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Polish "jokes" came from Nazi propaganda

 
 
literarypoland
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 06:27 am
@georgeob1,
Freedom is just a lofty word, and rebellions start because of high prices, difficult living conditions, great differences in incomes. Poland had democratic chaos in the 1990s and then started to look for a "strong man". In the early 2000s Miller and Lepper were strong, quasi-Communist left-wingers. Gradually, Kaczynski emerged, a right-winger preaching law and justice. But there have been no political prisoners, if this is the basic sign of democracy, though Lepper was under arrest for some time in the mid-1990s.

The most serious riots provoked by Lepper were in Bartoszyce in 1999:

"In August, 200 police officers using excessive
(but legal) means trying to clear a
road blocked by tractors. A crowd responded
with throwing stones at police officers
who proceeded to use rubber bullets.
About 80 police officers were injured,
six of them seriously. Several dozen protesters
also needed medical treatment. According
to the police, the crowd " angry
and partly drunk " had been about to
lynch two policemen. Property to the
value of about PLZ 100,000 (U.S.$
24,325) was destroyed during the riot. The
Prosecutor’s Office in Bartoszyce instituted
proceedings in a case of assault against
police officers.18
http://www.ihf-hr.org/viewbinary/viewdocument.php?doc_id=3240

Bartoszyce is not an accidental place. A remote town with unemployment of 30 or 40%, the only real job is smuggling goods from Russia, very close to the Russian border, a good place for being the center of discontent.
Poles love it - opposition, charismatic leader, let's attack the police, the poor fight for their rights. A rebellious nation just looking for a cause, and the cause is often unjust foreign domination.

Now the man is out of politics, but did some damage to democracy in Poland, by organizing the poor, and had 25% support around 2002. Things changed when Poles were allowed to work in Britain and Ireland in 2004. The most desperate, 2 million people, emigrated there. This swung the balance to the right, now the left is very weak, Ireland-like.
But it's enough that a serious scandal breaks out for the ruling party to totally lose support. People here love to vote against the government. So far, Tusk's business government is pretty stable, but personally I'm waiting for the big scandal. What will it be? And who will profit?

Who supports such activists as Lepper? Those who have an interest in weakening Poland. But he wasn't financed from abroad. Just founded an independent trade union, just like Walesa, and acted. Why did he destroy the coalition with Kaczynski - a big question, maybe just two personalities clashed.
The point is that the man was ridiculed as a primitive village guy by "serious" politicians from Warsaw, and because of recession quickly became a major force. Maybe he had read "Mein Kampf"? Now it's history, after a sex scandal he has no support.
nimh
 
  2  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 06:48 am
@georgeob1,
georgeob1 wrote:
Life is unfair and it ends in death. Capitalism has many defects, but its alternatives are far worse.

Eh - as you said yourself, "even in this area there are variations from time to time and country to country". It's not like the only choice one has is between capitalism and communism. There are plenty of variations of social market economies and mixed economies that avoid the excesses of ever escalating inequality we have seen, in the US and Eastern Europe in particular, over the last twenty years. In short, literarypoland's question whether capitalism really needs to be such a high pyramid is valid and can't be answered by a simple opposition of the harms of communism vs capitalism.

georgeob1 wrote:
The social and economic mobility that result from capitalism compensate beneficially for some of its defects.

Except that economic mobility in the US, for example (dont know about Europe) is now lower than it was a generation ago. So while the basic shift from communism to capitalism may be benefitial in this regard, there may well be no such benefit in shifting from the more mixed and egalitarian economy we had 20, or even more 40 years ago to the spiralling inequalities of today's economy.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  2  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 07:15 am
@georgeob1,
georgeob1 wrote:
Who did the menial jobs under communism? Did the state simply declare that they were no longer menial and that all jobs were somehow "equivalent"?

I'm not sure what literarypoland's point about menial labour and immigrants was, but there has of course been a great shift between communism and today's system in the valuation of labour.

