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, 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

First Ever Poland X Election Awards!

Before we need to shut down at midnight due to pre-election agitation restrictions, let's talk about what can happen in Sunday's election and bestow the first Poland X Election Awards.

There are plenty of candidates in numerous categories, including the Most Successful Politician award, the Election Winner Award, the Big Loser Award, the Future Errand Boy award (aka, the junior coalition partner award) and the Stupidest Candidate Award.

Let's start with the big one: the Election Winner Award. This one goes to Civic Platform (PO) leader and outgoing Prime Minister Donald Tusk. In the end, despite a frighteningly poor campaign, Tusk looks set to overcome and win re-election, mainly thanks to a last-minute lifeline from Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski and the media frenzy over his Angela Merkel comments. The PO really had only one idea for the entire campaign: show off the star Donald Tusk as much as possible with minor supporting roles for Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski and Foreign Affairs Minister Radek Sikorski. Hence the victory is mostly Tusk's alone, though if the unlikely should happen and he loses, defeat will be his as well.

I think the race will be tighter than the 9-10 percentage point lead give by the  Gazeta Wyborcza in a Friday election prediction/wishful thinking. It will probably be somewhere between 4 and 6 percentage points, which in the end will actually solidify PiS's position as the main opposition party and keep it preeminent on the right wing of Poland's political spectrum. Jaroslaw Kaczynski is a solid runner-up in the Election Winner Award despite the fact -- as crazy as it sounds -- he is poised to lead his party to its sixth straight election loss.

But neither Kaczynski nor Tusk did enough to win the main solo prize in our contest. The Most Successful Politician award goes to...Janusz Palikot, who in just over a month has risen from zero to hero. I think he will become the No. 3 player in Poland's new parliament with his Palikot Movement (RP) getting a low double-digit result. This award is for reading Poles' sentiment much better than anyone else and executing a blitzkrieg media campaign against his former buddies from the PO and, most of all, rivals from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).
Now that we know who has the biggest dildo among Polish politicians, let's see who has the, that is, let's see who won the Biggest Loser Award. We really always had just a single front-runner in this category and I am happy to announce that he did not let us down...Grzegorz "I tag my family everywhere" Napieralski, the SLD leader, for now. This is an award for an amazing achievement, that ism pissing off almost every single leftist-minded voter in Poland below the age of 123 and with no communist-era background. Palikot's success is the SLD's failure and the left wing of the political spectrum is suddenly very crowded. Well done!

Now, let's see who will be Donald Tusk's Future Errand Boy, AKA, junior coalition partner. Yep, this time we have an incumbent winner. Polish Peasant Party (PSL) leader and outgoing Deputy PM Waldemar Pawlak should have enough votes to just make this award...unless not. Then it would most likely be Palikot, who could grab two of our prizes. But Pawlak is perfect in the job, especially as he has done it so well for four years.

For the most closely fought category -- the Stupidest Candidate Award -- it's been a real challenge. But Piotr Tylkowski, one of the many unknown politician wannabees tied to the Palikot Movement wins the prize! Here is a clip with his performance. The obvious runner-up, for desperation mainly, is the stripping SLD girl. An SLD politician who did a death metal political ad is high up on the list as well.

Happy voting!

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Desperate stripper

People in desperate situations will do desperate things, a bit like cornered animals. Now, if you are running for parliament on the list of the ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) which gets as low as 6 percent support in some polls, then your situation is indeed desperate. However, if you have spot number 24 on that list, you are completely really really desperate to get people's attention.

We all know that two things that sell well are gore and sex, and clearly SLD candidate Katarzyna Lenart knows that too. Since gore would probably exclude her from running for Polish parliament, she decided to go for sex. So she stripped. In an official campaign ad.

The punchline is "Want more? Vote SLD" Well, hell, I want more. Who doesn't. But I would like to get it in writing that if she makes it to parliament a special Director's Cut version will get released.

Ms. Lenart of course claims she did this only to draw people's attention toward her election programme, which is also viewable on YouTube, but who would bother watching that if already in the first clip she shows you everything she has to offer?

So first, we have the PSL spot suggesting sex and now this. Who would dare to say this is a boring election campaign.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Kaczynski: Merkel is Stasi

Law and Justice (PiS) leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has a campaign to run, dammit. So what if that campaign must include some Germanophobia and outrageous accusations regarding how Angela Merkel, the leader of one of the most important countries in the world, was elected. Poland will not be some client state in the heart of Europe kow-towing to Germany or, worse, Russia. Long live a free Poland (for those who like PiS, at least)!

