Monday, 17 December 2012

Inwestycje ratują gospodarkę

Globalny kryzys gospodarczy bywa tłumaczony wieloma różnymi czynnikami. Nadmierne zadłużenie, chciwi bankierzy, zanik zaufania, spadające płace i słabnąca konsumpcja to tylko niektóre z przyczyn, które podawano, by wyjaśnić przedłużający się zamęt w gospodarce. Wszystko to niewątpliwie też odgrywa ważną rolę, ale „wielką recesję" ostatnich kilku lat można podsumować ostatecznie jako kryzys inwestycji.

Thursday, 13 December 2012

Death surge linked with mass privatisation

As many as one million working-age men died due to the economic shock of mass privatisation policies followed by post-communist countries in the 1990s, according to a new study published in The Lancet.
The Oxford-led study measured the relationship between death rates and the pace and scale of privatisation in 25 countries in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, dating back to the early 1990s. They found that mass privatisation came at a human cost: with an average surge in the number of deaths of 13 per cent or the equivalent of about one million lives.
The rapid privatisation programme, part of a plan known by economists as ‘shock therapy’, led to a 56 per cent increase in unemployment, which the study says played an important role in explaining why privatisation claimed so many lives. Many employers provided extensive health and social care for their employees, so through privatisation workers experienced the ‘double whammy’ of losing not only their livelihood but also their means of surviving the crisis.

Read More......

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Widmo krąży nad Europą, widmo faszyzmu...

Gospodarka strefy euro znów ześlizguje się w recesję. Społeczne konsekwencje tego najgłębszego od 1930 r. kryzysu nie kazały na siebie długo czekać. W całej Europie coraz większa część społeczeństwa poszukuje alternatyw dla politycznego establishmentu, któremu nie udaje się zapewnić ekonomicznego bezpieczeństwa i stabilizacji społecznej – dwóch filarów, na których opiera się zdrowa polityka demokratyczna. W wielu krajach rosną w siłę organizacje skrajnie prawicowe.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

