Central Europe Review: politics,
society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 12
13 September 1999

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 4 September 1999

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English

The dismissal of Janusz Tomaszewski remains front and centre in the news this week, perhaps revealing tensions between the President's and Prime Minister's offices. Polish President Aleksander Kwasnieski got involved in the debate saying that Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's dismissal of the deputy prime minister (also the minister of internal and administrative affairs) was not lustration but rather party execution. Kwasniewski also stated that he had no choice other than to sign Buzek's decision once the Prime Minister declared that he had lost trust in his deputy. Kwasniewski had previously unsuccessfully tried to veto the 1997 lustration law, of which Tomaszewski is the highest rank victim. He also appealed to the ruling AWS (Solidarity Election Action) to repeal the standing stipulation that AWS members resign from their posts regardless of the outcome of their lustration trials. AWS Chairman Marian Krzaklewski responded angrily that the president should refrain from commenting on the internal functioning of political parties. "We have our own regulations, statements and decisions...[and] make them independently of the President," he said. He went on to reiterate the party's position that individuals who had given false vetting statements be excluded from government altogether. Buzek was similarly quick to respond, saying that parliamentarians and government officials be subject to stricter standards of behaviour than ordinary citizens.
The allegation are neither new, nor the only ones leveled against Tomaszewski. Despiteall the back and forth over the lustration laws, Pentor, the Polish Radio polling centre, polls revealed that an overwhelming 79 percent of respondents continued to support lustration, while only 14 percent opposed it.

Labour unrest continues to plague Poland. Some 25 miners have now chained themselves to the Wujek monument in the city of Katowice. Poor planning by the directorial management of several mines is being blamed for the massive wave of lay-offs which have hit the industry. The closing of Przedsiebiorstwo Budowy Kopaln Rud (Ore Mining Construction Enterprise) in Czestochowa has led to 600 workers being fired and is the immediate cause of the current dramatic protest. In response to this increasing tension, rumours are circulating that the directors of several coal companies will be dismissed. The Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza speculated that Witold Prysiewicz of the Wujek mine (owned by Katowice Coal Holding) is first in line for the chopping block, shortly to be followed by the directors of the Rudzka and Nadwiolanska Coal companies. There is currently a seven-million-tonne coal surplus, which has caused the bottom to fall out of the coal market and driven the price of coal down. Coupled with rising wages, unjustified investment and the lack of cost reduction plans, the surplus has resulted in a disastrous situation for the mining industry, the brunt end of which will, inevitably, be felt by the miners themselves.

Television Information Agency (TAI) director Jacek Maziarski resigned from his post, saying that he was unable to keep the news programmes of state-owned TVP television objective and neutral. Maziarski claims that TVP journalists and news editors have been detrimentally influenced by Marian Zalewski, who is a close friend of Waldemar Pawlak, the former Prime Minister and former leader of the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL). In recent months, news programmes have given the PSL disproportionately large coverage relative to their parliamentary presence.

Polish support for European Union accession is falling. Political leaders expressed concern that a recent public opinion poll showed that support for the pursuit of EU membership, currently Poland's top foreign policy goal, had fallen to 55 percent, as compared with 64 percent support last year and 70 percent two years ago.
The left-wing, former Communist opposition blamed the drop on the failure of the ruling coalition government to disseminate adequate information to the public and its secretive manner of conducting negotiations. Jerzy Jaskiernia, senior deputy of the SLD (Democratic Left Alliance), warned during a parliamentary debate that "without improving information policy, without more dialogue...there will not be enough support for EU integration."
Tadeusz Mazowiecki, senior official of the coalition partner UW (Freedom Union), agreed that it was an urgent matter that had to be addressed immediately. One of the steps he proposed included increasing EU-related programming on Polish television. EU membership will have to pass in a referendum in Poland, which will be scheduled only after an accession date is firmly fixed. The hopeful date currently stands at 2003, while Brussels is indicating the more realistic date of 2005. However, a report this week by the London-based Economist Intelligence Unit said that realistically Poland should not expect accession until 2006.

The political aspect of the meeting between German President Johannes Rau and President Kwasniewski, who met 1 September to commemorate the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, are still in the news this week. Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder arrived in Poland on 3 September for further observances and also to conduct political talks which included the issue of Poland's ambitions to join the EU as well as the ongoing problem of reparations to Poles who were engaged in forced labour under the Nazi regime.

In light of all that has happened this week, and indeed over the past few months, it is hardly surprising that the coalition AWS-UW government's popularity is at an all-time low of 26 percent. AWS Chairman Krzaklewski said that a major cabinet re-shuffle was being considered as a possible solution to re-build public confidence in the government.
Of course the drop in support for the centre-right coalition has meant a proportionate rise in support for the opposition SLD. In fact, the support has risen so high that Leszek Miller, along with other top party leaders, has begun considering calls for early elections. Government popularity was most negatively effected by its series of unpopular pension, health care, public administration and education reforms. According to Krzaklewski, the re-shuffling will spare the Prime Minister, finance and treasury ministers, implying that no one else is safe.

The problem of recompensing former property owners simply will not go away. The government added to its popularity by announcing that it intended to reimburse only half the value of lost assets. The proposed law will apply to owners, or their heirs, regardless of their present citizenship status. Everybody joined in to criticise various aspects of the government's proposed programme.
First up were the former owners, who were obviously upset that they will not regain the full worth of their property. The SLD, on the other hand, expressed concern for the demands even the reduced payments will make on state coffers. Unlike the restitution process in the Czech Republic, the restitution of property "in kind" will be very rare - with a coupon system being the preferred solution. This is mainly due to the fact that nearly half of the 170,000 applications concerned property which now lies within the territories of present-day Belarus, Lithuania and Ukraine. The draft law also excludes property that was subsequently bought in good faith, if it has been deemed of "special significance to national culture" by the Ministry of Art and Culture.

A sign that Poland has arrived? This week saw some violent confrontations between English and Polish football fans in Warsaw. The European Championship match (for details of Scotland's match against Estonia see this week's Amber Coast), which was played on Wednesday, ended in a nil-nil draw. The days leading up to it witnessed several clashes which had to be broken up by police and ended in several arrests of fans on both sides and the hospitalisation of two English fans. On Tuesday, there was an incident at a bar near the Castle Square in the Old Town, which ended up with the bar itself being demolished, as fans began throwing bottles and chairs at one another. Just hours before the game began, another fight broke out in a city park - this time the injuries were more serious. Five English supporters were taken to hospital. Security for the game itself was tight, as police worried that English supporters would buy scalped tickets in the Polish section of the stands. The game ended up going off relatively trouble free. Poland could still advance to second place, if it either wins or ties against Sweden.

Given all the recent political and labour unrest, it is hardly surprising that the zloty also had a rough week. On Tuesday, the zloty plunged to its lowest level since early April. By Thursday, Poland's Central Bank chief Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz said that the zloty was considered stable again. Analysts said that the sharp fall was precipitated by macroeconomic worries and reports that privatisation inflows would be thinner than expected. By Friday, traders said the zloty's value would no longer be so strongly determined by hopes of foreign currency inflows as it was in the middle of the year, since the volume of such funds was now so unpredictable.

Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 10 September 1999


Gazeta Wyborcza

Prawo i Gospodarka

Zycie Warszawy


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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