Saturday, 30 October 2010
I have been waiting over the last month or so for President Bronislaw Komorowski to seize the initiative and occupy the neutral ground of public opinion left void between the warring factions from PO (Civic Platform) and PiS (Kaczynski's Law and Justice Party).
Initially, because of Kaczynski's personal animosity towards him and the high emotional tension around the temporary cross erected outside the presidential palace after his predecessor's death in Smolensk, I felt it right that the President avoided a high profile. He has appointed some admirable advisers, although almost exclusively from the liberal and social democratic wing of Solidarity (Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Henryk Wujec, Jan Litynski, the former finance minister Osiatynski, as well as the liberal ex-Marxist historian Tomasz Nalecz). They had obviously urged caution. True, as a former PO politician he could have been considered bi-partisan by PiS. But in the long term caution will not be enough.
Once the cross and then the barriers to the presidential palace had been removed I thought this to be a good moment for a calming presidential address to the people of Poland over and above the politicians' heads. He could have finally made his presence felt and offered himself as a concilatory figure to mediate between the two former Solidarity tribes. However to the public at large he remains a shadowy figure and in the background, partly obscured by Donald Tusk and his government. He even found himself acting as an apologist for the government's economic and education policy during a recent public meeting with Warsaw students. That is NOT his job.
We have just had the tragic shooting of office worker Marek Rosiak in the local PiS HQ in Lodz by a schizophrenic taxi driver. He had been anxious to kill a politician, any politician, but in particular Jaroslaw Kaczynski or ex-Communist Leszek Miller.
This tragedy could have given the President the best opportunity. Sure he made some good gestures. He called in the party leaders in parliament to urge a cooling down in political temperature (Kaczynski still boycotted this meeting), he made an unscheduled visit to the PiS office in Lodz to lay a wreath (but still accompanied by Tusk), he attended and spoke at the funeral ceremony 2 days ago in Lodz Cathedral. All this is good. (However his attempt to appease Kaczynski by apologising for earlier criticism of his dead brother was probably not the right action for a President to take).
However President Komorowski has not yet, as far as I am aware, made any speech direct to the nation as a whole about this tragic incident through television or any other media channel. At this moment a nervous public want to be assured that they are not entering a period of civil war. Comparisons have been made with the assassination of President Narutowicz by a right-wing fsnatic in 1922 and the near civil war that followed. Kaczynski has already made fiery speeches accusing the government's "social manipulation" - "socjotechnika" - as being responsible for tension and hatred against patriotic Poles and holds PO morally responsible for the death of Rosiak "who died so that I can still serve Poland". It is difficult for Tusk to respond to such language and such emotional accusations.
But President Komorowski should have taken the initiative in the last week and spoken out.
Come on Mr President, it is not too late yet. Speak. Poland needs to hear your voice of moral authority.
Monday, 25 October 2010
So what do we know about the public spending review announced last week by a smirking George Osborne, as his Tory colleagues cheered him and waved their order papers?
They are part of a package of measures being introduced since June of this year and still being processed.
Some of the facts and early assessments:
- £81 billion savings to be cut from public spending in the next 4 years
- 450,000 public sector jobs to go
- 2 year pay freeze for remaining public sector staff
- 62% cuts from local government and the communities department
- international development spending now subjected almost exclusively to Britain's military and strategic needs
- £5 billion yanked out of current spending in 2010 alone
- student fees up to £7000 a year, repayable now by interest-loaded loans, giving all but the richest students a hefty average debt of £23,000 at the start of their working life.
- £18 billion hacked off the welfare budget - mainly by reducing working age benefits for poorer households
- removal of child benefit from working mother if she or her partner are earning more than £38,000 a year
- a rise in VAT from 17.5% to 20% in january
- 25% cut in policing
- 25% cut in prisons and courts
- 27% cut in grants to local authorities
- one third of Forestry Commission land to be sold off privately to developers
- 2 newly commissioned aircraft carriers to be deprived of Harrier Jump Jets
- 20-year Building Schools for the Future programme valued at £55 billion cancelled so 715 new school buildings and services will be scrapped.
- estimated cut in housing allowance will force eviction of 170,000 poorest Londoners from their own city
- employment support allowance to be suspended after one year,(Tories say all welfare benefits to be tilted so that it would be more economic to have a job rather than be on benefit, but the majority of jobless beneficiaries will fail to find a job anyway within that new one year limit.)
