Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Service announcement

As you may have noticed, the updates have become sporadic. Don't blame Canada. Blame the calendar. Having a bunch of Polish public holidays all strung together has enticed us to holiday ourselves. Regular updates will ensue from May 9. In the meantime, sweet sweet rest . . . ahhhhhhh.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Polski yuppies and PO's problem

What do rich youthful city-dwelling pleasure seekers not like to do? Vote. What do you these Polski yuppie voters need to justify not voting and instead boating/hiking/bungee-jumping/horseback-riding/waterskiing/windsurfing/getting wasted anywhere but in Warsaw? Their party set up for a sure win.

These wealthy well-educated voters view the senior ruling Civic Platform (PO) as their party. This is so ingrained that the PO is in some ways an aspirational product. If you live in one of Poland's bigger cities, drive something better than a VW, have at least one very expensive designer clothing item, you are a PO voter already. If you're still trying to kill a few rats in the race, you vote for them anyway as part of the process of looking successful.

The PO will read with trepidation a recent poll showing that 47% of all voters are already convinced the PO will win the October parliamentary elections. The party's nerves are frayed on the issue since it was hurt badly by apathy in 2005. Then, the party had led opinion polls for so long and everyone was so convinced that it would lead the next government, its voters didn't bother to show. On record low turnout, the cranks from Law and Justice (PiS) won the most votes, led a coalition with the populist psychos from LPR and Samoobrona, and ran governments that had more in common with circuses than executives.

The PO will thus make sure its voters are fired up. Step one: scare everyone with favourite bogeyman Jaroslaw Kaczynski and PiS. Kaczynski, the PO must thankfully say, helps them each and every day by using rhetoric that offends all but the convinced. Step two: scare everyone with favourite bogeyman . . . .

Will it work? Perhaps. Jaroslaw Kaczynski and his henchmen are scary. Though many voters are turned off by the PO these days, they do not want to see Kaczynski as PM again or see Poland royally embarrassed on the global stage. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) does appear to be gaining traction, but it is still too "communist." No one else has a chance.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Agent Tomek sees possible Smolensk assassination

Lech Kaczynski and those killed in the Smolensk plane crash could have been assassinated, Agent Tomek said on Wednesday. "We still don't know why the catastrophe happened. We don't even know what exactly occurred. An assassination cannot be ruled out. . . I have not yet heard one argument that would decidedly convince me an assassination did not occur," he said in a Wednesday interview for, Poland's leading internet portal.

Agent Tomek is clearly the most credible source on the issue. After all, he is an "agent." Like James Bond. Like Jason Bourne. Like Jack Bauer. All are intimate with the dark art of assassination.

Agent Tomek is also intimate with crashes, in a way. He worked for the Law and Justice (PiS)-beloved Anti-Corruption Bureau, seduced a frumpy female Civic Platform (PO) member into looking like she took a bribe in 2007 and later seduced a TV show host also into bribery. Huge crash and burns, both cases.

It looks increasingly like Agent Tomek will soon become PiS's secret weapon, or in his case as the most self-publicising of agents, a not-to-so secret weapon.

Problem is, Agent Tomek is not alone being open to a Russian assassination. Some 8% of Poles believe that President Kaczynski was assassinated, according to a survey from TNS OBOP. Commentators said the 8% as being small, laughing nervously 'you see Poles aren't crazy, just 8% believe . . . ."

But wait a minute. If you consider the sample is supposed to represent all Poles' views and there are 38 million, one can say some 3 million Poles believe Kaczynski was killed by the Russians. I also have the feeling that the survey can help the Polish Psychiatric Institute conclude that some 3 millions Poles are insane, but that's another story.

For the sake of argument, let's assume the Russians really assassinated Lech Kaczynski. What would that make them? Morons. Kaczynski was an unpopular president six months away from being beaten in then scheduled elections. He did oppose Russia but this opposition likely helped them rather than hurt them since the Russians could also sideline and isolate the "crazy Poles." Or, to put it differently, what would anyone possibly have to gain from an assassination that couldn't have been done through much easier, less fraught ways.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Bits and pieces

It is a pre-holiday week in Poland and people are more interested in the blossoming spring than politics, as they should be, and preparing for the upcoming Easter holidays rather than seriously working, which shows how strong tradition is here despite the ever-dropping number of active Catholics.

