Thursday, August 02, 2007

It was bound to happen

Socialism creates so many problems. It even manages to create problems that are seemingly contradictory. For instance, one would think that the environment would suffer because a great deal of infrastructure – new roads, new railways – was built. Somehow, under socialism they managed to destroy a good deal of the environment without producing anything but the shabbiest kind of infrastructure.

Now that they have “rejoined the West” as the propaganda claimed during the referendum campaign, many of the East Europeans would like to sort out one or both of those problems, preferably with a bit of financial help from the ever so rich West.

This does not always work as the latest Polish kerfuffle shows. However, before I try to make some sense of that, I want to remind all our readers that yesterday was the anniversary of the start of the Warsaw uprising that ended tragically with thousands dead and most of Warsaw destroyed.

It is one of those unfortunate events in Eastern Europe that demonstrate how much more convoluted twentieth century history was there than in the West. Most urban uprisings in 1944 in occupied Europe took place in the West and were reasonably successful because the Allies raced to help them.

The Warsaw uprising failed, at least partly because of the non-action of the Soviet army that was ordered to stop on the other side of the Vistula, whence they watched the fighting and the suppression. Stalin had already decided that Poland would definitely be a Soviet colony after the war and had no intention to allow anyone else but his own soldiers to “liberate” the country.

Those members of the Home Army who had survived the ferocious German counter-action, were put on trial, imprisoned or executed by the Communist government. During my time in Oxford I knew reasonably well one of the military prosecutors of that period. She was married to an economist who took part in the terrible bullying that Communists meted out to non-Communist academics, in order to destroy their work and break their spirit before the secret police moved in.

Why were they in Britain? Ah well, what goes around, comes around. In 1968 the Polish government launched an attack on the few remaining Jews of the country and they found it necessary to leave for the West. By the 1980s these refugees were vocal in their support for the new trade unions who were dispensing with the Communist trade union officials. As, I believe I have said before, Communist history is full of such ironies.

Now, on to the problem of infrastructure and environment. The Polish radio reported
A group of inhabitants of Augustów, north-eastern Poland, have staged a picket in front of the European Commission and Greenpeace organization. It is a protest against a decision by the Polish Prime Minister to halt the construction of the controversial motorway from the ecologically unique Rospuda Valley in line with a request by the European Commission.
Their argument, which, if true, is perfectly valid that the particular section of the road, whose building has been suspended, is a necessary by-pass, to stop “tens of thousands” of heavy lorries from going through the town, killing and maiming children in the process.

The Mayor of Augustów has declared himself to be confident that they would win the case in the European Court of Justice where it has been sent by the Commission. One can’t help feeling that his other statement about not even considering alternative routes as these would take too long, might jeopardize his case.

The Times also reported the case, gleefully announcing that this was another example of Polish intransigence. As the Polish Prime Minister (one of those twins) has agreed to the suspension of the work, the intransigence does not seem to be all that great.

The disputed road is part of a planned motorway, which, when completed will link Warsaw to Helsinki through the Baltic States. A good deal of it is being financed by the European Union, though, of course, the Poles are expected to put up some of the money. In particular, they maintain, the Rospuda Valley section will be entirely funded by Poland because of the environmental aspects.

The Rospuda Valley seems to be a remarkable habitat and has been designated as a nature reserve in line with what the Poles perceive as greater care for frogs than for Polish children. Even if we discard the now familiar bout of self-pity, one is faced with a familiar story, the likes of which we have seen in England.

By-passes are built to protect towns and their inhabitants. Almost certainly they go through areas of natural beauty and there are protests. Who is one to side with, given that the inhabitants of those towns send up a wail of protest periodically about the destruction of the environment (when it is somewhere else)?

As the Times points out the story is only just beginning.
It [the Commission] announced that it had asked the European Court of Justice to intervene. The case is expected to be the first of a number of environmental disputes as Eastern European members modernise their roads and railways. The motorway would mark the first time that a member state had proceeded with an infrastructure project in defiance of an EU order.
The whole problem, as I said above, is complicated by the fact that a good deal of the modernization will be financed by the taxpayer of the EU’s net contributors, though the Commissioners may well regard the money as theirs to do with as they will.

There is another aspect that is rarely discussed. A number of Polish environmental groups are also involved in the campaign and are complaining about the fact that their representatives are prevented from going to the area and studying the situation. These organizations are often financed by the blessed EU but most of them are rooted in the last few years of the Communist regime when a good deal of the dissident opposition in all the East European countries and the Soviet Union centred on environmental issues in response to the damage that the socialist governments had done and continued to do. They were much disliked by the authorities and are rather proud of the fact that they helped to bring the Communist regime down.

It would be interesting to know, for instance, who exactly the Mayor of Augustów is and what his own political background might be.

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