Thursday, 1 October 2009

'Galerianki': Poland's Lolita Mallrats

'Galerianki' is a new word in Polish. The easiest way to translate it directly into English would be to use the American term 'mallrats'.

But whereas 'mallrats' conjures up images of geeky comic book fans (as seen in the Kevin Smith film) who hang round shopping centres because they have nothing better to do, 'galerianki' signifies something much more unpleasant-- underage girls, some as young as 12, who exchange sexual favours in return for cash, clothes and gadgets in Poland's ever-increasing number of shopping centres.

The term, and the phenonomen which spawned it, have come to public attention partly because of a new film, "Galerianki", which won the Golden Lion award for best directorial debut. (Katarzyna Rosłaniec)

The following is a brief extract from an interview with Dr. Elżbieta Michałowska, a specialist in social problems amongst young people:

Q: You claim that the problem of 'galeriankis' is one of the most dangerous trends amongst young people, and that it is becoming more and more common. Is the situation really that bad?

A: 'Galeriankis' are just the tip of the iceberg. Underage prostitution in general is sadly on the rise. Different motivations and needs create different types of prostitution.
There is forced prostitution, which usually takes place at home: The mother retires from prostitution and the daughter takes her place. A few years ago I carried out a study concerning pathologies in poor neighbourhoods in Łódż. I found some cases where the father would follow his daughter on the way to school, soliciting clients. During lunch break, the client would have sex with the girl and the father would keep the money.
There is also unforced prostitution, normally carried out by drug addicts and homeless youngsters. Sometimes the girls are paid in sandwiches rather than cash. These cases are truly desperate.
'Galerinakis' are not desperate. In their case, cultural factors are more dominant than economic factors.

Q:What do you mean?

A:I mean that they treat their bodies like a good or product. A quick look at magazines like 'Cosmopolitan' reveals that the body and sexuality are the main topics: How to improve and maintain your body in order to be attractive. Music videos on 'Viva' (TV channel for da yoof in Poland) aimed at young people, are the same. It is an erotic volcano. The artists appear in what are little more than adverts for their own bodies, paid for by men. Now, i'm not a puritan but it scares me what young people can watch theses days. In modern pop-culture, the body is a product and it is to be consumed. This ethos is most common amongst the young, the teenagers brought up in the free market. These days I read blogs and internet forums as part of my research into 'galeriankis' and I have found something which is becoming more and more popular: Selling virginity. These girls are putting their virginity on sale.

Q:How much does it cost?

A:Recently the going rate was around 1000-1500 złotys.

Not much.

A:Not much, yet it still goes on. As well as the cultural factors which we have discussed, we have to talk about the commercialisation of modern life. Underage girls aspiring to prostitution is one effect of this. They earn the things that they want, or that they think they need. 'Galeriankis' more often exchange sex for gifts, not money: an MP3 player, the latest model of mobile phone, some good cosmetics......

Dr. Elżbieta Michałowska works for the Sociology Institute at the University of Łódż.
Interviewer: Joanna Podgórska

Translated by Czarny Kot 01/10/09 Source: 'Polityka' magazine.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Millenium Schools: A Case of Selective Memory

Amidst the recent rash of anniversaries commemorating some of the darkest moments in Poland's history, there was one milestone which marked an altogether more positive event-- the 50th anniversary of the founding of Poland's first 'millenium school'. These modern, well-equipped schools started to appear all over Poland from September 1959. The name 'millenium' celebrated a thousand years of the Polish state.
Strangely, this anniversary has been completely overlooked. Why? Here is an extract from a report by Krysztof Pilawski, taken from 'Przegląd' magazine:

Pact of Silence

The celebrations had been planned for months-- the first day of the new school year at Primary School No. 7 in Czeladż would coincide with the the 50th anniversary of its founding as the first of Poland's 'millenium' schools. City authorities had bought flags and banners and had published a special book to mark the occasion. Invitations were sent to the highest officials in the country. The guests, however, did not arrive. Donald Tusk did not attend. Neither did he send anyone as his representative. The PM did not write a letter sending his best wishes. A letter was sent by the deputy director of the PM's office saying that he was unable to attend but it said nothing about the anniversary.

So why should the head of the government have been in Czeladż on 2nd September?