Without digressing any longer, this little item caught my attention: the post-communist SLD wants to delegalise the neo-fascist, rightist, nationalist, politically incorrect Law and Justice (link). Why would SLD would want to delegalise PiS? In order to strengthen its position, get rid of an irritatingly popular rival, and reshuffle the political scene? No, of course not. It wants to do ban PiS in order to "protect democracy" and to put an end to "verbal hatred" that leads to "verbal violence and often physical violence and even murder."

Not to be too picky, but I thought that so far the only lunatic that I heard of was so fired up by "verbal hatred" that he actually went and started shooting PiS supporters in Lodz, shouting that he wished Jaroslaw Kaczynski was there too so he could actually kill the bugger.

Another thought that jumps to mind is that in its care for democracy, freedom of speech and beliefs, the Polish parliament has decided not to delegalise the communist party PZPR that ruled Poland since the second world war and easily transformed into something now called SLD. Talk about poetic justice.

Poland is actually a quite rich country. It turns out it can afford an 8.2 percent rise in the minimum wage to 1500 zlotys starting next year. That is likely to trigger increased sending on social security benefits as many are tied to the minimum wage. Certainly, the increase is a much higher hike than I got and which, according to latest official data, the average Pole working in the corporate sector got. The government said the move was based on the "need to limit the public finance deficit to below 3 percent." Okay, we at Poland X get the message. It is not a political ploy to win support ahead of elections. It is prudent public finance management. If it was "kielbasa wyborcza," it would have been a 20 percent increase. Right and now for something completely different.

Outrage! Outrage! Gazeta Wyborcza journalists are being persecuted for their beliefs. No, I am not talking about Jaroslaw Kaczynski boycotting Wyborcza. This time I actually meant this little report that GW journalists will not be invited to the prestigious weekend show "Press Booth" on TVN24 because they have criticised TVN's owner ITI. Apparently TVN didn't like Gazeta Wyborcza's "zero tolerance" approach to issues related to the hooligans of football club Legia Warszawa, which just happens to be owned by ITI. You might want to know, Dear Reader, that in this little snippet Wyborcza quotes one of its editors but somehow forgot to call TVN for comment. Oh, and if you are curious, we were never invited to this show on TVN, so the station could not have un-invited us because of our recent posts on all-things-hooligan.

That's all folks! For now of course.

Wielki brat

Poland is free. Democracy rules. The state no longer snoops . . . er, actually it does. Poland could in fact be the surveillance capital of Europe on one score.

Polish security organs and others asked for telecom billing records over 1 million times in 2009, according to a European Commission report published on Monday. That is nearly half the reported 2.1 million total for the EU, though many countries did not provide data (such as the UK).

How does this compare to its regional peers? Czech security agencies called for 280,000 records, a lot only when considering the total for Slovakia is 5,200. What about Europe's big boys? France is one of the worst offenders with just over 514,000, but that's still half Poland's total despite the fact France's population is over 20 million people higher. German security agencies are said to have asked for records 35 times less than Polish ones despite having double the population.

Polish regulations on data storage are also harsh. The EU requires telecom operators to store data for at least 6 months. The maximum is 24 months. Naturally, Poland chose to institute a 24-month period.

The daily Gazeta Wyborcza noted Monday that regulations in Poland on who can access these billing records are very loose and pretty much any organ can get them. The EU recommends Poland limit access to the records, shorten the mandatory storage duration, limit abuse of data, as well as other ways to protect our documented selves.

I understand privacy is losing out to Facebook (even dogs are on it these days), but it still bothers me that the Polish state is so keen to tap into people's records. Until we begin having Facebook inserts into our brains in order to "like" everything and finally achieve "world peace" of a sort, I sincerely hope the government makes good on one of its other promises to make the state friendly, not intrusive.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Can you say cover up

Poland's football association PZPN decided to change its logo into something that, as far as I can understand, is an attempt to break with its past and start a new future ahead of the European Football championships set for June 2012. The new logo's creators say it represents values PZPN wants to be associated with: openness, professionalism and modernness. Hahaha! Lol! ROFL!

