Vol 1, No 22
22 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 13 November 1999
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska
Running to a standstill? Last week, the two members of the ruling coalition government - the Solidarity Election Action (AWS) and Freedom Union (UW) - finally came to an agreement regarding the proposed tax bill (see last week's Polish News Review for details). Now it may turn out that it was all for nought, however, as the opposition SLD (Democratic Left Alliance) has announced that it is determined to block the bill's passage. Finance Minister Leszek Balcerowicz has already stated in no uncertain terms that the bill must pass or he will walk. Apparently, SLD leader Leszek Miller was unfazed by the threats. He stated that "the SLD will try to ensure the draft law does not get passed." He explained that the "draft tax law is wrong and socially harmful. Balcerowicz wants to take money from low- and mid-level wage earners and earmark it for people with high incomes." The party has already introduced dozens of amendments to the bill in an effort to stall its passage through the public finances committee, which is going over the draft. Balcerowicz, seen as something of an economic golden-boy by the outside world for engineering Poland's shock-therapy in the early 90s, obviously thinks it is a good thing, seeing as he is willing to stake his reputation on it. He maintains that the proposed bill is crucial to ensure Poland's continued economic growth.
The PSL brought a 3200-page mountain of amendments to parliament. The speaker of the lower house was evidently not amused, as he asked the deputies to move the mounds of paper that were obstructing his view of the debating chamber. Balcerowicz lashed out in parliament this week, accusing the opposition of "playing on the lowest emotion, human jealousy, in its propaganda campaign." He went on to chastise the SLD saying: "Your false thesis is spurring hatred towards people of higher incomes."
The saga continued throughout the week, as the AWS-UW coalition sought to head the SLD off at the pass. Using a procedural ruse, the public finance committee voted to recommend the lower house to reject the draft bill in order to avoid having to discuss the numerous amendments the SLD put forward to bog down the proceedings. This would automatically push the bill to the next step of the legislative procedure, where the opposition would not have as many opportunities to delay it. Stanislaw Kracik of the UW told Reuters that "this (manoeuvre) is the only way to end the mad obstruction from the opposition." Maciej Manicki of the SLD retorted that "this is a scandalous abuse of democratic procedures," adding that his party would not give up. According to the constitution, a tax draft has to go through parliament and be signed by the President by 30 November in order to come into effect the next year.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski, despite being identified with the leftist opposition, said he will not obstruct the bill once it passes through the Sejm. Prime Minister Jerzy Buzek voiced his confidence that Kwasniewski is likely to approve the ruling coalition's key tax reform bill, if parliament passes it on time. Parliamentary speaker Maciej Plazynski chimed in that he was confident that the committee would finish work on the tax bill shortly and send it on to the Senate, where opposition is not expected to interfere. Understandably, newspaper editorials have been criticising the tax debate sharply for becoming a battle of procedural wits and have said this has all been behaviour inappropriate for a democracy. Of course, they may not have witnessed some of the more colourful puerile debates in the Western parliaments. In spite of all this, sadly it does not often get better than this (viz. the Monica Lewinsky follies). The danger here is that the zloty has already fallen sharply since Balcerowicz threatened to resign, and it is not expected to pick up again until this particular situation is resolved.
In the year since the Screening Court and the position of Public Interest Spokesperson were created, all of one case has come before it. The case, against an attorney, who would not admit to collaborating with the communist secret service, ended with a favourable decision from the Court. There are four other cases pending decisions from the court of appeal. Boguslaw Nizielski, the public interest spokesman, has been complaining of late that there are a number of bugs in the screening procedure which hamper his, and the Court's, work. Nizielski, unlike normal prosecutors, has no right to contact or interrogate the accused. Additionally, the work of the Court has been slowed down, as a number of the former secret service officers have testified to falsifying the documents on which the cases are based. Thus, dozens of cases are pending extra verification of the evidence.
Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's leading national daily, was on the receiving end of harsh criticism and general indignation from within the judiciary, who accused the paper of biased and unfair reporting. Surprisingly, this was inspired by a corruption report Gazeta published in its weekend edition which centred on a case that had come before the voivodship court in Zielona Gora. The court acquitted a group of men from Inowroclaw of robbing and murdering a Romany family in Nowa Sol in the face of convincing evidence. The report also described how the Appellate Court in Poznan repealed the acquittal in order to charge yet another defendant and hear an additional witnesses' testimony, but subsequently dropped the case entirely when the prospective witness mysteriously could not be found. Despite all the bluster, Miroslaw Karpowicz, head of the prosecutor's office in Zielona Gora quietly back-tracked, stating that the witness in question may not actually be needed in order to press charges.
A new offer in the ongoing case of reparations for forced labourers under the Nazi regime is winding its way through the US court system. Germany raised its compensation offer by 50 per cent this week, bringing the sum up to DM three billion (USD 1.6 billion) the day before the next round of negotiations was scheduled to begin. This still fell significantly short of what lawyers representing some 2.3 million survivors are demanding. US laywer Ed Fagan commented that, "We are still far apart. Anybody who thinks we are close to a deal is nuts." This is despite the additional DM four billion pledged by some of Germany's biggest firms to pad the sum. Before getting teary eyed at German business' heart of gold, it should be remembered that the firms employed forced labour and proposed a compensation fund in hopes that this will pre-empt any legal claims against them. The fund itself has been stalled by a series of disagreements. It was to be launched on 1 September - the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the second World War. Many of the disputes seem to revolve around how many surviving forced labourers there are and how entitlement is to be determined. Keeping in mind that the average age of claimants has been calculated at around 75 the lawyers - on both sides - should stop there yapping and figure it out before there are no claimants left. To survive that horror only to die a protracted death in the courts would be a travesty.
Two Polish scientists, who have been held in Chechnya since August, are about to be released. Avtandil Ioseliani, Georgia's deputy security minister, stated Tuesday that, "The hostages are not yet released but we were informed by our Chenchen colleagues that all five of them will be released soon - today or tomorrow."
Not just for Estonians anymore (see Mel Huang's article concerning the prevalence of drinking and driving among Estonian politicians). The Polish Embassy in Lithuania protested to the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry against what it termed to be a violation of the Vienna Diplomatic Immunity Convention. The whole debacle centres on the pulling over of a car by the Lithuanian police in which the Polish ambassador to Latvia and councillor of the Polish Embassy in Lithuania were travelling. The police claimed that the diplomats were drunk - a charge the Polish Embassy denied. Parish the thought.
The Polish government is planning to ask that the lawsuit brought against it in June of this year by Holocaust survivors be dismissed. The plaintiffs' property was looted under the Nazi occupation and was inherited by the Polish government. New York class-action attorney Edward Klein stated that lawyers representing the Polish government "told us yesterday they will make a motion to dismiss before the end of the year."
Poland's odd new role as the land of milk and honey? A sweep which sought to uncover illegal workers turned up some interesting results. As expected, the majority of illegal workers were from the former Soviet Union, particularly Ukraine. It is estimated that some 200,000 a year come to Poland to find work in construction or as domestics and au-pairs. Of these, only about one per cent are actually deported. There are also many Vietnamese nationals who work in the plethora of food and textile stands, and a major influx is expected as the German government next door is planning to force approximately 40,000 out. However, the biggest surprise are the number of Britons, Norwegians and Italians who were discovered. Many of them are (or were) employed by large foreign-owned supermarkets. Maybe this will put a new spin on concerns the EU has about opening its pearly gates to the perceived Polish hordes waiting to flood the EU labour market.
Compiled by Joanna Rohozinska and Donosy-English, 19 November 1999
Donosy's Week in Poland appears in Central Europe Review with
the kind permission of Donosy-English:
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