Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Terrorism Against the Norweigan Left

As in other countries, many commentators in the Polish media were quick to point their fingers at supposed Islamic terrorists for the attrocious attacks carried out in Norway this weekend.

In contrast, in an interiew carried out today, Michał Syska, from the left-wing think tank 'The Ferdinand Lassalle Centre for Social Thought', gave his views on recent events. Below I translate some of the extracts from this interview:

In Norway the darkest nightmares of the Polish extreme right are coming true. A red-red-green coalition is in government - the Labour Party with the Socialist Left Party and the Agrarian Centre Party. The government has a clear left programme, which includes the aim of integrating immigrants into Norweigan society. Research from 2009 shows that the majority of Norweigans are highly supportive of the Labour Party's policies and that it is seen as the most competent party in terms of its immigration policy.

The Interviewer asked Syska whether he thought the actions of Anders Breivik are similar to the phraseology popular amongst the Polish right, such as using the offensive term 'Komuch' against people from the left

The Communist Party was never strong in Norway. From the end of the 19th Century the largest political party in Norway has been the Labour Party, which for years dominated, competing for power with the centre-right.

Scandanavian society is strongly connected to the Welfare State. The right-wing are however highly popular because they say that 'we also want the Welfare State, but we want to reform it' - read: demolish it

The most right-wing party in Norway is the populist Progress Party. This was formed in the 1970s as a right-wing party against the Welfare State, the bureaucracy and high taxes. Before long it had incorporated anti-immigrant themes. For example during the recent elections the party produced a poster showing an Arab immigrant aiming a revolver.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Closing Europe's Borders

The European Union has been built upon the free movement of capital, goods and people between the member states. However, recently, the ideal of European unity has come under threat, predominantly through the richer states seeking to impose new restrictions on the movement of people within the EU.

During the transition from Communism - when the Central Eastern European (CEE) markets were opened up to the Western European economies - a major incentive for the region's populations was the prospect of joining an enlarged EU. Being able to move, live and work freely in the EU was a strong motivational pull for the populations of CEE and was regarded as an historical gain in the region.

Even although the CEE markets had long been opened up to goods and capital from the West, most of the Western European states retained restrictions upon people from CEE working in their countries after EU enlargement. It was at this time that the stereotypes of the 'Polish plumber' began to be spread and it was not until May of this year - seven years after joining the EU - that the labour markets were fully opened up to the CEE countries that joined in 2004. To this day, workers from Bulgaria and Romania are unable to work legally in most EU countries, although of course capital and goods from the West can enter these countries without restriction.

A disturbing development in European politics is the trend towards introducing new restrictions on people moving and working inside the EU. Recently, the Dutch government has announced plans to deport people from CEE who are unemployed and whom it deems have little prospect of finding work. This has been accompanied by a new xenophobic offensive against people from CEE living in Holland, led the by far-right politician Geert Wilders.

The other threat to the movement of people inside the EU has come through attempts to restrict the free movement of people within the Schengen area, that encompasses 25 European (not all EU member) states. Firstly, the enlargement of the Schengen area to Bulgaria and Romania was delayed in June. Despite Bulgarian and Romania meeting the criteria for entering the Schengen area, their entry was opposed by the richer states of France, Germany, Finland, the Netherlands and Belgium. One of the justifications for this decision was restricting the arrival of immigrants from North Africa coming through Bulgaria or Romania and also to prevent the movement of Roma from these countries. Politicians such as Nicolas Sarkozy are using such issues as a way of boosting their political capital at home as they take up political ground previously occupied by the far-right.

Another example of this trend has been the unilateral decision of Denmark to re-impose controls on its borders. This has been pushed through by the far-right Danish People's Party (DPP), which is a member of the current government.

The issue of Schengen came to the fore at the last EU summit. Here it was agreed that there was a need to re-introduce some border restrictions in 'exceptional circumstances'. This was quite rightly opposed by CEE countries such as Poland, who feared that it could be used to discriminate against their citizens. However, in face of this opposition, an amendment was agreed that the border controls would only be applied to people who are not citizens of or have permanent residency in an EU country. Quite how border guards will be able to determine whether someone is an EU citizen or not is unclear. It opens up the possibility of people being stopped because of their perceived nationality, race, etc. Polish PM Donald Tusk made the totally unsuitable comment following this decision that 'we do not have an influence on whether the security services of particular countries will implement these regulations in a politically correct manner'.

