Vol 2, No 12
27 March 2000
C E N T R A L E U
R O P E A N N E W S:
News Review for Poland
News from Poland since 20 March 2000
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska
Just when they thought they couldn't possibly go any lower, the latest poll, conducted by CBOS, revealed that the popularity of Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek's cabinet has hit an all time low. Even the pollsters seemed a little stunned, stating that: "Since December 1992, when we started this poll, no government [has] had weaker support." The present cabinet is only supported by 20 per cent of Poles, which earns it the dubious distinction of having the lowest popularity rating for a Polish cabinet in the past eight years. Meanwhile, 46 per cent of respondents actually oppose the current government, which is up from 40 per cent in January. A full 54 per cent believe the economy has deteriorated since Bużek et al came to power in 1997. Twenty-six per cent feel nothing has changed and a scant 13 per cent believe the economy has actually improved. Unsurprisingly, Bużek is personally losing popularity, with only 23 per cent supporting him. CBOS stated that "Poles think that the government could avoid a lot of problems if only it could detach itself from internal bickering among parties of the ruling coalition." The ruling AWS-UW (Solidarity Electoral Action-Freedom Union) coalition has been torn by internal disputes for some time, which often result in coalition deputies voting against their own government. This is hardly confidence inspiring and, more importantly, effectively deprives the coalition of attaining a parliamentary majority. President Aleksander Kwaśniewski on the other hand has still cause to smile since his approval rating remains very high at 76 per cent, even with a four per cent drop since February.
Maybe someone finally got fed up with the plague of mobile phones as Deputy Treasury Minister Alicja Kornasiewicz announced plans to fully liberalise the telecommunications sector, beginning in 2003. She told a news conference this week that: "Full liberalisation of telecommunications services will take place after January 1, 2003, with the long-distance and local sector liberalised after the start of 2002." Long-distance services are currently monopolised by Telekomunikacja Polska SA (TPSA) but three new players are going to launch their systems this July. Kornasiewicz added that the treasury will pick a strategic investor for exclusive talks on the sale of 25 to 35 per cent stake in TPSA at the beginning of May after deciding on two potential bidders earlier this month. Though it is all very hush-hush, with no one at the treasury talking, rumour has it that it has come down to France Telecom and Telecom Italia.
The fatal shooting of a veterinarian in Warsaw last week was apparently just the tip of the iceberg when it came to trigger-happy law enforcement agents. In a Jelenia Góra courtroom, officers from an anti-terrorist squad shot two out of eight gang members, charged with theft, extortion, and manslaughter, dead after the defendants detonated two grenades in the corridor. Three policemen were injured by grenade splinters. Police spokesman Paweł Biedziak said a preliminary investigation indicated that the squad acted properly and fired only when there no one could be caught in the cross-fire. Interior Minister Marek Biernacki commented that: "Crime is becoming increasingly brutal today and the courts have to be prepared for it. It is a sad thing that two persons died in the melee but it was the criminals who started shooting. The police reacted correctly." President Kwaśniewski noted that: "Until now we thought that such things could happen only in foreign movies." As a reaction to this incident the Ministry of Justice has decided to install metal-detector gates in larger courthouses in Poland. The Polish press, based on the defendants' hyper-active bladders prior to the incident, speculated that the grenades had been hidden in the courthouses toilets.
The following day, in the north-western city of Szczecin, another anti-terrorist unit had been watching too many action movies and succeeded in thoroughly demolishing one apartment, damaging the walls in an adjacent one, destroying a staircase, and smashing a number of windows in the building as well as in neighbouring blocks. Not bad for a day's work; fortunately no one was actually hurt. The unit was trying to blast down the door of the flat to get to the criminals inside, only they used a bit too much force. Well, they did manage to get the door down and caused an estimated PZL 300,000 (USD 73,000) in material damages, which will be covered by the State Treasury.
Certainly additional stresses on the treasury do not come at a particularly good time. Due to high anticipated costs Bużek's has decided to postpone a national census, originally scheduled for 2001, until mid-2002. The operation is to cost PZL 600 million (USD 146 million). The last census was held in 1988.
The Polish Navy's fleet was increased by one guided-missile frigate this week. Admiral Zbigniew Popek, deputy commander of the Polish Navy, officially took over frigate "Clark," which has been renamed "Pułaski," which will be the second largest ship in the fleet. It is one of two vessels the US Navy has given free of charge to Poland in an effort to upgrade Poland's naval forces to NATO standards. The second ship will be transferred later.
The heat is on for AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski as his own party is urging him to decide whether or not to he intends to run for president. He originally said he would make an announcement by the end of April but does not intends to do so much sooner. With his approval lagging far behind the incumbent, at around five per cent, parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski urged Krzaklewski to take part in US-style primaries. Plazynski stated that he thinks primaries would be "a good means of strengthening Krzaklewski as the AWS candidate in the presidential elections." And added that "primaries would be an opportunity for a very serious political discussion in the whole country." The AWS has been torn by internal squabbling for the past few months, yet Krzaklewski is, so far, sticking to his original preference of having an AWS candidate selected by AWS statutory bodies. The Solidarity trade union also criticized the idea of holding primaries as "dangerous" as they would potentially undermine the party's leadership. Plazynski has refused to indulge any speculation, running rampant through the media, whether he may be considering a stab at the nomination himself.
