Monday, 11 June 2012
Due to Euro 2012 the academic year here in Wrocław was shortened, finishing at the end of May. In Poland as a whole, we might soon reach the point where lack of funds for education and research lead not only to shorter academic years but even the closure of colleges and universities. The so-called Kudrycki reforms, long prepared and finally passed last October, were supposed to cure Poland's educational ills. In reality, they have resulted in chaos and extra administrative burdens on educators. As we speak work is underway on reforms of the reforms-- business as usual in other words. The current situation in higher education, however, is the most serious since 1989. The main source of income for further and higher education instiutions, part-time students who attend at weekends, is slowly drying up. All that is left is minimal funding, minimal pay and the self-satisifed PO government.
The desperate need to attract students is leading to a decline in standards-- entry is open to anyone who can pay for the privilege of an increasingly worthless degree.
When the state spends more on weapons, surveillance and security than education then it ceases to be a true democracy and starts to evolve into a police state.
Wednesday, 6 June 2012
|Panorama of Lviv's historic centre.|
Background: Lviv (Polish: Lwów) is the principal city of western Ukraine, with a population of around 760,000. Now a Ukrainian city with an almost exclusively Ukrainian population, before the war it was a Polish city with a mixed but predominantly Polish population. Anywhere between 7,000 and 30,000 people who identify themselves as Poles still live in the city. Lviv will host 3 matches during the 2012 European football championships.
When UEFA president Michel Platini announced that Ukraine and Poland would co-host Euro 2012, the inhabitants of Lviv knew at once that thier hometown would be one of the host cities. Lviv's football tradition stretches back to the 1930s. Polish football was born in Lviv and the Pogoń club was one of the giants of pre-war Polish football. Today, the club has been resurrected thanks to the efforts of the city's Polish community. In the 1970s another Lviv club, FK Karpaty, won the Soviet championship. FK Karpaty currently play in the Ukrainian premier division while the city's second club, FK Lviv, play in the second tier. The Ukrainian national team particulary like playing in Lviv as it is the only stadium where the whole crowd sing the national anthem before international games.
After the initial pride of being amongst the host cities had worn off, however, the inhabitants of Lviv have begun to wonder if their city can really afford it, and whether they are really capable of competing with Western European cities.
Sunday, 3 June 2012
|Deportees during Operation Vistula, 1947.|
After reading the articles concerned with Operation Vistula in 'Przegłąd' issue (20/2012) I cannot help but feel that these texts were written on the orders of politicans. I write these words in the knowledge that they will provoke a hostile reaction from many of my compatriots. Nonetheless, I would like to try to explain my controversial point of view.
My father, Grzegorz, was born into a Polish-Ukrainian family but he considered himself to be a Pole. In those days the goverment officials responsible for matters of nationality maintained a policy in which boys of mixed marriages would inherit their father's nationality whilst girls would inherit the mother's. My father lived near Przemyśl. He was fluent in both Polish and Ukrainian and he was not ashamed to to speak in the latter, even though his neighbours often made fun of him for doing so. In the Przemyśl region there were many mixed marriages. Both nationalities lived together peacefully and nobody gave much attention to the issue of nationality. As well as Poles and Ukrainians, there were Jews, Lemkos and Tatars. After the war everything changed. Ukrainians began to be seen as second-class people, worthy of disdain. The fate of my father was decided by various factors. Firstly, he had a friendly attitude towards other nationalities (something which he had inherited from his father) and secondly he married a Ukrainian woman, something which in the post-war years was beginning to be seen as treacherous behaviour. I also add that when war broke out my father was mobilised and served in the Polish Army, fighting in the Silesian Beskids.
Thursday, 31 May 2012
|Ethnic Ukrainians being deported from a village in SE Poland during Operation Vistula|
Some argue that the operation was an unfortunate but necessary measure to prevent further inter-communal violence in the Polish-Ukrainian borderlands. It can also be seen as a response to the various massacres of Polish citizens carried out by the UPA during the war. Others argue that Operation Vistula was a shameful act of collective punishment and ethnic cleansing carried out by a totalitarian regime. The following article makes the former argument, whilst a second article to be translated and posted some time soon(ish) makes the latter argument from the point of view of an eyewitness who was deported as a child.
Although 65 years have now passed since Operation Vistula, it does not provoke any less discussion and controversy than it did in the past. One could even say that it creates more debate now than when it was carried out...
