I expect that very few readers here have heard of Helena Wolinska-Brus.
Here she is. A Polish Jewish woman (or even a Jewish Polish woman) who narrowly escaped death in the Warsaw Ghetto and went on to become a ruthless post-WW2 Stalinist prosecutor, sending various Polish patriots to their murky deaths.
The Marxist Wheel of History turned. Poland's communist elite also turned against even the most loyal if not servile Jewish members in their midst. Thousands of 'Zionists' were effectively driven out of the country. Wolinska-Brus and her husband alas made it to the UK in the mid-1960s and stayed here until they died, enjoying benign liberal middle-class academic life in Oxford.
The one problem they faced was the end of communism and later attempts by the new democratic Polish authorities to extradite Wolinska-Brus back to Poland to answer for her Soviet-era misdeeds. Amazingly W-B used the argument that as a Jew she should not be returned to the “country of Auschwitz and Birkenau” where she would not have a fair trial.
It is also true that she was a war hero of sorts: she escaped from the Warsaw ghetto, and later escaped again from a train headed for a concentration camp. “I slipped off and just walked away slowly,” she says. “I knew I would die anyway if I stayed on the train. But they didn’t shoot.” Eventually, she came to be in charge of the office of the General Staff of the People’s Guard, and was afterwards duly decorated by communist Poland, and, according to her husband, by communist Hungary as well.
It is also true, however, that many Poles deeply resent Jews who use their Jewishness as an excuse when they are accused of other crimes. Maria Fieldorf Czarska, the General’s daughter, says bitterly that she doubts Mrs Brus will ever come to trial: “she will say she is old, she will say she is ill, she will say we are anti-semitic.” ...
This Polish view matters, because it is Polish justice which is at stake. This isn’t an Anglo-Saxon debate, anymore than is the debate about the extradition of General Pinochet: the exploration of a totalitarian past isn’t a British passion.
One Polish government official formulates the problem like this: “Just because Jews were victims of crimes against humanity, does that mean they cannot be tried for crimes against humanity themselves?” That is not a British question, and few British people would ask it. But now it will be Britain’s problem to resolve.
In the end the many procedural hurdles that an extraditing state needs to overcome proved too high for Poland. HW-B battled away in the English courts and the case drifted to and fro depending on how zealous successive Polish governments were in pursuing it. The case crossed my desk when I was Ambassador in Warsaw and Radek Sikorski was Defence Minister - he made another push to effect a successful extradition before it was too late.
Eventually HW-B died in late 2008, and that was that.
This is an extraordinary story, when you think about it. Vigorous efforts continue to track down and bring to trial elderly Nazi war crimes suspects while they are still alive. I can't think of a case of a former communist monster being extradited to face justice.
As the HW-B case shows, in such cases the individual accused of crimes against humanity typically turn the tables, using liberal legal defences to fend off extradition and making the general case that after so much time any trial for events decades earlier in utterly different circumstances can not be substantively fair.
This trite appeal to 'fairness' argument may win some instinctive sympathy from the public, as well as benefit from active support from those who for one reason or another want to see Soviet crimes left quietly unearthed.
Yet we never hear much of the 'fairness' argument as delivered on behalf of the victims of such people by their surviving friends and relatives. Nor do we hear much about the value-in-itself of symbolic justice - the very fact that people like HW-B stand on trial and have to stare at the documents they themselves signed, describing their wicked deeds as servants of a wicked system.
Poland for many decades was carved up between the Tsarist Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Prussian Empire. How have the very different political and social cultures of those three areas affected Polish politics today?
Prussia, which was more developed economically, industrialised its Polish part more than Russia and Austria did. The Habsburgs gave substantial administrative and cultural autonomy to their Polish territories: Catholics practised freely, Polish-language schools were common, and Poles were allowed to participate in local administration. Russia stood out in terms of its severe oppression of the Catholic church. Prussia and Russia applied nation-building policies to their Polish territories by forbidding Polish schools.
As these drastically differing economic and social policies were applied for over a century in areas that belonged initially to the same country, with a common ethnic mix, culture, and formal institutions, the partition of Poland could be considered a giant historical experiment...
... empires do have a significant causal effect. First, the once-Russian part of Poland today votes significantly more for post-communist parties and significantly less for post-Solidarity parties compared to the Prussian and Austrian areas; second, voters on the Russian side are also significantly less liberal in their political preferences compared to those on the Austrian side
And so on. To judge by the diagrams and graphs, some of the correlations are indeed striking or at least look so.
One important historical influence is not covered in this analysis, namely the more or less forced migration into what is now Poland of hundreds of thousands of people after WW2 when Poland lost territory in the East but gained it in the West. Such people and their now rootless communities tended (I gather) to end up in more neglected parts of the countryside, so perhaps not surprisingly came to favour a more favourable view of 'social' programmes and state support and support political parties purporting to offer this. The study tries to avoid this complicating fact by looking at areas of Poland where the population was 'relatively stable throughout history'. Hmm.
Plus the study cited looks at the 2007 election results in Poland where the results favoured different 'centre right' or at least anti-left parties, PO and PiS. How to account for the 2001 elections where the centre-left SLD won strongly across the country? What would a similar breakdown of the results by geography show then?
More generally would we expect cultural differences between places to echo down the ages? Yes. Why not?
Take Serbia. Northern Serbia has inherited the advantage of the boring and thorough property title regime of the Austro-Hungarian empire, whereas much of Serbia south of Begrade had a very different Ottoman tradition to land ownership documentation. These diverging approaches to proving who owns what must affect all sorts of ways people behave and their attitudes to investment and continuity, even without them knowing it.
The past influences the present. Some places are more isolated and so (perhaps) more conservative in the sense of being slower to change, as less in fact changes there. But it's not easy to prove exactly where and how these effects work. No surprise there.
The EU has annual budget rows. But the big row comes around every seven years, when the so-called Financial Framework for the coming seven-year period falls be negotiated. The next financial framework period is from 2014 to 2020. The figures agreed for that period set ceilings on what might be spent in forthcoming annual budgets. The UK like every other member state has a veto on these large Financial Framework decisions. Annual budgets are decided by EU-style majority voting.
Thus the current excitement. Two important, separate but related negotiations are going on at the same time. One is for the annual spending in 2013 under the current Framework. The other is for the 2014-2020 Framework as a whole...
... London and a group of other capitals have stood firm and deployed a solid blocking minority to stop the increases in the 2013 budget as proposed by the Commission and European Parliament. The European Parliament flounced out of the meeting and was last seen lying on an expensive divan calling weakly for more smelling salts.
When these EU budgets are agreed (or not) everyone naturally focuses on the headline figures, and tries to claim victory or apportion blame accordingly. But this is only part of the story. The tough stand taken by the key contributors on the 2013 budget is in fact a major achievement, as it comes after several years of new discipline that is bringing home the overall spend well beneath the projected Framework ceiling: up to €60 billion that the EU might have spent between 2007-2013 in fact will not have been spent, representing a substantial saving to the largest budgetary net contributors such as the UK.
This helps explain why it is not in the interests of large net funding recipients (such as Poland) for the matter to drag on without agreement. Holding out for a larger budget overall may lead to a worse outcome: it's no good having the hope of more money if realistically that money can't be allocated and spent in the time available...
Which, perhaps, explains this remarkable statement by Radek Sikorski, Poland's Foreign Minister:
Speaking on the Hardtalk TV programme, he said Poland agreed that EU spending levels should be frozen - but based on the 2013 figure plus inflation, not based on the 2011 budget figure. "Britain's position is different, I'm afraid. It wants to take as the base a single annual budget, and an artificially low one - 2011 - and not even the budget, but the actual expenditure, and the budget was underspent. That amounts to a very drastic cut of 200bn [euros]. This is why Britain is so different from the position of the Commission and all the other states," he said.
Now THAT's progress. When everyone is arguing not for huge increases but rather about what baseline is used to measure what a 'freeze' actually is.
Although, of course, if you define a freeze cunningly enough you may get some large increases anyway haha. Luckily we are alert to that. I hope.
The key thing in any negotiation is to shift the discussion on to the intellectual terrain that suits you. And so far London, supported more or less openly by various other capitals, is doing just that. As expected. After all, it's our money that goes a long way to make up the pot drawn down by others.