Being a worker under communism got you the security of always having a job (no matter how pointless), and depending on the country you lived in, a decent standard of living. In a country like Hungary, for example (admittedly the "happiest barrack of the camp"), a worker didn't need to worry about having enough money to pay the rent, the heating and food as well.

Living standards for workers plummeted in the 1990s, to depths not known in decades. Mass unemployment emerged as industries closed wholesale now they were no longer state subsidised and had to compete with global imports. When industrial employment as a whole collapses, it's hardly a question of how "one can be degraded only by himself and the choices he makes": only the lucky few who were young and agile enough to go from steel worker to administrative assistant could escape that trap.

Things are somewhat better in the 00s than they were in the 90s, though the current crisis is again hitting those with lower qualifications hardest (and we simply dont all have the capacities to get a university degree). Meanwhile, the costs for heating, electricity etc rose immensely the last few years, here in Hungary at least, as subsidies were abolished and prices made conform with the market, so people are losing their flats.

Now I just know that right now, your fingers are already on the keyboard to write, well go take communism back then if you think things were so much better then -- or, how come people dont want communism back then? But that would be a facile answer. As it happens, polls throughout the mid- and late 1990s did show something like 40-50% of people through much of Central Europe saying life under the old regime was better (no idea what the numbers are now), but even most of them realised you cant just turn back the clock. And that there were a great many bad things about the old system that you'd definitely not want back. Communism had its own, deeper and larger array of degradations it inflicted upon its subjects.

But there are vary valid reasons to be unhappy about how things have worked out since. It's been very good for the young, the well-educated and the white-collar workers. And of course many people who worked in factories and the like did make it through to white collar jobs now. But thats hardly just been a matter of willpower; there are questions of simple capacity involved, and cultural shifts that put whole classes of people suddenly by the wayside as unattractive to the new labour market.

For older workers and for pensioners (who in many countries saw their savings evaporate in mass inflation and the value of their pension drop to below poverty levels), for heavy industry labourers, for workers in the provinces (not everyone can come to the capital, though they're sure trying), and above all for Roma (who have gone from neglected but mostly employed to almost collectively unemployed and impoverished and targeted by escalating nationalist violence), it's been bad to very bad.

Does all of this mean we should get the old system back? No of course not, that's silly. But it does lay bare serious defects in the new system as it has been implemented that need to be tackled. And it does mean that a lot of people have very valid reasons to be unhappy with the new system that can not be addressed by mere pieties about how capitalism leaves everyone the master of his own destiny, and such ideological pablum. They deserve more respect than that.
nimh
 
  2  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 07:30 am
@literarypoland,
literarypoland wrote:
In the early 2000s Miller and Lepper were strong, quasi-Communist left-wingers. Gradually, Kaczynski emerged, a right-winger preaching law and justice. But there have been no political prisoners, if this is the basic sign of democracy, though Lepper was under arrest for some time in the mid-1990s.

Yeah, in Hungary the irony is -- and it's close to the same in many countries in the region -- that the voters threw out the incumbent government in every single election from 1990 to 2002. In every election, in 1994, 1998 and 2002, they voted in the opposition party that promised to steer the economic reforms in a more social direction, to moderate the excesses and the economic brutalities. And after every election, that party went on to govern the economy exactly like the previous one, ditching all its election promises and focusing instead on cultural issues to distinguish itself from the other side.

One might say that this just showed there was no choice, no alternative. I doubt it, but maybe so. But is it any wonder that people have so completely lost their trust in the political system, and dangerously, in the concept of democracy itself? And that the political debate has degenerated into a total focus on cultural identities (true patriots vs cosmopolitan lefties, true Europeans vs dangerous rabble-rousers, etc)?

The fall of the communist dictatorships was good reason for celebration. But the politics and economies developed since are a graveyard of missed opportunities.

literarypoland wrote:
Who supports such activists as Lepper? Those who have an interest in weakening Poland.