An organisation that, as you can read in any paper, acts as if time stopped in the mid-1980s, is ruled by the same coterie that existed during Communism, and is mired in infighting and corruption scandals now wants to be associated with openness and professionalism.

This is also an organisation that has failed to teach a single person to be appointed as a main referee at a World Cup or Euro tournament and an organisation that has overseen professional football at a time when over 300 (and counting) players, officials, and referees have been charged with corruption. Some have already been sentenced. Scores more are awaiting to be.

These same people now say the new logo will be a symbol of "Polishness and national pride." Yup that's right, but only if you believe that greasing your way up the ranks of a controversial organisation is Poles' national feat.

A new logo, no matter how nice it looks, cannot cure the PZPN's sickness. This is in fact only a not-so-slick attempt at a cover up, one that the association didn't even bother to do properly. You see, the very same day PZPN announced its new logo it also issued a statement about Mr. Andrzej Blacha being thrown out of PZPN. Why oh why would such a harsh action be needed? Simple, because of "the corrupt actions" Mr. Blacha was involved in at the Korona Kielce club and Motor Lublin and Unia Janikowo and...Kolejarz Stroze. Yikes!

If you are wondering why the new logo is blurred out of all recognition, it is because PZPN warns that all use of its logo must be accepted by (wait for this) PZPN's Department of Foreign Affairs, Marketing and PR. I simply didn't want to disrupt them from devising ever more ingenious ways to say 'no, we ain't corrupt.'

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Kein zucker!

The euro will soon be kaput, the dollar is doomed, the yuan is yet a preemie. What can a thoroughly thrifty Teuton turn to these days to store value? Sugar, that's what. And they want it all for themselves.

Pity then the poor Poles who have seen sugar prices rise by nearly 80% just from November to March. Sugar has become so expensive that even though sugar, jam and chocolate account for just 1.5% of the entire CPI inflation basket, they boosted overall inflation by some 0.2 percentage points in March. Annual inflation thus spiked to 4.3%, a roughly two-and-a-half-year high.

Fearing a sugar scarcity, some reports point to Poles stockpiling the stuff. But buying at a high cost doesn't seem the smartest move from an economic standpoint. So, what do Poles do? Take advantage of one of the EU's main fundamental freedoms: freedom of movement.

In Germany, an entrepreneurial Pole can buy a kilo of sugar for 65 euro cents. That's an amazing Schnappchen (bargain)! In the Land-of-Poles, a kilo of sugar runs anywhere from 1.25 euros to 1.70. Thus spake the "Polish sugar tourist," a new phenomenon seeing Poles flooding into Germany in the search of cheap white stuff.

Here's where German stinginess rears its ugly head. German food retailers Rewe, Lidl, Kaufland, Real and Tengelmann have all begun limiting sugar sales in a direct blow against the insipid Polish sugar tourist. To think, a single customer can now buy only 5-8 kilos a person.

That's a pittance. An outrage. I can't believe the injustice. Those bloody Germans . . . though, come to think of it, 8 kilos of sugar doesn't seem exactly minuscule, does it. In fact, that seems like quite a lot. What can one even do with 8 kilos of sugar? Let me check the internet . . . ahh, perfect: moonshine.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Moving up the ranks

This probably comes as no surprise to most people, so I don't really know why Gazeta Wyborcza chose to say on the front page that people who start as hools (we wrote about their peculiar view on cheering here) end up as soldiers or even leaders of not-so-well organized crime.

Not so well organized, or maybe I should say well too organized, as apparently after a recent arrest the police found a "Dummy's Guide to Hool's Organised Crime" database on a PC with a list of names, roles, contacts and even license plate numbers. Duh!

It turns out people who spend most of their free time chasing each other with axes and knives or practicing for such challenging activities were far too busy to get even semi-legal jobs. No wonder, according to Wyborcza, that they soon turned to extortion, drug trafficking, car theft and other quick ways to make a buck. In January one "high ranking" hooligan in Krakow was massacred in something that looked like a well planned execution -- several cars were stolen and used for a hit that involved a chase -- showing that this more than just about hatred and picking a fight.

