Polish Toledo

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Saturday, February 22, 2014

Blood of Ukrane

Polish prime minister, Donald Tusk, confirmed Poland's military, interior ministry and private hospitals are ready to take more Ukrainians protesters wounded in the street battles of Kiev.

"We have at our disposal a large number of defense and interior ministry hospitals," said the prime minister. "We are preparing them. Anyone seeking aid in Poland will get help."

Poland's interior ministry operates 22 hospitals around the country operating outside the constraints of the country's stressed national health service and have more flexibility when it comes to handling emergency cases from abroad.

It is roughly 300 miles from Kiev to the Polish border, but wounded Ukrainians are prepared to make the journey, because they would be arrested or worse, if they went to a Ukrainian hospital. 

The head of a Polish organization helping injured Ukrainians said, "People are not going to public hospitals in Ukraine because there have been cases of the injured being kidnapped and tortured by the government".

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Bulletproof Poles

 Jan Szczepanik, testing his 
bulletproof vest in 1901
In the days of the Wild, Wild West, a Tombstone, Arizona physician  named George E. Goodfellow noticed that a man was saved from a gun shot by his silk handkerchief in his breast pocket. It prevented the bullet from penetrating. In 1887, he wrote an article titled Impenetrability of Silk to Bullets for the Southern California Practitioner documenting the first known instance of bulletproof fabric. In medieval days gambesons, which used up to 30 layers of silk fabric protected the wearers from sword blade penetration.

In come the Poles.

Fr. Kazimierz Żegleń used Goodfellow's findings to develop a bulletproof vest made of silk fabric at the end of the 19th century, which could stop the relatively slow rounds from black powder handguns. The vests cost $800 each in 1914, a small fortune at the time, equivalent of $18,710 in today's dollars. 

On 28 June 1914, Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, was wearing a silk bulletproof vest when he was attacked by a gun-wielding assassin. He was shot in the neck and the vest did not protect him. Thus, started WWI.

Jan Szczepanik 1872- 1926
A similar vest, made by Polish inventor Jan Szczepanik in 1901, saved the life of Alfonso XIII of Spain when he was shot by an attacker. Jan had quite a bit of fabric knowledge due to his work perfecting the Jacquard loom from France.

The Polish inventor, had several hundred patents and over 50 discoveries to his name, many of which are still applied today, especially in the motion picture industry, as well as in photography and television. Some of his concepts helped the future evolution of TV broadcasting, such as the telectroscope (an apparatus for distant reproduction of images and sound using electricity) or the wireless telegraph, which greatly affected the development of telecommunications. He died in Tarnów in the reborn Second Polish Republic.

It's interesting to note the modern Kevlar vest was developed by another Pole, Stephanie Kwolek working for DuPont in 1965. 

She was born near Pittsburgh of Polish immigrants in 1923 and has won numerous awards for her work in polymer chemistry.

Kwolek attributes her interest in science to her father and an interest in fashion to her mother, Nellie Zajdel Kwolek.

She became the fourth woman to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Kowalczyk picks up Gold in Sochi

Justyna Kowalczyk has won Poland's second gold medal at the Sochi Olympics, with victory in the cross country skiing 10k classic despite fractures in her right foot

Kowalczyk, who also won Gold in Vancouver four years ago beat Sweden's Charlotte Kalla and Norway's Therese Johaug winners of the silver and bronze respectively.

The Olympic champion completed the 10 km course in 28:17.8 to finish 18.4 seconds ahead of Kalla.

The strain of the last few days, as she battled with an injury that has plagued her preparations for the Sochi Games, was evident when the Pole burst into tears after her victory was assured.

On Sunday, Kamil Stoch won Poland's first medal of the games, with victory in the ski jump. 
Poland has now moved to eighth in the medal table, with Germany in first place and Canada and Norway in second and third.

Medals for couples married 50 years

A Polish farmer and his wife of nearly 50 years were slopping the hogs. With their golden anniversary gathering coming up later that week the wife suggested they slaughter a sow to mark their long time together. The farmer turned to his bride of half a century and said, “Why take it out on the pig”. 

If you survive 50 years of marriage in Poland, that is reason enough for a presidential medal.

To qualify, you have to put in over 18,000 solid days of work. Other medals require less, so it really is a considerable feat to have spent the last half century together.

The tradition is regularly played out in cities across the heavily Catholic country, with a hefty average of 65,000 medals awarded each year according to the president's office.