While you are an important market for the rest of the EU, accounting for about 11% of the rest of the EU’s trade, your trade with the EU is 50% of your total trade. No prizes for guessing who would have the upper hand in such a negotiation...
So think hard: the EU is a market of 500 million people who enjoy the highest average standard of living in the world. According to the IMF and the World Bank, Europe’s GDP is about 2.5 times than that of China and nine times that of India. Do you want to lose your privileged access to that market?
... Yes, the UK outside the EU would have more freedom of manoeuvre, in a number of significant respects. But the UK would be less powerful and less free.Certainly Britain would lose its influence in many international forums. By negotiating as one bloc in world trade talks, the European Union gives all of us, the UK included, a powerful and united voice to use when speaking to China and the USA. If you leave, you lose that...
Britain standing alone would suffer not only on multilateral level. Are you sure that you will command the same kind of attention in, say, Kuala Lumpur, Lagos and Bogota? What about Washington? At the moment, your hosts know that you speak on behalf of London and have an influence to shape decisions taken in Brussels on behalf of the whole continent as well. Alone, you won’t be so interesting...
You could, if only you wished, lead Europe’s defence policy. But if you refuse, please don’t expect us to help you wreck or paralyze the EU.
Do not underestimate our determination not to return to the politics of the 20 century. You were not occupied. Most of us on the continent were. We will do almost anything to prevent that from happening again.
It's not difficult to see why. Poland wants to be with Germany and France as partners, leading a strong, democratic European political-economic space. We do not want to be a buffer between Western Europe and a less democratic Eurasian political-economic space dominated by Russia.
More importantly, we believe the Eurozone will survive, because it is its members interest for it to survive. The leaders of Europe will step up operational integration at the European level. The new institutional arrangements within the EU will be different. But eventually they’ll be strong. They'll work because Europe’s leaders want them to work...
All of which is fine as far as it goes. But the speech seemed to me to steer wide of the key issues:
is the Eurozone sustainable even though European leaders insist it is?
Are EU voters going to put up with the increasingly desperate manoeuvres being made to keep things afloat?
And if heavily new centralised arrangements can be devised to keep the Eurozone going, will they be democratic in any sense that we understand the word?
Bootle is not shy about championing his highly unpopular view. "The euro is a depression-making machine," he tells Fortune. "The politicians keep throwing money to support the weaker nations' debt problem. They never talk about restoring growth. Far from a disaster, a breakup of the euro is the only way to bring back growth and get Europe out of this mess. It can't happen soon enough."
... But the continued bailouts are just buying time. Even economists who dread a euro breakup admit that it will probably happen eventually unless Germany and other healthy nations provide far greater support to their weak neighbors. "Europe needs to create federal-style debt shared by all the eurozone members," says Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis. "If that doesn't happen, the eurozone will probably dissolve."
The bet here is that Bootle is right and that the euro will fracture in the next few years. The result will be extremely messy in the immediate aftermath, bringing severe hardship to the exiting countries -- a rash of bankruptcies, giant defaults on sovereign debt, and temporary panic in world stock markets.
But the pain that a breakup compresses into a one-time shock will happen anyway if weak nations remain in the euro. It will simply stretch over a number of years and turn out far worse. As Bootle argues, Europe must choose growth, and a split in the euro will bring it back with surprising speed.
So the answer to the eloquent Sikorski argument is that it misses the point. Yes, there are plenty of good reasons for the UK to stay within a formal EU framework much as it is now (just as there are some good reasons for some sharp-edged changes to that framework).
But what is increasingly on offer is very different. A radically centralised Eurozone that puts democracy very much in a post-modern mysterious subservient place and under the control of mainly unelected European officials and central bankers. A Eurozone in which huge transfers of wealth occur from richer Europeans to less richer Europeans without any clear-cut political legitimacy.
I have written here previously on Message, Structure, Story and Signposts in public speaking. See eg here.
This piece (c/o the ever-excellent Browser) is a super look at how to structure a movie plot by telling a simple story. It works for speeches too:
Here is my detailed description of the steps on the circle. I'm going to get really specific, and I'm not going to bother saying, "there are some exceptions to this" over and over. There are some exceptions to everything, but that's called style, not structure.
You (a character is in a zone of comfort)
Need (but they want something)
Go (they enter an unfamiliar situation)
Search (adapt to it)
Find (find what they wanted)
Take (pay its price)
Return (and go back to where they started)
Change (now capable of change)
Simple? Yes. But read the whole thing to see how the variations can be spun:
In Die Hard, John McClaine is advised by a terrorist to whom he earlier showed mercy: "The next time you have a chance to kill someone, don't hesitate." John shoots him several times and thanks his corpse for the advice. The cop has begun to fall away, piece by piece, revealing his inner cowboy.
The man in the pouring rain opens his trunk, revealing a pile of laundry and fast food garbage. He tries moving it around, but finally his frustration takes over and he begins tossing things over his shoulder, emptying the contents of his trunk on the side of the road.
We are headed for the deepest level of the unconscious mind, and we cannot reach it encumbered by all that crap we used to think was important...
Off to Romania for the first time today. To Paltinis in Transylvania in fact, for a Young Markets conference looking at the exciting future of markets and trading.
This one came about because Patrick Young, a huge expert and innovator when it comes to trading, liked this website. More please!
An interesting and instructive visit to Riga for this year's Riga Conference. Thoughts.
First, Riga itself. Latvia took an enormous (and partly self-imposed) hit as the Euro zone crisis began, opting for radical austerity measures. Views now differ. Yes, the economy is growing once again at a pretty good rate. But did they heavily overdo it? Today’s growth is from a notably lower and weaker base.
The main problem is emigration. Latvia is a small country with some two million people and cannot afford to see people drifting away for better opportunities elsewhere in Europe. Even the heart of Riga seems oddly un-busy, with neither people nor cars bustling around. Riga is now a superb place to buy a smart Art Deco apartment at prices that are derisory by UK standards. But do you want to live/invest in a country that may be evaporating?
The Riga Conference series started in 2006 when Latvia hosted a NATO Summit. It aspires to be a significant European forum for discussing strategic economic and security issues. It faces competition from Estonia’s annual Lennart Meri conferences. Seasoned European conference-goers seem to find the Estonian events rather sassier/sharper (eg the conference wifi there works 100%).
But this year's Riga event mainly did the business. It started with two sessions on the Eurozone and its various problems. The first was opened by the Latvian and Lithuanian Prime Ministers and Estonia's feisty President Ilves, complete with sardonic American accent (he was brought up in the USA) and snazzy bow tie. They argued in unambiguously positive terms that the euro was a strong currency backed by strong resolve: recent ECB decisions and the Dutch election results showed a new technical and popular awareness to take the responsible decisions needed going forward. The three Baltic states needed to be within the Eurozone, as outside it they were much more vulnerable to economic shocks.
The conference organisers had had the good idea to set up a live #RigaConf Twitter feed showing on screens in the conference hall. Alas the wifi arrangements were not up to the challenge for much of the time. However, as I managed to get a connection during this first session I thought that I would join the fun and tweeted a terse “Eurozone crisis? What Eurozone crisis?” say Baltic leaders observation, a witty and not unreasonable contribution promptly retweeted by various Twitter folk. This made President Ilves crossly complain that people needed to be accurate in reflecting what the speakers had said. Apologies, Mr President, but it's not what you say -- it's what they hear!
The Baltic leaders’ generally rosy views were countered by Prof Leszek Balzerowicz, author of Poland’s legendary Balzerowicz Plan that helped define central Europe's successful transition from communism. He argued with simple if not brutal logic that it was dangerous to keep piling on Eurozone bailout after bailout: the only tried and proven way forward lay in stepping up competition and getting rid of "19th century university practices".
The next session looked at Europe in the context of the global economy. For me the best contribution came from Croatia's foreign minister Vesna Pusic, who warned that the European Union Croatia was joining had changed markedly in recent years as it grappled with its internal problems: the EU’s "normative dimension" had declined and "talk of democracy is even embarrassing". It was striking to hear such a radical (and accurate) insight expressed so publicly. Another speaker suggested that the best long-term result for Europe was to accept a lesser role in a world dominated by Asian demographics and become Greater Switzerland: a well-run and sophisticated but unthreatening phenomenon with no wide ambitions for influence or control. I feel an article coming on ...
