Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Public service announcement

Contact: Poland X

Use through: August 8

Public service announcement - The management of Poland X, Poland's best blog with an X in the title, would like to announce a temporary break in service as its authors enjoy the stormy, rainy weather that has afflicted a lot of us this summer. Like batteries, we need to recharge, though we tend to recharge with barley ambrosia rather than electricity.

We cannot rule out irregular posts about the regular things through to the end period of our announcement, but we can humbly pledge to return to normal service on August 9.

Enjoy.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

15 Angry Men

The jury on whether political billboards and TV ads are a crime (our take here and here) came back with a verdict. I have no idea whether the discussion followed the 12 Angry Men" scenario, but nevertheless the ruling handed down by the 15 Constitutional Tribunal judges had the ring of Solomon's judgement to it since it was effectively a choice between the will of the senior ruling Civic Platform (PO and the opposition Law and Justice (PiS).

The court ruling banned the ban on billboard and TV ads, proving it has more common sense and a better connection with reality than the jokers in the governing coalition that passed it in the first place.

The Tribunal also ruled that two-day elections will be impossible unless Poland's constitution is changed. On less controversial issues attacked by the PiS, the court overruled PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski's concerns and thus allowed for proxy voting and a "first past the post" election system for the Senate.

All in all, the rulings give the victory to Jaroslaw Kaczynski and PiS. This is not only because of all the reasons we have mentioned here in more detail and which focus on PiS being better campaigners than the senior ruling and polling front-runner PO as well as the lower the turnout the better PiS generally does. But it also allows PiS to say they were proven right against all the naysayers, which they consider the corrupt media, the cynical PO, etc.

No wonder Prime Minister Donald Tusk was in a sour mood in his reactions. The PM said something along the lines that "he doesn't agree with the ruling, but everyone with bigger or smaller enthusiasm will have to obey the verdict." Jeeez, so nice of him to notice that court rulings have to be carried out.

Looking towards the October election, despite the verdict, the outlook seems unchanged. Given the Civic Platform's dominance in current polls, unless they are completely bogus, it will be the first party to win two consecutive parliamentary elections in Poland since the fall of communism.

PiS is destined to be the runner-up twice in a row and no court verdict is going to change that. But the court gave back the tools to Kaczynski's camp to run an effective campaign that might in the end decide if and what kind of coalition will be formed. No more hopes of smooth sailing for the PO. This one is going to be bloody, just like we like it.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Premature electionation

Politicians' faces beam out from billboards plastered across Polish cities. Radio and TV waves overflow with ads touting this or that difference among the political parties. The parliamentary election must be right around the corner…

Actually, it won't be held till the beginning of October, at earliest. The election date hasn't even been set yet. President Bronislaw Komorowski can't even legally announce the official date until early August.

So what is going on? Politicians are simply trying to thwart bad legislation. The ruling Civic Platform (PO)-Polish People's Party (PSL) coalition decided in January (our take) to ban billboards and TV advertising. Though the Constitutional Tribunal is looking at whether the change is legal, the actual official election campaign will not see ads as the law stands now.

Parties have thus decided to launch "information" campaigns. This of course creates the likely scenario where parties run these quasi-campaigns all the way until the "official" election campaign starts a few weeks before the elections.

The Polish Electoral Commission said on Tuesday that it looked like a lot of what was going on was actual campaigning in the sense of trying to convince voters to support a certain political option. What perspicacity.

The commission could refuse to accept a party's yearly financial accounts, as it must, leading to fines. But every party knows that campaigning is crucial and the best way to get to people is via billboards and broadcast media. The internet and social networking are playing ever larger roles in elections. But traditional media still trump the new kids on the block in terms of impact.

Unless the Tribunal strikes down the ad ban, expect parties to "campaign" with billboards and ads anywhere and everywhere until the official campaign starts, lending support to all those equating politics with farce.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Our very own Unabomber

Kraków, or at least a part of it, trembles in fear. Four bomb blasts in the past few weeks have shocked an area of Kraków that comes as close as possible to being the Polish definition of a suburb. The latest bomb blew up on the weekend. Five people have been wounded.