Something like that must have been Jaroslaw Kaczynski's thinking when he wrote in a recent book that Merkel's winning of the German chancellorship in 2005 "was not the result of pure coincidence."

When pressed on such inflammatory statements by Newsweek Polska, Kaczynski said "she knows what I mean to say. That's enough."

Kaczynski clearly wants to suggest some foul play involving former Stasi and maybe Russians, liberals, oil companies, mafia, possibly Jews and maybe even Orcs. This is PiS's tried and true technique. Kaczynski and his party often use the stigma "German" to mean "anti-Polish." Donald Tusk and his famous grandpa from the Wehrmacht know this well.

Funnily enough, Kaczynski made insinuations again on Tuesday, confronting a journalist who dared ask a probing question regarding his 'I know but won't tell' method whether the journalist was "from German media or Polish media." A PiS candidate and close ally of Kaczynski was later caught on film saying the journalist's questions weren't "Polish."

But what might sound good to the radical nationalists and Catholics and self-styled Polish "patriots" that support Kaczynski probably doesn't sound so great to the Germans or Mrs. Merkel herself. In fact, it seems like the epitome of stupidity to cast doubt on the background of what would be your most important partner, particularly when she holds Europe's purse strings and EU countries are smack dab in the middle of talks on a new EU budget.

Kaczynski has promised Poland won't bow down to anyone, insinuating again -- you can see the pattern -- that the outgoing government does so. But he also promises to get billions more from the EU, particularly for farmers.

If Kaczynski does manage to pull off a shock upset in Sunday's elections, you just know the Germans will have their own plans to deal what really is Poland's own little dictator.


Just when we painted the picture of the underdog Law and Justice (PiS) coming back to have the chance to win the race amid a disastrous election campaign by the frontrunner Civic Platform (PO), two opinion polls show the ruling party way way ahead. Several days ahead of the Sunday parliamentary vote the daily Gazeta Wyborcza gave the PO a 10 percentage point lead and the daily Rzeczpospolita gave it a bewildering 15 percentage point lead! Two other polls released this week showed the parties effectively tied.

So, basically five days ahead of the election, we have two pollsters saying that the two leading parties are nearly tied and two pollsters saying they are light years apart as that 10-percentage point difference translates into something like 72 more seats, according to Wyborcza.

It looks like even pollsters have got caught up in the partisan reality of Polish politics: some appear skewed towards PiS and others towards the PO.

Such a spread in surveys means that they are absolutely useless in determining support for the parties ahead of elections, or rather you can choose the pre-election reality you live in: the PO is about to win easily or they have a dogfight on their hands.

But there is a bright side to this. This time around maybe at least one of the polls will get the final election results right come Sunday night.

Neck and neck

The Civic Platform (PO) has a big polling lead. A month or so before the election, all and sundry talk about how boring the election campaign is. The only real question is with whom the PO will govern. But Law and Justice (PiS) runs an excellent campaign. Jaroslaw Kaczynski's party, which moderates massively for the race, starts from well back but successively closes the gap with the PO until just before the election, it pulls even. Then, it scores a shock victory on Sunday.

It's funny how the current 2011 campaign looks like the 2005 version described above. Will PiS really be able to win? Will the PO really squander away what was an over 20-percentage point polling lead not too very long ago?

Yes and yes.

First, saying PiS can win the election does not mean they will. Most polls still put the PO ahead and Kaczynski still has a big negative electorate.

But Kaczynski is running from the opposition, unlike in 2007 when he was the prime minister of stormy, chaotic, frankly embarrassing governments. Running from the opposition puts the onus on the government and means he does not have to defend his track record. On the defensive, Kaczynski is prickly and alienating.

Prime Minister and PO leader Donald Tusk has also built up a negative electorate. Or, at the very least, he has used up a lot of his political capital. The PO has likewise alienated its core electorate with a move to the wishy-washy centre.

The Platform has also given relatively cautious promises compared with PiS and other parties promising billions to anyone from pensioners to families to industrial workers. In fact, the PO promises little, except for the fact it is not PiS and Tusk is not Kaczynski. When it tried to be the default pick in 2005, this failed miserably. When in 2007, it gave voters something to vote for, it won.

Somehow, the guy behind the Civic Platform's disastrous 2005 election campaigns is back and running the equally dismal 2011 version.

So, PiS can clearly win on October 9. Will it is another question. It is just possible that the PO has PiS just where it wants them in that a Kaczynski that can win the election could just be the motivation PO voters need to actually vote again and to vote for the PO. It should be an interesting few days….