Because Donald Tusk claims that education is a priority for his government.
Because school 7 in Czeladż ws the first of 1417 schools built under the programme "a thousand schools for a thousand years."
Because the millenium schools were an unprecedented development in Polish education.
Because the millenium schools, with their bright classrooms, gym facilities, libraries, common rooms, medical facilities, canteens, toilets and cloakrooms, guaranteed a European level of education to people whose standard of living and financial status were often well below European levels.
Because the millenium schools created the extra places needed in order to educate the post-war baby boom.
Because the millenium schools realised the ideal of equality of opportunity for all children and young people..
in the 50 years since their founding the millenium schools have educated millions of Poles.
Because the millenium schools served not only the PRL but also the children of the 3rd Republic.

Why did the PM decide to ignore the anniversary?

Because by going to Czeladż he would contradict his view that WW2 finished in 1989.
Because this would contradict the new WW2 museum which he is building, which is based on the idea of a '50 year war'.
Because this casts doubt on the idea that there was no difference between Nazism and Communism.
Because it would contradict the opinion that the PRL was a 'black hole' without any achievements to its credit.
Because it would put him on the side of the Communists, because the programme 'a thousand schools for a thousand years' was started by the First Secretary of the PZPR Władysław Gomułka.
Because Władysław Gomułka opened the school in Czeladż.
Because by praising an programme carried out by the war-damaged, desperately poor PRL, Tusk would draw attention to the fact that progress in education over the last 20 years has been very modest. The government has passed reponsibility for schools onto local authorities and is not even able to finance free meals for children from poor families......

Krysztof Pilawski is a Polish journalist.

Translated by Czarny Kot 28/09/09 Source: 'Przegląd' magazine.

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Devil's Fruits and Vodka Absurdity

The biggest story in Poland is the missile shield, or lack thereof, but it has been written, talked and blogged to death so here are 2 other topics which entered my head at some point or another recently.

1) Fruit machines: They have sprung up like mushrooms after rain in the last 6-9 months. First they were restricted to gaming parlours and pubs. Then they appeared in petrol stations. Now they are taking over any available space-- empty shops converted into dismal 2-machine casinos, 12 year old boys and depressed housewives relentlessly feeding them in supermarket foyers....
I don't gamble. Not for any religious or moral reason, just because it has always struck me as a very pointless, dull and expensive past-time. I have no problems with fruit machines in pubs and gaming parlours but that is where they should stay.
Of course, people will argue that i'm advocating a 'nanny state' approach and that the restrictions on fruit machines should be lifted in the name of 'choice', 'fun' and the divine right to make money by whatever means. If people are stupid enough to develop an addiction to these machines then that's their problem, right? Someone selling crack outside a school could use the same logic.
It looks like their here to stay, so now everytime I go to the supermarket and see a group of underage boys with glazed expressions crowded round the one-armed bandit i'll be reminded what a cheap and crass world this can be sometimes.

2) Vodka to Poland?: There is an expression in English which makes reference to my hometown: "To take coal to Newcastle." The Poles say something similar about taking wood to the forest. It is used to describe some pointless, illogical activity.
Some time in the past, they actually did start taking coal to Newcastle (some of it from Poland) and what was a byword for absurdity became normal.
This came to mind recently when I went to buy vodka for my wedding. I know a lot of Poles who buy Bols or Maximus but I always try to respect my adopted country by buying the far more patriotic Sobieski brand. I intended to do the same but unfortunately buying vodka for 40-odd people is expensive. The 2 cheapest (drinkable) brands were Smirnoff and Bols. Reluctantly, I ended up buying 50% Sobieski and 50% Smirnoff/Bols.
There is no love lost between Russia and Poland but they would both grudgingly accept that they both know about vodka. But Bols is Dutch. Dutch vodka at a Polish wedding!! If that is not taking coals to Newcastle, what is?
The Communist era threw up plenty of examples of absurdity (basketball nets on grass?!?) but people buying Dutch vodka for Polish weddings in order to save money shows that modern capitalism is all too capable of producing its own mind-boggling examples.