My own modest role at Riga 2012 was to join a panel on Protracted Conflicts (usually seen as those in the former Soviet Union - Nagorno-Karabakh, Georgia/Abkhazia and Transdnistria - as opposed to Cyprus or Serbia/Kosovo/Macedonia/Bosnia or even UK/Argentina).
Moldova's Foreign Minister Iurie Leanca came to the panel armed with a hopeless speech prepared by his team that he wisely abandoned in favour of some sensible extempore remarks. He, Matthew Bryza (experienced former US envoy) and Dr Martin Sieg (foreign policy adviser in the Bundestag) variously argued the case for Europe engaging actively with recalcitrant territories: isolation got nowhere and if anything made things worse. True.
I brought to the discussion some observations on the application of Negotiation Theory to these issues. What if some sort of new "federalised" Europe did emerge from the Eurozone crisis? Would that lead to reduced senior European attention on these problems (and therefore an easier hand for Russia to play)? Or might new options form for an outer ring of European integration, in a way which might be less zero-sum from Moscow's point of view and so offer some creative ideas for resolving these conflicts?
Day Two focused on the security dimension and the role of NATO. There is something dispiriting about conference sessions on NATO and the ritual expression of hopes that by spending less and less on defence European countries somehowmaintain military credibility. Julia Smith (adviser to Vice-President Biden) nonetheless gave an interesting account of just how much Washington continues to coordinate policies with Europe. Perhaps all is not quite yet lost?
The less said about the rambling lunchtime discussion on Afghanistan, the better.
The conference concluded with a lively session on Russia/Putin. Something about the tone of this session struck me as not quite right, with Moscow foreign policy expert Artem Malgin (MGIMO) isolated in fending off harsh criticism of Russia's leadership and policies from other panel members. Yes, there is plenty to complain about in Russia under current management. But you need to be smart about it. Arguing that Russia looks like "Nigeria with oil and missiles" is insulting/patronizing/annoying to both Nigeria and Russia.
Estonia’s President Ilves reappeared in the audience and did not enhance his reputation for statesmanship by asking a pointed polemical question about the way Russia used bribery to get its way. Lilia Shevtsova (Moscow Carnegie Endowment) sparkled in attacking anti-democratic trends in Russia, but suggested that Western leaders who took Russian money after they left office themselves might, ahem, be part of the problem.
Bobo Lo (leading Australian analyst and writer on Russia/China) had most of the best lines. He made the telling and convincing point that Russia's current approach to foreign and economic policy was incoherent even in its own terms. Thus Russia's envy for the Chinese economic model completely missed the point that much of it was bottom-up, market-based growth. Likewise Russia time and again failed to use its undoubted diplomatic muscle to get sensible outcomes in places like Syria and thereby build a different, more flexible and modern form of global influence.
Good event, scope for improvement in intellectual and organizational focus. Fine seasonal Latvian mushroom soup. My thanks to the organizers for inviting me and to the Radisson Blu Elizabete hotel team for quickly locating my spectacles as left in my room when I checked out.
Ann Althouse reminds us of a fascinating account of what was going on in President Gerald Ford's mind when back in 1976 he made his ruinous observation (at least probably ruinous for his election chances) that there was "no Soviet domination of Eastern Europe":
JIM LEHRER: Let's go back at the time you said that. I'm sure you've replayed this in your mind a million times. I don't have to remind you what happened. You gave that answer, and then there was a follow-up, and you repeated it, so my question is did you have any idea that you had said something wrong?
PRESIDENT GERALD FORD: Not at the time. Not at the time, because as you may remember, I included Yugoslavia, and Hungary, I believe, and Poland in the initial answer, and I said the Soviet Union does not dominate these countries. They're autonomous, and of course, it related to an earlier comment I had made about the Helsinki accord, which had established the borderlines of all the Eastern and Western European countries. So at the time, I did not feel that I had made an error. In retrospect, obviously, the inclusion of a sentence or maybe a phrase would have made all the difference in the world.
It seems that he wanted to convey the idea that Soviet psychological domination would never succeed in these plucky places. Though that is not what in fact he said.
And even then it made no sense to put Hungary and Poland as two Warsaw Pact countries (whose political, security and military systems were for most practical purposes steered by Moscow) in with supposedly 'non-aligned' Titoist Yugoslavia. 'Autonomous'? No.
Still, central and eastern Europe are tricky places, where a misplaced word or phrase can create a serious mess. As now President Obama has found with his bungled 'Polish death camp' remark. Look at this Telegraph piece and behold the nearly 1400 comments, and rising (the effect of a Drudgealanche)
I've mentioned here previously the fact that Polish diplomats are under strict instructions to remonstrate strongly against any use of the expression 'Polish concentration camps' or the like to refer to the Nazi death camps built on Polish territory during WW2.
Well, they have a fine opportunity to take this issue up with President Obama whose dopey speechwriters led him straight into this blunder at a high profile occasion to honour the memory of a distinguished Polish-American, Jan Karski:
Storms in Poland!
President Komorowski has written to President Obama on the subject. PM Tusk has spoken in strong words. Foreign Minister Sikorski has taken a swipe at the "ignorance and incompetence" displayed at this ceremony.
The President was referring to Nazi death camps operated in Poland. The President has demonstrated in word and deed his rock-solid commitment to our close alliance with Poland.” – Tommy Vietor, NSC Spokesman
America's damage control can be impressively prompt. But not doing the damage in the first place is even better.
Here is the transcript of the President's remarks from the White House website. I have seen some suggestions that the official version is being changed to reflect Polish sensitivities, but as of noon UK time today the original offending phrase is still there.
An unfortunate lapse, and precisely the wrong occasion for it.
Obama Memo to Self: smack those speechwriters round their cheeky heads and get them to do some checking. What is this crap? Hillary Clinton??!!??
But I wonder if the sheer intensity of the Polish reaction to what was an easy mistake to make if you're not familiar with the politics of the issue might not be counterproductive. If I were the White House senior people, I'd be thinking that the reaction from Warsaw has exploded from being reasonable to downright annoying if not provocative, not least because it opens a new line of attack for Republicans.
If old clichés have any traction at all anymore, it is in the vast Polish countryside, which lags behind urban development and remains caught up in bigotry and prejudice. A trip toward the Ukrainian border is a journey into a period many believed Poland had already left behind. The rule of thumb is that the farther one travels to the east, the worse the roads, the more decrepit the villages, the higher the unemployment and the more grinding the poverty.
This is where the Kaczyski (sic) party recruits its potential voters, about 20 to 25 percent of the electorate. Tough government spending cuts tend to be particularly devastating in these hinterlands -- such as the recent move to raise the retirement age to 67. Poland isn't completely out of the woods yet.
Cars are lined up for several kilometers at the border with Ukraine, which is co-hosting the European Football Championship with Poland. Each vehicle is checked, and the wait is about 24 hours. Those who hope to be processed more quickly can expect to pay bribes. It's as if the German-Polish border had moved 600 kilometers to the east since Poland joined the EU and the visa-free travel Schengen zone, complete with the wild markets, and smuggling of cigarettes and liquor. Ukraine is now to Poland what Poland once was to Germany -- it is viewed as the slightly backward eastern neighbor.
Furthermore, just as Berlin behaved as Warsaw's generous advocate, Warsaw is now playing the benevolent sponsor of Kiev. Unfortunately, since the end of the Orange Revolution, official Ukraine is no longer necessarily interested in shifting further to the West.
But the people are voting with their feet. Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians live more or less continuously in Poland, taking advantage of opportunities in the low-wage sector. They take care of children and the elderly, help out in hospitals and toil on construction sites in booming Polish cities. The migrant workers do not have a poor image in Poland. And many of them, upon returning to Ukraine from Poland, believe that they have seen the Promised Land -- so clean, so efficient and so future-oriented.
Poland - where 'Europe' not only means something great, but also works in practice?
It is simply not on to propagate my original ideas (which are well-known and well-publicised in the public domain) as somebody else's (even if it is over a year after my original publication). Please publish the correction on your web site (as my comment was not accepted).