Monday, 28 May 2012
The French are the latest electorate to go and let down the Polish media by choosing a leftist President. For Pemier Donald Tusk, who could not find the time to meet the Socialist candidate during his visit to Poland, the French election results must have come as a big disappointment. The same can be said for most of the Polish commentariat. Jacek Pałasiński, host of 'The World According to Jacek' on TVN, said on the eve of the election, "it will be interesting to see if the French re-elect Sarkozy and then breathe a sigh of relief, or if they decide to think short-term and elect Francoise Hollande, who will lead them into further debt." Witold Gadomski, the economic expert for 'Gazeta Wyborcza' and guardian of neo-liberal purity, said "Hollande, like Socialist leaders all over Europe, knows that he does not have the possibility to implement radical reforms in the economic sphere. Socialists criticise modern capitalism but they do not have a real programme for change... They rail against the dictates of the financial markets and the ratings agencies but at the end of the day they are dependent on them. They know that the markets do not mess around. For electoral reasons they play up to the left-wing gallery but they do so without too much conviction, in order to let the markets know that they do not really mean it."
It is mainly in this spirit that the 'free media' in Poland have analysed the French elections. To their minds, the politcal left should simply not exist but if it does have to exist then it should at least not meddle in socio-economic matters. In the socio-economic sphere the market fundamentalists have a monopoly on absolute truth. What does it matter that blind faith in the power of the invisible hand of the market has led the world into crisis? If anyone attempts to present a serious left-wing economic agenda then the Liberal-Conservative pundits say that they are faking it, or that they are populist, or that they are simply economic illiterates who have not read the sacred texts of Friedman or heard the sermons of Balcerowicz. One way or another, they are a dangerous heretic who should be fought against tooth and nail with no quarter given.
Friday, 18 May 2012
|Tadeusz Cegielski, Professor of History at Warsaw University, Freemason and Honorary Grand Master of the National Grand Lodge of Poland.|
Q: Archbishop Józef Michalik-- leader of the Polish Episcopate and doctor of Dogmatic Theology-- has accused Freemasons of attacking the Catholic Church. Where does this fear of Freemasonry, which seems to have been handed down by generations of Polish clergy, stem from?
A: Fear and suspicion of Freemasonry arise from the need for a symbolic enemy on whom all problems can be blamed. A scapegoat in other words. In Poland we once had 3 types of 'internal enemies': Jews, Freemasons and Bolsheviks. Since the fall of the USSR Bolsheviks are no longer seen as a threat. Anti-Semitism has been formally condemned by the Catholic Church. Even here in Poland it is hard to imagine the Church hierarchy openly pandering to anti-Semitic prejudices. Who is left to use as a scapegoat? Freemasons, of course!
Q: Where and when did the idea of the 'evil and godless' Freemason first appear?
A: Anti-Masonry in its current form first appeared in the era of the French Revolution and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars. In 1789 in Rome, then the capital of the Papal States, there appeared an international adventurer, fake count and fraudulent alchemist-- the infamous Alessandro di Cagliostro, also known as Giussepe Balsamo. This very talented Sicilian Jew was active in Masonic cirlces and he created Egyptian Rite Freemasonry in 1782. Possessed by messianic ideas, he announced the advent of a 'New Israel'. In Rome he was denounced by his own wife and was arrested and tried by the Inquisition. The trial caused unheard of levels of publicity and reports of it were published all over Europe in many different languages, including Polish. In France the revolution was in full swing and the gullotine was claiming victim after victim. Cagliostro claimed-- somewhat against his will-- that the Masons had killed the French royal family in revenge for the fate which had befallen the Knights Templar.
Wednesday, 9 May 2012
|Bałtów's Jurassic Park attracted 70,000 visitors in its first year and employs 54.|
Not everyone has heard of Bałtów, but plenty of people have. The commune, with a population of 4,000 including 600 in the main village, has appeared twice on 'Dzień Dobry TVN'. It might be day-time TV but it is also nationwide TV. The media like Bałtów because it is a good example of how to make something from nothing by working together. The commune attracts half a million tourists a year. Despite the name, Bałtów is not a seaside resort. It is located in the north of the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship, far from the main transport links. How did a small commune, down in the doldrums, transform itself into a place where anything is possible?
