Tag Archives: Gdańsk

Poland’s Seaside

As Ian has returned from holidays, he has passed the holiday baton to me, as I have been partaking of the few first days of my two weeks off work. Last year my wife and I went to Italy by car – this time we decided to hit the Polish seaside, namely Ustka in Pomorskie. Below are some observations.

Gradual road improvement

A definite positive to come from the European Championships being held here was the push for infrastructural improvement in order to facilitate travel between venues. This was highlighted on our way from the south to the north, with two experiences showing the past/present against the present/future. The town of Włocławek seemed to be one big set of road-works, with most roads being dug up and the remaining ones being an obstacle course in pothole-avoidance. However, not long after the A1 highway began, bypassing Toruń before continuing about 200 kilometres to meet the edge of Gdańsk. From leaving originally to reaching Gdańsk, it took us about 6.5 hours, which seemed faster than expected. Now, it was a Sunday morning when we did most of the driving, and if there was any traffic, most of it seemed to be travelling against us, back to the south or centre of Poland. However the road improvements look like hitting home, although with the Euros finished, the impetus to continue might not be there.


Cold as Ice

When Polish friends and colleagues asked where I was about to go for holidays and I said “the Polish seaside”, the immediate response was almost always, “The water is sooo cold there”. I have to say that I have not felt the extremity of the coldness that everyone was warning me about. For example, yesterday the air temperature was 23 degrees, while the water temperature was 18 degrees. Of course, the water is not exactly warm at that temperature either, but considering that it’s the Baltic Sea, and perhaps factoring in the small difference in air and sea temperature, it did not feel too bad. Perhaps it would be different in the peak of summer in July, with a day of sun and temperatures of 30+ degrees.

Here fishy, fishy

Fresh fish can be seen as a luxury, at least in the south of Poland. There is an understanding in Kraków that if you want to sample the best of the ‘fruits of the sea’, then you have to order fish on Thursday evenings, Fridays or Saturdays, as fresh fish only arrives in town on Thursday. The closer you get to the sea, this luxury becomes a bounty. The past few days have seen menus of dorsz (cod), fląder (flounder), łosoś (salmon), pstrąg (trout) and halibut presented to us, all caught within the previous 24 hours. It almost makes me think twice about being a devout meat-eater. Almost…

Nostalgia – it ain’t what it used to be

The Polish seaside retains a certain charm about it, although more and more Poles will find themselves choosing between going abroad or staying at home for their summer holidays. The seaside has personal historical significance for many Poles as it would have been the main options for holidays when they were growing up.  This would be true even down to the locations which people would visit. My wife told me the story of how she was discussing the Polish seaside with two colleagues from work and found that the three of them all went to the same little town north of Gdynia, even though they come from three different locations in central and southern Poland and would have travelled to the seaside in different years, based on age differences.

The heady mixture of salt air, fresh fish, sand between your toes and the sound of the lapping waves builds memories worth holding onto, which shows why large numbers of the fellow tourists we encountered tended to be Polish families with small children (usually infants younger than school-going age). The only requirements for a successful holiday for them would be a bucket, spade, bathing suits, sun-tan lotion and plenty of gofry and ice-cream. Thus for Poles the sea will always maintain that mystical nostalgia which will continue to bring people back.

Tagged , , , , ,

Done in 60 Seconds

There may be some criticism coming over the construction efforts of the stadia and infrastructure in preparation for the Euro 2012 football championships next summer, with disputes ranging from the likelihood of stadia to be ready in Ukraine to workers preparing new motorways not being paid. However, a positive for the Polish preparations at least seems to be the stadium renovations and building. The most recent completion of the tournament stadia (following those in Poznań and Warsaw) has been completion of the new stadium in Gdańsk, Arena Bałtycka (which will be known as the PGE Arena Gdańsk following the tournament next summer).

The original artists impression looked quite nice, and supposedly is based on designs on a few German football stadia in Gelsenkirchen and Hannover particularly. And until early 2009, the site in Gdańsk was little more than a hole in the ground. However, within the next two years a stadium of 44,000 would arise from nothing.

In the following Youtube link, you can see how this hole in the ground progressed to a fully grown stadium over the space of two years. Over the 60 second video, you get to see a camera view, taken almost at the same time each day as the cranes move in with other supporting machinery. As the days, months and seasons whizz by, it’s interesting to see that it takes a little while for the actual construction to begin (approximately 4 months – 10 seconds on the video playtime), but from there the construction zips along. One year later in mid 2010, the majority of the stadium structure is there with the roof being applied. However, from there, things slow a little – presumably as more interal works proceeds which is not always viewable on the video. The finishing touches of the outer golden layer applied in April 2011 make the curves and shapes shine.

