and current Euro-MP was once seen as the heir apparent to Kaczynski. A future stint as PM or even as president beckoned. But his position as the PiS crown prince is no more. Kaczynski said recently that Janusz Kurtyka, the former head of the national remembrance institute who died in the Smolensk plane crash in April 2010, would have taken over PiS, not Ziobro.

This is probably one main reason why Ziobro launched his recent rebellion and seems intent on carrying it through this time. Ziobro did launch previous revolts but always kow-towed to Kaczynski. It was almost as if Ziobro was testing Kaczynski's weaknesses.

Launching his own party would put Ziobro firmly in the centre. He is said to be supported by a platoon of current PiS members numbering 30 or 40. This would leave him in better situation than other previous PiS rebels that clashed with Kaczynski, launched their own parties amid much fanfare and proceeded to get hammered during elections before effective political banishment. Strong backing at the start could be key.

But the Palikot Movement (RP) shows that you can do very well at the ballot box as long as you come up with ideas that gain resonance. Ex-Civic Platform (PO) deputy leader Janusz Palikot's movement stressed its anti-clericalism and presented itself as an attractive cocktail of leftist social policy and liberal economics, catering to urbanites across Poland.

Ziobro and allies do not have any such idea. The rebellion is a power play par excellence sparked by electoral dismay and political ambition. As such, its future could very well be cast in doubt. Hard right supporters will look to see who has the best chance of doing well and then will likely vote for them.

Unless Ziobro can overtake Kaczynski, this would appear to be PiS. Father Rydzyk, the radical Catholic media mogul who plays a big role on the right, could provide a much needed boost for a potential Ziobro-led party. But despite Rydzyk and Ziobro being far closer than Rydzyk and Kaczynski, Rydzyk will want results, not intentions.

Ziobro can go. It looks increasingly like he will go. But there are big questions whether he should go. Another way of looking at it is that for PiS haters, a Ziobro splinter party is good news indeed.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Perfect school

This school has everything: a brand new gym and basketball court, PCs for all students, projectors for presentations, all the most modern tools of which most schools in Poland can only dream. The cost of overhauling the facility is 4.5 million zlotys and now only one thing is missing...students. Yes, since the high school is strategically located in a place called Strzepcze (no, I don't have an idea where that is either) there is no one that wants to enroll there.

As the daily Gazeta Wyborcza writes, this is not such a great surprise either. The Kashubian high school had problems attracting students for quite some time. In 2009 only six students wanted to attend the school, which was too few to create a class, and a year later no one came.

Surprise, surprise, teenagers prefer schools in nearby towns to a village school, no matter how well equipped.

Is anyone going to take the blame for spending money on a school that does not make sense? The money certainly could be spent better, for example, on nearby schools that students actually want to go to or on schools that are being closed against the will of kids and parents because of financial trouble. No, obviously not. Officials are saying it was worth it. After all, a whopping 170 people finished the school. Overall.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sickly Poles

Yay! We are again the best in Europe! According to the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, Poles took by far the most sick leave days of all EU nations! Oh, wait, it wasn't a contest? Ahhh, the lower the score, the better... so we don't get a special prize? But it cost us over 23 billion zlotys!

The amazing wave of sickness afflicting Poles must be due to some outside factors like pollution, extremely harsh weather conditions, or shortage of food, right?! Right?!

Unfortunately, it seems the reality is much much more dire and comes down to a simple truth: Poles cheat on sick leave. If they need additional vacation time, they go to the doctor. If they need a break, they go to the doctor. Even if they need to go to Germany for a (not so) lucrative seasonal job, they go to the doctor.

Why do people bother to get sick leave? Well if they do so, they get 80 percent of their salary during that time with no additional checks or forms needed. Sometimes employers cannot refuse a sick leave, but they can turn down your vacation time application, so it is just easier to go on sick leave.

Some would say, oh, Poles are just lazy, but that is not necessarily true as Poland also tops the ranking of most overtime hours worked. This wouldn't be because those who are healthy have to do the jobs of those that are sick, would it?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No peace in PiS

Looking over his shoulder
Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski was once called a political genius for masterminding a pair of come-from-behind election victories in 2005 over the Civic Platform (PO). But genius has been used a lot less courtesy of six straight election defeats. Worse, the Oct 9th loss saw PiS's vote total fall nearly 1mn from four years before despite the PO ruling during the worst economic crisis in decades. If you can't win then, when can you win?

