2008 Spring Edition POLISH NEWS BYTES – Polish and Polonian news-briefs
By Robert Strybel, "The Polish Answer Man" POLISH NEWS BYTES – Polish and Polonian news-briefs

Polish  News  Bytes

Compiled by Robert Strybel, Our Warsaw Correspondent

ul. Kaniowska 24
01-529 Warsaw, Poland

Poland’s parliament overwhelmingly approved a European Union reform treaty after the government agreed to include safeguards proposed by President Lech Kaczynski. The safeguards exempt Poland from being forced to legalize homosexual “marriages”, ensure Poland of more favorable voting rights until 2014 and protect against German property claims. Poland became the sixth country in the 27-nation bloc to approve the treaty. Critics claim the treaty is nothing more than a veiled attempt to rejuvenate the EU constitution, which French and Dutch voters rejected in 2005 referenda, and create a European superstate ruled by Brussels bureaucrats.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk has become the first European Union government to declare he would boycott the opening of the Olympic Games in Beijing this summer in protest against China’s brutal reprisals against Tibet. The Czech government has followed suit, and Tusk has tried to persuade other European leaders to join in the campaign. Close to 80,000 Poles have signed petitions calling on Tusk to set a negotiating team to mediate in the Sino-Tibetan dispute.          

Poles and Ukrainian
will be able to travel freely within 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) of the border without a visa. Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his Ukrainian counterpart Yulia Tymoshenko signed an agreement to that effect during his recent visit to Kyїv. Since Poland entered the European Union’s visa-free Schengen zone, Poland’s eastern border has become the outer border of the EU, requiring visas of non-EU citizens to cross.

Canada’s lifting of the visa requirement for tourists from Poland and other EU countries has raised hopes that the United States may soon follow suit. The US is now the only NATO country still requiring visitors from some alliance countries to apply for tourist visas. Last year, the visa-rejection rate qualifying a country for visa waiver was lowered from 30 to 10 percent. At present Poland has a 13 percent denial rate. One reason is that fewer Poles these days try to work on the sly in America when they can find legal jobs in the British Isles and elsewhere in Europe.

Polish astronomers, led by Warsaw University’s Professor Andrzej Udalski, have discovered a planetary system in some ways similar to be a scaled-down version of our own. Conducting their observations as part of the Optical Gravitational Lensing Experiment (OGLE), they detected two large planets similar to Jupiter and Saturn orbiting around a Sun some 4,500 light years  away. According to Udalski, that method allows us to determine whether there are planets around a parent-star.

Poland’s government has pledged to enact a property-restitution law by end of 2008. Former owners will be eligible to receive 20 percent compensation for property was seized by the Nazi Germans or Poland’s communist rulers during and after World War II.  About 80 percent of the confiscated property had belonged to ethnic Poles, including Polish nobility whose lavish palaces, mansions and manor houses were confiscated. The remaining 20 percent of the lost property had belonged to Jews.

A disastrously low-priced dollar has struck a serious blow at Poles with dollar bank accounts, receiving earnings denominated in US currency or getting gifts of money from relatives in America. In April, people exchanging their American greenbacks in Warsaw were getting only 2.02 zlotys to the dollar. Very few Poles are still considering trying to find work in the than in United States, since the high travel cost makes it even difficult to break even. About the only ones benefiting from the situation are those traveling to the US to see the country and/or go on a shopping spree. IT equipment is generally much cheaper in America than in Poland

A freak April snowstorm paralyzed northwestern Poland’s Szczecin region, damaging power lines and leaving thousands without power, water and heat. Schools and factories in the Baltic coastal region were closed, gas stations became inoperative and people were advised to stay home until power was restored. Old Diesel and coal-fired locomotives were temporarily put into emergency service after the more modern electric-powered trains had ground to a halt. In recent months, meteorological anomalies have abounded in Poland which has experienced an unusually mild, spring-like winter and a wintry spring.

Polish diplomats have reportedly been ordered to shun contacts with Latin American Polonian leaders who have been critical of the present Polish government and supportive of the controversial Catholic right-wing radio station Radio Marya. Among those blacklisted are Jan Kobylanski, president of the umbrella organization Union of Polish Associations in Latin America, Marian Kurzac, who heads Juventus (Brazil’s largest Polish organization) and Polish missionary priest Father Jerzy Morkis.

