TIME Poland

Report: Poland’s Foreign Minister Blasts ‘Worthless’ U.S. Relationship

Radoslaw Sikorski
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski speaks to the media at a conference in St. Petersburg on June 10, 2014 Dmitry Lovetsky—AP

In tapes obtained by a Polish magazine, Radoslaw Sikorski used an expletive to describe his country's alliance with the U.S.

Polish magazine Wprost claims to have obtained recordings of a conversation in which Poland’s Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski says that “the Polish-American alliance is worthless, even harmful, as it gives Poland a false sense of security. It’s bulls—t.”

The quote is an excerpt of a longer conversation purportedly between Sikorski and former Finance Minister Jacek Rostowski that Wprost is expected to publish Monday or Tuesday, the Associated Press reports. The leaked recording comes just two weeks after President Barack Obama visited Poland.

The conversation is said to have occurred in the spring of 2014, though it’s not yet known who leaked the tape, and the identity of the speakers have not been confirmed.

In the tapes, Sikorski allegedly says Polish people have the mentality of “murzynskosc,” which Radio Polskie says is a racially charged, derogatory term that is roughly similar to “like a Negro.”

“The problem in Poland is that we have very shallow pride and low self-esteem,” Sikorski allegedly says.

Last month, Poland put forth Sikorski as a candidate to succeed European Union foreign policy head Catherine Ashton. Sikorski has been a supporter of the U.S. in the past, but in recent years has become more critical of the U.S. government.

Sikorski has also been a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin and his role in the Ukraine crisis. During his visit to Warsaw in early June, Obama proposed spending as much as $1 billion to increase U.S. military presence in Poland and surrounding countries in case Putin escalates the conflict in the region, the Washington Post reports.

On Twitter, Sikorski said he had never been to the restaurant where he believed the conversation was said to have been recorded. Wprost’s Michal Majewski replied that the conversation did not take place at that restaurant — where other recordings obtained by the magazine had — but in a completely different location.

The Polish government said it would comment after the rest of the recordings are published.

[Radio Polskie]

TIME Poland

Polish City Erects Statue of Peeing Lenin

Nowa Huta’s new sculpture of the famed Communist icon is a little different from the famous one it once hosted

The Polish town of Nowa Huta, near Krakow, has erected a statue of the Vladimir Lenin to take the place of the iconic monument to the Communist revolutionary that once stood in the town, but the new version is a bit different from the old.

Unlike the old Lenin statue, which was removed from the town’s main street in 1989, Nowa Huta’s new Lenin is bright green and features Lenin relieving himself, complete with a strategically placed fountain to round out the effect. The figure is even called Fountain of the Future.

One of the statue’s creators said the sculpture will show visitors that Nowa Huta is not merely a “grey and gloomy” town, The Telegraph reports.

[The Telegraph]

TIME NATO

Hagel Pushes NATO Partners to Put More Skin in the Game

U.S. Defense Secretary Hagel speaks during a news conference at the end of a meeting of the North Atlantic Council in Brussels
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel speaks during a news conference in Brussels on June 4, 2014. Reuters

During a trip to Brussels on Wednesday, Chuck Hagel leaned on fellow NATO member states to up their financial stake in the alliance in order to counter an increasingly aggressive Russia

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel leaned on fellow NATO member states to up their financial stake in the alliance in order to counter an increasingly aggressive Russia during a trip to Brussels on Wednesday.

The secretary of defense’s urging for greater financial contributions from NATO members comes as several of the bloc’s governments continue to slash their military budgets, which has forced the U.S. to shoulder more of the costs of keeping the alliance afloat.

“Over the long term, current spending trends threaten NATO’s integrity and capabilities,” Hagel told reporters.

During a press conference on Wednesday, Hagel spoke forcefully about the need to counter Moscow and said Russia’s recent actions in neighboring Ukraine “constitute the most significant and direct challenge to European security since the end of the Cold War.”

