Thursday, 22 April 2010

Norman Davies on Kaczynski, Katyn and Smolensk

The week of national mourning is over and so the opinions and analysis now spring forth in earnest. I bought all the important Polish weeklies on Monday so there is a mountain of material which could be of interest. How much of it gets translated depends on me-- judging by recent from I wouldn't expect too much.

First up is Norman Davies being interviewed by TVN24:

Q: You knew the president personally. How do you remember him?

ND: I didn't really know president Kaczynski. I knew him better as the mayor of Warsaw and as the founder of the Warsaw Uprising museum. We only met a handful of times.

Q: Did you lose any friends in the crash?

ND: Yes, my wife and I flew to Smolensk with the government delegation on Wednesday. We travelled with several people who were on the plane which crashed on Saturday. The person I knew best was the wonderful president Kaczorowski (ex-president in exile) He was certainly one of the greatest losses of the tragedy.

Q: I ask you this as someone who knows Poland and Poles but who can also look out this tragedy from an objective distance: Do Poles always have to fight and argue amongst themselves, even in occasions such as this? I'm talking about the controversy over Wawel.

ND: I see that there is a very unpleasant fuss surrounding Wawel. I'm convinced that it is not something specific in the Polish character. However, in Poland there are people who constantly provoke controversies and arguments. Unfortunately, this has been a characteristic during recent years.

Q: Is it a Polish characteristic or can it be observed everywhere?

ND: In general I don;t believe that there is such thing as a national character. It is a great myth. Every nation is made up of millions of people who each have thier own temperament and personality and who all react differently, even to the same experiences.....

Q: You are a honorary citizen of Krakow, you have an honorary doctorate from Jagiellonian University, and you are an expert on Polish history. Is Wawel an appropriate place for the president to be buried?

ND: I am also an honorary citizen of Warsaw. In my opinion the ex-mayor of Warsaw, the national president who ruled from Warsaw, a son of the uprising, should be buried in Warsaw.

Q: How much time will have to pass before history can objectively pass judgement on the achievements of president Kaczynski?

ND: It's hard to say, but we can see right now how a myth is forming before our very eyes. It is impossible to be objective about someone who dies tragically. People feel a natural sympathy towards the deceased. Now is not the time to assess the president or any of the other victims.

Q: Do you think that the improved relations between Poland and Russia following the tragedy will last?

ND: Even before the disaster I had noticed a lot of progress in relations. When premiers Tusk and Putin met in Katyn I was there and I saw it up close. I believe that it is an authentic rapprochement. One effect of the tragedy has been a wave of sympathy towardsa Poland and Poles amongst ordinary Russians. This is a new factor in relations and I doubt it will fade away overnight.

Q: Should we be happy about this?

ND: Of course. Poland, like every country, should have good relations with all its neighbours. I don't see any other priorities in international relations.

Q: How authentic are the words and gestures that we have seen from Putin and Medvedev in recent days?

ND: Putin and Medvedev are politicians. They have their own national and personal interests. Every politician is an actor. One cannot expect otherwise. The step that Putin took in Katyn cannot be reversed. The mere prescence of the Russian president and premier at Kaczynski's funeral will have huge significance because the whole thing will be broadcast on Russian TV. Millions of Russians are hearing about Katyn for the first time. Katyn could become the means by which Russians come to terms with the Stalinist crimes commited against their own nation, which are still not as well known as they should be.

Q: What might be the next step? Will Russia finally disclose the documents for which Poland has been asking for years?

ND: It is not that bad. We already know an awful lot. Why be so negative? There a few missing papers, that's all..... These demands from Poland that Russia should do this and that have no effect and get us nowhere.

Q: But these are reasonable demands.

ND: ...The Russians have their own historical ghosts-- thier own officers and relatives who were also killed. It is difficult for them to hear people from abroad tell them what to do with these documents. It seems to me that Putin and Medvedev cannot now go back to the previous status quo. We'll see where things lead from here.

Q: Let's turn back to president Kaczynski. Do you believe that the Warsaw Uprising museum will prove to be his chief legacy?

ND: Of course. It was his greatest achievement.. It is hard to point to anything else in his career which is bigger. The Uprising museum will, in a way, be his memorial.