The Rise of the Far Right in Poland and Europe

A spectre is haunting Europe, the spectre of Fascism.
As the Eurozone economy slips once again into recession, so the social consequences of the deepest economic crisis since the 1930s are having their effect. Throughout Europe, growing sections of society are looking for alternatives to the political establishment, that is failing to provide the economic security and social stability upon which a healthy political democracy relies. In many cases the organisations of the far-right are gaining strength.
In recent years the Freedom Party in Holland, The Democrats in Sweden, The People’s Party in Denmark and Le Pen’s National Front in France have made significant gains. In Greece Golden-Dawn, openly espousing the historical symbols of Greek Fascism, now lies third in the polls. But the far-right does not confine itself to electoral politics. Golden Dawn has regularly attacked immigrants, and there are serious allegations of its collusion with the police. In Hungary the Jobbik party has been gaining popularity through targeting the Roma population. In England, the English Defence League (EDL) has organised regular mobilisations against Muslim communities. In Norway, Andres Breivik (who had strong links with the Norwegian and European far-right) killed 77 people in a coordinated terrorist attack. This included slaughtering young people whose crime was to attend a Norwegian Socialist Party youth camp, as he saw them as supporters of  multi-culturalism. The list could go on.
At times this rise of the far-right has coincided with concessions made to racism by the political mainstream. Both Angela Merkel and David Cameron have announced that multi-culturalism has been a failure. Various European countries have banned Muslim women from having the right to choose how to dress, and adopted the language of hostility to Islam and immigration. In France, Sarkozy ordered the expulsion of Roma from the country who had committed crimes; and in Holland Islamophobia has been combined with propaganda against immigrants from Poland and other Central-Eastern European countries. At times, as in Holland and Denmark, the far-right has even participated in governing coalitions, as they try to gain credence as respectable parties of the political mainstream.
It is in this context that we should understand the worrying rise of the far-right in Poland. For the third year running they have managed to mobilise thousands on Independence Day in a show of political strength. The sight of the two far-right organisations in Poland, National Revival of Poland (NOP) and the All-Polish Youth (MW), leading a march of thousands through the streets of Warsaw, carrying the symbols of pre-war Polish Fascism, should be an affront to anyone that claims to uphold the principles of basic human decency. As has now become tradition, the streets of Warsaw were turned into scenes of violence and hooliganism, although this was not just restricted to Warsaw. After NOP  had completed their march in Wrocław, around 50 masked individuals physically attacked a squat using baseball bats, stones and Molotov cocktails, leaving one person severely injured in hospital. This is the sixth time that the far-right have carried out such attacks in Wrocław during the past year. The recent revelation that someone motivated by nationalistic, xenophobic and anti-Semitic ideas was planning a terrorist attack on the Polish parliament is another warning of the dangers that the far-right pose.
Over the past couple of years, NOP and MW have managed to expand their political appeal through aligning with a section of the mainstream conservative right. No longer do they march in their hundreds on 11 November, but they gather tens of thousands, including well-known politicians and publicists from the right. Their new foot-soldiers are recruited from the ranks of organised football hooligans, as it is in England for example by the EDL. The far-right has grown in such confidence that the leader of MW, Robert Winnicki, declared openly in a speech at the march that were creating a national movement that aimed to overthrow the republic .
The source of political inspiration for the Polish far-right is the Jobbik Party in Hungary. This is both a political party and semi paramilitary organisation, reaching back to the treacherous history of the Horthy Regime before the war. They stand as an independent extremist ally of Orban’s government, pushing the political mainstream further to the right and unleashing direct actions of violence against their identified enemies. Support for the Jobbik Party is currently strong and it is possible that it will hold the balance of power after the next elections scheduled for 2014.
Jarosław Kaczyński, speaking on election night last year, predicted that soon ‘we will have a second Budapest in Warsaw’. Primarily this would mean PiS forming a government similar to Orban’s administration in Hungary. But does this also mean that a Jobbik style organisation is needed in Poland? PiS has been successful in hegemonising the right of the political scene, incorporating many who have identified with the far-right and defeating rivals such as the League of Polish Families (LPR). However, to return to power the more extremist voices and actions of the right in the party have to be tempered. Kaczyński has therefore distanced himself and his party from the violence that took place and expressed his hope that the march will be orderly next year (unlike after last year’s march when he claimed that the police had been on the side of the far-left).
Yet while the mainstream conservative politicians will distance themselves from some of the actions of the far-right, they will never question their political legitimacy. This was most shockingly shown by the declarations of the Minister of Justice, Jarosław Gowin, who stated that the actions and slogans of NOP and MW did not exceed the limits of law and that a greater threat to democracy was posed by the support for totalitarianism from the far-left. As an example, he said that Krytyka Polityczna had published thework of Lenin, whilst the far-right did not reproduce books by Hitler.
Leaving aside the historical naivety of comparing Lenin to Hitler (what next Gramsci was just a second Mussolini?) the accusation that an organisation like Krytyka Polityczna is a similar threat to political democracy as MW or NOP is absurdity in the extreme. Krytyka Polityczna exists as an organisation grouping intellectuals that hold opinions common to the centre-left of European politics. The supposed works of Lenin was actually a book of Slavoj Źiżek (along with an introduction for the Polish edition written by Sławomir Sierakowski) that brought together a collection of Lenin’s early philosophical writings. Both Sierakowski and Żiżek in their introductions go out of their way  to distance themselves from Lenin, showing that they are really only concerned with the ‘Lenin in becoming’, which is an example of how the left should be prepared to use fresh forms of thought and political organisation to face their historically unique situation.
As Minister of Justice, does Gowin really believe that this is a threat to political democracy in Poland? Is it actually a crime now in Poland for young people to discuss the works of writers such as Lenin, Trotsky or Luxemburg? Are we to expect a return to the days of the Polish People's Repubic (PRL) when those in the West showed solidarity with dissidents by smuggling banned books beyond the Iron Curtain? If it wasn’t potentially so dangerous it would be simply funny; but history has continually shown that the road towards conservative authoritarianism and Fascism includes removing the legitimacy of the left to exist. It is becoming commonplace amongst the Polish right to compare those who were connected to the PRL with Fascists. This means degrading generations of Poles who actually helped to rebuild Poland out of the devastation wrought by Nazi occupation.
Referring to the proposal of the SLD, that NOP and MW should be banned as legal political organisations in Poland, Gowin answered that ‘if I was in the SLD’s position, I would not make such proposals. We all know what roots this party has’. The assertion here is that the SLD still does not have the full right to participate in the democratic process, because of its links to the PRL. This has been taken one step further by the far-right, with Winnicki announcing that MW will be putting forward a proposal to ban the SLD, stating that both the SLD and the Palikot Movement pose a threat to the state and nation. Although this could be dismissed as an extreme voice on the margins of politics, it should be remembered that when PiS briefly held power, a proposal came out of their government to take property away from those organisations that had roots in the previous system (this would have included the SLD, the OPZZ and even the ZNP).
Over the past few years the far-right has taken a step away from the political margins and aligned with a section of the conservative mainstream. It is now not possible to defeat the far-right simply on the streets or through legal mechanisms (although these may still be necessary.) The left has to help forge a new political hegemony that pushes the far-right back to the side-lines. To be successful the left has to once again be able to address the political majority in Poland and the economic hardships that are pushing sections of society towards the politics of hate and division. Warsaw must not become a second Budapest.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Breivik Style Attack Foiled in Poland

