The house that the Polish presidential candidate and leader of Samoobrona, the Farmers' Union, Andrzej Lepper, was staying in burnt to the ground early on Sunday morning. Lepper, who was not injured, charged that someone had tried to kill him. Police spokesperson Agnieszka Gołąbek stated: "The house in which Mr Lepper was staying burnt down completely as did three cars parked outside." She added that there were no injuries and didn't speculate as to what caused the blaze in Huta Skaryszewska some 100 km south of Warsaw.
Lepper on the other hand, who was staying with friends after campaigning in the area, had plenty of ideas and commented that he believed the fire was an attempt on his life and he planned to ask the Interior Ministry for protection. "The lady of the house woke me at four in the morning and said the place was on fire... All three exits were aflame and I could see the cars parked outside were also burning. We finally got out through the furnace room."
Though Poles are not particularly renowned for their patience the snail pace at which EU accession talks are going would probably make Father Time impatient. Public opinion in support of accession is falling and President Aleksander Kwaśniewski affirmed as much publicly late last week. He commented that after a bout of post-communist exuberance, EU members have come to view their eastern neighbours as a threat to their standard of living rather than as desirable partners. "Public opinion in the EU is skeptical, because they are living comfortably. The enthusiasm of the early 1990s has weakened, complacency has begun," he stated. Recent public opinion polls show that less than 50 per cent of citizens in EU countries actually back enlargement and most fear a flood of immigrants and crime. Despite this Kwaśniewski remains confident that these sentiments will not stop Poland's ambitions.
In the same vein four former prime ministers, Tadeusz Mazowiecki, Hanna Suchocka, Józef Oleksy and Włodzimierz Cimoszewicz issued a joint appeal for all political forces to work together and support the country's EU membership bid. Mazowiecki said that the efforts should be free of "political infighting." A rather tall order considering the history of Polish politics.
Cimoszewicz and Oleksy said the leftist opposition is ready to support the government in its European integration effort and Cimoszewicz, apparently anticipating the outcome of future election additionally urged the coalition to allow opposition members to take part in the accession talks with Brussels in order "to enable smooth continuation" of those talks after there is a change of government in the country. Jan Olszewski and Waldemar Pawlak did not show up to sign the appeal but former Prime Minister Jan Krzysztof Bielecki, currently abroad, reportedly agreed to sign it later.
Breach of international intellectual property laws has been a major sore point between former Communist countries and the international community for a number of years. Though Poland has made gestures at controlling the problem in the past, international pressure may finally be forcing officials to actually enforce regulations. Primarily involving pirating of music and video, it is unlikely that traders, who sell the copies at a fraction of official prices, will give up their market. Nor will consumers, who can scarcely afford the real thing, be happy to give them up. But someone, the music and software countries, is losing a substantial amount through the pirate trade.
Statistically each of the 40 million people (Poland's population) cost these industries about USD 5 last year. It's not only a matter of losing money - it's also the slap in the face that comes with the market being conducted so blatantly in the open, and right in front of officials, at the largest open-air market in Warsaw, the sports stadium in Praga on the east side of the city. There a wide variety of counterfeit goods are available, including CDs for only USD 2.50. National police spokesman, Paweł Biedziak, commented that the "place is nothing but a crime scene." He added that "the problem with piracy in Poland is that the police only deal with the tip of the iceberg, while the problem runs deep into organised crime groups."
Though police have been conducting regular raids at the stadium, with the most recent confiscating some 40,000 illegal CDs, they say that the only effective solution would be to close the stadium down altogether. According to ZPAV (the Polish Society of the Phonographic Industry) four out of five CDs sold in Poland are pirated copies. However more than 30 per cent of Poles told a recent opinion poll that buying pirate CDs and illegally copying software was perfectly acceptable and half blamed piracy on manufacturers, saying the prices for legal products were too high.
"I am certain both my and your friends buy pirated CDs just because the prices of legal CDs are so high in comparison to the money people make." An average CD costs USD 12 to USD 15, while average wages are less than USD 400 a month. "Despite growing awareness of the problem and all the international treaties that Poland has signed we are still well behind western countries in fighting copyright crime," said ZPAV's Marek Staszewski.
