Thursday, 26 April 2012

OPINION: Jerzy Domanski-- On The 2nd Anniversary Of The Smoleńsk Disaster

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

POLAND / HISTORY: 'This Is Not The Poland They Fought For' (K. Pilawski)

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

SCIENCE: 'We Need Antarctica'-- An Interview With Polar Scientist Stanisław Rakusa-Suszczewski

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

ECONOMICS: 'Grow or Die'-- A Dangerous Dogma (L. Pawłowski)

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

INTERNATIONAL: Ucontacted Tribes-- Endangered By Civilisation (J. Piaseczny)

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

EUROPE: Spain Struggles As Recession Bites (K. Kęciek)

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.