Saturday, 12 September 2009

Anniversary Fatigue

OK, back with batteries recharged (sort of) after a summer of drinking British ale, getting up late and getting married. I'm too lazy at the moment to find something to translate, let alone translate it, so just some things which have been going round my head in recent weeks:

1) Anniversary Fatigue:

I'm a history buff. I subscribe to BBC History Magazine and spend more money than I should on Amazon, buying books on anything and everything from Celtic Britain to Post-War Europe.
Given all this, you would think that the recent anniversary of the outbreak of WW2 would have made me happy-- plenty of articles and newspaper supplements to pore over. Not really.
The problem is that there have been so many of these anniversaries in such a short space of time (the Fall of Communism, D-Day, WW2 Outbreak and several more before) that they become depressingly familiar. Instead of dignified rememberance of human tragedy we get the undignified spectacle of politicians using these events as political footballs-- Putin says this, Kaczynski say this, ad nauseum.
It's not just politicians. In what I believe is called the 'Blogosphere', these anniversaries seem to coincide with sharp increases in ovegrown boys venting their WW2 reconstruction fantasies and naked xenophobia.
It is understandable that history forms a more important role in the public agenda in Poland than in other countries. This part of the world has seen more blood-shedding, brutality and back-stabbing than most. There comes a point, however, when the past dominates the present to an unhealthy degree. A casual glance at a Polish front page or news website in recent weeks would reveal that the news cycle is based almost exclusively on arguments about the past.

Let historians argue about the past, politicians are paid to think about the present and future. Hopefully there won't be any more controversial anniversaries in the near future and we can get back to the here and now.

Monday, 13 July 2009

The Beginner's Guide to Polish Music Pt. 1: Lady Pank

What with all the coups, death and politics I thought it would be a good idea to lighten things up a bit with an introduction to Polish music (well, Polish music that I know) First up we have the giants (or dinosaurs) of Polish rock-- Lady Pank-- who started way back in the 1980's (when they were called the 'Polish Police') and are still going today. The first song "Fiancee Crisis" (??) is from the start of thier career (1983) The second, "Always Where You Are" (??) is probably thier biggest hit, a wedding and karaoke standard from 1990. The final song, "Warsaw Station", is from the album before last, in 2004.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Rural Poland-- Garden of Eden or Heart of Darkness?

The recent popularity of films and TV programmes with rural settings has raised the question of how the countryside is perceived in modern Poland, and what this tells us about the country and its people. Is the countryside a rural idyll? Or a bastion of backwardness and superstition? Here is Robert Walenciak, writing in 'Przegląd' magazine......

Who to believe? Rural Poland is seen from 2 different perspectives. From one point of view it is an oppressive place which crushes individuality and is run by closed networks of family contacts and friends of friends. The people are suspicious of the outside world and at the same time they take too much interest in the lives of others, because their own lives are so unfulfilling.

From the other point of view, the countryside is a serene, welcoming place. This is the image that we can see right now, in films and TV programmes which are breaking box office and viewing records.

Rural mafias? Nonsense. It is simply social cohesion. People look after their own. All for one and one for all-- that's a good thing, right? Suspicion of the outside world? Does the outside world really deserve to be trusted? A slow, lazy pace of life? Isn't that what we all dream of?

This is the side of rural life that the Polish public want to see, and film and TV producers are happy to oblige. "U Pana Boga za Miedza" is the latest production in this current trend-- a crime comedy set in a small village in Podlasie. People go to watch it and they leave the cinema happy. The 2 prequels which preceded it were received with equal enthusiasm. Then there is "Ranczo", "Plebania", "Ojciec Mateusz"..... We are currently seeing a steady stream of films and TV series about the countryside, that good peaceful countryside. It is worth asking what lies behind this trend.....

Why sentiment? Because millions of us grew up in similar small towns and tiny villages and now we want to indulge in nostalgia about the good old days? Do we miss our happy, care-free childhoods?

Why the popularity of skansens (open air folklore museums)? Because they are oasises of peace and quiet, a shelter from the large cities and their relentlessly buzzing lifestyles? Because in a skansen people don't kill for money?

These are all good arguments but they do not explain everything.

Could it be then, that it is the great characters which make these films so popular? The village policeman, the provincial mayor, the parish councillor? Surely not, these stock characters have been with us since the 17th century!

Or perhaps we love these films because they show us ourselves, but in a more positive light. Of course, we all have our faults but in the big scheme of things these are minor defects which make us more colourful, more loveable. Gluttony? Go to a Polish beach in summer and try counting how many slimmers you can see. Ignorance and superstition? Perhaps it's better to be a peasant than a stuck-up know-it-all.

