Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 4
31 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 24 January 2000

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska
and Donosy- English

Finally after a little post-Christmas lull some excitement is back to stir up life in Warsaw - in government circles at least. Last week a diplomatic tiff - made more glamorous by being dubbed a spy war -broke out between the Russian and Polish governments. The action began on 20 January when the Polish Foreign Ministry notified the Russian ambassador in Warsaw that nine diplomats had been declared persona non grata on the grounds that they were engaged in "intelligence activities aimed against the vital interests of the Polish Republic in 1999." Prime Minister Jerzy Buźek asserted that State Protection Office, which had been investigating the case, had detailed proof of spying. Jósef Gruska, the chairman of the parliamentary Security Services Committee, added the questionable activities dealt "mainly with political and economic matters."

Response, to what Interfax termed "an unprovoked provocation," from Moscow was swift and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said the "most ruthless adequate measures" would be taken. He also hinted that retaliation to the "openly unfriendly and provocative step" may not only be restricted to the expulsion of Polish diplomats, but might also affect political contacts between both countries. Sure enough the following day the Polish Ambassador was informed that nine diplomats from the Polish embassy in Moscow got their walking papers and were declared, surprisingly enough, persona non grata and told to clear out of the country by 28 January. The Russian governments reasons was apparently due to evidence from Russia's Federal Security Service of activities incompatible with the status of diplomats and the provisions of the Vienna Convention. Right.

The story then devolves somewhat into an entertaining war of words with Russian news sources going mildly over the top with various conspiracy theories. The Russian news agency, RIA, deemed the Polish actions as "another outburst of the anti-Russian espionage hysteria plotted in the West," adding that, "the recent scandal in Warsaw had been apparently manufactured as evidence of Russia's 'aggressive aspirations.' " Another report, this time from Russia's Independent Television, tied the events to Poland's ongoing political turmoil and more explicitly to the lustration process.

The station's Warsaw correspondent commented (and carried on RFE/RL) that: "It so happens that the foreign minister is about to undergo this [lustration] procedure and some observers here say it will be quite hard for him to undergo this lustration, so the time is now ripe indeed to take action against Moscow's long arm." The other possible reason was that Poland had bowed to pressure coming from its NATO allies who wanted to create a crisis in order to see how acting President Vladimir Putin would react.

While the Russian media raged, and Putin stayed mum, the Poles, to their credit remained fairly calm. Polish Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek told a news conference that espionage belonged on the pages of a Cold War novel, not in modern-day Europe. Mind you in the Cold War era Moscow spying on Warsaw would have been more of a comedy than a thriller. "We had to finish with this type of spying operation, which should be confined to the spy novels of John Le Carre," Geremek said. He went on to stress that the episode be put behind both countries. "This is in the interest of Poland and Russia. To close this chapter for ever...We propose loyal and decent cooperation between two modern states." His statements came after a meeting with NATO Secretary General Lord George Robertson where they apparently spent little time discussing this specific matter.

In a positive move, one that will hopefully improve the image in the eyes of the public, the Sejm adopted a law introducing salary caps for local government activists and heads of state firms. The new law caps salaries by tying them to the average pay in the enterprise sector. A total of 427 deputies voted for the Law, with three against and four abstentions. It was decided that the monthly pay for the heads of stock companies, in which the state treasury or local government has more than 50 per cent stake, should be no higher than the average of six monthly salaries in the firms for which they work.[Average monthly salary USD 375]

A director of a patients' fund can earn no more than the average of four monthly pays while a manager of an independent public health care institution can earn up to six average pays. Additionally severance package pay-outs were limited for dismissed managers and was set at a maximum of three monthly average wages in the firm for which they work. The Sejm also removed a regulation that allowed for giving annual bonuses to members of supervisory boards adding that a single person may sit only on one supervisory council. Under the law councillors of all levels cannot perform functions in commercial law companies and that the salaries of those affected by the new legislation are accessible to the public. Still room for comfortable sums all around but at least a move in the right direction.

