Jonathan Fryer

Posts Tagged ‘Poland’

Growing the European Liberal Family

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 5th June, 2016

image.jpegAt the ALDE (European Liberals and Democrats) Party Council in Vilnius this weekend, new full member parties were welcomed from Spain, Poland and Ukraine. The first two were particularly significant, as we did not have a national Spanish member party, only the (very strong and active) Catalan regional party, Convergencia. Last year, I was one of a number of European Liberal Democrats who went to Madrid for a day-long event with Cuidadanos, to check them out. Although new, they have already performed quite strongly in elections, and are undoubtedly a liberal, centrist force. Paradoxically, several key figures in the party are Catalan, and have therefore found themselves on the opposite side of the regional independence argument from Convergencia, but that will not stop the two working side-by-side within ALDE. As for the new Polish party, Nowoczesna, it is relatively small but is bravely standing up against the forces of illiberalism in Poland, where the government has even attracted formal EU concern. As the next ALDE Congress will be held in Warsaw at the beginning of December, one hopes this will give our new member a significant boost. The Ukrainian newbie, Civic Position, is also quite small but is a welcome liberal addition to that conflict-ridden state’s political landscape. ALDE has member parties right across Europe, not just in the EU, though Brussels-centred activities are a core area of operation. Being part of ALDE can help liberal parties outside the EU to feel part of a wider family, and indeed to receive practical assistance in some cases. Of course, in less than a month Britain could be starting its own bumpy journey out of the EU into the periphery, though the call from all the Continental and Irish delegates at the ALDE Party Cluncil was clear: “Please don’t leave!”

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David Cameron’s D-Day

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 18th February, 2016

Cameron EU 1The British Prime Minister, David Cameron, is in Brussels today for the most important European Council meeting of his time in office. He has to persuade the other 27 EU Heads of Government that an acceptable compromise on his demands for EU reform has been reached, enabling him to return to London to campaign for a “Remain” vote in the forthcoming IN/OUT EU Referendum. It is known that several central and eastern European countries, including Poland, are still unhappy about the key British request that the UK be allowed to deny in-work benefits to EU migrants for a period of four years after their arrival in the country. Yet the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk — himself a former Polish Prime Minister — declared late yesterday that EU leaders have ‘no choice’ but to do a deal on Mr Cameron’s demands. The prospect of Brexit — the UK’s withdrawal following a ‘Leave’ victory in the Referendum — is seen in Brussels as almost too horrible to contemplate. This is not just because most other member states genuinely value British membership and the way Anglo-Saxon values and working practices contribute to the EU mix but even more importantly because there is a fear that were Britain to leave other member states would start to make difficult demands and the whole European project could start to unravel. The discussions on the proposed British reforms will begin at 1645 today and I know from my own past experience covering EU Council meetings for Reuters that these could go on well into the night. If the leaders still have not reached a satisfactory compromise then, they will begin again over breakfast tomorrow morning. But even if Mr Cameron is able to claim victory when he returns to London (which is still not guaranteed) his battles are not over. Within the ruling Conservative Party, and indeed even within the Cabinet, there is deep hostility to the European Union and as soon as the Prime Minister is back in Downing Street those Tory EU opponents will join the campaign for Brexit with all guns blazing.

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Keeping European Extremism at Bay

Posted by jonathanfryer on Monday, 14th December, 2015

EU imageThere was a collective sigh of relief among Europe’s mainstream body politic last night when the Front National failed to gain control of a single region of France. Marine Le Pen unsurprisingly blamed the electoral system, but the French model of two-round elections actually served the electorate well, as in many regions the two candidate run-off posed a simple question: do you want a FN administration or not? And the majority decided they did not, coming out to vote in larger numbers than in the first round and rallying behind whichever candidate from the centre left or centre right was left in the run-off. That’s the good news. But it should not blind us to the fact that both Ms Le Pen and her niece scored over 40% of the vote in their regions and that the FN is now the main opposition party in many areas of France. Their strong performance was undoubtedly helped by the murderous attacks by Islamist extremists in Paris last month, but that is not the only reason.

