A blog by an American expatriate living in the heart of New Europe

"It's a lateral transfer" -- George W. Bush, 43rd President of the United States
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Friday, September 30, 2005

Which kind of conservative are you?

America's conservatives take another blow

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Baby steps


Poland moves up nine places in WEF's economic ranking list

Experts from the World Economic Forum decided that Finland is the most competitive country in the world third time in a row. The authors of the report stressed that Poland, which improved its standing by nine places and ended 51 in the world, was among the countries that made the largest leap. Poland is however only slightly ahead of Mauritius, but behind among others Botswana, Tunisia, Thailand and Kuwait. Poland is lagging behind due to the high level of the state's debt and the inefficiency of the state bureaucracy. Polled businessmen also mentioned unclear fiscal regulations and corruption, as the main obstacles to conducting business. "Accession countries are not a homogenous group. In our ranking, Poland is placed in the lowest position due to substantial weaknesses in terms of institutions," admitted Augusto Loper-Claros, chief economist with the Forum.

The Economist on Poland's parliamentary elections

The nail on the head. Again.

Word verification

... for comments has been enabled. I have no more patience for deleting comment spam.

Most Blogger bloggers have it enabled now, and it doesn't seem to discourage commenting. All of the Blogger blogs where I comment have it - as do the blogs of the folks who comment here!

So please don't be discouraged - keep up all the great comments!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A fiscally responsible Poland?

Poland's conservative candidate for prime minister Kazimierz Marcinkiewcz said on Wednesday he wanted a quick compromise with a pro-business ally over tax reform which would rejuvenate the country's economy.

The conservative Law and Justice and ally Civic Platform crushed the ruling left in Sunday' general election and are set to launch coalition talks later on Wednesday.

"We all agree that labour costs must be lowered and taxes are a part of this," Marcinkiewicz told public radio.

"That is why I personally will oversee talks on economic issues, here we have the biggest controversies and must quickly make joint decisions and come to a compromise."

The two centre-right parties have pledged to cut taxes and curb unemployment -- at 18 percent the highest in the European Union -- but deciding on a joint economic programme will be tough, economists say.

The conservatives see a bigger role for the state in the economy that the Platform and have vowed to strengthen the EU newcomer's welfare protection.

They have ruled out adopting the Platform's 15 percent flat tax scheme, which they attacked in the campaign as a "liberal experiment" that would benefit the rich. Instead, they want tax breaks for families and companies creating new jobs.

Marcinkiewicz reiterated he would seek to change the 2006 budget draft left by the outgoing cabinet, saying the changes would probably be presented to parliament late in November or early December.

He confirmed he that he planned to lower the 2006 budget deficit by 2.5 billion zlotys ($774 million) to 30 billion -- or slightly above 3 percent of gross domestic product.

According to daily Rzeczpospolita, the conservatives aim to bring down the deficit mainly through cuts in administration costs and elimination of several state agencies.

Law and Justice is also considering limiting the responsibilities of the finance minister by bringing some budget issues directly under control of the prime minister.

"We want to agree with Law and Justice what remains in the finance minister's hands and what is given to the premier," senior Civic Platform official Zbigniew Chlebowski told Reuters.

"Once this is known and the programme is set, then we can calmly decide...if there is any point in having the finance minister from another party than the prime minister," he added.

Latest Presidential poll numbers


Tusk: 41%

Kaczyński: 32%

Lepper: 11%

Borowski: 10% (a big jump after nabbing Kwaśniewski's endorsement)

Giertych: 1%

Secretary General Kwaśniewski?


Kwaśniewski among top three candidates for UN secretary general post

Aleksander Kwaśniewski is one of the three most serious candidates for the post of Secretary General of the United Nations. Until recently it seemed almost certain that Kofi Annan's successor would come from the Asian region, as this is what the rotation of the post envisages. However, Asia failed to promote a strong candidate. Among those who are most likely to take the post are the Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Surakiart Sathirathai, and former Deputy of the Secretary General, Jayantha Dhanapala. But both these candidates fall short when it comes to the Polish President's international experience. The final decision requires the unanimity of the five permanent members of the Security Council. Over the past months the US and UK both gave unofficial signals to Polish diplomats confirming their readiness to support Kwaśniewski's candidacy and France, although more hesitant, claims it would support "an EU candidate." Still unknown is the standing of China and Russia.

Kaczyński names Marcinkiewicz as candidate for Prime Minister


Prime Minister Marcinkiewicz could soon be the name on everyone's lips

During a press conference yesterday, the leader of Law and Justice (PiS), Jarosław Kaczyński, named Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz as the party's most likely candidate for Prime Minister. Marcinkiewicz is a trusted politician and one of the party's founders and leaders. PiS' leader emphasized that: "Marcinkiewicz is well prepared to solve economic problems, he has a good reputation in the business area, and was the coordinator of the process of preparing PiS' election program." In order to choose the best candidate for the post of PM, the party consulted with Civic Platform (PO). PiS is on the verge of forming a coalition with PO in the new government. "After these talks I decided that Marcinkiewicz is the man who guarantees the fastest and most effective appointment of the government," said Kaczyński. Marcinkiewicz said that Jan Rokita should participate in the formation of the new government. He also added that the most urgent task is to create the new government's program, while appointing new Ministers is a secondary matter.

An excellent move. Marcinkiewicz is relatively unknown, and was set to be Economic or Finance Minister under a PiS government. I've heard him speak on economic matters, and was encouraged with what I heard - lower taxes, fewer ministries and government bureaucracy. Is that the kind of policy they'll stick with? It's too early to tell, but that PO had imput into the decision is a hopeful sign. Could this conservative coalition bring their fiscally responsible economic policies (rather than their disastrous social policies) to the fore? Here's a good signal that it will:

Draft budget adopted but PiS already has its fiscal planning knives out

Yesterday the [SLD] government adopted a draft budget for 2006. According to the project the budget deficit is to amount to zł.32.5 billion i.e. 3.3% of GDP. "I can see no crisis in public finances," said Prime Minister Marek Belka. "In 2008 we will easily fulfill the criterion of a 3% public finance sector deficit as compared to GDP." However, the leaders of the parties that won the election have already announced that the budget will be changed. "We are already preparing amendments for the budget for 2006," revealed Kazimierz Marcinkiewicz from Law and Justice (PiS). "We assume far-reaching changes such as the liquidation of certain agencies and funds and shifts within the budget." PiS would also like to lower the deficit to zł.30 billion .

