The Polish Jewish doctor and writer Henryk Goldszmit, who published under the pen name Janusz Korczak, was for the Nazis a mere statistic, as he perished in Treblinka concentration camp in 1942. But his memory lives on, not just in his books, but for the way he championed the rights of the child, long before that became fashionable. It was only in 1989 that the United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child — since ratified by every member state of th UN except Somalia, South Sudan and the United States — but Korczak had long before articulated what he identified as the mistaken way many adults treat children — indeed he promoted the idea that there are no children, only people. He studied medicine and worked for an Orphans’ Aid Society in Warsaw. Posthumously, he gained huge renown in his native Poland but also around the world, and 2012 was declared by the Polish government to be the Year of Januscz Korczak. This week, at Europe House, the London headquarters of both the European Commission representation and the European Parliament office, an exhibition celebrating his life and work opened — admirably muted but very effective — with the assistance of the Polish Cultural Institute. It doesn’t matter that 2012 is over as the legacy remains. Moreover, the true insignifance of dates is underlined by the fact that no-one is quite sure in which year Korczak was born, 1878 or 1879; his lawyer father took a long time to register the birth and the exact details are lost in the mists of time. Korczak’s writings — translated into humrous languages, notably his children’s stories, are his most important testament, but he left many maxims as well, which reflect his noble character. Notably he wrote, despite all that happened to him in the Warsaw Ghetto before transportation to Treblinka, “I bear no malice toward anyone. I am unable to do so. I do not know how.”
Posts Tagged ‘Poland’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 24th October, 2012
The Polish Embassy in London threw its doors open to the Wednesday Club of the Institute of Directors (and a couple of journalists, including me) this evening, to promote investment opportunities in Poland. The country has much to be proud of, having been judged by the IMF to be one of the best places to put one’s money in Europe. This is remarkable when one thinks that only 30 years ago it was in effect a Communist dictatorship, albeit one with the Solidarnosc trade union activists in Gdansk demanding freedoms. Britain is actually the third most important investor in Poland, after the United States and Germany, with much of the FDI going into the automobile and heavy industry sectors, though IT and other concerns are growing fast. The fact that very few foreigners actually speak Polish is of little import, as increasingly Poles, having dumped Russian as a compulsory subject at school, now speak good English. Moreover, Poland make a great success of its presidency of the European Union last year, including putting on a brilliant cultural programme, and many of the Polish migrant labourers who came to Britain after EU accession have since returned home to take part in the country’s progress. Poland is not part of the eurozone as yet — perhaps a blessing just at the moment — but its economic growth rate is something the UK can only envy. So there is every reason to look forward to increased bilateral trade and investment.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 6th February, 2012
Belarus is often portrayed as the Bad Boy of Europe — the only European state that is not a member of the Council of Europe, thanks to its retention (and use) of the death penalty, the apparently fraudulent nature of its elections and its poor record on human rights. Opposition figures are regularly imprisoned (often for short periods), harrassed and denounced in the official media, and the KGB — which still keeps its Soviet-era name — is a looming, ominous presence, with a large headquarters on the main drag in the capital, Minsk. When I went there a few years ago to meet political and human rights activists, I felt I had walked onto the set of a film of one of John Le Carré’s novels. Rendezvous were made with people at their request in parks or noisy restaurants; Even the head of the Communist party insisted on meeting clandestinely in a café. Yet it is an over-simplification to denounce Belarus blithely as ‘Europe’s last dictatorship’, for all the self-evident shortcomings of Alexander Lukashenko’s regime. People can access the Internet in the numerous cyber-cafés, and young Belorussians with enough money to pay for a Schengen visa can travel West, notably to Lithuania and Poland. They don’t need a visa for Russia, to which Belarus remains tied with an umbilical cord, And even if Lukashenko has sometimes irritated Putin and other Kremlin figures, Belarus is a useful ally for Moscow. Some of the subtleties of the situation came out in a meeting that I chaired this evening at the National Liberal Club, on behalf of Liberal International British Group (LIBG) and Liberal Youth. This was the first such joint venture, which not only packed out the room but also produced some high-level debate, not only from the panel — Jo Swinson MP, Dr Yaraslau Kryvoi of Belarus Digest and Alex Nyce, former East European specialist at Chatham House — but also from the floor. Several members of the audience had had direct or indirect experience of working in or with Belarus and there was considerable discussion about what sort of stance the European Union should take on relations with the recalcitrant state. Intriguingly, a parallel was drawn between Belarus and Myanmar (Burma) and the question was posed as to whether constructive engagement might be a way forward in the hope of encouraging reform — though Lukashenko would have to release prominent dissidents before his good faith would be taken seriously.