The Null Device
Posts matching tags 'poland'
Der Spiegel has an interesting interview with Adam Michnik, former Polish Solidarność dissident and now editor of the broadsheet Gazeta Wyborcza, talking about democracy, authoritarianism and civil society in Europe, looking partly at the hardline authoritarian-nationalist turn Hungary has taken, and to a lesser extent the Catholic-nationalist right in Poland:
SPIEGEL: Orbán is trying to direct his country into a "system of national cooperation without compromises." What does he mean by that?
Michnik: British historian Norman Davies called this form of democracy a "government of cannibals." Democratic elections are held, but then the victorious party devours the losers. The gradual coup consists in getting rid of or taking over democratic institutions. These people believe that they are the only ones in possession of the truth. At some point, parties no longer mean anything, and the system is based, once again, on a monologue of power. The democratic institutions in the West are more deeply embedded in the West than in Eastern Europe. Democracy can defend itself there. Everything is still fragile in our countries, even two decades after the end of communism.
Michnik: Back in 1990, I wrote that nationalism is the last stage of communism: a system of thought that gives simple but wrong answers to complex questions. Nationalism is practically the natural ideology of authoritarian regimes.
Nobel laureate Lech Wałesa, who had led the Solidarność movement that overthrew Poland's Soviet-backed puppet government in the 1980s and served as the first President of independent Poland, recently caused an uproar when he said that gay people had no right to serve in parliament:
Wałesa said in a television interview on Friday that he believed gay people had no right to sit on the front benches in parliament and, if there at all, should sit in the back "or even behind a wall". "They have to know that they are a minority and adjust to smaller things, and not rise to the greatest heights," he told the private broadcaster TVN during a discussion of gay rights. "A minority should not impose itself on the majority."As a private citizen, Wałesa's words have no force in law, though given his status, they wield considerable influence, and resonate with a significant ultra-conservative proportion of Poland's population. (In Poland, the common colloquial word for “gay”, pedał, also means “paedophile”.) This proportion are well-represented; theirs is the opposition Law and Justice Party (currently allied with David Cameron's Tories in the EU Parliament, much to the discomfort of the we-are-not-the-Nasty-Party faction) and a conservative media which makes Fox News and The Australian look like the New York Times by comparison. (The fact that the Catholic Church was prominent in resistance to the Communist dictatorship imposed by the USSR, and that anything with a whiff of left-wing ideals, from secularism to equal rights for minorities, still stinks of Russian tanks to a proportion of the public doesn't help things.) Fortunately, they are not the unanimous voice of the Polish voting public: Poland's liberals have condemned the remarks, and the liberal Palikot's Movement party in parliament protested by temporarily promoting its two LGBT* parliamentarians to the front bench:
On Wednesday, Robert Biedron, a gay rights activist, and Anna Grodzka, who had a male-to-female sex-change operation, took seats in the front row of the assembly. Both are members of the progressive Palikot's Movement party, and party leader Janusz Palikot arranged for the two to sit in, relinquishing his own seat to Biedron.
The first row in the semi-circular lower chamber, or Sejm, is reserved for party leaders and prominent lawmakers. Biedron and Grodzka – who have been in parliament since 2011 – usually sit in the third row.Meanwhile, here is a petition asking for an apology from Wałesa for his statement.
Recently declassified documents from the German Foreign Ministry reveal that, in 1981, Margaret Thatcher, long seen as a hero of individual freedom and a staunch and fearless enemy of Communism, considered supporting the Polish Communist government's crackdown on the pro-democracy movement led by trade union-centred group Solidarność:
Carrington had earlier outlined the UK's position, saying that his government only backed Solidarity out of respect for public opinion, but that perhaps, from a more rational position, they would actually be "on the side of the Polish government".
Back then, Warsaw was threatened with insolvency and Thatcher evidently feared that the demands of the workers' movement could trigger a Soviet invasion. A few months later, the Polish communist Leader Wojciech Jaruzelski imposed martial law and the US invoked economic sanctions against Poland. Britain, however, avoided levying sanctions on the country.Presumably it was the “trade-union-led” bit that swung Solidarność into the same category as Nelson Mandela (considered a terrorist by the Thatcher government); after all, even if they might overthrow an evil Communist regime, what if in doing so they cause the greater harm of giving the local unionists ideas? In which case, Jaruzelski would have been a bulwark of stability, sort of like Thatcher's close friend, General Pinochet.
