POLISH NEWS BYTES - Dec. 28, 2006
Compiled by Our Warsaw Correspondent Robert Strybel

Poland’s military presence in Iraq
has been extended until the end of 2007. The current troop strength of 900 will be maintained with another 300 in reserve in Poland ready to ship out at a moment’s notice. “We will stay in Iraq as long as necessary,” Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński told a news conference during a surprise visit to that war-torn country. “What we are offering Iraq is important to the Middle East region and the entire world. We will prevail in the end.” Another 1,000 Polish troops are soon due to join a NATO-led operation in Afghanistan.

Foreign investments in Poland
in 2006 amounted to $10 billion, creating some 20,000 new jobs. Deputy Economy Minister Piotr Woźniak expects several major investment projects largely in the automotive and electronics field to produce a similar level in 2007. According to Woźniak, adverts urging foreign investors to set up shop in Poland have been appearing on CNN and BBC World and are soon due to turn up in the international business media.

Russia has backed
down from its threat to ban all meat imports from the European Union, but has kept its embargo on Polish meat in place. Poland vetoed EU plans to negotiate a new economic pact with Russian until it lifts its more than year-long ban on Polish foods. Moscow cited health reasons for the ban, but EU experts who inspected Polish meat plants had no objections to their sanitary standards. Kremlin’s stand is widely seen as a reprisal for Poland’s support for pro-democracy movements in the former Soviet republics.

Poland may soon receive
an official US offer to build a missile-shield facility on Polish soil, Pentagon spokesman Col. Joe Carpenter said recently. Officially known as the Strategic Defense Initiative and popularly as “Star Wars”, the installation is meant to intercept and destroy enemy missiles aimed at Europe and America by such “rogue states” as Iran and North Korea. Initially there had been fears that the new Democratic dominated Congress would be more reluctant to fund such a project than its predecessor.

2007 will be another good year for Poland’s economy
, according to the economists polled by the business daily “Puls Biznesu”. The experts predict low, stable inflation, a strong złoty, good domestic demand, growing consumption, slightly higher interest rates and improvement on the labor market. Unemployment, although still high, is seen dropping to about 13.5% from well over 14% at the end of 2006. Overall 2007 GDP is expected to reach a robust level of about 6%.

Polish Americans can help
increase the chances of Irena Sendler getting a Nobel Peace Prize by visiting and signing the petition. Born in 1910 and still living near Warsaw, during the Nazi occupation Sendler posed as a nurse and saved at least 1,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw Ghetto. She was a member of underground Poland’s Żegota, occupied Europe’s only organization expressly set up to rescue Jews from the Holocaust.

Archbishop Stanisław Wielgus, the successor to retiring Card. Józef Glemp, has been accused of collaborating with the communist-era secret police. Shortly before his inauguration as Warsaw archbishop, the staunchly anti-communist weekly “Gazeta Polska” said Wielgus, 65, had been a willing informer of the hated SB (security police) from the late 1960s until 1990. The archbishop has denied the charge, and the Vatican has announced it had thoroughly examined his past before appointing him.

Nearly a half of all Poles
working for big and medium-sized companies would accept a similar post abroad if offered one, a recent survey by Poland’s Interactive Market Research Institute has shown. Higher wages was the reason given by 99% of the respondents, 95% wanted to improve their foreign-language skills and 91% hoped to gain professional experience abroad. Since Poland joined the European Union in May 2004, more than two million Poles have worked for various periods abroad, mainly in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

15,000 special Christmas/New Year’s cards
have been sent out by the City of Wrocław to diplomatic missions in 68 different countries as part of its bid to host the 2012 World’s Fair. The cards show the city’s most prominent architectural relics and tourist attractions and contain best wishes in seven different languages. The decision as to where EXPO 2012 will be held is expected in mid-2007.

46 MPs of Poland’s 460-member Sejm
want Jesus Christ to be officially proclaimed “the King of Poland”. The motion, following the King John Casimir’s 1656 proclamation of the Blessed Mother as Queen of Poland, has not generated much enthusiasm among churchmen. “Christ doesn't need a parliamentary resolution to be the king of our hearts,” remarked Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, an influential member of the Episcopate.

600 special educational officers
will be assigned to work with members of Poland’s armed forces starting in 2007. The move was necessitated by the troops’ low level of civic awareness, spreading substance abuse and other disciplinary problems. According to the findings of the Military Sociological Research Bureau, 10 percent of the officers and NCOs report drug use in their units, and three percent of career soldiers admit to drug taking.

A team of scientists from Silesia
(Śląsk) under Prof. Fryderyk Prochaczek has developed a portable device that may revolutionize the prevention of heart disease. No larger than a table-model radio, the apparatus quickly analyzes hearts problems, can predict a heart attack and even rectify heart flutter. Its major advantage is that it can easily be brought to the patient’s home rather than forcing him to go to a hospital for testing.

