As expected, the tensions that have been building within the ruling AWS-UW (Solidarity Electoral Action-Freedom Union) were ratcheted up another notch this week. Leaders of the UW met this week and decided to recommend pulling out of the 30-month old ruling centre-right coalition, a party statement said. "The management of the UW decided to call a meeting of the national council on May 28 to review the motion to pull UW ministers out of the government." If the proposal is backed then the country would be left with an essentially impotent minority AWS government; or, alternatively, early elections would have to be called.
AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski did not rule out the possibility of a minority government. In a television interview he stated that "in the long run it is difficult when one does not have a majority…But if one agrees on terms which would create such a majority for certain laws, then the efficiency of parliament and the AWS is what would count."
The coalition, headed by AWS Prime Minister Jerzy Buźek, has been rife with problems since its inception in 1997 and this is merely the latest, though perhaps final, instalment of the saga. It has long been a marriage of convenience between the two parties and the AWS’s loss of support of some 30 of its deputies who have been voting against the government on several important bills. "Recent votes in the lower house show the government of Jerzy Buźek has lost its majority," read the UW’s statement.
AWS leaders responded to the announcement reproaching the UW for pulling such a stunt at a time when important reforms needed to be completed and withdrawal would be against the interests of the country.
"We want to stress that we are still ready for a compromise." UW spokesman Andrzej Potocki said: "We are not setting any conditions. The Freedom Union has lost confidence in the Prime Minister." Basically, it seems that the UW will not be satisfied with anything less than Buźek's dismissal. For his part Buźek, Poland's longest-serving post-Communist prime minister, has already repeatedly said he was ready to quit if it would keep the government together. "If I am deemed to be damaging to the coalition I am ready to leave my post."
AWS leader Marian Krzaklewski told reporters that "there will be dialogue and talks, because without our coalition there would be no reform process and no process of integration with the European Union." Meanwhile AWS spokesman Piotr Zak didn’t appear quite so certain as he told Radio Zet that "it seems that no matter what the AWS (Solidarity) promises the UW appears to have made up its mind to leave the coalition." He added that "they've made this decision at the worst time, when our most difficult membership talks with the EU are just beginning."
Senior AWS figure Jan Maria Rokita "We want not only to save the coalition but also to revitalise it." The AWS is scrambling since it has been placed in an unenviable position. Most analysts agree that a minority government will prove impossible and the AWS’s popularity has dropped to such a level that its chances of winning in an early election are almost nil.
However this situation isn’t particularly healthy for the country as a whole. Political instability caused by the infighting in the ruling coalition has placed the currency on a roller coaster for the past few months - certainly not inspiring confidence. Economy Minister Janusz Steinhoff warned the UW that leaving the government would halt economic reforms. "We are seen as a country of fast growth and among the avant-garde of countries in the transition process…But an unstable political situation has negative effects on the economy."
Not a particularly ingenious statement, but accurate nonetheless. There may also be repercussions in EU accession talks as Steinhoff added that "we need unity to send a signal to the world that Poland is also a politically stable nation. Poland is at a decisive moment. We are conducting difficult negotiations with the EU, we need to prepare a budget for next year and there are many laws that need to be agreed and voted through by the coalition."
Jan Litynski of the UW said his party could change its position if the AWS proposes a new prime minister, cancels the decision to appoint the commissioner in Warsaw, and guarantees that the AWS parliamentary caucus supports agreed coalition positions. Buźek said he was ready "to work on any resolution" of the stand-off "it is normal in a democracy to change not only ministers but also premiers. Our democracy is stable and such changes do not generate threats to the country." Well - the Italians do it…
Following the lead set by Pope John Paul II, as part of his Jubilee Year 2000 programme of reconciliation, Primate Jozef Glemp, the Roman Catholic Church’s highest authority in Poland, publicly apologised for a number of transgressions made by the church, including clergy members who collaborated with the Communist regime, enriched themselves materially or tolerated anti-Semitism.
"I apologise for the priests who believed Communism would last indefinitely...who expanded their private lives by concentrating on travel and comfortable flats rather than devoting all their time to the poor, especially the young," He also apologised for those who had displayed "a slighting attitude towards people of other faiths or tolerated manifestations of anti-Semitism." He also stated that the death of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, a popular priest and vocal supporter of the Solidarity who was murdered by the Communist security police in 1984, weighed heavily on his conscience. "The fact I was unable to save Father Jerzy Popieluszko weighs heavily upon my conscience, but I was afraid of bloodshed knowing the outrage people felt."