[That would bring it to about 3% of GDP already - an important step if Poland wants to join the eurozone sooner rather than later].

[But then, PiS' socialist side rears its ugly head:]

Artur Zawisza from PiS did not exclude an increase of revenues as compared to those planned by the present government by introducing tax changes.

However, the politicians of the Civic Platform (PO), the PiS' potential coalition partner, ruled this out. "It is out of the question. Minister Gronicki planned too optimistic tax revenues for next year anyway," said Zbigniew Chlebowski from PO.

Let's hope PO stick to their guns.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

I've never seen a bigger pile of crap

... than what this website says about the Polish election.

The Polish right's win says absolutely nothing about Polish sentiment towards America - except possibly that Poles would like more in return for their fidelity. If anything, these rightist parties have criticized the current government (leftists all, who wouldn't think for a second about allowing relations with the US to worsen) for not getting enough in return for Poland's participation in the Iraq war. In particular, expect to hear the words "Visa Waiver Program" from both parties in the near future. A lot.

Lukasz Pawlowski, chief media spokesman for Civic Platform, said Poland would start to demand more in return, including a less restrictive visa policy.

The right's victory is not a vindication of Bush, it is a manifestation of many very complicated political factors, one of the very minor ones being Bush foreign policy.

Neither does it have anything to do with Germany's stance on the Iraq war.

You mean, the right-wing party that garnered more votes is skeptical of the Germans--the country within the EU that most vehemently opposed the Iraq war for ideological reasons?

Let me tell you something: EVERYBODY in Poland is skeptical of the Germans, including the left - in case you forgot, there are historical reasons for this. It doesn't help though that Germany recently signed a pipeline deal with Russia that bypasses Poland.

Some on the right would like to take every world event, and ascribe it some cause in the microcosm of political America. It doesn't work that way. Perhaps if they bothered to do their homework, they would know that.

Then again, if they had bothered to do their homework, they wouldn't be on the right in the first place.

CDU hails Polish vote - Schroeder 'no comment'


Angela Merkel's Christian Democrats, who won the most votes in German elections, on Monday hailed the conservative winners of Polish elections while Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's outgoing centre-left Berlin government said "no comment".

"We are convinced a Christian Democratic-led government in Germany and a centre-right coalition in Poland will lead to a clear improvement in German-Polish relations," said Friedbert Pflueger, a foreign policy expert for Merkel's Christian Democratic alliance (CDU/CSU).

Pflueger called for closer future consultations between Germany and Poland on European Union (E.U.) issues.

Ties between Warsaw and Berlin have been strained in recent years over a series of issues.

These include discord over the Iraq war which Poland backed and Germany strongly opposed; disagreement over the E.U. constitution; Polish anger over plans by ethnic Germans expelled from Poland in 1945 to open a centre against expulsion in Berlin; and Polish fears over calls by some expellees for lawsuits to get back former properties.

Contrasting the CDU/CSU's warm words, Chancellor Schroeder's spokesman did not even raise Poland's Sunday parliamentary elections at his regular government briefing until asked to do so by reporters.

"It's not yet final," said Berlin's chief spokesman Bela Anda in response to Polish voters forcing out the ruling ex-communists and handing victory to the conservative Law and Justice party (PiS), which won 26.8 per cent of the vote ahead of the liberal Civic Platform (PO) which got 24.2 per cent.

The two parties, with roots in the 1980s Solidarity anti-communist opposition, plan to set up a coalition government.

Anda would only say Germany was closely watching developments in Poland. He added that Berlin did not generally comment on parliamentary election results.

But the real view of Schroeder's Social Democrats (SPD) was made clear in a statement by Markus Meckel who briefly served as the first and last freely elected foreign minister of former East Germany in 1990 before the German reunification that year.

"I view the overall election results with concern," said Meckel who warned that the PiS had run a "nationalist and populist" election campaign by staking out "anti-European Union and also anti-German positions."

Meckel warned that ties between Germany and Poland "will certainly not get easier with this result".

Both Angela Merkel and Gerhard Schroeder are still battling over who will be the next German leader but given Merkel's plurality of 225 seats in parliament to Schroeder's 222, she is tipped as being more likely to head the next government.

Anti-Russia sentiments bound to grow in Poland – Kosachyov


Anti-Russian sentiments will grow in Poland with a new rightist government in place, said Konstantin Kosachyov, the chief of the State Duma’s international affairs committee.

Commenting on results of Poland’s parliamentary elections, he told Itar-Tass on Monday that the outcome of voting was not unexpected – “positions of the previous centre left government were weak, and this weakness was determined first of all by economic problems of Poland”.

Poland’s government is likely to prove “very heterogeneous”, as the two winner parties are not partners.

The party Law and Justice is conservative and the Civil Platform rightist liberal, Kosachyov explained.

Just for this reason they have “few points of contact, and their alliance will be tactical rather than strategic”.

The rightist government is likely to run into serious internal contradictions and conflicts, Kosachyov said.

As for the Russia-Polish relations, he said “they were not simple earlier with the centre left government in place; Poland was one of the most unsuccessful international partners for Russia”.

In his opinion, anti-Russian sentiments will be only growing in Poland.

“Regrettably, anti-Russian sentiments are a uniting factor for Polish society,” Kosachyov said.

He added that Russophobe tendencies in Poland were not a result of propaganda by rightist parties.

“Poland is doubtlessly a great European state. However, because of historical causes, it has been unable to fully implement its political ambitions”, and just for this reason the Polish nation has developed a “certain national complex”, Kosachyov said.