What? Was this Mr Pytel somehow suggesting that I wrote my piece about deregulated partnerships in a way designed not to give him credit for the idea?
I put this question to Mr P and had the following exchange with him:
Dear Mr Pytel,
A somewhat intemperate message. Questions.
Are you suggesting that the piece to which I linked by Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry also is propagating your 'original idea'?
And that I knew about your original idea but deliberately did not give any attribution?
Is it possible that among the tens of thousands of smart people round the world looking at these financial issues a number of them may reach similar conclusions (eg on the need for less regulation) independently?
Your comment awaits clarification in the sense above.
PS Are you part-Polish?
Dear Mr Crawford
Thank you very much for your e-mail. Let me respond in turn:
1. May I suggest you read Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry piece and my article which was published on my blog (around 250,000 readers) and Stockopedia:
Based on my current knowledge I have to say that it could be a case of plagiarism or incredible incompetence in checking other's relevant publications (which in the age of Google is simply trivial). Do you see any third option? If yes, please advice.
3. Well, I was not born yesterday. I would be more minded to accept this argument before the web search engines era. At present I am quite sceptical especially that when I have just typed "financial crisis" on bing.com search engine my blog was appearing on page 3. (At the time when I publish my blog posts when I searched for "financial crisis" on google or bing I saw my blog appearing on page 1 or 2.) My work have also been used as an academic source material/analysis, e.g.
I know that many people (from pupils to student to journalists) are searching the web for ideas and then some write about them as their own. I hope you were not born yesterday and will reflect on that from this perspective.
To summarise publishing ideas (in the public domain) is like with patents: checking first whether someone else has not done it before. In the age of internet search engines it is trivial. And if cock-ups happen (regardless of what's really behind them) a correction is in order.
The reason why I am concerned is that in the last 3 years I have published a lot of ideas on my blog which are regarded as original (or ahead of its time) by my readers (some of them quite well known and regarded): http://gregpytel.blogspot.co.uk/
However they have been discarded by the mainstream journalists and policy/decision makers. (I made sure they were made aware of them.) Now as the chickens are coining home to roost (e.g. Euro break up that I technically predicted in my analysis for the Arab Financial Forum in February 2010) and the mainstream analysts are catching up with things 3 years late I expect that many of my ideas will be published as somebody else's. Why? Not because they are novel in any sense but because they have a better access to media. My ideas were no good years ago when I published them and they will be called 'brilliant' as somebody else's (as, for example, Edward Lucas called Mr Gobry publication) some years later. Do you think it is fair on me (and my work)?
PS. Yes, I am actually Polish and British. I am a policy expert at Sobieski Institute. And we had met on a couple of occasions (although you might not remember it as you were the Ambassador).
Blimey (especially that last cryptic observation).
Dear Mr Pytel,
Not sure about that final observation! Would you like me to publish on my site this exchange too?
Dear Mr Crawford
Of course I will be happy if you publish it (as it puts the record straight). [I made a couple of corrections on the text below.]
BTW, do you honestly believe that a smart person who is able to come up with "original" ideas is not smart enough to do a basic research (prior to the publication) to check whether his/her idea is really that original (or, if not, it has to be attributed to someone else)? Is it not the first thing students are taught at universities about publications? And we live at the age of web search engines when this is really, really trivial (not when I studied 25 years ago when it was quite hard actually).
Draw your own conclusions... I am the last one to accuse anyone of anything without solid evidence but at the same time I have checked in my life students' work. At best it does not look good, it is embarrassing.
How not to respond to that?
Dear Mr Pytel,
I am the last one to accuse anyone of anything without solid evidence
Well, in your first message you basically accused me of using your ideas without attribution (without having any evidence whatsoever) and demanded a 'correction'! It is simply not on to propagate my original ideas (which are well-known and well-publicised in the public domain) as somebody else's (even if it is over a year after my original publication). Please publish the correction on your web site (as my comment was not accepted).
I'll get round to a piece on my site explaining these issues. I basically disagree with you on the substance.
It does not follow that if X independently comes up with an idea after Y does so, X should give credit to Y in some way or waste too much time searching to see how far X's idea is indeed original. Life's too short and ideas are not patented. And it is likely that many people looking at the current financial mess will come to conclude that there has been too much regulation and dispersal of risk - there is a huge bloc of work out there making just those points, and the claim that you have some sort of first-mover entitlement to be seen as the father of that thought (noble as it is) strikes me as a bit vain.
That said, there are issues of good manners and friendly etiquette, which get stricter as work is claimed to be more scholarly and reliant on other sources. So if some people have read you work and based their own published thoughts upon it without reasonable attribution, boo hiss to them.
In my case, I read that piece by P-E G and liked it and linked to it. Done. It's a blog, not a PhD thesis.
Phew. Last one:
Dear Mr Crawford
What I wrote was the statement of fact and that I was not happy with the situation and that I requested the correction. As a mathematician, who specialised for some time in semantics of languages, I must say that anything else was contextual and depended on mental predisposition of the reader (for which I cannot be responsible I suppose). Contextually I possibly think better about other people than average. I hope that my subsequent e-mails made my views clear.
I do not agree with your premise. If you were correct universities would be full with PhD theses which would be essentially the same and their authors would have claimed that they were not aware of others work. Publishing own ideas, whether is a PhD thesis or an article, (as I was told at good English university) always involves checking their originality (i.e. whether someone else did not come up with it earlier). And it was very simple to find me as the source the ideas we talk about. And if there is a cock-up, correction is in order.
You cannot patent ideas in terms of commercial use but the attribution of their source is in order.
I am pretty sure you know the power of the media. It is far more influential in real life than PhD theses. The fact that you linked to P-E G article not mine over a year earlier I guess proves my point. (I assume that you simply did not know my article even though it was published on Stockopedia.)
I am glad that you agreed: that "if some people have read you work and based their own published thoughts upon it without reasonable attribution, boo hiss to them." This deals with the case of plagiarism.
What about the case of not checking reasonably for originality of ideas? I think this is equally important. As from my perspective, as the original source of the idea, whether the reason is plagiarism or lack of reasonable check, the practical effect is the same. For example CNBS discusses P-E G's "ideas" as if they were NEW (never mind whether they were his).
Astonishing though it may seem to most thinking people, I have never heard of Stockpedia and so, yes, I was unaware of GP's article there when I wrote my first thoughts (modest as they were) on deregulated partnerships. Nothing to see here folks. You can move along now. Over and out.
Back in the mid-1980s I was the Foreign Office speechwriter working for Sir Geoffrey Howe. Exciting times. Mikhail Gorbachev was leading the Soviet Union in what looked like a strongly positive new direction. In Poland the Solidarity movement was down but not out. Communist Yugoslavia was quietly rotting, but the scale of decay was not widely understood. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were working to respond firmly but positively to these momentous changes.
Sir Geoffrey asked me to work up some speech ideas for an after-dinner event. I came up with the following vivid lines:
Imagine people locked up for many years in a dark, disgusting dungeon. Finally the light is turned on, and they are told they are free to leave. How will they react?
Will they be delighted that their ordeal is at an end? Or will they be furious when they see for the first time the horrible conditions and the miserable state they’ve been reduced to?
I compare and contrast former Yugoslavia with Russia and Poland. Russia:
According to one widely held and (in my view) ridiculous analysis, Western governments treated Russia badly during the 1990s by imposing humiliating capitalist ‘shock therapy’ on a society unprepared for anything so radical. This created horrible inequality, greedy oligarchs and endemic corruption, opening the way for Vladimir Putin’s ‘managed democracy’.
‘Humiliating’ is an interesting word, with both objective and subjective meanings. Actions may be done with the intent to be humiliating. Or they may be done through good intentions, yet be interpreted as humiliating by others. Plus, as in the Russia case, millions of Russians themselves felt embarrassed and angry – humiliated – at the pitiful collapse of the Soviet Union.
What is not understood is that the real shock to Russia came from 70 long years of communist brutality and wastefulness on an insane scale. Marxism-Leninism created something never before seen in the economic history of the planet: value-subtracting industries, processes and factories which turned out clunky products worth less than the raw materials used to make them. For all his reassuring political noises, Gorbachev did nothing to set private business free. When he finally resigned there was scarcely a single banana to be seen across the USSR’s 11 time-zones.