Zbigniew Ziobro, the one-time PiS boy wonder, is asking precisely that question. Speaking via two sympathetic media channels this past week, Ziobro demanded that those in PiS responsible for the latest setback be held accountable. He called for the formation of a broader rightist movement that can actually win an election. He stopped short of calling for Kaczynski to be replaced, but he threatened to launch his own party should change not be forthcoming.

Ahhhhhhhhhhhh. That is the sound of pleasure. But, you might wonder, whose pleasure?


You see, Jaroslaw Kaczynski loves only one thing more than his mom and his cat: putting down a good, bloody political rebellion. PiS's election history means he's clearly not the Napoleon of Polish political strategy. But he is definitely the Stalin of Polish politics so good is his ability to purge would-be rivals.

The right-wing of the Polish political scene is in fact littered with the corpses of those who have dared clash with Kaczynski. For the most part, they drift into obscurity. Such was the fate of once important figures like Marek Jurek or Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz or Ludwik Dorn. It looks like Pawel Kowal and Pawel Poncyljusz, two recent rebels from PJN, will share the same destiny.

From this angle Ziobro looks likely to get his comeuppance as he and like-minded mutineers are booted out of PiS.

But this time could be different. Ziobro did not threaten to launch his own 'more nationalist' and 'more rightist' party in the pages of any old newspaper. He did so in Nasz Dziennik, the newspaper run by radical Catholic media mogul Tadeusz Rydzyk.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski will not want to upset Rydzyk as this would threaten the loss of one of PiS's main electoral pillars. A new party would also likely trigger the kind of right-wing infighting that characterised much of the 1990s. The only real beneficiary of all this would also be . . . the Civic Platform.

If PiS self-destructs over the latest election failure, Donald Tusk will laugh all the way back to the PM's office, where he could be safely ensconced for decades to come, making the following picture seem prescient.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Sweet revenge...

Remember the guy that asked Prime Minister Donald Tusk the toughest question during the election campaign? This was a red pepper farmer who came up to the prime minister and asked him "how can I live?" The farmer, whose plantation was destroyed in storms earlier this year, immediately became Law and Justice's (PiS) second biggest election campaign star, second only to Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the PiS leader.

Unfortunately for pepper-meister Stanislaw Kowalczyk, PiS did not win the October 9th election. Instead, Kowalczyk and his fellow farmers have to answer some questions themselves as the Central Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA) has begun investigating them all for potential insurance fraud.

This is not the first such case. During the campaign, a bakery in which Jaroslaw Kaczynski praised the flavour of Polish bread was raided by sanitary control service Sanepid a day later.

Oh well, I guess if you want to play with the big boys you have to be ready to take a few blows yourself. Moreover, it is somewhat just that the CBA, a unit formed when Jaroslaw Kaczynski was PM and at the time was accused of setting priorities in line with the ruling party's interests, would now be chasing his potential allies. What I don't get is what insurance fraud has got to do with corruption?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Palikot dupes dopers?

Janusz Palikot, the enfant terrible of Polish politics, has been accused by the Free the Weed Initiative of basically being, well, an enfant terrible, or so goes the hard-hitting story heralded Thursday as an "exclusive" by www.tvp.info, public TV's news service. Forget Gaddafi. We have Palikot vs. potheads.

It seems the ganja-growing gang is somewhat uncharacteristically incensed -- yes, they are off the couch and, yes, their eyes really are just dry -- because Palikot promised that in return for support he would push for liberalisation of the narcotics law for Maria Jasia, aka Mary Jane, and now it looks like he might have just used them. Egad.

"Janusz has proposed introducing to the drug law a provision that assumes waiving the prosecution of persons possessing narcotic drugs for 'personal, non-commercial use.' He thus threw into one bag marijuana and the so-called hard drugs," a Free the Weed leader Jedrzej Sadowski railed. "The Palikot Movement has completely ignored our bill...."

The Palikot Movement's leadership denied the allegations, saying the Free the Weed Movement was split into two fractions, only one of which was smoking mad. Other friends of marijuana said that co-operation with Palikot was producing benefits.

So, let's see here. We have a "fraction" of the Free the Weed Movement that thought supporting Palikot would produce instant changes to the drugs law. I've got some bad news for you guys: Palikot is not in the government and probably won't be. Your bill will never be supported by a Civic Platform (PO) that is desperate to be non-controversial at all costs.

