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