In his opinion, Polish authorities will continue their “rigid resistance to Russia’s coming closer with European states, such as Germany, Italy and France”.

He also expressed a misgiving that new Polish authorities will help “fanning” the differences existing between Russia and the Baltic republics.

However, Russia should “adhere to the policy of tolerance in the relations with the new Polish authorities,” Kosachyov stressed.

European officials warn Poland against introducing death penalty


European officials said Monday that Poland would be in clear breach of its international commitments if the winners of this weekend's parliamentary elections were to reintroduce the death penalty.

Senior members of the Council of Europe, the continent's top human rights watchdog, said Poland's membership would be jeopardized. An official at the European Commission said such a step would violate the EU's charter of fundamental rights.

Jarosław Kaczyński, the leader of the Law and Justice Party which won weekend parliamentary elections, and his brother Lech, the Warsaw mayor vying for the presidency next month, have long spoken out in support of the death penalty as a way of fighting corruption and crime, according to the AP.

Last year, the Law and Justice party - then in opposition - tabled a motion in parliament for the death penalty to be restored following a series of murders, but narrowly lost in a vote.

The issue did not emerge as a major theme of this election campaign, though, and neither has said they would seek to change the law once in office.

Gross was referring to the European Convention on Human Rights, an international human rights treaty binding on all Council of Europe members. The body was founded in 1949 and associates the EU's 25 nations and all but one of the continent's non-EU countries.

Poland, which joined the EU on May 1, 2004, eliminated the death penalty in 1997 while moving to adopt the bloc's standards. For many years prior to that, the death penalty though formally part of the Polish penal code was not actually used.

Abolition of the death penalty is one of the cornerstones of the Convention and a key condition of membership of the Council of Europe.

The European Commission in Brussels also said advocating the death penalty goes against fundamental values shared by all European countries.

Russia, the only European country that has not formally abolished capital punishment, imposed a moratorium on it in 1996. Deputy Prosecutor General Vladimir Kolesnikov this year proposed lifting the moratorium for those convicted of organizing and carrying out terrorist acts, drawing strong criticism from the Council of Europe.

About seventy countries worldwide still carry out the death penalty, according to the French group ECPME, or "Together Against the Death Penalty." The United States and Japan are the only two democracies that still carry out executions.

It's a little late

... but I would be remiss if I didn't congratulate Poland's women's volleyball team on winning the European Championships ... again.

Poland suffers from a seemingly non-existent sports culture - understandably so after Poland's drop off the world sports map once much funding for sports had to be sacrificed after the fall of communism. Sure, there are your hard-core soccer fans, for example, but they're viewed as hooligans. Many Poles participate in sports, but those are individual such as swimming and skiing, and are vacation or hobby activities.

I'm glad to see anything that raises interest in sports here in this country, especially now since Adam Małysz the (not-so) famous Polish ski-jumper, is past his prime.

Congratulations, ladies. I hope there are now more Polish girls out there who will be encouraged to follow your example.

Monday, September 26, 2005

With 90% in

PiS - 26.86% - 152 deputies

PO - 24.23- 133 deputies

SO - 11.66 - 57 deputies

SLD - 11.38 - 56 deputies

LPR - 7.89 - 33 deputies

PSL - 6.96 - 27 deputies

Turnout: 40.17%

60% in


The state electoral commission said Monday that with 60 percent of votes counted, the conservative Law and Justice Party had 26.56 percent of the vote, while the free-market Civic Platform had 24.08 percent.

The two parties have said they would form a government together, and the early results indicated they would control 274 seats in parliament's 460-member lower house.

The third largest force is the radical farmer Self-Defense Party, with 12.44 percent of votes. The turnout was 39.25 percent. Exit polls indicated a similar outcome.

Vote tallies were likely to change somewhat, as Warsaw, with some 1.5 million residents, was lagging behind in the vote count, the head of the commission, Ferdynand Rymarz, said.

Could be good news for PO. The electoral commission reports again at 12 with 90% of votes counted.

What they're saying

Reuters: Solidarity heirs drub left in Polish vote

CNN: Exit polls: Poland turning right

BBC: Poles oust left at voting booth

Bloomberg: Poland's Law & Justice Wins Election, Exit Poll Shows

Associated Press: Exit Polls: Center-Right wins in election

MSNBC: Polish voters ousting scandal-plagued regime

Financial Times: Centre-right parties set to form Polish coalition

International Heral Tribune: Poles shift to right in voting for Parliament

Times Online: Disillusioned Poland swings to the right but most voters stay at home

Off topic

A piece of good news.

CNN says the story

is how well SLD did. I disagree.

SPDL was slipping in the runup to the election, while SLD continued to gain. SLD was scoring 8% by Thursday. Eleven percent is within the margin of error. Clearly, the left simply lost confidence in the new parties that had appeared and fell back on their old standby - God knows what they were thinking - but there was certainly no last-minute, unexpected surge from the left.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Poland is clearly split

... between east and west.

According to statistics shown on private television station TVN:

The eight easternmost provinces or voivodships, Łódzkie (capital: Łódź), Lubelskie (Lublin), Małopolskie (Kraków),Mazowieckie (Warsaw), Podkarpackie (Rzeszów), Podlaskie (Białystok), Świętokrzyskie (Kielce) and Warmińsko-Mazurskie (Olsztyn) went to PiS.

Six westernmost voivodships - namely: Dolnośłąskie (Wrocław), Lubuskie (Zielona Góra, Gorzów Wielkopolskie), Opolskie (Opole), Pomorskie (Gdańsk), Wielkopolskie (Poznań) and Zachodniopomorskie (Szczecin) - went to PO.

Two voivodships squeezed between these regions, Kujawsko-Pomorskie (Bydgoszcz, Toruń)and Śląskie (Katowice) roughly split PO/PiS down the middle.

