Tag Archives: politics

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.

Do you have a PLan?

Polish PM Donald Tusk was in London yesterday. He was supposed to try and convince Poles living here to come back to Poland, by asking “Do you have a return PLan?’ (PL stands for Poland, of course). All that because the Polish government has launched a special site, where Poles living in the UK can get advice regarding moving their lives back to Poland.

Allegedly in the first 24 hours after the site was launched, it was ‘extremely popular’, although I would argue whether 150 questions asked in 24 hours is really that much, bearing in mind that there are anything between 500,000 and a million or even more recent migrants from Poland. But at least the government is eventually doing something useful apart from just saying ‘Come back!’.

A London-based Polish portal Moja Wyspa quotes unnamed ‘experts’ who predict that up to half a million Poles may go back home in the next few years. That’s just another finger in the air estimate – nobody really knows how many people have come to the UK from Poland in the first place, so how can they predict how many are planning, sorry, PLanning to return?! But it’s good to see someone wants to help them at last.

On an almost unrelated note, looks like Aussies are also abandoning the capital. I have certainly noticed that among my Australian friends…

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Racism or bad taste? Or a technical error?

“Did you know Barack Obama has Polish blood? Yes, his grandpa ate a Polish missionary”

This is a ‘joke’ I heard in Poland last week. It was attributed to Poland’s Foreign Minister (!), Radek Sikorski. The politician later had to explain that he did not actually tell the joke, he only used it as an example of racist jokes he claimed Polish people made.

Whether he did say that or not, a ‘joke’ like that should not be associated with any high government dignitary, let alone with a top diplomat. And this is I think the problem with Polish racism – despite appearances, it’s probably not more widespread than anywhere else, but it’s more visible due to a shocking lack of appropriate examples and guidance from Polish leaders.

Poland is – and has always been – a very welcoming and hospitable country. But it also is – or was – dominated by one religion and one race. Under the Communist rule it was also very isolated and to a degree it still is suffering from the destructive influence of such isolation. Most people have not had enough exposure to different religions, different races, different sexual preferences etc. And even though the nation in general is nowadays a bit more aware of the fact that certain comments are perceived as racist, homophobic or xenophobic, it will still take a long time – and a lot of work – to make people respect any differences more than they do now. Particularly, when political and religious leaders themselves allow for such cock-ups to happen.

When Barack Obama was announced as president-elect, one of Polish opposition MPs called it

‘the end of the white man era’.

Last week, a Polish Catholic magazine for children distributed a leaflet which read:

“A lamp without oil is dark. So is man without prayer”.

The leaflet was illustrated with a picture of a dark-skinned child saying “Pity prayer doesn’t brighten the skin”.

In both cases, apologies were issued after a widespread storm in Polish media. In both cases, the people responsible for the offending quotes/materials explained their actions, saying that ‘it shouldn’t have happened’ or that it was ‘a technical error’. A technical error?

It took just a couple of minutes to explain to the person who told me the Obama ‘joke’ why in a multi-cultural, multi-faith, multi-race society such a joke would largely be considered racist rather than just in bad taste. They understood that, even though a few minutes earlier it was still funny and ‘innocent’. And I guess many, if not most people would understand too – if they had more exposure to other faiths or races or beliefs.

Or if their leaders were less ignorant and less arrogant.

UPDATE: The minister in question is not going to step down, Polish PM is not commenting and the joke might have been originated by the brother of the current Polish president, says the Daily Telegraph. No culprits, no victims. No issue. 7b2fc9179318d4f9935422422a02092a