Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Leszek Miller's Degeneration to the Far-Right

Leszek Miller's primary concern has always been Leszek Miller. 

Whilst Minister of Labour and Social Policy in the early 1990s his image was of the principled left-wing member of the government, opposing such things as the privatisation of pensions. Yet, by the time he had become Prime Minister in 2001, he was competing with President Kwaśniewski to be Poland's answer to Tony Blair. He espoused the benefits of a flat-income tax, obediently sent Polish troops to Iraq and (allegedly) allowed the CIA to carry out torture in secret prisons in Poland. At the next elections the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) lost 3/4 of its vote and has remained on the political margins ever since. After a period in the political wilderness he returned to lead the party and then led it through a series of disastrous election campaigns, with the party failing to enter parliament and dwindling into a political irrelevance. 

After resigning as leader of the party after the recent elections, Leszek Miller has begun adjusting himself to the new right wing conditions in the country. He has spent the past few weeks touring various right-wing media outlets convincing all who will listen that he is the most radically anti-refugee politician in Poland (a title for which he faces stiff opposition). So for example speaking about the events in Cologne on New Year's Eve, Miller managed to combine hostility to refugees with patriarchy and xenophobia by stating: 
I am surprised by the reaction of German men. After all the women were not alone, where were their partners, why did they allow this. I cannot imagine that Poles would look on at this without wishing to intervene.  
However, his latest comments on refugees have perhaps gone even further than his right-wing colleagues, after claiming:

Refugees who do not want to integrate are flooding Europe. They want Europe to adapt to them and not the other way round (...) There may come a time when we will have to fight with weapons on the streets of Europe to defend our identity. We are seeing the building of a Trojan horse, to the surprise of the Trojans and with their own money. 
One wonders whether Miller's political degeneration has reached its lowest point, or whether there are even deeper levels of reaction he can reach.  

Friday, 29 January 2016

Polish Government and Opposition Back TTIP

An (un)likely new anti-democratic alliance has emerged in Polish politics, bringing together the ruling Law and Justice Party (PiS) and Nowoczesna (Modern). During a debate on foreign affairs in parliament, the Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski gave his support to the Transatlandtic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), joining the leader of the liberal Modern Party Ryszard Petru. 

The TTIP is a bi-lateral trade agreement between the EU and USA, which is being negotiated behind the backs of citizens. The deal aims to reduce regulatory barriers to trade for big business, in areas such as food safety law, environmental legislation, banking and nations' sovereign powers. It potentially opens up public services to privatisation, drives down labour standards and eases data protection laws (ACTA through the back door). 

The pretensions of PiS to be a patriotic party upholding the sovereignty of Poland; and of Nowoczesna to be a liberal party defending democracy are both exposed by their support for TTIP. 

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Taxpayers Paying for Catholic Teachings

Two recent moves by the government have shown how the Polish state will increase its support for the Catholic Church in Poland, including its most radical elements, and that the Catholic religion will become an increasingly central part of the education system. 

Firstly, a citizens' project to present a bill to parliament, on ending the state funding of religious education in public schools, has been negatively assessed by the government even before its first reading in parliament. This means that around 1bln złoty of taxpayers money will continue to be used to fund religious education in schools. These lessons are generally just the teachings of the Catholic Church. Religious Education lessons are run in 92% of schools in Poland, with just a handful providing religious lessons covering the faith of other religions. 

Secondly, the Parliamentary Financial Commission has passed an ammendment which will grant the private Catholic higher education institution of the controversial Father Tadeusz Rydzyk (College of Social and Media Culture)  20 million złoty in subsidies. The influential radio station of Rydzyk (Radio Maryja) backed PiS in the recent elections, with this decision seemingly rewarding him and his institutions for their support. Written into the ammendment is that the money for these subsidies will be found through cutting funding in other areas, such as for theatres. 

Government Plans Important Health Care Reform

The Polish Health minister, Konstanty Radziwiłł, has revealled plans to reform the health care system, that if carried out could be the most important and progressive changes to have occured in Polish health care over the past two decades. The two proposed changes are: 
- To significantly increase the level of public health care spending; 
- To fund the health care system directly from the central government budget. 

Poland has one of the lowest levels of public health care spending in the EU, with little more than 4% of GDP spent on health. The Health Minister has said that next year he hopes to inject billions of złoty into the health care system. The long term aim of the government is then to increase public health care spending to 6% of GDP. 

Secondly, the government plans to move away from a Bismarkian style health insurance system to a Beveridge state funded one, similar to that which exists in Britain. The major damage to the health care system occured in 1999, when the then right-wing administration introduced a reform that both reduced public health care spending and created a number of local health care funds. This fragmented the system and opened it up to more market competition. It had an immediate negative effect on the health care system, with for example the number of public hospitals declining from 702 to 501 between 2000 and 2010. This reform was partly reversed by the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) government in 2003, which introduced a new central health care fund (NFZ). However, not only has this not solved the issue of funding but around 2.5m citizens remain without health care insurance coverage. This includes both the most socially excluded (such as the homeless) and also many contractual workers or self-employed that miss health insurance payments. 

The Polish constitution states that: Equal access to health care services, financed from public funds, shall be ensured by public authorities to citizens, irrespective of their material situation. As with many of the other social clauses in the constitution this has been broken by successive governments. In this case the government's proposals would actually be a case of meeting the obligations of the constitution rather than breaking them. Therefore, those in Poland defending the constitution should actually be supporting this proposal by the government and pressuring it to introduce it as quickly as possible. 