No other country honors marathon marriages with a presidential medal, something more often associated with military feats for example.

Some countries have awards for raising large numbers of children. Socialist-era Romania for example had what they called the Order of Mother Hero, which was awarded if you had 10 children.

Medals offer an indication of what a country finds important, whether it be a particular profession or trade or churning out enough children to fill factories and armies.

Poland's marital medal was introduced in 1960 under Communist rule and is very much a product of its time, according to social historian Marcin Zaremba.

“It’s a reflection of public sentiment and the power elite's stance after Stalinism,’’ says the University of Warsaw professor.

Stalinism had promised to topple the old world order and that vow also applied to family life, with women encouraged to enter the job market. But starting around 1955, press accounts showed a reversal of the trend.

“You could call it a conservative revolution. One specifying that in fact women shouldn't drive a tractor or work in mines, that a woman's place is at home with the kids and we should value her for it,’’ Zaremba says.

He adds that Poland's communist party leader at the time, Wladyslaw Gomulka, was himself happily married and frowned upon divorce and sexual debauchery. So this medal is also a reflection of his mindset.

The marital scene has changed quite a bit since then. Today fewer and fewer young people are deciding to marry, choosing instead to be in informal unions. Those who do marry, do so at an ever later age, and if unsatisfied, more and more of them opt for divorce.

According to Poland's Central Statistical Office, 13 per cent of marriages ended in divorce in 1980, while in 2012 that number was nearly 32 per cent.

That is still low compared to say Latvia or Portugal — both topped 70 per cent in 2011 according to Eurostat data — but it is a far cry from Communist Poland, when many unhappy couples stayed together solely because of the era's perpetual housing shortage.

Traditionally, divorce wasn't in style in Poland. The Church didn't accept it, communities didn't accept it, and nearly all families were divorce-free.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Poland to Die For?

Star of Ashes and Diamonds   
Zbigniew Cybulsk
According to a survey in context of a new film about  Colonel Ryszard Kuklinski, working as a Cold War spy for the CIA, as many as 41 percent of Poles would not sacrifice anything at all for their country.

19 percent said they would sacrifice their life or health and 17 percent claimed that they would give up all their assets for the good of their country.

The results, which were released on the tenth anniversary of Kuklinski's death indicate unsurprisingly that Poles from small towns and the countryside are slightly more willing to make sacrifices than their compatriots in cities.

About 43 percent of those questioned from cities of 50,000 inhabitants or more said they were not prepared to sacrifice anything for Poland, whereas in villages and small towns, the level was lower at 39 percent.

The debate about Kuklinski's motives has been reignited with new film Jack Strong, which was released in February 2014. President Bronislaw Komorowski declaring he was considering posthumous honors for the colonel. See post on film

CIA veteran David Forden told the Polish Press Agency following the premiere that Kuklinski “was deeply loyal to his country, and at the same time he grasped that this country was not free - that's why he decided to do what he did, knowing he was taking a huge risk.”

Meryl Streep Mixed Up

Meryl Streep is a prime example of Hollywood celebrity pinheads that help shape the opinions of low information voters who are useful idiots to the progressive left. She might be a prolific actress with awards up the wazoo, but like Sean Penn and so many other film star pop idols who influence the mind numb masses, her head is full of gówno when it comes to politics, life, the human condition and sexual mores in Poland.

You might remember her from the 1982 film Sophie's Choice when she played the part of a mother of two children in Nazi occupied Poland. Her choice was to give up one of her children to the Death Camp. But, it seems she did not learn a damn thing about Poland its culture or traditions. And, she's got the "now" and "then" mixed up.

Currently in Poland there is a great deal of backlash regarding sex education and contemporary sexual mores.

Post-communist countries have experienced of late a kind of inverted sexual revolution. Maybe
you've heard about new laws against "homosexual propaganda" in Russia, or perhaps the ban on homosexual marriage in Croatia, but have you heard of the "war on gender" in Poland?

Presently there is a storm of controversy over the issue of sex education. In Poland, the word "gender" has become a giant catchall term, conflating anything that diverges from the conservative, patriarchal norm according to liberal/progressives. It is on this threat that the church and its many allies in politics have declared war. According to a church official, "gender ideology" is worse even than communism.

The controversy was sparked by "gender workshops”, which were organized in pro-equality nurseries and schools. Children are taught contravening alternatives in a context where getting married to a member of the opposite sex while a virgin is deemed the only acceptable solution.

