2000 has not been an extraordinary year for Poland. But that is what most of the Poles wished themselves last New Year's Eve—normalcy. And that is what they pretty much experienced throughout the last 12 months. Nevertheless, while Poland may be on the road to its desired goal of a quiet life, the year produced a number of noteworthy events that rocked the boat.
The presidential election was certainly one of them. It took place on 8 October, but since the very beginning of this Millennium's last year, Poles were bombarded with polls from every possible polling company and names of potential candidates. Finally, the candidates themselves plagued the country in endless meetings, conferences, picnics, and whatever they considered a means of getting hold of extra votes.
Looking at them—except for the incumbent Aleksander Kwaśniewski—one had a strange feeling that they did not quite believe in eventual success, given the secure lead Kwaśniewski enjoyed in the rankings throughout the year until election day. Even the (in)famous Kalisz tapes did not help the AWS leader, Marian Krzaklewski, narrow the gap between him and the incumbent Kwaśniewski.
Poles proved to be surprisingly immune to both Krzaklewski's demagogical rhetoric as well as to Kwaśniewski's alleged ridicule of the Pope, so gracefully caught on the video footage from Kalisz. The latter won comfortably and the former suffered a disastrous defeat, giving away second place to Andrzej Olechowski, an independent candidate, who right after the elections appeared to be a new force in Polish politics.
Not for long, though, as his success was not followed by any attempt at redefining Poland's political scene. He vanished as quickly as he appeared. Marian Krzaklewski, in turn, had to fight an opposition that demanded his head after the defeat. Showing a rare toughness, Krzaklewski lasted and lasted, and he only gave in last week, saying he would resign from the AWS leadership in... February 2001.
Polish witch trials
But before the candidates were even allowed to compete, they had to undergo a procedure in front of the Lustration Court, a modern Polish version of the Salem witch trials. Seeing Solidarity legend Lech Wałęsa saved by some last minute document was embarrassing, regardless of one's political affiliation.
Merciful on presidential candidates, lustration drowned other public figures: Deputy Prime Minister Janusz Tomaszewski, 1970s Transport Minister Krzysztof Luks, and President of Szczecin and early Solidarity leader Marian Jurczyk. Lustration paranoia even reached the world of media. In January, a group of 28 journalists issued an open letter to the Sejm speaker Maciej Płażyński, in which they demanded that journalists working for private media be subject to lustration as well. Their request found no answer.
And very well it did not, for whom could report from Warsaw during the biggest political row there for years? April brought a change in the coalition configuration in the capital city—the Freedom Union put aside its loyalty to the AWS and formed a new local government with social democrats. This move stunned AWS activists to the point that the governor of Warsaw voivodship dissolved the newly established body. A governmental commissary took over.
Soon it proved the dissolution was unlawful. The new-old local government was back in power. In the meantime, many Warsaw offices simply suspended their duties and ceased to issue driving licenses, birth certificates, etc. Additionally, Warsaw dwellers were subjected to distasteful jokes from locals while vacationing in other parts of the country.
Moreover, the trouble in local government soon initiated the collapse of Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek's coalition government in June. Even without a majority in the parliament, it was the longest-serving cabinet in Poland since 1989. Undoubtedly a success, even though achieved in a not-so admirable context.
The government is hit by scandals
Were the elections, lustration, and government collapse the only issues Poles lived through in 2000? Of course not. In January the first scandal rocked the government: a group of governmental MPs attempted at forcing a resignation of Minister of Treasury Emil Wąsacz. The Minister survived the vote in the Sejm, but resigned in August anyway, under pressure from those same MPs. In March it turned out that four state-owned companies had invested state money in a private Catholic TV channel, called Familijna.
April saw president Kwaśniewski vetoing the bill that banned any porn whatsoever in Poland. In May, head of the Polish Catholic Church Józef Glemp expressed grief over the Church's sins. June brought a big disappointment for teachers: The Ministry of Education miscalculated the costs of raising their wages by no less than USD 200 million. Eventually, in some cases, teachers earned less than before the wage-rise program was introduced.
In September, President Kwaśniewski vetoed the general enfranchisement act and thus disarmed Marian Krzaklewski of his biggest presidential campaign weapon. November saw massive nurses' protests across the country—desperate women resorted even to leaving their patients.
EU accession scenario still blurred
And how did Poland fare in terms of its foreign affairs? The domain of Poland's relations with other countries has usually been divided into those in connection with Warsaw's accession into the European Union, those concerned with our eastern and southern neighbors (but with a lot more attention directed to the East), and finally those with non-European countries.
The main concerns throughout 2000 were unsurprisingly Poland and the EU, as well as Russia. What decidedly (and positively) marked Poland's accession attempts was the European Commission's annual report in which Poland was praised for its continuing fulfillment of "the Copenhagen political criteria," and, first of all, for the—on both sides—long-awaited acceleration in adopting EU legal standards. Even though the EC was harsh on Warsaw in some aspects, eg on fisheries and handling justice affairs, its report was welcomed with satisfaction.
On the other hand, both the government and the opposition have continuously criticised the EU procrastination when it comes to setting a date for enlargement. There also is a growing concern that the government's non-compromise sticking to 1 January 2003 as the date of Poland's accession, is simply non-realistic.
Emphasizing this date has however not really paid off thus far, as Brussels is consequently avoiding any concrete statements. Gerhard Schröder's visit to Warsaw last week did not bring anything firm in this respect either.
The pipeline saga
On the Eastern side, there is a whole mosaic of attitudes. Primarily, relations with Russia have been far less than satisfactory, only the visit of Igor Iwanow, the minister of foreign affairs, raised some hope that both countries would finally do away with mutual coldness.
This mistrust is an effect of the prolonged story about a new gas pipeline from Russia to the West (which is allegedly not to run through Ukraine) and recent press publications on the state-of-the-art information highway built by Gazprom along the Jamal gas pipeline.
Little panicky as they were, the publications (especially by Gazeta Wyborcza) reveal that there is still much mistrust between the two countries. It seems so far the inforomation highway was planned in accordance with Polish law and its possible use against Polish interests (that is profitable transmission of data, with the money somehow circumnavigating the Polish treasury) would be a result of Polish negligence more than Russia's ill-will.
So, 2000 ends in a Polish-Russian controversy—just as it began when Poland expelled nine Russian diplomats in January, on the grounds they
Not that there were no successes. Andrzej Wajda received an Oscar for lifetime achievement. The European Union praised Poland in its annual report on our progress towards meeting EU standards. The Polish national soccer team defeated favored Ukraine thanks to two goals from Nigerian-born Emmanuel Olisadebe, the first-ever black player in the history of Polish soccer.
But this should not obscure the fact that there has been more misdemeanors than anything else. In other words—another year in Poland. Nothing extraordinary, nothing revolutionary. Closeer to normalcy, as never before, but still more than enough to worry about.
Wojtek Kość, 11 December 2000
- Archived CER 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