Poland's transition from Communism to capitalism was not kind to Bałtów. Unemployment reached 40%. There was no mobile phone coverage and no internet. Both the library and cultural centre were closed down. In 2001 a campaign against the opening of a new nightclub brought together a group of people, mostly teachers and local business people, who wanted something different for Bałtów. Together they founded 'Bałt', a grassroots organisation aimed at encouraging development. The founders all realised that the only chance for their commune lay with tourism.
Thursday, 26 April 2012
|The 2nd anniversary of the Smoleńsk disaster was marked by angry protests. The Donald Duck head is a reference to PM Donald Tusk, whilst the placard underneath reads 'Murderers'.|
At the graveside silence should reign. Always. There can therefore be no excuses for those who wish to exploit the dead for their own political ambitions. What type of principles can people have if they decide to mark the deaths of the Smoleńsk victims by demonstrating, brandishing pictures of nooses and denouncing thier opponents as traitors and criminals? The anniversary could have been marked in many different ways but the way in which PiS chose to do so, by confusing mourning with rabble-rousing, is worthy of the fiercest criticism and words which I would rather avoid writing. Perhaps I omit these words out of a sense of shame for those who have earned them. Unfortunately, the more one bites one's tongue, the more aggression and vitriol spew from the other side.
" Solidarity in Mourning"-- that was the headline which we put on the front cover of 'Przegłąd' on 10th April 2010, just a few hours after the catastrophe. That was what we thought at the time, in spite of the deep divisions between us and those on the right. Could we have maintained that mood of unity, the feeling of solidarity? We could have done. I thought we could, because it never occured to me that it would be killed by those who should have cared for it the most. They should have preserved it for political gain alone, even if they lacked the humanity to do so for more noble reasons. The solidarity of mourning elevated their leaders to a status infinitely higher than their achievements merited. Sadly, barely two years later it seems as if the leader of PiS is trying to turn the coffins into trampolines, trampolines from which to jump back into power. It is the first time in our history that someone has tried to attain power in this way. An election campaign with coffins as the central argument can only be successful if a large enough portion of society accept PiS's aspirations.
Those who support the government regard such a scenario as absurd. They might be right today but if one listens to the wider social mood instead of just the hysterical screams then it becomes clear that many of those falling under the sway of the Smoleńsk campaign have every reason to feel bad in today's Poland. People fear for the future. They are unemployed, or they could lose thier jobs at any moment. Low slaries do not allow people to make ends meet. People feel alienated in their own country, they are disappointed and angry. They are overwhelmed by their powerlessness to overcome thier problems. From these fears comes a readiness to seek scapegoats, and from there it is a small step to being manipulated. Looking for a place to stand, they gravitate towards those who claim to understand their problems. Now they have jumped from the frying pan into the fire because they have become a mere stepping-stone in a bid for power. PiS wants to gather all the disillusioned and disappointed and build an alternative state. In the person of Jarosław Kaczyński we have an alternative president and premier in one, the real president-premier.
The paranoia of one side does not justify hushing up the negligence of the other side in the organisation of the Smoleńsk flight and earlier.
Mistakes were made, a lot of them. We know this from the Miller report. If there were mistakes then those who made them must take the responsibility for them. Continually postponing this process will only lead to even more absurd conspiracy theories which in turn only increase the likelihood of political conflict spilling onto the streets.
Taken from 'Przegłąd' magazine
Monday, 23 April 2012
|Lech and Danuta Wałęsa with their 8 children. Would such a large family make ends meet in today's Poland?|
What strikes the reader most about Danuta Wałęsa's autobiography? The rapid self-betterment of 2 people who were born into very poor, large families in small, remote villages. 2 people who from childhood did primitive physical labour....
Danuta Wałęsa-- a girl with only elementary education who had worked for 5 years as a farmhand-- finds herself in Gdańsk. She finds a husband and in 1972, at the age of 23, she is a wife, mother of 2 children and in charge of a flat which, although small, is posessed of all the comforts of which she was deprived during her 19 years growing up in the country. She is able to give back 14,000 złoty which her parents have given her as a stake in the housing cooperative because the Wałęsa's flat has been given to them by the Lenin Shipyard (in 1972 the shipyard granted its employees 591 flats). Nowadays, a 36-metre 2-room flat is nothing out of the ordinary because such properties ( developers call them 'compacts' ) are in demand. One has to pay a price, however. The current market value of the Wałęsa's old flat in the Stogi neighbourhood is 170,000 zł. At today's prices it is out of reach for a family of four with only a single bread-winner, especially a blue-collar bread-winner who, like the Wałęsas, cannot rely on any parental support. Without money, which bank is going to offer them a mortgage?
