Thursday, December 31, 2009

Background analysis: Polish - Israeli Diplomatic Relations post '89

Poland was the first country from the communist bloc to resume diplomatic relations with Israel in 1986. Full diplomatic relations were re-established in 1990, followed by Lech Wałęsa’s visit to Israel only six months after being elected for presidential office in first democratic presidential elections in Eastern Europe. The hosting Prime Minister, Itzhak Shamir at the beginning refused to speak Polish to him, which he knew perfectly, but after a few days he gave up and started reciting to his guest the verses of “Pan Tadeusz” - the Polish national epic.

The second in line to upgrade Polish-Israeli relations after Lech Wałęsa, was Władysław Bartoszewski, who became the foreign minister in 1995. A special committee for relations with Jewish Diaspora was established. An intensified diplomacy between the two states began, more or less with the elections of 2005 and victory of Kaczynski twins’ nationalist party which allied itself with two extreme-right populist groups. Although the coalition was severely criticized domestically and abroad, both President Lech and Prime Minister Jaroslaw stressed the need for good relations with Israel and Jews. Indeed, Jarosław Kaczyński was the first foreign head of state that visited Israel after the II Lebanon War in 2006. In 2007 came the new government of centre-right Civic Platform, with Donald Tusk as a Prime Minister. During his and President Kaczynski’s visit to Israel in 2008, they agreed with Ehud Olmert to upgrade the diplomatic relations between the two countries to the highest, ministerial, level. Tusk also reiterated that Poland is Israel’s best friend in Europe. Olmert and Tusk also inaugurated the Polish Year in Israel, which boasted with dozens of cultural events all across Israel, bringing Israelis closer to the Polish culture. The effects were satisfying – almost 10% of adult Israelis had a contact with Polish culture during this year.

To learn more about the event, click here.

There are quite a few tangible effects of pro-Israeli policy in Poland. First of all, Poland was one of the sponsor countries of abolishing the UN General Assembly “Zionism is Racism” Resolution. Poland was one of the few countries that boycotted Durban II Conference and voted against the Goldstone report. It were Polish MEPs that sponsored the EuroParliament’s motion that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization. Polish government actively advocated upgrading the relations between EU and Israel. Polish-Israeli trade value is not so spectacular – the import-export value between the two countries in 2008 amounted between 436mln $ to 700mln $, according to different sources. This makes Israel Poland’s second biggest trade partner in the Middle East, right after UAE.

Monday, December 28, 2009

News Updates:

In Christmas edition of "Polityka", the newspaper reminded that apart from the war in Gaza earlier this year there were 6 other conflicts going on around the world which were much bigger in casualties than the Israeli operation in the Strip. "Polityka" numbered Afganistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen and also the one that has already finished, namely the civil war in Sri Lanka.

The article appears only in a hardcopy edition.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

News Updates: "War with terror is never pretty" -

Marek Magierowski, one of the bloggers for Rzeczpospolita ("Commonwealth"), one of the biggest newspapers in Poland wrote on 15th of December about the false impressions of Israel among the international public opinion.

He reiterated that Israel has fought the terrorists for years and succeeded in most parts since there were no major bombings in any of the Israeli cities. However she had to paid a great price of losing the media war. In his opinion, the measures taken by Israel are for the majority of the world unacceptable, but at least she's doing it with "an open visor".

He also mentioned Tzipi Livni's arrest warrant in UK, stating the Ms. Livni can rely now only on her fellow countrymen, because outside of Israel supporting the "criminals" of Star of David is seen as not a good thing to do. Pointing out Israel as the main obstacle in Middle East process is once again trendy - reminds Magierowski. He calls an absurd, the British government's recommendation for retail sellers in UK to mark the products coming from the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, thus suggesting not to buy it.

'I'm curious if we could find a sign on Iranian carpets sold in London shops saying "By buying this product, you will fund the biggest sponsor of global terrorism'

Then he presumes that if today's criteria of a war crime would be applied to what the Her Majesty's Government was doing to Irish when fighting IRA, most of the British Prime Ministers of that time would be in jail.

For the original link, click here.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Michnik defends himself in the court - wrote on Tuesday (8.12.2009) on the proceedings of the trial against about a dozen of diplomats and journalists, accused of defamation by Jan Kobylański, former Honorary Consul to Uruguay. The subtitle reads: “Adam Michnik does not revoke his statement published in „Gazeta Wyborcza about Jan Kobylański. – There is no doubt that this gentleman disclosed a Jewish family [to the Nazis – added by S.S.]. And the anti-Semitic language of his group is close to the Nazi one. – he said in front of the Judge.”

