Piece of Plane Becomes Holy Relic

April 29, 2010

Holy Piece of Tupolev Tu-154

Holy Piece of Tupolev Tu-154

If anyone had previously believed Poland was a secular state there is no doubt now that the opposite is true following the tragic Smolensk air crash. In some ways it was comforting to see the very public outpouring of grief after the disaster but what was striking were the religious overtones that accompanied the grief. Mourners spoke of the “need” to join in grief and the “duty” of every “real Polish, Catholic patriot” to say goodbye to the President. What was even more striking were the mourners who queued for up to eighteen hours to kneel and make the sign of the cross before the coffins of President Lech Kaczyński and Maria Kaczyński. To outsiders looking in, it would appear that tens of thousands of Polish people were saying farewell to a holy man, a saint perhaps.

The Virgin Mary's New Clothes

The Virgin Mary's New Clothes

Now it seems that a piece of the Tupolev Tu-154 has taken on Holy Relic status. Inhabitants of Smolensk found a small piece of the plane and gifted it to Poland. Father Roman Majewski of the Jasna Góra Monastery, Poland’s most famous holy sanctuary, has said that this relic will become “a testament to the tragedy and a symbol of our love for our nation”. The tiny piece of the Tupolev Tu-154 will adorn the new ‘robes and crown’ of the Black Madonna of Częstochowa, Poland’s holiest relic. As well as the piece of the Tupolev, the Virgin Mary’s new robes, designed by Mariusz Drapikowski, will also contain fragments of meteorites found on the Moon, Mars and Mercury.


Katyń Returns to Haunt Poland

April 10, 2010

Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.

Lech & Maria Kaczyńska R.I.P.

Poland’s list of tragedies keeps on growing. The 10th April will live long in the memory of Poles around the world. On this day, 70 years ago, the cream of Poland’s political, cultural and intellectual elite were massacred in the forests of Katyń by Soviet officers on orders from Joseph Stalin. On the 10th April 2010, in one fatal, tragic swoop, Poland lost its President, Lech Kaczyński; Ryszard Kaczorowski, Poland’s last President-in-exile, Jerzy Szmajdziński, deputy Speaker of the House and presidential candidate, as well as a host of other political, church and military dignitaries. In fact, Poland lost its entire military command who were also on the tragic flight to Katyń. As former President Aleksander Kwaśniewski said, “Katyń is an accursed place for the Polish nation”.

Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes

Tupolev Tu-154 Crashes

Conditions were poor over Smolensk airport. Thick fog ominously swirled about the airport and forests around Smolensk. The Polish Presidential Tupolev Tu-154 circled the airport. It was obvious that there were problems. The tower recommended that the plane land elsewhere. However, the pilot attempted to land the plane four times. Each time without success. On its final attempt, not more than 1 km from the runway, the Tupolev Tu-154 caught the treetops with its left wing, crashed and exploded in a ball of flames engulfing all 96 passengers and members of the crew. Even though they arrived within minutes, the emergency services realised that all they could do was put out the flames. There were no survivors.

Among the tragic dead were:

Kaczorowski, last President-in-exile

Kaczorowski, President-in-exile

President and Personnel
Lech Kaczyński, President of the Republic of Poland
Maria Kaczyńska, First Lady of the Republic of Poland
Mariusz Handzlik, Deputy Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Ryszard Kaczorowski, last President of the Polish government-in-exile
Andrzej Kremer, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs
Sławomir Skrzypek, President of the National Bank of Poland
Władysław Stasiak, Chief of the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland
Aleksander Szczygło, Head of the National Security Bureau
Paweł Wypych, Secretary of State in the Office of the President of the Republic of Poland