Tuesday, 17 April 2012
|Arctowski, Poland's Antarctic research station on King George Island|
Q: What are Poles doing in Antarctica?
A: The wealthiest more and more often come as tourists but scientific research is still the main reason why people come here. It has been 35 years since the foundation of our research station, named after Henryk Arctowski, on King George Island and it has been in operation continously since then. I have had the honour of being its founder, builder and, for almost 20 years, its director. Over 20 people work at the station in summer and between 7 and 10 in winter. A ship sets sail once a year from Gdynia (Polish seaport-CK), usually in November at the start of the Antarctic summer. It carries supplies and the new personnel, and it brings back the returning scientists. It is a journey of almost 16,000 km. and it lasts more than a month. The summer group work from November to the end of March, and then they travel by ship to Ushaia, and back to Poland by plane. The winter group stay for the whole year, until the ship returns.
Q: So much time at the end of the world. I suppose it can get boring?
A: In Antarctica you do not have even 5 minutes to get bored. Batteries, snow vehicles, boats, scientific equipment-- you have to check everything, re-check it, maintain, refuel, repair.... Everything has to be kept in working order. You are up to your eyes in work. Once a year Arctowski announces job vacancies. The station needs a doctor, a chef, an electrician, a radio technician, a mechanic, a tractor operator amongst other jobs. Scientific research is carried out mainly by employees of the Department of Antarctic Biology of PAN (Polish Academy of Science-CK) ,which is part of the Biochemistry and Biophysics Institute of PAN, and scientists from Polish universities involved in various international projects. Sometimes, however, researchers from other organisations and institutes can work at Arctowski if their projects can be sychronised with the PAN researchers, and if they have adequate funding. We also have an underwater research programme, which is why we have divers at the base. Generally, there are more applicants than there are places. The final decision on who gets to work at Arctowski is made by the recruitment commitee.
Wednesday, 11 April 2012
Krzysztof Kęciek's article 'Reagan's Timebomb' from the March 18th edition of 'Przegłąd' magazine has compelled me to write in response. Like many Poles, I was a fervent admirer of Ronald Reagan in my youth. During numerous visits to the USA I was surprised to find that most academics had distanced themselves from the Reagan administration.
In recent years I have become professionally involved in the problem of sustainable development. Reading academic papers concerned with the challenges facing our civilisation, I am becoming increasingly convinced that modern liberal capitalism poses many grave dangers. One of the principle dogmas of today's capitalism is 'grow or die', which leads to a constant growth of production, demand for which is fuelled by advertising rather than genuine need. This would be harmless if it was not for the fact that massive growth in production inevitably involves increased depletion of the planet's non-renewable resources. At current levels of consumption we have enough oil to last us for a further 40-50 years, gas for 60-70 years and coal for around 140 years. The outlook for other resources such as metals is not any better. Even if these estimates are overly pessimistic, the fact remains that the spectre of resource exhaustion in an economy based on 'grow or die' is a real possibility rather than a theoretical one. It is a problem which could occur within the lifespan of one generation, and it is only the first of several problems...
Saturday, 7 April 2012
|Amazonian tribesmen aim their bows at a helicopter somewhere near Brazil-Peru border.|
In isolated pockets around the world there still live some 100 tribes which shun contact with modern civilisation. These tribes account for roughly 50,000 individuals. About 70 such tribes live in the Brazilian rainforest. In Amazonia they are called isolados (isolated, uncontacted). Isolados know about the existence of the outside world of clothes, aeroplanes and metal tools yet they do not wish to be a part of it. They feel that contact with civilisation can lead them to ruin.
In 2008 the world was treated to pictures of tribal warriors painted red and black launching spears and arrows at a helicopter flying overhead. On board the helicopter was Jose Carlos Meirelles from the Brazilian government agency FUNAI, which protects the rights of indigenous peoples. "When they saw us the women and children ran into the forest. They thought the helicopter was a giant bird. In such a remote location as this, no-one had ever flown over before. On another day we appeared over the village at a later time, just as the men were returning from a hunt. When I saw that they were painted red I was happy. Red is the colour of war, it means that the Indians are happy, healthy and ready to defend their territory" says Meirelles.