It's no surprise that the provinces closer to the former Soviet Union, which are also more rural as well as poorer, preferred a more protectionist, socialist, euro-skeptic party, while the voivodships closer to the German border, who have most benefited from trade with Germany and with the EU (Wrocław in particular has benefited from special economic zones, and greater business investment), are more free-market.

It doesn't look like that situation is going to change anytime soon.

Are we seeing the establishement of two power bases? A regional rivalry?

The story of this election

... is Poles' antipathy. Why didn't 60% of them even bother to vote?

There is more interest in the presidential electoin, ironically, since the Prime Minister has more power in Poland.

Still, I'm unconvinced that turnout for the presidential poll will beat 50%.

Chalk it up to typical Polish pessimism and fatalism?

- On an interesting note, TVN has every single one of the major party leaders together and is conducting a "debate" or more accurately, a "question-and-answer session" with them right now. You'd never see that in the states.

More numbers

Rzeczpospolita confirms the win for Kaczyński twin #1.

PiS - 28.26%

PO - 24.48

SLD - 10.97

SO - 10.16

LPR - 8.25

PSL - 5.58

SDPL - 3.27

PD - 2.76

PiS and PO will split 90% of the seats in the Senat.

Exit Polls In

According to exit polls, PO has fallen flat on its face again. Despite holding the lead in all of the most recent polls, they have come in second to PiS, 24.1% to 27.6%. Here is how TVP is reporting the results:

PiS - 27.8% - 162 deputies

PO - 24.1% - 141 deputies

SLD - 11.3% - 50 deputies

SO - 10.5% - 47 deputies

LPR - 10.5% - 35 deputies

PSL - 5.9% - 23 deputies

Turnout was a measly 38.3%

First results in two hours

The electoral commission has announced that as of 4:30 pm, only 27% of the electorate had voted.

Sunday Vista Blogging IV

la Alhambra
Gus for WS
La Alhambra and Granada, from Generalife Gardens, Spain

La Alhambra
Gus for WS
La Alhambra from the old Muslim quarter of Granada, Spain

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Virginia museum to return Nazi-plundered art to Poland

Associated Press

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts will return to Poland a 16th-century Flemish painting looted by the Nazis during World War II.

Jan Mostaert's "Portrait of a Courtier" (also known as "Duc le Burgundy" and "Portrait of Charles VIII") arrived at the museum in 1952, a gift from a woman who had purchased the art from a New York gallery.

The oil portrait, owned by the Czartoryski family, was housed in a castle the family had converted to a museum. Duchess Maria Ludwika Czartoryski had the painting moved to Warsaw in 1939, shortly before the German invasion of Poland.

It was confiscated by the Nazis in 1941 and taken to a castle in Austria. It surfaced in 1948 in New York at Newhouse Galleries, which listed it as being from "an important European collection."

The Virginia Museum began looking through its holdings for plundered works in the late 1990s, said Karen Daly, the senior assistant registrar. She conducts research on art to see whether it could have been looted by the Nazis.

Daly said she is studying about 450 paintings in the Virginia Museum collection that may have been in Europe between 1933 and 1945.

"That doesn't mean all those works are suspect, just that we want to establish the chain of ownership during those years," she said. "That can be very difficult."

Daly said she found a listing for the Mostaert on a catalog of wartime losses listed on the Polish embassy's Web site.

"We contacted them, and they provided the documentation that showed the painting's provenance," she said.

The Mostaert is the second looted work the Virginia Museum has found in its collection.

Last year it returned "Portrait of Jean d'Albon," attributed to Dutch-born painter Corneille de Lyon, to the executor of the estate of Julius Priester, an Austrian Jewish art collector.

"Portrait of a Courtier" will be handed over to the Polish embassy, which will deliver it to the Princes Czartoryski Museum in Krakow.

More election links

The Guardian: Polish right heads for election landslide

The Washington Post: Polish Vote Heralds Swing to the Right

CNN: Polish leader warns of lurch right


Beatroot: Last minute scramble for votes

Polblog: Kaczyński for Polish Neocons?

PO vs PiS economic policy

The Financial Times

Leading Polish parties differ over reform plans

The two centre-right parties likely to win Poland's parliamentary election on Sunday are promising renewed economic reforms, but the prospective coalition partners differ starkly over what those reforms should be.

Recent opinion polls show the two trading the lead, each with the support of about a third of voters. The winner gets to choose the prime minister and will have the edge in pushing through economic policies.

Civic Platform (PO) is the more classically liberal of the two, both of which have their roots in the Solidarity movement that overthrew communism.

A key part of PO's economic programme is introducing a flat 15 per cent rate for personal, corporate and VAT taxes, to come into effect by 2007. The goal was to make Poland one of the most competitive economies in Europe, said Rafal Antczak, an architect of the PO platform.

A second element is reforming government by slashing the number of ministries and putting more power in the hands of the prime minister. The party also wants to rationalise Poland's system of social payments and to introduce means testing.

Poland's top income tax rate is 40 per cent, so the party has been attacked for catering to the rich. However, it insists the flat tax will not hurt poorer and middle income taxpayers - many of whom take advantage of write-offs and pay a rate closer to 13 per cent.

PO wants Poland to adopt the euro as early as possible, but only when public finances have stabilised.

Law and Justice (PiS), the other likely winner in Sunday's election, has been critical of what its leaders call PO's "risky" liberal experiment.

PiS wants to retain two tax rates - 18 and 32 per cent (eventually lowered to 28 per cent) - as well as tax write-offs, including measures that favour larger families. A key target is halving unemployment - now at 17.8 per cent - within four years by giving businesses a monthly 1,000 zlotys (£173, €257, $314) tax write-off for two years for every job created.

"We want to give as much support as possible to businesses that are creating employment," said Cezary Mech, who helped put the PiS programme together.

PiS also wants the budget deficit to stay fixed at 30bn zlotys, a figure it hopes will fall in significance as GDP grows. The economy should grow 7 per cent a year under its policies, the party says.

PiS would also aim for lower interest rates and elimination of the monetary policy council that helps set rates. It would give the central bank president a mandate to ensure economic growth while controling inflation.