The sectary of defense called on NATO’s members to “issue a definitive declaration to reverse current trends and rebalance the alliance’s burden-sharing,” according to a statement published by the Pentagon.

Hagel’s trip to the NATO headquarters in Belgium coincided with President Barack Obama’s state visit to Poland. During a speech in Warsaw, Obama pledged to tap Congress for an additional $1 billion to fund new European security measures.

TIME Foreign Policy

Twitter Unimpressed With Obama’s Leaked Workout Video

Do you even lift, bro?

When Internet got wind of a leaked video of President Barack Obama lifting weights during a recent visit to Poland, the people of Twitter were plainly unimpressed. The Secret Service assured reporters that there was no threat to the president as anyone entering the hotel, including its gym, would have been checked for weapons, but some tweeters saw a different kind of threat to national security in the leaked footage.

Here’s a collection of people on Twitter hating on the president’s workout routine.

TIME Poland

Obama Turns to Poland for Fans of American Leadership

Obama Visits Poland
U.S. President Barack Obama and Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski during a speech to mark 25 years of Polish democracy in Warsaw on June 4, 2014. Wojciech Grzedzinski—Zuma Press

Beset by scandals at home and a confrontation with Russia over Eastern Europe, Obama finds a crowd of admirers in Poland still eager for American leadership.

It must have been a welcome change of pace for U.S. President Barack Obama. His speech to a crowd of thousands on Wednesday in the Polish capital of Warsaw was very much a sermon to the converted. He did not need to convince anyone of U.S. strength or moral authority. He did not need to argue the importance of isolating Russia in response to its attack against Ukraine. No hecklers or protesters came out to jeer him, and Poland still felt like a sentimental devotee of the global order that emerged when the Cold War ended.

“History was made here,” Obama said in his speech on Castle Square, the scene of numerous protests against Russian rule that ended in civilian blood being spilled over its pavestones. “The victory of 1989 was not inevitable. It was the culmination of centuries of Polish struggle, at times in this very square.”

The occasion for the speech was the 25th anniversary of the elections that broke the communist monopoly on power in Poland in 1989. The anti-Soviet Solidarity movement, led by the independent union organizer Lech Walesa, won every freely contested seat in that ballot, including the entire Polish senate. The following year, as Soviet rule receded from Eastern Europe, Walesa was elected President and pursued integration with the West on every front, leading in 1999 to Poland’s ascension to the NATO military alliance and in 2004 to its membership in the E.U.

“We could not have achieved these things without continued American support,” says Adam Rotfeld, who served as Poland’s Foreign Minister in 2005. “So Obama’s visit is not just a reminder of American engagement in Eastern Europe – which is very important in itself – but an opportunity for us to express our gratitude to the United States,” Rotfeld tells TIME.

And many in the crowd had come out to do just that. Even before Obama began his speech, the somewhat monotonous lecture of his Polish counterpart, Bronislaw Komorowski, was interrupted as often by the persistent chiming of the castle’s clock tower above his head as it was by intermittent chants of “Obama!”

Jana Rasym, a beautician in Warsaw, expressed a common sentiment: “In Poland we like to be like small America.” She had not heard of the latest scandal hounding Obama at home – the release of five Taliban fighters in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, an American prisoner of war in Afghanistan – and she didn’t seem to care. “How it is possible not to love Obama?” she asked, clapping together the paws of her lapdog as the American President began to speak. And in this setting, no good answer came to mind.

But in the lead up to Obama’s visit, there were some expressions of nostalgia for the age of unrivaled American leadership that followed the collapse of the Soviet Union. The most notable voice was that of Walesa, whose truculent style has won him a reputation as something of a crank in recent years. “The States should organize us, encourage us and offer programs, while we, the world, should do the rest,” Walesa told the Associated Press a week before Obama’s arrival. “This kind of leadership is needed.”

