Marian Krzaklewski finally "gave it up" this week and announced his candidacy for president. In an interview with Radio Zet, he was clearly optimistic about his chances saying that there is a "real possibility" he could win this fall's presidential ballot. His advisors should, perhaps, run him through a reality check, since his cheerfulness is certainly not supported by other facts in evidence. The leaders of the parties that constitute Kraklewski's ruling AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) have failed to agree to unanimously support Krzaklewski as the AWS candidate at their meeting. Moreover, some elements of the AWS are still demanding that primaries be held to select a presidential hopeful.
Elsewhere, a Pentor agency poll, taken between 8 to 10 April 2000, showed that Krzaklewski could count on only five percent support while the incumbent president, Aleksander Kwaśniewski, looked ready to win a fairly effortless victory with an impressive 70 percent of votes. Meanwhile, seven percent of Poles said they would vote for Andrzej Olechowski.
The Polish press reported this week that General Wojciech Jaruzelski claims he feels "deep sorrow" about the killing of nine miners shortly after the introduction of martial law in December 1981. Jaruzelski testified in the trial of 22 Communist-era riot policemen who are charged with the miners' murders. As head of the Military Council for National Salvation, Jaruzelski ordered the 1981 crackdown on the Solidarity movement. In his testimony, Jaruzelski stated that no one had planned to use firearms and that the deaths were a result of a "coincidence of tragic events." While on the stand, he also justified his decision to impose martial law by saying that it was a "lesser evil" that saved Poland from an internecine conflict and an intervention by Warsaw Pact allies.
Not all facts are yet in, but it is not quite certain that Jaruzelski is the saviour he has set himself as having been, though his testimony may help to abate his sorrow. Jaruzelski testified that, "I express deep sorrow because of the tragedy which is the subject of today's court proceedings. ... For years I have carried this tragedy with me like a thorn. ..." "I obtained the news about the death of [nine] miners in the Wujek mine on 16 December . It was a shocking piece of news. First, because people died, second, because they were miners, who then were the vanguard of the working class, worthy of particular respect owing to their hard work." "Third," he continued, "it was a blow to the idea of martial law, which aimed at preventing a great tragedy in Poland, a catastrophe and, in particular, bloodshed. ... At present, I am convinced even more than then that the decision to [introduce] martial law was necessary, because it saved Poland from a multidimensional catastrophe. ..." "[The decision] saved [Poland] but at the same time crippled her. It was a lesser evil, but an evil remains an evil, and I am aware of this."
Meanwhile, private education institutions are sprouting like mushrooms across Poland, attempting to fill the demand for higher education accreditation. In the new economy, young people have quickly realized that their future wealth is contingent on holding a diploma. The existing state university system is overloaded and impoverished, leaving many with no choice but to shell-out and attend new private institutions. Though doubts persist about the quality of education at some of these new schools, they have succeeded in churning out impressive numbers of graduates with language and business skills and have thus helped build a workforce equipped with the skills favoured by Western investors. No private schools existed under the former Communist system.
Higher education is certainly in need of an overhaul, as Polish observers have noted. Jerzy Woznicki, head of the confederation of public school deans, said that "the belief that higher education was strong under the previous system is a myth. In reality, university attendance was extremely low due to weak finances, poor management and terrible facilities." His statements are strongly supported by the available figures. At the beginning of the 1990s there were approximately 400,000 students enrolled in 91 universities and only seven percent of the 39 million-strong population had a university degree. This is rather sad when compared to the 20 percent average of the European Union (EU) and 40 percent in the United States.
The picture currently looks brighter now, with almost 1.3 million students enrolled in 95 state and 171 private schools. The down-side is that it appears that another western pattern may follow, with general arts graduates fated to work in McJobs, as business studies rule the roost. Though still a far cry from the costs associated with higher education in the United States, students in Poland are also starting to feel the burden. In a country where the average wage ranges from PZL 1473 [USD 330], in the poor southeast, to PZL 2192 [USD 490] in more prosperous areas, the costs of tuition are steep. Annual tuition fees vary from PZL 2400 (USD 580, for part-time study in state institutions) to up to PZL 8000[USD 1790]. These figures do not include accommodations or living expenses.
Private institution can relieve some of the pressures by offering payment plans, flexible schedules and work-study programmes, but one of the strongest criticisms of the new schools is that the quality of education they offer is lower than that in public institutions. Students, for example, do not have to write entrance exams. The businesses to whom they primarily cater do not appear to hold them in terribly high regard either: the first private university to open recently ranked 35th in a survey taken among businessmen.
President Kwaśniewski signed into law measures aimed at increasing social security payments and channeling back to the citizens funds raised from the privitisation of state-owned enterprises. The new privatization measure sets aside ten percent of the funds raised through sales of state-owned companies to fund pension increases, seven percent to provide benefits to Poles not already covered by the first provision, and a further five percent toward covering restitution payments to those who lost property during the Nazi or Communist eras.
The Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster continues to have consequences for Poles. Headaches, and worse, continue as researchers in southeast Poland have found thyroid changes in every second young woman and in ten percent of all young people. The area was that most affected by fallout from the April 1986 Chernobyl accident.