This wasn't Thatcher's last attempt to shore up the Eastern Bloc; later, as the Berlin Wall fell, she flew to Moscow to press Gorbachev to stop the reunification of Germany. Presumably freedom was good only where it applied to capital.
Last week, The Guardian once again ran a series of articles on Europe today, with contributions from papers in France, Spain, Germany, Poland and Italy. Intended partly to combat the rise in anti-European sentiment in the wake of the financial crisis. Among other things, this includes a number of profiles of political leaders by journalists from other countries (i.e., an Italian perspective on Germany's Angela Merkel, a German view of Poland's Donald Tusk, and French and British pieces on the other country's leader), as well as a a section looking at, and responding to, national stereotypes in Europe:
What message do we Brits think we send when our signature cultural export of 2011 was Downton Abbey, a show entirely about the intricacies of class and which apparently longs for a return to Edwardian notions of hierarchy? The smash West End play One Man, Two Guvnors similarly revolves around class. Unfortunately, it's not just a foreigners' myth that in Britain how one speaks and what school one attended still counts.
There is a vibrancy to modern British life that eludes the cliche's grasp. There's a hint of it in that Polish suggestion that the Brits are "kind and friendly to immigrants". Compared with other European countries, it's probably true that Britain is, generally, more tolerant. Some of our public services – the NHS, the BBC – are still cherished. We are not merely a mini-America of let-it-rip free-marketism.
Efficiency is not really a Berlin thing. Take construction. To build 2km of new tram lines to connect the new central station, they set aside three years. Delays were not even factored in. In China, they'd have built whole new cities in that time, or a high-speed motorway across the entire country. Maybe the Chinese are the Germans of the 21st century. Or maybe Berliners are just not typical Germans. Can you stereotype a country if its capital is not typical?
In Italy, sex drive increases with age. Naturally, it is also possessed to a degree by the young (this is why we have children), but it is only after the age of 50 that the Italian male finally dives headlong into adolescence. We are the only nation to have had a prime minister in his 70s who wears a bandana on his head like a tennis player or a rap singer.
A gay Iranian teenager who fled to Britain after his boyfriend was hanged for sodomy is facing deportation to Iran, and almost certain death. Britain's Home Office has already denied Mehdi Kazemi, 19, asylum, and now the Netherlands is extraditing him to Britain:
"There is no doubt that Mehdi will be arrested and probably executed if he is sent back there," said his 51-year-old uncle, a salesman from Hampshire. "The police have issued a warrant for his arrest. He will be in terrible danger if he goes back."
Mr Kazemi's father has also told him that if the state doesn't kill him, he will. "His father is very angry but his mother still loves him. She is extremely worried for him but she is in a very difficult position. In Iran, mothers don't stop loving their children because they are gay."
A Home Office spokeswoman confirmed Mr Kazemi had exhausted all his domestic avenues of appeal and could expect to be detained pending his deportation. But she added: "Any further representations will be considered on their merits taking into account all the circumstances."Meanwhile, in Lancashire, a court has heard that a gang of teenagers beat a 20-year-old woman to death because she was dressed as a Goth. The woman's boyfriend was severely bashed and left with brain damage. It is not clear what the assailants' dispute with the victims' subcultural orientation was, or indeed what their own views were, though it'd probably be a safe bet that they were of the hoody-wearing persuasion.
And the ultra-conservative former prime minister of Poland, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, has spoken out against allowing internet voting because the internet is for pornography:
"I am not an enthusiast of a young person sitting in front of a computer, watching video clips and pornography while sipping a bottle of beer and voting when he feels like it," he was quoted as saying on his party's revamped Web site.
He added that Internet users are "the easiest group to manipulate, to suggest who to vote for."He's right, if one defines being manipulated as being persuaded to put aside cherished prejudices and entertain new, potentially controversial, ideas.
14-year-old "electronics genius" in Lódz, Poland, built a remote control for the city's tram system (apparently out of a TV remote control, though presumably they mean that he housed it in a TV remote control case ) and used it to change points, forcing trams onto the wrong tracks, until he was arrested.
"He had converted the television control into a device capable of controlling all the junctions on the line and wrote in the pages of a school exercise book where the best junctions were to move trams around and what signals to change.
