Who needs a crystal ball?
As anticipated, after President Aleksander Kwaśniewski's unsurprising nomination in December, Leszek
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Former head Hanna Gronkiewicz-Waltz resigned the post to assume a vice-presidential position with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Analysts are generally pleased with Balcerowicz's appointment since he is highly regarded as an economist, has the political stature necessary to keep the NBP independent of the government and is well known and respected in international financial circles.
The hope is that he will make efforts to bring down high nominal interest rates and get the government on track with a tight fiscal policy and encourage the continued decline of inflation and the current account deficit.
Krzaklewski finally bows out
Not a moment too soon either. After months of mule-like determination to hang on, Marian Krzaklewski finally stepped down as leader of the ruling Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS). He has been replaced by Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek and the AWS bloc parties ratified an agreement aimed at introducing internal reforms. Krzaklewski will remain the head of the Solidarity trade union, the single most important component within the AWS. Krzaklewski had been clinging to his post since his decisive defeat by Kwasniewski in last year's presidential elections.
When the Solidarity trade union, the Christian National Union (ZChN), and the Polish Party of Christian Democrats (PPChD) ratified the agreement, concluded by AWS leaders last month, to transform the AWS bloc into a federation Krzaklewski finally gave in. The other two AWS members had already ratified the agreement: Buzek's AWS Social Movement (RS AWS) and Jan Maria Rokita's Conservative Peasant Union (SKL). The intention is to strengthen the AWS and give it a fighting chance in this year's parliamentary elections.
Parliamentary speaker and the man slated to be Buzek's deputy, Maciej Płazynski, refused to sign the federation accord, saying that he does not want "to participate in the scenario" which he believes does not introduce any meaningful changes in the AWS. However, it may simply have been a case of (more) sour grapes since earlier speculation placed Plazynski as leader. In the end, Płazynski decided to bail altogether.
Can't stand the heat...
Płazynski will be joining upper house deputy speaker Donald Tusk and presidential hopeful Andrzej Olechowski to launch a new liberal-conservative political party. Earlier, Płazynski would only say that they were discussing a joint "electoral initiative."
Tusk recently lost an election for the top post in the UW, and Olechowski, who finished second in the presidential race, had previously declared his intention to form an electoral alliance. They said existing centre-right parties, including the AWS and UW, lacked ideas, effectiveness and popularity to prevent the ex-Communists from winning the next parliamentary election.
Olechowski stated, "We have agreed that a new political initiative is needed as an alternative to a strong left-wing camp." "We want to be economically liberal and conservative in other spheres," said Olechowski. He said he hoped to snatch at least 17 per cent of the vote, the same support he received in the presidential ballot. And they might just pull it off. Tusk is widely popular among the UW's liberals and youth.
"I am quitting the Freedom Union ... It was a tough decision for me, but I believe we are destined for electoral success." UW spokesman Andrzej Potocki said that the new movement was likely to simply further dilute support for the existing right-wing parties, consequently strengthening the SLD, "What happened today may be a victory for (SLD leader) Leszek Miller."
In addition to being pushed from his leadership position, Krzaklewski was accused, on Polish Television's main newscast, of receiving more than PLZ 20 million (USD 5 million) from the Orlen Polish Oil Concern for his presidential election campaign last year. According to the electoral law, no more than PLZ 12 million can be spent on an election campaign, while a single company can contribute no more than PLZ 70,000.
This elicited an instant reaction from both Orlen and Krzaklewski's electoral committee. Orlen representatives stated they "never financed or intend to finance any presidential campaigns, political parties, or politicians." While the electoral committee dismissed the story as a "false insinuation" and "journalistic provocation."
Better than nothing
"Reducing the compensation by half is yet another confiscation of property, but that kind of bill if better than none," was Mirosław Szypowski's, leader of the Nationwide Association of Revendication Settlement Organizations and Polish Union of Real Estate Owners, comment on the state's new re-privatisation bill.
The lower house of Parliament at long last passed a controversial bill to compensate former owners for property illegally seized by Communist authorities between 1944 and 1962. The state will return half of the property that was seized after the war or it will pay suitable compensation in vouchers, but only to those who held Polish citizenship at the end of 1999. The others will get nothing. This of course effectively excludes any claims by Polish Jews.
Meanwhile, the government did assure farmers, leaseholders and current occupants that the re-privatisation bill won't harm their rights. AWS deputy Tomasz Wojcik told reporters, "I am very glad we were finally able to pass this law. It will introduce justice and at least in part compensate all those who lost their property after the war." Where possible, owners will receive their actual property but for the most part will get vouchers instead. If they want to press the point they would have to pay the state treasury half of the value of the real estate. Despite grumbling from the opposition, lobby groups representing former owners, etc, the bill passed 225 to 189 with five abstentions.
The Treasury Ministry estimates that compensation claims could total PLZ 95 billion, with the state's part of the bill coming to PLZ 47 billion (USD 11.3 billion). However, if the bill is rejected, the Ministry estimated that the state could face lawsuits up to PLZ 270 billion. Poland has been widely criticised for dragging its feet on returning property to its former owners and has been sued in the United States and the European Court of Human Rights by former Polish residents unable to gain compensation for lost property.
Some ambitious home-chemist in Poland has succeeded in brewing up a powerful version of ecstasy known as UFO. The drug is thought to have caused three deaths in Gdańsk and around 20—mainly in Austria and Britain—throughout Europe. Police believe UFO was made in Skarzysko Kamienna in central Poland, which was a major producer until police shut down operations in a mid-December raid. Poland is one of the main producers of ecstasy in Europe.
Joanna Rohozińska, 12 January 2001
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