What has always amazed me is that when a guy is caught on camera going up to a football player and hitting him in the face, people all of a sudden talk about "stadium ban" as the "most painful sanction". WTF? I would say that the guy should face assault charges and spend 6 months in prison for a good start and AFTER that we should consider banning him for life from watching live football, countrywide, because he is a fan. But, no, clubs chose to turn a blind eye and say that both the player and the fan "got carried away." This time it fortunately was not a body bag they were carried away in.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The numbers game

Law and Justice's (PiS) all-Sunday all-Smolensk love-in attracted 50,000-70,000 Poles screaming for the lynching of President Bronislaw Komorowski and Prime Minister Donald Tusk at the same time as they were sanctifying PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, according to co-organiser Gazeta Polska, a daily. Revolution must clearly be at hand with such a vast turnout.

I guess we should prepare for a Poland of Patriotism, Power and Paczki for everyone! Jesus will likely soon be named King of Poland and Kaczynski will be appointed King Jesus' Representative on Earth.

But, wait, what's this? The police say there's no way that many people showed up. They say the real figure is 10 times lower. Boooo. Hissss. This must be just another example of the Civic Platform-obsessed media and their jackboots in the police trying to downplay PiS's broad massive support. How do you count how many people show up anyway? Isn't it all subjective?

It turns out the sneaky police have insidious ways to try to undermine PiS's attestations it is backed by what I like to call the noisy, annoying minority: math, the devil's instrument if there ever was one.

Police deviously note 3,500 were in or near a hall where King Jesus' Representative on Earth spoke and another 2,500 were nearby. They add that 10,000 people can fit in Warsaw's Plac Zamkowy and at the high point of the Smolensk Festival 2011 it was only about two-thirds full, suggesting around 6,666…my god, this really is the devil's work.

In the end, it doesn't actually matter how many people attended the Sunday fun. The main thing is it had little to do with commemorating the victims of the plane crash and was a lot more like a witch hunt crossed with a religious retreat masked as a pensioners' rave hiding the fact it was all devised by political activists from PiS.

You see, the Smolensk crash has been completely co-opted by PiS, even though Poles of all political stripes died in the crash. It is thus now PiS political weapon No. 3 (No. 1 being Germany is the problem, No. 2 being Russia is the problem). And Jaroslaw Kaczynski will surely brandish this weapon in the October elections. It is likely to prove very effective as a rallying cry for the converted. But Jaroslaw's -- and PiS's -- problem will remain: it will alienate everyone else.

Monday, April 11, 2011

No comment, Smolensk edition

"Putin - murderer, Tusk - traitor." "Katyn murder 1940, Smolensk murder 2010." "Down with the Civic Platform." "Gestapo, Gestapo." "Komorowski, scram to Moscow." "Come out rat." "We want the police not the military police." "Gestapo, Gestapo."

"Here comes PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, prime minister of the Brightest Republic." "Jaroslaw, Jaroslaw." "Poland is here, Poland is here." "Jaroslaw, Jaroslaw."

"Our president Lech Kaczynski." "Poland is here, Poland is here." "Jaroslaw, Jaroslaw." "Long live Poland."

"We will build it." "We will build it."

"Komorowski - Polish traitor." "Traitor." "Traitor." "Shame!" "Government to court." "Down with the Platform." "Komorowski - Poland's shame."

"Free Poland."

"Although previously the Fourth Republic failed, it must work now. We need to change Poland in the name of our interests and the interests of our nation. I believe that we will remember April 10, 2010, not only as a day of a Polish awakening. I am convinced that Poland is awakening and we will have a better new Poland."

"We will win." "We will win." "We will win."

Poland X quiz - the answers

I continue to be humbled by the failure to create a properly self-correcting quiz (the quiz is on this link). But like Donald Tusk, I will take failure not as a sign to give up, but as a sign as why another attempt is even more necessary. So in the not-too-distant future, I pledge to create a new quiz, a better one, a self-correcting one. In the meantime, here are the answers.