Problems with the signalling system on Lodz's tram network became apparent on Tuesday when a driver attempting to steer his vehicle to the right was involuntarily taken to the left. As a result the rear wagon of the train jumped the rails and collided with another passing tram. Transport staff immediately suspected outside interference.
After publishing a best-selling crime novel detailing a gruesome torture and murder, Polish crime novelist Krystian Bala has been charged with a similar murder which happened a few years earlier, the victim having been a friend of his ex-wife:
The case was broadcast on Poland’s version of the BBC television programme Crimewatch but it produced no serious leads — only some strange e-mails sent from internet cafés in Indonesia and South Korea, describing the murder as “the perfect crime”.
The first break for the police came when they discovered that Mr Bala, a highly experienced diver, was on a diving trip to South Korea and Indonesia at the time that the e-mails were sent. Then they discovered that he had sold a mobile phone four days after the body of Dariusz J was discovered. It was the same model that the victim was known to have owned, but that police had never found.
Mr Bala offered to take a lie-detector test to prove his innocence and passed. When the transcripts were read out in court, the judge was struck by the very long pauses taken by Mr Bala before answering, a technique that may allow a suspect to mask the physical signs of lying.Of course, that doesn't mean that he did it, though it does start to look somewhat suspicious.
Meanwhile, some light has been shed on another murder mystery, the whereabouts of Lord Lucan; some people, including a retired Scotland Yard detective believe that the disgraced peer, who may have bludgeoned his family nanny to death, is living out of a car in New Zealand, with a cat and a pet possum, no less:
Neighbours say the man has an upper-class English accent and a military bearing like Lord Lucan, who was educated at Eton before serving in the Coldstream Guards.
He is said to have arrived in New Zealand about the time Lucan disappeared and is also understood to be receiving money from property he owns in Britain.
In Poland, where the mainstream culture is dominated by a conservative, nationalistic monoculture, more often than not with an anti-Semitic streak, rebels, refuseniks and rootless cosmopolitanists are embracing all things Jewish. Klezmer bands (comprised mostly of non-Jewish musicians) are forming everywhere, people are taking classes in everything from Hasidic dancing to Hebrew calligraphy, and replicas of 1930s-vintage Jewish merchants' signs are cropping up all over Krakow streets like some kind of theme park:
Interest in Jewish culture became an identifying factor for people unhappy with the status quo and looking for ways to rebel, whether against the government or their parents.
"The word 'Jew' still cuts conversation at the dinner table," Gebert said. "People freeze."
The revival of Jewish culture is, in its way, a progressive counterpoint to a conservative nationalist strain in Polish politics that still espouses anti-Semitic views. Some people see it as a generation's effort to rise above the country's dark past in order to convincingly condemn it.Not everybody's pleased with this:
Many Jews are offended by the commercialization of their culture in a country almost universally associated with its near annihilation.
Others argue that there is something deeper taking place in Poland as the country heals from the double wounds of Nazi and communist domination. "There is commercialism, but that is foam on the surface," Gebert said. "This is one of the deepest ethical transformations that our country is undergoing.Perhaps we can expect to see a new wave of klezmer-punk bands emerging from Krakow any day now?
"When I went into a coma there was only tea and vinegar in the shops, meat was rationed and huge petrol queues were everywhere," Mr Grzebski said.
"Now I see people on the streets with mobile phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin," he told Polish television.
An international manhunt is under way for a Polish man who expressed his disapproval of the government by means of flatulence after being asked what he thought of the president:
Hubert Hoffman, 45, was charged with "contempt for the office of the head of state" for his actions after he was stopped by police in a routine check at a Warsaw railway station.
He complained that under President Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother Jaroslaw, the country was returning to a Communist style dictatorship.
When told to show more respect for the country's rulers, he farted loudly and was promptly arrested.When you get beyond the gross-out-Hollywood-comedy elements of this story, it starts looking rather disturbing. The implication is that, in Poland, the police are routinely stopping people, asking them what they think of the president, and arresting those who give the wrong answer. Given that the EU is bringing pressure to bear on Turkey to scrap its laws against "insulting Turkishness" before even thinking about being admitted to the EU, one of its own member states behaving in this fashion beggars belief.
Incidentally, if an Australian was stopped by Australian Federal Police outside SouthernCross Station, asked what he thought of the Prime Minister, and replied in this fashion, could he be charged with sedition? And if so, would he be?
