Polish Toledo

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Thursday, June 26, 2014

Tusk still standing - despite tapes scandal

Secret audio recordings featuring officials in the ruling party that were published by the Polish news magazine Wprost, has caused a great deal of controversy on the political landscape.

In one of the tapes, central bank governor Marek Belka and Interior Minister Bartlomiej Sienkiewicz were recorded discussing the removal of another minister and ways to put pressure on a private businessman.

Another recording exposes Poland's Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski blasting the Polish-U.S. alliance and said British Prime Minister David Cameron's policy on Europe was either reckless or incompetent.

In a speech to parliament, PM Donald Tusk said he believed a criminal group was behind the recordings, aiming to undermine Poland's position and influence its commodity and energy markets according to Reuters News Agency.

He linked the eavesdropping to Poland's role concerning neighboring Ukraine, where it fiercely opposes Russian intervention and to Warsaw's growing weight inside the EU.

"The background is wide and concerns several occurrences that you could observe recently," Tusk said. "They relate to people who acted in the sphere of gas links between Poland and Russia."

"There's an element concerning the coal trade from the east," he added. "The association seems obvious ... the situation in Ukraine and Europe is part of that."

Polish prosecutors said on Wednesday they had charged two people with illegally recording conversations and were questioning two more.

Meanwhile Tusk called for a vote of confidence, which he narrowly won keeping the Polish government whole. Poland's main opposition party, Law and Justice (PiS) does not have enough votes in parliament to call for new elections.

This is not the first scandal surrounding Tusk. A couple years ago his son was involved supposedly with financial fraud in a scheme involving investments.   

Meet me at the Polish Oasis

While Polish desserts like sernik and kissel are not threatened with extinction anytime soon, the Polish desert in Upper Silesia without human intervention could disappear quicker than a platter of Pączki during Ostatki.

No, it's not a mirage: The Błędów desert really exists in the middle of Poland.

Scrub brush taking over Poland's desert

The Polish Sahara is one of nature’s oddities.  Once nearly 150 square miles in size, the giant sand box has been bewildering visitor for centuries. Its sprawling sands are inconsistent with surrounding lush lake districts, rolling plains and thick forests near the town of Klucze.

It might seem a little bizarre to some that a conservation project funded by the EU has been charged with preserving this barren anomaly. Over the centuries scrub brush and pine trees have encroached upon Poland’s desert to the point where it stands only 25 square miles in size today.

Millions of złoty are being provided through an initiative to preserve fragile ecosystems and help safeguard this seemingly misplaced desert. The plan calls for deforestation and the eradication of otherwise native plant life.

Some people would say why bother? Just let it grown green. But, Magdalena Moroń, of the Desert Rejuvenation Program says, “This place is worth fighting for. It's worth making sure it doesn't disappear off the map.” Being the only desert in Central Europe, she might have a valid point.

Silver and lead mining in the 13th century helped reveal more acreage of a deep layer of sand deposited by waters flowing from melting glaciers decades before. Both man’s destruction of native plant life combined with the natural deposit of sand created the wonderment.

The eerie emptiness on the fringes of Klucze, has long fascinated passers-by. In 1924, a tourist reported seeing a mirage and during World War II, it was used to train occupying German troops before they went to the North African front.

The uniqueness of the area could be a tourist attraction if objectives to stabilize the desert, establish nature trails, and produce a guidebook are met. But, unlike the camels that this desert doesn't have, it remains to be seen whether the idea of the Polish Sahara as a major tourist attraction will hold water.

Always something about the Poland you don’t know
 at Kutyłowski’s Blog on PolishToledo.com

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Polish Exceptionalism

On June 4, Poland celebrated the 25th anniversary of elections that made it the first democratic government behind the Iron Curtain. It was the revolution of steadfast determination to break the shackles of Soviet style domination.

Perseverance of a whole nation led by an unemployed shipyard electrician and the inspiration of a Polish Pope created an immutable force to rid itself of oppression without weapons or bloodshed. The transformation recognized individual freedoms of man over the conformity and tyranny of state control.