The party feels Poland should eventually adopt the euro, but not at the cost of social spending. The two parties both agree on the need to cut red tape and to make it easier to open a business.

PiS's suspicion of flat taxes and its calls to cut income inequality have made PO the favourite party of business.

Polish PM hopeful slams Russia


The man who may be Poland's next prime minister has accused Russia of using methods even the Nazis would eschew in inciting assaults on Polish diplomats in Moscow.

Conservative Jarosław Kaczynski's comparison of Russia with Hitler's Germany seemed likely to further strain ties already tested by the former Soviet ally's integration into the West.

"What Russia has done recently is surprising and unusually drastic -- I can't remember such practices against diplomats even in Berlin when Hitler was in power," Kaczynski told the Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza in an interview.

Kaczynski, whose Law and Justice (PiS) party is expected to place first or second in Sunday's general elections, has long been critical of Russia and vows a tough policy towards Poland's former overlord if he leads the next government.

"In our relations with Russia you need to be patient and avoid provocations, but if events like the recent ones take place, you have to tell the truth -- cowardice is only an encouragement," Kaczynski said.

In August, two Polish diplomats and a journalist were beaten up on the streets of Moscow, in apparent revenge attacks after four Russian children were mugged in Warsaw.

Poland's ruling leftist government as well as the opposition have accused President Vladimir Putin of inspiring the beatings of the diplomats.

Independent player

They said Putin's swift condemnation of the incident in Warsaw even before it was investigated and his suggestion it was the result of Polish anti-Russian feeling was irregular for a head of state.

Relations between the two former Warsaw Pact allies, never warm, have sunk to new lows this year.

The Soviet Union lost 20 million at the hands of Nazi invaders in World War Two. Comparisons with the Nazis, sometimes made by critics in east European countries controlled by Moscow for decades after the war, arouse particular anger in Russia.

Russia has been irked by Poland's close ties with the United States, Warsaw's criticism of Russia's military campaign in Chechnya and its support for last year's "Orange Revolution" in Ukraine, which propelled a pro-Western government to power.

Poland in turn suspects Russia of trying to drive a wedge between Warsaw and its new European Union partners by presenting Poles as eternal Russophobes.

"Russia needs to accept that Poland is an independent player in this part of Europe and no doubt this will be a long and difficult process," Kaczynski said.

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Economist on Poland's elections

You won't find a better summary

The Economist:

Poland's election race

Right on track

Politics have progressed since 1990 but they have further to go

IN RURAL north-western Poland, a suave, Oxford-educated politician is explaining the advantages of European Union membership. Bad roads are a big problem for Polish farmers, explains Radek Sikorski, a teenage refugee from communism who now runs the transatlantic programme at the American Enterprise Institute, a think-tank in Washington, DC. And EU money is now paying for new ones, helping Polish competitiveness. But a middle-aged woman is unconvinced: “Good roads will help foreigners to come here and buy up all our food,” she protests.

Mr Sikorski patiently explains the principles of supply and demand. He is used to this. The previous day a voter in a spa town complained that Germans were going to “buy up all the water”.

Spending time on the campaign trail in Poland reveals both how far the country has changed since the collapse of communism in 1989—and how far there still is to go. Many voters in this Sunday's parliamentary election are on the same wavelength as the savvy, confident Mr Sikorski, grasping the opportunities that capitalism and democracy have created. They pose sophisticated questions about tax cuts, EU reform and cutting bureaucracy. But there is another chunk of the electorate: fearful of change, muddled and disillusioned.

Mr Sikorski's centre-right Law and Justice party tries to appeal to both camps. His stump speech mixes talk of globalisation and competitiveness with references to his time with anti-communist guerrillas in Afghanistan and Angola in the 1980s. It doesn't hurt that his American wife is also a celebrity: the Polish translation of her book on Stalin's gulag has been a bestseller. All that appeals to patriotic, history-conscious voters, regardless of political orientation.

Other parties cast their appeal more narrowly. The other centre-right outfit, Civic Platform, gains support mainly among well-educated, better-off, urban voters. Its candidate for prime minister, Jan Rokita, is a clever, short-tempered free-marketeer. At a rally in Wolbrom in southern Poland this week, he lashed out against the “lazy cretins” in the bureaucracy, and sternly chastised peasant farmers for their whingeing dependence on handouts from the state.

Jan Rokita
Prime Minister until the election

That is fun to listen to, but may be unwise. Mr Rokita's party was in the lead for most of the campaign. That led his supporters to start calling him, hubristically, “Mr Prime Minister” (which he claims to discourage). But voters find the whiff of intellectual and other arrogance off-putting; now Law and Justice is catching up. One poll this week even showed it moving narrowly ahead.

On the face of it, that makes little difference. Although rivals until polling day, both parties agree they must form a coalition government afterwards. There are close ties already and some joint candidates: Mr Sikorski terms himself bipartisan. Both parties have strong roots in the anti-communist underground; both claim to detest the bloated cronyism which flourished in the post-communist years. “We agree about moral and historical questions,” says Mr Rokita, “but my party is also convinced of the need to liberalise the economy and society.”

That's the rub. Law and Justice says it wants a smaller state, but also makes expensive promises about fairness and social protection, popular causes in egalitarian Poland. It wants to simplify the tax system, while criticising Civic Platform's plans for a 15% flat tax, with some justice, as gimmicky and unfair. But it lacks intellectual fire-power: its policies are flimsy and its two main figures, the twins Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, are noted for their honesty, but also for their charmless stubbornness and limited grasp of foreign affairs and economics.

That portends some big squabbles in the coming weeks over jobs and policies in the new government, particularly over who will be prime minister, and for how long. Even if Mr Rokita's party comes out ahead, many doubt that his brittle, volatile personality will rise to the challenges of running a government.

Against that backdrop, Poles will be getting ready for another election next month, for the presidency. Here the Civic Platform's candidate, Donald Tusk, is way ahead of his challenger, Lech Kaczynski, though this probably owes more to his sterling character than his free-market convictions, which few Poles share.

