Tag Archives: Poland

Euro 2012 – a tale of two nations

Just a couple of weeks to go and the world’s attention is turning to the Euro 2012 Championships. Much of the press coverage from the UK has been negative, first focussing on the poor preparations of England’s training ground and recently on racism in both Polish and Ukrainian football. The BBC’s Panorama programme recently covered this in a lot more detail, trailing racism in both countries in the press with former England footballer Sol Campbell warning fans not to go to either Poland or Ukraine or risk ‘coming home in coffins’.

I’m a normal bloke who’s proud to have lived in one of the most cosmopolitan countries in the world for most of his life, who’s been to enough games at Wembley and travelled half way around the world for the world cup in South Africa. I’ve also been to more than a few Polish football games in my time to boot. I can only tell you my impressions on the people of Poland and how they will welcome visitors and try to avoid sounding either like an apologist or a scaremonger.

Poland is an overwhelmingly white country. With most polls putting white Catholics at around 97% of the population there can be plenty of days when you don’t see anyone of any alternate nationality. I’ve seen racism too. As I documented in my blog ‘Welcome to Warsaw’ on previous occasions, I’ve seen a man make monkey noises at the substitution of a black player in a Legia Warszawa game. I’ve seen the white power symbol and SS twin lighting flashes scrawled on walls and worn on T-shirts. I’ve spoken with a half Nigerian girl who told me she’d been abused twice the 18 years she’d lived in Poland. This is a country in which overt nationalism and a racism we would find shocking can be found relatively easily – and it’s abhorrent. But the picture is more complex than the recent headlines and reports have credited.

Poland is a land of contrasts: Growing cosmopolitan cities surrounded by a countryside which can sometimes look and feel as if the last 100 years have passed it by unremarked. Young or old, religious or non-religious, educated or uneducated, those who have benefited from Poland’s quite stunning economic growth since it won its own freedom or those who haven’t – there are many polarised ends of the spectrum in Poland. For young uneducated Poles from the countryside and on the margins of Poland’s success since it won its freedom in 1989, the heady togetherness found in a mix of martial arts, tribal league team support, aggressive nationalism and fear of the outsider (driven by Poland’s unfortunate position as the cricket ball between Germany and Russia) can be powerfully seductive.

After the Allies carved Poland into an ethnically homogenous country at the end of the Second World War it lost forever the multiculturalism which had previously made it quite exceptional in Europe (with a population of some 3 million Jewish people, 10% of the population and many other ethnic mixes besides). Subsequent stoking of anti-Semitic feeling by successive Communist Governments led to the last few Jewish people
leaving for life abroad. A thousand years of relatively comparatively undisturbed Jewish life wiped out.

In the turbulence of Poland’s transformation in the early 90s the racist skinhead culture grew powerful as rampant inflation took hold and for many it looked like Poland would turn into an economic basket case like other former Communist occupied countries. That it didn’t is partly down to the work ethic and discipline of Poland’s people who worked desperately hard for a better life.

People like my friend Marcin. A guy who as a child was forced to stand in line to queue for bread before school. Who suffered deprivations most of us from the West can read about but not comprehend. A man who has built his own company up from the ground and is now enjoying the success of this hard work. For many professional Poles like Marcin the future is bright and the (occasional) racism found in Poland is both repellent and embarrassing. And yet, Marcin sits in the same football stands as those same men who wear white power beanies and polo shirts. From the same background, but with a different outlook on life.

Poland shouldn’t be afraid of the world’s attention. We should be glad the world is holding a mirror up to this wonderful country. Now let’s show the world its true reflection.

I say to someone from an ethnic minority wanting to join the 10 million plus visitors to Poland each year this summer, please come and visit us. This is a wonderful country and Polish hospitality is without equal. The national team’s supporters are not the same supporters of league games you’ll see on TV and in the press with all their virulent tribalism. They’re families, they’re hard working people who take pride in their country and want to show the world how much it has changes and how much potential it has. The Polish Government has taken the policing and security of this event extremely seriously – they know how important it is to Poland’s reputation. You should take the same care you’d take visiting
any unknown city as a tourist, but not more.

Which reminds me of my trip to South Africa for the World Cup. The UK media spent a lot of time talking about the rampant crime, terrifying HIV rates and extreme poverty in the run up to the football- saying some England fans were ‘virtually certain to die.’ But not one England fan was arrested or killed in that month. But proving the media wrong about South Africa doesn’t prove them wrong about Poland –  that’s up to everyone Polish person when kick off begins.