If films depict dreams then you could draw the conclusion that in today's Poland, there are not too many big dreams. Things are fine as they are. In the Polish countryside teenage boys do not play forbidden music in garages, wannabe directors do not make amateur films, the good people are among us and if anyone is bad they are probably an outsider. Also, thanks to the internet, mobile phones and satellite TV, our perception of the countryside has changed. A person can live there, enjoy its peace and quiet without feeling isolated from the world.

Poles, battered by the storms of history, are certainly in need of a period of peace and rest. Time to get to know themselves, to focus on the simple things. It seems that most agree that now is the time.

Robert Walenciak is a Polish journalist and assistant editor of 'Przegląd' magazine.

Translated by Czarny Kot 06/07/09 Source: 'Przegląd' magazine.

Saturday, 4 July 2009

Mexican Gothic

While the world focuses on places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, one of the bloodiest conflict in recent years has been the brutal drug war in northern Mexico. A seemingly endless stream of brutal and gruesome murders has become so normal that they hardly seem newsworthy. However, the following story represents a dark and disturbing episode, even by the horrific standards of recent times......

Police find 5 mummified corpses and animals sacrificed in a "narco-satanic" cermony.

Morelia, Michoacan state, 3rd July-- Officers from the Justice Department found 5 mummified corpses, 4 of them buried underneath inversed crucifixes, along with dozens of dead animals, an altar, candles and skulls. Among the sacrificed animals were toads, ducks, lambs, chickens and turkeys. 4 of the corpses were buried under a tree. The fifth corpse was found in a room, painted black, covered in bandages and sitting on a chair placed upon a table.

Authorities can confirm that the bodies were found in a large 2-storey farm house in the commune of Coatepec de Morelos, in Zitacuaro. Officers confiscated 100 cartridges of different calibers, as well as an AK-47 assault rifle. Items of uniforms belonging to the National Defence Forces and local police were also found.
There were no arrests during the operation.

Translated by Czarny Kot 04/07/09 Source:

Friday, 3 July 2009

Catalonia's Linguistic Minefield

A letter to the El Pais newspaper in Spain from a Japanese immigrant in Barcelona. The topic of the letter is the always touchy subject of linguistic politics in Catalonia. Translated by a Briton living in Poland. You couldn't make it up....

Imagine for a moment that you had emigrated to my country, Japan, with school-age children. You send your children to school under the impression that they will learn Japanese. However, when it comes to choosing a school you find that all the schools give lessons in a regional Japanese language ( Here in Japan we have regional languages, like in Spain and many other countries.) You find that no schools use Japanese as the classroom language.

I would guess that you, surprised, would ask why there are not any schools which use the offical language of the state. The authorities than tell you something about how they have to protect I don't know what, and that it is a type of pay back for someone or other who, 50 years ago, persecuted this regional language. You would be left wondering why, in Japan, you can't choose an education for your children in the official language, Japanese.

The situation described above has happened to me in Barcelona where there are currently no schools which use Spanish as the classroom language, either state or private.

In my country, everyone would understand that you,as an immigrant, would not have any interest in making sure your children learn a regional language-- only Japanese.
But here in Spain.. Don't people understand that we want to learn Spanish and not Catalan?

ATSUSHI FUKAZAWA - Barcelona - 03/07/2009

Translated by Czarny Kot 03/07/09 Source: El Pais

RIP Oscar Cardoso (1948-2009)

Argentinian journalist Oscar Cardoso died suddenly on Wednesday. The following is a translation of his last column.....

It is a strange sensation trying to decipher what is happening in Iran. There is information available coming from Tehran and other parts of the country but there is not enough. These days are different from the times of Enver Hoxha's Albania, which was hermetically sealed from the outside world. As the Chinese--who have increased restrictions on the internet this week-- have found, there is no way to fully restrict the flow in and out of a country. Now it is Iran's theocracy which is finding that its walls and barriers are transparent.

However, what a restrictive regime can do is severely limit the flow of information which allows us to confirm whether or not this demonstration happened, if the repression caused this much number of casualties, if the authorities are carrying out a crackdown etc.. Sometimes it is harder to navigate in poor light than in total darkness.