The main lesson of both campaigns is that for the first time since 1989, Poles are arguing more about the future than the past. One big reason is that the once-dominant ex-communist party has imploded after a series of scandals. Its latest stunt, sending voters automated telephone messages apologising for its past sins, has attracted ridicule. Among the political elite—aside from the small demagogic parties of right and left—there is now a consensus about Poland's way ahead: in the EU but friends with America, with modernity and efficiency instead of incompetence and corruption. Given some of the nutty talk and nasty people seen in Polish politics in past years, that's rather refreshing. It's also pretty ambitious.

(Article background)

(Summary of parties)

Polish Opposition Leads Poll With Tax-Cut, Anti-Corruption Vows


Poland's largest opposition parties, Citizens' Platform and Law & Justice, are set to win Sept. 25 elections after wooing voters with pledges to lower taxes and fight corruption, the biggest polling organization said.

Citizens Platform may take 33 percent of the vote and Law & Justice may win 27 percent, according to a Sept. 14-18 survey of 1,028 potential voters by the Warsaw-based Center for Public Research. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points. Today is the last day surveys can be published.

The Democratic Left Alliance government, which has had two premiers and four finance ministers in four years, lost support because of corruption scandals and a record jobless rate. Leaders of the two main opposition parties say they will form a coalition to focus on helping companies hire and spur growth in the $272 billion economy, the largest of the new European Union members.

"People are choosing the Platform and the Law & Justice party because they see party leaders as honest and credible,'' said Krzysztof Pankowski, a sociologist at the center, in an interview. "After four years of the Democratic Left Alliance ruling, honesty and credibility are the main criteria being taken into account by potential voters.''

The two parties need to win about 45 percent of votes to gain a majority in the lower house, depending on how many parties reach the 5 percent threshold. Support for the Alliance was at 6 percent, according to the poll.

Seeking Honesty

Almost 40 percent of those surveyed said legislators should be judged mainly by their honesty and credibility, not their programs. Almost the same number said politicians associated with the Democratic Left alliance are dishonest. The Alliance must win at least 5 percent to stay in parliament.

The party was damaged by a parliamentary probe into accusations that party members were involved in an attempt by film producer Lew Rywin to extort money from a media company in return for blocking a bill limiting media ownership. Rywin has been jailed for three years and several Alliance members face criminal charges.

Another investigation followed accusations that President Aleksander Kwasniewski, a former party member, may have been involved in talks with a Russian spy about plans to sell the country's second-biggest refinery, Rafineria Gdanska. Kwasniewski has denied the allegations, which are being probed by lawmakers.

Dozens of Alliance lawmakers were forced to quit the party as a result of the scandals, while others resigned to set up a rival political faction, leaving the ruling party with 151 seats in the 460-member parliament, compared with 216 four years ago.

Record Joblessness

The unemployment rate soared to a record 20.6 percent in January 2003 and at 17.8 percent in August remains the highest in the EU. Public debt has grown almost 60 percent to 444 billion zloty ($138 billion). Prime Minister Marek Belka left the coalition during his term to form a new opposition party.

"Poles never really had much hope in their politicians but SLD leaders behaved like they were competing to be the least- trusted and least-competent officials,'' said Beata Laciak, a sociologist at the Warsaw University. "Now, they pay the price of deep disillusion.''

The Citizens Platform, formed 4 1/2 years ago, is led by former activists of the Solidarity movement that led the drive to oust communism in the late 1980s. It will introduce a flat 15 percent tax, compared with the current progressive income tax of 19 percent, 30 percent and 40 percent, and a corporate rate of 19 percent. The value-added tax rate is as high as 22 percent.

Law & Justice, which rejects the flat-tax plan, favors reductions in corporate and personal rates to 18 percent and 28 percent respectively by 2009 and tax exemptions for companies that offer new jobs.

Balancing Policies

Both parties say their priorities will be to achieve economic growth above the 2005 forecast of 3.3 percent, and to fight unemployment. The parties differ over the speed of euro adoption and the scale of possible social spending and state-asset sales.

"The Platform and Law & Justice will have to find many issues related to the economy,'' said Miroslaw Plojhar, the chief economist at Ceska Sporitelna in Prague. "Law & Justice is likely to focus on legislation against corruption and criminality, while the Platform is likely to get the economy and finance ministers.''

Law & Justice, founded by Warsaw Mayor Lech Kaczynski and his twin brother in 2001, pledged to fight corruption that party leaders say is still rampant in Poland 16 years after communism.

Two other opposition parties may gain representation. Self Defense, called Samoobrona in Polish, had 12 percent in the survey. It wants the state to resume control over the economy and monetary policy. The Polish Families League was supported by 9 percent. The Polish Peasants Party had 5 percent.

On Sunday, polling stations will open between 6 a.m. and 8 p.m. As they close, exit polls will be published by the largest televisions stations in cooperation with research centers. Official results will be published as early as Sept. 27.

Latest Presidential poll numbers

Angus Reid:

Sept. 2005

Aug. 2005

Donald Tusk (PO)



Lech Kaczynski (PiS)



Andrzej Lepper (SRP)



Marek Borowski (SDP)



Jaroslaw Kalinowski (PSL)



Maciej Giertych (LPR)



Henryka Bochniarz (PD)



Run-Off Scenario

Donald Tusk (PO) 60% - 40% Lech Kaczynski (PiS)

Source: GFK / Rzeczpospolita
Methodology: Interviews to 965 Polish adults, conducted from Sept. 17 to Sept. 20, 2005. Margin of error is 3 per cent.

Retail sales far higher than expected, while unemployment continues to fall


According to the Central Statistical Office (GUS), growth of retail sales in August was 7.9% higher than in July and far more than expected by analysts.