Interviewer: Grzegorz Kajdanowicz Source: TVN24 / Angora magazine

Translated by Czarny Kot 22/04/10

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Prima Aprilis

Watching Channel 4 News on the internet the other day, I was looking forward to some absurd stories to mark April Fool's Day. I wasn't disappointed.

Firstly, the creation of a nature reserve in the Chagos Archipelago means that the rights of sea slugs take precedence over the rights of humans.

Secondly, a Lebanese man faces execution in Saudi Arabia on charges of 'sorcery'.

Sadly, neither story was an April Fool's joke. Oh dear.

It seems that the venerable tradition of April 1st is under threat from the increasing absurdity of reality.

PS: For more information about the plight of the Chagossians click here.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Rock the Klasztor

Unless you live under a rock, you will know that the fair city of Plock last weekend played host to the 16th annual 'One-voice' music festival, a 3 day frenzy of religious chanting.

If you had told me a couple of years ago that I would be spending my weekend at this type of thing I would have probably downed a bleach cocktail and taken the scenic route down from my 10th floor flat but tastes and interests, like most other things, are prone to change. Anyway, it is all part of my recent attempts to be more cultural, which came about as I somewhat recklessly agreed to give up alcohol for the Lent period. In the last month or so I have also been to the theatre for the first time since compulsory Shakespeare and enjoyed an intimate chamber music evening with rather camp French men playing 16th century Italian music.

Lent finishes next week so normal service will soon be resumed. Until then, here are the 2 acts I saw last weekend: The medieval ensemble Capella all' Antico from Zamość, Poland, and the Orthodox chanting ensemble Sreteniye from Kharkiv, Ukraine (also pictured above.)

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Local Music for Local People: Polish Folk Music

I haven't had much time for the internet over the last couple of weeks but I've just got time to direct your attention to this radio programme I stumbled upon yesterday.

Mentions of Płock are rare enough in Poland, so to hear it being discussed on the BBC ( OK, it's Radio 3 but still..) is a proud moment. Reprezentacja!!

Monday, 1 March 2010

The Life of Others

An interesting article from last Sunday's El Pais.

French, Arab, Polish, Turkish, Hungarian, Chinese, Romanian, Portugese...These and many more languages can be heard in a small room in Madrid's police headquarters. In this room translators spend hours listening to conversations and transcribing them. Sometimes they have to listen to unpleasant things-- threats, arguments, accusations.. At times they listen as the same person who was shouting threats tells their mother that they love her. It is a hard job in which, eight hours a day, one lives the life of others.

Immigrants translate the phone-tapped conversations of foreign suspects for the Spanish police. The Romanian translator is a pious Catholic and has only been with one man in her life: her ex-husband. Ironically, everyday she has to listen to calls between pimps and their prostitutes. She works for a police taskforce investigating sex traffickers. When she translates the conversations she tries to omit swear words or sexual references but sometimes this is impossible and she goes bright red as she writes. At first she was surprised to hear that the pimp called all the girls by the same name, Irina. Afterwards she discovered that Irina was the name of the pimp's wife and using only this name avoided problems at home.

The Hungarian translator was the coach of the Hungarian women's swimming team when her country was still part of the Eastern Bloc. 15 years ago she had to emigrate to Spain and since 5 years ago she has not been once to a swimming pool-- it brings back too many memories. Her physical build attests to her history as an athlete, as well as to the use of anabolitic steroids which she says was common practice in those days. The USA had to be beaten at all costs. The human body has its limits, however.. She is married to a Spaniard and when she goes home to him it is sometimes difficult not to talk about what she has been listening to all day. But she can't. Nobody can know. When people ask her what she does she tells them that she works in an accountancy firm. This sounds so boring that no-one asks her for more details.

The oldest translator is a Turkish woman. Single and attractive, she always tuns up with full make-up on. She turns the heads of the policemen as she walks past. She has a teenage son and she works extra hours to support him. As she has no time for her own life she spends the day living that of others: those that kill for money, those that smuggle in contraband from Turkey and those who commit credit card fraud. She knows all of them by name, she knows who their parents are and what they say to their girlfriends before going to sleep at night. She understands them, translates their words and hates them, all at the same time. Life is not black and white she says, but sometimes it is too grey.