In the photo of the village one can make out a child with a steel machete and a metal dish. This shows that the tribe, who live somewhere on the Brazil-Peru border, have indirect contact with the outside world through trade with other tribes. However, it is clear that they do not want any direct contact with civilisation.
Wednesday, 4 April 2012
23 year-old Abigail Serrano from Cordoba is a coroner's assistant but she has never worked in her profession. After being unemployed for a long time. she eventually started working as a waitress. "It was only possible because of some contacts. I was really lucky." Abigail is right to use the word 'lucky'. In Spain almost 1 in 2 people aged 16-25 are jobless. Young people are eagerly learning foreign languages and are dreaming of emigrating, mostly to Germany. Spain looks set to experience a fuga de cerebros, or 'brain drain'. The most dynamic and best educated are leaving, at great cost to the economy. Luis Oliveros, an aerospace technician from Madrid, is heading for Germany. Since finishing his education he has only worked in casual jobs. Luis has tried numerous times to find a job via the job centre but without success. "They only offer courses, courses and even more courses but no jobs." Last year more people emigrated from Spain than immigrated there, the first time this has happened.
Spain is the Euro zone's 4th largest economy but it is suffering acute unemployment-- the highest in the EU and maybe even in the whole industrialised world. According to government figures, 410,000 jobs have been lost in the last 12 months. Unemployment grew by 112,000 in February alone. 4.7 million citizens are without work, the highest rate since 1996, when a new method of measuring unemployment was introduced (according to other figures the number of unemployed stands at 5.3 million.) The Spanish Employment Ministry does not publish unemployment statisitcs as percentages but the European statistics bureau Eurostat said that in January the unemployment rate was 23.3% overall and 49.9% amongst the young.
Thursday, 29 March 2012
Are our shale gas dreams set to end in disappointment? 21st March sees the publication of a report by the Polish Geological Institute which should give us a more accurate and realistic estimate of our potential shale gas reserves. The report might spell the end for the dream of Poland becoming a shale gas giant. According to estimates published in April 2011 by researchers from the US Department of Energy, Poland might have around 5.3 trillion cubic metres of shale gas. This was an estimate of how much gas could probably be found in our shale rock. It was not based on exploratory drilling but was instead based mainly on analysis of Poland's geological structure. There was no indication of how much gas could actually be extracted using current technology. The more exploration wells are drilled, the more it seems that there is little shale gas to be found.
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Washed carpets, clean windows, scrubbed floors, holiday napkins decorated with pictures of wheat, goldfish, eggs and the Koran-- this is how Iranians welcome the Persian New Year, what to us is the first day of spring.
Iranians wish each other Nowruz mobarak bad! from 6.14 am (CET) on 20th March, the start of the new Persian year 1391. Nowruz, or Noruz, Nuruz, Norous, Norooz, literally means 'new day'. The festival is celebrated by 300 million people from north-western China to the Mediterranean, in Iran, many parts of Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Caucasus and amongst the Kurds. It is celebrated by Zoarastrians, Muslims, Christians, Agnostics and Atheists. In the ruins of Persepolis, near the present day city of Shiraz, there are a set of reliefs depicting people ascending the stairs to the apadana, bearing gifts for the king. According to some experts, these reliefs are an early depiction of the Nowruz ceremony.
Sunday, 25 March 2012
President Ronald Reagan cut taxes for the rich and benefits for the poor. He greatly reduced social spending, defeated trade unions and left Americans at the mercy of ruthless market forces. He sent single mothers into low-paid jobs, bringing about the feminisation of poverty. He left behind an enormous budget deficit. He revived a predatory brand of capitalism, free from effective control and focused entirely on profit and the commodification of everything.
George Brown Tindall and David E. Shi, authors of 'America: A Narrative History', pointed out that under the Reagan administration, the construction of affordable housing was stopped whilst at the same time slums were being demolished, thus leaving many homeless. Hospital care for the mentally ill was scrapped, resulting in countless beggars and tramps living in cardboard cities-- scenes more often associated with Calcutta than with the cities of a superpower. 'Reaganomics'-- the moniker used to describe the economic policies of the 40th US president-- were a time-bomb which in the end went off. The effects are to be seen in the current crisis of capitalism and world finance, whose final consequences are hard to predict.