The current backlash concerns all alternatives to Catholic upbringing. Lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are incessantly insulted by the church, and parliamentary officials compare their activities to zoophytes and pedophiles. A civil partnership law was thrown out in the sejm last year.

How does this sit with Poland's glowing image abroad? When Meryl Streep gave an interview to promote her new film in the newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, she appealed to Polish politicians to get their act together: "I thought that after years of communism you'd caught up with the west in a social-cultural sense."

It's a pity nobody told Streep that, in fact, it was during the Communist Era when women in Poland enjoyed civil and reproductive rights.

That was a time when both abortion and contraceptives were legal and available. In today's Poland, both doctors and pharmacists can deny women contraceptives; abortion law is the tightest in Europe and sex education practically nonexistent. Even scientists speak in one voice with the church: the Polish Academy of Sciences published a letter in which they called the gender workshops an attempt at "unseating children from their own sex".

What a fallacy it is that a "liberal" economy means liberalism in social norms. As Poland demonstrates, the truth can be the opposite.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Ryszard Kuklinski - Jack Strong

It was the opinion of many Poles that Col. Ryszard Kukliński was a traitor for passing secrets to the CIA during the Cold War. Even after Solidarity leader Lech Wałęsa  became president he refused to honor Kuklinski and the important roll he played in adverting an East-West confrontation in which Poland most assuredly would have been one of the first theaters of battle. 

A just released Polish movie casts Kukliński in a different light, as a hero who acted on conscience and helped avert bloodshed. See also the post on the documentary "War Games" featuring Kuklinski's spying activities.

The movie "Jack Strong" — after Kukliński's CIA code name — traces the colonel's life from his career as a loyal officer to his lonely and ultimately tragic years as an exile in the United States. The movie opened Friday February 7, 2014 in Polish cinemas.

Kukliński served as a liaison officer between the Polish military command and the Soviet Army under communism. Disillusioned by the army's role in the bloody suppression of a Polish workers' protest in 1970, and convinced that Moscow was planning a military conflict with the West, he contacted the CIA with an offer to co-operate without any compensation.

From behind the Iron Curtain, he passed thousands of pages of Warsaw Pact secrets to the CIA, including the communist government's plan to impose martial law in 1981 and launch a brutal crackdown on the pro-democracy Solidarity movement. He was spirited out of Poland with his wife and two sons by the American spy agency shortly before the Dec. 13, 1981 military crackdown, and the family lived in hiding in the U.S. In 1989 the Poles peacefully ousted communism, paving the way to independence for other nations in the Soviet bloc.

Aris Pappas, a CIA analyst who assessed information from Kukliński, said the Polish spy took no money for the information he provided over 9 1/2 years.

"As an analyst I was on the receiving end of all of that information," Pappas told The Associated Press. "It was absolutely amazing. The beauty of the information that was being provided was that it allowed us to have an insight into the deliberations at the highest levels of the Warsaw Pact command. ... The information was absolutely essential."

In the fast-paced movie by director Wladyslaw Pasikowski, Kukliński emerges as a man of courage and conscience: Raised in the best tradition of Poland's military, he comes to the conclusion that the communist-era army does not serve Poland's best interests, and that Moscow is ready to sacrifice Poland in a major conflict with the West. As a talented army strategist, he decides to risk his life to avert the threat and help democracy through espionage.

The tension mounts until the dramatic scene of the Kukliński family's passage into the West. Years later, after Poland has become a free country, he is shown telling American officials in Washington that the ordeal he endured — life in exile, the mysterious death of a son — was worth it.

Poland's Presidents after the fall of communism refused to bestow state honors on Kukliński, questioning his loyalty to Poland. But Kukliński's ashes were ultimately laid to rest in 2004 in Warsaw's historic Powązki military cemetery.

Kukliński's role was less ambiguous to the Americans. When he died in Florida in February 2004, aged 73, then-CIA director George Tenet hailed him as a "true hero" and a "passionate and courageous man (who) helped keep the Cold War from becoming hot."

To young Poles, born under democracy, the movie is revealing, with its well-reconstructed atmosphere of Poland under communism.

"I have not heard much about Kukliński, but I see that he was a real hero who prevented a nuclear conflict," said Ewa Kalinska, 26, after a per-screening of the movie this week. "And I liked the movie. It's really a thrilling spy story."

