POLISH NEWS BYTES - October 23, 2006
Compiled by Our Warsaw Correspondent Robert Strybel

Poland’s government
, led by the conservative Law and Justice (PiS) party, has survived a serious cabinet crisis and is again a three-party coalition. PiS buried the hatchet with the leftist Self-Defense party it had ousted from government a month earlier, averting snap elections which it appeared likely to lose. Controversial Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper was reinstated as deputy prime minister and farm minister, and the coalition government again has the parliamentary majority it needs to get legislation passed. But observers believe this rocky marriage of convenience will continue its squabbling indefinitely.

Relations with the US are a major pillar of Poland’s security and international position, Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński told a news conference following a meeting with visiting former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Giuliani stressed that he had long admired Poland as an example of true dedication to “freedom, democracy and basic values.” Giuliani is admired in Poland for slashing New York’s crime rate and boldly taking charge after the 9-11 attack on his city.

Poland’s first four F-16 jet fighters are due to arrive in time for this year’s Independence Day. During his visit to the US, Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński took possession of the first of 48 such Lockheed Martin jets, costing $3.5 billion and custom-equipped with a digital, real-time reconnaissance system and higher-performance engines. Poland drew the ire of its EU partners, when it chose the F-16s over France’s Mirage or the British-Swedish Gripen jets.

London-bound planes from Warsaw and other Central European capitals were to have been hijacked in 2003 by the terrorist group Al-Qaeda, according to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. At several-minute intervals jetliners from Warsaw, the Czech Republic, Romania, Slovakia, Croatia and Malta were to have been taken over by terrorists and crash-landed on the terminals of London’s Heathrow Airport, killing hundreds of passengers amid staff.

The central voivodship of ŁódŸ, comprising Poland’s second largest city, has become Poland’s first region to draw up a map of occupations in short supply. Following the exodus to the United Kingdom, Ireland and other countries of some two million job-seeking Poles, ŁódŸ voivodship is experiences a dire shortage of production-line operators, industrial seamstresses, warehouse attendants, sale representatives, commercial cashiers, language teachers (esp. of English and German), welders, mechanics, steel fixers, electricians and brick masons.

Three Polish customs officers were briefly kidnapped by the crew of a German cruise ship. When they boarded the ship to check whether it was smuggling untaxed alcohol and/or cigarettes, its captain headed for the open sea full speed ahead, despite warning shots fired by the Polish coast guard. The Polish officials were arrested, when the ship docked at the German seaside resort of Hergisdorf, and only released following the intervention of Polish diplomats.

Father Jerzy Popiełuszko, the priest murdered by the communist secret police in 1984, may be beatified within the next several months, according to Rev. Dr Hieronim Fokciński of the Vatican congregation in charge of canonization. Father Popiełuszko was known for his pro-Solidarity Homeland Masses through which he sought to spiritually comfort and inspire his dispirited countrymen after Soldiarity was crushed under martial law.

Charges of Polish anti-Semitism were refuted by President Lech Kaczyński during his recent visit to Israel. “Compared with other European countries, there are few acts of active anti-Semitism in Poland, and one cannot rule out that they are orchestrated,” the president said. Although the crime of Holocaust was committed by the Nazi Germans on Polish soil, he stressed that it was in Poland that Jews created their great culture. Kaczyński signed an agreement with Israeli enabling young Israelis to come to Poland and learn about it.

Poland is easing restrictions on workers from Eastern Europe and Turkey to fill jobs vacated by a massive Polish exodus to the British Isles and elsewhere in Western Europe. Under the new rules, Ukrainian Russian, Belarussian farm workers will no longer require work permits for seasonal jobs of up to three months.

Poland was the first country to respond to a NATO call for at least 2,500 more soldiers to help maintain order in Afghanistan which has recently witnessed a deadly outburst of Taliban insurgent violence. The Polish government has agreed to dispatch 1,000 troops to that country in February 2007. Opposition politicians and the majority of ordinary Poles are opposed to move due to the high costs involved. Poland, which has 900 soldiers in Iraq, has pledged 500 troops to a UN peace-keeping operation in Lebanon. (See next item.)