It is unclear whether the homemade bombs are the work of one man, but the police seem to think so. It is also unclear if the victims are related in any way. The cops have just released a sketch of a potential suspect, or actually two sketches of two possible suspects, or maybe just one guy. They don't know.

If you click the link and look at the sketch, you will see that "looking at his face he resembles exactly no one," as the quote from a poor Polish comedy goes. Or the opposite in that it fits almost every square-faced bully out there.

Since the TV news has already named the psycho a psycho and a terrorist, my thoughts have wandered to one of the most famous psychos and bombers in one who was ominously named Kaczynski. Jaroslaw has an alibi for all three incidents. Ted is locked up for good. I guess our psycho is someone else.

Maybe our own version is someone who has a grudge against the 'hood or maybe he's a crazed real estate speculator? Who knows.

In case you're wondering, Kraków is still there. Other neighbourhoods likely think "this serves them right." Tourists don't seem to give a shit about the bombs and probably they wouldn't find the place anyway, if they even heard about it. So, please don't be shy and drop by, bombs or no bombs.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Poland's Tony Blair

The one thing I always liked about Tony Blair was the one thing I hated: the fact that if he were selling used cars, I know I'd buy the biggest lemon on the lot and be pleased as punch with it until I woke up the next day and discovered the clunker in my garage. I wouldn't hate Tony for it. I'd be disappointed with myself. Poles see Donald Tusk much the same way, according to a recent survey. 

Some 65% of Poles found Tusk amiable as opposed to only 23% who said he wasn't. Over 60% also said he was intelligent, handsome, energetic, and has good presence. Around half said he could persuade people to basically buy used cars. 

The dark side of every used car salesman is they are charlatans who abuse charisma and a good story to pinch your money. This is in part what Poles thought of Tusk. Some 65% said his word did not carry much weight. Another 55% said he only looked out for his and his party's interests. A full 53% said he can't finish what he started and 49% said he had no control over his ministers. 

Some of the anti-government media suggest Tusk has major problems with his image, and have based their arguments on the above-figures. I agree negative numbers don't look good. And yet. 

This late into his term and only three or so months before general elections, Donald Tusk is king compared with any other prime minister. You think Jaroslaw Kaczynski's polling levels would be any better? They would have been similar, just without the positives. Pre-Kaczynski PM Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz and SLD PMs Marek Belka and Leszek Miller were definitely not loved when they left the PM's chair. Jerzy Buzek is widely liked, but I guarantee no one shed a tear for him in 2001 after he led a rightist government for four stormy years. 

It looks like the PO will sweep to victory on October 9 and Tusk will be the sexy leading man Poles seem to see him as. But, as with Tony Blair, the problem will begin with the encore. Expectations will rise sharply. The track record will start to look worse. And by 2015, when the following elections are scheduled, Tusk will likely look back with envy at how much Poles currently "like" him.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Desperado

I usually don't do things like watching TVN's Monika Olejnik interview ex-Civic Platform (PO) maverick and would-be political leader Janusz Palikot. They are way too kinky. But by chance I watched a big chunk recently and was stunned.

Janusz Palikot is either going nuts or is desperate. He accused Prime Minister and PO leader Donald Tusk of sending the Anti-Corruption Bureau (CBA), public prosecutors and probably Agent Tomek after him because he dared to leave the Civic Platform.

All of a sudden "it is crystal clear for anyone with average intelligence that Donald Tusk is using the special services to attack me."

No, this is not a quote from Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Donald Tusk's arch-rival and the Law and Justice (PiS) leader who has been saying the very same thing for years now. It is Palikot, who left the Civic Platform because it was not liberal or leftist enough and who tried to be on the exact opposite end of the spectrum from Kaczynski.

This is clearly proof that Polish politics is a globe. Just like Palikot, you want to run away from Kaczynski so hard that as a result you bump into Jarek's behind?

During his five minute rant, Donald Tusk's wannabe nemesis Palikot -- whose new party is rarely included in the polls anymore (conspiracy!) -- said that the PO's top politicians, Palikot's ex-wife, Roman Giertych (his ex-wife's lawyer and the former leader of the radical nationalist LPR, a member of the PiS-led ruling coalition in 2005-07) were all trying to discredit him through pressure on the CBA and prosecutors office, and all he did was forget he owns a plane when he declared his assets.