Poland has to show the world the success it has forged after so many years of oppression in its recent history. Poland has to give those within it who fear the world outside the chance to believe things should be different. That is what UEFA means when it talks about the power of football to change lives.

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The Guardian does Poland

For the past four weeks, Britian’s The Guardian newspaper has run a series it has called New Europe. It has spent one week each analysing Germany, France, Spain and finally in the past week, Poland. The introduction to the series says “Who are our neighbours? Too often Europe is discussed and reported through its common institutions or purely in terms of its relations with Britain. Starting today, the Guardian’s Europe season looks in depth at four European countries – with a week exploring every aspect of their cultures, economies and day-to-day lives.”

As a further part of the lead-in, a survey was also completed in each of the four countries and in the United Kingdom and an overview of the results was presented. And finally, an interactive guide is shown giving information on all EU countries and how they compare in the areas of population, life expectancy, education levels, personal technology ownerships levels, and financial indicators such as cost of living and savings levels.

During the past week of Monday April 4th to Saturday April 9th, there have been many articles related to Poland specifically and they can all be found in the Poland sub-section of the New Europe featured area 0n the Guardian website. The majority of the articles also appeared in the print versions of the newspaper during the week. Below is a quick summary of some of the main articles and highlights from the week covering Poland.

Current Affairs, Politics and History

This section covers some of the articles covering topics such as:

A Jewish renaissance – which highlights efforts by Krakows Jewish Centre in particular in raising awareness.

The giant Swiebodzin Jesus – which of course raises a debate on religion and the Church’s influence in Poland.

Poland gets to grips with being normal – which of course raises a debate on religion and the Church’s influence in Poland.

Feminism in Poland – where the author gives some interesting examples of experiences with industry colleagues being condescending bordering on sexist.

Culture, Sport, the Arts & Entertainment

This section looks at how Poland is developing in terms of culture and other such areas.

Guardian Readers Tips – these include suggestions for cultural options and other highlights, including parts of Poland to visit outside of the urban areas.

How football hooliganism still haunts Poland – While this article does present the spectre of hooligans arranging ‘ustawki’ fights, there are also some other articles highlighting positives that Euro 2012 will bring such as stadium building, infrastructure redevelopment and a podcast from Jonathan Wilson with interviews with Grzegorz Lato and Lech Wałęsa where the hope is that hosting Euro 2012 will help to increase Polands self-confidence as a country.

Seamus Heaney on Czesław Miłosz – with the poem ‘The World’ written in 1943 being a personal favourite of his

Travel & Tourism

This section highlights some of the features presenting Poland cities and other locations and what is worth seeing, including

Top ten Warsaw hotels to consider – these range from Le Meridien Bristol and the Rialto, to a hotel not even yet open – the Old Embassy – which is based in the former Soviet Embassy and not scheduled to open until September.

The locals guide to Kraków and Warsaw – with tips on places that you won’t necessarily find in the regular guide books

Kraków vs. Warsaw – a few more shots are fired in the never-ending debate of which of Polands two main cities can claim to be the best. With a notable appearance from our own Jamie Stokes (also representing the Krakow Post), as he battles with Dana Dramowicz of the Warsaw Life publication. They verbally spar to win the hearts and minds of those not yet decided on the subject.

Top trips in Poland – including Lancut castle, walking in the Karkonosze mountains and taking a steam train in Wolsztyn.

Food and Drink

This culinary section aims to present a taste of Poland, notably:

Guardian Readers Tips – these include suggestions for cafés, restaurants and bars in the main cities in Poland

How to cook perfect borscht (barszcz) – which also includes some free geo-political comments as a discussion builds over who has the best claim to ‘own’ the recipe

A pierogi recipe – or Polish ravioli as it is described on the webpage.

A recipe for roast duck with apples – with a suggestion to try with a dry red wine.

A gołąbki recipe – Suggested as being similar to the recipe of the babcia of the author


To summarise, the series overall is aimed at increasing knowledge of other European powers for British readers. The series (and articles on Poland) work fairly well in that regard as many pieces of information are presented that would not be known without regular exposure to Poland or Polish culture. However a disappointing recurrence was how the majority of articles were not written by Poles. This lead to some inaccuracies in information presented (often quickly pointed out) and also lead to a ‘parachute’ feeling – where it felt like the author was dropped into Poland for a few days – the article on the Polish family even mentioned how the author just landed with them for a few days, as opposed to presenting the views directly from the family.