 A man has been arrested by the the Polish Internal Security Agency for planning a terrorist attack on the Polish parliament.

The man, who is a lecturer at the University of Agriculture in Kraków, was planning an attack on the Polish parliament during a debate on the budget when the President, Prime Minister and senior members of the cabinet would have been present. He had already collected the materials needed for the attack, including four tonnes of explosives that he intended to be detonated in a car parked in the parliament carpark.

The accused man explained that his motive was the poor socio-economic situation in the country and that Poland is governed by 'outsiders' and not by 'real Poles'. He hoped that the attack would instigate a process of change in the country. Although it seems that he was not directly connected to any political organisation, the Prosecution has described his actions as being motivated by 'nationalist, anti-Semitic and xenephobic opinions'.

Saturday, 10 November 2012

Demonstrations in Warsaw 1997 -1998

I have scanned some old photographs of demonstrations in Warsaw shortly after I came here. They are from around 1997 to 1998. Most are after the election of the right-wing coalition government of Solidarity Electoral Alliance and Freedom Union (AWS-UW). This government incorporated the different currents from the right, including those that now make up Citizens' Platform (PO) and the Law and Justice Party (PiS). Introducing the so-called 'second Balcerowicz plan' and its 'four reforms', it was probably the most disasterous government of the past twenty years, as economic growth slumped and unemployment doubled to nearly 20%. 

At this time the major opposition came from the left.Alongside the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) was the trade union confederation the OPZZ, which organised a number of protests against the government. Also at that time the Polish Socialist Party (PPS) had a few MPs in parliament as part of the SLD's electoral bloc, providing a left alternative inside and outside of parliament. Also peasants' movement Self-Defence (Samoobrona) was growing, as those in the countryside were particularly negatively affected by the governments reforms. 

 OPZZ demonstration against the government 1998:


PPS and OPZZ: 

Campaign against Education Fees ( 1997 or 1998) led by the PPS youth:

PPS Conference 1998:

May 1st 1997:
 (The banner reads - good luck Tony Blair (sic) - it was the day he got elected)

Samoobrona (first photo is of Andrzej Lepper):

Slogans on Demos

 (Enough Anti-worker Policies of AWS - UW)

(Him again)

 (Krzaklewski (then PM), Balcerowicz - Gravediggers of the nation)


 (May Day 1997)

(Polish Thatcherites)

Monday, 29 October 2012

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Poland's Left-Wing Voices Being Silenced

Agata Pyzik has written an interesting article for the Guardian's Comment is Free on the lack of a strong left-wing voice in public debate in Poland: 

After 1989, eastern Europe was supposed to join the club of so-called "normal countries". From now on, we were told, there would be free speech, a free press and free debate, all prevented during the years of communist oppression. But in practice, this free liberal debate is anything but.
These days, whenever someone in the post-communist countries of eastern Europe tries to criticise the changes that their country have undergone, the tendency is to ridicule, or worse, silence them. We're all middle class now, we are told. Start your own little enterprises, consume and shut up. Those trying to discuss a solution to the current crisis other than the orthodox austerity measures is quickly dismissed.
So when a group of left-leaning editors took over the troubled Polish news weekly Przekrój ("Slant") last winter, it felt like a breath of fresh air in a public sphere usually divided evenly between neoliberalists and nationalists. Yet the change of direction didn't last long. After only a few months, and with the circulation having shrunk by roughly 50%, the editors were sacked and replaced with an editorial team with a track record in entertainment and lifestyle journalism.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Refugees in Poland on Hunger Strike

Over seventy people continue a hunger strike in polish detention centers.