The other major health care proposal by PiS made during the election campaign was to provide pensioners with medicines free of charge. The government has now announced that there will be a list of certain medicines that pensioners will be allowed to get for free. The health ministry has said that it is still compiling this list and that there is a chance this bill will be introduced in the next two or three months. 

The government has not provided detailed plans for its proposed reforms and it is unclear both how they will be paid for and exactly when they will be introduced. However, they potentially tackle some of the largest deficiencies in the country's most important public service. 

Monday, 25 January 2016

Britain To Station Troops in Poland. At What Price?

The Polish Minister of Defence, Antoni Macierewicz, has announced that Britain will station 1,000 troops permanently on Polish soil from 2017. On Thursday Macierewicz said

'One of the decisions, which resulted from yesterday's talks (is) a permanent presence of the British forces on Polish territory, that is 1,000 soldiers, who will permanently station on Polish territory from next year. They will switch around, it will be a rotational, but permanent presence of 1,000 soldiers.'

This goes against previous statements made by the Ministry of Defence in London, that the troops would be sent for temporary exercises only. If true it would mean that NATO troops would have a permanent base in Poland, thus potentially violating the 1997 agreement between NATO and Russia. 

As well as further adding to the volatility in the region, it raises the question at what price the British government has agreed to station troops in Poland. After all, earlier this month the Polish Foreign Minister said in an interview for Reuters that Warsaw might be prepared to soften its position on David Cameron's proposal to curb in-work benefits for EU migrants if ' Britain could support our expectations related to an allied military presence on Polish territory.'

The Deputy Foreign Ministers of Poland and Russia met in Moscow last week for talks. No breakthrough was reported on any of the issues dividing the countries, such as the possible return of the Smoleńsk plane wreckage from Russia. It has been common practice recently to speculate that the current right-wing administration in Warsaw would like to move Poland closer politically to Russia and Putin. However, at least in the arena of foreign policy, this seems extremely unlikely, with the stationing of permanent NATO troops in Poland certain to worsen relations between the two countries even further.  

Sunday, 24 January 2016

SLD Elect New Leader - New Beginning or The End?

After failing to enter parliament for the first time in its history the Democratic Left Alliance has chosen a new leader to replace Leszek Miller: Włodzimierz Czarzasty. Below I publish two contrasting opinions from inside the SLD (translated from the website Trybuna)
Grzegorz Pietruczuk, Councillor for the  Mazowiecki Regional Assembly and ex-leader of the Federation of Young Social Democrats):
As the SLD we have lost touch with reality. I heard the speach by Włoczimierz Czrzasy today and I did not find anything about the future in Poland, about social democracy, about the changes and what kind of Poland we would like to propose. I heard about the headquarters, premises and funds, which  are completely not of interest to me. 2% support in the opinion polls should make us think, but it does not seem to be happening. This is whyhwy I am not supprised about this election, because the party for years the party has become fosillised inside and does not take into account what is happening outside. The electorate are also aware of this, which accounts for the terrible results in recent years.  
Sebastian Wierzbicki, Deputy leader of the SLD in Warsaw and a member of the National Council of the SLD. 
Today ended the epoch of the SLD under the leadership of Leszek Miller. A new chapter has opened in the activity of hte party. Włodzimierz Czarzasty won with a large majority, gaining 130 more votes than Jerzy Wenderlich.  Moreover he offered his opponent the deputy leadership of the SLD, which he has accepted. vote
The new deputy leader has said that this is the end of the divisions in the SLD and that we must unite in order to resit the right-wing and its ideas. He gave a very good speech, and has ideas for the party and at how the SLD and the left should function and react to the ideas and activity of the SLD. We await the complete leadership team to be proposed by the leader. I hope that it will include many young people and therefore change and make younger the face of the party.
Włodzimierz Czarzasty is a person with a strong character and  without a doubt he is able to lead the SLD and open discussions with all the different parts of the left in order to build a strong alternative to Citizens' Platform and Modern and of course the Law and Justice Party.  

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Ikonowicz Taken to Court in Handcuffs

The leader of the Office for Social Justice (KSS), and well known left-wing activist and former MP, Piotr Ikonowicz, has been taken to court in handcuffs to face charges of insulting Prof. Chazan, the Director of a hospital in Warsaw. Apparently, Ikonowicz had failed to show up to the previous case in court as he was taking part in blocking someone being evicted from their home. However, quite why he was brought to court by the police in handcuffs is unclear as he had neither resisted arrest nor been aggressive. 

Prof. Chazan had refused an abortion in the hospital to a woman whose child was subsequently born with severe birth defects. Ikonowicz criticised Chazan in a text, writing: 

Bogdan Chazan is a man without a conscience. Does his religion tells him to hurt people? In pursuing his own sadistic tendencies he finds refuge in God. The hospital and taxpayers will pay the cost, not Chazan (...) However, the worst thing is that this degenerate dons the clothes of the defender of morality. The terrible ancient rulers were able to show mercy to their their enemies in a quick and painless death. However, such a mercy was not given to this unfortunate creature, which Chazan ruled a woman must risk life and limb to give birth to. This is what happens when the ordinary human compassion of love thy neighbour is replaced by fanaticism. When the religious lunatics get a piece of power. At the end of the day the hospital is public and we maintain it, as we do Chazan himself. And in such a public place human rights operate, not God. 

 Poland currently has one of the most restrictive abortion laws in parliament and the current PiS government plans to tighten them even further, possibly outlawing abortion even in cases when a pregnancy is the result of rape or when the health of a woman is at risk. 

The case is currently ongoing..