Wałęsa finally steps aside
After a (predicted) poor showing in the presidential election (one per cent), Lech Wałęsa, founder of the Solidarity trade union, 1983 Nobel Laureate and Poland's first post-Communist president, announced that he is retiring from political life. In a statement Wałęsa said: "The election results have indicated that I should step to the side of the political scene and withdraw from current activities."
Ever on the alert he also noted, "The threat of the right's defeat in (next year's) parliamentary elections necessitates the building of a strong middle-of-the-road formation. Only such a formation will be able to offset the growing influence of the left." Wałęsa named his Christian Democratic party as having the potential to help create such a movement and his departure will give them room to do so. "My party keeps looking to me to do something... But my presence paralyses and dominates things, so I must find another place for myself."
Wałęsa has not been politically popular for some time and many commented in the run-up to these elections that the man didn't know how to exit the scene gracefully.
More turmoil on the right
Similarly unsurprising, after holding independent meetings, three of the four parties in the coalition that forms the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), the Conservative People's Party (SKL), the Christian Democratic Accord (PPChD) and the Christian National Union (ZChN), have called for the resignation of leader Marian Krzaklewski.
The SKL resolution stated: "The poor election result obtained by the AWS candidate has proved the need to profoundly revamp the AWS programme and replace its chairman." The fourth, and biggest, member of the bloc, the Solidarity Social Movement, stood behind Krzaklewski despite his third place finish (at 15 per cent) in the presidential elections. More broadly, the dispute over Kraklewski's resignation could sound the death knell for the tenuous centre-right coalition.
One Social Movement leader, Jacek Rybicki, warned, "I was saddened by those resolutions... They will impede the rebuilding of good relations within the AWS and put its future into question." Meanwhile, Krzaklewski was quick to blame his defeat on the government's determination to implement unpopular economic and social reforms over the past few years.
Winning despite losing
Former Finance Minister Andrzej Olechowski, who came in second running as an independent, told a news conference that he had asked chiefs of Poland's two main centre-right parties to begin co-operation that would lead to an alliance in time for the parliamentary elections scheduled for 2001. He asked the 17 per cent who supported his presidential bid to throw their weight behind such a formation, should it emerge. "We can block a dangerous prospect of a political monopoly of one political group," added Olechowski.
He also took the opportunity to deny rumours that he had ambitions to form his own party. The proposed coalition would include the Freedom Union (UW) and the Conservative Peoples Alliance (SKL). Olechowski stressed that he was not proposing the formation of a party, but simply a "political movement" tentatively called "New Centre."
The UW was formerly partners with the ruling AWS but quit earlier this year. UW spokesman Andrzej Potocki stated, "We are open for talks with Mr Olechowski, but it is too early to say anything more concrete at this state." However, SKL leader Jan Maria Rokita said on Friday he preferred his party to stay within AWS.
Don't touch the Pope
President Aleksander Kwaśniewski could have warned them. Polish Television has come under fire from the Polish Roman Catholic Church after running a US documentary about Pope John Paul II. Apparently the main point of criticism is (surprise) the film's representation of anti-Semitism.
Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek said the film "does not seem to harmonise with what the Pope has done for Jews." Meanwhile, Poland's primate, Cardinal Józef Glemp, saw more ominous reason behind the decision to show the documentary stating that he thought, "many people working in mass media, and especially public television, are linked with the old system based on Marxism and Leninism." So, it seems those pesky atheists are behind it all.
This view is only marginally more sensible than Father Wieslaw Niewęglowski's convictions, as outlined in the letter he sent to the president of Polish Television president, saying that the film presents the Pope "from the viewpoint of Jewish and lay circles" and assuring that he "evokes pity for the intellectual paucity of its makers."
Polish Television yielded to this pressure and apologized "to all viewers who feel offended" by the documentary. With such an enlightened Church, it is amazing that they are losing their flocks.
Cows vs people
Poland is going to conduct two censuses simultaneously, in the first half of 2002. President Kwaśniewski signed the bill which determined that a general census will be held at the same time as a count of livestock. It will be a complete, standard census, covering marital and other status, education, sources of incomes and ownership of buildings and apartments. This census will also endeavour to count the homeless.
The last general census was in 1988 and the last livestock count was in 1996. There has been no word on whether livestock without permanent places of residence is to be included.
A bit late and not much conciliation
Foreign Minister Władysław Bartoszewsi met with his German counterpart, Joschka Fischer, at the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Fischer apologized for Nazi Germany's treatment of Poland and pledged to help Warsaw join the EU by 2005 or, "if possible, earlier than that." He continued, "We have an historical responsibility to help the Poles who were left behind the Iron Curtain for almost half a century because of the immoral policies of the Third Reich."
No friends in the East
While making friends with one neighbour, relations on the other side continue to stall. Despite significant strides in Polish-Ukrainian relations, the Polish Foreign Ministry expressed "great unease" over the "impasse" regarding the reconstruction of Lychakivskyy Cemetery (a Polish military cemetery) in Lviv (or Lwów or Lemberg). More of an incident than impasse as cemetery security guards and Ukrainian policemen demolished a balustrade erected by a Polish firm in the Polish section of the cemetery.
Comments from Foreign Ministry spokesman Grzegorz Dziemidowicz that this act "embarrassed especially those circles in Poland who have for many years sought to build good neighborly relations with Lviv," belies how touchy relations between these two are and what a sore point the cemetery has been.
Joanna Rohozińska, 21 October 2000
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