The Arabic translator is a doctor of Philology and has 3 sons. Her husband stays at home with the children while she works. It wasn't thier plan but she found work before he did. She is familiar with every type of hashish and with all the different ways that it can be smuggled into Spain but she has never once rolled or smoked a joint. One day she arrived to work looking pale and almost fainted. She was fasting for Ramadan. People asked her if she was very religious. She replied that she wasn't but that it was more of a tradition than a religious practice. One doesn't have to be a practising Catholic to celebrate Christmas, all Spaniards celebrate it.

A group of police officers burst into a clandestine laboratory where kin, a Chinese drug similar to ketamine, is produced. The police needed to catch the dealers red-handed so the translator had to spend all night listening to phone conversations until he discovered the location of the laboratory. The translator is the only man in the translating room but he doesn't stand out. Quiet and efficient, he never takes off his headphones, not even to eat. He speaks Spanish with a Madrid accent. He was born and raised here and has never been to China, not even for a holiday. The truth is that he still misses China but does not know why.

All these stories are real. They are not taken from the violent streets of Baltimore portrayed in 'The Wire' or from the old East Germany as seen in 'The Life of Others'.
They come from a small room in police headquarters located at Cuatro Caminos.

I know all of this first-hand because for a while I was an inhabitant of that small room. I was the Portugese translator. I was so engrossed in my work that I talked of the people on whom I eavesdropped as if I really knew them. The other day I thought about each and every one of those people who I got to know in that room. I thought about all the stories I heard and all the moments we shared. I would like to dedicate these lines to them. There are people in the real world who do things which would surprise us in the world of fiction. With headphones on and brains alert, they live the life of others without missing a word.

Carla Guimares is a Brazilian writer living in Spain Translated by Czarny Kot 01/03/08 Source: El Pais

Monday, 22 February 2010

Lech loves Czech but does Czech love Lech?

According to the legend, there were once 3 brothers: Lech, Czech and Rus. Lech went north, settled down and founded the half-mythical, half-historical Piast dynasty. His descendants are now called Poles.

Czech went south and settled down in Bohemia and Rus went far out to the east. Relations between Rus and his 2 brothers are well-documented but little attention is paid to the relationship between brothers (and next-door neighbours) Lech and Czech.

A quick sample of Polish and Czech language, cuisine and other cultural aspects shows that both nations are cut from the same cloth. For most of history the 2 countries have followed very different paths but in the last century they have similar experiences-- independence after WWI, occupation during WWII, Eastern Bloc, fall of Communism, entry into EU.

Despite, or perhaps because of, these similarities Polish-Czech relations have never been a shining example of brotherly love. True, there are none of the bad feelings which occur in relations with Germany and Russia but neither is there any real sense of kinship or solidarity. Why could this be?

From the Czech perspective grievances could include the disputed Cieszyn / Tesin region and the involvement of Polish troops in the supression of the Prague Spring.

From the Polish point of view jealousy (not a vice which is alien to Poland as even proud Poles will admit) probably plays a part. The Czechs are better off, have a nicer lifestyle and in many areas-- beer, supermodels, football etc..-- they always seem to be better, despite their small population.

Another reason could be language. Although Czech and Polish are very similar, Czech does bear an unfortunate resemblance to toddler-speak to Polish ears. Even the best-intentioned Pole might struggle to keep a straight face whilst listening to Czech. Obviously this does not go down well with the Czechs.

I recently went to Prague for my first trip to the Czech Republic (not counting a cigarette break in Brno bus station a couple of years ago) and I am happy to report that there are signs that the 2 brothers might be getting closer. First of all, I have never heard negative comments about Czechs in Poland, just people laughing at thier language (and mullets). Secondly, people in Prague, who were already friendly enough, became a little bit more friendly when they saw my wife's Polish-Czech phrasebook on the table. Perhaps they were just happy to meet some tourists who didn't automatically speak to them in English...

By a happy coincidence, the very day I set off for Prague Przegłąd magazine published a piece about Polish-Czech relations. Here are 2 opinions taken from the article...

Q: Why do Poles like Czechs more than before?

Mariusz Szczygieł (Pole), scholar of Czech literature

I don't know why other Poles like the Czechs but this is why I like them:
1) The Church in the Czech Rep. plays no role in political, social or private life.
2) Every town and village tries to look like it comes from a fairytale.
3) Even in very small towns you can hire a bike.
4) On Fridays most people, even though they are at work, think about the weekend and make plans which involve more than just sitting at home.
5) They treat culture as an anti-depressant.

