Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Central figure in wife scandal may have fled U.S.

Dariusz Stanley Baranski, the self-proclaimed ringleader of the Polish Navy wife scandal did not show up in federal court today. Attorneys believe he may have fled the country, possibly to Poland.

Baranski was scheduled to be sentenced for his part in an immigration scandal that included some enlisted men from Mayport Naval Station.

Some of the enlisted men from Mayport Naval Station took payments of up to $6,000 to arrange marriages mostly for Polish women looking for American husbands to enable them to stay in the United States and receive military benefits, court records show.

Another benefit: The sailors boosted their basic housing allowances from the Navy by claiming the women as dependents, though immigration officials say none of the couples lived together and most of the women left Jacksonville.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Poland face action after scandal

Polish football could face action after the government suspended the board of the national football association.
A new commissioner was appointed in the wake of a match-fixing scandal, contravening Uefa and Fifa rules against political interference.

The Polish national team ultimately could be thrown out of qualifying for Euro 2008 as a result.

"In the coming days and weeks, we will determine what action to take," said a statement issued by both organisations.

In the past Fifa has suspended teams over political interference.

Poland are in qualifying Group A, alongside Portugal, Serbia, Belgium, Finland, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Management in Polish Tesco stores accused of mistreating employees

Tesco has pledged to investigate claims of management malpractice after being accused of treating staff in its Polish stores "like criminals".

Employees at the supermarket giant told a Polish newspaper that they were subjected to frequent "rough and humiliating" body searches and "aggressive and degrading" behaviour from store managers.

One shop-floor worker said his manager constantly reminded him that cameras were watching him, and that he would be reported to the police if he was found eating during his shift.

"[The management team] chased everyone from my department into a meeting," he told Fakt newspaper. "The manager was unusually worked up and marched up and down the room. He threatened that, if the cameras caught anyone nibbling cheese or drinking yoghurt, they'd find themselves marching out with a police escort."

According to its annual report, Tesco has 107 stores in Poland, employing more than 20,000 staff. It plans to open another 39 during the current financial year. All stores in the country are managed by Polish nationals.

The company said it would take all possible action to correct any mismanagement.

"These allegations are very serious and where we can obtain details of these claims we will be investigating any suggestions of malpractice," a spokeswoman said.

"Tesco is committed to being a good employer, respecting the law and creating good and safe working conditions. On a day-to-day basis, we are governed by basic values and treat people how we like to be treated."

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Priest spy scandal tears at fabric of Poland

By Tom Hundley
Tribune foreign correspondent
Published January 14, 2007

WARSAW -- The stunning resignation of Warsaw's newly appointed archbishop just hours before his inaugural mass, followed by warnings of more disclosures about senior clerics who collaborated with communist-era authorities, has rocked the foundations of the church in this most Catholic of European countries.

The prime minister called the scandal a "national crisis." Many of the faithful are worried that the moral authority of the Roman Catholic Church will be compromised in the country where a young archbishop named Karol Wojtyla openly opposed the communist regime from his base in Krakow before he took the throne of St. Peter as Pope John Paul II.

The revelations and subsequent resignation of Bishop Stanislaw Wielgus were for many Poles a painful reminder of the days when they feared their government, and a bitter confirmation that thousands of those who consoled them from the pulpit may have in fact been informing on them.

Polls indicated that most people want the church to reveal still more about its past. The Polish Bishops' Conference on Friday agreed to ask a panel of lay experts to examine the files of all the country's bishops but said it would only turn over the findings to the Vatican "to judge and assess."

"I am disappointed with the attitude of the bishops. They refuse to say the truth publicly," said Stefania Kononowicz, 91, who still manages to attend mass every Sunday.

She said church leaders "should have been strong enough" to admit their wrongdoing years ago, before they were forced to do so by disclosures in the newspapers.

Miroslaw Nowicki, 51, was more forgiving as he stood outside the gothic spires of the Corpus Christi Church in Warsaw's scruffy Praga district.

"We should remember that Wielgus is only a human being, an ordinary man like we all are. But he must now retire from public life. He disgraced the Polish church and lied to the pope," he said.

On Friday, Archbishop Jozef Michalik, chairman of the Polish Bishops' Conference, called the issue "painful and a humiliation" but also "a process of maturing for the church."

The fact that several thousand priests served as informants has been part of the historical record for years. That a significant number of priests would be compromised was almost inevitable given that the enemy Poland's communist leaders most feared was the Catholic Church.

Janusz Kurtyka, the young historian who heads the Institute of National Remembrance, the agency responsible for investigating the secret police files, compared the situation to a Greek tragedy.

"The church was an institution like any other, and it was infiltrated with agents just like any other," he said in an interview. "But the church was also an institution without which our march to freedom would have been impossible."

Separating present from past

When the communist regime fell in 1989, Poland's new democratic leaders decided that the best way to proceed was to draw "a thick line" separating the present from the past. The hope was that time would heal the wounds, and all the betrayals would recede softly into the mists of history.

That turned out to be overly optimistic. The former communists--now reformed communists--proved to be nimble in recovering their position at the top of the political and economic ladder. Corruption became rife in the new free-market Poland, and the resentment of ordinary people, especially the 10 million who had been members of the Solidarity movement, grew.