And though I generally support your position, I have a different recommendation: why don't you guys sit back, kick your feet up and, well, you know what to do.

Dead-end job or no job?

Click me.
It is one of the toughest questions facing anyone seeking a job in these turbulent times. Is it better to accept a dead-end job contract with no privileges, no social security and no pension benefits, or to pass on a potential earner and keep looking? If, as the daily Gazeta Wyborcza says, some 800,000 people work on such contracts in Poland, then clearly Poles do prefer to work in bad conditions rather than not work at all.

But this might change. Michal Boni, one of the prime minister's top advisers, has said it would make sense to block these contracts by adding obligatory pension payments to them that amount to about 20 percent of gross salary. Now let's think, there is around 20 percent unemployment among the youngest Poles, the very same ones that most often agree to such contracts. Given the high unemployment, it is very unlikely employers will bear additional costs. Much more likely is that employers will just cut salaries in order to keep their costs flat or hire people with no contract at all.

Instead of making making labour regulations more flexible to expand the number of people working legally, even if they don't benefit from all social benefits, rather Boni says we should make the rules more strict to likely promote moonlighting and cheating. This proposal comes when last month corporate employment in Poland dropped for the second month running.

The sad part is that no one asks these people whether they want to sacrifice 20 percent of their income for pension benefits or whether they really want to work without a contact at all. Some might be surprised by what they hear.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Post-bureaucratic stress disorder

Pale fluorescent light, narrow confused corridors, stark wooden doors, throngs of foreigners in Poland, crowds crowding crowds. No instructions in English. Isn't this the Foreigners' Office? No official personnel of any sort. Where do I get the number to stand in line to submit my residency documents? Why do I get the feeling everyone's laughing? The throngs scoff, as they always do. What's that? Kto ostatni? Someone says. What does that mean? Kto ostatni? Another. What? Kto ostatni? Who's last? Ahh, I understand, who's last. Find the last person to get in line and stick to them like glue.

Hours hurdle hours and all you can do is focus on the back in front of you. If that back should leave, you focus on the back in front of that back, all the time hoping someone doesn't edge in front of you, as they are wont to do. Just the backs in line and the creeping sensation Kafka has written you into one of his dystopian tales.

My post-bureaucratic stress disorder, or PBSD, started then in the late 1990s when I had to navigate the maze of bureaucracy to get the little card that allowed me to stay and work in Poland. Those were the times that scarred me, really scarred me.

I only realised this recently when I worried myself into frenzy contemplating going down to the Foreigners' Office to repeat the process. I got headaches. I felt sick. I lost all energy and took to laying about moaning. At night I tossed and turned and tried to call that sleep, but it just left me exhausted. Would a heart attack be just around the corner?

The day of truth came. I went down to the office on sunny Dobra street in Warsaw, took a number, got a final errand done, returned after an hour, waited all of 8 minutes and submitted my documents. Wait, wasn't this supposed to be hell?

No one interrogated me as to why I might want to work in Poland. No one accused me of wanting to steal Polish jobs. Instructions are everywhere. There's a number system! There are photo-copiers in the rooms, meaning applicants don't have to run to some private photo-copier. The doors have windows so one can see the progress. There is even a number to call to make an appointment.

The residency system for foreigners isn't perfect, but the new government to be formed by the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) could learn a bit about easing the burden of bureaucracy by looking at the Foreigners' Office and the changes made since the dark days of the late 1990s.

As for me, I will happily be able to stay in Poland and continue to be relieved my renewal went so smoothly. But I will always be haunted by my PBSD and some part of me will dread that return trip to potential bureaucratic hell.

Friday, October 14, 2011

So good to be special -- Agent Tomek

Special Agent Tomek has already featured a few times on our blog (here and here). Our favourite 35-year-old pensioner and former Anti-Corruption Bureau's special agent, that is, very special agent, made it into parliament in the recent October 9 general election and will represent Law and Justice (PiS).

On the future member of parliament (MP) list, he is very easy to spot. He is the only person that under job description wrote in "pensioner," clearly being proud of his special privileges. As a person who worked for law enforcement, he is entitled to a retirement pension after 15 years of service. Regular Poles have to work until they are 65.