The ultra-conservative president of Poland (one half of a set of identical twins running the country (his brother is Prime Minister) and a man so right-wing he makes Tony Abbott look like Bob Brown) has called for the restoration of the death penalty. If anything comes of this, it could lead to an interesting situation, as capital punishment is expressly prohibited in the European Union. Were Poland to reintroduce it, it would leave Brussels with a dilemma: hold to principles and expel one of their populous members, or allow Poland to opt out of the death-penalty ban. If the EU blinks and the latter happens, how long until the Daily Mail and Sun put the reintroduction of capital punishment on the agenda in the UK.
1 Why do you ask people "how are you?" if you don't care about the answer?
Britain is a nation built upon appearances. We pretend to be richer, happier and probably nicer than we actually are, and glean some small grain of superiority in doing so. Asking "how are you?" is the quotidian incarnation of this trait. We don't actually care how you are, we are merely giving some semblance of caring, so that at all times we can retain the moral high ground. For further examples of this, perhaps study Keeping Up Appearances, the early 90s BBC sitcom starring Patricia Routledge, or the letters page of the Times. It is also worth pointing out that to be asked "how are you?" in a disgruntled British fashion is perhaps not so affronting as to be bid "have a nice day!" by some sunny-side up American.
4 Why do women here wear open-toed sandals in deepest winter?The guide goes on to cover such perplexing phenomena as the prices of rail tickets, the full English breakfast, and the peculiar habit of eating chips with vinegar (something I never understood either).
In Britain, women are highly prized for their hardiness. We have a popular saying: "Is she rugged as a goat? Then she is for me!" Hence a woman spotted out on a February evening in the most northerly quarters of the isle wearing nothing but a short, skimpy frock is valued far above any woman in a sensible coat. A less extreme interpretation is for a woman to sport open-toed sandals, regardless of the inclement weather; to us, it is as erotic as a burst of cleavage, or a glimpse of a lady's ankle.
Approximately 5% of the population of Poland is expected to go to Rome for the Pope's funeral this week.
Pilgrims have been queuing at Warsaw's central station all week hoping to land a coveted seat on the trains leaving today. LOT, the national airline, is struggling to cope with the demand and Poles are said to be buying tickets for any destinations heading south that may get them closer to Rome.
(I wonder if the Polish mass exodus will spread to London. If so, don't count on food stalls at street markets being open this weekend.)
The floating, untraceable online Forbidden City mentioned in that William Gibson book (Idoru, I think it was) is a reality; only, in reality, it sells fraudulent financial products and penis pills: a Polish "spacker" group is using trojanned PCs to "untraceably" host spammers' web sites. The system works by routing requests to the hijacked machines with special DNS servers run by the group:
According to Tubul, his group controls 450,000 "Trojaned" systems, most of them home computers running Windows with high-speed connections. The hacked systems contain special software developed by the Polish group that routes traffic between Internet users and customers' websites through thousands of the hijacked computers. The numerous intermediary systems confound tools such as traceroute, effectively laundering the true location of the website. To utilize the service, customers simply configure their sites to use any of several domain-name system servers controlled by the Polish group, Tubul said.
"Hackers used to detest spammers, but now that spamming has become such a big business, it's suddenly cool to be a spammer," Linford said. He said the junk e-mail business has also recently attracted "engineers who have been laid off or fired, and people who really know what they're doing with networking and DNS."
That's one of those things that is simultaneously fascinating and repugnant, much like a predatory wasp laying eggs inside a paralysed prey or something. (via bOING bOING)
Poland votes Yes in EU referendum. The devoutly Catholic country is the largest by far of new member states, having more citizens than all the other applicants combined, and some are hoping that it will bolster the influence of conservative states in Europe, counteracting the influence of the perfidious Gaullists. Hopefully the process will work both ways and EU membership will liberalise Polish society, which is not the most tolerant of places.
Next up: the Czech republic, next weekend.
Swingin' Stalinism, in the form of 1950s Communist propaganda posters from Poland. Totalitarianism never looked so groovy. (via bOING bOING)
Stranger than fiction: Ambulance crews in the Polish city of Lodz have been deliberately letting patients die, in return for kickbacks from funeral companies. In some cases the ambulance crews even hastened the deaths of their charges by administering muscle relaxants. In return, the funeral homes paid the ambulance crews over US$300 for each stiff sent their way.