Lech and Jaroslaw Kaczynski, the piously Catholic identical twins who serve, respectively, as Poland's president and prime minister, were carried to power in the 2005 election on a promise to root out "the post-communist monster" that many believe haunts the country.

Last month, President Kaczynski signed a new bill opening millions of volumes of communist-era secret police files to public scrutiny. No one doubted the files would contain embarrassing information on church collaboration.

"The communists considered the church their No. 1 enemy," said Kurtyka. "So one can assume the degree and the mechanisms of infiltration were particularly nasty."

Poland's secret police, the SB, opened a filed on every seminarian. Every priest had an agent assigned to his case. To recruit collaborators and informants, the SB used a range of carrots and sticks.

In the case of Bishop Wielgus, the man at the center of the present controversy, his weak spot was an ambition to study medieval philosophy in Germany.

As a doctoral student at Lublin's Catholic University in the late 1960s, the young priest was eager to pursue his studies abroad. In order to obtain a passport and permission to travel, he agreed to cooperate with the SB. The "cooperation" lasted for at least a decade, according to two panels that examined the Institute of National Remembrance files after a Polish newspaper first raised doubts about Wielgus.

Both panels--one appointed by the Polish bishops and the other by the state ombudsman--reached the same conclusion: "Numerous, essential documents exist that confirm Rev. Stanislaw Wielgus' willingness for conscious and secret collaboration with the security organs of communist Poland," according to the bishop's panel.

When confronted with these findings, Wielgus claimed he signed one document of collaboration "in a moment of weakness" after he was "forced with fists," and that he never harmed anyone. He also said he that he disclosed this information to Pope Benedict XVI, but the Vatican says the pope knew nothing of Wielgus' past at the time the appointment was made.

Zbigniew Nosowski, a member of the ombudsman's panel, said it was possible the infamy suffered by Wielgus as a result of the disclosures "may not be proportional to his sins" as a collaborator.

Others who have seen the files say there is some evidence that while Wielgus agreed to be an informant, he failed--perhaps purposely--to deliver much.

But that misses the point, said Nosowski, the editor of Wiez, a respected Catholic magazine. "The SB was interested not only in information, they also were interested in weakening the church by compromising its priests," he said. "Most priests refused. It was not so difficult to say no."

The revelations about Wielgus raise questions about how much Pope John Paul II knew about the collaboration of Polish clergy and whether he should have been more forceful insisting the church acknowledge its failings.

Historians are likely to be forgiving: By the time the secretrecords became legally available to researchers in 2004, the pope was a dying man of diminished capacity.

The details of Wielgus' collaboration were first published by Gazeta Polska, a weekly paper that is generally sympathetic to the Kaczynskis' conservative Catholic agenda. The story came out Dec. 20, two weeks after Wielgus' appointment was announced by the Vatican.

Tomasz Sakiewicz, the paper's editor, said he was presented with Wielgus' file by a confidential source, and decided to publish the story after concluding that the archbishop's collaboration was much more extensive than a one-off moment of weakness.

According to Sakiewicz, SB summaries of its contacts with Wielgus suggested that he secretly tape-recorded fellow priests and steered SB agents to others who might be recruited.

Before publishing its first story, the newspaper confronted Wielgus with its findings.

"He responded the way SB agents are trained to respond. He said that everything was untrue," said Sakiewicz.

Sakiewicz, who considers his newspaper to be part of Poland's independent Catholic press, said it was "a miracle" that prevented "one of the most important communist spies in the church from becoming the most important bishop in Poland."

Support for Wielgus

Last Sunday, at the mass that was supposed to have marked Wielgus' elevation to the archbishop's throne but instead produced his dramatic downfall, two of Sakiewicz's reporters were roughed up by churchgoers. In another city, a Gazeta Polska journalist was severely beaten by skinheads.

The mass was attended by President Kaczynski, who applauded when Wielgus announced his resignation from the altar, but he quickly stopped when he heard the cries of support for the archbishop from the back of church.

For the Kaczynskis, the scandal poses a tricky dilemma. They came to power by promising to settle scores with the old regime. They certainly understood that this would involve some collateral damage to the church, but they expected that delving into the SB files would focus the spotlight on those who ran the system, not on their collaborators, who in many cases could be seen as victims.

Opinion surveys show that Poles, by a 2-1 ratio, agree that Wielgus' resignation was necessary. They also want the church to come clean about its past. But the minority who see the disclosures as an unfair attack by the media tend to be the rural Catholics who voted for the Kaczynskis or for their coalition partner, the Catholic nationalist League of Polish Families.

Cardinal Jozef Glemp, the man Wielgus was supposed to replace, also blames the messenger. Glemp, who established a reputation for being politically tone-deaf during his 26 years as primate of Poland, was dismissive of the evidence in the SB files, calling them "scraps of paper and documents photocopied for a third time."

But others say the church has no choice but to come clean if it hopes to maintain its position of moral authority in Poland.

"What's at stake ... is the credibility of the church," said Nosowski, the Wiez editor. "If the church demands high standards of morality from those in public life, it has to demand even higher standards of itself."

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Another Polish football referee arrested on charges of corruption

Polish police arrested another football referee in connection with a large scale corruption scandal in Polish football.
So far, over 60 football organizations officials have been detained on charges of rigging matches. Several days ago, following the arrest of a prominent member of the Polish Football Association board, the Sports Minister Tomasz Lipiec suspended the board and imposed a commissioner's supervision.