Radical Afghan Muslims have warned Poland against sending troops to Afghanistan as part of a NATO peace-keeping operation. A statement by the Islam Emirate of Afghanistanm (the underground Taliban state), posted on the Web site of Russia’s Chechen Muslim separatists said: “We appeal to the Polish parliament and nation. British and Canadian troops are suffering one defeat after another. (…) If such be Allah’s will, Poland will also suffer defeat. We call on the Polish authorities to reconsider their decision.”

Germany’s pro-Nazi National Democrat Party has openly stated that the German nation does not identify with post-war boundaries that left German territory to Poland. The statement came shortly after the NPD won 7.3% of the vote in the eastern province of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. Warsaw initially declined to comment. A map displayed on the NPD’s Web site shows not only parts of Poland, but also the Czech Sudetenland, all of Austria and northern Italy as “eternally German lands”.

Poland may not join the euro zone until 2112, according to analysts, although earlier governments had mentioned a 2009 target. Poland is the only country of the European Union’s 10 new members that has yet to set a firm date for replacing the złoty with the euro, the common European currency. Recently President Lech Kaczyński spoke of the possibility of holding a referendum on the issue around 2010.

The FBI has arrested Pol-Am businessman Edward Mazur, whose extradition Poland has been fruitlessly seeking for a year and a half. Poland’s “most wanted” is suspected of involvement in the 1998 contract murder of national police chief Marek Papała. The arrest came shortly after Polish Justice Minister Zbigniew Ziobro and National Prosecutor Janusz Kaczmarek had traveled to Washington with new evidence in the case. Extradition proceedings can be a drawn-out affair taking months, even years.

A memorial has been unveiled in Kielce, Poland, in honor of the victims of the terrorist attack on New York in 2001. In a letter to those attending its unveiling, US President George W. Bush wrote: “This memorial is a fitting tribute to the men, women, and children who lost their lives to terrorism and a wonderful reminder that the best hope for peace is the expansion of freedom throughout the world.” Known as Homo Homini (Human to Human), the monument was designed by well-known Polish sculptor Adam Myjak.

Dell Computer Corporation, the world's largest computer maker, has announced plans to invest $200 million in ŁódŸ, Poland’s second largest city. The a new computer factory and cooperating firms providing it with supplies could create up to 10,000 news jobs. Small and medium-sized subcontracting companies could increase the overall economic investment in the city by another $253 million. Once Poland’s textile and garment capital, ŁódŸ is now largely of shut-down communist-era factories and high unemployment.

The Jewish Anti-Defamation League is calling on the Polish government to oust Education Minister Roman Giertych, the head of what it calls “an anti-Semitic political party”. According to the New York-based ADL, anti-Semitism in Poland has reached new heights since Giertych’s party, the pro-Catholic right-wing League of Polish Families, entered the coalition government last May. Prime Minister Jarosław Kaczyński and his twin brother Lech, who is Poland’s president, refute the charges.

“The Reading Chronicle” has become Britain’s first regional newspaper to publish a Polish-language edition and even renamed it “Kronika Reading”. The stories were translated by a language firm, with a Polish sub-editor giving the pages a final check. “It seems to have hit a real button as far as the need to look at new avenues for connecting with communities,” said editor Simon Jones. The move reflects the growing size and importance of the Polish community, Britain’s largest new group of immigrant workers.

The European Union opposes a Polish government plan to bail out the country’s ailing shipyards with $1.6 billion in state aid. Without it, the yards will go out of business and thousands of workers will lose their jobs. “The shipyard is the mother of European freedom, and one does not give up on one’s mother. Everything should be done to save it,” Solidarity founder Lech Wałęsa remarked. Brussels is pressing for the yards’ privatization which effectively means selling them off to foreign capitalists.