Nigel FarageThere has been a swing to right-wing, anti-immigrant parties in many parts of the EU, partly in response to the refugee and migrant crisis. Hungary has a particularly unpleasant government that enjoys strong public support and Polish voters moved to the right in recent elections. In the Netherlands, an anti-immigrant party is back leading some opinion polls after a period of decline. One brighter spot is the UK, where UKIP seems to be on the wane, having peaked at the European elections last year. But we cannot be complacent. When things go badly wrong in a society, whether relating to security or to the economy, the siren call of the far right will be appealing to a significant section of the population, which is why other parties, including the UK’s Liberal Democrats, need to have a clear and strong message to counter it.

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Community Voices: EU Migrants in England

Posted by jonathanfryer on Wednesday, 22nd July, 2015

New Europeans seminarFreedom of movement is one of the pillars of the European single market, something that is not only good for business and the economy but good for individuals as well, as a majority of younger people in this country understand. Yet the Conservative government, egged on by the more repulsive elements of the right-wing Press, is trying to renegotiate some aspects of freedom of movement as part of a package that David Cameron wants to put before the British public in a referendum on the country’s EU membership some time over the next couple of years. On that he will fail, as there is no way that countries such as Poland will accept some of the things he has been suggesting. And why should the Poles? They — along with migrants from our other 26 partner states — have made a huge contribution to the British economic recovery. They pay in, in taxes, NIC etc, far more than they take out of our welfare state, and although UKIP and the more extreme Tory head-bangers may moan about the fact that there are over two million EU migrants in the UK they conveniently ignore the fact that there are almost as many Brits living on the continent. Yet the British public knows very little of the reality, often preferring to swallow scare stories from the Daily Express.

New EuropeansSo it is a matter for congratulation that the NGO New Europeans has been running a series of meetings in England and Wales looking at the reality of the impact of EU migration on communities. The final one of these was held at Europe House in Westminster this evening, featuring a couple of academic presentations on the evidence before break-out sessions on the themes of health, education, housing and jobs. One point that really came home to me was how the Labour government in 2004 failed to make adequate provisions for the inevitable influx of workers from Poland in particular. The Labour Party has now renounced that policy of opening up to the new EU member states (just as it is busy renouncing most of its previous progressive policies at the moment in a scramble to sell itself to middle Britain). In the event, the migrants were blamed for what were in fact the British government’s shortcomings. It was interesting to hear from young researchers from Southampton how many Poles there have set up businesses, creating jobs, not ‘stealing’ them.Although we do not know when the referendum is going to be, it is essential that the true facts be in the public domain. Too often, with organisations such as Migration Watch active in the field we are seeing policy-driven evidence rather than evidence-driven policy being propagated. And as every true academic knows, that is classic bad practice.

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Pride in Europe

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 24th June, 2014

gay prideThis week, for the first time ever, the LGBTi Pride Rainbow Flag is flying from the facade of Europe House in London’s Smith Square, headquarters of the European Parliament office and European Commission representation. Yesterday afternoon, there was a seminar there on extending LGBT rights in the EU, learning from the UK experience. For once it was good to celebrate an area in which Britain is actually a leader in the European Union. Things are not nearly so advanced in some formerly Communist states of Europe, but the point was interestingly made at the seminar that labour mobility within the EU had helped to alter attitudes in some central and eastern European states radically. Poland is a good case in point; until recently overwhelmingly conserative an often homophobic it has recently liberalised, partly thanks to migrant workers who came to Britain, for example, and for the first time engaged with LGBTi people and later returned home with a different opinion. Alas, in some eastern European states that are not part of the EU the situation is still dire. It was good (but a little depressing) to hear of work being done to help activists in Belarus who have been prevented from setting up a solidarity group. In Russia, the situation is actually regresing, as Putin has led a red-blooded heterosexual counter-offensive as what he decries as gay EU expansionism. Anyway, when Conchita Wurst will lead the London Pride celebrations in Trafalgar Square this Saturday, so those of us living in London will have much to be joyful about,  which should fortify us to help defend the rights of those living in jurisdictions that are not so inclusive.

