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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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Listen for yourself

Renata Beger negocjuje z Adamem Lipińskim

hat tip: the beatroot

I'm beginning to wonder whether PiS won't find a way out of this one. The fact that Lipiński is offering positions in the government - which we hear here - is hardly surprising. In fact, it's to be expected. From this American's point of view, this seems to be how parliamentary politics works.

What is on the second tape (yes, there was a second, and WS is working to bring it to you) is much more serious. There, Lipiński says he could find a way for the Sejm to pay the "penalty" (worth several hundred thousand zloty) that the deputies leaving Self-defense will have to pay for desterting their party. (Earlier this year, Lepper forced all of his party's members to sign "promissory notes" - in Polish: weksele - obligating them to pay this exorbitant fine if they left the party. Perhaps the most interesting story here is Lepper's political foresight!)

But PiS opponents are on much shakier ground here. In the transcripts, Lipiński says several times "I'm not a lawyer" and only promises that he thinks "something could be worked out" by which the Sejm would pay the owed money until a court decided whether or not the promissory notes were legal in the first place. From my reading, it is implied that if the court finds against the Self-defense deserters, they would have to pay the fine themselves, or somehow reimburse the Sejm - though this is not explicitly said.

It's certainly corrupt. But we're not exactly talking about secret transfers from Swiss bank accounts here. Lipiński is certainly finished - but PiS may yet find a way to worm out of this one.

Then again, maybe not. As I write, news organizations are reporting that around 200 people have gathered in front of the Sejm to demand PM Kaczyński's resignation and the dissolution of the Sejm.

They plan on being there for a while, too - They've pitched tents (Polish link).

PiS decides to drop corruption crusader image

A high-up Law and Justice (PiS) party member has been caught on tape trying to bribe a member of another party to break away and join PiS

From The International Herald Tribune:

Late Tuesday, TVN television broadcast footage of a chief aide to the prime minister offering a high government position and financial support to a prominent lawmaker of the former coalition partner Self-Defense in exchange for crossing over to the ruling Law and Justice Party.

Opposition parties quickly condemned the alleged vote-buying, and the Polish Peasants Party on Wednesday said it would not hold talks with Law and Justice scheduled for later in the day.

"The coalition talks won't be happening today. The prime minister can say he didn't know about what happened, but anyone who saw the tapes can see... it's simply corruption," Jaroslaw Kalinowski of the PSL told Tok FM radio Wednesday morning.

It's difficult to see how PiS can hold off new elections - or even how they can hold off a vote on the dissolution of the Sejm until October 10, as they had planned.

It's also much more likely now that Civic Platform's planned anti-government demonstration will be successful.

Whatever credibility PiS had left, it has now lost.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Are elections on the way?

Are we back to...

And what good would they do?

The coalition is broken (I can't bring myself to say "dead"). Lepper and Self-defense (SO) are out. Gilowska is in. PiS finds themselves in the same position they were in almost exactly one year ago - trying to cobble together a coalition.

But last year PiS was negotiating with PO to form a grand conservative coalition. Now, after banishing Lepper for his unwillingness to adopt the PiS' budget proposals, PiS is looking for ways to tack on bits and pieces to get the 48 votes it needs to hold onto a majority in parliament.

Monster's and Critics:
PiS was on Friday was scrambling to gather a voting majority of 231 seats. Together with its junior coalition parter the League of Polish Families (LPR), it commands 183 seats. With 25 seats, the Polish Peasants Party (PSL) was in coalition talks with PiS Friday.

Meanwhile the ousted Andrzej Lepper accused PiS of using bribes to lure Samoobrona MPs away to support what is now the PiS-led minority government. Several Samoobrona MPs have already left.

The populist farmers' party, which has now crossed over to the opposition, commands 49 seats in Poland's 460-seat parliament. The liberal Civic Platform (PO) with 131 seats is Poland's largest opposition party. It is considering launching a no-confidence motion against the PiS government. Also in the opposition is the 55-seat ex- communist Democratic Left Alliance (SLD).

If PiS doesn't manage to nab enough Self-defense deputies, new elections are likely. And it doesn't look like they'll manage.

"Fresh elections are just a matter of time," according to Professor Lena Kolarska-Bobinski, head of the Warsaw-based Institute for Public Affairs independent think-tank.

But what would new elections achieve? Recent opinion polls have shown that PO could come out victorious. But the polls famously predicted a PO win this time last year as well. 365 days later, they are in the opposition. It's equally as likely that PiS would win another plurality.

It's also unclear that Self-defense would gain. Though the base must love Mr. Lepper's spunk, some of its members are defecting, which may actually bring votes to PiS.

One party could lose big - LPR. If they fail to win five percent of the vote they could find themselves out of the Sejm. This would be good news. However, recent amendments to the election law make it possible for LPR to form a bloc with PiS, which the ultra-conservatives hope will increase their chances. The Polish Folk Front could also have trouble meeting the five-percent requirement.