Poland is to name as many as possible of the more than six million Poles who perished in World War II in an attempt to counter what it sees as German attempts to rewrite history. The Polish authorities expressed outrage over a Berlin exhibition equating the post-war German expellees from eastern Europe with the victims Nazi atrocities.

American soldiers this year for the first time joined troops from Poland, Germany, Slovakia, Lithuania and other NATO countries in the annual walking pilgrimage from Warsaw to Częstochowa’s Shrine of Our Lady of Jasna Góra. Every year thousands of uniformed Polish soldiers walk hundreds of miles on foot to proudly manifesting their Christian faith.

Poland and Israel should jointly nominate 96-year-odl Irena Sendler for the Nobel Peace Prize, Polish President Lech Kaczyński has proposed. A health worker during World War II, Sendler saved over 2,500 Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto as a member of underground Poland’s Jew-aiding group. Żegota. It was occupied Europe’s only government-sponsored organization set up for the sole purpose of helping and rescuing Jews from the Holocaust.

Polish employers are now scouring prisons to help full the manpower shortage caused by the exodus of 1-2 million job-seekers. Many convicts serving time for credit-card theft, armed robbery and other crimes are now being bussed to construction sites and other workplaces, accompanied by armed guards, and bussed back to their penitentiary for the night. So far no major problems have been reported. The employers are happy to have an adequate work force, the convicts earn money and learn new skills and the prison management can also count on a kickback.

The Vatican was riddled with Soviet spies, Polish Primate Józef Glemp told Italy’s ANSA news agency recently. “Moscow was extremely interested in what was going on in Rome once a Polish Pope was in office. Every priest Poland was carefully monitored by the communist government which had a dossier for each one of us.”

About 40 of some 120 Poles thought to have disappeared after being lured to Italy by the promise of jobs have turned up. In July, Polish and Italian police arrested 25 people following a probe showing that thousands of Poles had been hired to work in what were effectively concentration camps. They were fed little more than bread and water, forced to toil in tomato fields up to 15 hours a day, paid virtually nothing and beaten by armed guards if they protested. Some are feared to have been murdered.

Polish Prosecutors are calling on the Church to read out the names of drivers caught under the influence as part of efforts to reduce the country's high accident death rate. The names of convicted drunk drivers posted in town halls and other public buildings have not had much of an impact. The prosecutors feel stigmatizing them from the pulpit may shame them into sobriety. Well over 100,000 have died on Polish roads since 1989, making Poles 2.5 times more likely to die in road accidents than Britons or Swedes.

Waldemar Gronowski, the owner of a bakery in the southwestern city of Legnica, has been forced out of business by tax officials for helping the needy. For several years he had been donating leftover bread to orphanages and homeless shelters, but tax officials claimed he had failed to pay gift and income taxes totalling up to 57,000 złotys (about $18,000). The example has encouraged other businesses to dump or destroy extra food rather than providing it free of charge to those in need.

Former President Lech Wałęsa took time out from a busy lecture tour to undergo minor heart surgery at a clinic in Milan, Italy. The procedure lasted only 12 minutes and he said he felt great after the operation. After lecturing in Rome, Wałęsa made a stopover in Milan before traveling on to Portugal for an appearance for a NATO audience. He was accompanied by his son Jarosław who serves as his aide and spokesman.

Poison-gas hoaxer Robert O. has been sentenced to 2.5 years in prison for a June 2005 false alarm which paralyzed downtown Warsaw. The man e-mailed a newspaper office that he, an Iranian and Ukrainian had planted poison gas in the Warsaw subway system. The call caused the mobilization of all Warsaw emergency services and the subway’s immediate evacuation. After the final verdict is delivered, the city has the option of suing the 31-year-old for the 150,000 złotys ($48,000) cost of the emergency operation.

