President Aleksander Kwaśniewski ignored the voice of the masses (as it were) this week and axed the proposed property restitution bill. Last Saturday, over 1500 people from all over Poland descended on Warsaw to demonstrate and call on the President to sign the bill. Their shouts of "Property restitution bill for Poles," and "We demand the property restitution bill" fell on deaf ears. The organizers of the demonstration submitted petitions and signatures in support of the bill to the president’s office and claimed that over 100,000 people had signed the petition.
The controversial bill proposed by the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) party, was approved by the Sejm last Friday, after it had approved more than 50 amendments proposed by the Senate, promised every Pole a piece of state assets. The bill was part of an effort by AWS candidate Marian Krzaklewski to muster support for his presidential bid. According to AWS deputy Adam Bieła and author of the bill, "the law would heal our legal system of the Communist mentality and create equality by giving citizens their rightful property."
The legislation would have granted tenants of municipal and cooperative flats full or partial ownership of their homes. Kwasniewski’s veto came as no surprise. He stated "the bill is wrong from the legal point of view, miscalculated economically, and socially unjust," adding it would stir up economic chaos.
Afterwards, Krzaklewski stated that "millions of people feel wronged" by Kwaśniewski’s veto. "President Kwaśniewski has shown that his vision of Poland is in conflict with the vision of Poland that says the family should be in its own home, that there should be property enfranchisement during privatization and that [privatization] should not be undertaken in the direction of the richest only, often in the direction of the former nomenklatura," he added.
Former coalition partner, the Freedom Union (UW), declared that Poland could not afford such a mass hand-out programme, as it needs funds for reforms of the education and pension systems. A recent public opinion poll indicated that 43 per cent of Poles think the scheme is unjust, 54 per cent believe it will create social conflicts and 33 are afraid it will lead to an economic crisis.
Many economists as well as politicians from the centre and leftist opposition believed the scheme would bring economic chaos by throwing property rights into disarray. Next week the Sejm will vote on the President's veto, but supporters of the bill lack the three-fifths majority necessary to overturn a presidential veto.
Jerzy Bużek announced that the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), a special police unit dealing with organized crime, will be getting fresh blood and reinforcing its numbers with some 300 new officers. This is perhaps their reward for very busting the notorious "Pruszków Mafia," Poland's answer to the Cosa Nostra. Responsible for car and art theft, money laundering, extortion, prostitution, trafficking in drugs and weapons, and gang-land slayings. Or maybe authorities are just anxious to keep the force well stocked since bounties have reportedly been placed on the heads of officers involved in the Pruszków case.
More fun and games on the campaign trail
Some of Kwaśniewski’s opponents threw leaflets at the incumbent as he entered the Castle Square to meet with Warsaw residents on 9 September. The leaflets had a distorted photo of the President with the caption: "Vodka, let me live." Kwaśniewski tore up the leaflets saying "the difference between those who say what they [the leaflet-throwers] say and write what they write and me is that you hate people and I like, love them, and want to be with my fellow countrymen."
But, not that loving since he failed to show up at a scheduled appearance in Lomza recently. Apparently his election team had known for some time that there was a scheduling conflict with the UN Millennium Summit, but no one felt the need to inform the public. Most of the crowd was understanding, but some got rowdy and used less delicate words to voice their displeasure.
Meanwhile Kraklewski’s election staff accused public television of "distorting the presidential election campaign" by dedicating too much airtime to the incumbent. Monitoring results from a "well-known, independent firm," they determined that Kwaśniewski had appeared on the two public television channels for a total of 524 seconds in August, Polish Peasant Party candidate Jarosław Kalinowski for 100 seconds and Krzaklewski a mere 59 seconds. Krzaklewski's election staff chief Wieslaw Walendziak commented "this may pose a threat to the free public debate during the election campaign."
Kwaśniewski maintains his lead
But, having more airtime might not help Kraklewski anyway. The latest CBOS poll still shows support for Kwaśniewski's re-election falling slightly to 60 per cent in September, compared with the 62 per cent he had received in August. But, he remained relatively untouched by the intensive campaigning of his main opponents Andrzej Olechowski and Krzaklewski. Backing for Olechowski increased to 12 per cent from 10 percent in August and Krzaklewski can count on support from seven per cent of the voting public as compared to the six per cent who backed him in August.
Bad taste disco
The town of Oswiecim appealed on Monday for financial aid to put an end to controversies over commercial use of properties near Auschwitz - the latest suggestion being a disco. Oswiecim mayor Jozef Krawczyk told a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, who protested against the disco, that it could be installed elsewhere, but local authorities needed funds, either from the government or international oganisations, to compensate the owners or to buy out the building and the land. Members of the groups commented that "the local government is too weak to buy all the real estate marked by blood and suffering."
The disco was installed in a former tannery once used by the Nazi occupiers for slave labour and for sorting the luggage and clothes brought to Auschwitz by its victims. Local authorities note the building is located 1.5 km from the camp, and outside the prohibited zone where it was determined that activities could be offensive. Former plans included a convent, that was closed after the intervention of Pope John Paul II, and a shopping centre.
Also this week, Jewish officials opened a synagogue nearby as a symbol of survival. Fred Schwartz, founder of the US-based Auschwitz Jewish Centre Foundation (AJCF), stated at the opening ceremony that, "this synagogue will be a symbol of life regenerated." The group also opened a cultural centre next to the synagogue. President Bill Clinton expressed his support, in writing, his letter was read out by the U.S. Ambassador to Poland Christopher Hill:
"This centre will be a living monument preserving the memory of the millions who died...It will also serve as a place for contemplation where future generations can reflect on the world they lost." The opening ceremony brought together about 300 people, including Jews from Israel, the United States and Poland, government officials from the three countries and the local Catholic bishop.
Joanna Rohozińska, 15 September 2000
- Archive of Polish news reviews
- Archived articles on Poland
- Browse through the CER eBookstore for electronic books
- Buy English-language books on Central Europe through CER
- Return to CER front page