Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 1
10 January 2000

Last Week in Poland C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
Last Week in Poland
News from Poland since 1 January 2000

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska
and Donosy-English

No Y2K problems in Poland. After assuring the public that everything possible had been done to ensure basic services, Mazowsze voivoda Antoni Pietkiewicz's final words were: "We are ready for year 2000 and we ask everyone to behave normally." Everything did go off without a hitch - as elsewhere - with all service providers reporting no problems. And the public apparently behaved normally.

Soon it will be probably more difficult to gain access to one of the best things the Polish railway system has going for it. Due to a dispute between PKP (Polish Railways) and Wars, the company that runs the sleeping cars, it will no longer be possible to buy tickets for sleeping cars at train stations. As per usual, the problem comes down to money, with Wars accusing PKP of not transferring money it received from selling tickets for sleeping cars to Wars. Wars president Krzysztof Lipinski estimates that PKP owes his company somewhere in the neighbourhood of several million złoty. Considering PKP's ongoing financial woes, taking the initiative and siphoning off their partner is somewhat understandable... however, you would think that they could be a little more subtle.

President Aleksander Kwaśniewski sent a congratulatory cable to interim-President Vladimir Putin as well as a letter to Boris Yeltsin on 31 December. To Putin, he wrote: "You are taking up new duties at the moment when we are entering a new millennium. This has a symbolic dimension. I believe that we shall jointly work to ensure peace, stability, democracy and development for our countries and the nations of the whole region."
He praised Yeltsin by saying: "Under your leadership, Russia entered the road of democratic development, beginning the process of deep reforms, which, despite inevitable difficulties, will bring - I am convinced of this - well-being and prosperity to Russia and its peoples... We, the Poles, are especially grateful to you for your commitment to overcoming the difficult legacy of Polish-Russian history, for revealing the painful truth of the Katyn tragedy to the world, [which] created a foundation for the normalisation of relations between our countries and opened the road to rapprochement and reconciliation of the peoples of Poland and Russia."

Apparently the Cabinet caught a glimpse of Kwaśniewski's notes and cribbed away. The issued statement, read by Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek, stated that Poland appreciated President Yeltsin's contribution to democratisation in Russia as well as the normalisation of Polish-Russian relations. The statement went on to read that "at the threshold of a New Year, Poland wishes Russia success in building democracy and the prosperity for its citizens. Poland hopes for a political solution to the Chechen crisis and an end to the war." Chief Foreign Policy Adviser Jerzy Marek Nowakowski expressed the belief that Russia would become more stable after Yeltsin's stepping down.

A day earlier, the Polish Senate passed a resolution calling for an immediate halt to the war in Chechnya. In a rare display of solidarity, the resolution passed by a vote of 59 nil, with 23 senators of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance SLD (SLD) abstaining. The resolution stated that "military actions must not violate international legal obligations adopted by Russia," with a pointed nod to the necessity to respect international human rights standards. According to PAP [Polska Agencja Prasowa - The Polish News Agency] Foreign Minister Geremek called for the original harsher language of the draft to be toned down. The original language explicitly condemned what it termed Moscow's undeclared intention to exterminate the Chechens.

Things aren't as bad as all that, and President Kwaśniewski, in a televised address to the nation on New Year's eve, struck an optimistic note. On the economic front, he noted that "the passing year was marked by continuing economic growth and [an] inflow of foreign capital to Poland. Although the rate of growth was smaller than had been expected earlier, Poland remained one of the fastest growing countries of the region." Other important landmarks of the year included accession to NATO and a closer step to joining the European Union. But, he also mentioned the not-so-great moments, such those caused by the introduction of the four major structural reforms. In connection to this, he stated that "those in Government must…be open to criticism and swiftly react to reports of mistakes and negligence." Overall, though, he said that looking back over Poland's 20th century, it had been a positive one as "hope, perseverance and farsightedness won over tragedies, weakness and powerlessness." Pats on the back all around it seems.

Speaking of NATO, Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 30 December that Poland failed to fulfil three of the 24 "minimum requirements" it had pledged to when it joined NATO in March. Three airfields were supposed to be upgraded, in order for NATO planes to be able to land. Also, Polish aeroplanes have yet to be fitted with a "friend-foe" recognition system, which would be helpful in preventing them from being identified as enemies and potentially shot down by NATO air defences in a military conflict situation. Lately, the squadron of MiG-29 fighters and two squadrons of Su-22 warplanes, which were to be prepared for collaboration with NATO, have not been. In a mature response, Defence Deputy Minister Bogdan Klich said the blame didn't lay solely with the Poles, as there were delays with supplies of the recognition system as well as appropriate plans for the reconstruction of airfields. He also pointed out that Poland wasn't alone in lagging behind - but didn't name names.