The U.S. has tried to play that role amid the ongoing standoff with Russia over Ukraine. It has led the push to impose economic sanctions against Russia and isolate it from the West. But if Poland has been an unflinching ally in this effort, Western European nations have been calling for cooler heads. The divide is in some ways typical of the power dynamics within the E.U., where the newer members in the east (the ones closer to Russia’s borders) are often more gung-ho about forming a united front against Russia than their Western European allies.

A recent survey by the Pew Research center bears this out. Two weeks before the elections to the European Parliament handed a resounding victory last month to the Eurosceptic parties, which tend to favor closer ties with Moscow, the survey found Poland the strongest holdout in support of European unity. While barely half of the Europeans surveyed had a favorable view of their alliance, in Poland that number was 72%. Another Pew survey conducted last year found that 67% of Poles had a favorable view of the U.S., compared to 58% across the continent, higher than any other European nation except Italy.

As Obama noted in his speech on Wednesday, “As Americans, we are proud to call Poland one of our strongest and closest allies.” Now if only he could get more of his allies around the world, or indeed more of his own countrymen, to believe in American leadership as Poland does.

TIME europe

U.S. Plans Military Exercises Near Russia

Joe Biden
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden walks past the barricades on Mykhailivska Square in Kiev, Ukraine, on April 22, 2014 Sergei Chuzavkov—AP

The U.S. will deploy about 600 troops for training exercises in Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to reassure NATO and regional allies adjacent to Russia

The U.S. will send hundreds of troops to East Europe for training exercises, the Pentagon said on Tuesday, as the Americans look to reassure nervous allies near Russia.

The U.S. will deploy roughly 600 troops already stationed in Europe to Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, Rear Admiral John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary, said on Tuesday. The troops will be replaced with new units within about a month, and the U.S. expects to maintain a presence for at least the remainder of the year, he said.

“The message is to the people of Poland and Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia that the United States takes seriously our obligations,” Kirby said.

The U.S. is aiming to reassure allies in the region amid tensions on Ukraine’s eastern border, where Russia has amassed thousands of troops since it annexed the southern Ukrainian region of Crimea.

Vice President Joe Biden met with the Ukrainian leadership in Kiev on Tuesday, where he threatened new sanctions against Russia if it does not pull back its troops. He also said Russia should “stop talking and start acting,” days after international parties agreed on a joint roadmap to diffuse the crisis in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Russian separatists have occupied towns and cities. The separatists have so far defied the agreement’s stipulation that they disarm, and on Tuesday acting Ukrainian President Oleksandr Turchinov called for police to resume “counterterrorism” operations in the region after the body of a recently abducted local politician with suspected torture marks was found.

TIME Germany

Germany Returns Stolen Polish Art from 1939

Berlin hopes that the return of ‘Palace Stairs,’ an 18th Century picture by Venetian artist Francesco Guardi, will encourage Warsaw to return German books and manuscripts held in Poland

The German government has returned a painting stolen by the Nazis during the Second World War.

‘Palace Stairs,’ an 18th Century picture by Venetian artist Francesco Guardi, was taken from Poland’s National Museum just after Germany invaded in 1939. The German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier gave the work to his Polish equivalent Radoslaw Sikorski on Monday, reports the BBC.

The picture, which shows noblemen talking on the stairs of the Doge Palace in Venice, ended up at the University of Heidelberg after the war before going to the State Gallery of Baden-Wuerttemberg. It wasn’t recognized as belonging to Poland until the 1990s.

The German government hopes eventually that the Berlinka collection – a set of 300,000 manuscripts, books and drawings – will be returned to them from Poland. The items were stored in Poland during the war by the Nazis to protect them from damage, and now currently reside in Krakow. Differences of opinion between Berlin and Warsaw had prevented any deals from being reached sooner, and German officials hope the return of ‘Palace Stairs’ will reignite dialogue with Poland.

“The painting has been on a long odyssey,” said Mr. Steinmeier. “[It represents] the difficult history between our two countries.”

[BBC]

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