Szmajdzinski, Presidential candidate

Szmajdziński, Left Wing Leader

Members of Parliament
Krystyna Bochenek, Deputy Speaker of the Senate
Leszek Deptuła, member of the Sejm
Grzegorz Dolniak, member of the Sejm
Janina Fetlińska, member of the Senate
Grażyna Gęsicka, member of the Sejm
Przemysław Gosiewski, member of the Sejm
Izabela Jaruga-Nowacka, member of the Sejm
Sebastian Karpiniuk, member of the Sejm
Aleksandra Natalli-Świat, member of the Sejm
Krzysztof Putra, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Arkadiusz Rybicki, member of the Sejm
Jerzy Szmajdziński, Deputy Speaker of the Sejm
Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, member of the Sejm
Zbigniew Wassermann, member of the Sejm
Wiesław Woda, member of the Sejm
Edward Wojtas, member of the Sejm
Stanisław Zając, member of the Senate

General Franciszek Gągor

General Franciszek Gągor

Military figures
Lieutenant General Andrzej Błasik, Chief of the Polish Air Force
Major General Tadeusz Buk, Commander of the Polish Land Forces
General Franciszek Gągor, Chief of the Polish Army General Staff
Vice Admiral Andrzej Karweta, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Navy
General Włodzimierz Potasiński, Commander-in-chief of the Polish Special Forces

Religious figures
Archbishop Miron Chodakowski, Orthodox Ordinary of the Polish Army
Tadeusz Płoski, bishop of the Military Ordinariate of the Polish Army
Ryszard Rumianek, Rector of the Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński University

Katyń, Accursed Forest

Katyń, Accursed Forest

Others
Janusz Kochanowski, Polish Ombudsman for Citizen Rights
Janusz Kurtyka, President of the Institute of National Remembrance and historian
Piotr Nurowski, President of the Polish Olympic Committee
Maciej Płażyński, President of the Polish Community Association and co-founder of Civic Platform (PO)
Andrzej Przewoźnik, Secretary-General of the Council for the Protection of Struggle and Martyrdom Sites
Anna Walentynowicz, free trade union activist, member of Solidarity
Janusz Zakrzeński, actor

May they all rest in peace. Those here and those left unmentioned.
Let us end with the words of Zbigniew Herbert (from “Guziki”):

…a bird flew by, a cloud floats along
a leaf falls, a plant sprouts
and silence on high
and the mist steams over Katyń forest…


No Polish, Please

December 14, 2009

European Film Awards

European Film Awards

The European Film Academy Awards certainly don’t aspire to be anything like the Oscars. And they certainly aren’t. Once again, I had the pleasure of taking part in the event, this time in the Rhineland city of Bochum in the industrial settings of the Jahrhunderthalle. Although this post is not about my adventures swanking about with European film’s nobs and toffs, it does nicely set the scene for something which not only irked me but downright riled me.

Beautiful Düsseldorf

Beautiful Düsseldorf

I arrived in Germany on Friday afternoon and left Düsseldorf’s shiny new airport by a science-fiction-like shuttle service which looks something like a cross between an amusement park ride and a whizzing Star Trek space pod. Düsseldorf is a modern city slap bang in the centre of the sprawling Ruhr metropolis. The shuttle took me to the station and from there I caught the train to Bochum.

Multicultural Germany

Multicultural Germany

One of the many things that always strikes me about Germany is its ethnic mix, the cultural crucible that is so apparent in all of its urban centres. Waiting for the train I heard Turkish, Greek, a Slav language (perhaps Serbian?) and Arabic, to name but a few. As much as I strained my ears, however, not once did I hear Polish, although I could have sworn that many of the Rhineland denizens looked decidedly Pole-like.

No Poland

No Poland

I got to the the hotel. I smiled at the young blonde at the desk, the letters on her name tag shouted back at me: “Walczak”. “Are you Polish?” I enquired. “Half-Polish,” she said. She spoke a little Polish, had even been to Poland and Warsaw but conceded that Poland just wasn’t her cup of tea. It seemed a strange answer as it sounded more like an excuse.

