Polish Toledo

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Thursday, May 29, 2014

General Jaruzelski’s burial causing controversy

The decision to bury General Wojciech Jaruzelski, Poland's last communist leader who died Sunday at the age of 91, in Warsaw's Powazki cemetery sparked some of controversy.

Gen. Jaruzelski proclaimed martial law in Poland on Dec. 13, 1981 in an attempt to crush the nationwide Solidarity freedom movement.

Thousands of political opponents were imprisoned and as many as 100 people lost their lives over an 18-month period.

Jaruzelski was put on trial for his role in the crackdown but escaped prosecution due to ill health. He was suffering from cancer.

Jaruzelski said his decision to impose martial law had prevented Moscow from sending in tanks to Poland, as it had earlier in Hungary and Czechoslovakia.

General’s supporters said he should be buried with full military honors in the Lane of Honor at Powazki cemetery befitting a former president while his opponents said he does not deserve to be buried at such a prestigious place because “he was a traitor who had blood on his hands”.

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski decided on Tuesday that Gen. Jaruzelski’s funeral to be held on Friday will be a state funeral. It will begin with a Holy Mass attended by the Polish president.

However, there will not be a day of national mourning.

Leszek Miller, a leader of Poland’s left-wing party Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and a former Communist Party colleague of Gen Jaruzelski wrote to President Komorowski requesting a national day of mourning. But the president refused, saying Jaruzelski was too divisive a figure.

“A day of national mourning would be inappropriate, due to the fact that it should be express the sentiments of the entire nation” Joanna Trzaska-Wieczorek Presidential spokeswoman said.

Jaruzelski was prime minister of communist Poland from 1981 to 1985 and head of state from 1985 to 1990.

Vodka museum cometh

It was recently announced that Poland would soon play host to its own vodka museum. It might be 600 years late, but good things come to those who wait.

Although no official launch date has yet been given, reports in the daily newspaper Fakt state that Warsaw’s Bohemian district, Praga, is set to open a new museum dedicated to the nation’s most renowned brew. Not only will the facility be a tourist attraction, the facility will lend legitimacy that Poland, not Russia, invented the libation.

The actual location and facilities are yet to be chosen states the paper, however the total cost is expected to amount to approximately $10 Million. With the help of foreign investment, the museum will offer visitors the chance to witness how the drink is created, from the fermentation to the bottling process.

Andrzej Szumowski, President of the Polish Association of Vodka, has already praised the project, comparing it to a number of other similar museums across the globe.

“The Scots have a museum dedicated to whiskey. The Mexicans have a museum for tequila and the French can boast one for their champagne. We here should also be very proud of our national drink, vodka,” he told Gazeta Wyborcza.

He went on to add that this is the perfect time to introduce such a place of interest. “A lot has changed during recent years and this the perfect time to open a museum dedicated to vodka, as Poles are finally embracing the drinking culture,” he told the newspaper. Szumowski went on to say, “Warsaw is our heart and it was becoming short of breath. This is a serious project, not a joke. I am happy that this kind of culture is coming back to Praga.”

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Weaning Poland off Russian gas

Last year the country imported 60% of its gas from Russia. Although there is the promise of shale gas production in Poland, it will take a few years to develop.

Starting las month, Poland significantly imports more gas from Germany, thanks to the expansion of a pumping station at Mallnow on the border. All the pipelines built by the Soviet Union to supply gas to its satellites were designed to operate in one direction only, from Russia to the West. But Gaz-System, the firm that operates the Polish section of the Yamal pipeline, says up to 2.3 billion cubic meters of gas per year can now be imported through it from the West.

Read more in the Economist

Obama to Poland in June

President Barack Obama will visit Poland in June, adding the stop to a trip in which Russia's actions in Ukraine are expected to dominate his agenda, as it did during his last trip to Europe in March.

Obama will hold bilateral meetings in Warsaw, and participate in an event marking Poland's emergence from communism 25 years ago, the White House said.

Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Poland last month to show support for the region as Russia moved to annex the Crimean region of Ukraine.

After Warsaw, Obama will meet with leaders of the G7 group of nations in Brussels. The meeting had originally been slated as a G8 Summit in Sochi, Russia, but it was cancelled because of Russian intervention in Ukraine.

Obama also will travel to France to participate in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day.

Poland's Lastest Saint

Poland has, since the fall of communism, become a more secular country – to the point that lawmakers have been divided over whether to grant a parliamentary declaration to Pope John Paul II, who was canonized today at the Vatican.

But even as secular forces push for a greater separation of church and state in this still deeply Catholic country, no one denies the fundamental role the Polish-born pontiff played as Poland emerged from Soviet occupation.

And his canonization comes at a time when Poland is once again looking warily at a resurgent Russia, which is engaged in a political game in Ukraine that has prompted uncomfortable parallels with the cold war. Poles sit at the forefront of demanding a tough response from the West to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Today offers a reminder of how Poland arrived at its position in 2014 as a democratic nation firmly embedded in the European Union.

