Vol 1, No 25
13 December 1999
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 December 1999
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska
Despite a certain unease between the Solidarity union and its political wing, the Solidarity Elections Action (AWS) the union has decided that it will not put forth its own candidate for the next presidential election. Marian Krzaklewski, the leader of both the union and the party, stated that the union will leave this decision to the political arm, who will put forth a candidate six months prior to the election and then conduct a vigorous campaign. The AWS will be assembling its convention shortly in Wladyslawowo and, reportedly, former President Lech Walesa, current Premier Jerzy Buzek and Krzaklewski are on the short-list for nomination. Solidarity union spokesman Kajus Augustyniak called on conservative parties to consolidate their support behind a single presidential candidate. Union activists claim that the congress will focus on internal union matters, such as the development of a long term strategy rather than any election breakthrough.
The reforms introduced by the Solidarity Elections Action - Freedom Union (AWS-UW) coalition have created certain difficulties between the union and its party, however, but Krzaklewski maintains that Solidarity has been attaining its goals, pointing to the impending introduction of a five-day work week - which was first demanded by Gdansk shipyard workers in the 1980s. President Aleksander Kwasniewski signed the amended labor and co-operative bills into law last week. Under the new labor law, maternity leave will be extended by four weeks, leave after a first childbirth will last 20 weeks, while multiple-birth mothers will be eligible for up to 30 weeks. The amended co-operative law foresees automatic heritage of residence rights to marital homes by widowed spouses.
Getting in just under the wire, the Sejm Finance Committee finally finished the 2000 budget. The Committee discovered higher than expected budget income, which has subsequently allowed it to reinstate dispensations, to the tune of PLZ (Polish zloty) 84.618 million, that it had formerly taken away from certain institutions. The education, security and agriculture sectors each got an additional PLZ 20 million. The budget bill will now be submitted for a second reading to the Sejm.
The Katowice regional court will decide whether Czeslaw Kiszczak should be included in the legal action taken against 22 former ZOMO (Militia) officers, who have been accused of shooting at coal mine workers from the Wujek and Manifest Lipcowy mines, in December 1981. Kiszczak, who was minister of internal affairs at the time, is accused of "causing common danger for the life and health of people."
Jerzy Widzyk, the chief of the Prime Minister's chancellery, informed the public this week that inspections carried out by the Ministry of Defense into the GROM special military unit came up with irregularities in every phase of public tenders. Marek Siwiec, the chief of the National Security Bureau, announced that the President will take a look at the report to ascertain whether the dismissal of the leaders of GROM was necessary or not. This would be the second time this year that officials from the unit would get the ax.
So as not to feel neglected in the dismissal game, the banking industry took a closer look at some of its staff as well. The supervisory board of the PKO (one of Poland's largest savings banks) suspended bank President Andrzej Topinski. The motion was put forward after the Polish daily Rzeczpospolita ran an article revealing the misuse of funds in the Stalowa Wola branch of the bank. The board estimates that the bank lost over PLZ 70 million.
A family with serious issues apparently caused more problems for the beleaguered bank. This time, the theft was at least external but still caused a headache for the Lodz branch of PKO BP. A court case, which stems from the theft of PLZ 300,000 worth of money and jewelry from a safe, launched against the bank for negligence was settled in favor of the plaintiff, who was awarded damages amounting to PLZ 300,000. It turned out that the plaintiff's own son, with the help of his friends, was responsible for the theft. The man forged an identity card, which allowed him to steal his father's life savings. The case came to court after the bank refused to pay damages and denied responsibility for the theft. In a phenomenal display of wisdom and justice, the court found that the bank cashier on duty failed to verify the stolen ID card or notice the difference in signatures. Additionally, the security camera at the bank was broken at the time. So much for honor thy father and mother, I suppose - or parental discipline for that matter.
Perhaps counteracting the point of Jerzy Buzek's visit to Israel this week, the regional court in Opole decided to drop penal proceedings against Dariusz Ratajczak. Recalling the story from previous editions of the Polish News, Ratajczak, who was a lecturer in Opole and has a doctorate in history (which incidentally supports the notion that education isn't everything), authored a book which questioned Nazi atrocities in the Auschwitz camp. The author maintained that the views expressed were not necessarily his own personal convictions. In the end, this line of defense was apparently irrelevant, as the court decided that the book did not cause sufficient social damage to warrant the punishment of the author. A glaring example of the downside of freedom of speech.