The Tianamen Square massacre of July 1989 led the Chinese regime to attempt to put a policeman or soldier next to every telephone with the capability to receive and send faxes. This was done using the fact that, by law, every fax machine had to be registered with the government. It was not a great success, but it is true that what happened in those days of social turmoil could only be fully narrated after the conflict had died down.

In Iran, the protests sparked by the alleged electoral fraud in the re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continue, although the scant information coming out of the capital talks of a sharp fall in the number of protesters in Tehran and the disappearance of rebellion from other cities.

This fading away of protest has its cause: The death of a protestor and the call for "relentless and cruel" justice coming from some of the most conservative clerics have certainly eroded some of the initial bravado of the protesters.

The dissidents do not have a structure, nor a real leader. The figurehead is the losing presidential candidate, Hosein Mousavi, a conservative with little charisma who came to the fore only because he had the courage to face up to the regime. This gives him prestige but it does not necessarily enable him to lead a complex opposition in a climate of repression.

Will any other parellels between the social rebellions in China and Iran arise as time goes by? Some of those in the know think so. Like in China, the dissidents in Iran will eventually have to retreat until they are in the condition to confront the regime with actions, not only words. Like the Chinese, the Iranians will discover that their central objective-- a more democratic regime-- will be beyond their reach.

Perhaps the similarities will continue if the regime realises that, with a population where more than 50% are 26 years old or younger, a central element of pacification should be inclusive social and economic reform. All of this, at least for now, is speculative. The high unemployment rate is one of the factors that has contributed to Ahmadinejad's loss of popularity. It is also one of the reasons tha more than 60% of the votes for incumbent are considered suspicious.

What is perfectly clear is that events in Iran have hit a nerve in the West. Proof of this is how the theme of rebellion has found its way to the top of the agenda of the USA and Europe.

Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, visited Barack Obama in Washington yesterday in a meeting made more important by various events. Obama wants a larger military contribution from Germany in Afghanistan and Berlin-- which has a temporary contingent of 300 already in place-- does not want to commit any further.

At the same time, Merkel does not think that Obama is doing enough the deal with the global financial and economic crisis and feels disappointed by Washington's rejection of her proposed initiative to create an international financial supervisory organisation.
Now, these issues will be splashed by the start of the Iranian flood. After 8 years of George W. Bush and his systematic demonisation of Iran, Europeans want Washington to understand reality: the central preoccupation of the Iranian theocracy is the survival of the Islamic Revolution. This survival is in the hands of the Iranian people, not in the cabinet discussions of Washington and London.

Perhaps it is all out of Obama's control. An important segment of the military, defence and diplomatic structure-- which still dances to the drum of Bush-- believes that it is necessary to take advantage of Iran's current problems in order to deliver a decisive blow. We all know how this ended up in Afghanistan and Iraq............

Oscar Cardoso was an Argentinian foreign correspondent and columnist.

Translated by Czarny Kot 03/07/09 Source: (Arg.)

Thursday, 2 July 2009

20 Years of Freedom. But what about before?

Much was made of the June 4th anniversary of the first free elections in Poland. Rightly so-- it was a historic moment and was a result of compromise and dialogue rather than violence and bloodshed. However, 20 years on, opinion polls show reflect attitudes that might surprise some people..... Taken from 'Przeglad' magazine:

20 years after the fall of the Communist system in Poland, the proportion of Poles who have a good opinion of the PRL (Polish People's Republic)-- 44% is higher than that of those who have a negative opinion-- 43%.
The positive feeling about the PRL continues, despite the billions of zloty spent on propagating a biased historical view of Poland as an occupied state. This one-sided, and therefore untrue, depiction of the PRL has failed to convince the majority of society.
(Poll carried out by CBOS, May 2009)

Translated (briefly and roughly) by Czarny Kot 02/07/09 Source: 'Przeglad'

TVP-- The Public Media Debate

The future of TVP, Poland's state television broadcaster, has been the subject of a lot of debate over the last year or so. In the UK, a similar debate over the BBC has tended to be drawn on Left-Right lines, with those on the left wanting to protect the state broadcaster as a bastion of high-quality, public service programming, while those on the right advocate letting the BBC fend for itself in the market.
The debate in Poland is often couched in similar terms but an extra twist is added by the fact that TVP has become the home of some rather extreme right-wing characters. Vice-president Piotr Farfal is a member of the far-right LPR party and is a former skinhead. A couple of months ago I caught an edition of the current affairs discussion programme 'Warto Rozmawiac' ('worth talking about') and they had a some crackpot from the States claiming that employing homosexual teachers puts children at risk. Funnily enough, the paedophile scandal in the Irish church did not make any headlines....