Read more 

10th Anniversary

Today, Poland celebrates its first decade in the European Union. The Polish are known for their hard work and instant adaptation to advantageous social changes, therefore, it was anticipated from the start it would perform well after joining the EU.

After becoming an EU member, Poland has become a “hot destination” for tourists. Million of tourists have visited Polish cities.

With the implementation of EU legislation, phone and data roaming rates dropped fourfold in Poland. In 2007, only 9.2% of Polish citizens traveling to the EU used roaming services. By 2013, this number increased to as high as 60%. Within the country, 673 km of motorways have been built, and 808 km of expressways have been built or modernized.

Experts of the European economy are of the view that joining the EU structures does not automatically translate into a better economic performance and improved standard of living of any member country. Rather, EU membership presents itself as an opportunity, not as a guarantee of development.
Capitalizing on opportunity, Poland was intelligent and followed rapid modernization of its economy and obtained a higher level of confidence in the global market, resulting in a more rapid inflow of foreign direct investments than other neighboring EU states. Poland saw an investment and consumption boom, followed by rapid structural changes.

The country converted its economic base and followed the model of a higher share of services and a lower share of agriculture. This shift was possible due to higher productivity of the economy stimulated by technological progress and greater competition in the domestic market, the inflow of FDIs, and increased production of medium and highly processed products.

Poland has moved up from the 48th position in 2004 to the 33rd position in 2013 in the IMD World Competitiveness Center ranking and has achieved a 48.7% growth in its GDP, outperforming other countries in the region. Poland is the only country in the EU to avoid a recession. In 2008–2013, Poland's total GDP increased over 20%. It was by far the best performance in the EU and its pace of growth was faster than in other countries.

Before joining the EU, the GDP per capita in purchasing power standards amounted to 48.8%. In 2012, it amounted to 66.9% – an increase of 18.1 percentage points.

Economic growth has been accompanied by major changes in the labor market. Two million jobs have been created including half a million economically-inactive people who have been employed. In the period 2005-2012, the number of people at risk of poverty or social exclusion decreased by 7 million, and 1.3 million people were lifted out of poverty.

During the last decade, Poland's share of exports within the EU grew significantly. It was the highest increase of all the countries in the region and the second highest in the EU after The Netherlands who is at the top.

Poland has become one of the leading European producers and exporters in key industrial sectors such as the automotive industry, the electronic and home appliances sectors, and the furniture sector, while it is also an important service provider in the EU market. Poland has become the most desired investment destination in Central and Eastern Europe.

Poland has seen the most rapid growth in the export of its services – an increase in value by 160% of all the countries in the region. This trend was especially visible in the transport, business support, and tourism sectors.

Polish Courtesy

Polish Supreme Court Building

The Polish Constitutional Tribunal changed the date of its central observance marking a key national holiday to accommodate its Shabbat-observant keynote speaker, an American-born Israeli professor.

In an unprecedented move, the Polish high court's ceremony for Polish Constitution Day honoring Poland’s May 3, 1791 Constitution was switched from Saturday May 3, to Thursday May 1, also a national holiday, in deference to Prof. Moshe Rosman, of Bar-Ilan University's Israel and Golda Koschitzky Department of Jewish History and Contemporary Jewry.

Rosman, an expert in Polish Jewry and an advisor for the new Museum of the History of Polish Jews, told The Times of Israel that, on receiving the Polish supreme court's initial invitation to speak, he hesitated after noting that the celebrations fell on Saturday. He said halachic authorities agreed he could participate, however, if, among other constraints, he began his speech by speaking about Shabbat.

“I wrote to them [the Polish Supreme Court] and gave them an out — ‘I’m very honored, but you should know I'm a Shabbat observer with restrictions, which I understand if you can't accommodate…’”

But the court wrote back that it would accommodate his religious needs, and eventually changed the date of the holiday's central ceremony, held annually at the court, from the Saturday to the Thursday. Also marking the occasion are speeches by public figures, parades, exhibitions, and concerts.

Poland is probably the most pro-Israel country in Europe

Ahead of his flight to Poland, Rosman told The Times of Israel he was honored by the consideration given to him, but not 100% surprised, saying that although there is still anti-Semitism in Poland today, there is no official anti-Semitism.

“Poland is probably the most pro-Israel country in Europe. The government’s trend is to support things Jewish,” said Rosman.

The professor said, however, that the question is: what is the “real Poland?”

“Is the real Poland Communist? Chauvinist? Anti-Semitic? The country dominated by Russia throughout the 19th century?”

The answer lies in the Constitution Day holiday, said Rosman.

“Real Poland is before the partitions,” said Rosman, when there was an elected king and a multi-nationalist, proto-democractic parliament which created a more independent, progressive, and just society. Constitution Day celebrates this “real Poland,” said Rosman, and “for 200 years the Poles looked to this period as the real Poland.”

Read more: in The Times of Israel