Arena Bałtycka construction in 60 seconds

The final pictures from July 15th (just over a week ago), show the stadium standing in strong sunlight, and show it off to its best.

For anyone interested in such ‘super-structures’, this video can be an interesting insight to the process, although of course there are much parts of the process which are mundane and boring. However, when it results in such a final building, it should be seen as being worth it.

Tagged , , ,

September the 1st

On the 1st September 2009, 70 years after the breakout of the Second World War, world leaders will come to Westerplatte in Gdańsk, Poland, where it all began. They will pay tribute to the victims, line the paths of reconcilliation and vow to make sure similar things don’t happen again. But as delegations iron their shirts and pack bags, many people feel let down again.

Germany and Russia, the perpetrators of the 1939 attack on Poland they conducted in agreement and concord with each other, are sending the highest authorities: Angela Merkel, who is engaged in a longstanding genuine effort for German-Polish (and other) reconcilliation, and Vladimir Putin, who isn’t. Among those attending are many heads of states. The EU will be represented by the prime minister of Sweden Fredrik Reinfeldt, a country currently holding the presidency. Jerzy Buzek, the newly appointed speaker of the European Parliament, former Polish prime minister, will act as a symbol of a new era in Central Europe.

It is however the absentees, who are most talked about. It is a very important occasion for Polish politicians, and diplomatic world knows it. Absence, therefore, says a lot. French president Nicolas Sarkozy, Gordon Brown the prime minister of the UK and the American president Barack Obama decided they had more important things to do, are sending their representatives of lower rank. These decisions received very cold reception among many Poles. They feel France and Britain have betrayed Poland in 1939, by not providing military help to which they have commited themselves in treaties. And thay say, together with the USA they betrayed Poland once again after the war, leaving her for Soviet occupation. Therefore Poland, an ally that managed to defend longer than France, has become the only ally that didn’t actually win the war. And today, many feel, that these leaders can’t even manage to find three hours to appear on official celebrations. This is noted, and Poles have a good memory – as one of commentators put it on a Polish news channel.

This is a very important day. For many decades we weren’t allowed to talk freely about what happened during the Second World War. Communist dictatorship blanked out half of our war fate from official memory. Some Western countries were able to remember what happened and have moved on. We didn’t, we are remembering it now. It is the last big anniversary when witnesses are still alive. We need this – a Warsaw pedestrian told Polsat News.

Popular feelings are reflected in the press, which comments that relations with Poland have become the last priority for the United States. And that she is not getting anything in return for being America’s faithful ally. Polish effort in Iraq, and Afghanistan turn out not to be “lives and money well spent”. Oil contracts did not happen. Promised investment (off-set in return for aircraft deal) is not coming. USA are pulling off the missile shield. And on top of that Poles still need visas to travel to the US. Opinion polls on Poland’s participation in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are falling flat.

Gordon Brown and Nicolas Sarkozy are not coming either. Is it only because standing in Gdansk, they would have to refer to their countries performance as Poland’s allies? Or the opportunities their countries missed, after the war, to talk about Stalin’s atrocities? Or is it just relations with Poland are on the far end of important issues? After all Gordon Brown did bother to visit the shores of Normandy, when Nicolas Sarkozy invited him for remembrance ceremony.

Some point this could mean that the world is going back to making politics over the heads of smaller nations.

What happened 70 years ago changed the world and shaped today’s reality, we should make sure that it is accurately remembered. It involved two wicked ideologies, that co-operated until 1941. One executing a racist plan of cleansing the Europe of Jews, Slavs and other peoples, and their cultures, treasures and sights, to make room in the East for the German ‘race’. The other intended to expand its model of murderous dictatorship and dominane worldwide on the basis of changing the social relations. Hundreds thousands were enslaved and maked forced-labourers, millions of men, women and children were killed in concentration camps and gulags. Shot in łapankas, bombings, killed in battle. It all happed in the cultured Europe, among the statues of great philosophers and musicians.
We failed to remember what happened. Most people until this day are not fully aware of the atocities of Stalin. Being among the “winners” of the war, he and his people never got their Nurenberg Trial. We failed to make sure similar things don’t happen again.

As Mrs. Angela Merkel said in her video address, it is right and it is important to be in Gdansk for the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the Second World War. Maybe we can stop failing?