When George Osborne announced the cuts in Parliament the Tories cheered and waved their order papers. Alan Johnson glowered with real anger when he gave his response in the Commons. (In fact, the Tories were only cheering an end of speech quip from Osborne that his overall 19% budget cut was marginally less than the one proposed by Alistair Darling before Labour lost the election. It still made it appear that despite Cameron's best PR efforts that they were ready cheer the cuts as a whole. It was a rare PR error for the Tories and in the next few years the Tory image-makers may yet regret that quip and that cheering as it is liable to repeated in Labour party broadcasts during elections).
Most people were dismayed at these results. Or were they?
The public initially reacted with a resigned shrug. Why?
After all, the Conservatives are bringing in measures which the Institute of Fiscal Studies has condemned as proportionately unfair on the poor and lower income families; 4 Nobel prize winning economists have expressed seriously concern that the savage cuts could lead to a double-dip recession and that the argument that the private sector will provide the jobs lost in the public sector, is almost without foundation, and at best a gamble.
So is the opposition gearing up to read a national sense of public outrage leading to a comprehensive condemnation of these cuts? It is trying, but it is missing a/ proper leadership, b/ a properly worked out alternative strategy, and c/ any large scale national public outrage.
This is because whatever the coalition government may get right or otherwise in this immense political and economic gamble, the one area which they have secured is the right PR. Amazingly, bcause of this, they have a sort of reluctant churlish form of public support for what they are doing.
Whatever else he has been, David Cameron has been a past-master at presentation of himself and his policies. He had been the radical anti-European anti-state Tory to his Conservative followers, but represented the face of progressive eco-aware liberalism to the country at large. Initially the electorate did not trust him because of this uncertain Janus-like image, but in view of the unpopularity of Gordon Brown he was given a modest dollop of public support at the last election.
He has proved canny in his dealings with the Liberal Democrats and knew how to extract power in such a way that he is not subordinate any longer to his Tory backwoodsmen.
Now the language is the language of "fairness" where we all, rich and poor apparently share equally in the social costs of the cuts. However this is pitched on top of a mantra repeated by both coalition partners, day in and day out since the election, that the current deficit is "Labour's legacy". This is Cameron's huge PR victory because the Labour Party was so absorbed with its own very boring fight for the leadership that it had no national platform on which to respond to these taunts about the reasons for the deficit.
There was no mention in the popular press or media to remind electors about the role in the slump of the bankers, the world recession, the overblown US real estate market and the undervalued Chinese currency flooding the world with Chinese goods exported in containers arriving empty from the Western world. There was nobody around to say "It was the bankers, stupid!"
Labour was not totally blameless of course and Ed Miliband was right to apologise for this. It is true that in the last year before the recession Gordon Brown could have built up a certain reserve from the golden boom years. In that period he was too involved in seeking to oust Tony Blair to concentrate on his economic record and perhaps hubris had set in. It is true that the bankers and savings companies should have been better regulated. But Labour was still too timid at the time, despite 12 years of power, of tackling the myth of an unbridled financial market and feared being lynched by Cameron, backed by a Tory press for doing so.
It is telling that Cameron with his tiny coalition majority has shown 20 times more boldness in action over the last 6 months than Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had shown over their first 6 years. He knows how to use the levers of power.
Cameron had prepared the "fairness" grounds so well that he and Osborne went out of their way to earn the ire of the Tory press and delegates at the Conservative conference over the removal of child benefit for those individuals paying the higher tax so as to be able to demonstrate 3 weeks later that the spending review was causing the rich to squeal with pain as well. The Insitute of Fiscal Studies has shown up the emptiness of this argument but many are still swallowing it.
The Government has shown that their number one priority is not economic growth, which remains a gamble, but the credit rating from Standard and Poor and from Moodys, as if they are to be the new arbiters of Britain's economic strategy.
The Tories retain their public support for their risky strategy because
a/ Labour has failed to challenge their argument that Labour is entirely to blame for the deficit,
b/ because they are still ready to show what they have NOT cut (including winter payout's for pensioners, capital schemes for London, the schools budget, pensioners' travel passes),
c/ they have promised action to cap immigration
d/ ensured that the most vital and delicate cuts will come through local councils, who will now reap the opprobrium for the Government's policies,
e/ they have concentrated their attackes on the welfare budget, described by them as an attack on "welfare cheats", a popular figure to denigrate around the housing estates, as well as among the middle classes.
