Monthly Archives: April 2010

How many times have you visited Poland?

Not that many, is the shortest answer. According to yesterday’s Observer, in 2008 (or was it 2009? it wasn’t terribly clear), 1.58m people visited Poland from the UK. That number rose by 1.7% compared to, presumably, the previous year.

In the same period 1.49m people came from Poland to visit the UK, an increase of 15.3%.

It’s unclear whether the figures include any migrants or indeed how precise they are. But they clearly suggest there is more people in the UK who still haven’t visited Poland than those who’ve already sampled kielbasa in its native land.

Spain remains THE destination of choice for most Brits – almost 14 million people chose sangria over Zubrowka. Just under 11 million hopped across the Channel to France.

So let me ask you – how many times have you visited Poland so far? The survey should display in the middle column, to the right of this post. It applies to non-Poles, obviously, but everyone is welcome to leave a comment below.

And if you’re still looking for Bank Holiday ideas, let me just tell you that Gdansk, Wroclaw or Krakow – let alone the Tatra Mountains – look fabulous in May…

Nigel Kennedy’s Polish Weekend

NIGEL KENNEDY

If you’re based in London – or are visiting at the end of May – this might be your biggest chance this year to sample the best Polish culture has to offer. At least in the musical sense.

Britain’s most famous violinist, Nigel Kennedy, has been in love with Poland for quite some time now. And at the end of May (29th-31st) he’s putting together a spectacular show, Nigel Kennedy’s Polish Weekend, the culmination of Polska! Year.

The Weekend will see the Krakow-based Brit performing centre stage as well as alongside his jazz and young colleagues in an eclectic offering covering big band, experimental and vocal jazz, classical, folk, and klezmer music.

And why exactly is he doing it? Here’s what he has to say about this project:

‘I’ve been living in Poland some time now and I’m well into the Polish life, from the music and football through to the warmth of the people, food, brilliant beer and vodka. Poland has an incredibly rich environment for all music and I’m sure I’ve had a much better chance to develop as a musician because of all these live forms of music that are very prevalent in Polish music.

Giving a nod to his classical roots, Kennedy leads the UK debut of his own newly founded Orchestra of Life and Chopin Super Group.

A major highlight of the Weekend is Nigel Kennedy’s World Cup Project, in which Kennedy and colleagues perform Kennedy’s own composition, a partly improvised soundtrack, to accompany a screening of the 1973 World Cup qualifying match between England and Poland, which saw England failing to qualify for the World Cup for the first time. That should be spectacular.

But the weekend will also offer the chance to see live some of the biggest names in Polish music, many of whom have been featured on this blog.

On Saturday 29 May one of the hottest bands in the current Polish music scene Zakopower performs at the Royal Elizabeth Hall.

The following day on the same stage Nigel Kennedy will be joined by Kroke (pictured below) for an hour of fantastic folk music.

Kroke

And if you liked my post about Anna Maria Jopek and her music, you can see her live on Monday 31st May.

In the Royal Festival Hall Nigel Kennedy’s Chopin Super Group pays homage to Poland’s greatest composer Fryderyk Chopin in a celebratory concert with a twist.

One of the highlights of the entire Weekend, the concert features performances by leading Polish pianist Janusz Olejniczak, who played the piano music in Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film The Pianist, before Nigel Kennedy and special guests, including Anna Maria Jopek, provide contemporary interpretations of Chopin’s music.

Apart from all the performances you’ll also be able to sample some Polish food and drink, there will be family activities and violin-making workshops.

Announced on this blog just over a year ago, Polska! Year comes to an end with a bang. Hope the past twelve months have helped you discover a different side of Poland.

All images supplied by The Southbank Centre

“Green Nobel” for a Polish environmentalist

Rospuda ValleyI’ve recommended north-eastern parts of Poland a few times before, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the Rospuda Valley.

Like many areas in that part of Poland, Rospuda Valley is quite spectacular. To quote a recent AP report:

the Rospuda Valley [is] a pristine area in northeastern Poland containing a peat bog amid a virgin pine forest that is home to endangered bird species, orchids, eagles, lynxes, wolves, elk, wild boars, otters and beavers.

In recent years it also became the bone of contention between the Polish government and many environmentalists as the former wanted to build a motorway right through the Valley.

Via Baltica is to link Warsaw and Helsinki and the Rospuda Valley lies slap bang in the middle. But the government didn’t bother with alternative routes and carried on with its original plans.

A Polish conservationist called Malgorzata Gorska from the Polish Society for the Protection of Birds led a successful campaign to stop the development and yesterday she was awarded this year’s Goldman Environmental Prize, also known as the “Green Nobel.”

Here’s how AP reported Gorska’s fight with the Polish officials:

The Goldman prize said Gorska was “instrumental in fostering a citizens’ movement and developing a case against the Polish government to protect the Rospuda Valley from construction.”

After efforts to persuade the government to stop its plans failed, Gorska took advantage of Poland’s new membership in the EU, which it joined in 2004, making the case that the project violated environment regulations known as the EU’s Natura 2000.

The EU, as a result of her campaign, filed suit against Poland’s government in 2007, forcing it to suspend work until the court could examine the case. While the European Court of Justice did that, a Polish court found the route violated national laws, and in 2009 the Polish government gave up its plans to build the expressway through the valley.

If you’ve ever driven in Poland you know how desperate Poland is for good quality motorways. But not at any cost. So well done to Malgorzata!

Image by Pedalofilo via Flickr used under Creative Commons Attribution licence

Poland in mourning

This is undoubtedly the biggest tragedy Poland has endured since the end of the Second World War. This morning the presidential plane, en route to Smolensk in eastern Russia, crashed in thick fog as it came to landing.

The initial reports were unclear and confusing, but now we know that Poland has lost its current President, Lech Kaczynski. This morning’s crash wiped out a large part of Poland’s political elite as, apart from the President and his wife, there were 94 other high-ranking dignitaries onboard the plane.

Among those who tragically died in the accident were the former London-based President of Poland in Exile, Ryszard Kaczorowski, deputy heads of both chambers of the Polish parliament: Krzysztof Putra, Jerzy Szmajdzinski and Krystyna Bochenek, the head of the Polish National Security Office, Aleksander Szczyglo, the head of the Polish National Bank, Slawomir Skrzypek, several MPs, top army leaders, church leaders and numerous members of the late President’s entourage.

The painfully ironic, if the word is appropriate here at all, aspect of the tragedy is the fact they were en route to Katyn near Smolensk to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Massacre. Seventy years ago Soviets killed over twenty thousand Polish prisoners of war. By murdering top intellectuals, military personel, public servants etc. they wiped out the Polish elite. For decades, until 1990, Moscow denied any involvement, blaming Nazi Germany for it.

The fact that this tragedy mirrors the events of March 1940 is a very cruel twist of history and a massive blow to a country which in recent years has been emerging from decades of humiliation and suffering. And that’s regardless of what whoever thinks about the President, whose conservative policies and controversial comments often polarised the society.

Poland will need to brace itself for a very difficult period of rebuilding its power structures. Questions will be asked about the incident, about security policies, about the next steps. But I just hope this time Poland will take a more mature, less divisive approach to these issues.

The former Polish President, Aleksander Kwasniewski, referring to today’s tragedy in the forest outside Smolensk and the Katyn Massacre of 1940 said: “This place is damned.”

It’s very difficult to disagree with him.