1. Andrzej Lepper and Janusz Korwin-Mikke are tied at 4.
2. Joseph Conrad. The ship is called the Nostromo, named after a Conrad novel.
3. Pcim.
4. Yes, afaik.
5. Jacek Rostowski's (general government hole, that is).
6. Dog misnamed by Lech Kaczynski ("Ira, siad" is how you say Sit, Ira).
7. Andrzej Celinski (switches to new parties and then they die).
8. All of the above.
9. Janusz Korwin-Mikke.
10. 3%.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wars on laptops

All of you mobile warriors out there watch out. Polish railways catering unit Wars has declared a war, on you. What irked the restaurant-on-tracks operators? Well, you are too slow of an eater, that's what! Apparently Wars has banned laptop usage in its restaurant cars because people who use laptops occupy those precious seats for much longer than your average consumer.

According to the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, one more reason exists: "We had situations where the waiter would spill something on a laptop, for instance, soup, and we would have to cover the damages," Wars' spokeswoman said. Oh, in that case, it's all-right. After all, this is in our interest, right? Who would want to get soup on their laptop courtesy of Wars. On other hand, it probably would do you less damage on the laptop than in your stomach.

If you are an iPad user, you are home free since the regulation only bans laptops. But unfortunately Wars is already tracking this loophole and will fix it soon, or so they say. Once they do, they will move on to banning books, newspapers, and in the end customers altogether. This will mark the ultimate victory in this war.

Not the best example

Rejoice! Prime Minister Donald Tusk has seen the light and finally saw European politics for what it is: a hypocrisy. You see, it turns out Poland did not join the military operation in Libya not because it does not have a modern air force or support troops that could be used in the operation, but because the Libyan intervention is a sign of Europe's hypocrisy! It is obvious that the Prime Minister does not want to be a hypocrite. Who would want to be?

However, as one of my favourite movie characters from Seksmisja says "That was not the best example". Mr Prime Minister, please correct me, but somehow I missed the part where Donald Tusk thought Poland's engagement in operation Iraqi Freedom was hypocrisy or where he said we will pull out of Afghanistan immediately or would quit the war on terror altogether. Nah, then, we are a "responsible member of the alliance," as Defense Minister Bogdan Klich likes to put it, and we will be stuck there until the end and then some.

Tusk in his analysis is of course correct. There are three main reasons for Europe's involvement in Libya: oil, oil and oil. The 180-degree shift in approach to Mr Gaddafi is a blatant display of hypocrisy, but that is what global politics is. For God's sake -- this is your job as prime minister. You want to be a high-rolling European politician. And that means dealing with a lot of dung. So, please spare us the "naive play" part as if you had no clue beforehand!

There is one more problem with Mr. Tusk's logic if you take it seriously. It basically gives a free pass for any tyrant, dictator, military junta or what-not on the planet. Why? Because it is impossible for Europe to have a consistent human rights policy and act on it universally. Therefore this all-or-none dilemma Tusk presents has only one plausible outcome: no action should be taken against the "bad guys" of this world because it would always be in someone's interest.

Imagine someone calling for help, fearing for their life. Donald Tusk walks by and says, "My dear fellow, given that I cannot help all the poor blokes of this world fearing for their lives, it would be hypocrisy to help you. I don't even know you after all, so goodbye and good luck."

The fact that we cannot right all wrongs in this world is not a reason to right the ones we actually see and can do something about. As I said, not the best example, Mr Tusk.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Bits and pieces

It's Saturday and I am in a rush to grab a last-minute pint before the entire country starts commemorating on Sunday the Smolensk tragedy with political mudslinging, accusations of treason and squabbles  over how many monuments should be built. I have two proposals: one for each passenger, or, even better, let's turn every remaining part of the plane into a monument and have them spread all over the country.

Anyway here are some bits and pieces from the past few days that caught my eye.

Gonna start with me being right. See, Treasury Minister Aleksander Grad finally admitted what he does is not really privatisation but rather making state-owned companies into publicly listed ones. Why oh why the sudden frankness from the minister? Is it a moment of rare sincerity? No, unfortunately, it is a ploy to soothe warring coal mining labour unions opposing the privatisation of the JSW coal producer. The minister thus decided what he is doing is not privatisation at all and the unions need not worry. Will they buy it? Oh I am sure they will, but only once the number of free shares for the coal miner's employees is sufficiently increased.