Oh, bull. You just laid out yourself that there was plenty of native feeding grounds for someone like Lepper to emerge. No reason for paranoid theories about how people like him are fomented by foreign enemies.
literarypoland
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 08:37 am
@nimh,
"Yeah, in Hungary the irony is -- and it's close to the same in many countries in the region -- that the voters threw out the incumbent government in every single election from 1990 to 2002. In every election, in 1994, 1998 and 2002, they voted in the opposition party that promised to steer the economic reforms in a more social direction, to moderate the excesses and the economic brutalities. And after every election, that party went on to govern the economy exactly like the previous one, ditching all its election promises and focusing instead on cultural issues to distinguish itself from the other side.

One might say that this just showed there was no choice, no alternative. I doubt it, but maybe so. But is it any wonder that people have so completely lost their trust in the political system, and dangerously, in the concept of democracy itself? And that the political debate has degenerated into a total focus on cultural identities (true patriots vs cosmopolitan lefties, true Europeans vs dangerous rabble-rousers, etc)?

The fall of the communist dictatorships was good reason for celebration. But the politics and economies developed since are a graveyard of missed opportunities."

Well, the post-Communist Kwasniewski was elected as President twice in a row (1995-2005), the second time in the first round.
I believe that the government in Warsaw is one thing, and businesses another. Businesses are well-managed by their dictatorial owners, or often by foreign owners. They are separate from everyday politics. Maybe foreign investment just has brought some general stability to Poland.

Politicians are no longer the main TV stars, as was the case in the 1990s. The aims have been achieved - the EU, NATO - and now people concentrate on light entertainment, Italian-style.

But that Asian undercurrent is always here, admiration for dictators.
"Missed opportunities" - no, here we have just capitalism, with all its brighter and darker sides. Normalcy. But the volcanic forces are still at work.
The political discourse is no different now than in the rest of Europe. Yes, we have patriots, and we have cosmopolitans, let them clash.
In the 1990s, a weak Russia was in the background. But as members of the EU and NATO, we now feel some superiority towards Russia, our country cousins, who haven't taken full part in the transformations of the last two decades. For example, Russians don't go abroad too much, while in Poland almost every young person has been somewhere in Western Europe, it's like rites of passage, the Grand Tour.

Poland is cut off from Russia in most matters, unlike Latvia or Lithuania, or the Ukraine. Our economy hasn't suffered too much from the current crisis, unlike Hungary, the Baltic republics, the Ukraine, because of more rigour, maybe better legal foundations.

When I read about Putin's announcement that overgrown and unused railway lines in Siberia will be rebuilt, well, he sounds as if neglect was sth normal, and waste. But oil and gas allow him to speak like that. Now, Medvedev is softer, oil cheaper, Russia has become even less attractive as an example.

As to social equality, I've discovered recently the Gini coefficient:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_Coefficient_World_Human_Development_Report_2007-2008.png
Poland is normal, all post-Communist countries have retained some socialism, even Ethiopia after an anti-red uprising.

So you won't convince me that we have a failed region here. Just optimal progress, without excesses.
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 09:34 am
@literarypoland,
literarypoland wrote:
Well, the post-Communist Kwasniewski was elected as President twice in a row (1995-2005), the second time in the first round.

True, but look at the parliamentary elections. After the semi-free elections of 1989, the liberal/centrist wing of Solidarity became the dominant force in government under Prime Ministers Mazowiecki and Bielecki. But in the 1991 elections, the Poles instead elected a governmental majority of sorts, however fragmented it was, for the conservative/national camp. That didnt last long, as those guys were defeated in early elections in 1993 and the voters instead gave a parliamentary majority to the former communists and allies. That was a disappointment too, so in 1997 it was the conservatives again who won the elections, and built a governmental majority with the liberals. However, they didnt fulfill their promises either, so in 2001 the Poles elected the ex-communists and allies back into power. That was a mess, so in 2005 they threw them out and went for the hardcore rightwingers of the Kaczynski brothers. But that fell apart soon, so in early elections in 2007 they defeated those again and voted in the liberals.

Literally not one Polish government since 1989 has been reelected with a legislative majority. They were all thrown out again after one chance. So that's pretty much the same picture as in Hungary.

Quote:
The political discourse is no different now than in the rest of Europe. Yes, we have patriots, and we have cosmopolitans, let them clash.