But the privileges don't end there. As the daily Gazeta Wyborcza writes on Friday, this oh-so-special agent will not only receive his MP salary (as a joke it's named in Poland a "diet" -- at 12,000 zlotys per month, it is nothing close to a "diet" for Poland) but he will continue to get 75 percent of its pension.

Normally, Poles are not allowed to receive both a regular salary and a retirement pension, unless of course they really are . . . special.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

First transvestite MP would shake Jarek's hand

Poland's first transvestite MP Anna Grodzka said Wednesday she would shake Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski's hand if he greeted her like a woman, she toldthe website Onet. The question, I guess, is whether Jarek would shake her hand. The answer is….not bloody likely.

Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the rest of the Polish purveyors of Truth are in absolute shock and awe at the fact the upstart Palikot Movement's (RP) has brought with it to the Sejm, the lower house, a lot more colourful MPs than it is used to, including Grodzka and the head of a gays right association.

Father Tadeusz Rydzyk, the radical Catholic media mogul that backs PiS, had something of a hissy fit in this regard on his hate station, I mean radio station, Radio Maryja on Tuesday.

"After all, this is terrible. Entering the Sejm is a man who became a woman, a transvestite. . . Some have also come that someone previously called Sodomites.

"People, this is already a very serious matter!"

Rydzyk went on to say how Poland had survived 50 years of Communism and could survive this "New Left" as well. "We have to organise ourselves and not give up," he said. Please do, I say.

Anyway, Ms. Grodzka voiced pride in having been named MP from Krakow, a traditionally conservative centre, but expressed worry that not all MPs might accept her. In the end she said any social slights will reflect badly on them, not her.

Considering Poland's staid Catholic image, having the only current transvestite MP in the world can only be good for the country's international image and for broadcasting a message of tolerance, something that is not often associated with Poland. The imp in me also just hopes that Janusz Palikot, the RP leader, decides to sit Grodzka as close as possible to any PiS MP and, in particular, near to Kaczynski himself.


Oh, well, anyone who expected fireworks following Sunday's general election, like a last-minute victory for Law and Justice, must be at least slightly disappointed. With official results now released, all signs point to the current governing coalition of the Civic Platform (PO) and the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) remaining in power as the coalition will have a slim majority in the 460-seat lower house of parliament.

Prime Minister and PO boss Donald Tusk has also reiterated, for those who didn't get it the first few times and still mention some idiotic need for reforms, that Poland cannot afford painful reforms that bear fruit in some distant future during a crisis. Moreover, he added that he wants the current government to continue its work until the end of the year and that is only possible if the exact same government is named in October. So really the election, in terms of the big picture and policy, has brought precisely nothing new. 

Fortunately for those tired of reading about the government, Poles decided to follow our advice and rewarded local jester Janusz Palikot with 10 percent support, hacking into oblivion the post-communist leftist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).

Thanks to Janusz Palikot things will be interesting in the new parliament for sure. Poland will apparently be the only country in the world to have a transsexual MP and the new parliament will have its first ever openly gay MP, all thanks to Janusz.

As for our predictions, we are pleased to say that the mysterious M. (together with the humble author of this post) seem to be closest in terms of having actually predicted the election result.

My own predictions clearly underestimated the Civic Platform's popularity and overestimated Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his Law and Justice's (PiS) prowess, but overall the pre-election awards seem to hold after the polls too. 

Oh and if you are wondering whether stripping or singing heavy metal helped some of our favourite candidates get into the parliament, no they didn't, but I would rather blame Grzegorz Napieralski for that....

Friday, October 07, 2011

Predictions, predictions, predictions

Yes, Niels Bohr is right. Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future. But the prediction bug is passing in Poland from person to person right now faster than a bad case of the runs. All are trying to get into the act of predicting just who will get what in this Sunday's parliamentary elections.

We will thus get in on the act and we invite you, dear readers, to do the same in the comment section below before Sunday at 21:00 CET, when the first exit poll results are scheduled to be published.

What does the winner get, you ask? Knowledge you are a genius and a potential seer!

Scott  Vasyloo M.      Kr.     Ka.      J.       
Civic Platform (PO) 35% 36% 37% 36% 32% 36%
Law and Justice (PiS) 32% 32% 27% 27% 25% 27%
Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) 11% 8% 7% 7% 6% 10%
Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) 8% 6% 10% 8% 4% 6%
Palikot Movement (RP) 6% 11% 11% 8% 7% 9%
Poland Above All (PJN) 3% na na na na na