"Last month we observed deterioration of dynamics of real wages, which was accompanied by growing inflation. Moreover there was no substantial increase in the level of indebtedness of households resulting from mortgage loans. This means that the only reason for growing sales were one-off social benefits," said Wojciech Kuryłek, chief economist with KB. He went on to say that this data should be disregarded by the Monetary Policy Council (RPP). Halina Dmochowska, deputy president of GUS, believes economic growth in Q3 will be slightly faster than in Q2 when it amounted to 2.8%. "We have not recorded any spectacular changes in economic occurrences," said Dmochowska. In August unemployment dropped by 1.3% in relation to respective period of 2004 and stood at 17.8%.

Poland among EU's top 10 net beneficiaries

Radio Polonia:

Poland received 2.7 billion euro from the EU budget in 2004, which places Poland at the 10th place among all 25 EU member states. The number – reduced by Warsaw’s fees paid to the common purse – gives Poland a net profit of 1.4 billion euro. A report on last year’s budget, presented by the European Commission, indicates that all new member states benefited from entering the EU, yet the old members remain the biggest beneficiaries.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

You forgot Poland

This site is hilarous

Neck and neck


Following are the latest opinion polls ahead of Sunday's general election in Poland, showing the liberal Civic Platform (PO) neck-and-neck with its likely coalition partner, conservative Law and Justice (PiS).

The survey by PGB pollster was carried out on Sept 20-21, on a sample of 1,177 people.

PO 29


LPR 11

SO 10




PD 3

Belka makes his move


Polish Prime Minister Marek Belka, running to become the next head of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), said on Thursday the organisation needed to raise its profile.

Belka, whose minority government is set to be replaced by a centre-right cabinet in Sunday's elections, is a favourite among six candidates to succeed current ECD chief, Canadian Donald Johnston, according to some media reports.

"The OECD's biggest problem is its unfulfilled potential," Belka told journalists. "In the crowd of other international organisations, the OECD is highly respected but not very visible, one has to sell it better."

The Paris-based organisation, which has 30 mainly industrialised member countries, is widely respected for its economic research, and is also a forum for negotiations on trade issues and for informal talks on the state of global economy.

In July, Financial Times Deutschland said Belka was the front-runner, citing OECD and German government sources.

Other candidates for the post include Australia's Allan Fels, Mexico's Angel Gurria, South Korea's Seung-Soo Han, France's Alain Madelin and Japan's Sawako Takeuchi.

Belka said his background as an economics professor and his experience in government and public administration made him well qualified for the post, but he would not discuss his chances. If elected, Belka would be the first Pole to lead a major international organisation.

It remains to be seen whether the OECD's member states will want the next secretary general to follow Johnston's example and focus on cutting costs, or put more emphasis on promoting its work on the world stage.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Latest parliamentary poll numbers

Angus Reid:

Sept. 17

Sept. 4

Aug. 21

Civic Platform (PO)




Law and Justice Party (PiS)




Self-Defense (SO)




League of Polish Families (LPR)




Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)




Peasant’s Party (PSL)




Social Democracy of Poland (SDP)
Labour Union (UP)
Greens 2004 (Zieloni 2004)




Democratic Party of Poland (PD)




Source: PBS Sopot
Methodology: Interviews to 1,004 Polish adults, conducted on Sept. 16 and Sept. 17, 2005. Margin of error is 3.2 per cent.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Poland to stay on patrol?


Presidential contender Lech Kaczyński says Poland may keep its troops in Iraq longer if the US helps modernize the army.

The co-leader of the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party and its candidate in the October 9 Presidential race said he saw Poland's alliance with the United States as the cornerstone of security for the country.

"We are ready to discuss with the United States the issue of Iraq," Kaczyński told a meeting with foreign diplomats. "We want to be loyal allies."

Kaczyński emphasized, however, that Poland should expect something in return. "We would be interested in broader cooperation in modernizing our army," he said.

The outgoing leftist government backed the American invasion of Iraq and contributed a sizeable initial contingent of 2,500 troops to the US-led coalition there.

But with the overwhelming majority of Poles opposing Poland's presence in Iraq and general and presidential elections approaching, the leftists told Washington this summer that the remaining 1,700 troops would pull out by the end of this year.

Kaczyński and his party are in second place in recent opinion polls ahead of both elections behind the center-right Civic Platform (PO) and its leader Donald Tusk.

Tusk recently signaled he was in favor of pulling Polish troops out of Iraq although he was not specific on the timing.

The two parties are set to form the next coalition government after Sunday's parliamentary elections.

Latest Presidential poll numbers

Angus Reid

What candidate would you support in the presidential election?

Sept. 17

Sept. 4

Donald Tusk (PO)



Lech Kaczynski (PiS)



Andrzej Lepper (SRP)



Marek Borowski (SDP)



Jaroslaw Kalinowski (PSL)



Source: PBS Sopot
Methodology: Interviews to 1,004 Polish adults, conducted on Sept. 16 and Sept. 17, 2005. Margin of error is 3.2 per cent.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Cimoszewicz bows out

Sejm speaker Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz has pulled out of the presidential race.

Cimoszewicz's withdrawal effectively turns next month's presidential election into a straight fight between two center-right rivals. Civic Platform's (PO) Donald Tusk , the front runner in the campaign, is expected to benefit most from Cimoszewicz's withdrawal.

Cimoszewicz claimed to have been the victim of a smear campaign over an earnings declaration that was widely publicized in the press and other media. The decision also appears to end the scandal-hit ruling Democratic Left Alliance's (SLD) hopes of retaining some power in the approaching twin parliamentary and presidential polls.

"Black propaganda against me has brought results... In protest, I quit the presidential election," Cimoszewicz said.

Pro-EU moderate Cimoszewicz, once favorite to succeed leftist incumbent Aleksander Kwaśniewski in the October 9 vote, has seen his popularity plunge after rivals and the media raised questions about his personal finances.

Cimoszewicz, who has denied any wrongdoing, refused to endorse fellow leftist Marek Borowski, who is still in the race although he has only marginal support.

"Among the remaining candidates, I don't see any person who would be suitable for the post (of president)," he said.

