Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 2, No 5
7 February 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 31 January 2000

Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska
and Donosy-English

Age before...age? The present Polish government is going to start making amends to pensioners, state workers and others who were receiving fixed state income and who lost out in the early 1990s when the amounts they received were not being scaled and could not keep pace with the rate of inflation. Because of the slow revaluation process, obviously many of those on fixed incomes suffered. The government has decided to take the re-compensation a year, and a cohort, at a time. Those born before 1920 are due to receive an average of PLZ 2500 [USD 599] each and the disbursement of funds will begin on 25 March of this year. Those born prior to 1934 will begin receiving adjustment payments later in 2000 while those born between 1934 and 1940 will have to wait until the following year. Even younger claimants will not see anything coming in until 2002 and 2003, and the government foresees taking care of any outstanding payments the year after that.

Rumours have been flying and have finally been confirmed that Deutsche Bank wants to, and more than likely will, take over Poland's BIG Bank Gdanski. The Polish bank's share holder apparently support the move as they removed the supervisory council on 29 January and appointed one that is more inclined to see the deal go through. PZU, the state-controlled insurance company and a major shareholder, enthusiastically supported this dismissal at the general shareholders assembly. Gazeta Wyborcza commented that PZU's decision had caused an "earthquake" among Polish financiers and politicians alike, even prompting President Aleksander Kwaśniewski's economic advisor, Marek Belka, to return prematurely from Davos where the World Economic Forum was being held. Belka expressed concern over the deal, pointing out that such foreign take-over bids bypassed the currently agreed privatisation processes. He stated that the proposed deal "is not in Poland's interest, because it's one thing to be able to privatise with the participation of foreign capital... and another thing... to allow a situation where the law has been broken, to allow a take-over of one of the most important Polish banks by a huge foreign bank."

This all seems to have turned into a major faux pas by the insurance company as government spokesman Krzysztof Luft asserted that "the PZU acted against the interest of Poland and lost the confidence of the Treasury Ministry." The PZU itself doesn't seem to be sure of its actions as Chairman Władysław Jamrozy and one of other the PZU board members were suspended the same day. Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz, who just managed to save his own skin recently in the face of allegations that he was holding a fire sale with privatised property, criticised Deutsche Bank for lack undermining faith in the Polish market by hiding their intentions and general impropriety at trying to get in through the back door.

The news is just full of back-tracking this week as a belated apology was given by the chairman of the National Association of Farmers and Agricultural Circles and Organisations Władysław Serafin to Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka. Way back last year Serafin made a sexist remark, provoked "by emotions" (according to Serafin) aimed at Suchocka. After the road blockades by peasants last May the Justice Minister commented that the organiser of the disruption should be taken to court. Serafin's not to clever rebuttal was that "instead of taking a guy to court, [Suchocka] should take him to bed." The comment was a two-pronged insult as it referred to Suchocka's single status and Serafin used the word "chlop." In Polish the word can be translated in several ways, to mean peasant, guy or insinuating something of a bumpkin - either way not the best connotation. Serafin said his sexist remark came forth during the heat of the moment at a rally. After formally apologising he added that he hoped this would "facilitate dialogue and understanding."

Despite his reticent attitude in taking the helm of the beleaguered AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) something is definitely brewing with party leader Marian Krzaklewski. Though he has not yet formally announced his candidacy for this year's presidential pages the appearance of a web site, http://www.krzaklewski.pl/, may give his intentions away. It will certainly be an uphill battle against the incumbent Kwasniewski who's popularity is holding high with 78 per cent of the public expressing confidence in him. At the other end of the spectrum Krzaklewski leads as the most distrusted politician with, according to CBOS, 54 per cent believing this. Even members of his own AWS have bluntly stated that Krzaklewski should not run. Party activist Aleksander Hall said that "personally, I would advise Kraklewski not to run," adding that the public should not identify a joint candidate with the current "style of government" and the ruling AWS and UW (Freedom Union) should instead put forth a joint presidential candidate.