Finally in autumn 1991 the madness stopped, almost overnight. The only way forward was to invest in the future, not try to resuscitate the wheezing Soviet industrial base. Western governments at first feared widespread starvation and scrambled to get food aid into Russia: at last the EU’s infamous CAP butter mountains came in handy. Western experts poured into Moscow to help the new leadership make sense of it all. New laws were drafted. The UK Know-How Fund helped start the Russian stock-market.
But the key factor was the fact that the Russians’ own energy and cleverness were once again unleashed, with amazing results. Food appeared in shops. Tens of thousands of cars poured into Moscow every month, bought not by Westerners flaunting their wealth but by Russians doing things for themselves. Within about 200 weeks of the end of communism Moscow had its first plump Yellow Pages directory of private businesses, none of which had existed or even been allowed to exist previously.
It’s true that in such chaotic circumstances and with state structures in disarray some wily Russians made colossal windfall gains, while millions of others (especially older people) have suffered mightily. But were Western policies ‘humiliating’ for Russia?
I don’t think so. There was no policy template in Moscow or in Western capitals for dealing with such a sprawling calamity. We and the Russians alike all had to improvise. If a large part of the Russian population felt humiliated, this arose primarily from the ghastly realisation that for 70 years they had been enslaved by their own leaders, their life’s work taken for almost nothing: their proud, supposedly strong Russia had been reduced to needing so much outside help…
Conclusion? People react in different ways when those dungeon lights are turned on. Some prisoners start fighting each other. Others blame the West for their sorry state, ignoring the fact that, actually, they incarcerated themselves. And others stride out into the sunlight to start a new life.
Russia, Yugoslavia. Poland. Guess which country falls into which category.
What, you ask, are Honorary Consuls? The FCO gives the answer(ignore if you can the clueless gramar):
Honorary Consuls are volunteers who help our Posts overseas provide a more accessible and responsive service to British nationals and other nationals for whom we have consular responsibility for (sic), particularly in difficult to reach locations.
They provide information and assistance to people who get into difficulties overseas. They receive no salary from the FCO, but some are paid a small honorarium in recognition of their services, typically around £2000 p.a. Their duties can be expected to occupy a few hours a week under ordinary circumstances. They are typically appointed for a (renewable) five year period.
The Vienna Convention defines the difference between Honorary Consuls and career Consular Officers. Honorary Consuls do not benefit from the same privileges and immunities as diplomats and are not usually referred to as diplomats...
Fair enough. How do you track one down if you might need one?
British Honorary Consuls can provide some assistance to British nationals in Germany. They support the work of the British Embassy in Berlin and the Consulates General in Düsseldorf and Munich but they are not resourced to offer the full range of services offered by these posts. If the service you require is not listed below you should contact the British Embassy or British Consulate in whose district you are located.
In an emergency Honorary Consuls can:
Contact relatives and friends and ask them to help you with money or travel tickets;
Tell you how to transfer money;
Help you get in touch with local lawyers, interpreters, doctors and prison authorities;
Arrange for next of kin to be told of an accident or a death and advise on procedures;
Give you a list of local lawyers
Honorary Consuls can also perform notarial acts (for example witness signatures, administer oaths, issue Certificates of No Impediment).
Honorary Consuls cannot:
Pay your hotel, legal, medical or any other bills;
Get you out of prison;
Give legal advice;
Issue any type of passports except Hamburg, which can issue emergency passports.
Contact details ... [7 HonCon cities are listed with adresses and telephone numbers]
Fine. Thanks. How about Brazil? No problem there either - a good website gives local HonCon email addresses too.
There are 7 Honorary Consuls in Poland - in Gdańsk, Kraków, Łódź, Wrocław, Szczecin, Lublin and Poznań.
If you need assistance in a consular matter, please check first information available on the Embassy website www.ukinpoland.fco.gov.uk
In case of emergency, please contact the British Embassy in Warsaw. Please note that it is not possible to contact the Honorary Consul directly on a Consular assistance matter
It's not 'possible' to contact them only because you don't provide their contact details! So you don't say what they do, or how to contact them even if you have a consular problem in the city where they are. Yet we taxpayers are paying for them.
This does not amount to providing the "more accessible and responsive service" proclaimed on the FCO website.
In fact I'd boldly go so far as to say it's a less accessible and less responsive service.
Update I now also have a piece over at Commentator which elaborates on the material below.
* * * * *
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has pronounced on a case brought against Russia by a number of Polish relatives of victims of the Katyn Massacres.
Even though on some issues Russia was not found to have been in breach of its international law obligations, the judgement is bleak reading for Moscow. Some highlights (my emphasis):
The Court is not convinced that a public and transparent investigation into the crimes of the previous totalitarian regime could have compromised the national security interests of the contemporary democratic Russian Federation, especially taking into account that the responsibility of the Soviet authorities for that crime has been acknowledged at the highest political level. Moreover, the decision to classify the document appears to have been at variance with the requirements of the Russian law, in that section 7 of the State Secrets Act expressly precluded any information about violations of human rights by State officials from being classified. In sum, the Court finds likewise no substantive grounds which could have justified the Russian Government’s refusal to produce a copy of the requested decision.
In the light of the above considerations, the Court concludes that the Russian Government breached their obligations under Article 38 of the Convention on account of their failure to submit a copy of the requested document.
… The Court accepts that the mass murder of Polish prisoners by the Soviet secret police had the features of a war crime. Both the Hague Convention IV of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1929 prohibited acts of violence and cruelty against war prisoners and the murder of prisoners of war constituted a “war crime” within the meaning of Article 6 (b) of the Nuremberg Charter of 1945. Although the USSR was not a party to the Hague or Geneva Conventions, the obligation to treat prisoners humanely and abstain from killing them clearly formed part of the international customary law which it had a duty to respect.
… The applicants’ expectations and hopes of having the circumstances of the Katyn massacre elucidated had been further dashed by the Russian courts’ decisions declaring that it had not been established what had happened to their relatives after they had been placed “at the disposal” of the NKVD. Those findings represented a sheer denial of the basic historical facts and were tantamount to informing a group of relatives of Holocaust victims that the victims must be considered unaccounted for as their fate could only be traced to the dead-end track of a concentration camp because the documents had been destroyed by the Nazi authorities
… The Court is struck by the apparent reluctance of the Russian authorities to recognise the reality of the Katyn massacre, to which the applicants’ relatives had fallen victims
… The Court considers that the approach chosen by the Russian military courts which consisted in maintaining, to the applicants’ face and contrary to the established historic facts, that the applicants’ relatives had somehow vanished in the Soviet camps, demonstrated a callous disregard for the applicants’ concerns and deliberate obfuscation of the circumstances of the Katyn massacre.
… On 26 November 2010 the Russian Duma adopted a statement on the Katyn tragedy and its victims, in which it recognised that the Polish prisoners-of-war had been shot dead and that their death on the USSR territory had been “an arbitrary act by the totalitarian State”. It also considered necessary “to continue studying the archives, verifying the lists of victims, restoring the good names of those who perished in Katyn and other places, and uncovering the circumstances of the tragedy”. However, the declaration did not lead to a re-opening of the investigation, declassification of its materials, including the decision on its discontinuation, or any attempts on the part of the Russian authorities to establish direct contacts with the victims of the Katyn massacre and involve them into the elucidation of its circumstances. Being a mere political declaration without any visible follow-up, it did little to alleviate the feeling of frustration, since the previously made allegations that the applicants’ relatives might have been criminally responsible, were not explicitly dismissed. The Court is struck by the Russian authorities’ continued complacency in the face of the applicants’ anguish and distress, especially as they are becoming more and more fragile by virtue of their age.
By acknowledging that the applicants’ relatives had been held prisoners in the Soviet camps but declaring that their subsequent fate could not be elucidated, the Russian courts denied the reality of summary executions that had been carried out in the Katyn forest and at other mass murder sites. The Court considers that such approach chosen by the Russian authorities has been contrary to the fundamental values of the Convention and must have exacerbated the applicants’ suffering.