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Lech Wałęsa: a hero / a lesser hero / a traitor. Choose your title.

[edited June 20th, 3pm]

This is a follow up from Ian’s post just below. Read his post first, and then come back to mine.

Done? Ok. The book in qustion was not published yet. However it has already become the subject of a heated debate. Fragments were published in one of the dailies. Television presenters parade around their studios carrying massive files containing this book photocopied before publication. News channels and front pages are not talking about anything else for at least three days.

The book came as a special gift for the 25th anniversary of Wałęsa’s Nobel Peace Prize and Wałęsa’s nameday – which he is celebrating this Saturday.

Those, who criticise he book, say it is based only on Secret Service paperwork, and not cross-examined with other possible sources (like party files, interviews with communist figures, former oppositionists, diaries, etc…. and impossible sources like the vast archives in Moscow, to which there is no access). They also say that where proves cannot be found, authors make guesses and assumptions that prove their theory.

The book authors are educated historians, however some people claim their clear political agenda allows to call them politicians. They are employees of the IPN, the Institute of National Remembrance. It is an institution that was created to educate about the history of Poland, investigate unknown facts, and prosecute perpetrators of crimes against the Polish nation. Many of its employees have a clear opinion about the recent Polish history, that is corresponding with the ideas of the Kaczynski brothers (see below).

Notice that when talking about Secret Service inkjob, I am deliberately  not using the word “documents”, as in my vocabulary this word only applies to paperwork produced legitimately.

How did the Secret Service work?

Lets try to have a look at how were they getting their their paperwork. They had their own people lets call them secret servicemen. The secret servicemen were trying, among other things, to infiltrate the opposition and do all sorts of things to disturb them. And give information about what is going on to those who were holding political power. What were the ways of disturbing? First that come your mind are probably arrests, beating, threatening, detention – yes that of course was there. But also trying to make some oppositions distrust others (giving for instance false evidence of some of them conspiring with secret services), to make them quarrel, to strengthen personal dislikes among them, to make the opposition look bad in the eyes of the general public (once for instance fake recordings of Lech Wałęsa discussing how to fraud Solidarity money was broadcast in tv). Using various methods they tried to gain their agents (“tajny współpracownik”) among the oppositionists. Agents were (mostly, but not always) those who were aware that they were talking to the Secret Services. Sometimes they were worked on, someties they wanted to co-operate, sometimes they were forced to. They could be threatened, given money in exchange for information or “favour”. Agents had code names, and could also be given tasks – in order for instance to orchestrate some situation, or gain information from someone else. Apart from agents, there were also “sources of information” (who were also given codenames). People labeled in  such way in the papers may or may not have known that they have supplied Secret Services with information. They could be thinking they were talking to a friend or a co-worker. Or someone might have installed a bug in their flat. Etc.
Apart from that Secret Services are known for creating fake “agents” and “sources of information” in their paperwork, to use these papers later somehow. Information for such fake papers could come from person A, while attributed to person B. It could come from recorded telephone calls, from anecdotal knowledge, from serviceman’s imagination etc. etc. Why? For producing good and interesting results, Secret Servicemen were, for instance given more money, or promoted. Alternatively such papers could be shown to one oppositionist to make them think someone else was a traitor. Et caetera.. Secret Services were very creative. For instance special actions could be organized, like kidnapping of agents-oppositionists, just to make them more credible in the eyes of their opposition colleagues.

Apart from that some people could have been registered as candidates for agent (“tajny współpracownik”), there could be their signed pledge for cooperation in files, while they did not take any action whatsoever.

People’s attitudes towards Secret Services were different. Some were afraid and talked “with caution” trying not to spill the beans, some wanted to play their game with them and trick them… Only when in late 1970s an instruction was issued by Komitet Obrony Robotników (Workers’ Defence Commitee – an intelligentsia opposition organization) people became aware they shouldn’t talk with Secret Services at all, and shouldn’t sign anything.

Credibility of Secret Service files is questionable, and it is difficult to say what is fake and what is based on facts. Many files were destroyed or hidden in various moments in time: some most likely during the times of transition in 1989-1990.

Basic claims in the book

The book reportedly claims that Lech Wałęsa was giving information to the Secret Services in the early 1970s, as “tajny współpracownik” – agent. He was not a known figure back then, he was an ordinary person, taking part in opposition demonstration in Gdańsk and engaging in the movement. The Secret serviceman whose report is in the file, writes that he has paid “Bolek” 13000 złotys. However there are no receipts. Nothing signed by Wałęsa, nothing hand-written at all.