Here we have a For and Against piece from 'Przeglad' magazine on the future of public TV:

Q: Does Citizen's Platform (PO-ruling centre-right party) want to weaken public media?

YES-- Piotr Gadzinowski, politician from SLD (Alliance of the Democratic Left)

PO's every action is geared towards the weakening of public media and its privatisation. According to the leaders of PO they do not need to worry about it-- public service programming can be broadcast by commercial channels. This is what happens in New Zealand. Commercial channels are ordered to show a certain amount of educational and scientific programmes but they show them late at night. This is what PO's policy will lead to. Donald Tusk's (PM) declaration that all media should be able to earn their keep underlines the fact that he sees no difference bewteen public and commercial broadcasting.

NO-- Iwona Sledzinska-Katarasinska, MP from PO (Citizen's Platform)

No. PO wants to save public broadcasting, which is already in a dire state. Its funding is outdated and in the case of Polish Radio, which is in a very difficult situation, the money is being wasted on a lost cause. Television, on the other hand, does not live off public money-- it receives 300 million zloty from the licence fee but it spends 1.8 billion on advertising, sponsorship and other activities. Therefore, we need to start to control the expenditure of public money in TVP in order to find out exactly what is going on there.

Translated (roughly) by Czarny Kot 02/07/09 Source: Przeglad

Direct from Tegucigalpa

The following is an extract from an interview with a Honduran poet living in the capital Tegucigalpa......

In a telephone interview from Tegucigalpa, the poet Fabricio Estrada (Honduras, 1974) denounces the coup d'etat carried out by the armed forces.

Sr. Estrada supports the government of the President of Honduras: " Mel Zelaya opened a much needed space for all of the progressive forces in Honduras, for the benefit of all the historically dispossesed and marginalised classes in this country. What his government achieved was to create a platform for action for those sectors of society in favour of fundamental changes in Honduras. Among his key achievements was giving the power of participation to a population which has always been detached from the decisions of the state-- this threatened to cause a rapid erosion of the power of the traditional political class.

MC.- People woke up to news of the coup, now Congress is trying to legitimise it. How was this all received in Tegucigalpa?

FE.-We all know-- including reactionaries-- that the session in Congress is a farce, the purpose of which is to legitimise the coup legally using the Constitution of the Republic which the business leaders and those who have held power in this country for decades have repeatedly ignored when it was inconvenient for them. The oligarchy and sections of the population disorientated by the media bombardment have been clamouring for a coup since 3 weeks ago so therefore it is not a huge surprise what has happened. However, the disproportion of the military's actions were not expected. We thought that there would be a growing crisis without the intervention of the military, who were thought of as professional and non-partisan. In the back of everyone's minds, however, is the collective memory of the terror caused by the miltary in the past. This was built up during decades of dictatorship so when the armed forces did step in, their old reputation quickly returned.

MC.--So, the consultation over the referendum (The 'Fourth Urn') was an excuse? Were you planning to participate in the survey proposed by President Zelaya?

FE.-- Almost 400,000 people signed up. The 'Fourth Urn' was designed to create a popularly-elected assembly which would limit the power which the transnational business elite and criollos hold in this country. In one way or another, this crisis was going to come to a head as the popular movements have been steadily building up, from one crisis to another, their struggle over the last 7 years.

MC.-- The most recent coup d'etat in Latin America occurred in April 2002, against the government of Hugo Chavez, but we can't forget when military jets flew over the capital of Chile on the 11th September 1973. Why do we keep seeing these interventions from the military and business elites?

FE.-- The same sound of F-5E jets which we heard in the 1980s still wakes us up today. Once more the psychological repression comes from the military which had been masked by its civilised and non-aggressive behaviour. The political class continued its close relationship with the armed forces in secret and they never stopped provoking the military into action against the democratic achievements, brought about by the will of the people. This incitement was also carried out with the Catholic and Protestant churches who were even praying outside the barracks, so that the army would intervene and stop the satanic government of Mel Zelaya.