The Leftist parties, led by SLD, have recently joined together as a bloc for the upcoming local elections, but polls haven't shown them gaining traction with the public.

So new elections could prove helpful in ejecting small and extremist parties from the Sejm - though it's far from certain. What is nearly certain is that the two largest parties will remain Civic Platform and Law and Justice, and that Self-defense and the Leftists will remain the smaller players.

Some combination of these four groups will form the next government. But not a single one of those groups can any longer find the will or the energy to cooperate with any other.

Elections will not change that.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Is defense Poland's big-gun issue?

Seriously. Don't start laughing yet.

I saw this yesterday and it got me thinking about some discussions we've been having about Poland-US relations, and where Poland fits in as an ally of the US in Europe.

Now, we all know that Europe is doesn't hold it's own when it comes to defense. The Americans have been nagging their allies across the pond to spend more on their militaries, but the Europeans (save Britain) seem reluctant to do so. There is wide agreement that Europe ought to have at least some sort of common fast-reaction force, but it is as-yet nowhere to be found. Europe would rather concentrate on just about anything but defense.

However, Poland is a different story. Due to their difficult history, Poles are especially defense-focused. Though unwilling to break the budget for teachers' and police officers' wages, Poland will be sending a full 1,000 more troops to Afghanistan, with the deployment starting this year and probably ending in February. That will cost money, but the tab will probably be picked up by NATO. Regardless, it shows you where Poland's priorities are. And while the Polish military may not be the world's finest, it's gaining experience - and technology - fast. They just picked up the keys to 48 brand new F-16 fighter jets, with all sorts of state-of-the-art, hi-tech gizmos inside.

Poland's Defense Minister Radosław Sikorski is a huge asset in this area. He's well known in both Europe and America: He graduated from Oxford and has British citizenship. He was an advisor to Rupert Murdoch on investments in Poland, was a resident fellow at the conservative think-tank the American Enterprise institute, as well as executive director of the non-partisan New Atlantic Initiative. He is married to American journalist Anne Applebaum. It is rumored that while he was a war correspondent in Afghanistan in the 80s, he was actually there spying for all sorts of Western governments. He's articulate, educated, and some would even say handsome.

Can a better pedigree for coordinating Polish defense policy and cooperation with the Pentagon within a European framework be imagined? Maybe. But this is darn close to as good as it gets.

Poland doesn't pull much weight on any other issue. Britain can't get the continent to take defense seriously. Maybe a two pronged assault - with Poland the second pincer - could get Europe to think more seriously about defense? Could defense be the issue that gains Poland the international heft it craves?

Sunday, September 17, 2006

It's that good

Oh yeah. I think they made a statement.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Polish-American relations getting better and better

But has the American public noticed?

With the British public becoming more and more dissatisfied with their country's partnership with the US administration, the British-American "special relationship" seems to be losing traction. However, another European country - Poland - continues to strongly support American policy in Europe, and it seems ties are growing closer by the day.

American diplomats here express gratitude for Poland's unwavering support, and relief that they don't experience the same kind of problems that their colleagues in Western Europe face. "We see eye to eye on just about everything," a fairly-high up diplomat told me recently.

But being here in Poland, it seems the US is consumed with political strife - both sides of the political divide attacking each other, and not noticing that despite much of the bad press that the US gets, an extremely strong ally is growing in Central Europe.

Is this perception accurate? Has the American public forgotten Poland? I'd like to know what you think.

Wisely, it seems the Bush administration has not:

From Monsters and Critics.com
Poland's PM to focus on missile defence, Iraq in US

Warsaw - Making his first trip to the United States since taking office in July, Polish Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski was expected to focus on the possible basing of missile defence in Poland and his country's role in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Kaczynski, who heads the right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) coalition government, is scheduled to meet with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney.

President George W Bush and Kaczynski are not scheduled to meet as the US president has in the past met with Lech Kaczynski, Poland's president and brother of the prime minister. Jaroslaw's aides have suggested Bush might, however, drop in on the meeting.

Kaczynski will also meet with House Speaker Dennis Hastert Thursday before meeting with John Krenicki Jr, the chief executive of global energy goliath General Electric Co.

Energy security is a top item on the agenda of the Kaczynski government, which is currently seeking to diversify suppliers and wean Poland from its heavy reliance on Russian fuel supplies.

Insisting energy security is a crucial part of national security, Poland is also spearheading a drive within the EU to frame a common energy security alliance for the 25-member bloc and beyond.

Kaczynski, 57, will also meet with heads of the large Polish community in Chicago Thursday and then fly on to visit the Fort Worth US military base in Texas on Friday. Kaczynski is due back in Warsaw early Saturday morning.