Meanwhile the AWS's junior coalition partner, the UW, has decided to wash its hands of the situation altogether and announced it will not support Krzaklewski's candidature. Finance Minister and Freedom Union chief Leszek Balcerowicz told public radio: "The Freedom Union has to take into account the preferences of its electorate. This clearly shows... the party would find it very difficult to back... Marian Krzaklewski."
In a move perhaps foreshadowing the tenor the upcoming presidential race will assume several AWS deputies announced that they want to appoint a parliamentary commission to examine allegations that President Kwaśniewski committed financial irregularities when he headed the Youth and Physical Culture Committee in 1989. It was earlier reported in Gazeta Polska that around USD 80 million was illegally diverted from the account of the Central Tourism and Recreation Fund, which was subordinated to the committee managed by Kwaśniewski. Ryszard Kalisz, the president's lawyer said all his client's activities during that time have already been checked by the Supreme Audit Chamber, which found no irregularities.
Apparently figuring that the point was taken Russian ambassador Sergei Razov returned from Moscow, where he had had been recalled "for consultations" over an incident at the Russian consulate in Poznań. "I would like to hope that the cancelled visit of the Russian foreign minister to Poland and the ambassador's recall for consultations have made [the Polish authorities] at least think about prospects for [Poland's] relations with Russia," ITAR-TASS quoted Razov as saying. That's telling them.
A coach load of 42 Russian tourists were going through northwestern Poland on their way home from Germany when five masked Russian-speaking men relieved them of USD 40,000. One of the victims told Polish television the coach stopped when it saw a red light flashing in a wooded area and thought it was a police checkpoint. This latest incident has prompted authorities to issue warnings to all tourists not to stop if flagged down in remote areas. "National police headquarters has prepared thousands of leaflets in Polish, German, Russian and English warning motorists against robberies on the road," a police statement said. The leaflets warn drivers not to heed requests to pullover by individuals in unmarked cars or not wearing official uniforms. The hardest hit in this scam are visitors coming from the former Soviet Union. To add insult to injury, the perpetrators are frequently their own countrymen.
Andrzej Wajda, the acclaimed 74-year-old Polish filmmaker, was scheduled to receive an honorary Oscar for a lifetime achievement at this year's ceremony. He will be the first eastern European director to earn such recognition. "I am really touched by this honour," said Wajda, who has been nominated in the past but had never won. He added that "I do not want to accept the Oscar as a consolation prize which indicates that I have done everything and can now rest." US Academy of Motion Pictures President Robert Rehme explained the committee's choice saying that: "By showing both the loftiest heights and darkest depths of the European soul, he has inspired all of us to re-examine the strength of our common humanity."
Wajda co-founded what became known as the was Polish School of Film with Roman Polanski which, due to the political atmosphere, had to resort to plenty of hidden meaning and symbols. Wajda became somewhat passé in his own homeland after the fall of Communism but staged a spectacular comeback with his interpretation of the literary epic Pan Tadeusz last year, which out-sold Titanic in the Polish market. Wajda once remarked that there are always ways of getting round political censorship but no way past the censorship of money.
Support for entry into the European Union slipped, over a three-month period to 55 per cent, while the 26 per cent who flat-out oppose it remained constant, a CBOS poll revealed. Support for full EU membership was strongest among the wealthier and better educated while opposition was highest among peasants. This is the latest low yet, but support has been falling steadily from the 80 per cent peak it enjoyed in 1996. Surveys by other agencies in the past have registered support as slipping to below 50 per cent.
The World Bank released a rather damning report on Thursday stating that Poland has a serious corruption problem at all levels of public administration. "All our interviewees pointed to corruption at the highest levels of power as the most serious problem in Poland and said it was growing," the report said. Commissioned by Finance Minister Leszek Blacerowicz, it went on to say that: "There is a common belief that government administration, highest state authorities and judiciary are at the top of the list of most corrupt institutions in the country with the health service, police and political parties right behind." The conclusions presented were reached after consulting and interviewing parliamentarians, administration, judiciary and business officials, academics and non-government organisations, newspaper articles and Interior Ministry and Supreme Audit Chamber reports. Basil Kavalsky, World Bank representative in Poland told a news conference presenting the report that: "The moment to act is right, because corruption in Poland is still at manageable levels."
Police brought Warsaw traffic to a grinding halt on Thursday when it launched a surprise crackdown on car thieves. Warsaw police spokesman Ryszard Pietrzykowski said 1300 officers set up 100 checkpoints along the capital's key routes and bridges and inspected cars in search of stolen vehicles and suspected thieves. While the move aggravated drivers the action was deemed necessary considering some 13,000 automobiles are stolen each year in the city, only a quarter of which are ever recovered. Police said the operation would now be repeated every month.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska and Donosy-English, 25 March 2000
News from Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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