The plaintiff wants each one of the defendants to pay 100 thousand PLN to charity organization. Kobylański charged Michnik over articles published in Gazeta Wyborcza revealing Kobylański’s collaboration with Nazis, during the II World War.

Michnik used as an example the quotes from USOPAŁ declaration of the Former Consul Nazi sentiment, (USOPAŁ – Unia Stowarzyszeń i Organizacji Polskich w Ameryce Łacińskiej – The Union of Polish Associations and Organizations in Latin America, Kobylański is its CEO). For example, the Union called Władysław Bartoszewski, Righteous among Nations, Foreign Minister and Auschwitz prisoner, by names like
“a shabbesgoy”, “a jew”, “a traitor”, or an “anti-Pole”. Władysław Bartoszewski, during his term as Foreign-Minister, fired Kobylański from the office of Honorary Consul to Uruguay for his anti-Semitic comments.

Michnik also reminded the Court that the opinion on Kobylański given by the Committee for Prosecuting Crimes against the Polish Nation, finds him guilty of reporting a Jewish family to Gestapo.

Kobylański sued not only “Gazeta Wyborcza” “Rzeczpospolita”, „Newsweek”, „Polityka” but also Radek Sikorski, Polish Foreign Minister. The documentation of the articles, calling him e.g. „a notorious anti-Semite” has 100 pages.

The link to the original article - click here

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Background Analysis: The Reparations

Restitution of the private property nationalized by PPR (Poland People’s Republic) is a heated topic both among Poles and Jews. There has been a multitude of attempts to solve the problem, numerous Polish prime ministers, committees and organizations promised, and consequently worked on the appropriate legal acts, but none of them was put up to ratification. In September 2008, the Polish government led by Donald Tusk had drawn a final draft of a legal act which would finally put the reparations process into motion, but because of the global financial crisis which broke out the following month, all of the extra expenditure projects had been sojourned.
The Act of 20th February 1997 on the State’s relations with the Jewish Belief Communities in the Republic of Poland was the first act regulating the legal status of Jewish communities as well as allowing the communities to recover the lost property like cemeteries, synagogues, schools etc. The process of re-privatizing those properties is going relatively slow but is being carried on. The situation is much more complicated with the private persons’ properties. Poland is the only country of the Eastern Europe who did not authorize the compensations for the lost private property. It should be noted though, that only 20% of the private property nationalized in 1944-1962 by PPR is Jewish. The rest of the property was owned by ethnic Poles. The legal act which is being tried to be ratified in the Polish parliament is not about the re-privatizing Polish or Jewish property but Polish citizens’ property. There have been some important actors in the discourse, both Jewish and Polish, who took extremist position on this issue causing frictions and slowing down the reconciliation process.
The history of Polish-Jewish negotiations on restitutions can be divided into two eras: WJC era, and post-WJC era. WJC, World Jewish Congress, for years was playing a role of the representative of the Jewish side. It tried hard to obtain an agreement with Polish government, but the negotiations were dominated by threats, lack of will for concessions and controversy, which definitely deteriorated significantly public support in Poland for restitutions, and led to a conviction among the majority of Polish society that restitutions are solely a Jewish affair. The most controversial incident which infuriated millions of Poles was a comment made in 1996 by Israel Singer, the General Secretary of WJC, that ‘Poland will be humiliated on international arena’, if Polish government will not resolve the issue of restitution and will not meet the demands of 100% property value compensation. The hawkish policy of Israel Singer and Edgar Bronfman towards Polish continued, causing a plethora of arguments, rumors and accusations. By 1999, the American-Jewish groups, most notably WJC, attempted to condition the access of Poland to NATO on resolving the restitution issue. In 2001 “Gazeta Wyborcza” reported that the NY City Council wants to allow the boycott of Polish airlines at the JFK airport.
Although in years 2000-2007 nobody, apart from nationalist camp, advocated freezing negotiations with WJC as long as Israel Singer continues to be its secretary, newspapers expressed public’s unease with Singer’s radicalism. Witold Gadomski, a journalist of “Gazeta Wyborcza” rejected a general, out of the context of WJC, oversimplification of the problem in his article “Reprivatization – how to pay back the debts of history” (Gazeta Wyborcza, 12.07.2003):