Prime Minster Kaczynski will be accompanied by several cabinet ministers including Defence Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and Foreign Affairs Minister Anna Fotyga.

As ardent anti-communist activists throughout Poland's pre-1989 communist era, President Kaczynski and Prime Minister Kaczynski both have a fondness for the late Ronald Reagan.

Reagan is still seen as a hero by the country's Solidarity opposition for his strident anti-Soviet politics and support for the Polish movement, which succeeded in peacefully toppling communist rule in Poland in 1989.

The law and order agenda of Prime Minister Kaczynski's PiS party in many ways resembles a US Republican approach. The party has promised to crack down hard on crime and corruption in public life and is also stridently anti-leftwing.

It is particularly critical of Poland's ex-communist Democratic Left Alliance party (SLD), which it blames for much of the corruption in public life.

The SLD lost both the presidency and government in elections held last autumn. The party's four-year term in office had been plagued by a string of high profile corruption scandals involving senior politicians.

Reagan and the Kaczynski brothers also share a personal history of being actors before becoming politicians. While Reagan was a Hollywood cowboy hero on the silver screen, the Kaczynski twins are famous in Poland for playing two very naughty boys in the children's' Polish cinema classic 'About Those Two Who Stole the Moon.'

After narrowly winning Poland's September 2006 general election, the PiS eschewed a long-promised coalition with the runner-up liberal Civic Platform (PO), instead allying itself with the populist Samoobrona farmers' party and the Catholic-nationalist League of Polish Families (LPR), Poland's equivalent of the fundamentalist elements of the Christian right in the US.

Recent polls show the LPR is rapidly losing public support, to the point where it would fail to re-enter parliament should elections be called. Support for Samoobrona remains steady at around 10 per cent, while the ex-communist SLD is also in danger of exiting parliament and slipping into political oblivion, less than a year after leaving government.

Surveys, however, show the PiS and PO running neck-and-neck enjoying roughly 30 per cent support each.

Some political observers in Warsaw have suggested the Kaczynski brothers are intent on creating a two-party system in Poland, along the lines of the Republican-Democratic divide of the US rather than the more volatile multi-party constellations which can be found in European politics.

The next true test of party popularity is expected November 12, when Poles will vote in local government elections.

It may not have made the papers in the States, but there were also several touching ceremonies commemorating the September 11th attacks on Monday. Largest of these was the unveiling of a monument in Kielce which expresses solidarity with Americans.

Cross-posted at Redneck's Revenge. Check out the comments there to see what conservative America thinks.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sunday Vista Blogging XV

EK for WS
Kazimierz Dolny

Gus for WS
Ski Jump in Zakopane

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Warsaw Station turns two

I've officially been blogging for two years now.

I must have an awful lot of free time on my hands.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Gilowska cleared

But not quite "innocent" either

So what?

The judge presiding over former Finance Minister Zyta Gilowska's vetting trial has concluded that there is not enough evidence to declare that she lied about not knowing that she had provided information to a communist security agent.

From the International Herald Tribune:

[Judge] Mojkowska said the documents available in the case were not complete, making the court rely on circumstantial evidence, which did not prove that Gilowska intentionally passed any information on to secret police during communist times.

However, the judge had her own suspicions. The court said Gilowska had been "extremely talkative" with the security agent who registered her as an informer.

The verdict clears the way for her to rejoin the government - but it might not be so easy.

From Easybourse:

Presiding Judge Małgorzata Mojkowska pointed out that a new law recently passed by the Polish parliament would require Gilowska to submit to a new vetting procedure if she rejoined the government.

Mojkowska said the revised procedure, based primarily on analysis of surviving interior ministry archives, could automatically classify Gilowska as an informant and thereby bar her from public office.

So - those who want to believe she was an informer now can continue to believe it. Those who want to believe she wasn't can also continue to believe that.

She can try to join the government again, but if she does, she'll have to undergo another vetting procedure, which could, possibly disqualify her - again.

Months of political wrangling. Endless rumors. An expensive and humiliating trial. A politician's reputation dragged through the mud. What has it all achieved?

Not a damn thing.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Here I am, stuck in the middle

Is Civic Platform full of political pussies?

For those of you with your fingers not quite glued to the pulse of Polish political news, you should know that some very clever political maneuvering has been going on.

The jokers

The ruling coalition recently railroaded through a law (and when I say "railroaded", I mean that in order to get the law out of committee for a vote in the Sejm, they added 30 members of their own coalition to the committee and then forced the opposition member heading it to resign), which makes it highly advantageous for parties to team up and form coalitions for this autumn's local elections.

This was done mostly to save a member of the governing coalition - the far-right LPR (League of Polish Families). LPR had a very slim chance of winning anything in the elections, and by joining in a voting bloc with the two other parties in the governing coalition, they just might have a shot at a couple of city councils.