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Alex Nyce, Alexander Lukashenko, Belarus, Burma, Council of Europe, European Union, Jo Swinson, John Le Carré, KGB, Liberal Youth, LIBG, Lithuania, Minsk, Myanmar, National Liberal Club, Poland, Russia, Vladimir Putin, Yaraslau Kryvoi | Leave a Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 8th November, 2011
Fair Trials International (previously known as Fair Trials Abroad) is a unique UK-based organisation which campaigns on behalf of people unjustly or cruelly imprisoned around the world, notably those who have been waiting years for a trial or else have been extradited unfairly, or convicted in absentia. Although its remit is global, a substantial proportion of FTI’s work, surprisingly, relates to the European Union, under a project entitled Justice in Europe (part funded by the European Commission). The legal system in a number of EU states does not live up to the high standard of some others, as victims such as Andrew Symeou (who was extradited to Greece and held in horrible conditions before being aquitted) and Edmond Arapi (an Albanian now naturalised Briton who was wrongly convicted of murder in absentia in Italy) can testify. As members of the British Section of the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) were told this lunchtime at a meeting in Europe House by FTI’s Chief Executive, Jago Russell, many of the cases his organisation takes up are related to the European Arrest Warrant. This instrument — brought in following the 9/11 atrocities with the support of various parties, not least the LibDem MEP Graham Watson — allows courts in EU member states to demand the extradition of people wanted on criminal charges within their jurisdiction. That has produced some excellent results, such as the swift return of one of the 7/7 London bombers from Italy. But it has also been misusued. Poland has acquired an unenviable reputation for using the EAW for trivial cases, such as demanding the extradition of someone accused of stealing a pig. But it would be wrong to throw the baby out with the bathwater — as some Eurosceptic Tories and UKIP spokespeople would like — by scrapping the EAW. What is needed is to make sure its use is limited to serious crimes. Moreover, as Jago Russell said, some EU member states really need to bring their legal and prison systems up to scratch, including getting rid of corruption, nepotism and the like. I asked him whether it should not be possible to put pressure on Poland to curb unnecessary extraditions while Warsaw holds the rotating presidency of the EU, to which the answer was that the Poles would love to, but under their post-Communist constitution they have to pursue every case to its ultimate conclusion. Clearly a need for some reform there then!
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: AEJ, Andrew Symeou, Edmond Arapi, Europe House, European Arrest Warrant, European Commission, Fair Trials Abroad, Fair Trials International, Graham Watson, Jago Russell, Justice in Europe, Poland | 1 Comment »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 20th August, 2011
The European Union’s relations with Russia hit a low in the summer of 2008, when Russian troops intervened in Georgia. And the energy crisis triggered by the Ukrainian gas dispute of January 2009 didn’t help. But in the two-and-a-half years since then, there has been a degree of reconciliation, or at least the mutual acceptance of a kind of modus vivendi. As the Centre for European Studies’ short book, EU-Russia Relations: Time for a Realistic Turnaround (CES, Brussels, 2011), points out, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin wants to see more Western investment in Russia, while President Dmitry Medvedev concedes that Russia will need Western (including European) assistance if it is to modernise. One of the main conclusions of the book is that at the end of the day, Russia needs Europe more than Europe needs Russia. Three authors have provided short essays that form the core of the work: Katinka Barysch (the Deputy Director of the Centre for European Reform), my chum Christopher Coker (Professor of International Relations at the LSE) and Leszak Jesien (EU coordinator at the Polish Institute of International Affairs). It is good to have a Pole involved, as the Polish-Russian dynamic has often been the most problematic within the overall EU-Russia relationship. A central, stark warning by the book’s authors is that the EU still tries to change not only what Russia does but also what it is. Europeans like to think that Russians should be just like us, whereas in fact they aren’t, and probably never will be. In short, Russia is not a Western society.