In the historical aspect [of restitution issue], it is hard to justify the demands of the so called “displaced ones” – usually children and grandchildren of the old inhabitants of present Western Territories of Poland [Pomerania and Silesia]. It was not Poles that started the war and we didn’t decide of shifting the borders westwards – losing the lands east of Bug river and receiving compensation for it in the West. It is difficult to understand historically, why the lost property of Zabużanie [Polish population that lived in the regions that before 39’ were in Poland and now are in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine] should be paid for by III Republic of Poland. The republican agreements were signed by non-sovereign entities, PKWN [Polish Committee of National Liberation], that relinquished any reparation demands from USSR and did not represent the interests of Poland. The properties stolen 60 years ago, were nationalized by a Soviet state, so why today, Polish state and its taxpayers should pay for it? And what about the properties destroyed in Central Poland? What about the burnt villages, lost chances of growth? The Repatriants deserve respect and compassion, but one can imagine a situation when some grandson of Zabużanin managed his life pretty well in PRL [PPR – Polish People’s Republic], he collected the fruits of 80’s and 90’s privatization and now he demands a restitution of his grandpa’s property, which will be paid by a taxpayer whose house was burnt in Warsaw Uprising and later on was persecuted by the communist government.

There were 2 attempts of passing the appropriate law by Polish government, when Israel Singer was a secretary. First time, in 2002, the draft act was submitted by Jerzy Buzek’s government and was even passed in both chambers of parliament, but then was vetoed by President Kwaśniewski. The reason the President vetoed the act was the amendment added by AWS (Akcja Wyborcza Solidarność – the remnant of Solidarity movement) deputies, which stated that the act applies only to Polish citizens, which obviously was in breach with international law.
The second attempt was taken in 2007 after the Restitutions Conference held in Warsaw, under the government of Jarosław Kaczyński. However it failed since the government coalition collapsed and new elections were announced. Before the conference, Polish Union of Property Owners and WJC issued together an appeal to Mr. Prime Minister to solve the problem of the lost property.
The same year saw a turning point caused by a scandal over Israel Singer’s alleged felony and mismanagement of Congress’s money. Edgar Bronfman (head of WJC) fired Israel Singer from the WJC and shortly after - resigned. The new CEO, Ronald Lauder adopted a much milder stance on restitutions issue, but the huge reputation blow that WJC suffered, put Lauder in no position to negotiate as a partner with Polish government.
The elections of 2007 were won by the centre-right pro-European Civic Platform (Platforma Obywatelska, PO) and Donald Tusk became the Prime Minister. He did not continue negotiations with WJC, but upon his visit to Israel in April 2008 in a meeting with Polish Israelis, he declared his willingness to pass the legislation.

There were many politicians before me who promised that they will give back 100%. If someone says that he will give back everything, it means that he would have to take it from somebody else. It will not be a property revolution.[…] If someone will apply to the state and will justify his claims, then we will be paying back for long, long years. (from: , “Tusk bez rewolucji własnościowej” 11.04.2008)

He also stated that the compensations will reach maximum 15-20%, paid back in cash, and because of complicated legal and ownership state of affairs a re-privatization of land will be virtually impossible. Donald Tusk also reiterated that the restitution issue is not a subject to inter-state negotiations but it is solely an internal affair of Poland. What seems paradoxical is that the project received more criticism from Polish claimants in the country than from the Jews in America and Israel. The Polish Association of Landed Gentry called the compensation rate “unacceptable” and demanded 50% instead. In September 2009, the act was drafted by the Ministry of the State Treasury and was submitted to the Lower Chamber of the Parliament for voting. The act was not put in to vote though, because of the credit crunch and government had to concentrate on saving the economy, rather than planning more expenditures.

Gazeta Wyborcza’s voice dominated in the ongoing debate. Its writers advocated a prudent and cautious resolution to the problem, based on equal rights of everyone involved. The only groups who tried to give an image of the restitutions as a purely Jewish affair, and therefore being alien and unnecessary or even harmful, were the anti-Semitic groups – the usual Radio Maryja, NOP (National Renaissance of Poland), JR Nowak and his friends, but those voice were marginalized from the mainstream media and could propagate their views only in closed isolated circles of Nationalists. There were cases when during a sermon priests would express anti-Semitism in a reference to the restitutions issue.

The issue is still not resolved, causing controversy, and leaving thousands of people with a feeling of injustice. However, the current government seems to treat more seriously the restitutions act than the previous ones. Hopefully, when the final end will be put to the financial crisis, Donald Tusk won’t forget to resume the efforts to pass the law. It would certainly wipe away the last grudge born ever since the painful and sinister past of Communist state-sponsored Anti-Semitism.