"If I were still in the PO this would not have happened," he charged. I guess he does still have some connection with reality.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Summer lull

Sometimes even a summer lull can be a reason for a major political crisis. No, I'm not talking about Greece and the Swiss franc, but rather about Denmark and its decision to tighten up border controls just ahead of the usual summer season.

The Danes have been accused of breaking up the Schengen Treaty that allows border-free travel across most of the European Union. Some even charged the Danes were directing a shot at the back of the good old Union itself. One German politician was even so carried away he recommended that one should go for holidays to Poland instead of to Denmark!

Let no one say Germans are not a unified nation. A second tier-politician recommends Poland as your holiday destination and, wham, Angela Merkel and her husband visit for a private weekend in Gdansk. Talk about leading by example. The happy German pair dropped by to meet President Bronislaw Komorowski. Maybe as with Donald Tusk, Merkel and Komorowski also found some long lost relatives? That would be preferable to looking for property to reclaim....

Poland is the most beautiful woman in Europe

Poland's spy vs. spy battle between PM Donald Tusk and his arch-rival Jaroslaw Kaczynski now extends to trying to out-do each others with metaphors. Tusk and his gang of liberals recently released a computer-animated short which personified Poland as the dexterous seducer trying to woo the beautiful lady Europe. But Law and Justice (PiS) commandante Kaczynski is having none of this: Europe is not the beautiful woman. Poland is.

The 62-year-young perennial bachelor had an assignation with 500 right-wing women at the Hilton hotel in Warsaw this past Saturday. Whoah. I thought DSK was the womaniser. Kaczynski trumps him, sort of.

Kaczynski was honorary guest speaker at the "Poland Is The Most Beautiful Woman in Europe" congress, where he dropped some gems like:

"Femininity and masculinity are two forms of the same phenomenon of humanity," the would-be women studies professor said, stressing that these phenomena came from "nature."

"They are an expression of diversity and equality…this equality is just to belong to humanity," he said.

Kaczynski also talked of women's problems. Surprisingly, his favourite remedy to any and all problems plaguing humanity -- toughening up existing laws and punishments -- will work on domestic abuse as well. Women have to deal with limited access to pre-schools, housing shortages and the high cost of health-care, he added.

Kaczynski knows a lot about politicking and denouncements and innuendo and internal party turmoil and bloodletting and Donald Tusk and his grandfather and one part of Poland's history and the actual skin colour of the indomitable Andrzej Lepper. What he doesn't know is women. I'm surprised his handlers didn't advise against such an appearance. Or maybe all the adept ones are already gone, sacrificed on the altar of his own ego.

Thursday, July 07, 2011

One man army

No one ever accused Zbigniew Ziobro of being nice. Ziobro prides himself on being a slightly arrogant, super-confident political son of a gun. Prime Minister Donald Tusk knows this well. The PM got an earful from Ziobro, a euro-MP for Law and Justice (PiS), on Wednesday in Brussels when presenting Poland's EU Presidency goals at the European Parliament.

Ziobro's one man attack on Tusk and his Civic Platform (PO)-led government was vociferous and played well to the Radio Maryja crowd grouping the less tolerant of Polish society and those who already can't stand Tusk. But Ziobro's main line of attack betrayed less the government's alleged autocratic ways and more Ziobro's serious memory problem.

"Your government in Poland has undertaken mass firings of journalists at public TV," Ziobro railed. "Is this only because they were critical of the government?" Ziobro clearly forgot when the PiS-led government of 2005-07, which he was part of as a politically active justice minister, undertook mass firings of journalists so PiS-friendly ones could be put in place, including his current fiancee. If he can't remember how his betrothed got her job, how's he going to remember their anniversary?

Ziobro then accused Tusk of liquidating the daily Rzeczpospolita, which is poor man's local version of the Wall Street Journal. A leftist businessman/publisher recently bought a controlling stake in the holding company of Rzeczpospolita, whose political section is very critical of the government and usually very light on Ziobro's PiS.

But this is where things get really weird or really strategic.