… In sum, the Court finds that the applicants were left to bear the brunt of the efforts to uncover any facts relating to the manner in which their relatives died, whereas the Russian authorities demonstrated a flagrant, continuous and callous disregard for their concerns and anxieties. The Court therefore considers that the manner in which the applicants’ enquiries have been dealt with by the Russian authorities has attained the minimum level of severity to be considered inhuman treatment within the meaning of Article 3 of the Convention.
The problem for the Russian state is simple. It insists that it can not be held responsible for the crimes of the Stalin period. In part because it wants to show that there has been substantive discontinuity between the USSR and the New Russia. In part because it fears unending law suits over Katyn and other WW2 war crimes. Indeed, the Russian state has never even accepted that Katyn was a ‘war crime’. And is there evidence out there that the Soviet Union collaborated with the Nazis in effecting this horror? That would be hugely embarrassing for Moscow.
You might think that the fact of insisting that Russia is not responsible for USSR war crimes might make it easier to throw open the whole ghastly story. You’d be wrong. By keeping secret extensive Soviet archives on Katyn and, as the Court convincingly argues, by behaving in an odious way in response to many requests form relatives of the victims for further information, the Russian state takes firm moral and legal ownership of it.
Just in case you’ve forgotten, let’s remember that Katyn was a process, not an event. It is not easy to murder over 20,000 people. So they wheeled out Vasili Blokhin, the most prolific murderer in human history:
Blokhin initially decided on an ambitious quota of 300 executions per night, and engineered an efficient system in which the prisoners were individually led to a small antechamber—which had been painted red and was known as the "Leninist room"—for a brief and cursory positive identification, before being handcuffed and led into the execution room next door. The room was specially designed with padded walls for soundproofing, a sloping concrete floor with a drain and hose, and a log wall for the prisoners to stand against.
Blokhin—outfitted in a leather butcher's apron, cap, and shoulder-length gloves to protect his uniform, then pushed the prisoner against the log wall and shot him once in the base of the skull with a German Walther Model 2.25 ACP pistol...
His count of 7,000 shot in 28 days remains one of the most organized and protracted mass murders by a single individual on record.
As I previously have put it:
Nazism's collectivist death cult was, if you like, essentially irrational if not mad, but with manic method in the madness. All that raving about blood and Jews and maggots, combined with Germanic efficiency in rounding up so many Jews and Romas and Poles and others and then destroying them.
Stalinism's collectivist death cult by contrast was ultra rational. It was based on the idea that the end (Scientific Socialism) justified any means and in any case was inevitable as the communist Wheel of History rotated. Bourgeois and other opponents simply 'had' to be eliminated.
Surely an intelligent deliberate murderer is more morally guilty than a crazy one?
Put it this way. Imagine that Hitler and Stalin had been captured at the end of WW2 and put on trial for their crimes.
Hitler's lawyers might have been able to mount some sort of defence argument based on Insanity - that he was so crazed by that in any sense that mattered he should not be regarded as legally responsible for his actions. (See also Norway’s Anders Breivik: sane or not? Or in some category far beyond either?)
Stalin surely could not claim that. The record of his iniquity and his countless justifications of it and the documentation describing it would all show that he knew exactly what he was doing and meant to do it.
In short any normal person has to 'equate' Nazism and Communism and find nothing of any true significance to distinguish them. If anything the very nihilistic 'rationality' of Communism makes it even worse.
The ECHR got this one right. The continuing refusal of Moscow in general (and Vladimir Putin in particular) to come to terms with the supreme example of Soviet wickedness, the Katyn Massacre, is one of the great moral calamities of our times.
But this trip, for the first time, I briefly explored the old ghetto, and visited one of the old synagogues, where I listened briefly to a young American woman talking history to a small group. She offered the fact of these dolls, available everywhere, and often depicted holding money, as evidence that Poles were "still anti-Jewish". Restraining the impulse to respond "Tsshk - always the victim already ..." I quickly moved away.
Meanwhile now in Warsaw a splendid new Museum of the History of Polish Jews is being built, a huge project which is expected to become a major visitor attraction in that part of Europe. Part of the thinking here is that Auschwitz and the other creepy Nazi concentration camp sites in Poland and elsewhere remind us only how Europe's Jews died - the point of the new museum is to celebrate how they lived.
Back in 2009 I wrote here about Nasty Polish Right-wing Antisemitism:
All this history and far more remains highly controversial, not least because it suits a lot of people with things to hide to keep things that way.
What if any conclusions one way or the other might be drawn about the massacre by local Poles of some 400 Jews at Jedwabne in 1941? Or the fact that so many Poles were executed by the Nazis for protecting Poles? Or the later Kielce pogrom in 1946 - a horror inspired by the communist secret police?
Was/is modern antisemitism in Poland some sort of aberration reflecting wider European intellectual trends?
Or was it something much deeper in the Polish national psyche, waiting for its horrible chance to erupt?
Is Poland better or worse in these respects than eg France or Germany?
What about the role of individuals such as Helena Wolinska-Brus? She was an unrepentant post-WW2 Stalinist prosecutor from a Polish Jewish family who left Poland in the antisemitic Party campaigns of 1968 and ended up in the UK. Until her death last year she successfully fought extradition back to democratic Poland to face justice on her Stalin-era judicial crimes, mendaciously citing Polish antisemitism as one reason she would not get a fair trial.
One of the other points I made there was the following:
... what about basic nomenclature?
Just as the denizens of Republika Srpska call themselves 'Bosnian Serbs' rather than Serbian Bosnians, thereby emphasising their ultimate Serbitude rather than their Bosnian-ness, should we be talking about Polish Jews or Jewish Poles?
The very words we use silently and slyly can denote sameness or 'other-ness'. Would a Museum of the History of Jewish Poles have different exhibitions? Or be able to raise international funding?
One of the many best things about writing this blog is that people I hardly know or may not have ever met get in touch in all sorts of ways.
Thus. Remember my piece a while back about the startling and startlingly bad film Battle of Warsaw 1920? A reader today got in touch about it and left an interesting comment:
I've also studied this period from the perspective of the Russian Civil War, and it even gets to the stage of being frustrating how many missed opportunities there were for a White/Nationalist/Allied/Anti-Communist victory against the Reds. The Army of Southern Russia under Denikin is a very interesting point - he stated his aim to be that of defeating the Reds and then reestablishing the Russian Empire, which was a key motivation for the Poles *not* to support him and secure a seperate peace. If some of the major White Russian leaders had been willing to accept the independence of nations such as Poland then a much stronger alliance could have been achieved.
Of course, the question in the event of a White Victory and restoration of at least part of Imperial Russia would be what it would have meant for World War 2? Would that conflict have occurred, and how would it have played out given a vastly changed situation and ideology in Eastern Europe?
Always a good question. What if?
Then this evening I heard from F Peter Phillips at the New York Law School who runs an excellent blog on Business Conflict. We met at the International Bar Association gathering in Vancouver in October 2010. I wrote about my presentation here:
The problem here and in many other negotiating contexts is that people are impatient: time is seen as scarce. Better a quick 'good enough' outcome than a more patient, better one
This is part of a wider key issue in all negotiation. Is it better to create complexity for your opponent, to give pause for thought, to generate a sense of uncertainty as to what the best outcome is? That may suggest using more time.
Or rather should you aim to create simplicity - 'let's face it, it all boils down to this' - to strip away detail and instead try to focus both sides on what you think 'really' matters? Perhaps quicker?
It turns out that there are all sorts of processes going on inside different parts of our brains emphasising varying combinations of logical and emotional responses to what we see and hear. Clever negotiators can use that scientific information to evoke different responses in the opposite side.
Good stuff. At least some of the audience of lawyers from around the world who usually deal in commercial work seemed impressed by the breadth and insight of the team presentation...
A sobering — even frightening — panel at the IBA’s Vancouver conference addressed negotiation in volatile, politically charged and dangerous circumstances — pushing the boundaries of mediation past the purely commercial, into a world where lives may depend on the skill and success of the negotiator or mediator.
