The game was up on 7 June 2000, when Prime Minister Jerzy Bużek made a live television address to assure the public that the split between UW (Freedom Union) and the AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) would not pose a threat to political and economic stability.
A sense of relief was evident: "I feel as if I've just moved out of my terrible mother-in-law's place," was Kazimierz Kutz's (film director turned UW senator) sentiment.
Negotiations over the preceding weekend came to naught and the UW withdrew from the 30-month coalition; Bużek finally accepted the resignations of Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz, Justice Minister Hanna Suchocka, and Transport Minister Tadeusz Syryjczyk.
Bużek remains the head of government and the AWS has, for now, opted to form a minority government. He pledged "to maintain Poland's image as a politically and economically stable country," to continue preparing the country for EU membership, and to remove "all inadequacies and errors" in the reforms introduced by the AWS-UW coalition.
The UW decided to leave the coalition due to fundamental, program-related issues. The direct cause of the latest crisis was the prime minister's appointment of an emergency manager for Warsaw's Centrum Borough, but one thing after another has been widening the rift for months.
The AWS's popularity rating is at a record low of about 15 per cent compared with 40 per cent for the SLD. The UW is enjoying stable support of more than 10 to 15 per cent and some say the party could team up with the SLD in the next parliament.
Some optimistic (or delusional) AWS politicians are saying that a new ruling arrangement could be established by joining forces with the PSL (Polish Peasants' Party) and the smaller right-wing groups like the ROP (Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland), the Polish Alliance or the Polish Raison d'Etat.
PSL leader Jarosław Kalinowski's reaction ruled out the possibility of such cooperation as did that of Marek Pol, leader of the non-parliamentarian left-wing UP (Labor Union). SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) leader, Leszek Miller, which leads in the polls, said: "This coalition may be the last one established not on the basis of a shared program, but a shared past and sentiment."
By the end of this week Balcerowicz was replaced by his deputy, Jarosław Bauc, Suchocka was replaced by Solidarity lawyer Lech Kaczynski, and Bużek's chief of staff, Jerzy Widzyk, replaced Syryjczyk as transport minister. The remaining key posts of Foreign Affairs and Defense, held by Bronisław Geremek and Janusz Onyszkiewicz, are expected to be filled later this month.
Some resolutions despite the chaos
At long last the Sejm agreed on someone to head the IPN (National Remembrance Institute), which was created in 1998 to make secret files available to victims of Communist-era persecution. Despite the upheavals and rifts, the UW voted alongside the AWS and PSL and approved, by a margin of 279 to 16 with 125 abstentions, senator Leon Kieres, who has no formal party affiliations, as head of the IPN.
The abstentions came mainly from the SLD. Kieres was quoted as stating that "we will be very careful, and the files will not be opened soon. I will not allow a hasty, disorganized opening of the files because it could hurt someone."
AWS spokesman Piotr Zak said that "ten years after the fall of Communism, Poles will finally be allowed to view files gathered on them by the SB police." The IPN will now take control of all archives of the Communist-era security service and those of the courts, prosecutors' offices, the former Communist Party and other institutions.
Poles will be allowed to see their personal files compiled by the authorities before 1989. Opening of the files has been delayed because of pressure from various groups who argued that unveiling the files would simply open old wounds, disturb the peace and detract attention from the primary goal of maintaining the fast economic growth needed to join the EU.
It came as no surprise that President Aleksander Kwaśniewski formally announced that he will be seeking re-election for a second five-year term in the upcoming presidential elections.
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Kwaśniewski enjoys tremendous popular support and is expected to easily win the elections due around October. His biggest competition is Andrzej Olechowski, a lawyer known for his spirited defense of dissidents in the pre-1989 Communist era.
Olechowski briefly served as prime minister in 1992 before a political scandal brought down his six-month old government, and is currently polling around ten per cent, compared to Kwaśniewski's share of two-thirds of public support.
He announced his candidacy in a statement on public radio, adding that his timing was intended to add an element of stability to Poland's political scene in light of recent events.
Digging up the past
Stanisław Mikołajczyk, member of the Polish government-in-exile in London who was persuaded by Winston Churchill to join Poland's post-war cabinet as a political counterweight to the Soviet-backed Communist takeover, was reburied with full honours in Poznań, 34 years after his death in the United States.
Mikołajczyk was a controversial figure because of his role in the post-war government; his Polish Peasant Party was essentially crushed by the Communist regime and Mikołajczyk was accused of being a British spy.
He fled to Britain in October 1947 and spent the next two decades involved in anti-Communist activities abroad.
Bużek eulogised at the ceremony, answering Mikołajczyk's critics that "a compromise undertaken from noble motives is not capitulation."
A mid-May CBOS poll showed that 59 per cent of respondents still endorse joining the EU, while 25 percent are opposed. By party affiliation or support, this endorsement is composed of 94 per cent of UW's supporters, 72 per cent of the AWS's constituency, 62 per cent of SLD supporters, and 44 per cent of the PPL's backers.
Meanwhile, 58 per cent of those polled think Poland is still not economically prepared for EU integration.
Joanna Rohozińska, 9 June 2000
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