The CBI big business giants have praised the Tory strategy but, interstingly enough, the Federation of Small Businesses has condemned it.
Labour has a minefield to cross here in order to regain public trust in their stewardship of the economy and seize the debate over the future of the economy.
So, here we go, Ed Miliband. Are you ready?
1/ With use of frequent reminders remind people about the bankers' role in the crisis and argue for taxation of banking profits.
2/ Play the emotional card. Use Alan Johnson as front man in showing the perversity and unfairness of the cuts, with lots of heart-breaking local examples, especially involving the elderly and children.
3/ Argue the case for protecting the small businesses which are vital for future growth but will suffer most in the economy. (Remind them of Sir Philip Green's principle official advice to the Government on saving in purchasing contracts - pay your suppliers late!)
4/ Don't simulate over which cuts are good or bad, but remember the general strategy that Tories cutting too much, too quickly and too unfairly.
5/ Cooperate with trade unions, charities and professional organisations seeking to challenge and protest against the cuts.
6/ Remind Lib Dem voters again and again what happened to their party leaders' election pledges.
7/ Be consistent with pre-election platform and support AV during the coming referendum. This will split the Lib Dems, show the electorate that Labour still favours "new politics", and if successful in referendum, the result will weaken Tories in next election.
8/ Show up the Tories' evasiveness over tax avoidance, especially citing the cases of Lord Ashcroft, Vodaphone and the banks.
9/ Suppport capital building programmes, especially in rail infrastructure, wind energy and social housing.
10/ Show those cheering Tories in the cuts debate again and again.
PS. Memo to Dr Liam Fox on possible defence cuts. Labour should guarantee its support.
1/ Do not renew Trident missile programme.
2/ Consolidate savings in Royal Navy. Share use of aircraft carriers with French fleet and French aircraft.
3/ Consolidate savings in Royal Air Force by combining with Polish Air Force in new Joint Striker Fighter programme. UK to replace Tornado, Poles to replace MiGs and SU-22s, and rely on British Typhoon Eurofighter and Polish F-16s squadrons working together on home front and in NATO operations. (Good historical precedent for Brit-Polish cooperation in the air - Battle of Britain vets would approve!)
Saturday, 23 October 2010
Just bought a copy of Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness" this morning and read its 110 pages voraciously in the course of the day. This is amazing because I have not read a novel (as opposed to a biography) from cover to cover for several years. Once I had been an avid reader of books in both Polish and English, but lately I have given this up.
The book relates to the darkness of the civilised world when it encounters a differently structured simpler society. Conrad was writing partly from his own experience as a river boat captain in the Congo as he had seen the rotten impact of wealth and power on the bahaviour of white colonialist administrators and traders.
He compares this partly to the rapacious behaviour of Roman conquerors seeking to civilize a savage Britain 2000 years ago and being in turn corrupted by the savagery and relative weakness of the people they conquered and exploited.
At the time Conrad serialized this novel in Blackwood's Magazine in 1897 the imperialist myth of the European civilzations taking up "the white man's burden" in Africa and Asia, was being widely challenged. Conrad with his Polish background (his real name was Jozef Konrad Korzeniowski) was aware of the riveting brutality of Russian and German rule in his beloved country and could see the behaviour of otherwise "civilized" fellow Europeans with a detached, and even a jaundiced, view.
His English narrator Marlow describes the prepostrous behaviour of French colonialists even before he had reached the mouth of "a snake shaped river" which we intantly recognise as the Congo, under the personal dominion of its brutal Belgian King. (Curiously the names Congo, Belgium, Brussels and even Africa do not appear once in the book and neither does the name of a single character, except for the narrator and the magical mystical hero "Mr Kurtz").