Thursday, 15 March 2012
Identical social phenomena are often lablled with different names. It all depends who they are associated with. The language used everyday in the media, government announcements and casual conversation is full of prejudices and stereotypes. Whenever we hear about poor neighbourhoods in the media, the same connotations appear-- dysfunctional communtites inhabited by alcoholics and broken families where one should think twice about venturing into at night. According to capitalist morality and market culture, poverty itself has become a pathology.
The smiling faces we see in countless adverts are usually middle-class faces. They are the heroes of our time. They act as role models for the rest of society, most of whom aspire to be like them. They display the greatest virtues one can have in our contemporary capitalist society-- flexibility, entrepreneurship, assertiveness, creativity, innovation and other traits from the Newspeak dictionary.
Thursday, 8 March 2012
According to reliable polls Vladimir Putin is set to win Russia's presidential election in the first round. By the time you read this he will already have won, much to the dismay of most of the Polish media. Opposition groups in Moscow have said that if Putin dares to win in the first round it will be proof that the vote has been rigged. Massive anti-Putin demonstrations are already planned.
For there to be democracy, there needs to be a government which does not rig elections and there needs to be a society which respects election results as binding. This sometimes makes it hard to decide which side is behaving undemocratically. In many African countries elections often end up with body counts rather than vote counts. It is not unsual for free elections to lead directly to civil war. After Piłsudski's May coup in 1926, Poland did not see free and fair elections until 1989-- all the others, whether under the Sanacja regime or the Communist People's Republic (PRL), were falsified in one way or another.
The French, who are so keen to promote free elections worldwide, have an electoral regulation which means that a party which for years has achieved around 14% of the votes sometimes gets 1 seat in the National Assembly but more often ends up with none. The National Front's presidential candidate has 20% support and 70% of those polled believe she should be allowed to take part in the presidential election. Nonetheless, the establishment have closed ranks and she is unable to collect the 500 signatures of local government officials which are necessary to join the race for president. When Grigory Yavlinsky was barred from taking part in elections on a formality, it was seen as evidence of a lack of democracy. France, on the other hand, is by definition democratic so every aspect of its electoral system is democratic.
Monday, 5 March 2012
ECONOMICS: The Book of Genesis, 'The Matrix' and Magical Glasses of Beer-- an Interview with Czech Economist Tomáš Sedláček (Highly Recommended)
Q: What is wrong with the economy?
A: It has become a tool without a soul. In other words, the question isn't whether or not the economy works but whether or not it works as we would expect it to. That is a difficult question to answer because first we must decide how the economy should work.
Q: How would we like it to work?
A: First and foremost it should be fair. The problem is that we need to start making value judgements. As I try to show in my book, Economics was always based upon values but we have tried to escape from this in modern time. The title of the book-- 'Economics of Good and Evil'-- is provocative because, supposedly, Economics should not concern itself with good and evil. The first rule of 'Fight Club' is not to talk about 'Fight Club'. The first rule of Economics is not to talk about good and evil, but in real life we do talk about them.
Wednesday, 29 February 2012
'Tell me what you pay VAT on and I will tell you which lobbyists have your government's ear.' This rule can be easily applied to Polish VAT-- the taxes added to the price of goods and services which are the main source of income for the national budget. It is especially true when it comes to VAT on foodstuffs and beverages. With food and drink there are 3 VAT bands- 5%, 8% and the full 23%. Why certain products enjoy the lower levels of taxation is a question which has caused considerable comment and suspicion because many of these products are ones which a healthy diet could really do without. VAT is 5% on corn chips and 8% on crisps, instant noodles and ketchups which include a high level of chemical substances and even some cancer-causing agents. At the same time, healthy products which are recommended by dieticians, such as mineral water, are taxed at 23%. Where is the logic?
The walls of Hargeisa's prison loom over the city, giving shade to the peddlars and bored soldiers who sit and chew hallucinogenic khat leaves. Opposite the prison a barber works like crazy while the mechanic next door tries to fix a bike using a rock.
"Get outta here! F**k you!", shouts one of the soldiers, brandishing his rifle. In his faded uniform and red flip-flops he cuts a rather comical figure. His colleagues do not react so he takes matters into his own hands and attempts to scare me off by himself.