Even economically things aren't as bad as all that - according to the Institute for Market Economy Research (IBnGR), a leading independent think tank. Though Poland's growth rate was negatively affected by the Russian crisis, slowing to it's lowest rate in five years at 1.5%, it rebounded to a respectable 4.9% in the third quarter. Bohdan Wyznikiewicz, deputy head of IbnGR, told a news conference that "the economy scored a great success this year, taking into account such unfavourable external factors." He went on to state that widely held negative opinions over the state of the economy (August surveys showed 60% thought the economy was in bad shape, up from 41% in December 1998, and the latest CBOS poll showed that 52% thought the economy was deteriorating) were prompted by rising inflation and growing unemployment - which was up to 12.5% in November, up from 10.4% at the end of the previous year.

Poles' movie tastes are shifting away from the shoot-em-up American action movies, which dominated screens in Poland in the early 1990s, to Polish made historical themes. Cinema attendance was up 25% from 1998, raising annual revenues to 225 million złotys (USD53 million). The bulk of the credit in returning audiences to Polish-language films can be given to Andrzej Wajda, who translated Adam Mickiewicz's literary classic Pan Tadeusz for the screen. Filmed for a staggering (by Polish movie standards) USD three million, the movie pulled in around four million viewers in its first month - or more than a tenth of Poland's 39 million population. The year before, another historical epic, Ogniem i Mieczem, attracted more than seven million people and grossed some 105 million złotys (USD25.32 million), more than five times its budget.

The old theatres are also fading away and are being replaced by American-style multiplex cinemas. Last year saw the opening of multiplexes in Poznan and Warsaw, with another smaller one to open downtown shortly. A further three big multiplexes are planned to open in Warsaw this year, and industry sources are expecting some 100,000 viewers per screen each year. Unfortunately, these new innovations bring a heftier price tag, but even with an average ticket price of between USD three to five, these theatres are expected to show profits after a mere four years.

Back to reality, as 74 deputies of the senior ruling coalition Solidarity Election Action (AWS) are calling for the resignation of their own member, Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz. Wasacz, in turn, dismissed the demands as politically motivated rather than economically justified. Criticism of Wasacz centred around his privatisation scheme, which his opponents allege lacks a coherent strategy Opponents also cite that asset sales were being used to cover shortfalls in the budget - basically that Wasacz was harming the economy. "The aim of privatisation is not to find revenues for the budget, but to transform the economy to a privately owned one from a socialist one," said Wasacz. Adding that, "this process should have been completed several years ago." Wasacz has supervised several large sales - particularly in the banking and telecommunication areas. 1999 saw the sell-off of a 51% stake in Pekao, Poland's largest bank, to UniCredito Italiano for USD 1.1 billion, as well as 80% of the regional Bank Zachodni SA to Irish AIB Group, for USD 580 million. The privatisation programme should yield about 20 billion złotys (USD 4.85 billion) in revenues this year.

Gazeta Wyborcza also quoted several AWS officials as saying that the motion against Wasacz also represents an attack on AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski, who is being blamed for the party's steady decline in the popularity rankings - which of course has nothing to do with the social reforms introduced last year, etc. Krzaklewski does not actually have a government post, but he is nonetheless influential in Polish politics.

Another step in trying to introduce regulations on intellectual property, as a Łódz District Court ruled that the use of the trademark Jan III Sobieski by Belvedere Dystrybucja, a manufacturer and distributor of alcohol, was unfair competition against British American Tobacco (BAT) Polska, which had introduced cigarettes of the same name in 1994. There is another verdict, concerning the use of the same name for the company's vodka, still pending. Professor Ryszard Skubisz, an expert on intellectual property rights, interpreted the ruling as a significant step in the protection of trademarks, something which should be particularly encouraging to owners of foreign trademarks.

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 7 January 2000


Gazeta Wyborcza

Prawo i Gospodarka

Zycie Warszawy


Polska Agencja Prasowa

News from Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with the kind permission of Donosy-English:
Donosy-Polish Editors: Lena Bialkowska (Editor-in-Chief), Michal Jankowski, Michal Pawlak, Ksawery Stojda (founder)
Copyright (c) 1999
Donosy-English editors and translators: Lidia Trojanowska and Lawrence Schofer
Circulation: Wojtek Bogusz
We welcome your comments and suggestions concerning Donosy-English. Please contact Lawrence Schofer at ljschofer@bee.net
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