Vol 1, No 13
20 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 11 September 1999
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English
The latest OBOP agency public opinion poll was released revealing that 74 percent of Poles support President Aleksander Kwasniewski, which is down seven percent from June's polls. Prime Minister Burzek's popularity is down by eight percent from June with 34 percent responding that they were satisfied with his performance, but only 34 percent actually characterised it as "good." Meanwhile, 74 percent are critical of Burzek's government as a whole, up a whopping 16 percent. Obviously this does not foreshadow any smooth political sailing in Poland for the next while.
Not surprisingly the unpopularity of the ruling coalition government was top billing in the news throughout the week as it prompted political growling from numerous fronts. The National Council of the Work Union (Rada Krajowa Unii Pracy), at their meeting last Saturday in Kutno called for Burzek to step down, and for the ruling AWS-UW (Solidarity Election Action-Freedom Union) to "submit to the judgement of the citizens by holding early elections." UP (Union of Labour) leader Marek Pol stated that "Poland is being consumed by a crisis of public confidence, the majority of citizens do not believe, that the leadership wants and knows how to solve its problems. This is confirmed by their awkward handling of reforms as well as the increasingly difficult living conditions for the majority of Polish society."
These sentiments were echoed by Jaroslaw Kalinowski, chairman of the PSL (Polish Peasant Party), who stated that the government couldn't even govern itself and that merely a re-shuffling would not suffice in quelling public unrest. The government must change its domestic policy or early elections will be inevitable. In the opinion of leader of the SKL (Conservative-Populist Coalition), Miroslaw Styczen, the re-organisation of the government would allow the government to "reclaim public trust and re-establish the lost contact with the electorate." Stycznia affirmed that he felt that "we have a good programme and very good reforms." Jan Krol, one of the leaders of the UW and vice-marshal of the Sejm similarly confirmed his parties support of the premier while in Lublin on Saturday but demanded that Burzek take quick and decisive actions. Krol stated that, "[We] will lose faith if the premier fails to undertake quick personal decisions and does not delineate a clear government course of action." Burzek, for his part, answered all his critics by confirming that he was determined to stick out his term. He added that it was this kind of vocal opposition which undermined positive government action in the first place.
Leszek Miller, leader of the SLD (Democratic Left Alliance), warned that the increasing feeling of "helplessness among citizens and their disenchantment" with the government will result in a "great conflict and social explosion." He stated that "If people lose hope, if they do not have the opportunity to extricate themselves from a situation, then they are prone to very radical behaviour - often antidemocratic [behaviour]." He referred to a recent study which found that 87 percent of Poles felt they had no influence over public policy. The SLD pulled ahead of the AWS and the UW, gathering 36 percent of public support, as compared to 20 and 13 percent respectively. The PSL earned seven percent support, the UP and ROP (Reconstruction of Poland) received four percent each.
Two miners, protesting in Katowice over the closure of the Wujek mine, began a hunger strike, because, according to them, no one has been listening to their protest. The plan is for two additional miners to join the hunger strike each day. The protest began last week with several miners from the Rud mine chaining themselves to the monument after 600 miners lost their jobs when the mine closed. So far 2,482 out of 4,267 laid-off miners who have applied for a one-time severance payment of 50 000 zlotys have received their money, according to the labour ministry. The miners are slated to receive a further 35 million from the ARP (Agency for Industrial Development) by 20 September to complete the first installment of the 200 million zloty unemployment package.
Polish authorities have dropped the investigation regarding excessive force used by police to break up a Samoobrona - farmer protest a month ago. Inspector Janusz Tkaczyk, the police commandant of the northern town of Olsztyn, said he had suspended disciplinary proceedings against the police officers. They were accused of disobeying orders not to use weapons when they cleared several hundred protesting farmers from local government offices in Olsztyn. None of the accused admitted to the charges.