He is not fooling around. The fight against pirates, who fill the prison, is a very important matter for Somaliland, which lies on the Gulf of Aden-- a piracy blackspot. Since declaring independence from Somalia in 1991, Somaliland has never had such a good chance to make friends with Western governments.
The Uruguayan government, concerned with the health of its citizens, has declared war on cigarettes. It has forced tobacco giant Phillip Morris, owner of the Marlboro Brand, into relocating one its factories across the border to Argentina. This is not an isolated incident-- more and more countries have launched similar anti-tobacco campaigns.
Mexico's northern borderlands are a war zone. More people die here than in Afghanistan. Drugs cartels wage war for market share and for control of the smuggling routes north. The gangsters kill police officers, politicians and journalists. They corrupt and intimidate the authorities. They have gained control over entire cities. The chaos is added to by a host of paramilitary organisations and countless guns for hire. The price of a life is around 1000 pesos-- 85 dollars.
Wisława Szymborska has died. Her last wish was to be buried in a secular ceremony at her family plot in Krakow’s Rakowicki cemetery. The National – Catholic RCight has a problem. Had she asked to be buried in the crypt of the Church on the Rock, like fellow Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz, there would be a pretext for controversy, protests and to remind everyone that she had once written a poem about Stalin. Hell, who needs a pretext? That poem about Stalin will be dragged up anyway but such a request would have made a scandal much easier to create. Now, there is not much to be angry about. The Nationalist Right know that the greatest living Polish poet is Jarosław Marek Rymkiewicz, who has been forgiven for his past membership of the Union of Polish Youth (communist youth movement-CK) because he has become a Kaczyński supporter and has written a poem about the Smolensk disaster. He also has a beautiful name. The name of a true Pole, the truest of Poles..
Bulgaria has unexpectedly pulled out of an agreement to allow the exploration and extraction of shale gas in its territory. On 19th January the parliament in Sofia passed a bill outlawing any exploration or extraction using the controversial method of hydraulic fracturing.
The ban applies to the whole country, including Bulgaria’s territorial waters in the Black Sea. Any company which violates the ban will face fines of up to 66 million dollars, as well as confiscation of equipment.
The Miami Herald has called him ‘the czar of the recovery effort’. Esquire magazine has labelled him the ‘CEO of a country without leaders.’ German magazine Der Spiegel describes Clinton as the lord of Haiti, ruling through his former aide Gary Conille, the current Haitian PM.
The former US president is directing the reconstruction of the poorest country in the western hemisphere, which was devasted by an earthquake in 2010. So far he has been doing so with some success. He has attracted business people and investors and has been able to count on the help of numerous FOBs (Friends of Bill) amongst the political and business elites of the USA. Clinton’s wife, Hilary, is head of US diplomacy and through this direct link he is trying to make sure that the US does not forget the country which, due to its poverty and turbulent history, has been called the ‘cursed island’.
If anything positive can be taken from the decision by the Polish goverment to ratify the ACTA agreement, it is the protests that have been sparked by it. It is the biggest wave of protests that Poland has seen for a long time. We have witnessed the unusal sight of anarchist banners being waved alongside the white and red Polish flag. Most of the protesters are young people who, angered by the way they have been ignored by the government, have taken to the streets for the first time. Unfortunately, the scale of the protests bear witness to the bad news—the ACTA agreement affects everyone, to a greater or lesser degree.
The discussion over ACTA, like so many debates in Polish politics, reminds one of a publicity stunt, albeit on a larger scale and with more emotion involved. People have taken to the streets,there have been chanting and shouting, opposition parties are trying to ride the wave of discontent and the ruling coalition are trying to pretend that nothing is happening. In all of this there has been precious little rational debate over the issue at hand. ACTA is not a charter for internet censorship. The treaty is concerned chiefly with counterfeit goods and does not really focus on the internet at all. Only 10% of the whole text deals with digital content and the rules it states merely repeat the laws which have been in force for years.
When analysing the current situation in Poland, the experts and pundits ask themselves what the authorities are likely to do—how the premier, president or certain minister will react to circumstances. Occasionally the speculation focuses on the politicians in opposition. However, one thing which is never taken into consideration is how Polish society will react. It is as if society did not exist and that politics was a form of theatre to be played out only in the buildings and offices of the powers that be. Can it be that the citizens have ceased to be an active subject in public life and do no longer have even the slightest influence on the course of events?