President Bronislaw Komorowski, after a very thorough 6-day consultation with the nation, decided to sign the controversial pension "reform." Surprise, surprise! The president's chief aide had said that a lot of problems need to be addressed in terms of pensions, "mainly related to the very low level of expected pensions," or something along these lines. Oh well, I guess there is nothing that a 10 percentage point raise in taxes will not fix. Right!? So now we are waiting to see whether all these business lobbies, think-tanks, etc., opposing the change will make good on their promise to send the bill to the Constitutional Court. But for now Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski has got what he wanted: some 2 billion zlotys in monthly budget savings starting in May.

The US Energy Information Agency has really done it this time. Their recent report on shale gas prospects outside of the US gave bombastic forecasts for Poland as a potential shale gas leader in Europe with potentially the biggest reserves of some 187 trillion cubic feet. The report of course made front page headlines all over the press with papers already proclaiming that Poland has some 300 years of gas reserves. I already feel as rich as a Middle Eastern sheikh. For those of you, our dear readers, I attach a small map with potential shale gas locations. Consider it a Poland X real estate investment tip.

Oh, I almost forgot, as did nearly everyone in Poland, the Civic Platform's (PO) biggest corruption scandal -- the infamous "gambling gate." Well, the case was just thrown out by the prosecutor's office since "no signs of crime were documented." I don't know if this is good or bad, but I felt sentimental when I saw the former sport minister and PO caucus leader shown again in television. To think the entire scandal took place in 2009 and now is virtually forgotten just shows how short is Poles' political memory. The fact the prosecutor's decision barely made headlines also shows that the media, which at the time has proclaimed the main actors of the scandal guilty while Prime Minister Donald Tusk has executed them politically, moved on long ago. That is infotainment for you dear readers in its pure form. By the way, this should be another question for our Poland X quiz: who the hell are Mr. Drzewiecki or Mr. Chlebowski?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Poland X - the quiz

If you're reading this, you probably think you know a lot about Poland. Or know one of the authors (hi Mom!). But enough walking the walk (or reading the read, I guess). Let's talk the talk (or answer the answer, as it were)....Update: Answers will be given in near future since the internet has failed me in providing a good easy way to have a self-correcting quiz:(

  1. Who ran for president the most times in Polish history?

Lech Walesa
Aleksander Kwasniewski
Janusz Korwin-Mikke
Andrzej Lepper
  1. Which Polish writer is connected to the classic sci-fi horror film Alien (1979)?

Stanislaw Lem
Czeslaw Milosz
Joseph Conrad
Andrzej Sapkowski
  1. Where does John Cleese's "aunt" live?

Chujowa Gorka
  1. Has Donald Tusk ever smoked cheeba (or skunk or laughing grass, you get my drift)?

He didn't inhale
He didn't exhale (which could explain recent economic decisions)
  1. Which finance minister's hole was biggest?

Jacek Rostowski's
Jaroslaw Bauc's
Zyta Gilowska's
Grzegorz Kolodko's
  1. Who is Irasiad?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski's long lost gypsy lover
Tusk's favourite brand of cheeba
Andrzej Lepper's skin colour
Dog misnamed by Lech Kaczynski
  1. Who is the kiss of death in Polish politics?

Andrzej Celinski
Marek Borowski
Henryka Bochniarz
Marek Belka
  1. 8. What is Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz's claim to fame?

Polish prime minister who loved the camera most
Rightist politician who least lived up to professed moral values
Lover of Izabela
All of the above
  1. Who said this: "I would strip the voting rights of many people, not just women"?

Jaroslaw Kaczynski
Andrzej Lepper
Janusz Korwin-Mikke
Bronislaw Komorowski
  1. What approximate percentage of the population do the moherowe berety comprise?


Tuesday, April 05, 2011

12 million problems for Euro 2012

Great news! Fans signed up for 12 million tickets for the football (soccer for some) European Championships known as Euro 2012 being co-hosted by Poland and Ukraine in June 2012. Bad news is they have nearly no chance of getting a single ticket as most will go to sponsors. With the record number of the mere public interested in tickets, I can imagine communication problems given the delays in all sorts of infrastructure projects. Thus, the lucky few who win the ticket (yes, dear readers, you have to WIN the right to BUY a ticket in a lottery that you separately PAY for) will need even more luck to make it to the stadium on time. Poland will "organise" public transport to deliver fans to the stadiums. It is practicing very hard now, as you can see on the photo.