Meanwhile, Jerzy Gwizdz, another AWS activist, urged Krzaklewski to resign altogether from his post as parliamentary caucus leader and head of the cabinet. Krzaklewski did not seem to be out to curry favour within the AWS as he had already managed to convince all member parties that there was no need for a cabinet reshuffle or a change of prime minister, the one thing that they all seemed agreed was needed. Kraklewski is going to have to fight hard if he hopes to even stand a chance in the elections. Incidentally, one can only hope that the site is still under construction because it's not going to wow anyone as it is.

The situation of the Polish minority in Lithuania was once again rumoured to be threatening relations between the two countries. However, Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek dispelled any doubts by affirming to his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Saudargas, that Polish-Lithuanian relations were "excellent." Rumour had it that Warsaw might have been reconsidering backing Lithuania's NATO and EU drive because of problems linked to the Polish minority. Geremek assured all that relations with Lithuania were determined purely on the principle of mutual, loyal cooperation and by state interests. He went on to say while "there is no state institution in Poland that would operate to the detriment of the Lithuanian nation," he added that minority issues should be treated "seriously." So in the end maybe relations are a little short of "excellent" after all.

The glimmer of hope that the IPN (National Remembrance Institute) may finally find someone to head the organisation were lost as historian Karol Modzelewski, a former left-wing politician and member of the PZPR (Communist Party) who eventually turned around to become an opposition activist, stated that he was not interested in heading the National Remembrance Institute (IPN). Modzelewski was mentioned as a good potential candidate as he would constitute a compromise for the politically sensitive position. Supporting this notion was the fact that his name was mentioned by the junior ruling coalition member UW, the opposition SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) and the PSL (Polish Peasants' Party). Modzelewski's refusal to even entertain the notion of the position has probably successfully pre-empted yet another squabble between coalition partners UW and AWS, the latter of whom objected to Modzelewski's candidacy due to his (heaven forbid) leftist sympathies.

President Aleksander Kwaśniewski spoke at the opening of the International Holocaust Conference, hosted by Sweden, warning that Poland has to be very active fighting stereotypes in Polish-Jewish relations. He was specifically referring to certain none-too impressive displays including an attempt to build a supermarket in the vicinity of Auschwitz and the erection of crosses outside the walls of the camp. Kwasniewski noted that Poland should avoid creating an impression that Polish anti-Semitism was deeply rooted and old. He added that all such acts should be met with strong condemnation from the Polish public, political elites and the Church alike. Kwaśniewski went on to inform the conference that Poland truly cared about marking and maintaining places of extermination. The latest initiative is a planned museum chronicling the history of Jews in Poland and Polish-Jewish relations that is to be built within the former Ghetto. In efforts to warm official relations Kwaśniewski also met with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for talks on the restitution of Jewish property in Poland. Barak made it clear that he expected a re-privatisation law to be consistent with world standards and not to prevent anybody from seeking to regain lost property.

More rumours are circulating though this time around the legal community who are saying that Poland is preparing to seek the extradition of suspected Nazi war criminal Alois Brunner from Syria. Professor Witold Kulesz, legal adviser to the Commission for Investigation Into Crimes Against the Polish Nation has concluded that there are no legal obstacles to Poland's extradition request. Kulesz, in a legal opinion report now with the justice minister pending a decision, says that Polish law permits the prosecution of a suspect either at the place where they committed the crime, or at the place where its effects were felt. One of the technicalities of the case against Brunner is that his crimes were committed at Auschwitz, where Brunner sent transports of Jews from France, Greece and Slovakia and was not part of a Polish state. SS Hauptsturmführer Brunner, now 85, was transferred to captured territories to supervise the deportation of Jews to death camps. He escaped to Syria after the war where he became a government adviser. The Syrians have ignored all past attempts to extradite him, including those by famous Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, but apparently moods are changing in Syria though extradition to Israel has been absolutely precluded.

Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska 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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