May Day celebrations were colourful and festive all around the country and each displayed distinctive shades of the political spectrum. In Kraków, a group of anarchists clashed with police. Police tried to block a march by the anarchists on a local jail where one of their comrades was being held for assaulting a policeman earlier this year. Several people were hurt, two of whom were policemen; fourteen anarchists were detained and a police vehicle was damaged in the ensuing melee.
In the northern city of Gdańsk, meanwhile, riot police moved in to restore order after groups of skinheads started throwing eggs full of red paint at leftist marchers. The marchers were commemorating those who died in the city's defence at a monument. Police, armed with shields and batons, detained several people.
In Poznań, in the west of the country, local anti-Communists came out in full force, rather inexplicably covered in war-paint and dressed as Native American Indians and carrying a banner that read: "All reds belong in reservations." Not particularly PC, and Native Americans may be surprised at being identified as Communists. Warsaw, as per usual, stood the middle ground as both leftists and rightists got into the game, trading insults and throwing eggs at each other. Approximately 1500 people participated in a march and a rally organised by the SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) and other leftist groups.
It has become something of a tradition for the youth wings of the parties to pelt each other with eggs as the marches pass the Warsaw University building. SLD leader Leszek Miller took the opportunity to address the rally, saying that "people's patience is nearing its end" and that next year's elections will reinstate Poland's left wing in power. Clashes between the left and anti-Communists have been a May Day tradition in Poland since the early 1980s, but with all the eggs involved maybe they simply wanted to celebrate Orthodox Easter. Despite all the action, PAP reported that May Day demonstrations took place without "major disturbances."
The importance of historical symbolism rears its head once again as parliament held a special visiting session in Gniezno in order to commemorate the millennium of the Gniezno Congress which marked the foundation of the Polish state. The original congress, held in AD 1000, brought together Germany's emperor Otto III, papal envoys, and King Boleslaw I Chrobry. This time around, Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek was joined by the heads of the German, Hungarian, Slovak, and Czech governments. The groups collectively called for cooperation in building a united European continent and denounced the threats posed by nationalism, xenophobia, and totalitarianism.
After the meeting, German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder said that he is "confident" that Poland will be ready to join the European Union by 2003. He also pledged Germany's support of Poland's efforts, saying that Germany "will work hard to help Poland achieve EU membership." "Enlargement is in the national interest of Germany," he said. "We have to tell this to people who are not always convinced this is the case." He concluded that "there cannot be an economically integrated Europe which ends on the eastern border of Germany." Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán agreed with this sentiment and stated that "without us, Europe is incomplete."
Poland has been picking up the EU campaign, particularly as of late. This week they submitted a 1000-page strategy to the EU, hoping that this will secure them a place in the first wave of assession. Jacek Saryusz-Wolski stated that "the climate of negotiations is good, but not as good as we hoped. Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek decided that a new impulse is needed from Warsaw." Saryusz-Wolski stepped into the post which had been left vacant for 18 months due to political infighting. The programme contains timetables and tasks aimed at helping Poland to achieve its goal of joining the EU at the start of 2003. Saryusz-Wolski added that Poland expected EU leaders to announce an enlargement date at the EU summit in Nice in December.
Another Holy Pole. Pope John Paul II canonised a Polish nun at a ceremony in St. Peter's Square in Rome, watched by around 100,000 pilgrims and tourists. The Pope said: "It gives me great joy today to present to the Church the life and testimony of Sister Faustina Kowalska as a gift of God for our age. Through divine providence, the life of this humble Polish daughter has been completely tied to the history of the 20th century, the century we have just left behind us.
In fact, it was between the first and second world wars that Christ trusted her with his message of mercy. Those who remember and witnessed and participated in the events of those years and the horrible suffering which they brought to millions of people well know how necessary the message of mercy was." Sister Faustina was born as Elena Kowalski in the village of Glogowiec, the third of 10 children in a peasant Roman Catholic family. The event was broadcast live to crowds gathered in Krakow, including Prime Minister Bużek.
In a a more secular ritual, Interior Minister Marek Biernacki survived a no-confidence vote in the parliament by a margin of 240 in his favour to 155 against. The SLD had brought the measure to a vote following reports about serious problems with Poland's law enforcement system (Tigers, blown-up flats, etc.)
Joanna Rohozińska, 3 May 2000
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