Kurtz is the ultimate, and almost mythologized, depiction of the reverse influence of the so-called "Dark Continent" on its erstwhile civilizers. But it is power stemming from superior European technology, not the Africans themselves, who corrupt the colonialists. Kurtz travels to the Congo as a visionary idealistic young painter and musician, desperate to earn a proper fortune in order to return to his "Intended" fiancee as a rich and respected husband. He becomes a highly successful up river ivory trader admired by his superiors and by others, both for his ideals and for his exraordinary success on behalf of his company. Marlow is fascinated by this reputed mixture of idealism and commercial success and is determined to travel up river to meet him and talk to him. However slowly the truth about Kurtz is revealed. His positive messianic vision and personal charisma are diverted into a fever pitch of plunder and massacre as he sets more African tribes againt each other and simply plunders their ivory from his remote trading station and sends it down river. His fence is decorated with the heads of his victims. Everything in his mind become his - he refers to "my" station, "my" people, "my" river. He sees himself as god-like master seeking to protect himself from the lies of civilization.
When Marlow eventually reached his destination, with the local administrator and other company officials in tow, with new instructions to bring Kurtz back to Europe, shut down his station and, conveniently, confiscate his ivory, the man is dying. Marlow befriends this monster and watched him die on the boat, with his last words being "the horror, the horror."
Later when Marlow pays a visit to his "Intended" in Europe she reminisces about the young idealistic and talented Kurtz she remembers. Desperate not to blow asunder her illusions he tells her that his last dying word was her name.
Curiously Conrad makes Africans largely passive and almost zombie-like victims of these colonial masters of their universe. He even refers to them quite artlessly sometimes as "niggers". In another of his books he actually picks the title "Nigger of the Narcissus" about a very positive and intrepid black crew member on a European boat.
That is a derogatory term now, but not necessarily in 1897, because most black people were held in contempt by Europeans, even by those who criticised the corruption of empire building and felt a patronising sympathy for the plight of the Africans.
Conrad probably knew little about ancient sub-Saharan civilisations, such as Mali, Ghana, Ashante and Zimbabwe, and this is partly because the Africans themselves were so divided tribally amongst themselves that they too seem to have cut themslves off from these traditions. Their civilizations had not the means to resist European guns, steam-power and greed. Even for liberals such as Conrad, where competence, literacy and technical know-how were measured by European standards, most Africans seemed imcompetent and possibly even cannibalistic. He even maintains that Africans have no sense of time, because they have no history and no time clocks. Everything for them is, apparently, "now". That is because they had no concept of "European" time when they had been torn away and from their own villages and treated with great brutality as virtual slaves.
It is easy now to be patronising about Conrad's supposed racism. But even the most benign figures in British and French colonialism were racist by modern standards. They talk of exploitation, revere the brave "noble savage" - a good imperialist myth as it only increased the glory of the victors who had conquered them. They wanted to "help" the Africans, to "civilize" the Africans, to offer them Christianity. But at this stage they still objectified them and did not see them as potential masters of their own fate; not unless they were as elevated as the Emperor of Ethiopia, for instance, because he defeated the Italian colonialists. But then curiously, the English saw Italians as little better than Africans as well, as they plundered their artistic heritage.
Strange perhaps now that Poles at the turn of the century could not see the Africans a little more differently. The Poles too were victims of conquest and had no independent country of their own while the Polish language was persecuted under Russian and German rule. Polish writers sympathised with the plight of the black African in creating characters such as the cheerful Kali in Sienkiewicz's "In Desert and Wilderness" or the bouncy Miou-Miou in Korczak's delightful "King Matty the First", but these sympathetic figures now appear grotesquely patronising, just like Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom. Yet in their time Beecher Stowe and Conrad wrote what appeared to be dangerous revolutionary books and they challenged the perceived wisdom of their age with courage and integrity. Their books were both decried in their time as "immoral". The fact that the original American constitution still recognised the existence of slavery in the Southern states, that fact that the vibrancy of Western democracy in the XIXth century was still based on enfranchising men of property and denied women the vote, did not in any way disqualify these achievements of Western civilization.
It is patronising of us now to criticise the patronising ennoblement of Africans by Polish writers at the turn of the last century.
After all, when Coppola, borrowed the theme of this book for his daring condemnation of the American presence in Vietnam - "Apocalypse Now", it can be argued that he too treated the Vietnamese victims as sympathetic but artless and passive, whose savage traditions help to corrupt Colonel Kurtz. I would think the modern Vietnamese student would consider that film as highly patronising towards his own people.
