Andrzej Lepper couldn't have ever dreamed of a better publicity stunt. The Samoobrona Farmers' Union leader was led away in front of a crowd of supporters earlier this week after border guards carried out a warrant for his arrest. As if there is any need to remind anyone, the strident Lepper was the voice behind last summer's angry farmers' protests and road blockades that paralysed a good part of the country and ended up in several nasty clashes with police. It was during the summer of fun that he told a public gathering that the use of force by police showed the government was "an anti-Polish, anti-people regime," and also took the opportunity to call the then interior minister a "small-town bandit." In response to this outburst a regional prosecutor in Lódź charged Lepper with "offending constitutional organs" and "slandering state functionaries." These charges carry maximum sentences of two and one year imprisonment respectively. The Lódź court got a little annoyed after Lepper failed to appear twice for his hearing dates and issued a warrant for his arrest. But two hours after he was arrested on the boarder crossing to the Czech Republic in Kudowa, the court withdrew its decision and Lepper was released in Dzierzoniow. But not before playing this incident to the absolute hilt.
Lepper proudly displayed the handcuffs he had asked the border guards to put on him to the crowd and declared his arrest would win him more backers. He stated that his arrest "has greatly discredited the judicial system." Lepper also told the reporters he hadn't run from Poland and had no reason to hide. In fact he stated that: " I am surprised that the court decided to arrest me, even though it was notified ahead of time about my trip to New Delhi to the World Congress of Labour Unions," which he was returning from via Prague. He will have to report to report to the police once a week. Until this incident Lepper really had had nothing to provide a kick-start to his campaign. No one mentioned why he was returning to Poland overland - he'd been informed of the warrant while he was in India.
Quote-misquote? Janusz Palubicki, the minister in charge of special services, got pummeled (verbally of course) for his comments that "further steps" would be taken if Russia does not stop spying activities. Palubicki who quickly denied every having said this in the first place said that journalists misinterpreted him. However, his denial followed very quickly on the heels of foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek's statement about being unaware of any Russian spying. Palubicki seemed to have missed the memo that improving Russian-Polish relations was a priority. President Aleksander Kwaśniewski demanded that Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek explain Palubicki's statements.
This was the second incident that undermined reconciliation efforts. The UOP (State Protection Office) published a report listing major threats to the country's security on its official website. Kwaśniewski and Bużek roundly criticised the incident saying the report should have remained confidential. Transparency of course is one thing but this certainly carries it a little far. The report identified the major threats to Poland as being Russia's continued spying operations and instability in post-Soviet countries. It also suggested that the Lithuanian government is conducting a policy of assimilation of ethnic Poles. A spokeswoman for UOP said the report appeared online as the result of a "misunderstanding," but, like Palubicki last week, did not elaborate. President Kwaśniewski said he was surprised by the publication of the report on the site saying: "I don't understand why this type of material, which is quite controversial and debatable, was published on the Internet and made generally available." Buzek added his two-bits before a cabinet meeting, "This report should not have been published in this way... it is unacceptable." He promised that action would be taken against whoever authorised the report's publication. Gazeta Wyborcza's front page editorial said the "UOP should not engage itself in international journalism, because this makes it difficult for Poland to conduct its foreign policy."
And there is yet another new player on the field, this time coming from the far right. Jan Lopuszanski, leader of the right-wing nationalist Polish Agreement, has announced his candidacy for president. Lopuszanski opposed joining NATO and will oppose the EU bid when it is put to a referendum since he believes that joining the EU would betray Poland's Christian roots. The fervent Roman Catholic and Euro-sceptic said that: "When it joins the Union, Poland will lose its independence, and its laws will become subordinated to the laws of the European Union. That's a loss of sovereignty." His strategy will be to court those who believe in national sovereignty, "regardless of whether they have up until now backed the left or the right." While it is unlikely that Louszanski will be able to create and consolidate and anti-EU movement strong enough to pose a serious threat to the incumbent's popularity don't discount such a bloc appearing in time for the next parliamentary elections.
Meanwhile, we are still waiting to hear word from the centre-right where former President Lech Wałęsa and AWS-UW Marian Krzaklewski are expected to announce their decisions shortly.
The first edition of the Name-Roll of the Polish Military Cemetery in Katyn was presented at a special ceremony at the Royal Castle this week. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Katyn massacre and a series of commemorative events have been planned. Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek hosted this ceremony and recalled how for decades it had not been permitted to officially pay tribute to the memory of the victims. Buzek also stressed the contribution the Russian's have made in discovering (disclosing and admitting as well) the truth about the massacre. What he left unsaid was that the Russians were the primary reason full details about the murder of over 15 thousand Polish army officers by the NKVD in 1940 were never brought to light and public mourning banned. The Nazi's originally discovered the bodies during their advance after 1941. After the Soviets reclaimed the territories they quickly turned the story around and held the Nazi's responsible. Prime Minister Bużek noted that the official declaration of cooperation of the Russian side that came early in the 1990s was a milestone in the work on unveiling the truth about Katyn." He didn't add that really the admission of responsibility is what had been key.
According to the OBOP polling agency, a poll carried out in mid-March showed that 24 per cent of Poles do not care about politics. All told, four per cent regularly follow politics and 31 per cent say they were moderately interested in political events while around 40 per cent are only interested in special events such as presidential and parliamentary elections. If one accepts voter apathy, (being the norm in the United States (for one)) as generally being symptomatic of satiety, then it is not a bad thing. But the noise will surely be missed.
Another strike is brewing - this time Federation of PKP (State Railways) Trade Unions threatened strike actions to demand faster restructuring and guaranteed lay-off benefits. They stated that they would begin the strike by 12 April unless parliament agreed to quickly pass an emergency to help bail PKP out of its POL 6.3 billion (USD 1.5 billion) debt. The legislation has been stalled in parliament since September, partly because of the problems of privatising Poland's biggest employer and finance its restructuring. Matters have devolved to such an extent that the company was threatened with power cuts because it hasn't paid its bills to the electricity companies. The 200,000-odd employees are understandably feeling rather vulnerable and are looking to the proposed bill to at least introduce a modicum of security for those who will inevitably be laid-off.
Joanna Rohozińska, 7 April 2000
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