Ziobro's anti-Tusk rant was part of an attempt to weaken PiS, the centre-left daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported on Thursday. The thinking is that if PiS leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski leads his party to yet another electoral defeat in October, the way will be opened to a new leader. Ziobro knows this and so has gone an attack to make PiS look extremist and lose the election this fall. 

And just who is next in line? Well, a handsome, young, energetic politician with Brussels experience, one Zbigniew Ziobro.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Crazy like a duck

Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski, sometimes called the duck, his surname's meaning, might face a court-ordered psychiatric test to see whether he is loco. Though we all know the answer to that one, the latest court ruling actually means he might escape such an ignominious event, barely.

It all started when a judge hearing a slander case between Kaczynski and Janusz Kaczmarek, an interior minister fired by Kaczynski during his rule in 2006-07 and who Kaczynski accused of being a "sleeper agent," ruled recently that Kaczynski should undergo a psychiatric evaluation. This was in part to see whether he was fit to stand trial since Jaroslaw was sedated heavily in the wake of the April 2010 plane crash that killed his twin brother Lech, the then president.

The ruling touched off a veritable storm, as could be expected when a court order implies the leader of the opposition could be crazy. No master of understatement, Kaczynski accused the government of trying to put in place a dictatorship or some such thing.

The original judge was replaced and a new one began looking at the case. Her first ruling on the matter came Monday and it was to stop an evaluation that had been set for July 6. This does not mean a reversal of the original ruling regarding the test, though this seems likely eventually.

But if the judge does take a "mad" decision, a "crazy" test could be called. If Kaczynski refused to comply, he could be detained and forcibly made to undergo the evaluation as long as the lower house allowed for it. Though that seems unlikely, it raises at least the possibility of what would be a hilarious vote.

The test, if it does occur, will paint Jaroslaw as either (a) an obsessive-compulsive paranoid delusional with a fetish for cats or (b) an upstanding member of the community with a healthy respect for debate, democracy and deliberation. You make the call.

How many Poles does it take...

...to paralyze an airport? One, but he has to operate this crane. Apparently, the crane is 17 metres tall and is directly in the way of airplanes approaching Krakow's Balice airport. Its work puts landing and taking off airplanes at risk. Hence, the airport was shut down for four hours on Monday and Tuesday. Eleven flights were cancelled and incoming planes were redirected to the not-so-nearby Katowice airport.

Who says Poles are not an innovative nation? Too bad we always find so many ways to break something...rather than invent it.

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Are we morons?

I know the answer to that one! But I rather meant us, as Poles in general, rather than us as in Poland X. The question pops up every year sometime in late June or early July when Poland's education body releases results of the "matura" exam (baccalaureate in British or final exams in North American) that ends high school.

Every year the scenario repeats itself. People moan over the high number of students failing the exam. This year it was an unusually high 25 percent, which supposedly means younger generations of Poles are not exactly a bunch of Albert Einsteins. Now if you think that a 75-percent success ratio is good, please bear in mind that to fail the exam you had to have a score of...30 percent or lower. Yes, 30 percent!

This year's exam was supposedly tricky, hence the 25 percent failure rate, because the math section contained "unconventional" questions. What surprised me the most, however, was that the government body responsible came out immediately to saythat they will rethink this approach before next year's exam, i.e., they will surely dumb it down.

I honestly don't think all the kids these days are morons. I am sure that a lot of them had a score way better than 30. However, the system is certainly moronic.

First of all who the fuck needs an exam that has such a low pass/fail threshold? Especially one that is supposed to qualify students for colleges and universities, few of which hold exams of their own and rather use the result from the "matura" as a grade. Such an exam fails at this utterly. It also fails as a way to motivate young people to study hard and improve their skills. After all what is the prize if only the most lazy/stupid/busy kids don't pass?

This exam is just an element of the entire education system where people pat kids on the back each year lowering standards, requirements, adding useless exams that are designed to be passed by nearly everyone, until these kids finish college.... when they hit a 20 percent unemployment level and suddenly realize the world doesn't need 5,000 new philisophy or Japanese literature graduates, but rather needs butchers, plumbers, or car mechanics who make 3 times more money.

So are the kids morons, no. Are we? not so sure anymore.