Interviewer: Mario Casasus

Translated by Czarny Kot 02/07/09 Source: El Clarin de Chile

Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Baltic Tigers?

When I first came to Poland there was a lot of talk of tigers, namely Celtic and Baltic tigers. Regional neighbours in the Baltic States and Slovakia, with very liberal regulations and flat taxes, were seen as a model for Poland to emulate. During the last election one of victorious PM Donald Tusk's main promises was to turn Poland into the 'next Ireland'

Of course, we all know what happened next. Following Cliff's law of gravity-- the harder they come the harder they fall-- countries like Latvia, Eire and Slovakia which were enjoying high rates of growth in the good times quickly found the bad times hard going indeed. Anyway, enough from me: here is a real blogger, Łukasz Foltyn, with his take on things....

Evidence that the supporters of neo-liberal economics use demagoguery and lies to win public support for their position is to be found in the crisis of the Baltic States. Not so long ago these economies were held up as a model for high economic growth which liberals attributed to their liberalism-- in particular a flat tax rate. Among advocates of the 'Baltic Tigers' were Leszek Balcerowicz-- the architect of Poland's economic transition and Poland's leading neo-liberal guru. The current crisis, which has seen GDP fall nearly 20%, proves one of two things: 1) That liberal reforms which were responsible for the growth are responsible for the subsequent recession, or 2) that neither growth nor recession were connected to liberalism, in particular with tax cuts or flat tax rates. The second option is better for liberals, although still embarassing for its propagandists. Either they have no idea about how to run an economy--claiming that a flat tax rate led directly to high growth--or they simply decieved the public. It is hard to say which is worse but maybe I'll choose ignorance.....

Growth in the Baltic States was fuelled mainly by foreign investors, mostly on credit. Now, when the sources of credit are drying up due to loss of confidence in eastern European markets, the economies are collapsing. Now we can compare the previous growth with the current recession: Liberalisation and flat tax rates, had nothing to do with the growth (or very little) However, when the global crisis reached the Baltic, liberalism enabled the sudden flight of credit, especially in the form of currency. Restrictions on credit withdrawals were eliminated in the name of "freedom of market decisions" and low taxes led to more consumption rather than investment, as well as making it impossible for the national budget to benefit from the 'good times.'

These facts should compromise Polish liberals, as should the case of the Republic of Ireland: The most liberal economy of the 'old EU', and now suffering the most from recession amongst those countries. Unfortunately, I don't believe that the liberal authorities--"economic experts who know the best way to fast growth"-- will be in anyway affected.. There was Ireland, then the Baltic countries, now they'll find a new model country which currently has low taxes and high growth rates. Then, once again, they will repeat the mantra that the low taxes caused the high growth. Here in Poland, no-one speaks out against this view. Why should they? "Even children in nursery school" know that "flat taxes are good for everything."

Łukasz Foltyn is a blogger on

Translated (roughly) by Czarny Kot 30/06/09 Source:

A view of the situation in Honduras from a former Salvadorean guerrilla (Rather surprising and very thought-provoking)

Central America is the most fragile region of Latin America; it includes Guatemala-- the bloodiest dictatorship, El Salvador-- the most violent country, two of the three poorest countries--Honduras and Nicaragua and, strangely enoug, the most stable democracy-- Costa Rica. In the 1980s Central America suffered the bloodiest conflict of the whole continent since the Mexican Revolution. Almost one million dead and several millions displaced in a war lasting more than a decade. In those years, the USA tolerated a genocide in Guatemala, occupied Honduras, governed El Salvador, started a war in Nicaragua and ended up invading Panama in 1989.

Central America always had a reputation as a land of frauds, military coups, caudillos, dicataors, greedy oligarchies, assassins and guerrillas. The peace of the 1990s brought the hope of long-lasting democratic institiutions, but the electoral fraud last year in Nicaragua and the recent coup in Honduras give the impression that 'bananna republics' are back in vogue.

Extremely weak states are receiving a simultaneous bombardment of criminal narco-dollars from the USA and ideological petro-dollars from Venezuela. The former buy favours and corrupt, the latter buy political alignments that are destroying the unity of countries: and both are destroying democratic institutions. After the electoral fraud, the government of president Ortega n Nicaragua seems more and more like a resurection of the Somoza dictatorship. Recently in Guatemala a victim accused president Colom of his murder using a pre-recorded video. It now seems as if this was a perverse conspiracy by drug traffikers to bring down the extremely weak government.