Cleaning Away Language

Cleaning Away Language

A little later that day I heard the hotel cleaning ladies happily chirping away in Polish as I left my room for a wander. They were thrilled to hear me speak Polish and just as excited to talk to me about my adventures with the European Film Academy. We took the lift together down to the reception but no sooner did they spot reception than they reverted to a thickly-accented German. “Odd,” I thought.

Unwanted Gastarbeiter

Unwanted Gastarbeiter

This pattern kept repeating itself with Polish names and Polish people seemingly everywhere, yet every time they used Polish it seemed limited, stunted or somehow ‘not right’. The only real explanation seems to be the German attitude to the use of Polish. To my mind, Germany’s approach to the native tongues of ‘Gastarbeiter’, especially Polish ones, is nigh on fascist, with no real sense of European solidarity, something which the Germans, allegedly, pride themselves on.

Looking From Afar

Looking From Afar

This fact seemed all the more ironic when I stood, wine glass in hand (looking extremely suave in my dinner jacket), watching Europe’s top filmmakers, producers and actors, most of them German (due to the location of the event), clap, cheer and ‘bravo’ Andrzej Wajda, Krystyna Janda, Maciej Stuhr and Marcel Lozinski during the film awards ceremony. Is pluralism really only an elitist idea or is it an elistist cover-up?


Round Table Anniversary

February 6, 2009

Mazowiecki, Kuroń, Wałęsa, Kwaśniewski...

Foreground (l-r): Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Lech Wałęsa. Background (l-r): Kuroń, Geremek, Kwaśniewski.

Today is a wonderful day. The 6th February 2009 is the 20th anniversary of one of the most important moments in European history. On the 6th February 1989, twenty years ago, the so-called ‘Round Table’ talks kicked off in Warsaw and so began the dismantling of the totalitarian regime in Poland.

Good vs. Evil
The Round Table talks were pretty amazing as they saw the communist government invite representatives of Solidarity (the anti-government, anti-communist, pro-democratic semi-legal opposition) as well as members of the Catholic Church (sworn enemies of communism) to the table in order to discuss the future. The very fact that all of these people were able, and wanted, to sit down and together discuss the future of their country was unprecedented on a European, and perhaps even global, scale.

Forces of Good
The members of the Solidarity opposition who sat at the Round Table (and in later years became key figures in Polish politics) included: Lech Wałęsa (leader of Solidarity), Bronisław Geremek (chief consultant to Lech Wałęsa), Tadeusz Mazowiecki (editor-in-chief of the weekly Solidarność), Jacek Kuroń (Solidarity advisor and founder of the Workers’ Defence Committee), Adam Michnik (Solidarity advisor and Workers’ Defence Committee member) and Lech Kaczyński (Solidarity advisor).

Forces of Evil
The governmental side at the Round Table included: General Czesław Kiszczak (member of the Politbiuro and Minister of Internal Affairs), Leszek Miller (member of the Central Committee of the Party) and Aleksander Kwaśniewski (Minister for Young People).  The infamous General Kiszczak is said to have played a fundamentally positive role in the talks. Leszek Miller and Aleksander Kwaśniewski, perhaps not huge players at the time, were set for dazzling careers in Polish politics in the years to come.

Wałęsa at the Table

Wałęsa at the Table

Repercussions
The talks were pivotal in the fact that they saw the bitterest of enemies sit down and constructively discuss the future of a nation on the brink of economic and social collapse. As a result, Solidarity gained a tangible foothold in Eastern European politics and led to the disintegration of communism throughout Europe. The Round Table not only began the erosion of communism within Europe, but the participants (including the much-maligned communists) actively worked towards the dismantling of a totalitarian regime that they realised no longer had a future.