Well that would be exactly how it is different - not in Poland, specifically, but in most of Central and Southeast Europe (the Czechs excepted), from how it is in Western Europe. The main faultline in Western Europe has been, ever since WW2, primarily a leftwing / rightwing axis on socio-economic policy. Thats why the free market liberal parties, which are culturally "cosmopolitan" minded, are usually counted as part of the right (eg the FDP in Germany, UDF in France, VVD in Holland, Venstre in Denmark, the Moderates in Sweden, etc, with Britain as the exception). The economic axis outweighs the cultural one.

Here in Hungary, there's plenty of bitter reproaches to and fro about economic policy, but the dividing faultline is very much a cultural one. National conservatives vs "Western" lefties. Hence why the free market cheerleaders of the liberal SzDSz are firmly considered to be part of the left. (Which is odd to me.) Same with Slovakia - throughout the 90s and early 00s, the main faultline was between the national-populist camp and their EU-friendly opponents. The former camp united the radical right with the populist authoritarians of PM Meciar and the hardcore lefties like those of the ZRS, while the latter camp united social-democrats and greens with christian-democrats and free market enthusiasts. The economic axis was completely subjugated to the cultural one.

And to some extent, is I guess what I was saying, that's only natural - I mean, no matter how often the voters elect parties into government that promise a more moderate or social economic course, they almost always got the same EU-, IMF- and World Bank-endorsed economic reforms back anyway. But it's not healthy, IMHO.
literarypoland
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 10:10 am
@nimh,
Some thoughts:
It's true that right-wing and left-wing govs have succeeded each other regularly every 4 years. But the 'social' division is quite clear, and these have been the same people for 20 years in each camp.
Conservatives once (2005-7) formed a coalition with the left-wing Self-Defence, but liberals would never do so, though a coalition between liberals and post-Communists is possible. A coalition between conservatives and post-Communists is impossible. Again, witness the case of Ireland, a nationalistic country where national unity is of foremost importance and everyone can create a coalition with everyone, e.g. the "Rainbow Coalition". Alliances shift, but it's the underlying patriotic cause that is important.
Hungary is a step behind Poland in that it doesn't see itself as a full member of Western Europe; it may just be the geographical location. These East European countries are highly nationalistic, threatened by Russia, by Germany, that's why nationalist parties are often so strong.
Yes, here also business is somehow close to the left, and both oppose the conservative nationalists. The left is atheist, caviar, runs own business operations, so it's pseudo-left basically, and in Poland has finally been marginalized.
But forget about "EU-, IMF- and World Bank-endorsed economic reforms". This era has ended. The reforms have ended in success.
And when people voted on the Civic Platform in Poland in 2007, it was not about some promised social benefits. This was a vote against provincionalism, pro-world, pro-business, pro-EU. Maybe a desire for "technocratic businessmen". And now I fear that those businessmen will concoct some gigantic money scandal.
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 12:42 pm
@literarypoland,
literarypoland wrote:

Conservatives once (2005-7) formed a coalition with the left-wing Self-Defence, but liberals would never do so, though a coalition between liberals and post-Communists is possible. A coalition between conservatives and post-Communists is impossible.

Well quite, you're kind of making my point here. Free marketeers can govern together with ex-communists, and conservatives with a leftwing populist, because the cultural axis trumps the economic one.

Quote:
And when people voted on the Civic Platform in Poland in 2007, it was not about some promised social benefits. This was a vote against provincionalism, pro-world, pro-business, pro-EU. Maybe a desire for "technocratic businessmen".

True - that was arguably the first time since 1989 that people voted in favour of the side promising the more pro-market, reformist politics. Partly due to an enthusiasm gap: the poor, provincial and older voters stayed home in larger numbers than normal and the young, well-educated and ambitious came out in droves as never before ... all thanks to the implosion of the Kaczynski government.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 12:44 pm
@literarypoland,
literarypoland wrote:
As to social equality, I've discovered recently the Gini coefficient:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gini_Coefficient_World_Human_Development_Report_2007-2008.png

This was interesting, btw. Striking how the People's Republic of China has a higher inequality than any nearby country (including Taiwan and Hong Kong).
0 Replies
 
georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 12:47 pm
@Francis,
Francis wrote:

George, in his religious belief of capitalism virtues, wrote:
Freedom, doesn't insure an happy outcome, but it makes one responsible for his fate.