Another feature seemed to be some articles being presented (perhaps deliberately) in a way to induce as many comments as possible on the web version of the article. The pieces on ‘Debunking Myths’ in particular seemed to rouse those commenters who shout loudest to say “Poles go home”, “Poles are lazy” and “Dey tuk ar jabs”. Ironically it seemed that bringing out these elements went against the Guardian’s message of getting to know the other countries and cultures.

Overall, it was a good series, but a suggestion for improvement would have been to have less articles (perhaps 20 or 25 instead of the 67 Poland-related ones) which could go into more detail and ensure accuracy of information and present more real views. Some articles felt too short to provide anything more than a discussion starting device which tended to decend into extremer viewpoints being aired.

All images are from the Guardian interactive guide to the EU countries with the original source data coming from the Economist.

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Poland & Lithuania: The End of the Romance

It’s official! The golden couple of Central and Eastern Europe are breaking up! It had been a while coming, but sources close to the couple claim they have reached the stage where ‘irreconcilable differences’ cannot be repaired. The relationship had looked increasingly fraught in recent times, with Lithuania announcing recently that, in their opinion “the golden era in the relationship was over”.

Poland and Lithuania have long been seen as the standard bearers when it comes to happy relationships, with most recognising that “if anyone can make it last, they can”. However, as the years passed, the pair grew apart. Here’s a quick review of the relationship, and later we’ll look at where do they go from here.

An Eternal Union – or is it…?

The Beginning

The couple started going out in 1385. Initially, it was an awkward coupling, as the pair did not seem to have much in common. Over time though, as they felt each other out, compromises were made as the two adjusted to each other. Lithuania agreed to convert to Christianity, while Poland returned lands previously claimed under wars and battles won and lost.

In the beginning, the dominant partner in the relationship seemed to be Lithuania, with Jogaila being introduced to Jadwiga by friends and most of the early dates taking place on Lithuanian soil. However, it would soon become obvious that Poland would gain the upper hand in the relationship. Cousins and friends of Lithuania pushed for more commitment by arranging the Union of Vilnius and Radom.

An early picture of the couple in happier days

Engagement and Marriage

After surviving the early phase of ‘getting-to-know-you’, the couple settled into a comfortable routine. Love blossomed, and they became the ‘It Couple’ of Central and Eastern Europe with the Grand Duchy of Moscow, the Ottoman Empire, the Prussians and the Habsburgs of the Austro-Hungarian Empire all casting envious glances their way. With a few subtle hints from parents and babcias, the big question was popped as the couple decided to get married and their engagement was announced with much joy. Much planning was then required to prepare for the wedding. The lingering feelings of Lithuanian resentment at growing Polish power in the relationship were put aside for the big day.

Jan Matejko’s take on the 1569 joining

There were much negotiations over the dowry and other requirements, but once the wedding day came around in 1569, the happiness was evident, and everyone looked to the future with much optimism.

The Later Years and Clashes

Outwardly, Poland and Lithuania were delighted together and onlookers began asking the question of when children could be expected. However, not all was as it appeared. Cracks in the relationship appeared, as it became clear that being part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth meant being Polish over being Lithuanian. Catholicism, the Polish language and even the złoty were adopted as the norms in both Poland and Lithuania, as Poland asserted its dominance.

The first major falling out came in 1791, as Poland looked to strike out on its own, and make its own rules, by setting up a Constitution by itself. After a big fight, the couple looked for a trial separation. Initially, it seemed to be an amicable split with the possibility of re-engagement remaining an option. However, over time other suitors began to make a move on the couple, trying to make the most of the separation.

The Constitution in Polish (above) and Lithuanian (below)

The Breakup and the Future

As noted earlier, the couple recently realised that it was highly unlikely that they would recommit to each other, with the breakup seeming inevitable. Poland had been seen flirting with some of the neighbours in recent times, with Germany and France becoming friendly, while Russia was seen wrapping arms around Poland at a recent family funeral. Lithuania seems to have retreated into hiding, only seen catching up with old friends Latvia and Estonia from time to time to drown their sorrows.