Maritime pirates off Somalia, for example, do not rationally seek and underlying political or even monetary interests, and their behavior is not deliberative. Charles Crawford CMG reflected on his years of service in the UK Foreign Office and concluded that, in Somalia and in the Balkans, a terrorist’s irrationality is his strength. It’s like a bankrupt buying a suite at the Plaza, or a dog chasing a car: the pirate, the kidnapper and the terrorist seek to introduce chaos into order...
Read the whole thing, especially the "clarity and outlandishness" of the analysis given by top UK hostage negotiator Duncan Jarrett.
Readers! Always a pleasure to hear from most of you.
Here's another truly horrible piece at Social Europe Journal that caught my beady eye. It's by one Kinga Pozniak (someone of Polish origin no doubt, an anthropologist who lectures at the Western University in London. Not London, England. London, Canada).
It's entitled "Poland's ACTA Protests - Molecular Change in an unlikely Place". Let the fisking begin!
As the economic crisis washes over Europe, political and economic discourses across the continent make it sound as if “there is no alternative” to widespread belt-tightening that withdraws and privatizes areas of social welfare and undermines social solidarity
We know that any article including the word 'discourse' is going to be awful. Thanks for alerting us so early on. And note the superb metaphors. : Crisis 'washes'. 'Belt-tightening' 'withdraws', 'privatizes', 'undermines' - in fact almost anything rather than keep trousers safely aloft.
This discourse is certainly hegemonic in Poland, a country frequently held up as a token success story of neoliberalization.
Aaaagh. A hegemonic discourse! Note the startling Leftist sneer that follows. Poland is frequently (sic) held up (sic) as a token success story (sic) of neoliberalization.
Following socialism’s collapse in 1989, Poland eagerly embraced a variety of neoliberal reforms, including rapid privatization of formerly state-owned enterprises, withdrawal of price subsidies, cuts to state spending and decentralisation of state responsibility for social and family policy
Yup. All good policies. That's why Poland is now the EU country with the best growth rates. People working, things getting built, new investment. Solid banks, lending to new businesses. Stuff like that. What's not to like?
Since economic troubles in Europe first broke out, Poland has been on board with Europe’s austerity agenda, with the country’s major newspapers vilifying countries such as Greece for their “irresponsible spending”.
I think you'll find that Europe has had 'economic troubles' for the past 2000 years or so. The point now is that we know how to manage them. And right at the heart of sound economic policies are two simple yet profound ideas. Don't borrow money you can't pay back! Work hard!
Poland has taken these norms to heart and grown steadily over the past 20 years. Plus Poland has striven to invest wisely generous EU 'cohesion' funds, taking the Greek example as the way not to do it. Hence Poland is - not unreasonably? - annoyed that those who mess up are clamouring for funds from those who behave responsibly. This takes us back to the Prodigal Son, not the most obvious example of cruel neoliberalization in action.
And yet recent events in the country suggest that resistance may sometimes originate in unlikely places.
On 19 January 2012 news broke out in Poland that the country’s government planned on signing ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), a multi-national agreement for the purpose of establishing international standards for intellectual property rights enforcement. ACTA’s critics are concerned that it will stifle civil rights, including privacy and freedom of expression on the internet.
The news triggered a massive public outcry. As hackers shut down a number of government websites, protests numbering into tens of thousands broke out across the country, and members of the opposition party Palikot’s Movement (Ruch Palikota) donned Guy Fawkes masks during a parliamentary session.
Resistance? I am no expert in ACTA, but most normal people would agree that there is some sort of balance to be struck between protecting intellectual property and allowing people do do what they want. So what do these resisting Polish folk propose?
What is significant about this wave of protests is that for the first time in over two decades (that is, since the opposition movement of the 1980s that led to socialism’s collapse), it is driven by young people. Until now, Poland’s postsocialist generation has been relatively complicit and complacent.
Oh. You don't tell us. Instead we get the astounding claim that Poland’s postsocialist generation has been relatively complicit and complacent. Complicit in what exactly? Complicit in getting off their butts and coming over to England to work hard? Complicit in working hard at college?
With national hegemonic discourses discrediting anything associated with the country’s socialist legacy, members of the postsocialist generation grew up convinced that “there is no other way”.
If 'national hegemonistic discourses' discredited Poland's appalling communist experience, what's wrong with that? Poland's socialist 'legacy' was impoverishment, subservience to Moscow, environmental degradation, vast networks of people spying on their families and colleagues, and periodic brutality against striking workers.
Kinga, focus! That sort of thing is what 'discreditable' means.
While other groups – such as nurses or coalminers – have, over the past two decades, periodically resisted certain reforms that threatened their work or welfare, Poland’s youngest generation is overwhelmingly pro-market, ascribing to the neoliberal rationality of individual responsibility, independence, and ability to bear risk. This is the generation associated with support for Poland’s current ruling party, the economically liberal and European Union-oriented Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska), which favours the privatization of the remaining public sectors of the Polish economy, fiscal responsibility, and decentralization of the state.
Neoliberal rationality of individual responsibility, independence, and ability to bear risk. Fiscal responsibility. Sure thing. All incredibly positive. Great news that one of Europe's largest young populations gets it. Unlike ours.
Kinga contrives to suggest that these virtues are part of a hegemonistic discourse and therefore ... bad!?
And yet recent events show that this support is not unconditional. Both the content of ACTA and the covert manner in which the government intended to push it through are perceived by many as testament to the erosion of democracy and the privileging of corporate rights and interests over individual ones.
Well, what's with this ACTA stuff? If I work hard to write some new software and try to sell it, is it OK for someone to steal it? Why should people who steal from 'corporation's have their 'rights' 'privileged'? #justaskin
So what will come out of these protests? Perhaps nothing, perhaps something.
At last, a sensible point.
But it is worth recalling that Gramsci identified revolutionary potential in “molecular changes” which, over time, may “modify the pre-existing composition of forces, and hence become the matrix of new changes”.
Oh lordy. Wheel out the dead Italian Marxists. Just what Poland really needs now.
Poland’s ACTA protests hit home just as the government is recovering from a public upset about recent changes to a national drug refund plan, as well as trying to introduce unpopular reforms to the retirement system. Perhaps Poland’s ACTA protests are just that crack in the political terrain which may in time shift its foundations and open up possibilities for more widespread social critique in other areas.
Bring on the 'social critique' of Poland's reactionary failing policies. If Gramsci Pozniak and Co get their way, Poland and the rest of Europe can be de-hegemonised and thereby reduced again quickly to progressive Greek-style national socialist impoverishment .
My piece about the latest Summit over at Daily Telegraph blogs is up, prompting the usual vivid comments from Daily Telegraph readers:
This piece by Crawford simply comes across as Civil Service gobbeldy-gook and demonstrates that he's no understanding of any of this. Is that why the Civil Service seem to be so utterly useless when negotiating with their counterparts in other EU countries ?
After all these years, after all these betrayals, after all the secret signings of treaties in darkened closets, after all the lies, the deceit, the obsequious kow towing and u-turns you and others STILL think it's down to ignorance, incompetence and cock up theory?
We often wonder why countries wish to join the Euro (beyond Dan Hannan’s point that the “club” is highly attractive to any country’s senior politicians). However, why are existing EZ countries so keen that other dissimilar and unconverged economies must share their currency. It’s like the Augean stable cleaner, up to his knees in the smelly stuff, inviting a fresh herd of elephant into a couple of vacant stalls.
The basic problem for the UK is that the tortuous manoeuvres required to keep the eurozone afloat can impact on us in different ways. In general it suits us if most of the rest of the European Union countries share a viable single currency. Plus if it crashed we would export less to the rest of Europe and end up worse off.
However, the point of the Prime Minister’s insistence (the "veto") that the rescue arrangements take place outside the existing EU Treaty structure was not about that. He wanted to try to establish some sort of legal firebreak, so that measures and norms aimed at propping up the eurozone could not automatically be applied to us if the Commission and/or European Parliament and/or European Court of Justice so decided.
Where are we now after the attempt by EU leaders to calm things down? In a murky but more or less tolerable position. The eurozoners must try to sort out their business via a new Treaty which is not part of the formal EU Treaty structure, albeit an expression of the "enhanced cooperation" provisions which those Treaties allow.