Below is a statement from the website supporting the strikers

Facebook group here

Part of the detainees claim they lack competent legal support or interpreting services, which seriously obstructs the process of claiming their rights in court. Others point to the fact of children not having their rights respected in the centres, of lack of proper education and healthcare, and they demand improvement in social conditions. Detainees indicate the problem of being isolated from the outside world, which provokes abuse on the side of the Polish border guard officers: mental and physical violence, sexual harassment against women, punishing and harassing without respect to the regulations. However, the worriment predominantly indicated by all is the experience of being second-class persons, marginalized by immigration regulations, totally excluded, bereft of even those rights, which they are supposed to enjoy because of being human.

In accordance with the non-refoulement principle, found in Geneva Conventions as well as in Polish Immigration and Immigrant Protection Acts (June 13th 2003), there is also a “category” of persons requesting a refugee status, which means people who seek asylum in Europe. In short, this implies that EU member states are obliged to consider those people’s requests. Therefore, regulations were introduced to legally allow such cases to end with a refusal.

An example of such is Dublin II, an ordinance declaring that asylum requests should be filed in the member state, in which the foreigner crossed the limits of the Schengen Zone. If someone seeks asylum in a different country, they are usually refused and deported to the primary country of arrival. There they seek asylum again, but they have to await the decision in a detention centre, which takes up to a year. In Poland, around 1.6% of claims from asylum seekers are successful, while around 18% receive only so called subsidiary protection for a period of two years. In effect, thus constructed regulations ensure nothing but an illusion of a right to asylum, and in many cases embody an abuse of non-refoulement.

Due to the lack of clarity of regulations, in case of the majority of persons rejected back to Poland on the basis of the Dublin ordinances, the court almost automatically requests to detain them in one of the immigrant detention centres. Notably, detention is designed to serve an ultimate measure, used only in cases of most serious breach against law and order. Immigrants did not commit a crime, nor do they threat the security of the state or its citizens; therefore there is no premise for bereaving immigrants of their freedom, to which they have an undeniable right as human beings. In no aspect do detention centres differ from prisons (barred windows, barbed wires, tall walls, limited access to therapies or education) and in some cases they are organized under harsher conditions than prison regime. Innocent people are detained in the centres, made to play the role of criminals serving punishment.

Strategy of dividing migrants between the wanted and the unwanted, based on economic and political demands of member states, allow to categorize human beings according to the current political and economic situation in a given country. Yet, the “luck” of finding oneself among the “wanted” immigrants does not equal legalization of residence. Illegal immigrants receive wages lower than minimum. Employers do not pay their employees’ insurance, and the lack of chance to claim workers’ rights compensates them any risks they might experience because of illegal employment.

EU’s official policy points to fighting “illegal migration”. Decisions categorizing persons between statuses are taken on artificial criteria, precariously changed to serve the current needs of the market. Morally, this is a totally objectifying way of treating people, who took a desperate step of fleeing their homes, abandoning everything they cared for, and seek security someplace else, because of war, harassment, catastrophes or a tragic economic situation. In their situation, the possibility of legal arrival in Europe is almost none. Therefore, the number of legal immigrants remain scarce, while the rest receive the status of illegals.

The outrageous abuse against immigrants in Europe, both free and detained, is only a secondary problem. The real cause of their personal grieves is the systemic segregation and dehumanization, legally referred to as EU’s migration policy.

Are We Really All Keynesians Now?

Compare the following two statements made by PM Donald Tusk to the Polish parliament over the past year:

November, 2011: 'I do not hide the fact that the aim is to stabilise the financial situation of Poland. This is positive for the reputation of Poland and connected to the security of our bonds.'  
October 2012: “The world and Poland face another difficult year. The primary goal before the government is to protect people from the consequences of the crisis.”     

The change in emphasis, less than a year into the second term of the PO government,  is striking. It reflects a move from prioritising reducing public debt, through cutting government spending, towards increasing public investment in order to instigate economic growth. Considering that PO is considered to be the country’s main liberal economic party, is it possible to claim in Poland that we are all Keyensians now?

The phrase We are all Keynesians now dates back to the 1960s when the basic premises of Keyensianism were accepted in North America and Western Europe. Of course much has changed since then. The post war consensus was dismantled and following the end of the Cold War a new neo liberal hegemony took hold that dominated economic thought on the left as well as the right. 