They’ve had a long intertwined history, but who can say what the future will hold for Poland and Lithuania…

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The shopping problem

I have only one wish in life: I would like a simple, efficient bedside lamp. Actually I have two wishes, but the second one is for a sitcom about former Arab dictators sharing a flat in Brixton (Hosni! Have you been eating my humus again!?), which would be much more difficult to organise. Or at least I thought it would be more difficult to organise until I actually started looking for a bedside lamp. I can’t find one anywhere.

There are two possibilities: either there are no lamps for sale in Krakow, or I’m looking in the wrong places. If the first is true, I’m going to start taking a lot better care of the lamps I have because they must now be worth a great deal of money. If the second is true, I will have to reconsider my prejudice that lamps should be sold in electrical appliance shops and address the possibility that they are, in fact, sold in gardening supply or hat shops.

I have made two extended trips to Galeria Krakowska in the past week, something that is almost as difficult to admit as it is to endure. On neither occasion did I find a lamp to buy. Home furnishing shops, the ones that smell of lavender and are impossible to extract wives from, do not sell lamps but they do sell endless varieties of candles and candle holders. Apparently, a return to burning wax or whale oil is currently the most accessible means of illuminating my bedtime reading.

The big electrical shop, a branch of Saturn, sells every imaginable electrical device apart from lamps and kilowatt range free-electron lasers. I toyed with the idea of buying a 48-inch plasma and playing a looped DVD of a switched on lamp with the brightness turned right up, but apparently nobody has yet released one – a gap in the market I will be leaping on.

21/2 hours of relentless 40-watt action (Bonus Director’s Commentary and Bloopers)

The real problem, and this is not the first time it has become apparent, is that I still lack of proper sense of how Polish urban spaces work. Put me down in a British town that I have never visited before and I am certain that I could find a lamp or a fish and chip shop or a copy of a street map in minutes – I just know what kind of streets to look on for the right kind of shops. I’m sure there are lamp shops out there, but I have no idea what they look like or how to find them.

This is a genuine and annoying problem that previously vexed me when I needed to buy a roll of parcel tape (W H Smiths), but it is compounded by the weird transitional state of the shopping experience in Poland. At first glance, it looks as if Poland has all the shops you could ever possibly want. In fact, at the shiny new Galeria end of the market, there is a superabundance of a very limited number of types of shops and almost nothing else.

In Galeria Krakowska, for example, there are seven or eight jewellery shops, all selling essentially the same watches and earrings, at least 30 clothes shops, also selling barely discernible products, and a dozen electrical shops selling slightly different forms of iPhone and laptop. The rest of the space is taken up with a couple of mega pharmacies, a supermarket and a branch of Empik. That’s it.

I know this is also the case in shopping malls elsewhere in the world, but the problem in Poland is that the glittery Galerias have been laid down on top of a highly impoverished strata of existing shops. Outside of them there are a few absurd hardware stores, an extraordinary number of wedding dress shops, endless second-hand clothes emporiums, the occasional bicycle shop and nothing else. Trying to buy an interesting or original birthday or Christmas present is almost impossible. It’s either standard high-street tat that you could buy anywhere in the world, stained glass angels and humorous Jewish figurines or a spanner.

I suppose what I’m really moaning about here is the lack of a broad bespoke luxury sector to cater to the whims of pampered middle-class folk such as myself – giant Stilton wheels, hand-made Faroe sweaters and things of that kind. With that humbling realisation in mind, I’m off to Ikea where I’m sure they have numerous lamps that will cunningly cater to my supposedly sophisticated eye for good design and solid workmanship at prices that can only mean Vietnamese sweat shops.

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Ten Polish demotivating party pics

Errr… Just popped over here, noticed the last post went off six days ago and got my act together to stave off an impending week-long break in posting. I do not know whether the task was really challenging, since as every student during his exam period I am intently looking out for opportunities to indulge in self-delusion, or, in plain English I am trying to dabble in something that can dissuade me from learning for a while.

One of the websites popular among Polish students is Demotywatory.pl, containing miscellany of pictures aimed at… well… they are said to “(de)motivate” people. My real interest in the service was spurred by my fellow Polandian’s involuntary appearance there…

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201009/1284476615_by_gago08_500.jpg

Demotywatory.pl is to a large extent run by youngsters, hence one of the topics that crop up there frequently are parties. And because it is carnival, time of partying (for those who are not overwhelmed by exam period), it occured to me I should familiarise you with some of the most popular pictures from the website, which also depict some Polish party customs, mock at idiosyncracies, ridicule unwritten rules or generally present people captured in embarassing situations.

