Wednesday, 25 June 2014


Things have been going well for Poland these past few years, the country has been in self-congratulatory mood as it celebrated ten years in the EU, and 25 years since the partially-free elections that ushered in the end of communism. The economy continues to rebound strongly from a slow-down (there was no recession in Poland - the economy just kept on growing, albeit at a slower pace) - and then this had to happen. To quote biker Vance (a young Willem Dafoe) from Katherine Bigelow's first movie The Loveless, "...things could be goin' jake one minute, then, presto - before you know it, you're history".

Complacency breeds sloppy behaviour. The release of bugged private conversations between leading Polish politicians, published in the weekly Wprost,  has been a shock to the entire nation, and to the political elite in particular.

Not wishing to go into the content of the conversations, I must say that I was genuinely shocked at the foul language used by politicians I'd hitherto considered gentlemen. People like Jacek Rostowski, Bartłomiej Sienkiewicz and Radek Sikorski, all of whom I'd met many years before they first entered government. Swearing like a żul lowers a statesman on the level of Pan Heniek outside the sklep spożywczy, barely coherent after his third can of Warka Pstrąg.

Swearing is excusable if you lose your temper - though loss of composure is hardly statesmanlike behaviour. Swearing is excusable if used humorously in a light-hearted context. But use of foul language-as-punctuation-marks either shows a lack of brain-power and vocabulary (not the case with Messrs Sikorski, Rostowski or Sienkiewicz), or else it reveals an immature, insecure macho swagger. I can excuse boorish politicians - President Lyndon B. Johnson on the toilet, trousers round his ankles, yelling obscenities at his aides, demonstrating his Texan swagger - or indeed Polish politicians not too distantly removed from the soil (the late A. Lepper). But well-educated men, scions of noble families - hearing them use such language disappointed me greatly. I felt let down by them.

That's what shocked me most about the tapes. In second place, the fact that this procession of political figures would troop into a well-known restaurant and speak in total frankness, unconcerned by the possibility that their conversations could easily be bugged.

However, with the exception of Slawomir Nowak, rightly-ousted infrastructure minister, trying to wriggle out of some marital tax-avoidance issue, the recordings did not show men trying to enrich themselves at the expense of the state, nor any outright corruption. Rather, the tapes revealed hardball politics in action; men trying to bend public policy in a direction that they genuinely felt was of greater benefit to Poland, though doing so using foul, aggressive language.

The real issue is who was behind the bugging, and the question of whether a newspaper editor should put public good ahead of short-term boost to circulation.

In terms of who's carried out the bugging, and at whose bequest - the first arrests have been made. But two interesting English-language articles are worth reading, published shortly before the ABW stepped in: from the Financial Times, this piece is good. But this piece, from the Swedish-owned Puls Biznesu, is, I believe, so much better. Neither, however, point the finger at the men who were arrested this morning.

The latter article makes the connection between a restaurant that closed because the Polish secret services believed it was linked to Russian spies, and the restaurant in which the bugging took place. The link - an employee of the former place who was working at the latter place. Worth reading.

This afera will go down in Polish history. If one person has come out of it well, it's premier Donald Tusk. His performance at the press conference on the morning of Corpus Christi, his decision to call a no-confidence motion in his own government show high levels of true statesmanship, contrasting with the hypocrisy of those in the opposition baying for the downfall of the government for whatever reason.

This time last year:
Where's the beef? Fillet steak in Warsaw

This time two years ago:
W-wa Zachodnia spruced up for the football, W-wa Stadion reopened

This time three years ago:
Literature and biology

This time six years ago:
Old Nysa van spotted in Grabów

This time seven years ago:
The oats in the neighbouring field rise high


Marcin said...

private conversations between leading Polish politicians

There's not like private conversations at the dinners payed from the public sources/funds, using official/business cards. I'm almost sure, that if Secretary of the Home Office and the Governor of the Bank of England meet with each other at a dinner and that's payed using public sources/funds, then such a meeting might not be justified in any way as a "private" one nor talks/conversations occurred at such circumstances. Saying more. Both officials might be required to write a note/memorandum about a such meeting..., a note/memorandum that might be considered as a kind of public information.

Anonymous said...


Swearing like a żul doesn't seem to be the biggest problem with Radek Sikorski anymore.
Yesterday he proved perfectly capable of lowering himself to a much lower level without even shedding a single obscene word.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ anon:

An interesting analysis on ( - Sikorski was pre-empting a Russian attempt to destabilise the Polish government.