Poland is upgrading its forces in Afghanistan from 1,200 to 1,600 troops and plans to consolidate its participation in the NATO-led operation against Taliban terrorists. At present, Polish soldiers are scattered among six different bases but are soon expected to take responsibility for the security of one the country’s eastern provinces. They are also responsible for training Afghan forces and will contribute four helicopters to the mission.

The 1996 Nobel Literary Prize laureate Wislawa Szymborska has decried decommunization by  Poland’s previous conservative government as causing “more harm than good.  Szymborska, 85, who once wrote poems praising Stalin and communism, told Italy’s left-wing daily “La Reppublica” she hoped the present liberal government would discontinue it. Asked to define the spirit of the Polish nation, Szymborska said: “Most people don’t bother about independent thinking and easily fall victim to collective suggestions…People grow stupid wholesale and wise up retail.”

Armia Krajowa “bandits” are neutralized by “courageous” Soviet agents in “Smersh”, a new fictional series being shown on prime-time TV in neighboring Belarus. Set in 1945 at the end of World War II, the film portrays Polish AK freedom-fighters as roving bands of blood-thirsty thugs shown murdering the bride, groom and guests at a Belarussian country wedding. The series has outraged AK veterans in Belarus, whose strongman Alexandr Lukashenka is widely regarded as Europe’s last dictator. 

Poland was handed a humiliating 0-3 defeat by the US national soccer team during an exhibition game played in Krakow recently, where the fast-moving Americans clearly outclassed their Polish rivals. A European victory is always a major achievement to a team from the US, where soccer is growing in popularity but is still in its infancy. The defeat was a major setback for the Poles who have qualified for the first time ever for June’s European Soccer Championships being held in Austria and Switzerland.

Civil marriages were chosen by nearly one-half of all Polish newly-weds in 2007. After Poland signed a Concordat with the Vatican in 1998, Church marriages received equal status with civil ones and the vast majority of couples chose to tie the knot at the altar. In 1999, only 31% decided on only a civil wedding, but by 2006 that percentage had risen to 44. Many couples feel they can always marry their present or some future spouse in church and regard the civil marriage as a trial period which can be easily terminated by divorce.

Polish street signs have been declared illegal in Lithuania, and only those all in Lithuanian may remain, a court in Vilnius (Wilno) ruled recently. Street signs in both Lithuanian and Polish may be encountered in the Vilnius and Soleczniki regions which were part of Poland before World War II and still have a considerable indigenous Polish population. Poles argue that the ruling violates European Union laws on the protection of ethnic minorities.

Former US Vice-President Al Gore visited Warsaw recently to accept the Super Vector award for “awakening the world’s long-dormant ecological conscience.” The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, known for his tireless championing of environmental causes, congratulated Poland on the ecological progress it has made in recent years and delivered a lecture on the ongoing collapse of our planet’s climatic system.

One Pole was killed and 30 of his compatriots were injured, several seriously, when a Polish tour bus careered off an Austrian motorway and rolled down an embankment. The early-morning mishap occurred near Linz, Austria, after the driver apparently dozed off at the wheel. The packed bus was transporting a group of Poles to a ski holiday in the Italian Alps. After the accident 23 decided to return to Poland, while 16 continued on their ski trip.

Polish female mountaineers, Katarzyna Sklodowska and i Kinga Baranowska of Warsaw, are hoping to reach the top of Dhaulagiri 1, the only more than 8,000-meter (26,000-foot) Himalayan peak never climbed by a Polish woman. Last year, Baranowska had launched an assault on the mountain, but an outburst of violent weather forced her back down with only 100 meters (328 feet) to go.

“Who stole the kielbasa?” During halftime at a first division soccer match between the local team Ruch Chorzow and visiting Lech Poznan, some 200 unruly fans raided a refreshment stand at Silesian Stadium in the southern city of Chorzow. After devouring all the grilled sausage, they demolished the facility and melted into the crowd. Police were analyzing closed-circuit TV monitoring to identify and prosecute the culprits.