1. Rule number two (rule number one is for sure “attend parties thrown at home, but don’t throw them”) – do not close your eyes before you go to your own bed.

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201011/1290274897_by_Tom_500.jpg

Bringing along a small horse and keeping it on a lead is not extremely popular, but drunk animals might incur some measurable losses…

2. Family party


As a matter of prinicple held before it gets dark so that all guest can stagger home safely. Outfits are casual, the most frequent topics are: politics, family affairs, politics and family affairs. If you run out of contentious issues in politics or family affairs you can always try backbiting your neighbours or anyone else who is not around. Children do not like those parties because they are not allowed to drink, grown-ups bend over backwards to slip away from the house to avert hearing questions such as “when will you finally get married?”.

3. There is a cross, there is a party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201008/1280938872_by_bushec_500.jpg

A relatively new pastime activity in August 2010.

Venue: Warsaw, Krakowskie Przedmieście, outside the presidential palace

Target group: *head covering description missing*

Set-up: Clasping hands, singing patriotic songs and dancing around the cross.

There’s a heavy cross to bear…

4. The reason why the lights are off…

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201007/1279323113_by_jurexplay_500.jpg

I do not know if tweaking with the photo in Photoshop would help, but pics similar to the one above are not rare  on fejsbuk or nasza klasa (if you use the former you probably vote for PO, if the latter – for PiS). If  you happen you photograph that badly you probably do not take trouble to go to the polls at all…

5. Geek party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201003/1270134753_by_starcu_500.jpg

Essential equipment: portable computers, (at least one per participant), connected to the Internet, if possible all within one local network (capacity 100 Mbps).

Unwatned guests:  human beings of the opposite sex.

The worst scenario: Internet provider breakdown.

No, they’re not going to watch “18+” films.

6. “How was the party?” – the nightmare materialises

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/1263921247_by_Saszlyk_500.jpg

Tacky wallpaper – 15 PLN per square metre

Bottle of juice – 3.49 PLN

Seeing the face pulled by the hapless boy – priceless…

7. Outdoor bender

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201003/1269609117_by_dziunia00900_500.jpg

Time: morning rush hours, when normal people are stuck in traffic jams on their way to work, daylight necessary

Venue: who cares

Company: at 6 a.m. look out for two pissheads hanging around outside your cornershop, then offer them food (cucumbers in a jar) and drinks (a bottle of plonk) on the house. They’ll keep you company until they get really hammered…

Budget: approximately 10 PLN, risk of overrunning: low

Prerequisite skills: “strong head”, whatever it means…

8. Old-school party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201003/1268494509_by_Jerem92_500.jpg

Photo surely dug up from archives. Should I have rummaged through mine?

Venue: school canteen, somewhere in Poland

Props: cult objects from early 1990s: spectacles, jumpers, tablecloth, mugs. Those guys are now probably in their early or mid thirties, I don’t recognise any scholars from my university…

Atmosphere: generally conducive to intellectual debates. No alcohol permitted.

9. School party

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/1261466799_by_bulateam89_500.jpg

Venue: primary (podstawówka) or secondary (gimnazjum) school

Start time: Friday 17:00

End time: Friday 20:00

Unless a local priest forbids…

Course of events:

17:00 Participants gather round

17:15 Boys call a committee to investigate strength of surrounding wallls

17:30 Girls and boys and lean against walls to prevent them from pulling down

18:30 Participants cluster together to work out a strategy

19:00 Slow dancing begins

19:45 The party hots up.

20:00 Despite hue and cry the party is scattered to four winds…

Brings back memories from childhood. People grow up but times are not changing in this respect. Today I would get a slap on my face for what was acceptable when I was ten years younger…

10. Polish wake

source: http://statichg.demotywatory.pl/uploads/201007/1278609690_by_kawior9012_500.jpg

As the description says, a regular party, just one player is missing. This is why I do not attend wakes. I know it can be a good custom, but too often it turns into a booze-up and guests begin to drink to the deceased’s health.

Enjoy yourselves in 2011! All the best from Polandians!

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