Tuesday, 12 October 2010
I have just watched the fourth bleary-eyed miner emerge from 69 days of gloom into the bright sunlight of a Chilean morning, greeted by his pretty wife and also by El Presidente and HIS blonde trophy wife, both clutching a small paper Bolivian flag. (Miner no. 4 was Bolivian).
I hope the 33rd and last miner remembers to clean up and shut off the lights as he leaves the cavern.
It's a remarkable tale of grim survival and state of the art engineering as each body in turn cocoons itself in a narrow metal cage for 20 minutes and undergoes what so many thousands of claustrophobic patients undergo every month as they are launched into the tube of a scanner.
El Billonaire Presidente and his bubbly mining minister are happy too, if only because they have ensured their political future at the next election and the President is happily thankful he can assist at this "final stage" as he described it.
But this is not really "final" and there is a sequel for the 33. It will involve redundancy packages, shutdown of the bankrupt mine, the brutality of adjusting the emotionally damaged miners to their deprived poverty stricken families, the offer of fame and arc lights for those capable of surviving in a fish tank as the world's media watches them patronisingly, commenting on the unravelling of their lives for the next months before those camera disappear for ever. (Unless of course Andrew Lloyd Webber writes an Evita-style music show about it). Perhaps the luckier ones will manage the mine itself when it becomes a tourist attraction and tourists can pay USD1000 each to relive the experience of the cave and the capsule.
Each miner has been given a gold medallion by Polish coal miners. Keep it mate, use it for prayer, and retain it for a rainy day. The rain will come, even in the dry Atacama Desert.
What a night for television!
First, on BBC4, a superb study of one of Louis Leakey's angels - Jane Goodall, with her work on chimps in Tanzania. Just by wandering around the jungle on her own in white shorts, blouse and notebook she befriended a chimpanzee family and was the first to discover that our hairy cousins use tools to hunt termites and also share our carnivorous tastes, tearing up colobus monkeys and even chimps from a wayward tribe.
She also showed their more civilized side as they treat their own children and older members of the tribe with compassion and kindness, while the adolescent son of a dead mother just pines next to her body and dies of a broken heart. It reminded of the scene in "War and Remembrance" when a sentimental Himmler visits a homely German family in the the office of the Auschwitz commandant and strokes the blonde head of a boy after giving him a flower taken from the gassed naked corpse of a little Jewish boy. Compassion and death all in one - we can do it; so can our cousins in the chimp world. We did not need civilization to make us territorial and tribal in our cruelty.
She also records their mating habits and the fact that unlike chimpanzees obeserved in zoos, all male chimpanzees in a group in the wild have the ability to screw all their female partners in turn. Truly Woodstock, man! Sir Solly Zuckerman, the establishment guru of the 1960s was having none of it. He was deeply shocked that such a young female observer should present such heretical views following her observations and put it down to her own sexual obsessions. Excuse me, but who was actually obsessed here?
Next a David Attenborough feature on the mountain gorillas struggling to survive in the volcanic mountains of Rwanda where they were championed by another of Leakey's angels - Dian Fossey. Seeing these mountains again was like revisiting old friends as one recalled "Gorillas in the Mist", the young bemused David Attenborough himself with the youthful Pablo lying on top of him and a picture 25 years later of Pablo, now a contented 200kg silverback, who would have easily crushed today's more mature David to death.
And in those 25 years, the destruction of the jungle for farming and for firewood for refugees, the beginnings of a national park, the savage murder of Fossey, the war with the poachers hunting for gorilla babies and adult hands and feet, the savage massacres in Rwanda where a million people were macheted or knifed to death by their own cousins and Hutu neighbours. Yet despite all these upheavals, the gorillas have survived and, aided by a well financed eco-tourist project, they flourish and multiply.
And then straight to "Lip Service" on BBC3 to watch the mores and cavortings of another near human tribe - the Lesbians, inhabiting the British Isles no less, rather than East Africa. No threat of extinction here either, though Dyke City has its tears as well its glamour. Male silverbacks decidedly take second place as the mating and funeral rites are observed in close quarter. We see predators and victims galore as they tear at each others' flesh and machete each other's soft emotional underbelly. A truly satisfying evening of television entertainment at its best.