Hana Brusova (Czech), correspondent for the Czech Press Agency

I couldn't say why as I have only been in Poland for a few months. However, I do know why Czechs are not so crazy about Poles-- they simply do not know them very well. There are no bad feelings but most Czechs cannot see anything interesting about Poland. When Czechs travel or learn about other countries they are more interested in places like France, Germany or England.

Source: Przegłąd magazine Translated by Czarny Kot 22/02/10

Saturday, 13 February 2010

A Tale of Two Cities

Leaving Prague by train at night and waking up to a winter morning in Warsaw's Zachodnia station is enough to make even the most patriotic Pole, or fervent Polophile, a bit embarassed..

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Apocalypse Then: Haiti circa 1502 AD.

The island which we now call Hispaniola was the first to be settled by christians. Immediately after their arrival the plight of the natives began. The christians started by taking away the women and children of the indians as slaves. Then they started taking away the food which the indians had produced with the sweat of their brows. They were not satisfied with what the indians offered voluntarily as it was not much (it is their custom to only store enough supplies for the immediate future) and because what would suffice an indian family for a month was devoured by a christian in one day.

All this, and other acts of violence and aggression, quickly led the indians to conclude that these men could not have come down to them from heaven. Some hid thier food supplies. Some hid thier wives and children. Others fled into the mountains, away from the fierce, terrible newcomers. The christians attacked with fists, blades and sticks until they were able to seize the chieftains. Such temerity and shamelessness led to the wife of the most powerful king, ruler of the whole island, being raped in public by a christian captain.

After this incident, the indians began to look for ways to expel the christians from their lands. They took up their arms which are offensively weak and defenisively even weaker. To Europeans, thier warfare resembles little more than a children's game. The christians with their horses, swords and lances inflicted many massacres and strange cruelties upon them.

They would enter villages and no child, old person or woman would avoid being diembowelled and dismembered like lambs in a slaughterhouse. The soldiiers would make bets with each other on who could cut a man in half with one stroke or decapitate him with one blow. They took newborns from their mother's breasts by the legs and smashed their heads against the rocks. Others they threw into the rivers to drown.... others they put to the sword, along with their mothers. They would tie up indians in groups of 13 in honour of Our Saviour and the 12 apostles. Then they would burn them alive. Others would cover individuals in dry straw and burn them that way. Some would not be killed. They would cut off both their hands and send them into the mountains as a message for those in hiding. Chieftains and lords were usually burnt by a slow fire so that they would die slowly, screaming until their souls departed their bodies.

On one occasion I saw a group of 4 or 5 indian nobles burning slowly on a pyre. Such was their shouting that the Spanish captain, either from pity or a desire for quiet, ordered them to be taken off the fire and drowned. The master of arms who was to carry out the order (I know his name and am acquainted with relatives of his in Seville) didn't want to drown them so he opted instead to put sticks in their mouths to silence them and put them back on the fire so they could slowly roast as he wished.

I have seen all the above with my own eyes, and many other atrocities. Because so many indians fled into the mountains to escape from these inhuman, pitiless and ferocious beasts, the Spaniards trained wild hounds which, upon sight, would tear an indian to pieces in the blink of an eye and eat him as if he were a pig. These dogs were responsible for many terrible massacres. Sometimes, although few and far between, the indians would with great justification kill a christian. The christians then decreed that for every one of them killed by indians, they would kill a hundred natives.

Bartolome de las Casas was a Spanish Dominican priest and the most vocal opponent of Spanish atrocities in the Americas.

Translated by Czarny Kot 04/02/10 Source: Brevisima relacion de la destruicion de las Indias.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Neoliberal Newspeak

Do you hate terms like 'elastic job market' and 'human resources'? Have you ever read the 'Economist' and wondered why the word 'reform' is repeated like a mantra? If so, you might like this....

Once again, the start of the new year belongs to the peddlars good news. Although unemployment is rising they tell us that it is OK, since it could be rising faster. The same people regard current GDP growth of 2% as a success story, even though they recently forecast that it would be 5%, and that 3% growth would be a worst-case scenario. Whatever happens, things are good and they can only get better. If necessary, any failures can be presented as successes. Only malcontents and trouble-makers will complain.

