Books on Poland
Update No: 124 - (28/09/07)
Pre-electoral manoeuvres paramount
Everything in Poland depends on the outcome of forthcoming elections to
parliament on October 21st. There is a distinct possibility of a change in
A famous former anti-communist dissident has joined the ranks of Poland's
opposition Civic Platform party, giving the pro-business group a boost as it
launched its campaign for the elections. Senate Speaker Bogdan Borusewicz, who
until now had no party affiliation, had been close to the ruling conservative
Law and Justice party. He is the latest politician in recent days to switch
allegiances before the October vote. Borusewicz was one of the organizers of the
1980 strikes - alongside Lech Walesa - at the shipyard in Gdansk that led to the
birth of the Solidarity trade union and pro-democracy movement. Solidarity
famously helped to bring down communism in 1989.
"I am with you," Borusewicz told the cheering crowd of Civic Platform
members gathered for a party convention in Gziezno, in western Poland. "I
have chosen Civic Platform, and this is a good choice."
Borusewicz's move gave a boost to Civic Platform, which depending on the polls,
is running either neck-and-neck, or with a razor-thin lead over Prime Minister
Jaroslaw Kaczynski's Law and Justice party.
Earlier, former Defense Minister Radek Sikorski defected to Civic Platform. He
too had been an independent senator, but had been closely aligned to Kaczynski's
Jan Rokita, one of Civic Platform's most prominent members, made a surprise
withdrawal from the campaign, saying he would not run for any office because his
wife was named as an adviser to President Lech Kaczynski, the prime minister's
twin brother. Rokita had been considered a potential prime minister in the 2005
parliamentary elections, but Civic Platform lost to Law and Justice.
Also, Leszek Miller, a left-wing politician who served as prime minister from
2001-2004, resigned from his party, the Democratic Left Alliance. Miller cited
disagreements with the party leadership for his decision. Recently, the party
had blocked him from running for parliament on its list in his hometown of Lodz.
Miller's term as premier was marked by corruption scandals, but also by Poland's
entry into the European Union.
The Polish predicament
Election time is a good moment to take stock:
Poland is a big country with 40 million people. Moreover, it is in the very
heart of Europe. Yet it has never quite pulled its weight in international
affairs. The Poles produced Copernicus, the ecclesiastic, who was the greatest
thinker since the Ancient Greeks.
Nobody, bar a Nazi or two, doubts the individual courage of the Poles. It should
always remembered with respect and gratitude that in WWII 300 trained Polish
airmen played a vital role in the Battle of Britain in 1940 when courageous
young British half-trained pilots were being lost daily at an irreplaceable
rate, as did 250 Czech aircrew, who joined the ranks of those, of whom Churchill
rightly said: "Never has so much been owed by so many to so few."
But collectively Polish history was synonymous with disaster for centuries.
There was a most calamitous custom that decisions in its parliament the Sejm,
peopled only by the aristocracy, had to be unananimous - they were nullified if
there was so much as one dissentient voice. A single veto could scupper the
deliberations of its wisest statesmen. One corrupt traitor could derail the
state - (many of these aristocrats held land in neighbouring states as well),
and the nation was so betrayed!
It is not perhaps surprising that the country fell victim to its three
neighbours, in the three partitions of Poland, 1772-95, Austria, Prussia and
Russia who gobbled their neighbour up.
It gave up this disastrous idea of unanimity on recovery of its independence in
1918. But its geographical location proved to be the real killer. It is the
natural battleground of a Europe on the east-west warpath. It has been a
terrible victim several times since, never more so than in 1939-45, the sinister
years for more than just the Poles. It was first the prize, and then the
battleground of Soviet Communists and the Nazis, two of the most abrasive
regimes ever known.
Such a tragedy deserves reconsideration.
The Polish tragedy revisited
Sixty-eight years ago, as the Second World War erupted, Poland suffered a double
tragedy: invasions by German forces from the west, and by the Red Army from the
east - a war crime which would poison international relations for decades. The
fourth partition of Poland was under way.
A secret pact between Berlin and Moscow saw Poland divided up, with each side
occupying half the country, strangling the Polish resistance in a vice.