Rather than making concessions on these issues countries such as Poland - especially as it currently holds the EU Presidency - should be opposing all attempts to renegade on the Schengen agreement. It is naive of politicians such as Tusk to believe that such moves will not affect his own citizens. For example, the mayor of the German town Guben - situated on the Polish border - has recently called for the reintroduction of border controls in Germany similar to those introduced in Denmark.

The attempt to constrain the movement of people within the EU acts against one of the greates achievements of the European Union, is an infringement on people's human rights and is being promoted by a resurrgent far-right bent on promoting division, racism and xenephobia in Europe.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Apologising for being Critical

An interview with Roman Kurkiewicz, journalist and participant on the current voyage to Gaza, has caused a minor political storm in Poland. Missions from over 20 countries are on their way to Gaza, carrying medical supplies, in order to break the blockade of Gaza. The boats departed on the first anniversary of the attack by Israeli commandos on the Mavi Marmara that left 9 people dead and over 50 injured. The fleet this time round has met numerous obstacles organised by Israel and other states, not least the boats being impeded by Greece.

In an interview for the influential left-wing website Krytyka Polityczna Kurkiewicz described his reasons for taking part in the action and the obstacles that the voyage has met. In the interview Kurkiewicz criticised the Polish daily newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza and the critical stance it takes towards the issue of Palestine. In particular he pointed to an article written by Paweł Smoleński about the book written by the British Palestinian solidarity activist (who has Polish roots): Ewa Jasiewicz.

This article repeated the oft-repeated opinion that anti-Israeli attitudes are a 'fashion' which have been imported from the West (sic). Kurkiewicz said in his interview that he was horrified with the form of the text and that it was not comprehensible how Gazeta Wyborcza - a place where he had previously worked - could publish an article that was similar in tone to those published in March 1968.

It is this last opinion that has particularly caused outrage amongst some. March 1968 refers in Poland to the time when the authorities - under the leadership of Władysław Gomułka - launched a campaign against the opposition through expelling a number of intellectuals - the majority of whom were Jews. This campaign drew upon existent anti-Semitism in Poland and is a shameful episode in the history of the Polish People's Republic.

It is true that Kurkiewicz's words could have been chosen more wisely. However, his metaphor referred to the form of censorship and one-sidedness that exists in public debate over Palestine and the demonising of those who express alternative opinions.

Shortly after the appearance of Kurkiewicz's interview, Krytyka Polityczna published a reply by the press-officer from the Israeli embassy in Poland. The article includes a criticism of Krukiewicz's opinions, questioning the humanitarian nature of the Flotilla and the opinion that Gaza exists in a prison like state. The article also launches a new attack upon Jasiewicz - whom is described as being naive, ignorant and hating everything that is connected to Israel. In many ways the article confirms the pretensions expressed by Kurkiewicz in the original interview.

Rather than leaving the matter there, Krytyka Polityczna then published on its website an apology to Paweł Smolenski for the reference to March 1968. Quite why Krytyka felt the need to do this is anyone's guess and this is to my knowledge (and I may stand corrected) the first time that they have published such an apology. It seems that this has caused some divisions within the organisation as they shortly afterwards published an explanation as to why they could not apologise to Jasiewicz for the opinions expressed by the Israeli embassy - because, they explain, the interview had been commissioned by Krytyka Polityczna. Then, coming under criticism from some who identify with Krytyka Polityczna, it bizarrely produced an ironic poem about 'apologies'. Unfortunately such flippant humour has no place when discussing an issue of such seriousness. After all 1,434 Palestinians were killed during the war in Gaza in 2008 - of which 960 were civilians, including 288 children.