The towns of Kolno, Sejny and Suwalki appear to be suffering the most severe repercussions, with up to 70 percent of the population experiencing enlarged thyroid glands. The results of the study, carried out by the Bialystok Medical Academy, are to be published in a full report later this year.
Talk about EU accession, both in the international community and in Poland, was widespread this past week. Politicians have finally realized that their internal squabbling is not doing much to improve their chances of gaining membership any time soon. As a result, they have struck a "non-aggression" pact to keep EU matters apart from partisan politics in the hope of meeting Poland's goal of joining the bloc in 2003. This renewed effort was announced by Poland's chief entry negotiator, Jan Kulakowski, who told Reuters that "we have seen a breakthrough in the way EU membership issues are being treated." "Our political forces have matured to treat EU integration as the priority," he continued.
Until now, political infighting within the ruling AWS-UW (Freedom Union) coalition and squabbles with the leftist opposition have delayed the passage of several laws that are prerequisites for EU entry. The first concrete effect of this agreement was marked by the appointment of a new head of the EU entry preparations coordinating committee, a crucial post that was vacant for 16 months due to these very disagreements. The post has been filled by Jacek Saryusz-Wolski, a non-partisan technocrat and leading expert on EU matters, who promised to make up for lost time - and work he must since more than 150 bills to adjust laws to EU standards remain unpassed.
Accession talks have moved into high gear as the touchy issues of agriculture, free movement of workers and land purchases have come to the table. Kulakowski noted that "the more we move to the difficult subjects, the more details overshadow this great political project. They see trees without seeing the forest. But enlargement is a matter of political will and not of the size of Baltic herring or our cucumbers." In addition, the EU's chief enlargement negotiator, Eneko Landaburu, told reporters that "On the question of negotiations [Poland's] scorecard is positive."
Former President Lech Wałęsa sent copies of his Communist-era Security Service dossier to members of the Polish media this week. The 1982 analysis covered his activities from 1978 to 1981. Not surprisingly, the document contains information that is uniformly favorable to Wałęsa, who denied that the release of the document had anything to do with his potential presidential bid. "Bolek" (Wałęsa's code name in the Security Service's files) refused to disclose where he had obtained the document, but did add that "there is nothing about the state in the document, it shows how I was persecuted and what I did. If our authorities do not clarify [my case], if the prosecutor's office does not touch it, why should I remain wrongly accused?" "I have suffered humiliation for ten years - I have enough of that game," he said, referring to a 1992 suggestion made by the then-Interior Minister Andrzej Milczanowski that Wałęsa had actually been an agent of the secret police.
Historian Andrzej Paczkowski is skeptical of the rosy, one-sided portrayal of the analysis of Wałęsa's activities, saying that it does not add to what researchers already know about him. As Konstanty Miodowicz, former head of the State Protection Office and current member of the parliamentary commission for special services, suggested, there may well be more materials laying around that could bolster Paczerowski's charges. He did not elaborate on his comment that that "there are also other materials at the disposal of the competent state agencies, ones that fill-out the picture of Lech Wałęsa sketched out by the Communist security service." Piotr Naimski, former head of the UOP and a current adviser to Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek, also left matters vague after failing to fully explain his flat denial of PAP's (Polska Agencja Prasowa - The Polish News Agency) suggestion that Wałęsa was only a person investigated by the Communist security service and not himself an agent. Clearly, a large gray area remains.
A commission of experts from the Karta Centre in Warsaw revealed the results of their three-year long research effort documenting cases of repression of Poles by Soviet authorities from 1939 to 1945. The Centre has verified 566,000 cases, substantially lower than the 1.5 million figure posited by some historians. The findings were made public at a news conference attended by Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka. Professor Andrzej Paczkowski, an historian and a member of the commission, said only cases with indisputable evidence were taken into account adding that "we assume that the scale of repression was much greater, but it will probably never be precisely established." The study established that at least 320,000 persons were deported to the Soviet Union between 1940 and 1941, and archivists also collected data on 40,000 persons interned between the years 1944-45. The report was prepared in cooperation with non-governmental organisations in Russia, Lithuania and Ukraine.
Finally, some traditions are certainly worth maintaining - though unsuspecting tourists may not agree. Easter Monday is also known as "smigus-dyngus" and is not marked by particularly pious behaviour. The festival, known in English as "Drenching Monday," has its roots in rural customs. Also known as St Drencher's Day, it began centuries ago as a courtship festival in villages in which young men would try and win the favour of the fairer sex by dousing them with water. Though flowers and chocolate may seem a better idea, the tradition has actually increased in popularity over the years. It is, however, no longer a strictly courting ritual and buckets of water are hurled liberally at anyone passing by. This year, police tried to warn-off would-be offenders by threatening fines for anyone caught abusing the custom to ambush churchgoers or passers-by. Appropriately, tourists in Warsaw's Old Town were initiated into this custom this year - and left soaking in culture?
Joanna Rohozińska, 28 April 2000
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