Vol 2, No 10
13 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 6 March 2000
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska
This week the European Union's environment commissioner Margot Wallström said that Poland was going to have to work harder and raise its ecological standards or risk a delay in its admission to the EU. On her first official visit to an EU hopeful, Wallström said, "legal work is too slow, (requested) transition periods are too many and too long, we need to see more work on administrative structures for taking care of environment issues and more political will has to be manifested." Despite spending heavily since 1989, trying to shed the Communist legacy of industrial pollution, the EU singled out Poland and the Czech Republic last year for lagging behind in environmental reform. According to Wallström, Poland is having particular problems with delivering clean water to homes, treating waste water, removing garbage and dealing with contaminated soil.
Warsaw has the dubious distinction of being one of the few European cities that still lacks potable tap water. Poland estimates that it will cost them somewhere in the neighbourhood of euro 30 billion (USD 29 billion) over the next 15 years to raise drinking water levels to EU standards, cut river and sea pollution and improve air quality. The commissioner particularly drew attention to the failure to pass laws that promote investment in anti-pollution measures and setting environmental norms for industry and local authorities. Environment Minister Antoni Tokarczuk said that draft laws were already in parliament but EU diplomats complain that they are being held up in parliamentary committees.
While crying poverty, Poland will according to the London-based think-tank the EIU (Economist Intelligence Unit) be the fastest growing country in Eastern Europe this year and should hold that lead until 2004. "The EIU projects that Polish growth will rise to 5.2 per cent in 2000 and average five per cent over 2000-04, which is likely to be by far the strongest growth rate in Eastern Europe." The EIU compared expected average growth rates of gross domestic product for the same period for Hungary (4.0 per cent), Bulgaria (3.8), Slovakia (3.8), the Czech Republic (3.3) and Romania (3.1). Gavin Gray, senior analyst at the EIU, added that "the impetus for growth will come from exports and investment spending, much of it financed by foreign direct investment." At the same time, the study expected that the current account deficit to rise this year from USD 11.7 billion last year to USD 11.9 billion last year.
The media leaked this week that the SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) notified a prosecutor that the secret services may be looking to compromise President Aleksander Kwaśniewski. The SLD referred to former Sports Minister Jacek Dębski's accusation that an official of the coalition AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) had sought to blackmail him to produce compromising files on Kwaśniewski. Additionally, the SLD deputies cited an article in the latest issue of the weekly NIE that suggested that the UOP (State Protection Office) is looking for a Russian special service officer who is prepared to say that Kwaśniewski kept contacts with the Russian secret services. Unsurprisingly, the UOP and the Military Intelligence Service have vehemently denied any involvement in any moves against Kwaśniewski.
A last chance for an pop star on the brink of extinction? Michael Jackson is set to visit Warsaw next week to discuss building an amusement park in the city. City officials and Jackson's press office confirmed the 14 to 15 March visit but would not confirm rumours about the park. Jackson was very enthusiastically greeted by fans on his first visit in September 1996 and this apparently prompted him to consider building a recreation park and proved his dedication to the project in 1997 when he signed a letter of intent with the city for a USD 500 million project. However, not all residents are fans or such eager supporters of the project and their protests have stalled the project. Also as a result of protests, the planned location has been shifted from an area near the Wisła river to the west of the city.
Parliament voted, by a margin of 210 to 197 with 19 abstentions, to impose a complete ban on the import, distribution, and sale of soft and hard pornography. The bill still has to be signed by the President, whose sympathies lie with secular-minded opponents of the right-wing government. Breaking the proposed law carries fines and prison terms of up to two years for soft porn and five for hard porn and where child pornography is concerned five-year prison terms could be handed down. The bill was promoted by pro-Catholic legislators from the ruling AWS and opposed by the leftist SLD and the AWS's coalition partner the UW (Freedom Union) who called it unworkable and an attack on Freedom of Choice. The lower house had originally wanted to impose a maximum jail term of ten years for distributing hard pornography, defined as the depiction of sex involving children, animals or the use of force. The legislators also set the penalty for rape at two to 12 years imprisonment, instead of the originally proposed minimum of three years. AWS politicians were pleased at the outcome of voting that has introduced some of Europe's toughest anti-pornography laws. "I am very happy. This means that pornography, which is disgusting, demeaning to women, and leads to violence, evil and human suffering, will completely disappear from Polish stores," said AWS politician Stefan Niesiołowski. On the other side opposition member Józef Oleksy said that the bill "stems from a national mentality of prohibition. The bill will limit people's freedom of choice and it betrays a belief that by law the state can determine people's morals and values."
The Polish government will finally start making long-overdue cash pay-outs for public sector wage and pension increases. The government is in debt to around 3.8 million people who did not get wage increases in line with then high inflation or who lost pension privileges and bonuses in the hard years of 1991-1992. The government was not feeling particularly generous and a constitutional tribunal ruled that withholding the money was actually illegal. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek told a news conference, "this is one of the issues our government is solving after many years of delay." The government has earmarked PLZ 13 billion (USD 3.15 billion) for the compensation scheme that will last five years. Deputy Treasury Minister Hubert Laszkiewicz was reported as saying that individuals would receive between PLZ 1500 (USD 363.6) and PLZ 10,000 (USD 2424) depending on age and work experience. Some market analysts are concerned the payouts will boost domestic demand, further harm the poor current account and push up inflation.
Farmers are still restless but not as restless as Samoobrona leader Andrzej Lepper predicted. Around 1300 farmers erected 11 road blockades and staged more than 30 pickets throughout the country on the predicted D-day of 6 March to protest the government's agricultural policies. Police spokesman Paweł Biedziak said the protests were smaller than expected, owing to the police warning that protesters would be dealt with firmly. Lepper said 70 road blockades were organized throughout the country and still declared the protest a success. "Our goal was achieved, society has realised that the government has not kept any of its promises in the last year." The protest was not supported by the Farmers' Solidarity and the National Association of Farmers and Agricultural Circles and Organisations, both of whom have said that they plan to cooperate and negotiate with the government and disavowed Samoobrona's tactics.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska and Donosy-English, 11 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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