Pipeline talks with Russia
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Oil may be the key factor in warming up the chilly relations between Poland and Russia. Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov arrived in the country for an official (long-delayed) reconciliatory visit. The two days of talks are to focus on the disputed route of a large natural gas pipeline Russia wants to build across Poland to Western Europe-much to the dismay of Ukraine.
Before Ivanov's arrival, Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek noted, "The current visit is the beginning of a new path in our relations." It has been four years since a top official has paid a visit to the former satellite. Diplomatic circles are buzzing that the trip signifies that Moscow is beginning to appreciate the importance of the country, particularly as it stands poised to join the EU. After landing in Warsaw, Ivanov told reporters "We are interested in building the relationship between our two countries on a stable foundation that would be based on common respect and understanding."
Rumour has it Russian President Vladimir Putin himself will be showing up next year to seal whatever deals are struck at this time.
Controversial art axed
An exhibition, entitled The Nazis, at Warsaw's state-owned Zacheta Gallery, was ordered closed by Culture Minister Kazimierz Ujazdowski and will remain so until its organisers can explain its significance. The media latched on to the exhibition after actor Daniel Olbrychski destroyed several portraits with a theatrical sword. The Nazis features photographs of famous actors, such as Roger Moore and Jean Paul Belmondo, in Nazi uniforms. Olbrychski explained his actions saying "I believe that even in art there are limits of decency which have been exceeded in this case."
Gallery director, Anda Rottenberg, condemned Olbrychski as a plebe with no appreciation for art and a vandal to boot, threatening to sue him for damages. "In my opinion the actor suffers from waning popularity syndrome. He staged this event to be talked about." Ujazdowski, a member of the Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS), said, "State institutions must not be used as locations of exhibitions which could be interpreted as a praise of Nazis."
No one (normal) likes to praise Nazis and Poland in particular is an inadvisable place to do so. The country lost six million people, or about 20 per cent of its population, under the German occupation.
Who do the Poles like?
They may not be keen on Nazis but a new poll reveals (unsurprisingly) that Poles do like Americans (68 per cent), the French (67 per cent) and Italians (63 per cent). There are, of course many national groups that the Poles collectively are not fond of. They also seem to have warm and fuzzy feelings for the English (62 per cent), Czechs (58 per cent) Swedes and Hungarians (56 percent) and Austrians (53 per cent).
Incidentally, 44 percent of Hungarians share this fondness, as do 40 per cent of Czechs and 43 per cent of Lithuanians. Similarly and not surprisingly, the list of least favoured is headed by the Roma (55 per cent), Romanians (53 per cent) and Ukrainians (43 per cent). Apparently no one felt the need to ask what these groups thought of Poles.
New dieting fad
Nurses in Białystok, Łódz, Wrocław, Szczecin, and other cities recently re-launched their demands for higher wages and increased state funding for the health service. Their tactics include staging hunger strikes in hospitals. Nurses, over-worked, underpaid and under appreciated in many countries earn about PLZ 700 (USD 154) a month. They are asking for a PLZ 250 increase in pay.
Treasury Ministry getting flak
There has been mounting pressure on Treasury Minister Andrzej Chronowski to not renege on the sell-off deal of the largest state insurance company PZU (Powszechny Zakład Ubezpieczen) to Eureko et al. Freedom Union (UW) deputy Jan Wyrowinski said, "The minister should withdraw his court case and sit down at the table away from the newspapers, television and radio."
That opposition parties are disapproving is par for the course; however, there are dissenting voices within the governing Cabinet as well. Breaking party solidarity (such as it is), Economy Minister Janusz Steinhoff warned that Chronowski's move was undermining the confidence of foreign investors.
Eureko officials, analysts and opposition politicians have concluded that the PZU row is turning out to be more about a power play within the ruling AWS than anything else. Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) representative, Wiesław Kaczmarek, said, "Poland's image has been compromised by an internal fight within the AWS."
Eureko officials agree, "The heart of this is political machinations." Chronowski is arguing in court that Eureko had ulterior motives in buying PZU, not to strengthen PZU, but to solidify its own position on the banking market. "The Treasury Ministry is convinced that the real intention of acquiring shares in PZU was not to develop insurance activities and the development of the PZU group, but rather securing the stability of the shares in BIG Bank Gdański."
Self-serving business?! Who would have thought? Chronowski fought back against his critics by taking out a full-page advertisement in Gazeta Wyborcza. He said he had asked a court to rule on the validity of the deal "in accordance with democratic norms, because it is precisely in a democracy that disputed issues are decided by an independent court."
Down goes the budget/government
In a shockingly surprising move, the SLD criticized the government's budget draft for 2001 and announced that it will not support it. SLD parliamentary deputy speaker Marek Borowski called the bill "unrealistic," and some of its provisions "virtual." As a result, the parliament would be "exceptionally irresponsible" in adopting the bill. "The collapse [of the budget] will take place in the fourth quarter of next year. At that time it will be somebody else who will have to cope with all these problems," he said.
Could he possibly be hinting that the SLD might take over? A November poll by the private PBS agency, showed the SLD was backed by 51 per cent of voters. That is an increase of four per cent since September and up from the 27 per cent they received in the 1997 ballot. The AWS has a scant 17 per cent support.
Just say nope
President Aleksander Kwaśniewski approved a tough anti-narcotics bill that bans the possession of even small amounts of drugs. In trying to keep the kiddies off drugs in the face of mounting drug abuse, the legislation includes jail terms of up to three years for carrying any kind of narcotic, including soft drugs like marijuana. "We finally have a tool to effectively act against drug pushers," said police spokesman Pawel Biedziak. Dealers face up to ten years.
Opponents argue this will do little in the fight against dealers unless the chronically underfunded police forces get an injection of much needed funds. The head of Poland's biggest private charity helping addicts, Marek Kotański of Monar "The police can now arrest and stigmatise youngsters and addicts, which will be easier than cracking down on professionals."
Joanna Rohozińska, 24 November 2000
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