Monday, 11 October 2010
The debate and rumours in Poland about the death of President Lech Kaczynski on April 10th this year goes on and on. We now learn from the Polish Military Prosecutor's Office that after the interrogation of 360 witnesses and completing 82 volumes of hard copy script, the investigation by both the Russian and Polish authorities is still only half complete. More evidence from the Russians is expected after the Russians have completed their enquiries on November 22nd and a final report is not expected in Poland before January.
None of the original options, whether freak accident, negligence by the pilot or by Smolensk airport authorities, or even sabotage, have been definetely ruled out, but absolutely no concrete evidence for the last option has been found.
Poles being Poles, with their prejudices and demons, many of them the result of the country's traumatic history over the last 200 years, cannot leave the matter alone. They blame each other, the pilot, the Russians and/or any other bogeyman they can think of. Actually "think of" is not the right word. This is not "thinking" - it is more "conjuring up". Their fears are voiced by those like Antoni Macierewicz, former member of KOR in the 1970's and former Minister of the Interior in the 1990's, who now heads the ramshackle Polish Parliamentary Commission in to the accident, and has described the Smolensk tragedy as "zamach" - "assassination attempt" - from the first day.
The Russians watch the debate with some concern. The rest of the world, and many younger Poles, have long since marched on to other things.
Keen to alarm the conspiracy theorists, Macierewicz and "Gazeta Polska" say there has been a Russian-Polish cover up from the word go. But a cover up of what exactly?
Well, on what I have heard and seen so far, I have my interim theories.
So who do I blame for Smolensk?
First and foremost, I blame the Russians. I do not accuse them of deliberately killing the President and his 95 fellow passengers. Whatever I may think of some the former activities of Prime Minister Putin and the FSB, I can see no earthly reason for them to kill the President. By April - President Kaczynski was already a dead duck, due to face political obliteration with the October presidential elections in Poland. However I blame the Russians for contributing to the mischief as they dangled the Katyn massacre carrot between a more moderate Donald Tusk and a more fundamentalist Kaczynski. Prime Minister Putin had deliberately invited Prime Minister Tusk to the Katyn commemoraive ceremony, not President Kaczynski. Let us remember that this was a historic rapprochement on a grand scale, where the Russian nation was for the first time inviting the Polish nation to share in the mourning of those 22,000 Polish officers and representatives of Poland's elite massacred by Stalin in 1940 in a crime then covered up by his Soviet successors for more than 50 years. I believe that it should have been President Medvedev as head of state inviting President Kaczynski as head of state. Tusk was invited because of Kaczynski's well known hostility to Russia's imperialist past and potential threat in the future. It had been Tusk who had invited Putin to the ceremonies in September last year commemorating the outbreak of WWII. Kaczynski had made no secret of his disapproval of the Russian's presence in Poland in such a sensitive month associated in Poland's mind as much with the Soviet invasion, as well as German Nazi, invasion of Poland. The Russians wanted to rub Kaczynski's nose in it before his predicted final humiliating electoral defeat 6 months later.
This was mischief a plenty - effectively interfering in Poland's internal politics over an issue which was still an open wound for some. As Lech Kaczynski himself described it - the Katyn massacre and the subsequent Katyn cover up were the buckle that shut tight the Communist belt around Poland's neck for 50 years.
Of course, once the unexpected tragedy had occurred, an embarassed Russian government stood on its head and bent over backwards (both metaphors are equally valid) to make up for their part in the unfolding tragedy, promising a joint role in the recovery and interpretation of all evidence leading to conclusions on the tragedy, sending their President to attend the President's funeral in Krakow, despite the genuine threat of volcanic ash, and even showing Wajda's film "Katyn" in some Russian cinemas. It was partly guilty conscience and partly part of a possible cover up in case it transpired that the accident may have resulted from Russian negligence at Smolensk airport.
Secondly, I blame Prime Minister Donald Tusk and his government colleagues, who allowed themselves to be drawn into this Russian intrigue. Their dislike and contempt for the Polish President blinded them to the need to transform Putin's political invitation into a proper state invitation. Of course Tusk, a patriot, but a pragmatic patriot, knew that Kaczynski, a romantic patriot, would not be satisfied with merely a joint act of mourning. Kaczynski would have wanted contrition from the Russians and even possibly compensation. Tusk was prepared to settle for less in the interests of improving Polish-Russian relations. He was aware that better relations with Russia would have been positively assessed by President Obama and the European Union, and his Economics Minister Pawlak was sure that better relations would open up some useful contracts for Polish companies in Russia and elsewhere and would ensure a steady flow of oil from the East. Angered by Kaczynski's persistent string of vetoes of their proposed economic and political reforms and contemptuous of the President's amateurish one dimensional vision of Poland's market economy and of its foreign relations, Tusk did not want his Russian deal undermined by a niggling Kaczynski offending his Russian hosts over the Katyn massacre when the Russians had already made vast strides towards Poland in this area.