It may all end in tears after all as many leading Solidarity Electoral Action(AWS) politicians are talking about Jerzy Buźek's dismissal. Some party members have suggested significant changes to the cabinet are necessary following the latest crisis connected with a no-confidence vote in Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz. Wasacz narrowly escaped dismissal when 229 parliamentary deputies supported a no- confidence motion in him that as was supported by 21 of his own colleagues from the AWS. More than 40 AWS deputies were absent from the voting and the original motion was filled in December by 74 AWS deputies, who accused him of preferring foreign capital in privatisation processes and of allowing too much foreign capital in the banking sector. The required majority to pass the motion was 231 votes. Some AWS activists commented after the vote that the AWS parliamentary caucus no longer exists and that Buźek's cabinet has in fact become a minority government.

The AWS party members were not shy in responding as to precisely how the necessary reconstruction of the government should take place. The first answer is that the beleaguered prime minister who has presided over his party's nose-dive in the polls should leave. Many in the AWS feel that Marian Krzaklewski's appointment as prime minister would be the best solution. But Krzaklewski himself said he rather rules out the possibility of heading the cabinet, adding that a reshuffle is possible. AWS parliamentary deputy Maciej Jankowski stated quite bluntly that the AWS needed a new opening, but not with the current premier. And another AWS politician, Ryszard Czarnecki, noted that a government reshuffle was inevitable. Buźek admitted that the situation in the AWS was very difficult, but understandably declined to comment on his possible resignation.

While the other parties are writhing in their own worlds of pain the left-wing opposition Democratic Left Alliance(SLD) seems to be coming up roses. The daily Rzeczpospolita published a recent opinion poll showing the party enjoying a comfortable 40 per cent of public support. Across the board the SLD led in all categories regardless of the respondent's age, education, wealth and residence. Meanwhile the AWS took a fairly distant second place showing with 21 per cent with their main support coming from pensioners, housewives, unskilled labourers and small entrepreneurs. Their coalition partner the UW received 12 per cent support and is still mainly supported by educated voters and leading businessmen, but even here they lost support to the SLD which took over the lead in these two categories for the first time. Among the other parties the Polish Peasants' Party(PSL) and Labour Union(UP) were next in line picking up ten and six per cent of public support respectively. All the other parties didn t quite manage to break the five per cent bar necessary for representation in the Sejm.

Apart from the Russians, Poland seems to be getting along quite well with it immediate eastern neighbours as of late. Lithuania's ambassador to Poland, Antanas Valionis affirmed that relations between the two countries are developing well. Remigijus Motuzas, head of Lithuania's Minorities and Migration Department, also took the opportunity to stress that the Polish community in Lithuania enjoyed full civil rights and commented that the situation of the Lithuanian Poles was sometimes presented in a false light by the mass media in Poland. He stated that his country wanted every minority to retain and develop its national identity but minority members should also be aware that they are citizens of a country.

Farther south, Lublin Catholic University (KUL) hosted a meeting devoted to the establishment of a Polish-Ukrainian University. The meeting - by no means an unimportant event given the at times stormy relationship between Poles and Ukrainians - was attended by the heads of five higher schools, as well professors in Lublin and by Professor Jerzy Kocźowski, the director of the Central and Eastern Europe Institute in Lublin. All those who attended the meeting firmly expressed their support for the idea of establishing the Polish-Ukrainian University in Lublin as soon as possible. Well at least the idea is there. There was however no mention as to how the Ukrainian community felt about it all, nor were any timelines mentioned in the publicised reports.

Poland has taken another baby step in trying to prove that it is willing and able to protect intellectual property. The head of the Main Customs Office(GUC), Zbigniew Bujak announced that Polish customs officers will now be better able to effectively block imports of knock-off name-brand clothing, computer software, and other goods. This is mainly due to a new cooperation agreement the GUC concluded with several copyright-holding companies and manufacturers. The agreement guarantees cooperative measures to taken to ensure the protection of intellectual, trade, and industrial property rights with firms including Puma, Levi Strauss, Hasbro, Reebok, Nike, Adidas, Microsoft, and Ford. The participation firms are supposed to provide information to customs officers so that they can easily more easily distinguish and identify cheap fakes from the real thing. However - like everywhere else in the world - unless the manufacturers of the genuine articles decide to drop their prices the knock-off market in Poland isn't going to go anywhere fast.

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy- English, 14 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
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