It's not only the economy: In Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Army is fighting for peace and an end to terrorism. In Chechnya, on the other hand, we have freedom fighters and partisans, who Russia is fighting against in a deeply undemocratic manner. That is why sending Polish troops to fight alongside the US in Afghanistan is an honour and a wise investment, even if the few hundred million złoty spent means that scientific research and higher salaries for public workers become a luxury that we 'can't afford.'

Police violence against demonstrators is called 'ensuring public order.' On the other hand, violence carried out by shipyard workers against those institutions responsible for their fate is labelled hooliganism and banditry. Flying the Polish flag with the white eagle at football stadiums is a sign of healthy patriotism. Waving Russian flags in football stadiums is a worrying sign of growing Russian nationalism.

George Orwell had a name for this: Newspeak. The most famous example from '1984' include 'war is peace', 'freedom is slavery', and 'hate is power'.

Now it would appear that 'real capitalism' in today's Poland has its own brand of newspeak: Inequality is repackaged as 'equal opportunites in the market economy'. Laying off workers becomes 'cost rationalisation'. Cutting back on social spending is simply 'keeping public finances in order'. Worker's rights are defended by 'inflexible, self-interested trade unions.'

In a very interesting book, 'Neoliberal Newspeak', French sociologist Alain Bihr identifies 2 main functions of the current propaganda system. " On one hand, the aim is to invert the meanings of words and on the other to blur the meaning entirely....."

One is reminded of the Marxist observation that in every society 'the thoughts of the ruling class are the ruling thoughts'. This is why the rollling back of progressive social reforms, which were the result of decades of struggle, is itself called 'reform'. From the social point of view, reductions in benefits, longer working hours, privatised health care, tuition fees and other neoliberal policies represent a 'counter-reformation' harking back to the 19th century. Yet still the 'free media' clamours for more and more 'reform'.

Citizen! Your pension will be smaller and you will work longer but it is all for your own good. Don't you understand? You must be either an unreformed specimen of homus sovieticus or you do not listen enough to the 'free media'. The media, with the help of 'independent experts' from the Business Centre Club or the Adam Smith Institute will explain to you that working longer for less is in your best interests.

Naom Chomsky believes that propaganda plays a bigger role in democratic societies than in totalitarian regimes.... The stance of the 'free media' in Poland, dependent on large corporations, only serves to confirm Chomsky's opinion. Is it really possible to pull the wool over people's eyes and to silence thier voices? Luckily, not always and not with everyone.

Piotr Żuk is a journalist and sociologist. Translated by Czarny Kot 30/01/10

Source: 'Przegład' magazine.

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Poland's Homeless: Surviving the Big Freeze

Like the rest of the Northern Hemisphere, Poland has recently been in the grip of sub-zero temperatures and heavy snow. The worst conditions arrived before Christmas and show little sign of letting up. Whilst the effect on travel has been well documented, less publicised is the challenge that the conditions pose to Poland's homeless. Here is an extract from 'Przegłąd' magazine in which Andrzej Dryszel finds out how homeless people in Warsaw survive the big freeze.....

When the temperature plummeted, the exodus began-- homeless people left streets, empty houses and allotment sheds and moved to heated sewers and train and bus stations. Not all of them made it. On the Saturday and Sunday of 19th/20th December, 42 people froze to death in Poland. This is a record number, but winter has barely begun. Overall, cold weather in November and December 2009 caused the death of around 80 people. In the 21st century. In an EU member state. In a country which avoided the worst of the financial crisis....

"Sudden falls in temperature are a danger to the lives of the homeless, the elderly and those who live alone" warn police authorities. Police spokesman Mariusz Sokołowski has appealed to the public to inform police of the whereabouts of bivouac sites used by the homeless, as it could save lives.

In the North Praga neighbourhood of Warsaw, young police officers Katarzyna Nowosielska and Marcin Zarzyckim are on evening patrol along the bank of the Vistula. Such patrols, which check on how homeless people are coping, have been carried out over the previous few days. The officers carefully observe an allotment garden from a vantage point on higher ground.

"If we see a wisp of smoke then that means that someone is in the allotments and is trying to keep warm. We will then go in and check that they are OK and that nothing bad is happening." Says officer Nowosielska. On this occasion the frozen air is clean, without any sign of human prescence.

