Vol 2, No 2
17 January 2000
C E N T R A L E U
R O P E A N N E W S:
Last Week in Poland
News from Poland since 8 January 2000
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska
There goes the neighbourhood. Reportedly Stanisław M - a criminal underworld boss affiliated with the Pruszkow gang - has so far invested around Złotys 50 million in seaside property, including a luxury hotel in Świnoujscie and a casino in Gdynia. The police are investigating the shady character and apparently 'closing in' on him but do not yet have sufficient hard evidence to indict him. They are currently focusing on his casino property, looking for evidence money laundering. The gangster is reputed to have good connections with civil servants and politicians, who have sprung him from jail before and rumour has it they have even been passing him secret police information.
More noise on the reparations package proposed by the German government last month to compensate Nazi-era slaves and forced labourers. The government backtracked this week in an effort to calm fears of Jewish groups, who were up-in-arms about a statement which potentially implied that victims who had received compensation from other sources could be excluded from their share of the DM ten billion (USD 5.2 billion), to be distributed later this year. Government spokeswoman Charima Reinhard made it clear that "there will be appropriate compensation," for former Jewish slaves who already received pay outs. The fund, which has been a result of an agreement reached between the government and 110 firms, will primarily benefit some 240,000, mainly Jewish, concentration camp survivors who were used as slave labour. The Polish delegation, consisting of Deputy Foreign Minister Jerzy Kranz, Head of the Polish-German Reconciliation Foundation Jacek Turczynski and headed by Head of the Prime Minister's Chancellery, Jerzy Widzyk, started another round of talks on German compensations. The main point of contention is also the manner in which distributing the funds among the two main categories of beneficiaries. The Polish delegate to the preceding round of talks, Janusz Stanczyk, said then that the question of allocating the money to various groups of beneficiaries can prove difficult and cumbersome. The great majority of Polish beneficiaries belong to the category of forced labourers which, it is feared, will become of secondary consideration in compensation allocations.
An investigation launched by the district prosecutor's office in Lublin against Samoobrona leader Andrzej Lepper was rapidly dropped last week. Lepper was going to be charged with inciting an illegal protest by referring to farmers' protests in Olsztyn and Bartoszyce at a Lublin press conference. Samoobrona, with Lepper at its head, was responsible for several disruptive protests in Poland last year. In the end, the prosecutor decided that Lepper's statements did not constitute a crime.
The brush with the law apparently didn't dampen Lepper's spirit at all, as he announced on 8 January that farmers will launch a countrywide road blockade if the government does not fulfil the union's demands for higher prices for agricultural goods and the annulment of farmers' debts to the state. PAP quoted Lepper as saying "the blockades will be peaceful and there will be no stone-throwing." Lepper also took the opportunity to announce that the Peasant-National Bloc will hold its first congress on 17 January, in Warsaw. According to Lepper, the bloc will offer a 'third choice' between the Right and the Left.
Communication barriers will probably not be helpful in establishing cooperation between the Polish armed forces and their new NATO allies. Though over 10,000 Polish officers are deemed proficient in English, there is still a distinct shortage of those with skills strong enough to be able to be posted at NATO headquarters in Brussels. Professor Zbigniew Lewicki said that due to widespread cheating, the exams have become a "parody" anyway. That, coupled with the obsolete methods of teaching foreign languages that the armed forces employ, account for the poor results. Despite this, Western observers optimistically state that Poland is making steady headway.
The European Commission, on the contrary, did not strike a particularly positive note, saying that Poland's blocking of some grain imports did not bode well for future farm talks with accession candidates scheduled for later this year. Poland imposed quality controls on cereal imports in November, which has led to the rejection of a couple of shipments from Germany, Holland and Denmark, making up more than 10% of total imports. Berlin, for one, complained that the new inspection specifics were uncalled for. The Polish government defended the policy that, according to them, was designed to curtail trade in "illegal" products, with some farmers buying the grain to turn a profit from it. Above all - though there was certainly no overt mention of it - surely the policy is related to the stink Polish farmers have been making about the subsidised imports undercutting local prices.