Importantly however, if LPR still fails to garner five percent of the vote, the two other coalition members will be able to absorb LPR's vote, and count it towards their own vote totals.

Still with me?

The clowns

Since the governing coalition is mostly right-wingers (in the "conservative moral values, high-spending big government, neo-con" sense), the left immediately went out and formed a coalition of left-leaning (in the "liberal moral values, barely-fiscally responsible, post-communist" sense) parties. This included the corruption-ridden ex-communists with a new face (SLD), the supposedly not-so-corrupt ex-communists with an old face (SdPl), the ex-partners of the ex-communists (UP), and the social/economic liberals with 0 chance of winning anything.

This group won't win a great deal - but these parties' power is certainly strengthened put all together, and they take on political clout as a large opposition group that they couldn't boast seperately.

Stuck in the middle

This leaves Poland's largest opposition party - Civic Platform (PO) - without any coalition at all. Not wanting to sully themselves by joining the populist Kaczyński faction, but also shying away from getting into bed with former communists, PO has no political friends. Rumor has it that a bizzare coalition with the agrarian-based PSL might be in the works, but the ideologies don't mesh at all, and PSL is tiny - barely making it into the parliament itself in last year's polls.

PO will still win a large number of posts in the upcoming local elections, but their strength as an opposition party has been diminished. Those who lean further to the left but still previously voted for PO because they were the "anything-but-Kaczyński" party, now have a viable alternative.

In these elections the Left will do much better, and PO worse, than would have been the case if all the parties had run seperately.

Some PO supporters have been critical of the party, saying it simply refuses to get its political hands dirty - a necessity on Poland's current political landscape. Warsaw Station has learned that PO's candidate for the Warsaw mayor, Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz, has been repeatedly accosted in the streets by her own supporters, all making note of her opponents' attacks and demanding: "Why don't you do something?!"

This is not a new accusation. PO has been particularly ineffective as an opposition party despite a deeply unpopular governing coalition.

So on Saturday, PO launched a new ad campaign (Polish link), which - according to some - very harshly attacks PM Jarosław Kaczyński. Borrowing from the masters, PO's commercials mimic some used by George Bush two years ago (Polish link). It depicts the Prime Minister, well, yelling a lot - So much that it upsets a baby.

PO considers this tough campaigning:

PO is hemorrhaging support in the form of the student exodus. It can't form any effective political partnership. It is unwilling to hit the opposition hard. If it doesn't grow some jaja pretty soon, its days on the Polish political scene are likely numbered.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Sweetening the deal

(Grey lines: Existing pipelines; Blue line: Under construction; Red line: proposed by US)

Polish daily Rzeczpospolita (Polish link) reports that the US will offer to build oil and gas pipelines from central Asia to Poland in return for building an anti-missile shield on Polish soil

The idea of building an anti-missile rocket base somewhere in the Tatra mountains has been mooted for some time now, with Poland and the Czech Republic tussling over who would get it. The Polish government believes it could protect the country from all sorts of nasty missiles coming Poland's way from the east, and would probably mean a significant injection of US funds into the economy.

As the beatroot reports however, the idea isn't very popular with the Polish public. The government also has some reservations, as the US would want "extraterritorial rights" (registration required) - read: complete control - over the base and the land it sits on.

Serendipitously, information was leaked by Polish diplomats to "RzP" that the US government, led by Vice President Dick Cheney, has floated a deal to have US oil companies such as Chevron and Texaco build pipelines from Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan through Georgia and Turkey (see picture above), to Poland, in return for accepting the domestically unpopular missile base on Polish territory. According to the paper, the project will be a major issue of discussion when Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński makes his first trip to the US next week, and meets with US Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman. The US could also announce its decision to build the base in Poland during the PM's visit.

Due to energy-security fears resulting from Russian dominance of Poland's oil and gas supplies, the Polish government has wanted such pipelines for a while now – work is being done to extend a pipeline carrying Caspian Sea oil from Brody, in Ukraine, to Płock, in Poland. But Ukraine has just taken a sharp political turn towards Russia, and after last month's Mazeiku refinery incident, there is no guarantee that such a pipeline will be free from Russian meddling.

Interestingly, a very rich Polish businessman, Ryszard Krauze, signed several deals last month giving his oil company, Petrolinvest, drilling rights in Kazakhstani oil fields. Petrolinvest is part of the Prokom Group, which is run by Krauze and majority held by the Polish government. The pipelines complete the infrastructure gap from a Polish company doing the extraction in Kazakhstan to Polish refineries and finally to Polish customers.

And thus – so the thinking goes – Polish energy security is guaranteed.

The US' proposal to build that missile base in Poland just got a whole lot sweeter.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sunday Vista Blogging XIV

Gus for WS
(This is Poland for miles and miles)

Gus for WS
St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Białowieża

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