Vol 1, No 14
27 September 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 17 September 1999
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English
Last week's ban by Warsaw City Council President Pawel Piskorski of the large demonstration scheduled for Friday was effectively overturned earlier this week by Antoni Pietkiewicz, the chief of the Mazowsze voivodship. Pietkiewicz backed his decision by stating that the OPZZ (National Coalition of Trade Unions) who organised the demostration should be trusted as their aim has never been anything other than a peaceful march. The opposition of the city council was not, apparently, based on any expectation of violence but simply on the disruption to the downtown area that the sheer number of expected protesters would cause. Andrzej Lepper, leader of Samoobrona (Self-Defence) the farmer's trade union, is expecting approximately 100,000 demonstrators. After Pietkiewicz's intervention the Council re-thought its position and, after consulting with the police force and security experts, decided that a legal demonstration would be easier to handle than the unplanned protest which Lepper had been threatening. The protest is expected to be the biggest march ever in post-Communist Poland.
Was President Aleksander Kwasniewski doing his best impersonation of Yeltsin, or is it simply the beginning of political mud-slinging? The ruling AWS-UW (Solidarity Electoral Action - Freedom Union) coalition is certainly going through a serious crisis period (see below) and perhaps the President is to be a new target. The Chairman of the KRRoTV (National Broadcasting Council) Juliusz Braun was pushing TVP (the state television network) to broadcast a videotape which allegedly showed Kwasniewski drunk during a commemoration ceremony in Kharkov. The President's chancellery explained that Kwasniewski was ill ratherthan drunk, and his legal advisor, Ryszard Kalisz, publicly announced that Kwasniewski "was sober on the evening of his return." This line doesn't seem to have been completely swallowed by the Federation of Katyn Families, whose relatives were being honoured. (These were the Polish army officers taken as prisoners of war after the Soviet invasion in 1939; they were executed by the NKVD (secret police) in 1940). The Federation released a statement stating that they hoped the "situation that arose in Kharkov would never happen again" - a rather strong reaction for a mere illness. The Ceremony was to be a solemn affair (and in all other respects it certainly was) and was held at the site of a planned cemetery that will be opened by the Polish and Russian Presidents next year. In any case, the provocative videotape seems to have gone missing and attempts to purchase footage from private TV stations have thus far proved unsuccessful.
On a more serious note, the ceremony at Kharkov ended a week which saw much bickering between the Russians and Poles over the meaning of the Soviet invasion in 1939. The Katyn massacre has long been a sore point in relations between the two countries, making the presence of President Boris Yeltsin's official representatives all the more notable. Kwasniewski stated that it was indicative of the improving climate of relations between the two states. "I am happy that 60 years after those dramatic events we can be here together. All this means that we can move on towards mutual understanding," said Kwasniewski. Back in Warsaw, Prime Minister Jerzy Burzek seemed less willing to forgive and forget as he stated that "aggression must be called by its name. The Red Army's entry into Poland buried its aspirations for freedom for decades. We must not forget those who were prepared to pay the highest price for Poland's freedom." Burzek went on to state that Poland was going to pursue official procedures to seek reparations for the victims of the Soviet regime.
Politics, politics... To both left and right, all parties are swooping down and waiting for the coalition government to finally fall. The Prime Minister presented a document at this week's meeting of the coalition parties outlining the "government work plan for 2000-2001," obviously indicating his optimism that the calls for his and his government's resignation will come to nothing. In the document Burzek emphasised that there will be "no further big changes," referring of course to the controversial changes introduced earlier which have caused much social upheaval and his government considerable grief. The new reforms which the plan proposes to introduce predominantly address public safety and the plans to launch a major anti-corruption campaign in the second quarter of 2000. Jerzy Smajdzinski, a leading deputy of the former Communist opposition, said that "the speech did not offer any solutions to current problems, it just raised further questions and doubts." Head of the Public Affairs Institute think-tank Lena Kolarska-Bobinska stated that "I think everyone was expecting much more... I don't think his announcement will play any role in improving the image of the government." Given the waves of protests and numerous polls which testify to the unpopularity of the government, Burzek, who has frequently been criticised for weakness, would probably have had to walk on water in order to impress anyone. Instead, he accepted the blame for the chaotic implementation of the health, pension, local government and educational system reforms which have been so unpopular. Burzek has promised a period of stability to follow the unsettling changes of the past two years. Kolarska-Bobinska summarised that "the problem is that this government is perceived as full of good ideas but is extremely poor at putting them into practice.
A cabinet reshuffle and Burzek's address also seemed rather empty in the light of the continuing crisis with debt-ridden ZUS (the Social Security Office), which this week required a two-billion zloty government bail-out. UW leader and finance minister Leszek Balcerowicz warned that more talk of crisis could bring the coalition down. Prime Minister Burzek has repeatedly refused to dismiss the head of ZUS; Balcerowicz told public radio that "this practice of defending people, no matter how incompetent they are, is one of our main bones of contention...this is the last chance for the coalition to resolve the problem of political appointments."
The SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) is rubbing its hands in glee as polls this week reveal that if a parliamentary election were to be held now it would certainly win as it has gained 33 percent of the popular vote. SLD leader Leszek Miller said the government should "admit its incompetence and stop clinging to power at all costs." Miller called the government's two-year rule a bad time for Poland, adding that the country's economic growth had been stifled, many Poles were stricken by poverty and unemployment and access to medical care and schools had become more difficult. The poll, carried out by CBOS (Opinion Research Centre), also revealed that most Poles believed that the government should meet the demands of protesting social groups. Seventy six percent of people believe that the farmers' demands should be met, and the same number support the nurses. The teachers and miners were similarly well supported with 70 and 60 percent respectively in favour of their demands being met.
Marian Krzaklewski, leader of AWS, invited right-wing politicians, including Burzek, Estonian prime minister Maart Laar, Slovak prime minister Mikulas Dzurinda, Hungarian prime minister Victor Orban and Vytautas Landsbergis, the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament and former President, to participate in a regional conservative party conference which began on 23 September and will continue over the weekend. The conference aims to work on a long-term objective to form a union of conservatives and to establish an international tribunal to pass moral judgement on crimes from the Communist era.
Many mourned the passing of Raisa Gorbachev this week. President Kwasniewski sent condolences to Mikhail Gorbachev over the death of his wife. Kwasniewski's message read "We will remember Raisa Maximovna as a woman of highest virtue. In these difficult and painful moments my wife and I share your sorrow and mourning."
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 24 September 1999
Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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