The homeless like to live in allotments. Sometimes they live there so long that they turn the sheds into something approaching real houses. As well as shelter, they can also take advantage of the vegetables grwon on neighbouring plots. However, come winter, it is difficult to survive there. There is no water or power. It is necessary to continually feed and look after a fire, either on the floor of the shed or in homemade stoves. If people fall asleep they can burn to death in the shed or die from smoke inhilation. On the other hand, if the fire goes out, those asleep can freeze to death. Fire and ice are winter's main weapons against the homeless.

It also occurs sometimes that allotment owners come to visit their plots in winter, in which case it is necessary to leave. The owners are very rarely aggressive towards the homeless but neither does their prescence fill them with joy. "These people have my respect and sympathy but the government should do something about this problem. Allotment sheds are not designed to be lived in during winter. In winter, the water and power supply to the allotments is cut of..." says Eugeniusz Kondracki, president of the Polish Allotment Owner's Association.

The best place in North Praga for the homeless in winter are the sewers which contain pipes leading to the power station in Żerań. 3 metres underground it is warm, you know you will not freeze and there is no owner who might come and turf you out. Homeless people also like to seek shelter in Central Station, the best-heated amongst Warsaw's train stations. In the station toilets it is possible to have a quick wash and anyone in difficulties can easily find medical help. On the negative side, it is quite common for homeless people to be robbed there, so they have to keep a careful eye on their belongings. Another problem is that after midnight the security guards empty the station building and underground passages. Those wishing to stay have to far down the railway tunnels where it is cold and dark.....

Andrzej Dryszel is a Polish journalist. Translated by Czarny Kot 19/01/10

Source: 'Przegłąd' magazine.

Socialist Jesus v. The Corporate Church

Another article on religion, this time shifting the point of view from right to left. 'Przegląd' columnist Piotr Żuk with a critical (although not necessarily an atheistic) look at the Catholic Church in Poland...

How would a Catholic Pole welcome Jesus Christ if he were to knock on their door this Christmas time? This character, reminiscent of a hippy, a homeless person or some kind of left-wing alterglobalist, fighting against capitalism and injustice, would probably arouse less than positive feelings in the majority of Catholic Poles.

These are the same people who sit in church and listen to slogans of Christian love but who in their everyday life have little or no sympathy for those with different wolrdviews. Nor are they interested in making the public sphere just and equal for all citizens.

If Jesus lived in today's Poland he would surely rebel against social inequality, discrimination of minorities and the financial privileges and greedy behaviour of many Church officials. And he surely wouldn't support the 'real capitalism' which creates so much social exclusion.

I remember, in Wrocław in the early 90s during a demonstration against restrictive abortion laws, someone had painted on the pavement: 'God is young. The clergy are old.' After almost 20 years, it is possible to say that morally, culturally and socially the Polish clergy are even older. A refusal to open up or react to any changes happening in the wider world is a trademark of the Catholic Church in Poland.

Now, not only abortion is bad. Condoms are a mortal sin, even in a world where AIDS is an ever-present danger, and recently IVF treatment has become a crime in the eyes of the Church hierarchy.

The situation is unlikely to change if the Church, like a political party, does not possess a strong and dynamic intellectual backroom. It is impossible to see any brave new theological thinking which could help with contemporary problems. Individuals who try to shake up the ossified way of thinking find themselves isolated at the margins of Polish Catholicism, or they are forced to leave the Church. Such was the fate of Stanisław Obirek (a controversial liberal Jesuit who described the adoration of JPII as 'idolatry')

The same applies to the lay activities of Catholics, which are as meagre and weak as the rest of civil society in Poland. It is difficult in the current climate in Poland to envisage grassroots initiatives in the style of the international movement "We are the Church " or of similar organisations in the US and Germany. All of these movements are based on progressive theology, lay Catholicism and independent thinking which criticises the conservative and hierarchical structure of the offical church and campaigns for its reform.

It is also hard to imagine a modern version of Liberation Theology taking root amongst Polish priests. This movement, emanating mainly from Latin America, connected the Christian faith with the struggle for social justice and human rights. From this perspective, Jesus was a freedom fighter and a revolutionary against the rich and powerful who control this world. The Kingdom of Heaven becomes a Socialist society or even an Anarchist commune. Even though the conditions exist in Poland for this type of interpretation, one does not hear anything about the Church's battle against arch-capitalism.