Since few listen to him at home, Nobel Peace laureate and former Polish President Lech Wałęsa has taken to travelling farther afield. He was in Taiwan this week lending his support to President-elect Chen Shui-bian. Likening him to a brother, Wałęsa stated that "although Poland is very far away, we are very close when it comes to democracy. Chen Shui-bian and I think along the same lines. I see him as a brother and hope we can work together." He didn’t elaborate on what sort of co-operation was being considered. Taiwan is recognised by fewer than 30 countries due to its rivalry with mainland China. Wałęsa also added that "Democracy is a bit like swimming. You need to go into the water slowly and learn how to swim. There are bound to be mistakes along the way." He know what of he speaks in this area at least.
A former Polish counter-intelligence officer, known only as Czeslaw W., was sentenced to a four-year jail term by a military court in Warsaw for spying for the former Soviet Union and Russia. The court convicted the officer, who was former head of the military counter-intelligence unit in Lodz, for espionage operations in late 1980s and early 1990s. He was one of three officers arrested last year on charges of spying for Russia.
Congratulation are due to President Aleksander Kwaśniewski who finally won a long-running libel case against the rightist daily Zycie. The paper had accused him of
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In a rather melodramatic statement outside the court house and angst filled Tomasz Wolek, editor at Zycie, called it "a black day for Polish journalism and a threat to Polish democracy." The 1997 article accused Kwaśniewski, then leader of the Social Democrats, of staying at a holiday resort on the Baltic coast with Vladimir Aganov, a Russian intelligence agent in August 1994. The scandalous part was that Aganov had earlier played a part in a scandal that had forced the resignation of Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy. Right-wing politicians had charged Oleksy of spying for Moscow; these charges were subsequently investigated and dismissed.
Meanwhile, Kwaśniewski presented the court written proof that he was in Ireland with his wife at the time. Kwaśniewski’s lawyer Ryszard Kalisz remarked that "Freedom of speech ends where lies begin, therefore I think this is a very important verdict for freedom of speech in Poland. Freedom of speech is also associated with responsibility for the truth. It signifies that those who lie must take full responsibility for their actions." The appeal process is likely to take years and put off the actual publishing of the retraction and apology. It remains a victory nonetheless.
More problems for the beleaguered Buźek as the Supreme Administrative Court will be the one to decide whether he broke the law when he appointed a commissioner to administer the Warsaw-Centrum municipality. Buźek told reporters that he would respect and be bound by the court's decision but didn’t indicate whether he would resign if found guilty. President Kwaśniewski sent a letter to Buźek asking him and the coalition 'to introduce urgent amendments relating to the political system of Warsaw and to bring about early local government elections' in the capital.
Once again there seems to be more than meets the eye to Deputy Economics Minister Jan Szlazak’s resignation last week. It initially appeared that Szlazak resigned in protest over Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz's tough stance toward reform of the coal industry. (See last week’s Poland News) Now, however, the daily Zycie has suggested that his departure was prompted by a letter he sent to Russia's Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev in February. Their source was cited as a "high-ranking state official." According to the paper Gazprom had proposed building a pipeline to link Poland's already existing gas pipeline with Slovakia thus bypassing Ukraine in their exporting of gas to southern Europe.
In this alleged letter Szlazak agreed in principle to this proposal. If true then Szlazak committed a serious diplomatic faux pas since circumventing Ukraine in this manner would seriously undermine, if not destroy, relations with Ukraine. Current Polish government policy has gone to great lengths to demonstrate their desire to foster closer relations between the two countries. Then again, see the above article for Zycie’s track-record on accuracy.
In other Russia related news President Kwaśniewski said this week that he believed that relations between the two were finally set to improve. In an interview with Russia's ORT state television Kwaśniewski said that "over the last year, several months have not been easy for relations between Russia and Poland, but I think we are on the way to open a new stage (of relations). After the recent election in Russia, I feel the new will in the country speaks in favour of pursuing good relations between neighbours, between good friends who know each other well." And maybe it’s just the lovely spring weather that has inspired him.
Joanna Rohozińska, 26 May 2000
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