Another case of excessive force used by police is fraught with different difficulties. The trial of 22 communist-era policemen has been postponed once again as the court-appointed defence council, Ewelina Kidawa, has requested to be removed from the case. This is the second public defender who has stepped away from the case. The policemen are accused of having used excessive force when they violently broke up a gathering of striking miners at the Wujwk and Manifest Lipcowy mines in the early 1980s. Ms Kidawa's request has been forwarded to the District Board of Lawyers for consideration.
September was, historically speaking, a bad month for Poland. After concluding commemorations of the 1 September Nazi invasion, 17 September marks the anniversary of the Soviet invasion. President Kwasniewski left Friday morning to commemorate all those who died at Katyn, or went missing in the wake of the Soviet advance. The week leading up to the anniversary saw harsh words being exchanged between Poles and Russians regarding the nature and meaning of the 1939 invasion. The fun began with a Russian foreign ministry statement denying that the entry of Soviet troops had in fact been an invasion. Rather entry into Poland had been "dictated not so much by the wish to gain new territories but the need to protect our own country" and accused "certain circles in Poland" of framing the invasion in political terms in order to claim reparations from Russia. Poland's Foreign Ministry quickly responded that Soviet entry into Poland carried "symptoms of aggression" as defined by the 1933 London Convention, of which the Soviet Union was a signatory. The Ministry's release added that current Polish-Russian relations could not be built on the denial of historical fact. President Kwasniewski echoed this sentiment saying that relations had to be based on the "healthy foundations of historical truth, however difficult that may be." The president was speaking at a historical seminar in Wroclaw and went on to quote former Soviet foreign minister Molotov (yes - of Molotov cocktail fame) who obviously had only the highest regard for Polish sovereignty when he had called Poland "the bastard of Versailles." Meanwhile, in Warsaw, speaking at an international conference entitled "Resolving the Hitler-Stalin Conspiracy," Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukowski proposed that an international tribunal be set-up to research and judge, morally and symbolically, communist-era crimes.
In a novel approach, somewhat reminiscent of a past-era, Warsaw authorities have refused the OPZZ (All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions) permission to stage an anti-Government demonstration planned for 24 September. OPZZ head Jozef Wiaderny stated that the demonstration would go ahead as planned and stressed that the mayor of Warsaw did not have the vested authority to prohibit the demonstration in the first place. Ewa Gawor, head of the Warsaw Public Security and Order Department, who announced the decision on behalf of the mayor's office, explained that the 100,000 protesters expected would clog the city core, disrupting public transport and emergency services. Pawel Piskorski, president of the Warsaw council, stated that he wanted to prevent the repetition of violent street clashes seen earlier this year. He stated that "My decision is not intended to limit individual freedoms such as the freedom to demonstrate, or the freedom of speech. But we cannot have a situation where the right to demonstrate limits the freedoms of the citizens of Warsaw." City spokesman Andrzej Machowski said the capital had to protect itself against the high cost of violent disturbances.
The head of the Prime Minister's Chancellery, Jerzy Widzyk, sharply castigated those responsible for recent acts of vandalism carried out against cemeteries of various faiths. The statement was immediately prompted by the latest assault on the Jewish cemetery in Warsaw. Widzyk stated: "This shameful deed, as well as increasingly frequent signs of vandalism on Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and other cemeteries deserve condemnation and evoke deep indignation in Poland." Widzyk added that he "deeply regretted" that Poland's Jews must suffer such sacrilegious acts against their sacred sites. He went on to say that the most probable suspects were satanist groups.
The Vetting Court issued its first sentence this week against a lawyer, only identified as Wanda B. The court found that she had lied when she swore that she had not secretly collaborated with the communist secret services. The court was set up to study the vetting statements made by public officials. Anyone found to have lied in their statement must immediately resign and is barred from holding any public post for ten years.
Finally, a novelty for anyone familiar with the smoking habits in East Central European states. The Sejm decided to introduce a ban on tobacco advertising. This has caused quite a stir, particularly within the advertising community as some 200 millions zlotys were spent on tobacco advertising last year. Under draft legislation, tobacco companies will be forbidden from sponsoring Sporting, cultural, social, educational, health of political events or activities.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 18 September 1999
Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with the
kind permission of Donosy-English:
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