Christopher Coker takes a cultural approach to the subject. He draws a valuable distinction between what we profess (values) and what we practise (norms). He pulls no punches: ‘Russia is less a functioning nation state than a collection of vested interests… Russia is still trapped in the old ways of thinking.’ He nonetheless foresees a way of resolving the dilemma inherent in bilateral relations: ‘Only by granting [Russia] a distinctive identity will be able to acknowledge that its norms may not be ours, any more than ours are America’s.’ Leszek Jesien focuses on energy relations and trade. Russia enjoys a faourable balance of trade with the EU, but its exports are mainly gas and steel — commodities that are vulnerable to the whims of the market. Europe, on the other hand, is keen to secure its energy supply, even though the trade is currently mainly bilateral between Russia and EU member states, rather than being coordinated Europe-wide. Russia uses energy supplies as an instrument in its foreign policy. ‘For Russia, energy seems to be more like a chess game than a market game,’ Jesien writes. Europe needs to build up a single energy market, he argues. Finally, Katinka Barysch examines the institutional framework. The admission of central and eastern European states into the EU during he 2000s complicated maters considerably, even driving Russia to argue for compensation because of new barriers to trade with its former satellite partners. The current institutions for EU-Russia relations function badly, she argues. But we need to recognise that a chaotic, angry and unstable Russia is a risk to European security and prosperity, So the EU must continue to offer assistance and advice in helping Riussia strengthen the rule of law, build solid institutions, diversify its economy and develop a vibrant civil society.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Centre for European Reform, Centre for European Studies, Christopher Coker, Dimtry Medvedev, EU, Georgia, Katinka Barysch, Leszek Jesien, LSE, Poland, Russia, Ukraine, Vladimir Putin | 2 Comments »
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 8th July, 2011
Poland took over the presidency of the European Union on 1 July and the last few days have seen a positive feast of commemorative events put on by the Polish Embassy in London. On Wednesday there was a glorious reception in the Victoria and Albert Museum, and today the Embassy building itself hosted an academic seminar on Politics and Presidency Priorities with a range of distinguised speakers, including former Prime Minister Kyzysztof Bielecki. He spoke of the need to rearrange expectations: in other words, Poland is a medium-sozed European country that is not part of the eurozone, which must face up to the challenges of a weakening of Brussels institutions alongside increasingly parochial national governments. That might sound downbeat, but the gist of his argument — and that of others — was that Poland can and must stand up to the challenges, especially the economic challenges. The government in Warsaw has the comforting knowledge that over 80% of the Polish public believe in European integration and are in effect cheering ‘PL2011′ on from the sidelines. In the afternoon at today’s seminar, an interesting session focused on how Poland can help promote one particular agenda item on the EU’s to do list, namely upgrading the Eastern European partnership with Ukraine, Moldova and — with certain caveats — Belarus.
Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 17th February, 2011
Only a little over two decades after the struggles of Lech Walesa and his Solidarity colleagues led to the downfall of Communism in Poland, the country is making preparations for holding the rotating presidency of the European Union. Although the implementation of the Lisbon Treaty has meant that there is now a ‘permanent’ President of the European Council — currently the former Belgian Prime Minister, Herman van Rompuy — every six months a key role in the organisation of the Union passes to one member state (currently Hungary). Today, at a Kettner’s lunch held at the National Liberal Club, which I chaired, the head of the political section of the Polish Embassy in London, Jacek Gajweski, gave an excellent, succinct presentation about what Warsaw hopes to prioritise during its half-year in the Brussels sun, starting on 1 July. The final programme will not be unveiled until June, but as far as Mr Gayewski can predict, the six main themse are likely to be:
1) strengthening the EU’s internal market
2) improving relations with the Eastern neighbourhood, including Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia etc
3) strengthening the EU’s energy policy
4) consolidation of the common security and defence policy
5) neogotiating the 2014-2020 financial framework
6) full utiliastion of Europe’s intellectual capital
He said that Poland hopes to see progress in EU enlargement moves, relating to Iceland, Croatia, other parts of the Western Balkans and Turkey. And he noted how internally, Poland has been changing since the country joined the EU in 2004. The proportion of the population employed in agriculture has been halved — though those remaining farmers are perhaps the most pro-EU of all Poles — and as far as the role of the Catholic Church is concerned, he quoted a media commentatorwho said a few yers ago, a propos of John Paul II, ‘We heard the Pope, but we did not listen.’
Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 1st June, 2009
It is often said that one can judge a man by the company he keeps. So no wonder Tory grandees such as Chris Patten and Leon Brittan are appalled that the Conservative Party leader David Cameron is making new alliances with some of the most unpleasant parties in mainstream European politics, as a consequence of pulling out of the centre-right EPP grouping in the European Parliament. These new friends include Poland’s Law and Justice Party, fiefdom of the Terrible Twins, Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and self proclaimed defender of traditional Catholic values. Lech is now Poland’s president, but while Mayor of Warsaw, he banned Gay Pride marches. His brother Jaroslaw declared that the affirmation of homosexuality would lead to the downfall of civilization. So much for the Tories’ newly vaunted inclusiveness.
Latvia’s For Fatherland and Freedom Party, another of the right-wing parties with which the British Conservatives are making an alliance, is in many ways more worrying, with its xenophobic hyper-nationalism. Others reportedly being wooed by team Cameron include intolerant groups in the Czech Republic. The fact that Cameron prefers to mix with people like these, rather than his earstwhile partners Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, highlights not only the degree of his party’s current euroscepticsm, but also his recklessness in contemplating marginalising Britain from central decision-making within the European Union. No surprise, then, that several of the outgoing Conservative MEPs have branded the whole Cameron policy of Tory realignment in Europe as bonkers.
Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged: Angela Merkel, Chris Patten, Conservative Party, David Cameron, EPP, European Parliament, For Fatherland and Freedom Party, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Latvia, Law and Justice Party, Lech Kaczynski, Leon Brittan, Nicolas Sarkozy, Poland | 3 Comments »