Vol 1, No 12
13 September 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 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.
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 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
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.
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
Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with the
kind permission of Donosy-English:
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