Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 13
3 April 2000

Last Week in Poland C E N T R A L   E U R O P E A N   N E W S:
News Review for Poland
News from Poland since 27 March 2000

Joanna Rohozińska

Poland has a long history of handing out monikers for it's well-known personages, but somehow "Pornography President" doesn't have noble ring to it. Some right-wing parliamentarians warned that this is precisely what President Aleksander Kwaśniewski would become known as should he veto the tough anti-pornography law that parliament had passed the previous week. President Kwaśniewski apparently was affected neither by the impending label, nor by a weekend Rzeczpospolita poll, which showed that 45 per cent of Poles wanted him to sign the bill. He axed the bill on Monday. The bill would have banned the production, import and distribution of all pornographic material and violators would have faced sentences ranging from two years for distributing soft porn to five years for the hard-core versions. The latter was defined as including child pornography, sex with animals or sex depicting violence. The Rzeczpospolita poll also showed that 50 per cent of the 1029 surveyed thought of pornography as harmful to society, while 40 per cent said it had no effect and five per cent actually thought it beneficial. Pornography was not visible under Communism but has certainly boomed in the post-1989 period and is readily available at most newsstands and mushrooming sex shops. Perhaps this five per cent have mistaken it for an economic indicator.

According to Kwaśniewski's aide, Jolanta Szymanek-Deresz, the president decided to veto the proposed law, unsurprisingly drafted by the Catholic Church-backed majority parliament, because he believed its provisions to have been so broad that it would have been simply ignored, which would have reflected poorly on the prestige of the state and its judicial system. Aside from being difficult to enforce, the president also felt that it curbed personal freedom and restored censorship. The legislation would have been among the most stringent in Europe. Presidential adviser on social issues, Barbara Labuda, told a news conference that: "The president vetoed the bill because its enforcement would institute censorship and limit an individual's freedom to make ethical and artistic choices." She added that "Pornography is difficult to define and therefore its ban is hard to enforce. It is possible, however, to protect children and those who do not wish to see pornography, which is what the existing law does." However, Kwaśniewski is planning to ask parliament to approve the proposed tougher penalties for rape that were included in the draft law separately. It is not anticipated that the religious-right parliamentarians will be able to muster the two-thirds majority needed to overturn the veto.

Poles are not heeding the thunderings coming from Russian diplomatic circles as groups of pro-Chechen protesters rallied in front of Russian diplomatic missions in Warsaw and Poznań last Sunday. Russia had appealed to Polish authorities to ban the election-day demonstrations. But Poles didn't particularly like to listen to Moscow in the past so why start now? However, unlike similar events in February, which turned rather exuberant, police reported that the rallies were small and uneventful. "The police force present at the rallies was large, but both demonstrations were peaceful and the police did not intervene," said police spokesman Marek Stefanski. A mere 60 protesters showed up in Warsaw and only 30 in Poznań. The Russians ostensibly feared that any planned rallies might hinder access to the diplomatic missions for Russian citizens living in Poland who would be going to vote in the presidential elections and that the buildings could be vandalised again. The Polish protesters accused Moscow of terrorism and called for its citizens not to vote for Acting President Vladimir Putin, who they said was using the Chechen war to win power. Putin, now President-elect Putin, captured 52.52 per cent of the votes in Sunday's election.

Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek said he hoped chilly relations between the two countries might improve as a result of Putin's victory. "Putin has announced he will lead Russia out of a state of turbulence... I hope that foreign policy reform will be part of this reorganisation (and) that Polish-Russian ties will normalise," he told a news conference. Geremek also added that he hoped the new president would peacefully resolve the conflict in Chechnya. Besides, as Geremek pointed out, Putin's victory prevented Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov from becoming president. President Kwaśniewski invited the new president-elect to come to Warsaw in person in order to begin patching up relations. The Polish president called Putin to congratulate him on the election. Kwaśniewski's press office related that he "said he was certain that the best possible relations would be built between the two countries, which share the same values, history, experiences and mutual sympathy." It went on to say that "President Putin... said the proximity of the two states called for top level mutual relations as well as for the elimination of incidents and barriers that block it."

Let's not wait for the slavophilic love-fest to start just yet. There still remains the sticky aftermath of the espionage incidents that began the whole downward spiral in relations. Poland's minister in charge of special services said that the country could take further steps to curb Moscow's spying operations. Janusz Palubicki was playing the international-man-of-mystery role rather well when he addressed a seminar in Warsaw saying: "There is a neighbouring state conducting intensive espionage operations in Poland, which are increasing." Obviously referring to Russia he went on: "If it does not draw the right conclusions, then we are considering our next steps and we do have the basis for this." He declined to elaborate.