This picture shows yet another problem: Poland's very specific and original fan culture. This is one that requires the most dedicated supporters to use knives, axes and machetes to express love for their beloved club. These fans will stop at nothing to express deep affection for the well being of their team, even if it means hitting a few... players, as happened recently in the Polish league. This was to motivate them to play harder, obviously. Problem is, this kind of support is misunderstood outside of Poland. People do not comprehend that it is a matter of principles in one's life: the club first, then alcohol, drugs, fights. Not the other way around.

Unfortunately, when I watch the Polish national team actually play football a strange feeling builds inside of me...I start looking around for sharp objects pondering whether to use them on myself and end the misery or on the players. It is hard to believe considering all the other problems, but they are still the weakest link in the country's preparations for the tournament.

Monday, April 04, 2011

My own worst enemy

Everyone has their own worst enemy. Federer has Nadal. Poland has Russia. Law and Justice (PiS) has Civic Platform (PO). Jaroslaw Kaczynski has...Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Every time he speaks I am shocked how damaging for PiS and himself his own words are. In previous campaigns PiS's best strategy was to keep him hidden or, if he had to appear, pushing the mute button well before any media noticed.

This time, obviously, it didn't work out that well and Kaczynski managed to speak. And say that those who believe Silesians from south-western Poland are a national minority are in fact...wait for it...German agents in hiding. Obviously with this one remark, which was absolutely useless given the small scope of the issue and Poland's overwhelming national, racial and religious homogeneity, Kaczynski pissed off pretty much everyone in Poland's most industrialised region.

It is important to remember that if Poland's history is a unique mix of glory and a long, long torment, the history of Silesia is even more twisted and complicated. For ages it was the borderland between Poland, Germany and the Czech Republic with the actual borders and influences shifting through time. After World War I and three Polish uprisings, Silesia was split between Poland and Germany. Significant minorities remained on both sides of the border (30 percent German minority and over 40 percent Polish minority). All of this was then wiped out when Poland's border was shifted some 300 kilometers to the west after the World War II and the entire German minority (and heretofore majority) were deported.

Kaczynski sees German spies hiding in Silesia, but given the track record maybe he should look at his advisers for potential secret agents of the Civic Platform?

POlling problem after all?

Sure enough, just days after I write that the Civic Platform's (PO) polling problem was conquered, a poll comes out showing a polling problem. The PO's support fell to 31% in a weekend survey from the pollster Homo Homini. Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice (PiS) was just 5 percentage points back at 26%. Considering the margin of error is at least +/- 3 points, the race would appear to be very tight.

But wait a second. Didn't the PO just receive 46% in a survey done by GfK Polonia, putting it 22 percentage points above PiS? Isn't Prime Minister Donald Tusk's PO clearly over its early-year problems and well-positioned for the October parliamentary elections?

In short, something smells worse than a batch of rotten prairie oysters.

What is going on? Well, basically, Poles are schizophrenic. Yes, all of them. One day they like the PO and the next they don't. Problem solved.

The true answer could perhaps be more involved. The pollsters themselves would invariably say polls are merely snapshots of opinion at a particular time and not a 100% view of what many think or what will happen on election day. There is an error margin. The question matters. What form of poll is another issue.

Respondent selection is one more major problem. The 1,000 or so sample size can be representative, but it isn't always. In Poland, voters of PiS and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) tend to be more reluctant to talk to pollsters or to admit they like parties often denigrated by others, especially the louder ones. In a country in which totalitarianism is not yet such an old memory, assurances of confidentiality are often little assurance at all.

If the poll is a telephone one, as the Homo Homini one is, big biases could show up. Many rural Poles don't have telephones. Poor ones as well. This would tend to skew the results to the PO. But young people are giving up landlines in favour of mobiles, potentially pushing the chance of error the other way.

Poles also love to back the winner. Many will say they support the PO every single time asked but vote totally different in the actual election. The PO used to suffer massively from this problem. I suppose the flipside of its turn toward populism means the PO could in fact be less impacted by this effect. But then wouldn't it be sad if the PO dropped its previous beliefs in order to build support levels only to seem them decline in the election itself. It would have sold itself out for nothing. And that would be a problem.