Based on all this, it is not surprising that Polish Catholicism is on one hand ritualistic, and on the other is superficial and easy to consume-- like popular culture. It is more about putting on a show in front of aunt Hela and uncle Heńko and other family and friends than about real values. Faithful adherence to rituals played out during christenings, weddings or festivals does not hide the fact that Polish Catholics reject much of basic Church dogma. According to a survey carried out in March, one quarter of Polish Catholics do not believe in either the Resurrection or life after death. One third do not believe in hell....

The Church, which is less and less concerned with the problems of the poor and more and more concerned with its own rights and privileges, is similar to a corporation whose only aim is to increase and maximise its influence and profits.....

If on the side of the congregation we have people going through the ritualistic motions, and on the side of the Church we have only bureaucracy, what hope is there for any charismatic or dynamic leaders? Jesus would certainly be uninspired by the spectacle and would be denounced by the powers that be as an iconoclast and a utopian. He would be criticised for not understanding the ways of the market economy and he might even be accused of offending the sensibilites of the religious authorities.

When we are singing our Christmas carols about a miraculous birth in a poor stable, it is worth remembering who we are singing about....

Piotr Żuk is a journalist and sociologist. Translated by Czarny Kot 19/01/10

Source: 'Przegląd' magazine.

Thursday, 14 January 2010

Europe's Suicide

There have been several controversies involving religious symbols and garments in recent years throughout Europe. The latest concerns the rights and wrongs of hanging crucifixes in public buildings, especially schools.

Not surprisingly this has caused a bit of a stir in Poland. Here is the point of view from the traditionalist side of the argument.....

If we are looking for a symbol which really connects all Europeans, we won't find it in the blue flag with 12 stars but in the cross. That is why the decision of the European Court of Human Rights(ECHR)to award compensation to a woman who took offence to the crucifixes on show in an Italian school represents an acceptance of Europe's cultural suicide.

Without the cross, and without Christianity, there is no Europe. The symbol represents Europe not only religiously but culturally. Where there is no longer a roadside chapel, a solitary cross (whether Catholic or Orthodox) or a church with its Gothic tower or onion-shaped dome, there is no longer Europe.....

.....the cross signifies the fact that God sacrificed his son for us... this means that every human being has a priceless value that no-one or nothing can take away....
.... of course Europeans, including Christians, have not always lived according to these teachings but crosses, chapels and cathedrals remind us that we can always return to God, who loves us despite everything.

Now this symbol is under threat. British Airways reprimanded a flight attendant for wearing a crucifix around her neck and the ECHR have decided that the cross can hurt the 'religious' feelings of atheists. ( Perhaps someone could explain to me what 'religious feelings' a non-religious person can have? )

None of this is surprising because the cross symbolises everything that is contrary to the nihilist spirit of post-religious Europe. That is why they are doing everything in thier power to make the cross disappear...

...the cross signifies suffering.. it reminds us that human existence contains pain, illness and unfulfilled desires. Modern Europe is based on the avoidance of any kind of suffering or discomfort...

... and now they should ban the flags of many European countries which may offend the sensibilities of atheists. Malta, Swtizerland, Denmark, Swede, Finland, Norway and the UK will all have to change their flags, as they all contain the cross. And in today's Europe the cross has no place......

Tomasz P. Terlikowski is a writer and philosopher. Translated by Czarny Kot 14/01/10

Source: 'Don Bosco' magazine.


Through a combination of laziness and doing other things, this blog has lain dormant since October but do not despair! A new year brings new life and this blog will come back from the dead.

In fact, I have 2 translations ready on paper but just as I was about to post them my internet at home was mysteriously cut off. Typical. Hopefully I should be back online by Friday.

Until then I will whet your appetites with a sneak preview of things which are (hopefully) in the pipeline over the next month or so:

Religion: Europe's Suicide - Tomasz Terlikowski
Socialist Jesus and the Corporate Church - Piotr Żuk

Swine Flu: Narrow Escape or Scam of the Century? - Krzysztof Kęciek

Society: Warsaw's Homeless, Surviving the Big Freeze - Andrzej Dryszel

Politics: Neoliberal Newspeak - Piotr Żuk

Geopolitics: Pat Buchanan, The Neo-Cons and Russia - Bronislaw Lagowski

History: The Baltic Pagans - Czarny Kot

PS: There is also a new and improved Links section with various items of interest. I strongly recommend Teesside Tintin.