Vol 2, No 11
20 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 13 March 2000
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska
The Sejm rejected a government-proposed bill that would grant amnesty to citizens who admit to spying for foreign countries. One wonders who actually proposed the bill, as it was rejected by the opposition SLD (Democratic Left Alliance), the PSL (Peasant Party) as well as deputies from the ruling AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) and UW (Freedom Union) with 199 votes to 189 and nine abstentions. The Government argued the bill would curb espionage while opponents said it would allow grave crimes to go unpunished, was immoral and could have proved counterproductive. It would not have gone very far in any case as President Aleksander Kwaśniewski indicated he would veto the bill, which he called "morally dubious," if it were passed. The bill would have given amnesty to those who confessed to their spying activities and promised not to cooperate with any foreign intelligence service ever again. No mention if they were also supposed to cross their hearts and hope to die as well.
Taking a cue from the Czechs, protesters in Hajnówka District pelted Environmental Minister Antoni Tokarczuk with eggs in Białowieza, eastern Poland, as he was addressing the crowd on the merits of accepting the enlargement of Białowieza National Park. A good part of the crowd was not keen on the proposal to enlarge the park to include the whole of Białowieza Forest. The 500 or so protesters consisted mainly of local residents, most of whom draw their welfare from businesses that exploit the forest's resources. They are afraid that what may be good for the trees and please Mother Nature will not be good for their own pocketbooks. The lively demonstration failed to impress Tokarczuk, who announced that the decision to enlarge the park would stand.
Apparently sowing season hasn't started yet since farmers from the radical union Samoobrona were in Warsaw rather than the fields last week picketing the US and German embassies. They were protesting what they regard as western expansion into Poland's economic life. Union leader Andrzej Lepper handed both embassies a formal statement and stated that the protesters oppose globalisation manifest in the takeover of Polish economic entities by western banks and companies. Lepper reserved special words for the Germans and outside their embassy added that Samoobrona also protested the purchase of Polish land by Germans. PAP cited Lepper as saying "We had to change our constitution to adapt to the EU. Why don't the Germans change theirs, which speaks about [Germany's] borders of 1937?"
As if we don't hear enough from him already, Lepper also announced this week that he will run in the presidential elections due later this year. "We will officially start the campaign on 20 May in (Lepper's home town of) Koszalin," said Lepper. He has achieved prominence in the public scene as the rather noisy leader of the radical farmers' union who have had clashes with police at several of their numerous protests against the government's farming policy. Lepper said he will run under the slogan "A worthy life for working people." All the noise aside, incumbent President Kwaśniewski, though he has not yet even officially announced he will run, is still expected sail to an easy victory. The election is slated for the fourth quarter of this year. Lepper has characterised the present government as "a pack of thieves" and won the support of at least some farmers after a weeks-long road blockade co-organised by his group in 1999 which forced the government to increase food purchase programmes. Alas, Lepper's rhetoric and actions to date are not particularly constructive. After all, once in power, who will he protest against? On the other hand, perhaps traffic will move better.
But someone is listening to the farmers as the opposition PSL warned Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek in a letter disclosed at a news conference that if the Government continues with its present agricultural policies, this may provoke a "general peasant revolt." The PSL echoed the complaints presented by Samoobrona, stating that because of the government's policy of allowing foreign capital expansion in the agricultural sector, Polish farm products are being pushed out of both domestic and foreign markets. PSL parliamentary caucus head Janusz Dobrosz suggested that the government introduce high tariffs for imports in order to protect agricultural production. Governmental spokesmen Krzysztof Luft apparently didn't think too much of the comments and retorted that the present government is actually spending far more on intervention measures for the market than the PSL ever did when it held the reins of power.
What would the Poles think of Geraldo Rivera if an interview with former Communist-era security service officer Grzegorz Piotrowski elicited such a violent reaction? The local Polish Television station in Łódż broadcasted an interview with Piotrowski, one of four officers convicted of the 1984 murder of Roman Catholic priest and spiritual leader of the Solidarity movement Jerzy Popiełuszko. Piotrowski denied involvement in Popiełuszko's murder and criticised the court system during the interview taped during one of his prison leaves. After the uproar, Polish Television suspended a news editor at the television center, and parliamentary deputies demanded that all those responsible for the broadcast be fired. Juliusz Braun, chairman of the National Council for Radio and Television, commented that the broadcast "went beyond all limits of decency." However, no one seemed to question why Piotowski, who was sentenced to 25 years, which was later commuted to 15 years, periodically goes out wandering.
In a rather unfortunate incident, a veterinarian was fatally shot in the head when a police bullet missed the escaped tiger it was meant for. The vet had been trying to shoot one of three circus tigers with a tranquilising gun near housing blocks in a busy Warsaw suburb after a two-hour chase. The animal began to attack and police fired a volley of shots hitting the vet in the head after the Bengal tiger had already been frightened away. The 47-year-old died in hospital from his injuries and the tiger was later killed by policemen armed with hand-guns and rifles. Warsaw police chief Kazimierz Winiecki called the death an unfortunate accident and offered his condolences to the family. Circus owners said that the tigers appeared to have been deliberately released and local media speculated animal rights protesters were to blame, but police said they could not yet tell who was responsible. The other two felines were quickly recaptured without further incident.
Enough to keep conspiracy theorists busy, several large firms announced this week that they will back Telewizja Familijna, a Roman Catholic church-linked station. Familijna wants to compete against two public television channels and two private nationwide stations initially wanting to reach more than 45 per cent of households. A press conference is scheduled for next week to unveil programming plans, but most speculate they will consist of a mix of light entertainment and chat shows that will promote Christian values. The station will use a broadcast license held by regional Catholic television channel TV Niepokalanow, which is owned by the Franciscan order. What is slightly more troubling is the fact that most of the firms involved are state-controlled and run by managers appointed by the present rightist pro-Church government. State-controlled PKN (Polski Koncern Naftowy) for one stated it had agreed to buy a stake representing 9.6 percent of voting rights in Familijna for PZL 26 million (USD 6.34 million). Under the deal the firm agreed to lend the station another PZL 26 million over the next five years. Similar stakes are to be bought by majority state-owned KGHM (copper producer) and Prokom Investment, a major shareholder in systems integrator Prokom, as well as state-owned PSE (National Power Grid) and life insurance firm PZU Zycie, indirectly controlled by the state treasury. The latter two declined to disclose the scale of their investment in Familijna.
And surely sadness has descended on Warsaw as pop star Michael Jackson cancelled his visit to the city after talks on building an amusement park broke down. The mayor's office and Jackson's representatives issued a joint statement that the visit scheduled for 14-15 March was called off after discussions with a private investor stalled. The statement did go on to state that Jackson still hoped to go ahead with the theme park plan at some point in the future.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska and Donosy-English, 17 March 2000
News from Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
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