Analysts and politicians say a void on the left is likely to boost support for liberal Tusk, who leads in opinion polls with more than 40 percent, some 20 points ahead of the next contender, conservative Warsaw mayor Lech Kaczyński. Cimoszewicz had slipped to third place.

Some commentators said Tusk could win outright in the first round by capturing more than 50 percent of the vote. Until now most analysts expected the election to be settled in a run-off.

Cimoszewicz had nurtured his image as an independent-minded player, who has stayed clear of the scandals that have engulfed the SLD.

But a parliamentary probe, dominated by rightist deputies, revealed the ex-Foreign Minister failed to declare shares worth zł.500,000 he bought on behalf of his daughter, prompting accusations he tried to hide his share dealings and wealth. Cimoszewicz admitted he made a mistake but fervently denied trying to hide anything. He accused the center-right of blowing the issue out of proportion and using dirty tricks. (Reuters)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

A red herring

I love this quote from Ray Haynes, a Republican from Southern California, on the recently passed bill designating marriage as between "two persons" instead of between a "man and a woman" in his state, and which Schwarzenegger will veto, to his peril:

"Engaging in social experimentation is not the role of the legislature."

Remember when Republicans were criticizing Massachussets judges for "legislating from the bench"? They said it was up to the legislature to decide these issues. Now, apparently, it is not, because it is "social experimentation". Why have we not heard this argument before? Because it´s a new line of attack, against a new branch of government, which has realized the hypocrisy in restricting marriage rights to heterosexuals. It is now abundantly clear that conservatives are not concerned with "activist judges legislating from the bench". Indeed, what if some "activist judge" said that there were no right to privacy enshrined in the Constitution, or declared Bush´s resident worker program illegal? My bet is you wouldn´t hear a peep from social conservatives about "activist judges" then.

The "legislating from the bench" argument is a red herring, devised as a clever rhetorical tool for conservatives to defend their bigoted social agenda. We knew it before. Mr. Haynes has just brought it out for everyone to see.

Germany and Russia conspire again to screw Poland

From the Partitions of Poland to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Russia and Germany have always looked for ways to steal from, rape, occupy, plunder, and generally screw Poland.

Now this:

Germany, Russia seal $5bn gas pipeline deal

The pipeline they have agreed to build will be MUCH more expensive than an alternate line proposed through Poland, according to the International Energy Agency - 100% more expensive. This is Russia´s "screw you" to Poland, who can only counter Russia´s energy dominance with its control of transit lines. The Russians want to hold Poland energy hostage, and Germany, under the guise of "Bringing Russia closer to Europe" is playing right into their hands. What this contract really means is millions for German energy companies. While pretending to be the EU´s core, as well as great protector, Germany is actually undermining the spirit of the EU by conducting this treaty behind Poland´s back.

Indeed, this move has long been expected, and Poland has been scrambling to find ways to diversify its oil and gas supplies. It has succedded in winning some contracts and signing some treaties, but the first of these will most likely show real results in no less than five years. Until then, Poland will be at the mercy of Gazprom, while Germany, already the richest member of the EU, profits from depriving Poland of its only check against Russian economic influence.

Shame on Schroeder. I hope he gets his ass whupped in two weeks.

Radio Polonia: Gas pipeline to be built behind Poland's back

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Let the shitstorm beginneth

Chief Justice Rehnquist dies at 80

This is so unfair. Can´t we at least have some midterm elections first before Bush packs the Supreme Court so full of conservatives that civil rights will be rolled back for the next 30 years?

You want your "strict interpretation"? You just got it baby.

The overriding impression of Spain

The mullet lives! And its home is the south of Spain.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Two-week haitus

WS goes on vacation for two weeks to Spain starting today. Intermittent posts during that period are possible, but will surely not be frequent.

We come back just in time for Parliamentary elections.

Take care.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Religa drops out, endorses Tusk

Respected heart surgeon and independent candidate for President, Zbigniew Religa, has dropped out of the running, saying: "I know I can't win the race for President." He added: "In order to protect my vision of Poland, I see it as my civic duty to support representative Donald Tusk."

Tusk, at a press conference this morning with Religa, said that he feels honored by the endorsement, and offered Religa an honorary place on PO's election committee.

Gazeta Wyborcza report (Polish)

Latest parliamentary poll numbers

Civic Platform (PO): 33%

Law and Justice (PiS): 27%

Self Defense (SO): 14%

Democratic Left Alliance (SLD): 9%

League of Polish Families (LPR): 7%

Pasant's Party (PSL): 4%

Democratic Party (D): 2%

Social Democracy of Poland: 2%

Source: TNS OBOP

Latest Presidential poll numbers

Tusk widens lead

Tusk (PO): 37%

Kaczyński (PiS): 21%

Cimoszewicz (SLD): 18%

Lepper (SO): 13%

Religa (Ind): 4%

Borowski (SDPL): 2%

Giertych (LPR): 1%

Bochniarz (D): N/A

Source: TNS OBOP

Wałęsa backs Tusk


Wałęsa publicly declares support for Tusk, while Religa tries to stay in the game
Lech Wałęsa, the legendary leader of the Solidarity trade union, declared his support for Donald Tusk of the Civic Platform (PO) in the coming presidential elections. In an interview with TOK FM radio station Wałęsa stated that, "Tusk is the best of the candidates." He also declared that, "Where there appear difficult issues in the understanding between Tusk and the electorate, he will go and explain." Meanwhile, rumours appeared that Zbigniew Religa, another presidential candidate, was considering pulling out of the race for the benefit of Donald Tusk. Religa, who was a favorite in the early polls, has experienced a sharp fall of support and now only has a tbest 7% support. Aleksander Pociej from Religa's electoral office sought to crush the rumor declaring that it was merely black PR from Religa's competitors. The Civic Platform representatives also refused to comment on the issue, but Tusk declared that it would be an honour for him if Religa considered him to be worth his support.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

While we're remembering

66 years ago today, World War II began - with the German invasion of Poland.

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