After the 1989 elections, the fledgling democracy faced unprecedented economic challenges including bankruptcy and rampant inflation. The typical inefficiencies of a socialistic system where everything was dictated by state planning and insufferable dependence on socialistic values had Poland scrambling to transform the nation into a free market of opportunities. Enthusiasm for newfound freedom outweighed the world’s speculation of economic disaster for Poland.

Now, just a quarter of a century later, Poland is indisputably the most successful economy in Europe as evidenced by not having even one down year and avoiding recession through the recent economic meltdown.

Without interruption since 1992 Poland's GDP has more than doubled and exports increased 20 fold. Per capita purchasing power is catching up to other EU countries that had decades more of economic freedom. The World Bank now classifies Poland as a high-income economy with more than 80 per cent of Poles completely satisfied with their lives, up from less than half at the beginning of transition.

Even through the darkest days of “shock therapy” (referring to the sudden release of price and currency controls, withdrawal of state subsidies, immediate trade liberalization and previously public-owned assets becoming privatized) Poland kept its eye on adopting Western style institutions, laws and social norms that had made America rich and successful during its heyday.

Poland has rightfully placed great emphasis on education. Today, more than half of young adults pass through university level studies, which is above the American and EU average. Under communism less than 10 per cent had an opportunity to peruse higher degrees. A study of literacy among 15-year-olds in 65 countries around the world measured by The Program for International Student Assessment shows young Poles beating most western European peers even though spending on education is less than half in other countries.

Reminiscent of Americas gilded age Polish entrepreneurship has flourished. Gone are the 50 years of shortages and dreaded kolejka (queue) to purchase the most menial things like toilet paper.

Today's top Polish entrepreneurs are all self-made men not born into riches having first hand knowledge of consumers thirsty for products and services unavailable during the communist era.

Poland has become the beacon of economic stability. The IMF has predicted Poland will grow more than twice as fast as Germany thus announcing the arrival of Poland's modern golden age.

Like the birth of America 240 years ago, Poland's success story attests to the strength of human aspirations for Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

President Obama graciously attended the 25th anniversary celebration in Warszawa giving a speech that was well received by the Polish people promising unwavering commitment to Poland's security. However, on his previous visit to Poland Lech Wąłesa declined to meet with our President saying in effect, “America seems to be on the road Poland struggled so hard to get off.”

The Roads to Freedom Museum in Gdańsk operated by the Remembrance Institute certainly illustrates with historically accurate documentation the differences between ideologies and roads taken. On this 25th anniversary it is not so difficult to forget the hardships of the past when the present has provided so much increasing affluence to the Polish people making the museum a valuable national treasure.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pissing Lenin

Poland’s post-war communist government built the industrial town of Nowa Huta as a socialist tonic to subdue the intellectual influence of the nearby city of Krakow, and it once boasted a huge statue of the Russian leader striding down a main boulevard. The communists hoped it would become a model proletarian bastion.

In the old days Vladimir Lenin's statue loomed high on a main boulevard. In 1979 t
o the government's dismay, rather than becoming a shining example of one-party progress, Nova Huta’s workers resisted attempts to make them die-hard socialists, with some even trying to blow up the original Lenin statue in 1979. Only enough explosive material could be scrounged up  to take a chunk out of Vlad's feet. It took another ten years after Poland threw off the yoke of Soviet domination to get the old statue of Lenin permanently removed.

Now the old geezer is back in Nowa Huta, but instead of striking a dramatic pose designed to inspire revolution, the new Lenin statue is bright green in color, and depicts the revolutionary leader relieving himself, with a water feature providing the necessary effects.

Called the “Fountain of the Future,” the new Lenin statue has appeared in Nowa Huta as part of an art festival, and is also designed to stimulate debate over what should be the subject of a permanent statue on the same spot.

Bartosz Szydlowski, one of the creators of the new Lenin, also said the statue would show people that Nowa Huta is not just a “gray and gloomy” town, and that its residents have a “sense of humor”.

According to the Polish press, the statue has become something of a local attraction and the subject of tourists’ photographs.

 Pole's not wasting anything, sold the old statue to a Swedish millionaire in 1992.