Central Europe Review: politics, society and culture in Central and Eastern Europe
Vol 1, No 6, 2 August 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 24 July 1999

Joanna Rohozinska

There is reportedly a growing lack of discipline in the Polish army. Officers have complained that there are increasing instances of insubordination and a marked lack of respect towards officers by new recruits. Up to ten percent of new recruits have apparently had run-ins with the law prior to joining up. One officer (unnamed) stated that officers have two choices: either to pretend that they did not hear any disparaging remarks aimed at them or to spend hours filling out tedious forms in order to report such instances. He commented that lately, his hearing seems to have gotten much worse.

Andrzej Celinski, a former Senator and member of the Freedom Union (UW), decided to jump ship on his party and formally joined the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Celinski stated that the SLD does not isolate anyone politically and he finds their social-democratic values close to his heart. He will head a commission charged with preparing the documents for the first convention of the new party. 21,000 people have joined the SLD to date. The process of establishing the new SLD party has been planned with great detail and so far everything - from choosing the authorities to building the structure - is going according to the plan prepared by the former SdRP leaders. The make-up of the SLD new board was determined just before the meeting of the Temporary Board of the Alliance; hence, during elections, which took place in the beginning of July, there was only one candidate for each of the positions. The temporary board consists of 20 people who are either well-known names or representatives of the former SdRP and the OPZZ.

In a related story, the SLD has stated that it wished Wojciech Maksymowicz, the former health minister, to stand before the State Tribunal. SLD has charged Maksymowicz with direct responsibility for the misguided preparation and implementation of the current public health sector reform. According to SLD leader Leszek Miller, a formal motion to this effect will be tabled in September - after the parliamentary summer recess. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told the press that Poland needs an opposition party that will think about the country's future and not about short-term political gain. The Prime Minister added that SLD governed the country for four years until 1997 and over that time it did not implement any political reforms, while now SLD tries to make political gains out of any reform failures.

A petition against police brutality collected 15,000 signatures. The petition was initiated by the friends of Michal Filipek, who was brutally beaten to death by police earlier this year. The petition has already been handed to the Chief of Police. The majority of signatures were collected in the Slask region, but it was also circulated in Krakow and Jelenia Gora.

There was a four-hour rail stoppage on the Szeczin-Gdansk route when three suspicious-looking packages were spotted on the tracks. It was feared that these were bombs, and the bomb squad was summoned from Szeczin to investigate. Once they were opened, it was discovered that one contained shredded newspaper and the other two wooden blocks.

Speaking of railways - according to the Supreme Chamber of Control (NIK) the losses incurred by the Polish Railroads PKP in 1998 were 1.584 percent higher than 1997 while the debt grew by 40 percent. The minister of health Franciszka Cegielska announced yesterday that PKP has not been paying ZUS premiums since May. That means that the 208,000 employees of PKP may loose their free health benefits.

There was more anti-Semitic crime in Poland last week, as vandals defaced the offices and front entrance of the municipal Jewish Community offices in the centre of Bielsko-Biala. After breaking in the door with a sledgehammer, the vandals spray-painted swastikas and "Jude Raus" on the walls. Despite the offices being in one the busiest parts of downtown, no claims to have seen anything at all.

The Commissioner for Civic Rights received 5000 letters of complaint during the first half of this year. This compares to a total of 4000 received in the whole of the previous year. Professor Adam Zielinski stated that the increase is undoubtedly caused by, among other factors, the extensive administrative and healthcare reforms introduced in the past year.

On 1 August, the two biggest oil refineries, Polski Koncern Naftowy SA and Rafineria Gdanska SA, are to raise fuel prices by 8 to 18 grosz per liter. The price increase, the thirteenth and so far largest this year, is supposedly due to tax increases as well as increasing world fuel prices. It means that the average driver will have to pay 14-18 grosz more for gasoline and 8-10 grosz more for diesel fuel.

More strikes: Striking public works employees in Szeczcin tried to prove their point to municipal authorities by cutting off the water supply to their offices this week. Unfortunately, this had absolutely no effect as the buildings actually have their own water supplies. The strike started earlier this week and included a full work stoppage by tram and bus drivers as well as the closing of local garbage dumps. Some of the protesters were said to be getting out of hand, as they wanted to dump raw sewage in front of the entrance to the municipal buildings.

Talks over recompensation payments to forced labourers during the Second World War continued in Washington this week. The initial target date of 1 September set for the completion of talks is appearing increasingly unrealistic to participants. Count Otto Lamsdorff, a German representative at the talks, stated that "this date is no longer binding for us... and it would be risky to promise a new date for the activation of the fund." More optimistically, Stuart Eizenstat, the acting Treasury Secretary, expressed that the key points governing the recompensation fund could be agreed upon by the given date, with only the technical details remaining to be negotiated later. Jacek Turczynski, one of the leaders of the Polish delegation expressed his impression that the Germans were intentionally dragging their feet in the hopes that international interest would wane after the September deadline. Though no figure has officially been quoted, lawyers for the plaintiffs have hinted that they are seeking somewhere in the neighbourhood of 30 million marks - ten times more than the 2.5 to 3 million offered last February by the German firms (which include Siemens, BMW and Volkswagen)

Joanna Rohozinska, 31 July 1999


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