In El Salvador, the first Leftist government in its history looks set to become equally weak as a result of the conflict between a president that wants to remain in the Centre Left, like Lula, while his party, FLMN, will do anything possible to align themselves with Chavez. The most explosive situation, however, has occurred in Honduras, where the influence of Venezuela has managed to polarise a party system, with more than one hundred years of history, and has divided Hondurans like never before. The result has been the ousting of president Zelaya by the armed forces with the unanimous approval of Congress, the Supreme Court and all political parties, including the president's own party.

Honduras, a conservative society with a provincial political culture, a long history of coups and a conservative, pacifist Left, was suddenly subjected to debates about the Bolivarian model of constitutional reform, re-election and 21st-century socialism. Fear is the engine of all conflict and Honduras is no exception. The fear produced by the closeness of Zelaya and Chavez led the Honduran political class to do what they know to do in these situations. Legally judging the president would be too sophisticated for Honduras. Now the problem has become much more serious, as a president forced to leave the country in his pijamas never makes a good impression.

Without doubt one must denounce the coup, but the international community should take into account the fact that the authoritarian policies of Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Venezuela have become a series of provocations for the conservative and centrist forces throughout the region.
The expropriation of companies, the closure of media outlets, the street-level intimidation, arbitrary judicial decisions, perpetual re-elections and frauds are like gradual coups. The ideological polarisation of Chavism is weakening societies threatened by thousands of gangsters and powerful cartels. Central America could become a bastion of organised crime that gives refuge to mafiosos and terrorists and at the same time generates endemic instability leading to millions of emigrants.

The international community is determined to save the region but the problem is more complicated than it appears. Not only is it a question of violated institutions but also of provocations, fears and reactions which have already been unleashed. The region needs a plan of ideological depolarisation and a plan to defend it. In Central America there have always been wars and revolutions and the demilitarisation of Guatemala handed this country to the drug cartels. The underlying problem is one of the viability of small states with small economies, managed like personal estates by their leaders. Central America would have been better off as a single republic but Britain and the USA went to great lengths to ensure that they would remain divided into banana republics, in order to control them and the Panama Canal more effectively. Now, these states are so weak that they cannot defend themselves and they can be bought by drug lords, such as Chapo Guzman, or by oil-rich dictators such as Chavez.

Joaquin Villalobos, an ex-guerrilla from El Salvador, is a consultant for the resolution of international conflcits.

Translated by Czarny Kot 30/06/09. Source:

Monday, 29 June 2009

They Fuck You Up, Your Mum and Dad....

Shamelessly using the death of Michael Jackson in order to repost the first ever blog thing I wrote, back in November last year. (Just to see how it's done.) What's the connection? Well, both Michael Jackson and Prince Charles are eccentric individuals (to say the least) and neither of them chose their fame and... well, that's about all really.....

Waiting in Vain?

"Es mas dificil ser un rey sin corona que una persona mas normal"-- Shakira Ripoll

It's harder being a king without a crown rather than an average Joe.

Is it? Ask Prince Charles who has just turned 60. Royal birthdays, weddings and the like do not usually interest me in the slightest but Charlie's 60th sees him become the longest king-in-waiting in history.

We often laugh at their strange ways and denounce their unearned wealth and privilege. Quite rightly so. But ask yourself this-- hand on heart-- would you swap places with him? He has spent his entire life just passing time until he can fulfil his destiny, something which will only become possible with the death of his own mother.

I would label myself as an apathetic Republican-- I can't see the point of the monarchy but I can't really see any point in getting rid of it-- but Charles' situation strikes me as a cruel and unusual birthright. His cage might come with wealth, fame and a servant to put the paste on his toothbrush yet a cage it remains. Maybe there is more of a case for abolishing the monarchy on purely humanitarian grounds rather than for political reasons.

As for Charlie himself, he has at least tried to give his life some purpose and has made an effort to leave the world in a better state than it was when he entered it. Some of his ideas and intitiatives are very positive, some are well-intentioned but misguided and others are either charmingly eccentric or downright barmy. But he has ideas. It would be easy for him to follow the example of many in his family and live a life of golf, G+T's and private jets.

So happy birthday Charles. Yes, you are a freak but who wouldn't be in your situation.....