Tag Archive | "Poland"

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An End to ‘Doubleness’

Posted on 09 October 2009 by admin

By Boyko Vassilev, Lucie Kavanova, Anita Komuves, Wojciech Kosc, Sinziana Demian, and Pavol Szalai

As we look at how life has changed – or stayed the same – over the past 20 years, TOL correspondents in Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Slovakia asked people in various professions to describe their working life today compared with conditions before 1989. This collection of interviews with artists is the first in the series that resulted.

Part 1: What does an artist, accustomed to using metaphor and subterfuge under communism, do when the lid comes off? Continue reading …

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Jerzy Urban

Posted on 09 October 2009 by admin

Brash journalist-turned-regime mouthpiece-turned-brash journalist, 1933-

urbanA few years after the fall of the communist regime, many Poles were enraged by a photograph of Jerzy Urban relaxing poolside at his villa in a posh Warsaw suburb. How could this hated Communist, the face of martial law, be living in such opulence?

Urban himself would say many times that in the new era he might very well have ended up hated, marginalized, and poor. That he was now hated, marginalized, and rich didn’t bother him.

Urban earned an infamous place in Poland’s collective memory when he took the job of government spokesman in August 1981, only months before Wojciech Jaruzelski – whom Urban professes to admire greatly – imposed martial law to quash Solidarity. Serving until April 1989, he became the despised face of power, laying bare the authorities’ cynicism in regularly televised press conferences.(Commenting on the Reagan administration’s economic sanctions on Poland, Urban said the people would suffer but “the government will somehow manage to feed itself.”)

Few at the time had any inkling why Urban, a renowned journalist and longtime critic of the regime (his writing was banned for a time in the 1960s) would take such a job. Later, in the 1990s, Urban would say he was irked by Solidarity’s populism, clericalism, and nationalistic bent, an attitude he has held to this day regarding the post-Solidarity political parties left, right, and center.

On the brink of personal and professional failure come 1989, Urban rescued himself with Urban’s Alphabet, a collection of short, cheeky, sometimes malicious sketches of politicians, artists, and journalists. The book became a bestseller and helped fund the creation of a weekly magazine, Nie, fullof profanity, porn, and scathing attacks on the new political elites. Its circulation soon climbed to 600,000 – a clear demonstration that other threads were running through post-communist Poland than the Catholic Church, the new politics, and economic liberalism.

Ninety-four percent of adult Poles knew who Urban was. Enough people were interested in what that scumbag was up to to buy out the entire print run,” Urban recalled in Nie in 2004.

Still published and edited by Urban and now selling about 75,000 copies an issue, Nie in recent years has become more serious, at least compared to its early days. Urban even became something of a journalistic cause celebre when he was criminally charged in 2002 for publishing a mocking attack on Pope John Paul II. (In January 2005 he was convicted and fined 20,000 zlotys, about $6,400 at the time). The bald, elfin media mogul is a frequent talk-show guest, and his pungent remarks on Polish politicians continue to entertain or enrage millions of his fellow citizens.

Wojciech Kosc


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Democracies Without Democrats

Posted on 07 October 2009 by admin

Why the reality of post-Communist Europe has not measured up to the expectations of 1989.

By Jiri Pehe

“Now we have a democracy,” Tomas G. Masaryk, the first president of Czechoslovakia, said of his new country upon its founding 90 years ago. “What we also need are democrats.”

These words could be applied as aptly to the post-communist countries of contemporary East-Central Europe. The problem of “democracies without democrats” is as real today as it was when Masaryk’s new state rose from the ashes of World War I. Continue reading …

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Wojciech Jaruzelski

Posted on 05 October 2009 by admin

Poland’s last Communist leader, 1923-

A central question remains about General Wojciech Jaruzelski, the leader of Poland throughout much of the 1980s: was he a traitor or a patriot? When he imposed martial law in 1981, was he acting to forestall a Soviet invasion or to strangle the new independent trade union Solidarity?

When martial law was declared, Solidarity went underground. But by decade’s end, amid Gorbachev’s liberalization in the Soviet Union and renewed social unrest in Poland, it re-emerged to wrest democratic changes from the Communist leadership, culminating in the partly free elections of June 1989 – a seminal event that eased the way toward peaceful political change in other Central European socialist states.

Thousands of Poles were arrested without charge during the 18 months of martial law, and perhaps 100 were killed. Since September 2008 Jaruzelski has been on trial for that decision; he has also been in court on and off over the years on charges stemming from the massacre of 44 workers in Gdynia in 1970, an assault that, as then-minister of defense, he may or may not have tried to stop.

Although a 1996 parliamentary inquiry declared that the imposition of martial law had met the legal conditions of “higher necessity” valid in 1981, he was accused a decade later by the Institute of National Remembrance of directing a criminal organization – the military council that imposed and ran the martial law – leading to the current trial. Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza characterized the claim as an odd legal device under which “the generals are being treated like gangsters.” The judicial actions have dragged on, in large part due to Jaruzelski’s poor health.

Jaruzelski’s best-known feature, his dark glasses, harken back to the snow blindness he developed during World War II, when his family was deported to the Soviet Union. He joined the Polish army under Soviet command and reached the rank of general while still in his 30s. In 2005 Vladimir Putin presented Jaruzelski with a medal commemorating the 60th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany; the following year the Polish government gave him the Siberian Exiles Cross, than publicly withdrew the award.

Since his retirement in 1991, Jaruzelski has said communism failed and apologized for Poland’s role in the 1968 Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. But he has staunchly defended the decision for which he is most remembered. “I constantly state that martial law saved Poland from looming catastrophe,” he said on the witness stand a year ago. “Martial law was evil, but it was a far lesser evil than what would have happened without it.”

Daniela Ivanova

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Transitional Justice at 20

Posted on 28 August 2009 by admin

Over the years the lustration process has grown more intractable as it has become an instrument of political maneuver and manipulation.

By Risto Karajkov

When the Czechoslovak law on lustration was adopted back in October 1991, its scope was limited both in terms of its aims and its time frame. The law did not aim to serve justice, or deal with the past – those notions only came later – but to prevent the possibility of a communist coup by preventing “elements” from the former regime from infiltrating the new government. As such, it was designed to have a limited duration of 10 years. Continue reading …

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Dirty Laundry

Posted on 13 May 2009 by admin

One commentator says his country has learned some hard lessons since the Velvet Revolution but wonders how much wiser it is for all that.

By Martin Ehl

The chuckles and incomprehension about the fall of the Czech government in the middle of the country’s EU presidency slowly have died down. It had already become a little tiring to explain to foreigners how it transpired that Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek’s government failed a vote of confidence because of the particular interests of a few individuals. Now another foul whiff of local politicking wafts our way – this time from Poland. Continue reading …

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End of Innocence

Posted on 27 March 2009 by admin

Stock-taking is in order on the 10th anniversary of Europe’s coming of age.

By TOL

Ten years ago, it felt like the end of an era, and not just because serious commentators were warning that the Y2K bug would knock us all back to the age of vacuum tubes, if not quill pens.

The year 1999 brought a major consolidation of the democratic gains of 1989-1990 in Central and Eastern Europe and a smooth and fateful change of power in Russia, and saw a consortium of European states make war against one of their own for the first time since the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia.  Continue reading …

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