A man alleged to have headed one of Warsaw's most powerful crime rings was shot dead in an apparent gangland slaying last Sunday. Andrzej K, better known by his noms de guerre of Pershing, was gunned down by a passing car while putting his skis into his Mercedes, which was parked in front of the Kasprowy Hotel in the resort town of Zakopane. He died after being shot twice in the head. Police found the burned-out remains of the getaway car in a nearby forest. Pershing, the suspected leader of the Warsaw-based Pruszkow gang, finally ran out of luck, after four years in jail and having had dodged several previous attempts on his life. The Pruszkow gang, which is allegedly involved in a variety of traditional Mafia-type activities, such as smuggling, car theft, drug-dealing and protection racketeering, has, over the past five years, been scrapping with their chief rivals - the Wolomin group.
The tax saga is finally over, as President Kwasniewski used his veto power to kill the controversial Personal Income Tax (PIT) bill on 28 November. Kwasniewski did, however, sign the Corporate Income Tax (CIT) bill and the Value-Added Tax and Excise Duty bill amendment. Critics, nonetheless, accused him of seeking to curry favor with potential voters, who oppose government policies. Kwasniewski stood his moral high-ground, saying that he vetoed the PIT bill because he had to defend the law. "The reduction of tax burdens faced by companies promotes growth, offering favorable economic impulses and increased competitiveness in the economy," said Kwasniewski. He continued, saying that "according to the Ministry of Finance and most economists, the CIT rate reduction is more favorable than maintaining the current tax breaks. In a bid to stimulate the development of Polish entrepreneurship, I decided to sign the CIT amendment bill." Kwasniewski clearly did not favor the PIT bill, which he found to lower tax rates only for the highest income earners while not altering the rate for low income earners. He added that the "overwhelming majority of those who would benefit most from the reduced rates were not investors and do not create new jobs." That aside, Kwasniewski remarked that in the end it was reservations about the Sejm's procedures in hustling the bill through that determined his decision to veto the PIT bill. AWS Chairman Marian Krzaklewski said the President's decision will certainly not rock the coalition, but he added that, contrary to its intentions, the President's veto will in the end hurt the poorest Poles. Of course, it was no surprise that Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) leader Leszek Miller applauded the President's move, stating that the President simultaneously stood up for the millions of Poles who have been bearing the brunt of transition associated burdens while defending the law.
In an ongoing struggle against reform implementation, five hospitals in the Swietokrzyski region have refused to sign contracts with their Regional Health Care Fund. They have put off the signing until 15 December, and this is conditional to the Fund's providing more money for the hospitals' operations. Under the new reforms, the Funds' subsidies will correspond to the number of patients treated - rather than receiving a fixed sum as previously was the case. In the Swietokrzyski region, this will probably result in a two per cent drop in subsidies. Furthermore, the directorate of the Funds has decided to favor out-patient clinics over hospitals in the dispensation of funds. The goal of the reforms is to encourage hospitals and institutions to be competitive and improve their quality of care - which will correspondingly raise the amount they receive, as they will attract patients from outside their immediate area. It is, however, a bit of a Catch-22 situation, as hospitals need funds initially to upgrade in order to become competitive.
Welcome to Marlboro country? First warning labels and disclaimers, and now this. Pretty soon the tobacco manufactures' Eden will be shutting down for good, as the first US-style anti-tobacco court case began against US giant Philip Morris and a Polish firm controlled by France's Seita. A Krakow district court began hearing a case launched by 42-year-old Slawomir Lubicz-Sienicki, whose mother died of lung cancer. Lubicz-Sienicki stated that "the tobacco concerns made my mother an addict and killed her." He is suing the two firms for PLZ ten million (USD 2.39 million) in compensation for losses he suffered when his mother died after smoking for at least 42 years. Robert Rychlicki, the lawyer representing Philip Morris, told the press: "We offer our condolences because of the tragedy, but we see no connection between this event and our company." Philip Morris, which has invested nearly USD 400 million in Poland, was attracted to Eastern Europe after 1989 to profit from the high demand for tobacco products among populations in the former Soviet bloc. Since about 25 per cent of Poland's 39 million citizens smoke some 90 billion cigarettes annually, any legislation and suits are probably not going to get them anywhere quickly.
The latest OBOP Polling Centre survey (taken 27-29 November) showed the SLD receiving about 39 per cent support of those polled, while the AWS received only 15 per cent. This is still better than the ruling coalitions other half, the UW, which only got 11 per cent of the vote. One analyst concluded that the drop in support for the AWS and the corresponding rise in the SLD's popularity had nothing to do with their public squabbling over the tax bills (see above), since popularity tends to drop on all sides when there is arguing. The same analyst pointed out that many may have shifted allegiance, as the SLD has been less damaged by recent scandals.
Finally, some good news, as one of the two Polish scientists who had been kidnapped earlier this year by Chechen guerrillas called a friend to say that the two have been freed and are waiting for help from Polish authorities to leave the town of Urus-Martan, which is currently under heavy shelling by the Russian Army. The Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which earlier refused to submit to any ransom demands, announced that they are ready to take the two back to Poland as soon as the area becomes more stable.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 11 December 1999
News from Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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