"No one knew the sky better than Copernicus, no one wrote about the sea better than Joseph Conrad and no one has been guided by the star of freedom with more determination than the Polish nation," said U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
It is almost surprising that she was not immediately elected president instead of receiving an honorary doctorate from the University of Gdańsk. She called Gdańsk the "cradle of liberty's rebirth."
She kept up the praise, declaring: "I'm a born Czech, but I wanted to become a Pole because I was so excited about what was happening here [in the 1980s] while my own country was not able to make the kinds of brave steps that the Polish people were taking." Perhaps the Czechs sensed this as well when they pelted her with eggs a few months ago.
Albright continued her whirlwind tour of Poland, appearing at the international foreign political leaders' conference, "Towards a Community of Democracies," in Warsaw on Monday where delegations from 108 states and 12 international organizations were represented. The gathering was co-convened by Poland, Chile, the Czech Republic, India, Mali, South Korea and the United States and was aimed at bolstering faith in governing by means of the ballot box.
Prior to the conference, Albright said that "Our purpose will be to create a framework for cooperation that will strengthen democratic institutions where they exist, help democratic governments where endangered and nurture democratic values where they are just beginning to blossom."
Poland's inspirational contribution was remarked on by (now former) Foreign Minister Bronisław Geremek: "The context of the conference is the 20th anniversary of the formation of (the) Solidarity (movement). It was a fine example of a non-violent pro-democracy movement that was successful."
Banners for the conference use the same colour and font that the Solidarity trade union movement did. Only the French put a damper on the festivities as only they can do by refusing to sign the "Warsaw Declaration."
French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine said "The bottom line is that the Western countries think a little too much that democracy is a religion and that the only thing you have to do is to convert." Vedrine added that democracy was evolutionary rather than revolutionary and added, "No one has a magic formula."
But Warsaw traffic started blocking up (more than usual) a few days earlier when about 300 representatives of NGOs, political scientists, religious and trade union leaders
from 85 countries kicked off the three-day World Forum on Democracy. The event was intentionally organised to run parallel to the conference, by Freedom House, a US-based non-profit organization, and Poland's Stefan Batory Foundation.
As expected, some participants criticised the guest list for the ministerial conference, which included Egypt, Qatar, Kenya, Kuwait, Tunisia, Yemen, Burkina Faso and Azerbaijan.
US-based human rights group Human Rights Watch stated that only states meeting "the genuine tests of democracy" should have be there. Kenneth Roth, the group's executive director, added that "the concept of democracy is cheapened when it includes one-party states and governments which get 99 per cent of the vote."
Outdoing the Brits
Maybe the Brits will get a run for their money when it comes to football hooliganism. Five policemen were seriously injured after clashing with fans in Nowa Huta. Police spokesman Robert Syzdlo stated that "Police were called in to deal with an outbreak of crowd violence and were attacked with paving stones by fans of (the local team) Hutnik, who were armed with axes, pipes and knives, and we had to use rubber bullets and a water cannon to restore order."
The festivities lasted several hours and resulted in the destruction of five police cars and a city bus and the detention of 15 hooligans.
Lame duck coalition?
OBOP released its latest poll in which 50 per cent of respondents said they did not believe the minority AWS (Solidarity Electoral Action) cabinet would survive to fulfill its term (to Autumn 2001).
The opposition is, of course, not helping matters as it stated last week that it would seek to oust Treasury Minister Emil Wasacz, who is in charge of privatising state assets. The no-confidence motion was proposed by the PSL (Peasant Party), charging Wasacz with mishandling the privatisation policy.
The PSL maintains that he sells off firms too quickly, without consultation and in a non-transparent manner. A few days later the PSL said it would drop the no-confidence motion if Wasacz allowed Parliament to determine privatisation policy (currently the cabinet decides).
And the opposition is not alone, as a group of more than 20 populist AWS deputies have voted against Wasacz and free market reform measures in the past. An unidentified coalition politician stated that "Wasacz's depature, if brought about by the UW and the AWS rebels, will show that this administration is incapable of introducing any reforms." Hardly any great revelation, of course.
Fun on the election trail
Not only Americans are to be treated to the electoral circus, it seems. Former president Lech Wałęsa called for the first round of presidential polls to become primaries for candidates of the right wing.
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AWS leader and presidential candidate Marian Krzaklewski's comments were ambiguous at best. However, his comment on Wałęsa's slogan is perhaps more telling, since he deemed it "as particular as Lech Wałęsa," and that it smacks of political "color-blindness."
Wałęsa did not seem to like the reaction and fired back saying: "I must say that it is probably Marian Krzaklewski who does not distinguish colors, since he cannot distinguish a trade union from a party: he leads [the AWS] for four hours and then takes part in a [Solidarity trade union] demonstration for four hours. That is political color-blindness."
He added that "it is possible to find more such color-blindness in this campaign. I would ask him not to make digs at me, and then I won't respond [by] indicating his weak spots." In short - cooperation is not likely.
The great rail strike
The Great Rail Strike 2000 is on! Well, kind of. Talks between the unions and management finished in what Piotr Gebel, chief of the Traffic Controllers' Union, deemed "a fiasco." However, all is not as grim as it was predicted as upon leaving, the Polish State Railways' (PKP) management were smiling ear-to-ear.
The strike will be on a smaller scale than previously imagined. Only ten per cent of PKP's 190,000 workers are expected to go on strike since the three biggest unions - Solidarity, the Federation of PKP Workers and the Engine Drivers' Union - dropped their support after receiving assurances of substantial bailout for the firm.
Eight small unions still want to strike and Gebel stated that "our position has not changed from yesterday... we are fully ready to hold the strike in which we are expecting the support of 80,000 workers."
New foreign minister
Veteran diplomat and Auschwitz survivor Władysław Bartoszewski (78) was appointed foreign minister to replace the outgoing Geremek. Bartoszewski's biography reads like a re-cap of the heroic (if tragic) bits of Poland's 20th century history.
Bartoszewski spent eight months in Auschwitz; after he escaped with the help of Red Cross workers he worked to save Jews from Nazi persecution, for which Israel awarded him its "Righteous among the Nations" honour.
He became a member of the underground and fought in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. After another stint of being locked up - this time by the new Communist authorities - Bartoszewski's lot improved and he became a respected journalist and historian in the 1950s and 1960s, headed Poland's top Catholic university in the 1970s and 1980s, became ambassador to Austria in 1990 and served as foreign minister in 1995.
Throughout he was a staunch opponent of the Communist regime but has repeatedly stressed reconciliation with Germans and Jews. It remains to be seen what he can do with the current shaky relations with Russia. "Despite the change in personnel, there will be continuity in our foreign policy," said Prime Minister Bużek.
Jozef Tischner, a leading liberal Roman Catholic priest in Poland and a member of the former anti-Communist opposition, died this week. In the early 1980s Tischner was the chaplain of the Solidarity movement and during the 1990s Tischner published numerous articles on how the church and believers should react to challenges of the increasingly liberal modern world.
He repeatedly criticised the church's growing involvement in politics, which frequently caused him to clash with more conservative, right-wing elements in the church. He died on Wednesday of cancer at age 69.
Joanna Rohozińska, 1 July 2000
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