Lech and Maria Kaczynski
Thirdly, I blame Lech Kaczynski and his brother Jaroslaw Kaczynski, who have persistenly failed to overcome their inferiority complex over Poland's place in the world and their lack of vision of a modern forward-looking Poland. Their understandable sense of outrage at the trashing of Poland's heroic and Catholic past by the pro-Soviet Communist authorities and their frustration at the willingness of a series of politically and socially liberal elites in the 1990s to avoid a proper confrontation with their Communist predecessors had led the Kaczynskis into a blind alley where liberalism and the modern Europeanisation of Poland was seen as an affront to Poland's true conservative and national values. They remained hostile to the new awareness of women's rights and gay rights, they hankered for a return to the death penalty and though they themselves were not anti-Semitic, they allowed many of their followers and political allies to espouse anti-Semitic statements and hamper a coming to terms with the need to look again more critically at the far from harmonious Polish-Jewish relations in the last 150 years.
I cannot excuse a head of government or a head of state for surrounding themselves only with yes men (and women) who shared their limited view of the outside world and their lack of knowledge or interest in any foreign language. Lech Kaczynski's embarassed laughter at a press conference in Warsaw in reaction to Tusk's competent response in English to a visiting Condoleeza Rice was in turn an embarassment to all who attended. (It is not as if Lech Kaczynski had not had an opportunity to learn English. - See attached letter to me in Polish where the later president explains why he could not attend a BBC course in English which I had organised at his request!)
I am not saying that Kaczynski was not morally right to expect more evidence of contrition from the Russians and I agree with his conviction that it was the Polish President, not the Polish Prime Minister, who should have been invited. But is "morally right" always expedient for Poland's interests? What is more, to impose his presence as President on to the Russians, in the teeth of Putin's hostility and Tusk's diplomatic silence, was not the right way to do it. It made his rightful anger seem petty and personal. Far better to have left the argument over the visit to the internal Polish political stage. But the twin brothers' sense of political destiny made it psychologically impossible to back away from imposing the President onto reluctant and bemused Russian authorities. It was a sort of siege mentality of "us true Poles" against a supposedly decadent mealy-mouthed liberal Polish government who was failing to be a true guardian of Poland's political heritage that forced Lech Kaczynski to impose partly his, but mainly his brother's, will on Russian protocol and oblige the Russians to receive him.
Why do I say "his brother's". I have met many from Poland's political elites who have explained the delicate relationship between the two twins. Lech was the bright academic and sports enthusiast, the determined and popular former conservative justice minister, the Quixotic chaser of windmills, married to a charming, cultured and sensitive fellow student - Maria. Jaroslaw was the humourless strategic political planner, the heavyweight, the manipulator and puller of strings, who lived with his mother, and had little time for socialising with Poland's liberal political elites. Lech was the more liberal, ready to consider a compromise solution, until corrected by Jaroslaw. Many of the vetoes on the Tusk's hovernment legislation in parliament were initially left in abeyance while roads to compromise were sought until Jaroslaw came into the fray and imposed his authoritarian imprimatur on his brother.
Close friends of mine with whom I was staying, sympathisers of the Civic Platform (PO) party headed by Tusk, once invited Lech and Maria to an intimate dinner at their Warsaw apartment as they were once close family friends. They warned me to say nothing about this meeting to anyone in advance, because Jaroslaw was on a summer break in the country with his mother. It was known that if he got wind of the dinner party he would immediately veto it.