The cast is international, with popular Polish film actor Marcin Dorociński as a convincing Kukliński; Russia's Oleg Maslennikov as a Soviet Warsaw Pact commander; and American actor Patrick Wilson speaking remarkably good Polish as Kukliński's CIA handler.
The movie will be screened this month in Britain and Ireland, and talks are underway on distribution in the U.S and other countries.

In 1984, Poland's military court sentenced Kukliński to death for desertion and treason. His house and property were seized. The family lived under an assumed identity in the U.S. for years.

During that period, Kukliński's younger son died in a sailing accident, and the older one was killed by a car some time after Kukliński told the Americans he had no regrets. Unexplained questions surround the deaths that came a year apart. Many Poles believe they were acts of revenge by Moscow, although there is no evidence to suggest that.

Surrounded by bodyguards, Kukliński visited democratic Poland in 1998, just months after a court cleared him of treason charges. On that visit he expressed his anguish that many Poles considered him a traitor.

"Not only the loss of both my sons but also the injustice and unfair opinions in my home country hurt me most, but I never had doubt that I have made the right choice," Kukliński said on that visit. "If I were to live again, I would do the same thing."

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

Secrets of John Paul II

It has come as a shock for many in the Catholic world that John Paul II's most trusted confidant has betrayed the beloved pontiff's last will and testament by publishing personal notes he wanted burned.

The Pope who will be elevated to Saint in April ordered his personal notes be burned after his death. He put Fr. Dziwisz, his secretary, in charge of the task. To everyone's surprise, Dziwisz, now a cardinal, said recently that he "did not have the courage" to destroy the notes and is having them published as a precious insight into the inner life of the beloved pontiff.

 The book — "Very Much in God's Hands. Personal Notes 1962-2003" - comes out in Poland on shortly.

Criticism so far has outpaced praise.

Debt Control Polish Style

Poland, the only EU country not suffering a down year during the economic crisis cut its public debt on Monday from 58% to below 50% of gross domestic product  by initiating a controversial change to its pension system that saw a transfer of sovereign bonds from private companies to the state.

The Polish government pushed for pension reform last year. It argued that the system introduced in 1999, in which private companies receive taxpayer money and invest it in stocks and bonds, was too expensive to maintain amid the global economic turmoil and has led to excessive buildup of public debt, although Poland's debt is half as much as the U.S. or EU countries as a percentage of GDP.

Earlier, Hungary, Slovakia and other Central EU countries have scaled back contributions feeding the private element of their pension systems.

The decision to strip the Polish pension funds of more than a half of their assets has been criticized by economists working for many of the fund companies owned by international financial institutions.

The private pension funds introduction in 1999 were supposed to complement the pay-as-you-go system, but are now seen as unsustainable in the long term due to an aging society.

Sending government money to the privately managed funds, Poland would have had to issue tons new debt.

White Eagle - White Lion, Poland even has White Camels

The White Eagle is the Polish National Symbol. But, did you know that 10% of the White Lions in the world live in Poland?

At a small private zoo in central Poland a White Lioness just gave birth to three white cubs.

Zoo Safari in BORYSEW northwest of  LODZ is home to a 2 ½ -year-old white lioness that's been patiently feeding and caring for the cubs, which were born Jan. 28. Their father, 3 ½-year old Sahim, who is also white, is kept in a neighboring cage and roars at anyone who comes too close to his family.

The zoo will name the cubs after they grow a little more and can be weighed and identified as either male or female. They will be allowed on an outdoor run in April.

Opened in 2008, the zoo has animals of 80 species, including white tigers and white camels, and drew 160,000 visitors last year.

The zoo's owner is a machinery mechanic who loves animals and his son and a team of veterinarians work at the zoo.

Monday, February 03, 2014

Poland's Rendition of Rendition

Gazeta Wyborcza, a Polish newspaper, revealed that for two years a legal loophole in the financing rules of the Polish spy agency permitted $15 million  to be entered into the spreadsheets of the Polish spy agency’s accounting system. 

Was this the pay-off for CIA rendition facilities located on Polish soil? A trial is coming up.

Poland’s pension overhaul was good government

From Mr Jacek Rostowski, former Finance Minister of Poland, published in the Financial Times:

Sir, Ralph Atkins’ article criticising Poland’s pension reform is based on a major misunderstanding (“Poland plays with fire over pension reform”, Insight, January 30)...

The risks from high public debt have become very apparent throughout the world, which means it is important for Poland to stop costly per-funding of pensions. 

Polish Dream Retirement
Look at the size of that Pole