Vol 2, No 6
14 February 2000
C E N T R A L E U
R O P E A N N E W S:
Last Week in Poland
News from Poland since 7 Febraruy 2000
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska
As the weather slowly warms up Poles are reminded that road-block season is coming up. Approximately 80 members of Samoobrona (Self-Defence), the radical farmers' union, blocked an international highway near Rzeszow in south-eastern Poland earlier this week. This time around they were demanding back payments owed to them for farm produce.
The protesting farmers also took the opportunity to deliver a none-too-subtle message as they carried a black coffin with the words "Polish agriculture" printed on it and banners emblazoned with the slogan "thieves - pay the farmers." Farmers in south-western Poland were apparently equally displeased with the state of affairs as several hundred of them held a rally in the city of Brzeg. They were demanding back payments for grain supplies and protesting the further postponement of the privatisation of a local grain company
Former Polish President Lech Wałęsa was going a little far to prove a point this week as he told Radio Gdańsk that Europe should be more "cautious" in its condemnation of recent political events in Austria. Referring of course to Jörg Haider's far-right Freedom Party in Austria's new cabinet, Wałęsa stated that, "Haider has nothing in common with Hitler. We have among us people closely connected with Communism, the Polish People's Republic, and [Communist] crimes, but Europe does not protest." Wałęsa went on to add that, "[Leszek] Miller [of the opposition Democratic Left Alliance (SLD)] and [President Aleksander] Kwaśniewski are closer to Stalin, who is a greater criminal, than that man [Haider] is to Hitler."
Well true enough, they have roots in the party but Wałęsa seems to have missed the subtle difference that neither Miller nor Kwaśniewski have ever even hinted that either Stalin or his actions were excusable, nor have they gained any kind of popularity by advocating a return to the good-old-days. One can only presume that this constituted some kind of weak and ill-advised attempt to gain popularity by the former president looking forward to the next elections. Somehow comparing Poland’s most popular politician to Stalin doesn’t seem like the best way to go about it.
A Polish aspect to the ongoing political imbroglio in Germany? Former Solidarity activist Jacek Merkel vehemently denied a report that came out in Zycie Warszawy that claimed that Solidarity received money from former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the 1980s. The paper stated that with the aid of the West German intelligence service Kohl channelled money through banks in Luxembourg to the oppositionist union. According to the article, Kohl made this revelation public in an interview with German Television.
Perhaps simply because any association with the words "Kohl" and "money" these days are to be avoided like the plague the actual statement can’t be assessed objectively. It certainly doesn’t merit any kind of outrage or denial. For Solidarity to have been receiving funds covertly from the west during the 1980s would have served a greater good - if it were true, of course.
Prime Minister Jerzy Buźek said the trials of people suspected of lying in their lustration statements should be open to the public. He said that this would be more logical considering the number of intentional leaks to the media coming from the Lustration Court. Lustration Court spokesperson Barbara Trebska’s failed to clarify the situation at all as she proposed that distinctions, thus decisions regarding what should be made public and what should not, be introduced based on where the original files come from.
Trebska suggested that trials involving files originating from the military intelligence service should kept secret, while "it would be more advantageous" if the trials involving files from the State Protection Office and the Interior Ministry be open. Labour Union (UP) leader Marek Pol seemed rather fed up with the whole process as he concluded that the lustration process is simply being used to settle political accounts. He went on to comment that "the system where one person single-handedly decides which [Communist secret police] file goes to the court and which does not makes a farce of the lustration process."
To anyone who has had the privilege of driving on Poland's roads the government’s decision to revive its long-delayed motorways construction programme is good news indeed. The government approved changes to the motorways building law that will increase the state’s role in financing the multi-billion dollar scheme. The plan aims to add 2600 kilometres of motorways to the existing, insufficient 300-kilometre network. The amendments still needs to be approved by parliament and signed by the president and would create the National Motorway Fund. The Fund would be supported by the budget, privatisation revenues, bond issues as well as other sources.
The current law, approved in 1994, only allows for about 15 per cent of costs to be covered by the state, and this is mainly to buy land and conduct surveys. The rest is supposed to be left up to private investors who hold a monopoly on toll collection for 25 to 30 years. However as with most large-scale public projects analyses have shown that they might not be altogether profitable, which has scared most potential investors away. Once again dreams of European Union accession has forced the government to swing into action as Poland's pitifully inadequate infrastructure is seen as an obstacle both to economic growth and EU membership.
Taking parental supervision to new heights, tester kits for detecting drugs in the human body are coming out on the Polish market. Thought not yet widely available, some pharmacies started selling IsoTech kits (courtesy of an Italian firm) last November and soon American Easy-Sure kits are reportedly going to be available at news stands everywhere. Is your child behaving suspiciously, disappearing from home or have they met undesirable friends? Well these testers are designed to detect the traces of drugs in urine samples, and are easy to use - even without prior training.
The kits are reasonably priced at around PZL 30 [USD 7] and come in four versions: for the detection of amphetamines, cocaine, morphine or THC. Two samples can be analysed with one test. However, Dr. Halina Matsumoto warns that the tests are only preliminary and should therefore be confirmed at a laboratory. "We have been visited by several people with results," she says. Professor Andrzej Szutowicz, of the Medical Academy in Gdańsk supervised testing of IsoTech kits commissioned by the Central Medical Technology Centre before they were released on the market and thinks that, despite their high quality, these testers should be used in laboratories, rather than at home.
Considering the problems that false results raise even when administered by professionals, and the fact that (according to Szutowicz) most adults in Poland are unable to interpret instruction manuals correctly one can safely bet on an increase in family tensions over the next year.
A would-be canine hero missed his chance at the spotlight this week as an emergency dispatcher answered a call but only heard howling at the other end. Being better safe than sorry an ambulance and fire-brigade rescue were sent out to investigate. Duty doctor Jaroslaw Jazdzyk, from Zabrze, told Gazeta Wyborcza that "We reckoned someone in need of help had dialled our number but was too weak to say anything."
Upon arriving at the scene the emergency workers only found a lonely dog, ironically owned by a woman doctor, and the phone off the hook. The attention-seeking pooch must have knocked the receiver off the telephone and accidentally pressed the "9" button with its paw, activating the emergency number 999, speculated Jazdzyk. Maybe he was hoping for pizza.
Similar to other post-Communist countries Poles have been alarmed by the perceived increase in crime since 1989. Presumably in an effort to calm the public down Prime Minister Buźek announced this week that the Interior Ministry has drafted a new programme aimed at combating crime, which will allow security in the country to be "effectively improved." The programme will effectively expand the powers of law enforcement bodies, simplify police procedures, create a Centre of Criminal Information and introduce the post of financial information inspector.
Poland’s lack of a restitution law continues to haunt it as Holocaust survivors met with European Parliament representatives in Brussels seeking ways to push the Polish government into action. British Labour Party member of the European Parliament Gary Titley said that the Jewish property restitution problem must be solved before Poland enters the EU. US lawyer Mel Urbach, who is currently representing 11 claimants in a class action suit against Poland, added his two bits, noting that since the average age of claimants was 83, a speedy resolution was necessary.
Polish parliament has been labouring over a reprivatisation bill for some time but neither the extent of the restitution nor how long it will actually take to pass the legislation, let alone for any property to be restored, is known. Restitution is a thorny problem in Poland, particularly where it is not simply a Second World War pre-communisation issue. However it is unlikely that appealing directly to the EU will make the process any easier or make claimants cases viewed any more sympathetically within Poland.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozińska and Donosy-English, 14 January 2000
News from Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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