Jaroslaw was of course due to fly with the President's plane to Smolensk. That he did not was due mainly to their mother's illness. It is extraordinary to think what the impact would have been if BOTH brothers had been on that plane. As it is, it was an act of extraordinary folly for so many notables to fly in one plane. Some, like the President of the National Bank of Poland or the Chairman of the National Institute of Remembrance or the former legendary Solidarity leader - Anna Walentynowicz -, were the President's personal friends, but others like the former last President of the Polish Governmemt in Exile or the parliamentary leaders of the main opposition parties or the spokesman for human rights were attending out of a sense of duty, while the 5 chiefs of staff who commanded all sections of Poland's armed forces, were travelling on the President's order. No other country would allow so many VIPs to fly together. At least, thanks to the bad blood between president and Prime Minister, no members of the cabinet were on the plane, albeit there were deputy ministers of Defence, Foreign Affairs and Culture.
However the folly of the VIPs was augmented by the the mission as defined by Lech Kaczynski, and by default, by his brother. The mission was "Smolensk or bust - in time for the ceremony at the Katyn cemetry". Because the hapless President was such a figure of mockery among Poland's snobbish Europeanised chattering classes, there would be no room for error here. Having foisted their presence on the unwilling Russians, they must NOT make a laughing stock of themselves, by failing to turn up on time. So when the plane approached Smolensk and the airport advised them that it would not be possible to land because of a morning fog, Kaczynski's suspicious mind saw this as an attempt to divert him from his mission. We know from the black boxes recovered so far that the pilot, Captain Poltorak, and air force commander, General Andrzej Blasik, who was in the cockpit with him, refused to accept alternative landing facilities in Moscow, Minsk or Bryansk.
General Andrzej Blasik
How could they have made such a risky decision without the direct intervention of the President himself? To travel to any of the alternative airfields would have been a sign of failure to complete the mission in time. It HAD to be Smolensk. Perhaps Blasik and Protasiuk had not explained the difficulty sufficiently. Perhaps they thought they could make it anyway. They knew that if they tried to override the President's wishes then Protasiuk would have been sacked as was his predecessor who refused to risk the President's life during a dangerous flight to Tbilisi during the Russo-Georgian conflict. There is no doubt that President Kaczynski must bear a large part of the responsibility for endangering his life and that of his 95 co-passengers and crew by his insistence on landing in Smolensk.
To me, knowing the relationship between the twins, it would have been inconceivable that the decision to land in Smolensk, could have been made without Jaroslaw's consent and even insistence. There is no record of any conversation between them but the President's mobile phone was identified but completely destroyed. However Colonel Ireneusz Szelag, the chief military prosecutor, has announced that at least 19 mobile phones and laptops were recovered in relative working order and which indicated communication with the outside world. I repeat that, in view of their relationship, it is unimaginable that the Kaczynskis did not consider the options together, that Jaroslaw would have reinforced Lech in his position, as he usually did, and that the decision to land at Smolensk, must therefore have been Jaroslaw Kaczynski's as well.
He too must take his share of responsibility for this catastrophe.
A few wilder elements in Poland have hailed the Smolensk tragedy as an act of heroic martyrdom by which Lech Kaczynski chose death in order to reveal more clearly to the outside world that Katyn was a Soviet crime and needed contrition and closure. "Now the whole world knows about Katyn", they would say to me (on a number of occasions) with glee. If what they said was true then this would have been some kind of romantic suicide. It could be compared to the noble death in the Battle of Leipzig of one of President Kaczynski's neighbours in the crypt of Wawel castle - Marshal Joseph Poniatowski. However this is a dangerous and stupid theory. If Kaczynski had chosen to die then he had also chosen to kill his 95 fellow passengers, including the wife he adored. That would have been tantamount to murder. And for what? So that the world could comment on the Katyn massacre for a couple of days? At least Poniatowski only endangered himself and his horse during his death-leap into the Elster River. The President endangered 95 other lives.
I do not believe that either Lech or Jaroslaw wanted the plane to crash, just as the Russians did not. The brothers felt that it was their national destiny that Lech had to land at Smolensk come what may. It was a decision of gross folly and a horrendous waste of political talent, which caused more than 100 Polish children to lose their parent or grandparent and has left a new deep scar on Poland's psyche as the accusations of conspiracy, murder and negligence continue unabated and will continue even after the investigaion commission's fidings will be published in January. Possibly it is Jaroslaw Kaczynski's role in defining this mission to Smolensk that may have made him so bitter, particularly after his failed election bid.
Until the parties concerned acknowledge their own partial responsibilty for this tragedy this new wound will fester and corrupt Poland's democratic development for several decades to come.