Poland's rightwing PiS government is engaged in a ruthless campaign against its critics. One such critic is Lech Walesa
Probably only Lech Walesa really knows what went on between him and Poland’s communist-era secret police. But for the health of modern Polish democracy, for the image that Poles have of themselves and for Poland’s international reputation, it would be best to establish the truth, or as much of it as possible. Sad to say, this is a forlorn hope in today’s febrile Polish political atmosphere.
Walesa, now a white-haired 72-year-old, is a former Polish president. He founded Solidarity, the independent trade union and mass patriotic movement that overthrew communism by peaceful means in the 1980s. He won the Nobel peace prize in 1983.
He made an indelible contribution to the cause of democracy and human rights in central and eastern Europe. He deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Vaclav Havel and Andrei Sakharov, the brave Czech and Russian campaigners for freedom.
Was he also, as alleged on Thursday, a paid informant for the security services in the 1970s? I shall address this below. What is important is to underline that a proper perspective on Walesa requires placing his career in its full historical context. Read more
Brussels launches probe into rule of law in Poland
Poland’s conservative government has taken decisions about the courts and media that are causing concern across Europe, prompting the European Commission to launched an investigation into the rule of law in Poland. Gideon Rachman discusses the unprecedented move with Henry Foy, FT correspondent in Warsaw, and Neil Buckley, East Europe editor.
Poland’s shift to the right
The election victory of Poland’s Law and Justice party took many by surprise given the successful economic record of the outgoing government. Gideon Rachman discusses why Poles voted for change, and what the result means for the country’s ties with the EU, Russia and Nato, with Tony Barber, Europe editor, and Henry Foy, Warsaw correspondent.
Hungary’s Viktor Orban has long been criticised for his war against the country’s troubled banks – since 2010, he has imposed Europe’s highest bank tax, introduced financial transaction levies and has forced banks to pay out billions of euros in compensation to borrowers for mispriced foreign currency loans.
But as the SNB decision to scrap the ceiling on the Swiss franc on Thursday sent the forint sliding a record low against the franc on currency markets, Mr Orban’s policies came in for some rare praise. Read more
By Henry Foy in Warsaw
Pride and relief mixed on the streets of Warsaw the morning after Polish prime minister Donald Tusk’s election to the top of Europe’s political hierarchy, after seven years leading a country that is unsure of whether he would have remained in charge.
Mr Tusk’s selection as the new President of the European Council late on Saturday gives Poland the most important global political position in its history and confirms its rise to the continent’s top table.
But with his domestic ratings in the doldrums approaching a general election that his party will likely struggle to win, most are happy to wish him well on his way.
Poland has made such impressive progress since the end of communism in 1989 that its political elite like to think of their country as part of “northern Europe”, on a par with prosperous, well-governed places like Germany and Sweden, rather than “eastern Europe” (i.e., Macedonia or Romania) or “southern Europe” (Greece or Italy).
But in one respect it now turns out that Poland has more in common with, say, Italy than it might wish. Read more
My brother has a small Chinese vase standing on his mantle – an antique that tells us something about Russia‘s centuries-old techniques for imposing its will on weaker neighbours.
The vase is a small remnant of what had been a much grander set of pottery originally given to Russia’s Catherine the Great by the Chinese emperor, and then handed to my ancestor, Szczesny Potocki, in return for his services. Read more
By Gideon Rachman
In theory, David Cameron and Radoslaw Sikorski should get on marvellously. Both the British prime minister and the Polish foreign secretary studied at Oxford and were members of the elite Bullingdon club, which specialises in dressing up, drinking, vomiting and vandalism. Both men have matured into robust conservatives. But last week we witnessed an unedifying dispute between the two politicians, sparked by Mr Cameron’s suggestion that Britain should not be paying child benefit to children living in Poland, even if their parents are working in Britain. In response, Mr Sikorski accused the British of stigmatising Polish immigrants and tweeted (in Polish) a suggestion that Poles in Britain should return home.
By Luisa Frey
♦ Many Iranians were disappointed after the recent failure to reach a nuclear deal, but instead of the country’s chief nuclear negotiator, Mohammad Javad Zarif, they are blaming France.
♦ This year’s Ashura celebrations look different in Beirut. Alongside the traditional tributes to the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein, posters show young men killed in Syria’s civil war.
♦ It is estimated that 48,000 people are missing in Syria – victims of forced disappearances, massacres and executions. DNA advances are now helping to identify bodies from mass graves and bring warlords to trial, says a special report from The Guardian.
♦ In Europe, Poland struggles to break its dependency on coal power. One of Europe’s most coal-reliant economies, the country is a rather unlikely host for this week’s UN meeting on climate change.
♦ If ECB does not act, the euro risks resembling the yen of the 1990s and 2000s, says Mansoor Mohi-uddin, managing director of foreign exchange strategy at UBS.
♦ In China, population aging has not only social outcomes, but also affects economic performance and the country’s international competitiveness, writes Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations. Read more
Add Poland to the list of European Union countries turned off by the incoherent, self-isolating policies of Britain’s Conservative-led government towards Europe.
First there was Germany. Chancellor Angela Merkel restricts her visits to the UK these days to the barest minimum. She has been lukewarm about David Cameron, the UK prime minister, ever since he pulled the Conservative party out of the pan-European centre-right European People’s Party (EPP), of which her Christian Democrats are a leading light.
Next came France. President François Hollande hasn’t forgotten how Cameron refused to meet him when he visited London on an election campaign trip earlier this year. Hollande is not inclined to do Cameron any favours on crucial issues such as the protection of British interests in a more deeply integrated Europe. Read more
Euro 2012: Football and politics in Poland and Ukraine
With the European football championship reaching its climax this week, we look at how Poland and Ukraine have fared by hosting the tournament. Neil Buckley, east Europe editor, Jan Cienski, Warsaw correspondent and Simon Kuper, the FT columnist covering the tournament, join Gideon Rachman.
A still from BBC Panorama's 'Euro 2012: Stadiums of Hate'. BBC/PA Wire
These are sensitive times in Poland.
Polish media spent most of Tuesday in hand-wringing outrage over a BBC Panorama documentary highlighting the problems of football-related racist violence in both Poland and Ukraine – little over a week before they host the Euro 2012 championships. Read more