As if the Solidarity Election Action (AWS) did not have enough problems, the latest antics are wearing thin with the leadership. The move by 74 sitting party members, who called for the dismissal of State Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz, has been condemned by Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek and AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski. It has been deemed an unacceptable break in party discipline, and the National Committee of Solidarity called for the ban or removal from electoral lists of those deputies. Minister of Agriculture and AWS member Artur Balasz emphasised that breaking party discipline might lower AWS public opinion poll ratings. He may well have said further lowered, as the AWS has certainly not been making strong showings of late. The situation is becoming particularly critical, as parliamentary elections are coming up relatively soon.
The Ministry of Education is slatted to introduce a series of amendments to the law on university-level schools proposed by the Conference of Academic Rectors of Polish Schools. Under the recommendations, an additional number of students will have to privately fund their education, while affected universities will have the opportunity to admit more students. Education Minister Mirosław Handke commented that, "It is the only socially just system…in my opinion, the law may be presented to the government for consideration at the end of February." Under the proposed changes, universities will receive funds from the State budget to support free education of a certain number of students.
Encouraging post-holiday generosity. Social activist Janusz Owsiak initially organised the Grand Christmas Orchestra, a nation-wide charity movement, a few years ago, and it has grown to become a much-anticipated annual event. The Orchestra staged its annual grand finale last Sunday, with a nation-wide collection for dialysis equipment for children's hospitals. Throughout the country, young people collected money for the cause from people on the streets. In some schools collections had been going on all the preceding week. By the afternoon of the performance, an estimated 2.4 million złotys (USD 585,000) had been gathered. Encouragingly, every subsequent year the amount taken in grows. The money is always put toward the purchase of medical equipment for paediatric wards.
Eurostat published figures this past week that show Poland as the fourth largest importer among the European Union's trade partners. In 1998, Poland bought 28 billion euros (USD 28 billion) worth of goods, up 12% from 1997. Exports to the EU also increased by 14%, reaching approximately 16 billion euros. Poland accounts for some three percent of the EU's foreign trade and is the fourth largest importer. Imports accounted for two thirds of Poland's total imports in 1998, while exports accounted for 68% of the total.
The miners' Solidarity Union is dissatisfied with the final version of the revised reform plan for the mining sector, claiming that none of their proposals have been included in the programme. Miners' Solidarity head Henryk Nakonieczny said their proposals were primarily concerned with the creation of new jobs for miners made redundant, a relaxation of wage growth restrictions, regulation of 'bridge pensions' and on-going consultation on the process of privatisation of the industry. The Union has not yet decided whether or not to start protest action but has demanded that the government meet its demands within a week. One of the biggest concerns is that spending on reform remains low, while the process is accelerating, which mean a potential shortage of funds for some 5000 miners leaving the industry. Deputy Economy Minister Jan Szlazak, who is responsible for the implementation of reform, while confirming that that real spending is lower, tried to assuage fears somewhat by explaining that the figures have not been adjusted for inflation. He went on to comment that the reforms are likely to have greater impact on industry rather than on miners. The cost of the miners' benefit programme is estimated at one billion złotys (USD 246.2 million).
Half-baked justice at a district court in Oswiecim found Kazimierz Switon guilty of inciting hate against Jews and insulting Jews and Germans as well as insulting the Sejm, giving him a six month suspended sentence and fining him 400 złoty (USD 98). Switon organised the planting of crosses at the so-called Zwirowisko site at Auschwitz. The charges were prompted by complaints from Oswiecim (the Polish name for the city of Auschwitz) residents about statements made and leaflets distributed at the site where Swinton's followers, radical Catholic groups, erected more than 300 crosses in 1998 and 1999, surrounding the 1979 papal cross during.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 14 January 2000
News from Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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