Vol 1, No 20
8 November 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 30 October 1999
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska
Yet another effort to restore the facade of unity within the centre-right ruling Solidarity Election Action/Freedom Union (AWS-UW ) coalition government. The UW, the junior member of the coalition, said it had to acquiesce and accept a less radical version of its tax reform proposals put forward by its big brother AWS. Leszek Balcerowicz, leader of the UW as well as deputy premier and finance minister, told reporters, "Our tentative agreement to Tuesday's tax proposal by the AWS leadership is more evidence of our goodwill." The row over the proposed tax cuts has recently been turning the sky above the coalition's relations from gray to black. Balcerowicz changed his tune quite radically from the previous week when he had made veiled threats to pull his party out of the coalition if the AWS did not agree to cut taxes. His statements were, in fact, not all that opaque, as they succeeded in frightening many investors by adding to uncertainties about Poland's political stability and its macroeconomic situation.
The AWS has proposed that personal income tax levels be lowered to 19, 29 and 36 per cent in the following year. In 2001, it is proposed they go down to 19, 28 and 35 per cent and finally to 18 and 28 per cent in 2002. They currently stand at 19, 30 and 40 per cent. Balcerowicz (and the UW of course) was pushing for the implementation of the 18 and 28 per cent cut by 2001 which is, according to him, part and parcel of his programme to create jobs and boost economic growth. The new tax bill has been stalled in committee by many AWS and opposition deputies on the grounds that it would only benefit the richest members of society, while depriving the state of revenues needed to finance social reforms. Balcerowicz added that the "near future will show whether trust, this indispensable condition for co-operation between people, will be rebuilt in relations between the UW and the AWS."
Rumours were also circulating this week that Balcerowicz had actually resigned in a huff during the negotiation process. These rumours sent the zloty plunging to a 24-month low. AWS leader Andrzej Potocki dismissed the gossip as "rubbish" and went on to say that Balcerowicz "has not [resigned] and has no intention of [doing so]."
Two Poles - three opinions. Harmony seems elusive even within parties. Jan Wypych, member of Parliament representing the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) and board member of Polish Radio, officially put forth a motion calling for the dismissal of Polish Radio Chairman Stanislaw Popiolek (also of the PSL). Ostensibly, Popiolek's dismissal is rooted in charges that he is responsible for the company's current poor financial situation. However, unofficial sources suggest that it was actually Popiolek's earlier sacking of Polish Radio's administrative director, Ryszard Ochwat, that put him on the PSL's black list. Ochwat employed PSL-affiliated journalists. All of this is in reality much ado about nothing, as most observers agree that the management board of Polish Radio is unlikely to support the motion, since three out six members are against it.
Following on the heels of last week's Transparency International Organisation report - which warned that while not constituting a serious issue yet, corruption could be on the rise in Poland - some 27 out of 130 guards working at a main crossing point on the Polish-German border have been reprimanded for suspected corruption. In the great sugar caper, which would have allowed the firms involved to reclaim duty taxes from the Polish government, 16 customs officers from the Szczecin area were arrested for taking money to fake export documents for sugar shipments. Eight officers further down the road at the Kolbaskowo crossing point were fired and three more are facing disciplinary proceedings for similar offenses. It is not known how wide-spread this corruption is, but most suspect it to reach far and wide among the petty Polish officialdom. This fact can largely be attributed to the paltry pay the officers receive in comparison with jobs in the private sector.
The chairman's seat at the Institute of National Remembrance (IPN) is still waiting to be filled. The last candidate for the spot, Professor Witold Kulesza, was rejected by both the PSL and the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD). Legally, the IPN has to start operation as soon as possible since a major part of their mandate is to provide public access to the secret files of Poland's Communist-era government.
Pathetic fallacy perhaps? Last Thursday, the sky, along with the zloty, apparently fell on Warsaw, as the airport was paralysed by fog. Airport spokesman Marek Wos told Reuters that "due to heavy fog there have been many delays and several cancellations at Warsaw airport which significantly disrupted air traffic." Some planes could take off during occasional clearings, but incoming flights were diverted to other airports. The Warsaw airport services over 100 flights daily.
Reuters' David Stamp reported this week that Hungary is firmly in the lead in the race to join the EU, while Poland is seriously struggling to keep up. Reuters asked 56 EU watchers from banks and think tanks across Europe to put in their two cents on the shaping up of the accession race. Krysztof Bledowski, chief analyst at Wood and Co. in Warsaw, said that "Poland is probably straddling the first and second group. It's definitely one of the laggards." He added that Poland has to "shape up and show [that] it's ready." Poland's two most serious problems (as if this has not been made abundantly clear) are agriculture and labour. Trying to negotiate space within the EU's Common Agricultural Policy is proving to be incredibly problematic - if not outright impossible. Should Poland's legions of small farmers collect the subsidies provided under CAP - which their Western counterparts already receive - they would bankrupt the entire system. EU members are also incredibly wary of the potential hundreds of thousands of Poles who might head to Western Europe in search of work, thus taking advantage of EU citizens' right to work anywhere within the EU. On the other hand, this also creates a paradoxical situation; given Poland's strategic position and its large size - both geographically and in terms of population - it cannot be left out of the Union for too long.
The Polish government announced that it would not pay the ransom demanded to secure the release of two Polish scientists. The two female scientists, aged 55 and 67, have been held hostage by Chechen gunmen for four months now in the Chechen village of Urus Martan, 20 km south of the capital Grozny. They were abducted on 9 July, while on a research trip in Dagestan. Reports in the Polish press stated that a sum of USD 2 million had been demanded, but the figure was dismissed as unsubstantiated by Foreign Ministry spokesman Pawel Dobrowolski. Dobrowolski stated that "we are not attaching that much importance to that sum," adding that "there will be no deal. We don't put a price on our citizens." Polish diplomats are apparently still negotiating to have the two, who reported in a recent letter that their health is failing, released but efforts are being complicated by the ongoing Russian offensive. Polish officials have stated that they are treating the kidnapping as a criminal rather than political act.
Love thy neighbour - or a return to the competition of who is the greater martyr? Poland periodically conducts mass deportations of illegal immigrants from the country - predominantly Ukrainians and Belarusans. Oddly, its Eastern neighbours, Ukraine and Belarus, accuse Poland of persecuting their citizens after each purge. The Poles respond to this accusation with the clever rebuttal that the number of Poles deported from other countries (7165) is almost twice as high as the number of illegal immigrants that Poland expels (4835) - meaning...? Ukrainians, who are expelled mainly on the grounds of being illegally employed, make up almost half of those deported (2230). On the other hand, Poles are mainly being thrown out of Germany at a rate of approximately 2053 persons per year. Maybe a solution to all this would be to simply shift the Polish borders (once again) a little further West.
Considering all the recent domestic problems, one wonders how the Polish government could be surprised that opinion polls show support for Poland's EU integration dropping sharply. A poll by the Public Affairs Institute (ISP) in early October showed popular support falling below 50 per cent (to 46 per cent) for the first time since accession talks began. The poll has spurred a flurry of activity by high level Polish officials, including Jerzy Buzek and Poland's chief EU negotiator Jan Kulakowski. Efforts to pump-up public support consisted of a "going-to-the-people" campaign by public figures and attempts to reassure the "little people" that European Integration would be a good thing for them. Kulakowski, ever mindful that it will not only be Warsaw voting in the upcoming referendum on EU accession, has vowed that his "Understanding the Negotiations Tour," which has so far hit Poznan and Gdansk, will continue and strives to disseminate quality information - rather than propaganda - throughout the provinces.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 5 November 1999
Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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