A group of around 300 Polish nationalists, belonging to organisations such as Polish National Rebirth, All-Poland Youth, the Union of the White Eagle, the National Party, and the Catholic-National Movement, held a rally in Opole province. Chanting slogans such as "Opole's Silesia is forever Polish" and "Down with the German occupation" the demonstrators had gathered on 3 May at Gora Swietej Anny in Opole Province to mark the outbreak of the Third Silesian Uprising against Germany in 1921. They also expressed opposition to Poland's entry into the EU and burned the Union's flag. The day before local authorities had organised an official commemoration of the anniversary, which representatives of the local German minority had also attended.
Nearly 5000 Jews and about 800 Poles took part in the ninth March of the Living in Oswiecim, the Polish name for Auschwitz. President Aleksander Kwaśniewski and Israel President, Ezer Weizman, along with a group of Holocaust survivors also took part in walking three kilometer route. Both presidents addressed the young people and Weizman expressed his hope that together both nations will be strong enough to work together to create a "world of security, respect and peace."
He also stated that "The story of the torture and murder of the Jews of Europe will never let go of the conscience of civilized people around the world [despite the] tireless energy of the Holocaust deniers," Kwaśniewski appealed to the Jewish youth that they should take a closer look at Poland and see that they were not so dissimilar. He appealed to them to put aside historical prejudice and "see Poles as friends." ''We are here together to make sure that nobody, neither people nor nations, are ever again threatened with annihilation," Kwaśniewski said. Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek also thanked Polish youngsters who joined their Jewish peers, saying this contributed to eradicating Poles' anti-Semitic image.
The spirit of Kwaśniewski's appeal was marred by events near Lublin, close to the nearby former Nazi death camp of Majdanek. Prime Minister Bużek apologised the following day for antisemitic incidents witnessed by Jewish youths. Government spokesman, Krzysztof Luft said despite the fact that the incidents were "minor and verbal," they still required an apology. "Those who attack you, in fact attack Poland, by waging a war against values that are the most sacred for Poles," read Bużek's statement.
Bużek further apologised for an inscription "Jews to the crematorium," which had appeared in Lublin. Luft said the incidents would be investigated but declined to elaborate on their nature. What actually happened in unclear as Isreali parliamentary deputy Avraham Hershon stated that a group of Polish extremists had attacked Jewish youth near the Majdanek gate, but according to Luft no physical violence was reported. Polish police on the other hand said that the Jewish visitors had been disturbed by the appearance of seven short-haired men at Majdanek and had requested a police intervention. "The detained people turned out to be soldiers on leave... They were handed over to the military police." Police spokesman Paweł Biedziek declined to make any further comment.
The Zloty plunged last week to 4.60 to one US Dollar after the National Bank released data showing that the current account deficit for March was running at USD 1.43 billion. The currency finally stabilised at 4.57 only to fall back to 4.60 the next day. Grzegorz Wojtowicz of the National Bank's Monetary Policy Council said the high deficit is due to the recent payment of some USD 300 million in interest on loans from banks belonging to the so-called Paris Club. Another member of the council, Cezary Jozefiak, said there have been no recommendations to increase bank interest rates.
Yet another candidate has put his hat into the presidential ring. Jaroslaw Kalinowski, leader of the opposition PSL (Peasant Party), announced his candidacy this week. Kalinowski is also setting himself up for a David versus Goliath battle. The PSL is currently backed by seven per cent of Poles, while the incumbent, Kwaśniewski, is still enjoying more than 60 per cent support from the electorate. "This presidential campaign will provide a platform for PSL to unveil its economic programme. It will also be a grand warm up before next year's parliamentary elections," said Marek Sawicki, deputy head of PSL. It is expected that Kalinowski's campaign will turn on a Euro-skeptic axis. Often playing populist politics Kalinowski has previously articulated a skeptical approach to Poland's planned entry to the European Union.
Safaris in Poland? The WWF World Wide Fund for Nature said in a statement that "responsible tourism can fulfill the triple bottom line of sustainability bringing social, economic and environmental benefits for the tourism industry, local communities and conservation." The statement said that Europe in general should find ways to capitalise on its wild animals and build up a safari tourism industry to help protect large, endangered carnivores like the brown bear and lynx cat. The WWF conducted case studies in Romania, Poland, Italy and France and found that the possibilities of "carnivore tourism" had not been explored. It is uncertain that tourists will be curious enough about Poland's wildlife to go much far beyond exploring Zubrowka.
Joanna Rohozińska, 15 May 2000
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