Nearly 1.5 tons of cocaine
were netted in a joint Polish-Swedish police operation and a drug-smuggling ring was broken up with the arrest of three men in the Baltic port of Szczecin. Sent by ship from Latin America, the cocaine was to reach Western Europe via a new Polish transit route. With a street value estimated at $100 million, this was the biggest drug haul in which Polish law-enforcement authorities have taken part so far.

The Archdiocese of Poznań
leads the way in doing away with fixed fees for church weddings which newly weds have complained were exorbitantly high. Henceforth, a “co łaska” free-will offering must be accepted by the officiating clergyman who may no longer dictate a set price. The Archdiocese also leads the way in resolving such controversial issues as the baptism of children from non-sacramental unions and the Christian burial of suicides.

A “zero tolerance for school violence”
program being promoted by Education Minister Roman Giertych has triggered controversy in Poland. Giertych opposes students bringing mobile phones to class and playing violent computer games in school. He also favors school uniforms—a proposal that enjoys the support of 72% of Poles. At present a minority of “rich kids” turns school into a fashion show by coming in designer duds ordinary students cannot afford.

F-16 fighter jets have triggered complaints
by locals living in the vicnity of Kszesiny airport near Poznań. Citing excessive noise and vibration caused by the planes’ take-off, the residents have sent a petition to the local authorities and lodged more than 100 suits with the Poznań court. Eight of the 48 super-high-tech F-16s purchased by Poland from America’s Lockheed-Martin are stationed at Kszesiny.

A Women’s Party is being formed
by Poland’s scandal-prone writer Manuela Gretkowska who has collected some 3,000 signatures from supporters demanding official registration. The new party is calling for equal old-age pensions for women (now able to retire five years earlier than men), refunded contraceptives, free infertility treatment and medical check-ups and other typically feminist demands. Now in her 40s, Gretkowska spent a number of years living “loose” in Paris and declared her pornographic writings to be the “voice of Poland’s younger generation”.

Poland is the EU’s top berry grower
, and strawberries are the number 1 berry. Berries are grown by about one million small farms averaging about half an acre in size. But there are also a few strawberry plantations of up to 1,000 acres. All told, Poland produces about 200,000 tons of strawberries a year on 130,000 acres. The country also leads Europe in black currant production and is well-known for growing raspberries, blueberries, blackberries, gooseberries and red currants as well.

Kraków has been proclaimed
the trendiest tourist venue of 2007 by Orbitz, America’s leading online international-travel company. Orbitz calls Kraków “Poland’s cultural capital” combining well-maintained architectural relics with a lively cultural and night-life scene. Unlike the Czech capital, Prague, another trendy tourist destination, Kraków is a city of artists and students rather than legions of briefcase-toting government officials and civil-service types, Orbitz points out.

A woman in her 60s
has been charged with murdering her husband 23 years ago. The body of Ryszard C. was found buried in a henhouse in the village of Lipsko in the Lublin region, eastern Poland, under layers of chicken droppings, mud and hay. When he suddenly disappeared at the age of 41, his wife told everyone he had he taken a job in southern Poland. Mrs. C. denies any wrong-doing, but some neighbor women say they would have acted similarly if they had to put up with a drunken, wife-beating husband.

The right to speak Polish to his children
is the object of a civil suit filed in Hamburg, Germany by Wojciech Pomorski, 36. The Pole married a German woman with whom he had two daughters and the couple later divorced. The local Youth Affairs Office has banned the father from speaking to his daughters in Polish since that allegedly could “retard their assimilation”. The head of a fathers’ rights organization. Pomorski said the court case goes beyond personal grievances and hinges on the rightful defense of human freedom and dignity.

A new Polish saint, Szymon z Lipnicy (Simon of Lipnica - 1438-1482) has been approved by Pope Benedict XVI. A gifted Bernardine preacher, he cared for the poor, sick and abandoned during the Black Plague. The German-born pontiff has also approved the beatification of Jan Papczyński (1631-1701), who founded the first Polish religious order (the Marian Fathers). Another new “blessed” is Celina Borzęcka (1833-1913), a widow who set up the Congregation of Resurrectionist Sisters together with her daughter. In 1900, she brought her nuns over to serve the Chicago Polonia.

Poland’s first Roman-Polish-Catholic nuptial in a Polish-Catholic parish has occurred in the southeastern town of Łęki Dukieklskie, the PC fraternal organ “Rodzina” reported recently. Elżbieta Nycz was able to marry Polish-Catholic Norbert Gruszczyński after receiving dispensation from her bishop—something the RC Church had earlier been reluctant to grant. The 50,000-strong Polish-Catholic Church traces its origin to post-WWI missionary efforts by Polonia’s Polish National Catholic Church. The RC and PC Churches are now engaged in ecumenical dialogue.