Round Table Careers
The political legacy of the talks can still be felt today. Beginning with the Solidarity side, Lech Wałęsa went on to become President of Poland, Bronisław Geremek was Minister of Foreign Affairs, Tadeusz Mazowiecki was Poland’s first post-war democratically-elected Prime Minister, Jacek Kuroń became Minister of Labour and Social Policy, Adam Michnik founded Poland’s first post-war free newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and Lech Kaczyński is currently President of Poland. As for the communists, Leszek Miller became Polish Prime Minster whereas Aleksander Kwaśniewski was President of Poland. Three Presidents, two Prime Ministers and a host of ministers is quite a legacy.


Federal Republic of Poland

March 4, 2008

Rzeczpospolita Polska Federalna A few years ago I had an enthralling discussion with an historian, a proponent of a federal model of national administration. In time, I have come round to this view of thinking. Obviously, the federal system does not work for all countries and states but there is much to be said for this system in the case of Poland.

Why a Federal Poland?

Poland desperately suffers from chronic centralisation. Poland’s current provinces lack the political clout to force through decisions that might have a direct influence on the situation within that area. The divisions put forward here are based on the historical regions of Poland which have been superimposed on the current provinces. The larger województwa or prowincje most importantly divide the population of the country into five roughly equal parts in terms of population. The future federal divisions would look something like this:

Pomorze

Pomorze (The Province of Pomerania)

Herb województwa pomorskiego Area: 65,397 km2
Population: 5,313,876

The new Province of Pomerania would include województwo zachodniopomorskie (West Pomeranian Province), pomorskie (Pomeranian Province) which is a logical step, but additionally it would be expanded by warmińsko-mazurskie (Warmian-Masurian Province) in order to bring money to this area.

Wielkopolska
Wielkopolska
(The Province of Greater Poland)

Herb województwa wielkopolskiegoArea: 61,780 km2
Population: 6,449,345

The new Province of Greater Poland would include most of the historical Wielkopolska covered by województwo wielkopolskie (Province of Greater Poland), lubuskie (Lubusz Province) and kujawsko-pomorskie (Kuyavian-Pomeranian Province).

Mazowsze
Mazowsze (The Province of Mazovia)

Herb województwa mazowieckiegoArea: 73,996 km2
Population: 8,937,946

The new Province of Mazovia could be controversial bringing together województwo mazowieckie (Mazovian Province) and województwo łódzkie (Łódź Province). It would also include województwo podlaskie (Podlasie Province).

Śląsk


Śląsk
(The Province of Silesia)

Herb województwa śląskiegoArea: 41,654 km2
Population: 8,658,881

The new Province of Silesia is not problematic from a historical point of view incorporating województwo dolnośląskie (Lower Silesian Province), śląskie (Silesian Province) and opolskie (Opole Province), however, local rivalries may make life difficult to begin with.

Małopolska


Małopolska
(The Province of Lesser Poland)

Herb województwa małopolskiegoArea: 69,857 km2
Population: 8,832,967

The new Province of Małopolska would incorporate województwo małopolskie (Province of Lesser Poland), świętokrzyskie (Świętokrzyskie Province), podkarpackie (Subcarpathian Province) and lubelskie (Lublin Province).

Equal Opportunities

The largest province in terms of area and population would be Mazowsze which includes Podlasie (in order to rejuvenate the area). The smallest province would be Silesia in terms of size and Pomorze in terms of population. The most important element in these new divisions would be the fact that poorer regions would be ‘tagged onto’ richer areas, for example, Podlasie joining Warsaw and Łódź, Warmia & Mazury would be attached to Pomorze and the Podkarpackie (Subcarpathian) and Lublin areas would adjoin Kraków.

Local Politics

Perhaps decentralisation would pull Polish politicians away from ‘big table’ politics and push them towards working directly with local authorities whose mandate would be fundamentally local. Poland has for many years suffered from fractious and fractured politics which have created a divisive political environment not conducive to cooperation and ironically, the spirit of solidarity.


New Battle Begins

November 4, 2007

A new battle begins. The forces and good and evil will be pitted against one another once again. But this time, it is the forces of good that have the upper hand.