David Cameron has agreed to allow the European Court of Justice to support enforcement of the new Treaty’s rules (no doubt because he wants to help the eurozone reform itself, and any weak discipline is better than none). But quite how far – if at all – any ECJ decisions under that arrangement might (a) read across directly to EU Treaty interpretations, (b) to the UK’s disadvantage remains to be seen...
Plus I added a bit on Poland:
We peer at such EU Summits from our foggy offshore position. But spare a thought for the Poles, whose Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski delivered the mother of all pro-EU federalism speeches in Berlin back in November. The Poles are not yet in the eurozone but (under current management) insist they want to join it. Hence, question: how far should countries not yet in the eurozone but in the queue to join it have a say in eurozone reforms which will impact on them?
The problem here is that the more countries have such a say, the harder it becomes to get things agreed and implemented. Poland has the fastest growing EU economy but its total GDP represents only some 5% of the combined GDPs of the five largest eurozone members. So while the Germans and French will have welcomed the pro-EU noises coming from Warsaw, what they really need is Poland to be "realistic" about its weight in the greater scheme of tough decisions needed.
This explains why time-wasting new configurations for eurozone meetings have had to be agreed, to allow the 17 current eurozone countries to get on with it while trying to allow eurozone wannabes (led by Poland) some sort of input now and again. The Poles gloomily must accept that the key issues will be decided at 17, ie when they’re not there.
The current core EU leaders are like those BUgs Bunny cartoon characters who reach the edge of the cliffs and keep striding determinedly out into thin air, only to realise in total panic that not much is supporting them. Their current efforts to flail their way back to solid ground are certainly impressive. But will they succeed?
It's in Polish. But the opening passage caught my beady eye.
In it Mr Szczerski notes the sharp tone of criticism directed in that speech towards the UK and claims that Mr Sikorski has confirmed that I "as a private Labour Party supporter" had been a collaborator on the speech.
Before Europe existed because it knew how to take risks, it went to sea to seek a fortune. Today it just accumulates and fears losses. I know nothing of nation states. I know nothing of states at all. For me language is of course primary. Poland survived partitions, occupations thanks to its language, thanks to the culture. Religion also played an important role in affirming the national consciousness. The Catholic Church replaced the budget, the army and taxes. Today, it is somewhat trying to do the same.
But what seems the most essential, is the feeling of uniqueness, of unity, which is worth sacrificing for. Otherwise, why not become German for convenience sake, Russian on a whim or Jewish to upset everybody? This 'Polishness' must also certainly be a sort of feeling of superiority. Don't you think so? Yes, a feeling of superiority. Unjustified, of course. But still.
Are you afraid that Germany will become a dangerous nation?
Yes, and that is very good because my country exists more when it is threatened. Without danger, without troubles, Poland is less alive and a little more inexistent. However, whenever nationalism comes knocking on the door, it feels better right away, it perks up and gets its strength back. So long live German nationalism. Which doesn't mean, does it, that we must not remain vigilant.
One of the things I do on training courses aimed at telling people how to Write with Impact is to cite Shrek. Issues and Shrek are like onions. They have layers.
No piece of writing can address all the layers of any problem. The trick is to show awareness of other layers but focus on one or two of them to help the reader make sense of it all.
Likewise it is a good idea to take a single issue and use it to illustrate a wider point. Or to take a seemingly obscure but nonetheless interesting question and force it to the top of people's attention.
All these devices help achieve the basic rule of good (and therefore impactful) writing: if you want it to be read, make it readable.
One of the best examples from my own career came in early 2004, not long after I arrived in Warsaw from Belgrade. Poland was set to join the European Union. Colossal numbers of Poles were likely to start moving to and fro between Poland and the UK - we had decided to open our Labour market unconditionally, much to the utter disbelief of the Polish leadership.
Once those Poles started moving with the aim of getting richer faster, what would they get up to? I thought it worth analysing one possible source of income - illicit cigarettes.
I did this by spelling out in the simplest possible terms the economics for the average Pole of informal cigarette-selling, even within legal limits.
This telegram wittily called Smoking Ants - Coming Our Way? caused a minor sensation in the Cabinet Office. Officials scrambled round to change the rules to limit the numbers of cigarettes which people from the new EU member states could bring into the UK duty-free.
And, thanks to the miracles of Freedom of Information, I am pleased to share this telegram with you today. The FCO cheekily cut out a line or two on the grounds that UK relations with Poland might be adversely affected(!). But otherwise it's just as I drafted it. A nice example (if I say so myself) of drawing senior attention to an unexpected new problem by delivering work written in a bold way which no-one can avoid reading.
Diplomatic Folly Note: look out for the amusing reference to 'Trilateral' at the end. That was a footling attempt by Tony Blair to set up an inner UK/France/Germany driving force within the EU, which collapsed in no time at all in the face of the obvious objections (not least those emanating from one S Berlusconi).
SUBJECT: EU ENLARGEMENT: SMOKING ANTS, COMING OUR WAY?
1. Incentives for Poles to make a reasonable living in the UK's dodgy cigarette business. Policy contradictions.
2. As a non-smoking connoisseur of Balkan tobacco activities I recently met the local BAT team to talk about regional cigarette smuggling. Some striking conclusions.
The Big Picture
3. BAT have studied tens of thousands of discarded cigarette packets. They conclude that some 70 billion cigarettes are sold legally in Poland every year, with a further 20 billion smoked "illegally" (ie sold outside the official excise structure and smuggled into Poland).
4. A good proportion of this illegal trade is conducted by an army of "ants", individuals who carry small quantities of cigarettes into Poland from points East. But up to 50% of the illegal cigarette business is well organised, involving hundreds of truckloads of cigarettes each containing up to 10 million "sticks". [redacted]
5. The emergence of this lucrative illegal trade can be traced readily back to 2000, when Poland pushed up excise duties. Until then almost all the 90 billion cigarettes smoked in Poland each
year were passing through normal procedures. Smuggling soared with these new higher duties.
6. Sharp price/tax/excise differentials as between Russia, Poland and Western Europe are set to continue. Currently a pack of cigarettes which costs 50 cents in Russia sells for 1.30 dollars in Poland and up to 8 dollars in the UK. These ratios will change somewhat in the coming years as Poland raises the effective price of a pack towards EU levels, thereby giving serious new local incentives to regional smugglers (one good truckload can generate a profit of 1.5 million dollars). BAT expect some 50 billion cigarettes per year to be smuggled from Russia to Western Europe; this generates a 5 billion dollar profit - more than double BAT's own global annual pre-tax profit. Implications for UK of EU Accession
7. BAT point out that as things stand every Polish citizen is allowed to bring legally into the UK 200 cigarettes a trip. But after accession this figure jumps to 3200 cigarettes per trip. A pack of Dunhill can be bought in Poland for about £1 and be sold in a UK pub for up to £3.00. Each Pole entering the UK can hope to make a quick profit on the cigarettes of £250 per trip, not to mention extra money by importing a few bottles of cheap vodka. With a return coach fare of £50 and monthly unemployment benefit here of about £80, it is not difficult for a poor Pole to work out what to do. Better to get involved with UK officialdom by filling in UK benefit forms, or make easy money sitting on a bus?
8. The scale of the illicit cigarette business caused by price/tax differentials as between the UK and continental Europe is obvious and well known. It is part of a global compound interest drama: as rich countries get richer, the absolute wealth we generate gives ever-growing and vast incentives for honest people and gangsters alike to "play the margins". The cigarette price effects of EU enlargement is more of the same, albeit a great deal more of the same. But the upstream consequences of this illegality for the region are considerable.
9. Our Policy contains Contradictions. HMCE/HMT are looking at reducing the amounts of cigarettes which accession nationals can bring into the UK. Meanwhile we and our EU partners laboriously try to "train border guards and customs officials" on the EU's Eastern Borders. But only a couple of truckloads of cigarettes inject more resources into corrupting these official structures than we are injecting into reforming them. The corrupted structures then can be exploited not only by cigarette smugglers but also by human traffickers, global drug dealers and even terrorists - serious security questions here.
10. The cost of all this is not on a scale to destabilise the whole of Polish society as has happened in Serbia, to the point of the assassination of the Prime Minister. But it is a serious and systemic obstacle to reform. Scope for a new, hard look (Trilateral or in another smaller group first?) at what else might be done on the strategic level?