Vol 1, No 10, 30 August 1999
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 21 August 1999
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English
The Appeals Court in Vilnius sentenced four ethnic Poles and one Lithuanian, who were all former local government councilors from the Salcininkai (Soleczniki) region south of Vilnius, to up to three and a half years in prison for trying to create an autonomous Polish territory in 1990. In April, they were sentenced by a district court to up to six months in prison; the Appeals Court, however, increased that sentence following an appeal by the Lithuanian Prosecutor General's Office. Three Polish senators who observed the trial, Anna Bogucka-Skowronska, Stanislaw Marczyk and Zygmunt Ropelewski, told journalists that the verdict was a political decision. A few days following the verdict, Polish Ambassador to Lithuania Jan Widacki and five prominent Polish public figures (Marek Edelman, Jerzy Giedroyc, Jacek Kuron, Adam Michnik and Jan Nowak-Jezioranski) published an open letter to Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus asking him to pardon the five detainees "in the name of good future Polish-Lithuanian relations."
Father Adam Schulz, spokesman for the Polish Catholic Church Episcopate, sharply criticised the video game Operation Glemp as "deeply inappropriate and offensive to the religious feelings of believers." The goal of the video game is to kill Primate of Poland Jozef Glemp and to shoot at priests. Schulz made his comment to PAP (Polish Press Agency) in connection with a 17 August report published in the daily Gazeta Wyborcza, which announced that 'Operation Glemp' is available on a free-of-charge US server.
Opinion polls have revealed that most Poles dislike the sweeping reforms undertaken by the government. This is reflected in the sagging popularity of the central-right government. The government's four flagship reforms - in the areas of health care, administration, social security and education - were meant to sweep away the remains of the pre-1989 Communist system. A poll conducted by Demoskop showed that Poles thought them ill-prepared. The survey indicated that 80 percent of Poles were critical of the health care reform, which has introduced elements of a free market to the formerly free medical system. Reforms of the administrative system, which have given more powers to local government, were criticised by 44 percent of those surveyed and praised by 33 percent.
A wave of foreign court cases is putting pressure on Poland to return property seized by the country's authoritarian post-war rulers. Poland's post-Communist governments have had neither the money nor the determination to resolve any outstanding cases. Referring to the suits for reparations launched in American courts, Janusz Lewandowski, deputy head of a parliamentary committee on restitution stated that "these suits show the issue has to be solved quickly." "The government now realises it has to act or there will be more suits...which will be costly and further complicate the structure of property ownership in Poland," he added. Former owners are seeking restitution of property worth up to PLN 130 billion (USD 34 billion), more than a fifth of Poland's Gross Domestic Product. The question of cost has undermined all previous legislative efforts to resolve the issue. The government also faces a rash of suits filed at the European Court for Human Rights by Poles unable to recover real estate despite national court rulings awarding them property.
According to the National Union of Root Crop Growers, this year's sugar beet harvest will be much lower than last year due to smaller crop areas, unfavourable weather conditions and pests. Accordingly, this year's total sugar production is put at 1.5 million to 1.64 million tonnes. If it comes closer to the lower end, it will fail to satisfy domestic sugar demand, estimated at some 1.6 million tonnes. The sugar harvest is also expected to last just 60 days instead of the optimal 90 days.
Poland's Minister for the Family resigned on Wednesday, a month after being harshly criticised for making racist statements. Kazimierz Kapera was condemned across the political spectrum for his comment in July that Europe would lose its influence to "the yellow race." It was the second time Kapera has fallen from political favour for making contentious remarks. He was sacked as an under-secretary in the Ministry of Health in 1991 for describing homosexuals as perverts. Kapera is a member of the Association of Catholic Families, a right-wing group within the co-ruling Solidarity Election Action (AWS) party.
Poland's Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz rejected demands from trade unions to increase spending in next year's budget draft. During a meeting with representatives of all major unions, Balcerowicz told reporters that the government's fiscal policy had to be restrictive in order to allow for interest rate cuts, creation of new jobs and curbing of the expanding foreign trade gap. "Poverty in Poland results mainly from lack of jobs. Hence, the government's proposals aim to lower taxes, improve legislation and implement a sensible budgetary policy which will allow for cuts and not increases of interest rates," Balcerowicz said. "It is sad that the unions are stirring up problems when the budget for next year has not even been approved," said Marta Chrostowska, spokeswoman for the Education Ministry.
She says this as both of the national trade unions which represent teachers, the Union of Polish Teachers (ZNP), which has close ties to the left-wing opposition, and Solidarity, which often supports the ruling Solidarity Election Action (AWS), are preparing protest actions against the Ministry of Education's policies. ZNP has declared that it will ask the Supreme Board of Inspection (NIK) to verify whether the Minister of Education adhered to this year's budget plan and has also signal ed that it will initiate a class-action suit against the government over the payment of PLN 120 million in overdue fees to the teachers' social fund. Solidarity warns that it will hold a two-day protest on 31 August and 1 September. Teachers will display the national banner and read a statement to their students listing the main threats of the new education system reform. The threats mainly include the poor financial status of teachers and the increased working hours and additional responsibilities that are required to launch the reform.
Competition among hotels is gearing up as provincial governors prepare to award stars to standardise service in the industry. New hotel industry regulations, in force as of 19 August, concern the division of hotels and other accommodation facilities into categories. Previously, the name "hotel" would sometimes appear on buildings not deserving of the name, it will now only be awarded following an evaluation by a province's governor's office. The terms "hotel," "motel" and "pension" will be protected by law so as not to mislead potential guests. Under Communism, classes were awarded for the purposes of supply lists and price categories. For example, an S class restaurant offered meat all week, while others did not serve meat on Mondays.
On a lighter note, Lionel Richie was the biggest star to appear at the Sopot Festival '99 last weekend (hmmm...). It was the performer's first trip to Poland - but not his last, he promised.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 27 August 1999
Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with the
kind permission of Donosy-English:
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