And then, when Wałęsa became president he requested to view his file. When the files were reopened during the presidency of Aleksander Kwaśniewski, it turned out several hundred pages were missing.

However the index is still there, it is therefore known what is missing. And these are typed reports of this agent “Bolek” – of being whom Wałęsa is being accused. Among the missing papers there are no signed or handwritten papers or receipts. Therefore the material missing would only be handy for cross-examination with other sources.
It is not certain when the pages were taken away and who did it. Pages were not checked when the file was being delivered to Wałęsa, and Wałęsa reportedly did not check them either.

What does Wałęsa say?

Wałęsa says that if had done what thay say he did, he would have said long time ago. He denies any involvement with Secret Services. He claims he never gave them any information, never gave in his colleagues. He claims he was not important enough then for the Secret Services wanting him for an agent. He is very angry, and thretens to sue the authors of the book. He says he did view his file during his presidency, however he did no remove anything from there. He wanted to check whether the files contain any materials from his and his wives sexual lives.

What do others say?

Other oppositionsts are divided. Some of them, who believe in the vision 2, believe these accusatins are true. Other’s don’t, and are talking about how the reality of the time is difficult to explain.

What is the political context?

What the book does is to try and put Wałęsa in a certain context, of an alternative interpretation of Polish history and current Polish affairs.

The history most people know looks like this: Solidarność fought our freedom. And thanks to the Round Table Compromise between Solidarność and communist government Poland was able to enter the path to independence and democracy. It also opened the possibility for democratic change in other countries from the Eastern Bloc. And this was one of the greatest moments in Polish history.

The alternative version of history (let’s call it version 2) has it that Wałęsa and Solidarność were orchestrated by the Secret Services, the Round Table Talks were the moment when Polish nation was betrayed. That the elite of Solidarność betrayed the ideals of the workers, and, conspiring with the communists, sold Poland. Sold the companies and factories, the market, the people as work-force. To the foreign capital, to foreign banks… Arranging the new reality in such a way, that post-communists (incl. Secret Servicemen), intelligentsia and elites are well-off, while workers are poor and disrespeted. Elites did not care for them.
Ian in his previous post rightly points that Kaczynski brothers and their party, who also have a deep personal dislike for Wałęsa, strongly believe in the second version (although Lech Kaczynski took part in the Round Table Talks himself).
There is also a claim, that Wałęsa’s policies, which are interpreted as againt lustration, during his presidency, were because of his problems with his own past.

The book is a supporting the version 2, reportedly being such an interpretation of certain facts from Lech Wałęsa’s past (and assumptions of Wałęsas 1970s agentship) to make the version 2 work well together.Some of those who prefer this version believe that Wałęsa is controlled by ex-Secret Servicemen until this day.

What is the general context?

What I would like people to remember from this story is not the fate of Wałęsa, who EVEN IF was broken by the Secret Services was also a victim. A victim of Police state, a victim of Secret Services who imposed themselves on people’s lives, who destroyed people, whowere paid by the state to disorganise, to plant distrust…

Wałęsa is still a great figure in Polish history, he was chosen by workers as their representative. In the 1980s had the strength and courage to stand up. He was a real leader, he had the skills, he had the talk, he had the charisma.

Epilogue

So was Wałęsa or was he not an agent? Did he or did he not remove his papers from the file? That depends on what you want to believe. It can’t be proven that he is guilty. It can’t be proven he is not guilty. Do you prefer to assume innocence or guilt?

—–
See a Polish news report with Lech Wałęsa (youtube).
Have a look at other news from Poland.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tesco joins papist plot?

Today’s newspapers bring an unexpected news: British hypermarket chain, operating hundreds of stores in Poland, teamed up with Catholic Church to recruit workers.

Tesco is looking to open its new outlet in Gdańsk’s Chełm district at the end of August. The company, seeking to employ 400 workers by then, will open its recruitment office at the premises of a local Catholic parish. “We hope employees will integrate around the values represented by The Church” , Adam Kalina, the parish priest, told the Gazeta Wyborcza daily.

Three months rent will cost Tesco several thousand złotys. The future hypermarket will be open on Sundays – something the Polish Roman Catholic Church strongly opposes. “This sin will be borne by those who decide to have shops open on Sundays” – commented Tomasz Biedrzycki, spokesperson for the Archbishop of Gdańsk Leszek Sławoj-Głódź.

Church Gdańsk

Picture: artistic vision of Church-Tesco co-operation

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,