Pussy Cat DollsCivic Platform (PO) – a.k.a. the Pussy Cat Dolls – will now bear the mantle of the forces of good, the beautiful-looking, sweet-smelling cherubs of success. Take a look at the characters we have in PO. Their leader Donald Tusk is a sleek, well-groomed tall man in the charater of a real European man of state. His fellow PO-ites are also usually well-groomed and well-spoken.

LordiThe job of Law and Justice (PiS) – a.k.a. Lordi – will now be to break through this shell of perfume and make-up and show the world the true face of ‘The Platform’. However, the collective maws of PiS make a sorry sight. The Kaczyński twins (aka ‘potato heads’) are known for their unkempt looks, out-sized suits and ability to break the sentence of any language.

Brain against brawn? Looks against charm? Parliament re-opens for service on Monday…


On the Eve of War

October 15, 2007

The countdown begins. Millions of Poles will be visiting polling stations around the country to cast their vote and decide who will take Poland forward for the next four years. Many political scientists have said that these will be the most important elections since 1989 with Poles being, at last, fully conscious of the burdens of democracy and the responsibility of choice.

Let Battle Commence
Turnout is what is most important in these elections. Only a large turnout will guarantee a genuine mandate for government for the political party that wins. A large turnout would also bring an end to the apathy and disenchantment surrounding Polish politics since 1989.

Knights in Shining Armour
As a commentator it would be irresponsible and unfair of me to pinpoint a candidate or a party who I prefer or like. Yes, I criticise Law and Justice (PiS) but the job of commentators and journalists is to keep the government on its toes, whoever it is. Let’s briefly look at the four parties that, I believe, really matter.

PO
Donald TuskMost people believe Civic Platform (PO) is the only powerful and viable alternative to PiS. Their strength lies in the fact that they have a positive approach to free enterprise, social relations, freedom of thought and most of the core values of democracy. Their members are generally centre-right and come from intellectual, academic or business backgrounds. In his recent mano-a-mano debate with the Prime Minister, PO leader Donald Tusk proved to be a tough and witty adversary outclassing the PM with concrete and elegant ripostes.

PiS
KaczyńskiThe ruling party has not made many friends in the international or domestic world during their two years in government. It began with the dismissal of charismatic PM Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz by party leader Kaczyński who later took over the PM mantle. Without doubt their greatest sin was forming a coalition with populist Self-Defence (Samoobrona) and right-wing, extremist League of Polish Families (LPR). Both minnows were later ejected by the PM which, in effect, caused the destabilisation of government and the need for new elections.

LiD
Kwaśniewski The Left and Democrats (LiD) were initially supposed to be a party of unification and dialogue bringing together people from the centre-right and centre-left, however, they appear leader-less and weak. Leader Wojciech Olejniczak is leader in name only and their figure-head, former President Aleksander Kwaśniewski, rather than boost the party’s popularity (which he initially did) has rambled slovenly from one media blunder to another. Kwaśniewski recently appeared drunk in public on two occasions and is known for his penchant for the hard stuff.

PSL
Waldemar PawlakThe dark horse of these elections is without doubt the Polish Peasant Party (known also as the Polish People’s Party) headed by Waldemar Pawlak. Unbeknown to many, PSL is actually Poland’s oldest political party with traditions dating back to the parliament of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. PSL has over the past few years evolved into a party of quiet intelligence avoiding controversy and commentating only on those issues that require discussion. It is the only party to actively search for dialogue and cooperation. Through the recent acquisition of young entrepreneur and Gadu Gadu founder Łukasz Foltyn, PSL has shown it will also be a force for business and innovation.

And the Winner is…
Four parties with four different approaches to politics and four different visions of Poland’s future in Europe and the world. PO and PiS will be fighting head-to-head for the largest slice of the pie but what is of additional interest is how much of the pie will be given to LiD and PSL. Will LiD become Poland’s ‘third’ power? Will PSL be able to win the rural vote and spread into the towns and cities? Zero hour is Sunday.