And they're off... Andrzej Olechowski, a former Polish Finance and Foreign Minister, announced that he intends to run in the upcoming presidential election as an independent candidate representing the political centre. Olechowski, who served in both rightist and leftist cabinets in the early and mid 1990s, currently sits on several supervisory boards, including that of Bank Handlowy. Olechowski declared that he "will stand to be elected as an apolitical candidate, a candidate of the people." Unlike several others who have not yet officially announced their candidatures, Olechowski might actually stand some sort of chance with a recent opinion poll showing him with 11 per cent of the vote. Of course there is still a long climb to the incumbent's 58 per cent support. One of Olechowski's unique features is that he is one of few politicians to admit that he collaborated with communist-era secret services. He has also demonstrated a certain realism in regards to party politics saying that while he hopes to gain backing from centrist political parties "time passes by too quickly to base my actions on the decisions of political parties...." While targeting centrist groups within the Solidarity Electoral Action(AWS) and the Freedom Union (UW), he will more than likely be fought at every step by AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski, who's candidacy announcement is expected within the next two weeks.

On the same day, former chief of the Polish Army General Staff, General Tadeusz Wilecki , also announced that he will also be running in the presidential elections under the slogan: "A strong man for difficult times."

At long last the German government has concluded a deal that will begin compensation payments to Nazi-era slave workers. Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek welcomed the deal stating that: "this is very important for Polish-German relations because we would like to enter the 21st century, remembering our history and drawing conclusions from it but at the same time looking forward." Negotiators representing the German government and survivors groups announced the day before that they had agreed on how cash from the USD 5 billion fund, jointly financed by the German state and industry, should be apportioned out to the more than million remaining victims. Poland will receive nearly DM 1.9 billion (USD 943 million) from the fund and Germany has said it hoped the compensation payments could be distributed by the end of this year.

And some things remain constant as the opposition Polish Peasant Party (PPL) re-elected Jaroslaw Kalinowski as its leader and Franciszek Stefaniuk as the party's supreme council head at its congress. Predictably Kalinowski criticised the government's economic policies, comparing privatisation to the "demolition of the house in which we live."

More lying politicians? Who would have though... The Lustration Court issued a binding verdict this week that Senator Marian Jurczyk, one of the Solidarity leaders in 1980-81, is a "lustration liar." The court found that Jurczyk concealed the fact that he was an agent of the Communist-era secret services in his original statement. But it also added that Jurczyk collaborated under duress and in fear of his life. This qualification should call into question the wisdom of pursuing the lustration hearings yet...

More fall-out from the misadventures of law enforcement agencies over the few weeks (unfortunate vets, blown up flats and court-room shoot outs - see last week's news) as the leftist opposition demanded Interior Minister Marek Biernacki's dismissal. "We know that our parliamentary no-confidence motion has little chance of success, but we want to force the government to explain why it is not doing anything to improve security," said Jerzy Dziewulski, deputy of the Democratic Left Alliance(SLD ). Government spokesman Krzysztof Luft responded saying that: "this no-confidence motion is a purely political gesture by the opposition. The government coalition will stand firmly behind the minister." The no-confidence vote will likely be held in the next two weeks.

Thieves, who certainly skipped their science classes, fled in panic after their attempts to pilfer crude oil came to naught and ended up flooding large areas of farmland near the central town of Plonsk. The geniuses dug a two-meter-deep ditch to collect oil from the Druzhba pipeline, which carries crude from Russia to refineries in Poland and Germany, and then drilled a small hole in the steel pipe. "But," as Jacek Raczkiewicz, spokesman for the Mazowsze provincial police explained, "the pressure was so strong that oil spurted up 25 meters and the thieves fled in a panic." Though not the Exxon Valdez the oil still managed to pollute some 10,000 square meters of agricultural land before the leak could be contained after several hours. Raczkiewicz stated that the culprits must have been looking for free petrol but concluded that "they didn't really know what they were doing."

Joanna Rohozińska, 31 March 2000

Previous news reviews for Poland


Gazeta Wyborcza

Prawo i Gospodarka

Zycie Warszawy


Polska Agencja Prasowa

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