Two years later though, Hitler reneged on the pact and marched on Moscow. Two
years after that, his retreating troops discovered the remains of thousands of
Polish officers in a mass grave inside the Soviet Union, the Katyn massacre. It
gave the Nazis the chance to drive a wedge between Moscow and its allies in
London and Washington. Actually, without success; Churchill and Roosevelt
suspected the worst, but decided to ignore it.
The Nazis filmed the horrors of Katyn in grisly detail and made it public.
Moscow denied it and said the Nazis were trying to cover up an atrocity
committed by their own troops. Despite evidence of Moscow's guilt, Britain and
the United States chose to accept the Soviet line, so as not to weaken the war
It took until the fall of the USSR for Moscow to admit its guilt. In 1992, the
then Polish president Lech Walesa accepted official documents detailing the
crime. It was on Stalin's personal orders that the Soviet secret police had
carried out their murderous work, so removing all of the Polish officer class in
their hands, with the clear intention of occupying Poland later.
A year later, then-Russian President Boris Yeltsin visited Katyn to pay his
respects. But his absence two years later at a similar ceremony, despite a
personal invitation from Mr Walesa, infuriated Warsaw, and did nothing to
improve the atmosphere between the two countries. Russia still refuses to hand
over other top secret documents on the massacre.
Warsaw has in this matter just one goal now: to de-classify the papers, and get
Moscow to admit its guilt of not just a war crime, but attempted genocide.
This is all the baleful past. But a bright future awaits Poland.
Poland is now in the EU
Everything has changed with Poland's adhesion to the EU. It has a destiny - to
be European at last.
Switzerland has no reason to belong to the EU and strong reasons, not all of
them admirable, as to why not (it's government proposed to apply, but the
citizens in a referendum said no). Norway afloat on a sea of oil, is in a like
case. But Poland needs the re-assurance of EU membership to give it a new
identity. It needs to shed its role of being the eternal victim - and to enter
the modern world.
One curious consequence of this is an EU consensus that the Gdansk shipyard must
be preserved. The occupation of Danzig, as it then was, was the occasion for the
outbreak of the Second World War. It then became the seedbed of Solidarity, that
Trade Union organisation that triggered the end of communism. (Against all
Leninist precepts, workers and intellectuals combined to overthrow communism!)
European competition commissioner Neelie Kroes and employment commissioner
Vladimir Spidla said they 'do not want' the Gdansk shipyard in Poland to close,
and added that they want the yard to have a 'sustainable, viable' future.
Their comments came after meeting a delegation of trade union representatives
headed by Karol Guzikiewicz, Vice-Chairman of the 'Solidarity' trade union in
the Gdansk shipyard.
Kroes said she is continuing to work with the Polish authorities to ensure the
long-term survival of the Gdansk shipyard. 'We do not want the Gdansk shipyard
to close. If we did we would have already required the repayment of subsidies a
long time ago', she said. 'I want to see Gdansk restructure and become a
successful company able to stand on its own feet without state support,' Kroes
said, adding that this is in the interests of the shipyard, the workers, and the
Polish economy as a whole.
Commissioner Spidla added that 'A constructive dialogue between the social
partners will be crucial in this process,' and that he is confident that Gdansk
shipyards will emerge from this process as a competitive undertaking. (No easy
challenge this for what in most of Europe is a rustbelt industry, unable to
compete with well-capitalised Asian shipyards with both the necessary skills and
low labour costs.)
Azeri leader unsure of pipeline running to Poland
Poland is a key to energy developments of great moment in Central Europe.
Azerbaijan is not certain that it will make a profit from possible supplies of
the Caspian oil to Europe through the Odessa-Brody [oil] pipeline, which has
been extended to Poland, President Ilham Aliyev has said.
"We plan to increase the output and we have a considerable potential, but
we will only be able to increase it if we have a route to transport oil,"
Aliyev said at a news conference on September 14th , following negotiations with
Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus.
"The Polish and Baltic markets are very attractive to us and there is
robust political support for the project, but very favourable economic
conditions are necessary for it to be implemented," Aliyev said.
The leaders of Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Georgia and Poland agreed in May 2007 to set
up a working group for the project of extending the oil pipeline. The heads of
state taking part in the project are to hold their next consultations in Vilnius
in October 2007.
An energy summit is to be held in Vilnius on 10-11 October.