Despite living though the greatest economic crisis since the 1930s, the ideologues of liberal economics have continued their offensive. Whilst the banks and financial sector received huge state bailouts, governments have been expected to cut their spending on public services and social benefits , further deregulate labour markets and push down wages. The policies of austerity are designed to shift the burden of the crisis onto those that did the least to cause it and have deepened the economic downturn, causing further social disorder and political instability. 

The balance sheet of the past few years is that the economic crisis has been most pronounced in those countries where the policies of austerity have been most severe. This stark reality has even led to the director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, suggesting in recent days that governments should consider slowing the pace of their austerity programmes, due to continuing suppressed economic growth.

It is in this context that Tusk, gave a major speech to parliament last week during a self-induced vote of no confidence. Following the end of the major investment programme in the run up to Euro2012, the Polish economy has entered a downturn. This has been driven by a collapse in the rate of investment, that fell from nearly 10% in the 1st quarter of 2011 to under 2% in the 2nd quarter of 2012. As a result economic growth has slowed, unemployment risen and real wages dropped. In turn the PO government is trailing in the opinion polls for the first time since it came to power in 2007,  only 28% of Poles say that they now supportthe government and there has been an upturn in street protests organized both by the opposition and trade unions. 

After winning a second term in office last year it seemed that Tusk and his party were both returning to their ideological liberal roots and coming into line with the accepted economic orthodoxy of austerity. However, Tusk’s recent speech to parliament has shown that there is now a change in emphasis and that the government is considering increasing its own investment in order to stave of an economic recession. 

Tusk announced large public spending on areas such as highways, rail modernisation,the  army, power plants, a natural gas terminal and new pipelines. He announced that over the next few years Poland would spend around 220bn zlotys ($70bn), although some of this was recommitting the government to previous spending plans. 

The major part of the funding for this investment programme will come out of funds from the next EU budget, that comes into force from 2014. The government is estimating that this will add up to 300bn złoty (although this of course has not yet been negotiated), with the rest of the money gained from financial institutions, the state budget and private and state companies.

Importantly the government has announced that it will bridge the gap before these funds from the EU begin to arriv,e by increasing public investment from the beginning of next year. It plans to use the state-owned BGK bank to set up a 40bn zloty investment fund, which will be supported by the largest state controlled companies. This will be used in order to encourage private sector lending for big infrastructural projects and it is hoped that over the next six years it can be leveraged up to  90bn zloty. 

Of course the usual suspects on the sidelines have criticized the government for breaking with liberal economic orthodoxy. However, these are now isolated voices on the sidelines, with the political majority recognising that only further state investment can prevent a serious economic downturn. 

The change in economic strategy, announced by the Tusk government, of increasing government investment is to be welcomed. However, the details of the government’s plans are as yet unclear and the exact sources of finance uncertain, particularly as they rely upon encouraging private investment. The major test will quite simply be whether they result in an increase in the rate of investment in the country or not.

 A further point is whether the investments will be of a type that will be in the best interests of the Polish economy and society. The announcement that a large proportion of the money will be spent on modernising the army indicates that this may not necessarily be the case. Importantly, the government has not presented a programme of public investment tied to solving the country’s major social problems.

In particular this concerns increasing the very low rate of employment in the country. Keynes, as well as his Polish predecessor Kalecki, placed the question of full employment at the centre of his general economic theory,  writing in his  magnum opus (The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money) that : ' The central controls necessary to ensure full employment will, of course, involve a large extension of the traditional functions of government.’

Yet, despite the inflow of EU funds over the past few years, alongside the large outflow of young workers from the country, unemployment still remains around 13% in Poland and only slightly 50% of the workforce are active on the labour market. Almost every social and economic problem in Poland (from negative demographic trends to underfunded public services) can be attributed to the extremely low level of labour activation. However, the government has failed to present any coherent plan to improve this situation. Nor has it linked its programme of public investment to improving the drastic situation in the health service, nor improving the worsening housing situation though instigating a programme of house building. 

The change in government policy should be welcomed and seen as a positive reaction to the country’s growing economic difficulties. However, this will ultimately be judged according to both by the size of investment programme and also by whether it results in an improvement of the living standards and quality of life of the country’s citizens.