Not a particularly happy week, as a group of Roma women marred International Romany Day, when they attacked a woman journalist and beat her unconscious. Dorota Kania, a reporter for the daily Zycie, was warned to stop writing articles about alleged criminal practices in the Roma community, police reported. Police spokesman Pawel Biedziak added that they had already found those responsible. Kania was covering the celebrations, when she was attacked by the women. She appeared on television bruised, saying: "they punched me, knocked me down and kicked me in the face, stomach and kidneys, then I lost consciousness." She also said that one of her attackers bent over and warned her to stop writing about Romanies before she lost consciousness. She was treated for a concussion in hospital. The comment was in reference to a series of articles Kania had written in February accusing Roman Kwiatkowski, a leader of the Roma Association in Poland, of siphoning funds meant for Gypsy Holocaust survivors. The chairman of Poland's Romany Council, Stanisław Stankiewicz, said that "We do not know those people. We oppose such aggression regardless of the colour of skin or occupation of those involved."
Other sad news, as Mirosław Palasz, the ambassador to Turkey, died last Saturday after jumping out of a hospital window in Ankara. The ambassador was being treated at Bayindir hospital, a private facility, and was undergoing medical checks because of excessive weight loss, lack of appetite, insomnia and irregular blood pressure. The clinic released an official statement saying that: "The patient lost his life...due to trauma occurred to his head after falling from a height." The incident occurred at three in the morning and was apparently a suicide. State prosecutors have begun an investigation. Polish embassy officials have not commented, while the Turkish Foreign Ministry expressed regret and stated that the departed ambassador had made "valuable contributions to the improvement of Turkish-Polish relations." Turkish President Suleyman Demirel sent his condolences.
One would think that this item would stop popping up as actual news. However, the latest CBOS poll announced this week that (surprise-surprise) the popularity of the senior partner of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action-Freedom Union (AWS-UW) coalition has hit a new low. The poll showed the AWS slid to a record low of 15 percent approval, in April. The winner of the popularity competition was the opposition. The Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) picked up many of those the AWS lost, finishing with a record high of 38 percent - a full percentage gain over the previous month. Support for junior coalition partner UW stayed steady, at seven percent. The figures are particularly revealing about the mood of the public, when compared to statistics from just a year ago. Then, the AWS was backed by 23 percent, while the UW (at least staying consistent) held on to seven to eight percent. CBOS pollsters commented, on the painfully obvious fact, that this was "the largest lead that the strongest opposition party has had over the most significant group in the ruling coalition during this parliamentary term."
The anger over the 13.9 percent unemployment rate, or around 2.5 million people, is certainly not adding to the government's popularity. This week, several thousand demonstrators picketed provincial governors' offices throughout the country, demanding that the government take some sort of action to reduce the high unemployment. The protest was organised by the National Trade Union Accord (OPZZ). The OPZZ's leader, Józef Wiaderny declared the protest a success. He also added that the OPZZ successfully demonstrated that it is "the only defender of jobless people in the country."
Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek had encouraging words for his Ukrainian counterpart, Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, when the latter paid a visit to Warsaw this week. Buzek stated that the Ukrainian cabinet has begun implementing reforms "very well" and the recently approved cabinet program, coupled with the stable national currency, promised success for the reforms. In other meetings with President Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, Yushchenko received assurances from both that Poland intended to maintain visa-free traffic with Ukraine for as long as possible. Talks centred on the need to solve problems related to visas, with all parties agreeing that the Polish-Ukrainian border should not be closed to Ukrainian citizens. Geremek added that Yushchenko's government will spare no efforts to conclude the implementation of a programme aimed at securing the country's eastern and northern borders. The two politicians also discussed cooperation between both countries' power-generating sectors and the construction of Odessa-Brody-Gdansk pipeline.
More details on last week's faux pas committed by the State Protection Office (UOP), which (accidentally?) published a full report on perceived threats to state security on its website. President Kwaśniewski had expressed his surprise at the incident and commented that it should have remained confidential. Jan Litynski, head of the parliamentary commission for special services, noted belatedly that the report "deserves to be classified." And Prime Minister Buzek ordered an investigation to find out who was responsible - probably not to congratulate them. UOP spokesperson Magdalena Kluczynska probably wasn't feeling particularly easy, when she clarified that the report "was one of the analytical texts, worked on in the course of the preparation of materials for a government report on security, and it did not reflect the stance of the government." The report was removed by the next morning, but that was long enough for the Polish Press Agency (PAP) to re-distribute it. It was also quickly snatched up and translated by BBC Monitoring. The most sensitive sections pointed out the potential danger posed by an increasingly unstable Russia and the increase in intelligence operations targeting Poland. There were also several sensitive comments about problems facing the Polish minority in neighbouring Lithuania. Voyeurs can find the full English text on the BBC site, and in Polish on the PAP site.
The hoopla surrounding the introduction of educational reforms at the beginning of this past school term will probably be repeated, as Education Minister Miroslaw Handke announced that the second stage was to begin in the fall of 2002. In the second stage, students will choose between a three-year high school course or a two-year vocational school course, both of which follow nine years of compulsory schooling. Handke foresees that 80 percent of students will choose the high school and noted that the new system is anticipated to help increase the number of graduates seeking university-level education.
Ah, those pesky Poles…The European Union has, for the moment, given-up talks concerning the liberalisation of trade in farm products with Poland. Gregor Kreuzhuber, spokesman for the EU farm commissioner, was quoted as saying: "we suspended talks, because we did not see any flexibility from the Polish side.... We are talking about liberalisation, we cannot accept the Poles going in exactly the opposite direction." In a thinly-veiled threat, he added that this deadlock could impact (negatively, of course) on EU accession negotiations. The deal was that the EC offered to phase out subsidies on farm exports headed to Poland and increase preferential quotas for importing Polish produce. In exchange, they wanted Poland to scrap its higher customs duties on certain goods. The problem is that these were introduced last year in response to protests by farmers. Meanwhile, Gazeta Wyborcza called the negotiations a "fiasco" on its front page.
In a hell of a peace offering, Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin telephoned President Kwaśniewski mid-week to inform him of the discovery of a mass grave thought to contain the bodies of Poles murdered by Soviet forces during the Second World War. Putin invited Polish authorities and other interested parties to participate in an investigation into this recent discovery, but no other details (or numbers) were released. The grave was found near Smolensk, close to Katyn, where some 4000 Polish officers lay. Between 15,000 and 21,000 were executed in April and May of 1940, following the Soviet invasion, but most of the bodies have never been recovered. The Katyn massacre, as the event is known, has long served as a symbol of Soviet crimes against Poland. Prime Minister Buzek told the upper house the same day that: "These were not only Polish officers, Poland's elite, who were buried in the Katyn graves. For many years, Polish sovereignty was buried there as well." President Kwaśniewski's wife, Jolanta, traveled to Russia to take part in commemorative events there.
Joanna Rohozińska, 14 April 2000