The discovery of the skeletal remains of a 150,000-year-old shaggy mammoth (prehistoric elephant) may stall the construction of an expressway bypassing the town of Garwolin some 60 kilometers (about 40 miles) southeast of Warsaw. Unlike paleontologists and prehistory buffs across Poland, Garwolin residents are mainly concerned about seeing the bypass completed as soon as possible to divert heavy truck traffic from the center of town.

A popemobile used by John Paul II during his 1982 visit to England and Scotland has been sold at an auction in Dumfries, Scotland, for ₤37,0000 ($70,526). The vehicle had belonged to car collector Mick Hayton, and after his death his heirs decided to auction it off. The six-wheeled, 2.4-ton armored popemobile, built by the now defunct British Leyland, is in excellent condition with only 11,000 miles on its odometer.

Anti-schematism is the way Jerzy Fornalik calls his campaign to offset stereotypes alleging widespread “Polish anti-Semitism”. Fornalik, a teacher in the western town of Borzęciczki, has for years got Polish students to spend their summer vacations helping to renovate abandoned and devastated Jewish cemeteries around the country. Several dozen graveyards have been restored so far, and there is no end in sight. Visiting Jews are surprised there are young Poles willing to spend their free time in this way.

An alleged Vatican plan to do away with kneeling during Mass does not have many advocates in tradition-minded Poland. Polish Catholics may fulfill their Lord’s Day obligation by attending Mass on Saturday and may receive communion in the hands, but neither innovation has caught on so far. Priests in floor-length cassocks and nuns that still look like nuns are a common sight on Polish streets.

17 historic letters dating as far back as 1256 are being returned to the National Museum in the southwestern city of Wrocław. They include letters written by Poland’s King Władysław Łokietek (Ladislaus the Short) and papal bulls sent to local abbots by Popes Gregory and Alexander IV. A Milwaukee man said they had belonged to his late father, World War II veteran George Gavin, who found them among the wreckage of a bombed train in 1945.

Robert Kubica, 22, has become the first Pole ever to ascend the podium at the Formula 1 Grand Prix in Monza, Italy. According to all-time racing great Nicki Lauda, the young Pole appears headed for international stardom. Representing the BMW Sauber team, Kubica came third only to two Formula 1 greats, retiring Michael Schumacher and Kimi Raikkonen.

16-year-old Patryk Drobiński of Bydgoszcz turned out to be the brainiest high-schooler in his category at the 20th International Numerical and Logical Games Championships held recently in Paris. His team, which achieved the best results in the event’s history, brought home four gold, four silver and two bronze medals.

Ukrainians are teaching English in rural schools in eastern Poland, because Polish teachers prefer to work in urban school districts. Thanks to teachers from neighboring Ukraine, each rural school in the district of Lubaczów has at least one teacher of English. By Ukrainian standards, a Polish teacher’s pay is impressive.

An enraged bull has gored to death middle-aged farmer Władysław Dziadosz in the village of Polana in the southeastern voivodship of Podkarpackie. Dziadosz was coming to the aid of a neighbor, Stanisław Mroczka, who had been injured by the 1,650-bovine but managed to seek refuge beneath a farm wagon. The animal was shot on orders from the local veterinary officer.

Polish truck driver Tadeusz Kowalski, 54, is begging the authorities to take away his driving license. “I would be a safety hazard in traffic,” says Kowalski, who has been driving trucks for three decades but feels he could not cope with his company’s new 55-foot semi-trailers on Poland’s rutted, potholed roads. Under Polish law, there are no provisions to withdraw anyone’s license “on request”. A possible loophole may be to have the anxiety-ridden trucker examined and declared unfit to drive by a psychologist.

A herd of cows from Belarus swam across the River Bug and began grazing on the Polish side of the border. The cows were eventually rounded up and returned, with the Belarussian authorities footing the transport bill. It remains unknown whether the bovines were fleeing from Europe’s last dictator, Alexander Lukashenka, and planning to seek political asylum in Poland.