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Gerald Howson: A Very Polish Affair

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 27th May, 2014

Gerald Howson PolandGerald HowsonIn 1959, at the height of the Cold War, the British photographer Gerald Howson was sent to Poland to take pictures for Queen magazine, in principle to illustrate an article that would be written by a friend of mine (long since deceased), the writer Frank Tuohy, who was then working for the British Council in Warsaw. What Gerald found was a country trying to recover from being marched over, occupied, divided up for centuries and latterly dominated by Soviet Russia. He took his cameras into the streets of Warsaw, Krakow and other towns and cities, photographing ordinary people and everyday scenes, deliberately not artfully constructed, almost surreptitiously, though many people realised he was snapping away and were quite unconcerned about it. Frank never wrote his article, as he worried that identifiable people might suffer because of it, and Gerald did not find it easy to place many of his pictures on his return home, as they did not fit into the then popular genres of fashion or glamour. The Polish authorities weren’t too happy, either, asking him where were the pictures of people dancing and being happy (as Gerald says openly now, “there weren’t any!”). Many years later, a former BBC World Service colleague of mine, Bogdan Frymorgen, who was searching for images for a museum of 20th century Polish history, from the layperson’s point of view, went to see Gerald and discovered the treasure trove of black and white images that he had stored in a chest of drawers. The net result is a fascinating exhibition, which has already been shown in Poland but is now in the 12 Star Gallery at Europe House in Smith Square, London (the HQ of the European Commission and European Parliament’s offices in London) until 13 June. There are some stunning images, several of them drawing their power from their very banality, but often with an unspoken deeper message behind, such as the almost deserted but rubble-strewn streets of the Jewish quarter in Krakow or two little boys with cows in a field, with the menacing fence of Auschwitz in the background. Gerald — now in his 90s, but scintillating in conversation, as well as in the historical writings that have occupied his later years — captivated the people present at the exhibition’s London vernissage this evening when he declared that people in Poland in 1959 were just so bored of the Soviets being there. The same cannot be said of him or his work; one can get a good flavour from the following video clip on YouTube: 

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Russia’s UN Veto over Crimea

Posted by jonathanfryer on Saturday, 15th March, 2014

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At the UN Security Council in New York Russia has vetoed a resolution denouncing tomorrow’s planned referendum in Crimea. China abstained. But the clear majority view within the international community is that the referendum is illegitimate and that moreover Russia’s increasingly belligerent stand-off with Ukraine is the most serious threat to European security since the end of the Cold War. The European Union and the US have rightly warned Moscow that economic sanctions and other punitive measures could be imposed against key Russian figures unless President Putin backs off, but he seems to be on a roll, basking in the support of Russian nationalists and a significant proportion of the population of Crimea itself. Crimea was ceded to Ukraine by Nikita Krushchev during the old Soviet days, but as there were no internal borders between the different republics of the Soviet Union that did not make much difference. These days Russia and Ukraine are two separate countries, however, and the demonstrators who occupied Kiev’s Independence Square from last November onwards made clear their preference for an EU-oriented future rather than one ties to Russia’s apron-strings. In advance of tomorrow’s vote, an attempted incursion by Russian helicopters was made into the Ukrainian district of Kherson, which is not part of Crimea and which represents a serious escalation. Frantic diplomatic efforts are still going on to try get the Russians to calm the situation, but the UNSC vote does feel like a return to the old days of East-West standoff. However, there two important differences worth noting. These days Moscow does not have a group of satellite states to support it; indeed, Poland and the Baltic States (the latter once part of the Soviet Union) have been strong in their criticism of Putin’s moves. And secondly, although there were, predictably, some demonstrations in Russia lauding Putin’s machismo, several tens of thousands went into the street of Moscow today to protest against what is happening.

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Migrant Workers and EP2014

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 10th September, 2013

A useful article (which first appeared on the European Movement’s euroblog) by Matthew Donaher of the trade union UNISON on why it’s important to vote in next year’s European Elections — and how migrant workers benefiting from the EU’s freedom of movement of labour could influence the outcome:

migrant workersIn 1999 I was part of the 76% of the UK electorate who didn’t cast a vote in the European Elections. It wasn’t deliberate, but neither was I that bothered when the next day a friend asked me who I had voted for.
Now however I would not dream of abstaining in the Euro-elections next year. I will be actively working to encourage members of my union – UNISON, and their friends, families, and communities to turn out and not just vote but to actively participate in the political process.
There are three key reasons for doing this. First, the European Parliament is important, as readers of this blog know. The ideas that are discussed in the Parliament are directly relevant to the lives of workers in Britain, whether it’s health and safety, working time, public service provisions, trade union rights, or equalities the decisions taken by the 766 MEPs impact on us every day.
Like me in 1999 many of our members do not realise the extent of the Parliament’s reach, or they do not believe that they have the ability to influence the decisions taken by voting for the people that will best represent their interests. Our job as a union is to help our members make their voices heard at every possible opportunity.
Polish buildersSecondly, my focus as a community organiser who works with UNISON’s Polish Worker’s Network; it is an opportunity for us to enable our members who are EU migrants (and particularly Eastern European) to organise themselves as part of Britain’s political life.
They may not be entitled on the whole to vote in the general election but they can vote in European and the simultaneous local elections. Part of our role as their union is to educate members about the political process and how to influence it. Primarily though we should be providing mechanisms for migrant workers who are at the forefront of delivering public services and utilities in this country to tell politicians what their self identified needs and interests are. Engaging in electoral politics is an essential part of that.
Furthermore the European elections are a brilliant opportunity for well organised communities and groups of workers to assert themselves. Due to low turn-outs the fact is that in some regions EU migrants could easily influence the allocation of seats; and if they organise together with their British colleagues around common goals through the unions and community organisations we can make a real difference. If we agree with the ONS that there are about 4 million EU citizens in the UK that is a substantial proportion of the electorate, especially given that turnout in the last Euro-elections was just over 15 million.
We would expect that, if our members see that their collective activity with the union has visibly altered the outcome of the election, then that is going to encourage continued participation in UNISON and in wider civic society.
Thirdly, and equally importantly, as a union that organises and represents thousands of migrant workers from around the world, not just Europe, it is important that we organise as many of our members as possible to use their votes for a positive, progressive, and social Europe that defends the social chapter and fights for more equality and better rights, rather than reactionaries who want to tear up equalities legislation, abolish working time regulations, and kick out a sizable percentage of the very people that look after your elderly aunt in the care home, and keep clean that hospital you had the operation in last year.
My colleague Narmada Thiranagama has written for the Institute of Employment Rights about many of the reasons why people should vote against the jokers in UKIP; our members need to mobilise effectively to make sure these reactionary charlatans don’t come first in the elections and our migrant members can play a key role in that.
How can our migrant members organise themselves and their families to have an impact on the election? If we give them a compelling narrative that engages and encourages the telling of positive stories of how working people have influenced the European wide fight for progress, people will feel it’s worth participating. This will mean creating vibrant channels for communication between members and between our members and the politicians who want their vote, using the tried and tested methods of community organising, hustings, face to face meetings in workplaces, and communities, 1 to 1 conversations between activists and members, and an active and lively social media presence.
2014 is just the start, in 2019 we could see the first UNISON sponsored Polish UK MEP.

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Ed Davey, the EU and Climate Change

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 16th June, 2013

Ed Daveyclimate changeThe European Union has been leading the way in the global fight against climate change, not least thanks to the efforts of Liberal Democrat Ministers in the UK’s Coalition government, Chris Huhne and now Ed Davey. The latter was guest speaker at Merton Liberal Democrats’ summer garden party in Wimbledon this afternoon and restated his determination that the Paris summit in 2015 must seal a meaningful new treaty, to build on achievements so far. There are some member states that are dragging their feet — notably Poland, which still relies heavily on coal for its energy needs. But the UK is part of a group of 10 EU member states — dubbed the Green Growth Group — which are on the side of the angels in the related debate. Moreover, Ed has been buoyed by the appointment of John Kerry as Barack Obama’s Secretary of State in his second term, as Kerry was ahead of Al Gore in recognising the problems of global warming. Even China is sending out some reassuring signals. The problems of air and water pollution in China are immense, as a result of the country’s rapid industrialisation and relatively lax environmental supervisory standards. But public opinion in China has become increasingly vociferous about the health consequences for children — all the more acute give China’s ongoing (though modified) one child policy. Accordingly, the Chinese Communist Party has started to take note of ecological protests, instead of just suppressing them, as it realises that its survival in government may be at stake. Back home in the UK, it is the Liberal Democrats who have been keeping the Coalition government on track on climate change issues, despite the scepticism of certain Tory right-wingers. In next year’s European elections (which in London will coincide with all-out borough council elections) the LibDems must champion this success. Furthermore, Ed argued, we should not hold back in attacking UKIP, which is not only the home of many climate change deniers but also tries through its lies and distortions to undermine European cooperation with all its beneficial aspects for our common future.

http://www.edwarddavey.co.uk and http://www.mertonlibdems.org.uk

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Celebrating Janusz Korczak

Posted by jonathanfryer on Thursday, 10th January, 2013

Janusz KorczakThe 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.”

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