If only it was that simple!
But it doesn't take into account the Brownian motion of human nature, which makes the fate of a single individual unpredictable, whatever his good dispositions be..
At most, capitalism allows individuals escape a miserable fate.


In the first place my preference for capitalism isn't based on absolutes, nor does it involve anything like a religious fervor. I merely regard it as far better than the known alternatives (certainly better than those being discussed here) and more compatible with my own desire for autonomy (even if it is imperfect and partly illusory).

I readily agree that our our freedom, responsibility and fates are circumscribed by things over which we have no control and deeply entwined in ways that none of us fully understands.

I did like your elegant phrase - "the Brownian motion of human nature, which makes the fate of a single individual unpredictable, whatever his good dispositions be..". However, I do note that the metaphor presumes to bridge some intractable philosophical questions. Brownian motion involves the average behavior of individual events that can be treated as truly random on a micro level and described with great and reliable precision on a macro level - in different places and over extended periods of time - by the statistics of random variables. That is not true of human behavior. (Even poor old Max Boltzman who developed statistical thermodynamics and the quantification of entropy, ended up blowing his brains out. His loyal academic associates - who earlier castigated his work -redeemed themselves by carving his famous equation S = K Log W on his tombstone.)

However, I agree with you that good intentions in this life don't insure a good outcome, and that the relationships between our thoughts, actions, and fates (as well as we can really know them) involve, at best, a great deal of irony. I have found no comprehensive, rational explanation for this in the observable world. The creation of such models requires additional postulates that cannot be proven in our terms with any certainty. Accepting or rejecting them is a matter of individual choice - at least for those so preoccupied.

Despite this I (and you as well, I suspect) am conscious of the choices I have made and those yet before me. I also recognize and (usually) accept responsibility for the (sometimes limited) consequences these choices have on my subsequent thoughts, actions and situation. Moreover I value this autonomy - however limited it may be - very highly. I suspect you do the same.
0 Replies
 
georgeob1
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 01:09 pm
@nimh,
Nimh has accurately described some of the unfortunate and bad consequences that befell some classes of people and some age groups in the transition from socialism/communism to capitalism in eastern Europe, and implied that these effects necessarily point to an inherent defect in capitalism.

It is noteworthy here that the communists and socialists of the early 20th century didn't acknowledge the often violent catastrophies they actively imposed on the landowning and bourgeois classed following their transition to power as an inherent defect of socialism. They explicitly treated it as a necessary fact of an otherweise beneficial revolutionary transition.

Perhaps we can here agree that some such dislocations are a common (if not inevitable) fact that accompanies such transitions, and that the merits (or lack of them) of the subsequent system should be heavily based on other factors as well.

I don't believe or assert that capitalism is either without inherent defects or even the best of all possible systems. Instead I believe that history and our own experience show us that it is more compatable with human nature and generally delivers much better economic results for more people than its currently available alternatives.

There are and have been lots of variations of capitalism in the world, some more successful or with fewer apparent defects than others. However, to my knowledge we haven't yet found a variant that is proven to be decidedly superior over an extended time and over repeated cycles, and also desired and acceptable to all cultures. There is lots of room for argument here about the interplay of cultural norms, preferences and this or that variation or limitation on capitalism. We could argue about them endlessly, but I don't think that is the subject here.
literarypoland
 
  1  
Reply Sat 21 Mar, 2009 02:09 pm
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_exZCp40x9w

Martial law in Poland - 1981-83. Society against the authorities.
0 Replies
 
nimh
 
  1  
Reply Sun 22 Mar, 2009 07:31 pm
@georgeob1,
Hey George, Literarypoland just revived a thread that might amuse you - just in case you hadnt read about the subject already - Entropa - Derailing Europe
0 Replies
 
 

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