Vol 1, No 18
25 October 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 16 October 1999
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English
The Bulgarian connection...This week, police found 64 books and 150 historical maps which had gone missing from the Jagiellonian University library. The items were found in the apartment of a Bulgarian student in Krakow, and it is thought that the 29-year-old student may also be responsible for last year's theft of Copernicus' "De Revolutionibus...". The suspect might also have played a role in the recent theft of Polish antique books that recently turned up at the Reiss Sohn auction house in Germany. Authorities have proven that some 500 maps and atlases were stolen from the same library.
Professor Dariusz Ratajczak, who teaches in the southwestern town of Opole, was indicted this week for published remarks in which he denied the existence of Nazi gas chambers at the camps of Majdanek and Auschwitz. Ratajczak maintained that he merely "recounted negationist remarks" which he did not entirely agree with. Judicial spokesperson Elzbieta Kmiecik announced that the presiding judges proposed a compromise to set the case aside and refer it for temporary judicial monitoring. Neither prosecutors nor Ratajczak himself accepted this compromise. Ratajczak published a book earlier this year in which he contended that the Germans used Zyklon B as disinfectant - not as a means of exterminating camp inmates. He went on to maintain that eyewitness accounts of gassing were of "no value." After these remarks were published in the Polish press in April of this year Ratajczak was suspended from his university, which began its own disciplinary investigation. The case is scheduled to resume 16 November, and if found guilty Ratajczak faces a teaching ban and three years imprisonment.
Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek initiated a new round of shuffling this week - as promised. Former labour minister Longin Komolowski of Solidarity Election Action (AWS) was appointed deputy prime minister for social affairs - finally a replacement for the recently dismissed Janusz Tomaszewski. It is anticipated that Komolowski will act as a counter-balance to Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz. Balcerowicz is a member of the Freedom Union (UW), and is widely perceived as being rather insensitive in regards to the social discontent caused by recent reforms. In other shuffles, Antoni Tokarczuk was appointed minister of environmental protection, natural resources and forestry, replacing Jan Szyszko. Buzek justified Szyszko's replacement by saying that the ministry was in need of managerial action - which will apparently be achieved by the substitution of a forester with a sociologist.
Simultaneous police operations carried out in Gdansk, Olsztyn and Warsaw over several days broke up a large cocaine ring. The ring is believed to have been in operation since 1994, and responsible for smuggling 2.5 tonnes of cocaine, worth approximately USD 180 million. When arrested, the suspects were found in possession of USD 100,000 and a kilogram of cocaine. Authorities said that the drugs were smuggled into Poland packed in such goods as coffee, chocolate and even ink toner cartridges.
Could music could harm Poland's bid for membership in the European Union? Well of course not the music itself, but European record industry exuctives told Poland it had to increase measures against piracy - which is rampant in Poland - or deal with the possibility that the persistence of this problem could hamper Poland's chances for membership. The officials welcomed the new anti-piracy bill currently being discussed in the Sejm, but stressed that enforcement would be key. Polish prosecutors and police have been thus far rather lenient on those who infringe intellectual property laws. Jay Berman, chairman of the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI), told a news conference that, "the government should increase its response to the problem." He went on to say, "we are here to express concern over the reemergence of piracy in Poland." The legislation currently being discussed will extend intellectual property protection of written materials to 70 years, up from the current 50, and on recorded material to 50 years, up from 25. The officials acknowledge that the pirated CDs are mainly produced in and imported from Ukraine. The draft law also imposes jail terms for petty traders found dealing in these goods. The bazaar at the base of the Palace of Science and Culture will never be the same.
Under a proposed budget bill for the year 2000, some USD 445 million will be spent on reforming the mining sector. The funds will be used to soften the blow for miners recently laid-off after reforms in the industry closed several mines.
Veteran director Andrzej Wajda's epic movie, Pan Tadeusz, opened this week. Based on Adam Mickiewicz's epic poem, it depicts the life of the Polish gentry in Lithuania on the eve of Napoleon's invasion of Russia in 1812. The movie had its gala screening at the Grand Theater and Hala Kongresowa in Warsaw, and was attended by the creme de la creme of the Polish cultural, political and commercial circles. The film has already been dubbed a masterpiece in the wake of preview screenings the week before. At USD 3 million it is the second most expensive Polish film ever produced - following last year's blockbuster historical epic "With Fire and Sword" which also dealt with Polish exploits in the Borderlands - and was also based on a great Polish literary work.
According to a poll conducted by the PBS polling agency, only 46 percent of Poles would support EU membership if a referendum were held immediately. This marks the first time support for membership has slid below 50 percent - though it has been sinking steadily over the past few months. While those under 24 years of age tend to support membership, those between 40 and 59 tend to oppose it.
A Presidential consultative committee brought together the Polish and Lithuanian presidents this past week to discuss certain "sensitive issues." These included the problems of national minorities, the border guard station at Punsk in South-Eastern Poland, administrative reforms in the Vilnius region and Poland's support for Lithuania's NATO and EU membership bids. Egidijus Meilunas, deputy head of the Lithuanian side, met with President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Foreign Minister Bronislaw Geremek, among others. All the issues - though seemingly disparate - revolve around minority issues. Vilnius has a substantial Polish minority, who oppose the proposed administrative changes, and the Punsk region, which is 80 percent Polish-Lithuanian, feels that the establishment of a border check-point will constitute a threat to their community. Does anyone see a connection here? For more information on Polish-Lithuanian relations past and present, see CER's article "The Conquest of Pragmatism: A New Chapter in Polish-Lithuanian Relations."
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 22 October 1999
Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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