Krytyka Polityczna has made a great deal of headway in recent years by bringing together a number of individuals and intellectuals who are seeking to build an alternative left. Their greatest breakthroughs have been in the arena of culture and they have also managed to introduce some degree of pluralism into a public debate dominated by the right. One of its declared achievements has been that it has partially managed to break the dominant right-wing discourse in Poland. Previously it had not shirked controversy and it came to prominence a few years ago when it published a collection of Lenin's writings included in a book by Slavoj Zizek (something that was almost considered a crime by some in Poland.)

While a debate about the use of Kurkiewicz's language is a legitimate one, it seems that on this issue Krytyka Politcyzna have bent to pressure and avoided challenging the dominant discource that is preventing a real debate on the issue of Palestine in Poland.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Hungarian workfare - a new army of slave labour

Below I reproduce an interesting article published on the Labour Representation Committee blog:

The Hungarian government has announced a new Hungarian Work Plan aimed at increasing the low employment rate in Hungary. As a post-communist country, subjected to Shock Therapy in the 1990s, some areas of Hungary have suffered unemployment rates over 40% continually over the last 20 years. http://www.eurozine.com/articles/2011-01-24-rowlands-en.html

The package reduces employers’ payroll taxes and aims to replace welfare projects with public works projects. The government is attacking the rights of all employees and restoring a neo-feudal system whereby the current minimal levels of workplace of protection will be further reduced.

After 90 days of unemployment insurance, all welfare payment will be stopped to claimants. They will then need to enroll in public works programmes; and be assigned work such as cleaning sewers, building dams or stadiums. This will be done under police supervision. It is said that the conscripts will work only half-time, for less money than the minimum wage. If the work is more than six hours from the conscript’s residence, they will be given a trailer to sleep in, near the site.

These plans may represent the ultimate logic of the current capitalist trends across Europe - labour camps, guarded by the police; with the apparent blessing of the incompetents and scoundrels currently in charge of the European Union.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Solidarity Demonstration Warsaw

Last week up to 80,000 Solidarity trade unionists marched in Warsaw a day before Poland took up its presidency of the EU. Amongst their demands was a rise in the minimum wage and more funding to fight unemployment.

Below are links to 2 short films I took on the march - although I don't think I'll be winning any prizes for them somehow!


And also here

Monday, 4 July 2011

Anti-Abortion Offensive

Poland already has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe. Yet for the conservative right it seems that even this is not enough.

Last week a bill - presented via a citizens' petition - was presented in parliament seeking to completely outlaw abortion. It passed its first hurdle and now will be sent to a commission in order to work on it further.

The current abortion law - passed in 1993 - allows for legal terminations only in a small number of cases:
- When the pregnancy constitutes a health threat to the mother
- When medical certification confirms that the foetus is terminally damaged
- When the pregnancy is a result of rape.

The proposed bill wants to get rid of all of these exceptions and completely outlaw abortion in the country.

The bill was passed in a parliamentary vote on Friday, with 254 MPs voting in favour of the bill and 151 voting against. Scandulously, the ruling Citizens' Platform (PO) allowed the bill to pass through parliament to the next commission stage. Its inability to vote en-bloc against such a restrictive bill, exposes the mockery of the party's attempt to present a left face in recent weeks.

The strong anti-abortion lobby in Poland managed to gather 600,000 signitures to force this vote in parliament. Nevertheless, its proposal runs against public opinion in the country. Only 14% of society believe that abortion should be completely illegal. This is against 36% who believe it should be illegal but with certain exceptions and 38% who feel it should be legal with some exceptions.

The women's activist and writer Agnieszka Graff has described the bill as being an 'aberrant cruelty, a kind of madness and hysterical misogyny'. She believes that the conservative right would like to move the whole debate in Poland to the right in order create a fear within the political mainstream against any attempt to even slightly liberalise the current restrictive law.

The Democratic Left Alliance organised a pro-choice exhibition outside of the parliament and are collecting signitures in order to present its own bill in parliament to liberalise the current abortion law. As the SLD MP and ex health minister - Marek Balicki - has stated:

If half of the PO and PSL MPs voted in order that the parliament deals with the matter of abortion now, in a pre-election period, then we appeal to them to ensure that our project progresses as quickly as possible to its first reading

Friday, 1 July 2011

If You Had the Luck of the Polish?

You can find my article published in the journal Social Europe on Poland taking over the EU Presidency here.