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.